Everyone lusts after a few specific vintage cameras, but it’s the weird vintage cameras that have really cool tales.
Amongst the oddest cameras you’ve seen and owned, ask yourself, “What did they think when they designed this?” It’s true today that no camera maker makes an odd or bad camera, but there are surely questionable decisions that were made over the years. Early cameras were odd. Russian fakes of various cameras were even odder. And some were just so weird to work with that they were bound to give a photographer a headache. Today, we’re looking at a few bizarre vintage cameras that some folks adore, and some are happy to have gotten rid of.
Rollei 35 S
The Rollei 35 S is a small camera that was made to compete with half-frame cameras of the day, but it was still a full-frame 35mm. This camera was tiny, and that’s part of what made it a commercial success. Gossen supplied the CDS exposure meter, which kept it even smaller. The 35 S was an upgrade over its predecessors and had a 40mm f2.8 Zeiss lens–which was actually made by Rollei, who licensed the name. This lens collapsed into the body. Built between 1974 to 1980 in Singapore, it came in silver chrome or black variant.
Why it’s on our list of Weird Vintage Cameras: The Rollei 35 S controls aperture and shutter speed using the knobs on the front of the camera. Maybe this was done to keep it compact, but in retrospect, the design makes sense with the way the camera is helf. One hand would be on either side of the camera as you pressed the viewfinder to your face. One could put the entire series of cameras in here, though.
Pentacon 6 TL
The Pentacon 6 is a soulless beast of a camera. If you look online, you’ll see lots of beautiful portraits shot with it. But, it’s a beast that you’ll need to tame. It had quirks galore, was heavy, took up lots of space in your camera bag, and wasn’t easy to work with. But if you gave it time and understood all the faults of your particular purchase, you could create stunning images. The quality control on it was pretty awful, but at last the TL variant allowed for TTL metering.
Why it’s on our list of Weird Vintage Cameras: The Pentacon 6 is seriously one of the oddest cameras ever. Loading the thing is a process old-timers will gladly tell tales of, reminiscing on how arduous it was. Even worse, advancing the film caused you to become religious and say, “Hail Mary,” every time you did so. If you advanced the film incorrectly, the Pentacon 6 TL and all the variants would end up creating overlapping shots or skipping small areas on the emulsion. You had to do it with just the right amount of force and speed. For a camera that exuded such a beastly presence, you sure had to treat it like a nurturing baby lamb. It was bound to cause a headache. But, at least they’re cheap!
Fisher-Price Toy Camera
The Fisher-Price Toy Camera is one that you see go around in Flickr groups and other places. It was a collaboration with Kodak. It was pretty compact, so you could fit one into a deep pocket, go around shooting, and just have fun. Designed for kids first and foremost to get them into photography, they were primarily available in a blue variant with a yellow or orange shutter. The Fisher-Price toy camera was also incredibly simple to use. Chances are that if you pick one up that it may still have the film in it. And you can even still get the 110 film that it takes developed. Plus, places like Lomography still sell and manufacture the film for it.
Why it’s on our list of Weird Vintage Cameras: The camera is super weird. Not only did it take the very quirky 110 films typically meant for spy cameras, but it was plastic fantastic to the max. The shutter required this awkward use of your finger. The lens was a 35mm f6.8, and that meant that you could only really use it in bright sunlight. Admittedly, the images you could get from them were kind of cool.
The Kodak Brownie was one of the first mainstream cameras ever made. It was simple to operate and took lots of the guesswork out of photography for analog shooters back in the day. The Kodak Brownie came in many variants and evolved a lot over the years. It used a now-defunct film format, and you can sometimes find these cameras converted for more modern film formats.
Why it’s on our list of Weird Vintage Cameras: The Kodak Brownie is a weird camera if you’re brand new to photography, but if you’ve been in the game for a while, that opinion will vary. It’s boxy. It’s sort of large. And the quality will vary. It’s also sometimes awkward to use. Though the camera is legendary, I’m not sure folks will ever lose their marbles for it like they would a Contax T2.
Argus C3 Brick
The Argus C3 is affectionately called a brick by some. And even back in its heyday, it was a pretty large camera. Made of all metal and with a rangefinder body, you’re most likely going to find one with a 50mm f3.5 lens attached. It had a very clever focusing mechanism, shutter control, and awkward aperture control.
Why it’s on our list of Weird Vintage Cameras: The Argus C3 has aperture control on the front of the lens. So if you want to change your aperture, you need to remove the camera from your eye, look at it, and turn the aperture ring. Then adjust the shutter speed, focus, etc. It’s also enormous. The flange distance is enough that you can adapt a rangefinder lens to a Canon EF camera body.