Camera History

A brief history of Reid & Sigrist – Guest post by Wilson Laidlaw

In the great British tradition of “Keep calm and muddle through”, during WW2, British official war photographers had used a whole hodge podge of assorted cameras, ranging from large format 5″ x 4″ plate cameras from Houghton Butcher in the UK and Graflex in the USA down to 35mm cameras from Leica, Contax, Kodak and others.

The preferred format at the beginning of the war was probably 120 film, seen as a reasonable compromise between the plate cameras, with their impracticability in a modern fast moving fluid war and the 35mm, whose negative size and quality was seen to be a limitation. There was such a shortage of cameras that an appeal was put out to UK photographers asking them to sell their cameras to the UK military: See an example of such an advert here:

r-g-lewis-advert

At the end of the war, Leica was in the British control zone of Germany. The UK intelligence services sent a team to Leica in 1946, to investigate their products, with a view to specifying a standard camera for the UK military. Wartime development of film technology, had now made 35mm a practical proposition to use as a standard negative size, with a good compromise between film speed and grain.

As a result of the London Agreement of 1945/46, all German patents were ruled to be invalid and open for free copy. The intelligence service left Leica with a complete set of microfilm plans for the pre-war IIIB and post war IIIC. These cameras are functionally identical but the IIIC is slightly larger, uses some more readily available raw materials and simplified production methods.

The contract to produce the camera for the UK military was awarded to Reid and Sigrist, one of the UK’s top precision aircraft instrument makers. The UK’s own camera industry was not seen as being capable of making the cameras to the required standards. Ilford for example also used an instrument maker, Peto Scott, to make their Leica competitor, the Witness.

Reid and Sigrist converted all the metric measurements into imperial, other than the 39mm lens mount (albeit even Leica use imperial for the thread pitch at 26 tpi). Presumably this is because all Reid’s machine tools were graduated in imperial. Reid decided that they would make their version of the pre-war IIIB, as they felt with its better materials and production methods, this would result in a more reliable and robust camera for use in a military environment.

They also took the opportunity to improve the tolerances, fit and finish to the standards they were used to from aircraft instruments and gyroscopes. The end result is the best built and finished of all LTM type cameras. They were not cheap. For example in 1954, a Reid and Sigrist model 3 with the standard and very good Taylor, Taylor and Hobson collapsible 2 inch f2 lens was £145, equivalent to £3500 in today’s money.

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They were slightly more expensive than a Leica IIIF with a collapsible Summicron, which including import duty, was £135. Total production of the Reid model 3 was around 1600 civilian models and 700 military. They also made a model 2 with no slow speeds and a model 1 with no rangefinder but these are even rarer than the model 3. If you compare this with Leica, who made well over half a million of their LTM cameras, you can see why the Reid and Sigrist are rare and sought after.

Why were so few Reids sold? A number of reasons. They were slightly more expensive than the equivalent Leica. Leica was German and had 20+ years reputation of making very fine cameras, so erroneously it was perceived to be better than the Reid. R&S took a long time to get into proper production and the civilian model cameras mainly arrived after the military order was fulfilled. Therefore by the time the improved Model III Type 2 was available, the Leica M3 with bayonet mounted lenses, lever wind and most importantly, a vastly better combined viewfinder and rangefinder, had arrived.


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22 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Terry B
    October 1, 2016 at 10:19 am

    A nice little intro into the Reid, especially the clip by the UK Government of the day asking for cameras. I note they were prepared to pay over list price for them. Try getting that today from a dealer when you take your joy in for a p/x deal! My big regret was not buying one in the early 1970’s and which was on sale in a dealers window for £90 including the TT&H f2. This was a lot of money for me then and I wrestled with the idea for four days and when I finally plucked up courage to get it, it had been sold.

    This is the one missed camera purchase opportunity that still haunts me to this day so, thank you Wilson for opening the wound. :D)

    For anyone wishing to know more about this fascinating camera and company, try this link:

    http://www.l39sm.co.uk/about_reid.php

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Blinx
      October 1, 2016 at 7:23 pm

      Interested to read Marston and Heard may have assembled some of the late Reids, their shop in Leyton was an Aladdin’s cave of hard to find photographic equipment. The Reid will go on my lottery winner’s list with the Ensign Autorange 620. Good to see Taylor Hobson lenses get a mention, my 5 x 4 renders beautifully and they’re generally overlooked.

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    Reply
    Kevin
    October 1, 2016 at 7:43 pm

    I’ve been given R&S enlarger, fantastic build quality.

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    Reply
    jeremy north
    October 2, 2016 at 11:50 pm

    Thank you for this article but I thought you’d have at least given us a review of the camera.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      October 3, 2016 at 12:34 pm

      More is hopefully coming Jeremy, patience 😉

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    Reply
    Benjamin
    October 3, 2016 at 4:00 am

    Merci pour cette très intéressante introduction aux appareils de cette marque. Adepte des Leica à vis, j’ignorais la qualité de fabrication de leurs copies anglaises. Dommage que ces boîtiers soient. Si rares (et chers !) sinon je me laisserais bien tenter…

    Bravo pour ce blog, réellement passionnant et enthousiasmant.
    Benjamin, from south of France.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Wilson Laidlaw
    October 3, 2016 at 1:25 pm

    The Reid handles very similarly to a Leica IIIB/C/D/F. You don’t really notice the smaller size compared with the C/D/F. The shutter makes a slightly different noise, not louder or quieter than a Leica, just different. Wind on is slightly smoother than my various LTM Leicas, except possibly my 1C Standard, where over 85 years, everything has worn very smooth.

