When I visited my parents’ home for Christmas this year, I came away with something more than a bag of gifts and an extra stone of bodyweight. After looking through a few old photo albums, I asked if the negatives were still around anywhere and was handed a carrier bag full of unmarked envelopes and negative sleeves. After a few weeks of head-scratching on how to actually get hold of a scanner, all round good-egg and light-tamer extraordinaire Jack Hill stepped up with the loan of his Nikon Super Coolscan 5000ED. With the hardware and the purchase of Vuescan scanning software sorted, I could begin exploring the random strips in the search for things I’d never seen before. Aside from a stack of frames of the infant version of myself looking incredibly cute with shoulder-length blonde hair (shut it, you), I came across a single negative that looked very interesting. As it was cut off from the strip, the scanner couldn’t take it in, so I had to head up to SnappySnaps to use their flatbed scanner. When I loaded up the disc, I was over the moon.

The picture shows my Dad, aged about 20, taking pictures with his Certo Dolly Super-Sport camera. Not only is it cool to see a frame of one of my parents doing something that is now such an important part of my life, it was the fact that they still have the camera sat on a shelf. It immediately took me back to my childhood when they used to let me play with it and carry it around the house as a toy. I had no idea what it was and just enjoy the fact that a) it folded up into itself like a rather unusual Optimus Prime and b) if you turned a ring on the front in a certain direction and pulled the lever on the side, it did a buzzing timer noise for a few seconds before clicking. Knowing how badly I treated some of my toys, I was fascinated to see how well it had survived so when I went to Sheffield to cover the Speed Skating a few weeks ago, I delved into a dark corner of one of their shelves and found it out.

Miraculously, not only is it still in one piece but the bellows seem to be in pretty good nick too. There’s a professional part of me that wants to get it cleaned up and working smoothly while there’s the romantic part of me that likes it just the way it is, a soldier of a camera that survived both my parents’ experiments and TabascoToddler’s creative use of it as a space station for his Action Force figures. Given as a 21st birthday gift to my grandfather by his parents in 1938, it’s great to know that I’ve actually got a family heirloom that both has a personal history to it and is relevant to my life.

The camera features an f2.9 75mm lens that, as far as I can tell, is not interchangeable although I have seen the lenses sold separately. If anyone reading this knows differently, please do let me know more in the comments section below. The cameras themselves don’t seem that rare so it’s been interesting to see what variations there are available on ebay. While there is also a viewfinder version, the model that I’ve now got my mitts on is the rangefinder.

Taking both 4.5cmx6cm and 6cmx6cm film, I have read that there should be a film transport in the back for loading the varying film sizes. As mine doesn’t include it, I’m going to have to do some more research to find out how to proceed. My experiments with a 35mm Nikon F3 a few months ago cost me enough money so I dread to imagine what this will set me back!

If I manage to expose anything correctly and the bellows don’t let in too much light, I’ll stick a few frames up here as soon as I’ve had chance to have a play. If you’re reading this in 2012 and the blog post ends here, you’re officially allowed to track me down and berate me for being both a coward and an easily distracted fool. Fingers crossed!


In a thoroughly uncharacteristic move, I actually got off my arse and did it! Having grabbed a spare 120 film from Kirsten’s desk, I shot the odd random sight that I came across in between jobs and have just picked up the prints from the lomography store in central London. While not exactly the best pics I’ve ever taken, there was at least something on the film!

Considering this is from a camera from the 1930s AND was being shot by a total heathen when it comes to film, I think it’s worked okay. There is very clearly some severe light leakage from the bellows leaving the overexposed streak from the lower centre to the mid right of some frames but, combined with the film grain and the score marks, it adds to it. It should hopefully be clear that I’ve not done anything to these images and they are straight off the disc from the shop.

Anyway, here are my first efforts. I’m quite tempted to take it down to tomorrows boat race now. :)

28 Responses to “Hello Dolly!”

  1. That Meyer lens is actually a fairly amazing bit of glass. SLR versions of it are still being coveted by individuals who use old glass on modern equipment with adapters (myself included). It’s interesting that it has the Meyer lens, because from my (limited) understanding some of the rangefinder models had a Zeiss lens.

