Some Great Captures with my Ensign Selfix 820

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by john_seaman|2, Apr 5, 2014.

  1. The Ensign Selfix 820 is a 6x9 folding camera made by Ross Ensign of London in the mid 1950's. It has a lovely Ross Xpres 105mm F3.8 lens which I believe is of the Tessar type although I've read that it actually had a third element in the read group to avoid infringing the Tessar patent. The Epsilon shutter, which may be a copy of the Compur, has speeds from 1/250 to one second, B and T. These shutters have a poor reputation but I've had a number over the years and all have worked perfectly. The camera has a clever dual format system which is able to take either 120 or 620 film, and has flaps to enable it to take 12 square pictures, with two red windows for the 6x9 and 6x6 frame numbers.
  2. I bought this example off Ebay complete with its original ever ready case but the description talked about rust and corrosion. This was actually around the film gate inside, and on the film rollers, but succumbed to a bit of careful sandpapering. It had obviously not been used for very many years and there was an empty 620 spool inside. It came from the Scottish isles, and the vendor told me it had been his godfathers camera, a keen ornithologist.
  3. Well I don't know if he used the Ensign to photograph birds. These cameras remind me very much of those 1950's country house hunting parties with tweeds, deerstalker hats, hip flasks, shooting sticks, beaters and tobacco jars. Its a country house camera, especially in its antique leather case.
  4. I loaded it with a Fuji transparency film and immediately found that the double exposure lock was blocking the shutter when it shouldn't, resulting in me losing the first shot. The rest I had to trip the lever on the lens with my finger. Next time I'll use a cable release. Some of the shots were ruined by a light leak, but I did eventually get a few out of it.
  5. There have been a number of these on Ebay recently. The basic model has a pop up albada viewfinder. The uncoupled rangefinder version of it is the 820 Special, whilst the Autorange with coupled rangefinder goes for up to four thousand pounds. I had an Ensign Ranger once, a similar camera but with a lesser Ross Star lens, which I was never happy with.
  6. Last one - the swimming pool again. You will find me here on Sunday mornings, paddling up and down until i get fed up. I don't know whether the light leak was in the camera, or careless film handling - I can't see any pin holes in the bellows. The shots were scanned on my Epson Perfection 4870 flatbed, and the colours were adjusted in Photoshop.
    Thanks for looking.
  7. SCL


