Name That Vintage Camera
January 12, 2008 8:15 PM   Subscribe

Please help me identify my father's old 35mm camera from my horribly vague description.

As I suspect often happens after a parent dies, I've been spending a lot of time lately thinking about events, places, people, and items associated with the time I spent with my Dad while growing up. One thing that comes to mind from time to time is his small collection of cameras. While not an avid photographer, he owned some interesting items including one of the early Polaroid instant cameras with the metal sleeve that you could hold the developing picture under your arm for warmth. There's another camera he owned that I never saw him use, but I'd sure like to identify it and possibly pick up one on the vintage market as a personal reminder. Unfortunately, my memory is a bit hazy after several decades so I can't give you much to go on. If you have some insight as to the make and model, I'd very much appreciate hearing about it.

It was a 35mm camera in the typical SLR form, though it may not have been an SLR camera. The color was entirely, or at least predominately, silver. The lens may or may not have been removable but I think I have some memory of him taking it off to show me the shutter mechanism. I think he may have stored it in a form-fitting leather case. It had a very distinctive feature that I can't remember seeing on any other camera. Namely, the viewfinder consisted of a folding metal mechanism on top of the camera body. When you wanted to take a picture you'd push some sort of little button and this little mechanism made of flat pieces of metal plus a little metal doghouse (that held all the pieces when folded up) would unfold and expose an image screen. As I recall, this gizmo provided a shade so that you could look DOWN through it onto some sort of image screen as opposed to looking forward at the thing you're photographing. I can tell you that when I was a little kid, circa 1975 or so, this was already considered an old camera. In fact I'm certain he had it before I was born in 1969. He travelled to Germany in the late 1950s or early 1960s, so it is possible that he bought it there. Alternatively, he was in Japan and Korea during the Korean war and might have bought it in either of those countries. I've done some poking around on web sites featuring old cameras and have yet to see anything that looks right, but my knowledge of cameras, particularly vintage cameras, is limited.

In case you're curious, after I moved out on my own my Dad sold the family house and most of his stuff in order to move in with his new wife. It worked out well for him, which is good, but it also means that so many pieces of my childhood vanished in garage sales and trash cans. This particular camera is long gone, but maybe I can find another one.

Thanks very, very much.
posted by LastOfHisKind to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total)
It will be some gruntwork on your part, but PBase has a camera archive page with tons of photos of old (and new) cameras. That might be a good place to look. Good luck!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:22 PM on January 12, 2008

I am not suggesting this was the camera you're looking for, but is this the kind of viewfinder you're describing?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:25 PM on January 12, 2008

Admiral Haddock may have it, I was going to suggest an Exacta myself. It fits with possibly being bought in Germany, and I can't think of any other 35mm cameras that came with waist-level viewfinders as standard.
posted by Venadium at 8:30 PM on January 12, 2008

Response by poster: Yes, Admiral, that looks like the kind of viewfinder I was attempting to describe. Is there a correct name for this sort of thing?
posted by LastOfHisKind at 8:31 PM on January 12, 2008

As Venadium said, it's a waist-level viewfinder. You can try a google image search for that phrase to see if something matches. What's good about Pbase, though, is that the camera database includes a production date, so it will be useful to rule models out that are not from the right period. Pbase also has a forum, so you might try asking your question there.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 8:39 PM on January 12, 2008

Actually, quite a few cameras during those years had interchangeable view finders. The Miranda, Asahiflex aka Pentax, Tower 22/23/24 (which was a Asahiflex), Nikon F, Leica and a few other that have slipped my mind. Some manufacturers offered them as accessories.
posted by squeak at 9:39 PM on January 12, 2008

Response by poster: Admiral Haddock's link helped me get to this picture. The design the viewfinder, especially as seen from this view, matches my memory. I remember the side panels being curved as in shown here, the deploy button, and the square opening to look forward. I think the doghouse in front flips up to allow a line-of-sight to the subject. Unfortunately, the Exacta camera bodies themselves seem less familiar though it might just be my lack of memory. I loved playing with the spring-loaded viewfinder and that's probably why I remember it reasonably well.
posted by LastOfHisKind at 9:50 PM on January 12, 2008

You are describing a Through the Lens Reflex (TLR) camera. I have one called a Rolleiflex. Great camera. Here is the site of a true TLR lover, with pictures and links, which might help you identify the camera of your youth.
posted by caddis at 10:35 PM on January 12, 2008

I used to have an old camera my dad gave me called a Praktiflex, whch he got in Germany in the 1950s and which also had the pop-up viewfinder thingie (google image search). Great camera, until I ran over it with a Volvo.
posted by Rumple at 11:17 PM on January 12, 2008

@caddis -- Although the top-down viewfinder would normally be indicative of a medium-format TLR, I think in this case the other details he mentioned (35mm, SLR) rule it out. It sounds like a Exacta, or at least that's the only thing I've ever seen that's close.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:19 PM on January 12, 2008

@caddis -- TLR is short for Twin Lens Reflex (vs SLR - single lens reflex)
posted by jedrek at 11:41 PM on January 12, 2008

OK, you are both right about the TLR, but oh so wrong about the "@"
posted by caddis at 12:28 AM on January 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

The Miranda is another option. I had one about 15 years ago and they had interchangeable finders. The page I've linked to shows at least one waist-level finder.
posted by jdfan at 1:46 PM on January 13, 2008

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