    At any rate, I’m a sucker for the old folders.

    If it’s any help, here’s a manual that someone’s scanned in for the Super Sport:

    Posted by Tyson H
  2. Cheers for the info Tyson. So should that lens be detachable then? I can’t see any way of taking it off but I really don’t want to force anything in case I break it! That link doesn’t seem to work although I have found something possibly similar; http://www.flickr.com/photos/rebollo_fr/5135575649/ Is that the one?

    Posted by tabascokid
  3. Ha! Funny I clicked on this from my reader to say something like “I bet Tyson knows about the lens…” and there he is!

    Posted by Sara H
  4. http://www.flickr.com/photos/century_graphic/sets/72157594408212146/detail/

    that should work, I added an S for some odd reason.

    The one you have looks similar but it appears this other person has every page scanned in. As far as I know the lens can only be removed via a shop. They’d have to detach the bellows, etc. Nothing that you likely want to attempt on your own. That sort of bellows work on the old folders can be a bit of a rabbit hole. Though, if you do have any light leaks, it’s easy enough to find some leather patch that works a charm.

    Posted by Tyson H
  5. I stand corrected. Looks like the lens is removable. There’s a note on it in that manual. I’ve never seen one actually off before. Learn something new every day I suppose. Have a good time with it, they can produce some wonderful photos.

    Posted by Tyson H
  6. I love that picture of your Dad, Leon.

    Posted by kirsten
  7. @Sara Yup, he knows his stuff!

    @Tyson Excellent. I actually did some poking and found someone else hosting the same scans. Their info seems a little different but it’s certainly a massive help. My biggest concern is that a few sites talk about these detachable transports for the different film formats that should be used. Guess I’ll just have to try and load one and find out! :)

    @Kirsten Me too. Was such a top frame to discover. :)

    Posted by tabascokid
  8. The masks are a rather unique thing that I haven’t run into with other folders in the past. Reading a bit on it it looks like the rollers for the film are actually attached as part of the masks and without them you may scratch up the film. Half my film comes back from shady labs scratched up anyway, so wouldn’t be a big deal to me 😉 That said, you could likely minimize the issue with some careful polishing of the metal in the back.

    Alright, I’ve rambled enough. I get all sorts of excited about old cameras.

    Posted by Tyson H
  9. Yeah, I did a bit of research too and was thinking along the same lines until I found one guy who said that the mask is only needed for 6×4.5 frames. If you want 120 film 6×6, you can just use as is. With this in mind, I’ve nabbed one of Kirsten’s 120 films for her Holga and loaded it up. If tomorrow’s a decent day, I’ll be wandering round the area, taking an inordinate length of time to take pictures of randomness! :)

    Posted by tabascokid
  10. I want the camera back.

    Posted by father
  11. Haha! Bugger off, you cheeky parent! It’s happy in it’s new home! :) I may bring it to Sheffield to allow you visitation rights though.

    Posted by tabascokid
  12. As promised, I’ve just updated the page with the first film that I’ve put through the Dolly! I’m quite pleased that it works, despite it’s signs of age. :)

    Posted by tabascokid
  13. Brilliant to see the photos from the old camera.
    Shows how well it was made. Just think how long it would have taken someone to reproduce that effect in Photoshop

    Posted by Karen
  14. Yeah, my thoughts entirely. Sure you could download an app and marvel at how retro it makes everything look but the combination of the scratches, grain, colour, light leaks and softness to the focus makes it something really special. Not sure how often I’ll be using it (at around £15 a film) but it’s great fun for the moment!

    Posted by tabascokid
  15. I LOVE these. Wow. I wish I had a camera that could take pictures like yours can 😉

    Posted by kirsten
  16. Leon….I love them, what a fantastic family treasure to have discovered. The shots are fantastic. I would love to share this to our clubs FB page if that’s ok with you as I know there are some film buffs who would love to see it.