    It's nice to see somebody getting use out of these oldsters. I think back to my childhood, when I found a folder stuffed away in my grandparents' attic...I took it apart to see how it worked (cringe, cringe). Today I'd have sold it on the big auction site.
    More evidence against.
  9. Great work, John. I have the same model, and I've been similarly impressed by the Ross Xpres lens. I suspect the lens is the prime reason for these cameras becoming rather sought-after and somewhat pricey, as the rest of the camera is unexceptional; it's heavy and clunky and the shutter release connections are sluggish, shaky and prone to falling part. I've had no problem with the Epsilon shutter, but I'd prefer to set the camera on a tripod and use a cable release to do justice to the lens. However, your images demonstrate that the camera is capable of fine work; I particularly like the "Summit" shot. Thanks, I'm grateful for your post.
  10. Thanks for putting these up John, the Ensign does look impressive with that lens. I have one somewhere but I have problems with getting the focus right, maybe film flatness. The Xpress lens is really good when you the focus right. This sort of thing is a problem with many folders if the lens is not quite parallel etc.
    Do persist with it and don't be discouraged by the light leak, should be easy to track down.
  11. These are some great results from such a wonderful camera- I'm a sucker for folders.
  12. Thanks for the comments. I seem to be lucky in that this camera seems to focus correctly. The shots were hand held on 1/250, there being plenty of light, but I agree that a tripod and remote release are the way to go. I'd like someone to point out a definitive source of information about the Xpres lens, which I also have on my MPP Microcord TLR.
    The Ensign company made some good cameras, I've also got a 16/20 with an Xpres lens which I did a post on a while back -
    Ensign didn't survive the Japanese dominance of the market, like most other camera makers, and oddly, they never made a 35mm camera.
  13. Ensign brand is about as classic English as it gets. I have a couple of their box cameras.
    Kent in SD
  14. John, regarding the formula for the Xpres, the debate has raged on across several forums but the consensus seems to have been stated by Dan Fromm in a 2008 post:
    The original Xpres was as you described, with a cemented triplet behind the diaphragm, to evade Zeiss patent. Later ones have a cemented doublet behind the diaphragm, like the Tessar.​
    I guess the 105 Xpres f/3.8 as fitted to the Selfix 820 would be in the "later" group. Now I will duck for cover...
  15. Rick, I have an Ensign 820 with a 105/3.8 Xpres. It is a tessar type. No need to duck for cover on this, you got it right.
    I've never taken a satisfactorily sharp image on E6 film with my Ensign 820. I used tripod and cable release, reasonably fast shutter speeds, a range of apertures. I've checked, the lens is properly collimated to the body. Glass is clean, no interior haze. My 2x3 Graphics do much better with a 101/4.5 Ektar.
    To my eye the scans the OP has posted are no better than my E6 transparencies. Its hard to judge sharpness from small scans such as he posted, but even so they seem fuzzy. His scans aren't alone, other people have posted scans of shots taken with Ensign 820s. All seemed soft to me. Could be my monitors, but I doubt it.
    I have the same reaction to shots taken with a Perkeo II fitted with an 80/3.5 Color-Skopar. Mine is a joy to use, unlike the Ensign 820, but I've never got a sharp image with it. When I mentioned this to Charlie Barringer he confessed that he had one with which he'd never got a sharp image. He blamed this on the lens.
  16. Granted sharpness is difficult to judge on a monitor. However, the results John achieved look very good to
    me. I would love to see the and hold these huge transparencies.. this is one of the greatest parts of MF.. I
    think . A real Ensign collector is Pete in Perth.. maybe he will jump in with his usual erudite
    comments.They are virtually unknown in the US and you rarely see them in Europe.. so this is a true
    "English" camera. Glad everybody can agree on the lens formula. Tessar or not theshooting turned out
    good and the camera seems to be capable of very acceptable results Having been dogged by light leaks
    on a Voigtlaender folder lately... I wish you luck. Don't obsess!
  17. Rick / Dan / Chuck. Thanks for the clarification about the lens formula. When I get a minute I'm going to revisit the scans and post a couple of enlarged areas to give a better idea of the sharpness. The transparencies certainly look sharp to me.
  18. Here's a crop from the "Eastern Boulevard" image
  19. And one from the "Summit Building" showing how critical the focusing is
  20. Lastly one from the Swimming Pool picture. These are unsharpened, scanned at 1200DPI. The sharpness looks pretty reasonable to me.
  21. Photos look good to me its great to see these old cameras like this being used
    ive a couple of 820s I want to use this summer which is why
    Im particulary interested in your photos and crops
    I fitted a 105mm ross xpress lens to a Seiko no 0 shutter and recalibrated the apertures
    I cant wait to use it in my busch pressman ive tried a few test shots on my EOS that came out realy well too
    again a big thanks for putting up this post
    regards Andrew
  22. Hi, John congratulations on giving your old English folder a new lease on life! I've got several of these Ensigns (and earlier Houghton and Butcher stuff) as Chuck mentioned, and find them interesting if a little quirky on occasion. For example, the top of the range 6 X 9 model made by Ensign pre-WW2 was the Autorange 20, and it must have been the very last folder made anywhere that still used twin 'tramtracks' and wasn't self-erecting. Ensign's reason for sticking with such an old-fashioned system was that it made engagement with the CRF that much easier.
    I managed to score a Selfix 820 Special a few years ago, to join the couple of Selfix 820 models like yours in my collection. It's basically just a Selfix 820 with an uncoupled rangefinder, but still cost me a small fortune. I doubt very much I'll ever get lucky enough to score the Autorange 820 version with full CRF, which as somebody correctly mentions goes for thousands of GBP these days.
    The 'Little Brother' Selfix 16-20 is a particularly nice, solid compact camera to use, and gives excellent results especially when fitted with the F3.5 75mm Ross Xpres. Here's a link to a Flickr Pages photo and write-up I did a while back on various post-war British folders, most of which are Ensign Selfixes:
    Astute folks will notice that there's a Kershaw Curlew 111 in there too. These are extremely rare even in Britain, probably because they cost twice what a Selfix 820 did yet offered very similar specifications. (Pete In Perth)
  23. Unfortunately I'm old enough to remember that the Epsilon shutter was the cameras Achilles heel.
  24. Hi, Ben yes, the Epsilon shutter was definitely the weak point on the Selfix 820 and most other British cameras of the era. Even when it's working OK right down to one full sec, it never sounds as 'snappy' as a Compur. Must be something to do with anaemic springs, I guess. Unfortunately, British camera makers were saddled with it due to post-war import limitations from the British Board Of Trade, which basically demanded that if a British-made product existed which met requirements (on paper anyway) then a similar foreign-made item could not be imported. However, at least one manufacturer - MPP of Kingston-on-Thames, Surrey - got an exemption permit so they could fit Prontor shutters on the Microcord TLR, because early models that used the Epsilon had proved awfully unreliable. PN
  25. I got this from another site:
  26. I just acquired a Selfix 820 which needed a bit of a clean but seems OK. I just loaded a film (Velvia 100), but I only found the numbering (at least no. 1) in the higher red window for 6x6, none in the lower one for 6x9… How do I wind it on ? (I want to try 6x9 first as I have enough 6x6 folders already). I have not yet made any shot yet. I'm hoping there is a halfway sign between 1 and 2…
    The only regret about the camera so far is the lack of a hot shoe. I have a rangefinder accessory which would work perfectly well with this camera, but there is nothing to fit it on, unless I use a flash bracket or so! The one I have had a ring that seemed to protrude too far to fit the base of the camera.
  27. Harry you should see the number for 6x9 in the appropriate window no problem. The number 1 will be at different positions in the two different windows. Perhaps you just haven't wound far enough? The worst thing that could happen would be to miss a frame and wind through to frame 2.
  28. Thanks, yes, I discovered this… the numbers start later on the 6x9 format. I first tru 6x9 but later I'll have a go at 6x6, since 105mm is longer than my other 6x6 cameras, and theoretically at least 6x6 should be using the sweet spot of the lens.

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