Which box camera is best?

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by bob_peters, Jan 16, 2006.

  1. I see a lot of box cameras going dirt-cheap in markets, charity
    shops etc and I'm curious to try one out - which of the 120 film
    ones has the sharper, more contrasty lens? I'd likely use it mostly
    for landscapes so stopped down.

    Also interested in any box cameras with "character" lenses that have
    a bit of a unique look about them if anyone has any sugegstions of
    what I should keep an eye out for.
  2. mtk


    Hi Bob....Needless to say there are a gazzillion choices out there. Unfortunately I do not have a specific model in mind, other than if you consider Kodak as the biggest (certainly not the only) player in the market, the myriad of film sizes available. "Best" is a very ambigious term, but keeping in mind if big neg = more resolution, why not try making some sheet film fit for one of the bigger cameras? You don't specify if you are using bw or color film, most lenses were uncoated..Just to define, when I am thinking box camera I am thinking exactly that from the 30's-1950's....I think the biggest difference was probably film size and bells n whistles, not lens quality...I also would suggest you post this in the Brownie section of Pnet, to see what others have done! Keep us posted, this sounds like fun! Mark
  3. Probably the best box camera ever made was the last model of the Zeiss-Ikon Box Tengor (model 56/2). It had a coated Goerz lens, double exposure prevention, flash synch, 3 f/stop settings and 3 distance settings. I dont know how common they are at flea markets but they do show up regularly on ebay. They are NOT dirt cheap!

    See: http://www.pacificrimcamera.com/pp/zeiss/tengor/54.htm

    Ron Gratz
  4. Hi, Bob I'm quite a collector of Box Cameras myself, seeing as they don't usually cost a packet. There's definately a "snobbery" thing about these most basic beasts, but when you think about it there really shouldn't be - because these were the cameras a lot of us, or our parents, started out with. So, most of them can be acquired for a mere song, such as the very nice AGFA Synchro Box from c. 1954 that I recently got for just A$6, complete with original box and Instruction Leaflet. However, as Ron has quite correctly commented, the "Best" is undoubtedly the Zeiss-Ikon Box Tengor 56/2 which was made up till 1956. Unfortunately it cost a lot more than an AGFA Synchro Box - or Ensign Fulvue - way back then, and the same is still the case today.

    To illustrate, I scored one just a couple of days ago on Ebay Oz and it's cost me A$40. Now, is a Box Tengor worth almost 7 AGFA Synchro Boxes? I don't think so! However, my collection of earlier Box Tengors needed a last model to finish things off, so I had to pay a market price for it. Dem's Da Breaks, Mate! ~~PN~~
  5. Probably the best one is the one you can easily get - or the one you already have. My fav box is Houghton Butcher 2 1/4 with miniscus lens.
  6. A lot of us were using an Ansco Shur-Flash last summer/fall/winter..(look up "Shur-Flash project" in the threads)...There's nothing like 'setting up" beside a guy with $10,000 worth of digital equipment with a 50+ year old box camera--and having him be more interested in what you're doing than what he is...
  7. The Agfa (Ansco in USA) are pretty good box cameras. If you get one, make sure it accepts 120 and NOT 620 film. Some of the cheap TLR cameras are really pseudo-box cameras, cameras like the Spartaflex and Argoflex but again many of them accept only 620 film.
  8. Why throw away money for film and processing (not to mention the camera)? You won't get sharp and contrasty pictures from any box camera, because their one- or two-element lenses aren't simply that good. They might produce nice images, if handled correctly and you get lucky, but for detailed landscapes you need a respectable three-element lens -- and I don't know if there is a cheap box camera with such a good lens.
    If you are after character, try anything Tessar -- which means a four-element lens, but stopped down there will be not much character (I think you mean nice bokeh), only sharpness, so even a three-element lens is sufficient.
    Because you ask in the classic camera forum, may I suggest an inexpensive plate film camera with a contemporary rollfilm holder (i.e. Rada cassette)? Or you could try an old 2x3 press camera, which have outstanding lenses that produce beautiful results, but those aren't dirt cheap, of course.
    Here is a crop from a picture I just posted in the Towers W/NW thread. Taken with a 75-year old plate camera equipped with a triplet lens. The image is tack sharp, but my scanner isn't that good for such tiny details.
  9. If you havnt done so I really suggest checking out Gene M.s website. There you can browse through lots of cameras he has taken photos with. Hes got a pretty large selection of cameras, and he tests them primarily in landscapes so you get a good idea of how the camera handles depth of feild and sharpness. (Some websites the guys reveiwing cameras take aweful photos that dont give you any better idea of how well they function) His site will give you a good idea of the basic characteristics of alot of these kinds of camera out there,.. now if we can just get Gene a grant so he can dedicate his life to the demonstration of these great peices of histroy... ;)
  10. Watch the film- 120, no problem. 620 and 127- limited availability and you pay a premium. 116 and 122, some other oddballs- no go.

    I'd go with the Ansco Shur-Flash, myself- have two I picked up for $5 or less on Ebay. One looks brand new, came with box and instruction leaflet.
  11. "Why throw away money for film and processing (not to mention the camera)? You won't get sharp and contrasty pictures from any box camera,"

    Maybe not. But you might get interesting ones.
  12. These were take with my Ansco Shur Flash, not too sharp, but I like the results.
  13. #2 Ansco Shur Flash
  14. If you want top quality, I believe Hasselblad just released a new digital system at $30,000 or so- was on the Leica forum a couple of days ago. So anything less than that is a definite compromise.

    Now, being that I don't have a spare $30,000 to spend on camera goodies, I'll have to settle for what's fun instead of what's best. To my way of thinking, the reason to shoot an old camera is the same reason to drive an old car: Not because it's better than anything else, but because it's fun. And if you can have fun with a box camera, you can have some cheap fun.
  15. Stephen H, you hit the nail on the head,for me thats what these
    old cameras are all about. People sometimes don't believe you are taking pictures so they are really relaxed with me.Weeks later I'll put up the results and a lot of them are really appealing.
    I'm not competing with no one , I'm just having a good time.
    I think maybe the fun for me would go away if I used any camera that was worth more than a few hundred dollars.
  16. I use nothing but AGFA cameras-I have a Synchro Box, a Clack, a PB20 folder and a 35mm Karat IV--I get incredibly sharp contrast pictures from both of them. I always use my Agfa tripod, and almost always take timed shots. The Synchro Box being metal, and the inside cone also metal, super simple construction, it's easy to repair, and clean-the refectors are steel--it's an amazing camera in my opinion and cheap to buy-I say buy a Synchro Box--AND a Clack--it's nice to have both a eye level camera(clack) and the waist level-(box)

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