    Posted by Dusty!
  17. What a fantastic find! When I was a kid we lived abroad and me, my sister and parents used to sit every evening on the beach watching the amazing sunsets. My Dad, with his Pentax ME, recorded every single one on slides, not to mention a lot of our other adventures. There’s nothing more heart-warming than finding boxes of those slides years after you stopped thinking about them or the events they captured.

    Posted by Miles
  18. lovely stuff, Leon. Might be a touch less expensive per roll if you get just a scan of the negatives rather than prints. I say this purely out of self interest as I’d like to see more work shot with this camera 😉

    Posted by Tyson H
  19. @Kirsten ha ha and indeed ha. 😉

    @Dusty! Sure, please do. I’m always thankful for more readers!

    @Miles Yeah, it’s been great fun (although massively time-consuming) to go through the folders and envelopes. I initially just did a handful of pictures of my sister from her childhood and made a book for her birthday but have since found the three surviving negs from my parent’s wedding day. Treasures galore!

    @Tyson Cheers Tyson. I’ve loaded up a film and, as I suggested above, I’ll shoot some frames at today’s Oxford/Cambridge boat race if time allows. As for costs, the shop I used charges £9 for dev and print, £8 for dev and scan or £11 for both. Having said that, the scan resolution is pretty poor at around 600kb per picture. :(

    Posted by Leon Neal
  20. ah, that’s unfortunate. Amazingly enough, there isn’t anywhere here in town that actually develops anything other than c41 print film. No black and white and no slide and certainly no 120. I suppose those places still doing it have to charge an arm and a leg in order to make up for the lack of volume these days.

    I’ll just end up that weird gentleman in his basement with the bottles of chemicals and black out tape over the windows. 😉

    Posted by Tyson H
  21. Blimey! They’re fantastic (but quite quite insane). I guess they must work though. I may get desperate enough to explore those ideas before long if I shoot much more 120. Cheers! :)

    Posted by tabascokid
  22. Lovely photos, the ones taken with the old camera have a lovely retro 1970s feel to them like the ones in our family album taken with a brownie.
    Thanks for linking to our site as well!

    Posted by Mike
  23. Just spent a very useful couple ofhours going through the blog. Excellent pics. And thanks for the reminder about the Ganton Street ‘plug’. Must cart the Billingham up there one day.

    Posted by Malcolm
  24. Film lives on! My grandfather hadd a similar one ot this but sadly it came to a rather sad end years ago in his shed.! I’ve dusted of my old Oly OM4 this week and hopefully the Fuji film will have some decent stuff on it.

    Posted by Tim
  25. like the shots leon still does the job

    Posted by Andrew Schofiled
  26. That light leak doesn’t actually look very serious. I would take it into a dark room with a small flashlight to get a clear idea of where the leak is located. Small leaks are easily fixed. The really small pinholes can be sealed up with a dab or black fabric paint which you can get at a crafts store. For bigger leaks, a tube of black silicone caulk will often help. Try not to use too much of the thick stuff as you don’t want to make it impossible to close the bellows. If that all fails, I’m sure that you could get the bellows replaced. Get in touch with Sandeha Lynch in Wales who makes and installs custom bellows. I don’t know if he has ever made a bellows for the Dolly, but I know he does have the camera as it is one that I owned before. If anyone can help, he will be the one. (http://www.sandehalynch.com/isolette.htm)

    Posted by Mike Connealy
  27. Hi Mike, Thanks for getting back to me with this info. Unfortunately, since the example pictures above were taken, the holes just got larger and larger until a friends wedding that I photographed produced only streaks of white with odd patches of colour. Thankfully, I wasn’t the official photographer! 😉 I’ll certainly get in touch with your contact as if anyone knows how to do it, it sounds like this is the person! The first shop that I tried has claimed that it’s virtually impossible to replace these bellows which I find really hard to believe so fingers crossed.

    Posted by tabascokid

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