    It has a very nice feature on the shutter release, in that it has a shutter cocked indicator, which appears in one of the windows on the shutter button shroud. A standard Leica LTM cable or delayed release will fit inside the shroud, so it does not have to be removed (and lost!) like the Leica one does, to fit a cable or delayed release. In fact it does not remove at all.

    I have been very busy lately, so just coming to the end of the first roll now and will send for processing. I don’t process myself anymore, due to many years of not bothering with gloves or proper ventilation and sensitising myself to most photo chemicals – be warned. I am not using the lens I expect to be using mostly on this camera, a 1999 Leica Special Edition Chrome Type V 50mm Summicron f2 LTM, which is currently being pushed through Heathrow customs by an arthritic snail with a Zimmer frame. I am using a Canon 5cm f1.9, which is not a bad lens but has very noticeable spherical aberration in the corners from f2.8 wider and also has quite cool rendering, when used for colour (on my Leica SL). Probably a 1B Skylight filter would do no harm but finding one with 40.5mm x 0.5mm pitch thread is easier said than done. When I go through the mountain of post waiting for me, I should find a new wind on knob to replace the one with damaged chrome.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Terry B
      October 4, 2016 at 9:48 am

      Wilson,

      There is a surprising lack of 1B filters in 40.5mm but if you search ebay for 40.5mm skylight filters you will find around 25 filters listed, of which 3 are definitely 1B. A 1B is quite strong. Are you sure a 1A wouldn’t suffice?

      How are you using your Canon f1.9/50 LTM on the SL? I have an SL2 and there is no practical way to use a rangefinder lens.

      ou

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Wilson Laidlaw
    October 4, 2016 at 10:25 am

    Couple of typo’s in my last post. The Canon is the later 5cm f1.8 Hiroshi lens not the earlier f1.9 Masana one. The filter thread is 40mm not 40.5mm (unfortunately). The lens’ rendition is quite blue and cold, albeit not as bad as my 5cm/f2 hex diaphragm Leica Summitar. I experimented on my digital Leica SL with some Cokin warming filters and to get neutral colouring on the Canon, the Cokin equivalent of 1B Skylight seemed about correct. However all a bit academic as I will be very lucky to find any filters at all in 40mm x 0.5mm. If it was 40mm x 0.75, I could use Fuji X10 filters, like the hood I am using but the different thread pitch means it only screws in about half a turn.

    Wilson

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Terry B
      October 8, 2016 at 9:00 am

      Ah, digital SL. To many old fogeys, like me, SL means film Leica in SL or SL2 guise. Silly Leica. Fancy giving the digital the same name!

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    Reply
    George Appletre
    October 4, 2016 at 10:35 am

    Does it something to do with Leica migration to Canada?, Hamish

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      Reply
      Hamish Gill
      October 5, 2016 at 8:48 pm

      what do you mean?

      • Avatar
        Reply
        George Appletre
        October 6, 2016 at 7:22 am

        They stablished in some moment in America and I thought perhaps in that occasion or due to those circumstances…

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Wilson Laidlaw
    October 6, 2016 at 7:47 am

    There is a good post on RFF giving a brief outline of the early history of Leica Canada. http://www.rangefinderforum.com/forums/showthread.php?t=69200 . It does not cover the later post M4-2 period, where Leica got involved with some military projects with Raytheon but finally ended up as the glass factory for the more exotic glasses required for such lenses as the f1 Noctilux and also designing and assembling some lenses, as Walter Mandler had moved there, becoming a Canadian citizen. I am not sure what happened in the end with the Midland factory. Was is just closed or sold off to a different division of Leica, such as Microsystems? Leica now purchases its lens blanks, already pressed and only needing grinding, from Schott Glass, a sub-division of the Carl Zeiss Foundation. Wilson

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Terry B
      October 8, 2016 at 9:19 am

      Wilson,

      Does this mean that Schott glass is used, and not Leica’s own formulations as would have been the case in years past. Or does Leica get Schott to smelt and make the blanks from Leica’s bespoke glass formulae?

      Regarding the plant at Midland, Ontario, I found a comment which stated the plant was sold to an American company in 1990, but it wasn’t named.

      • Avatar
        Reply
        Hamish Gill
        October 8, 2016 at 9:26 pm

        Surly ELCAN – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ELCAN_Optical_Technologies
        ?

        • Avatar
          Reply
          Wilson Laidlaw
          October 8, 2016 at 9:45 pm

          Hamish,
          I had a feeling that Raytheon had now sold it on to someone else (probably a private equity company!)

        • Avatar
          Reply
          Terry B
          October 8, 2016 at 9:54 pm

          Hamish, Possibly. Odd, though, that the article seems to imply not only the assets of Ernst Leitz, Canada, were sold to Reytheon, but the Ernst Leitz name as well. Leica Cameras, as opposed to Leitz, have had a number of non-German owners, including at one time an English company, and then the Swiss instrument maker, Wild, if my recollection is correct.

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      Reply
      Marwan El-Mozayen
      November 21, 2018 at 8:46 am

      HI Wilson,
      This is some very interesting information, thanks! I’ve been living in Germany my whole life but had never heard this story. My name is Marwan, I’m the editor-in chief at PhotoKlassik International magazine, and I’d love to contact you about writing an article for us. [email protected] Hope to hear from you soon!
      Best regards,
      Marwan El-Mozayen

  • Avatar
    Reply
    George Appletre
    October 7, 2016 at 9:31 pm

    Thank you very much, Wilson

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Wilson Laidlaw
    October 8, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    Terry,

    Whether Leica specifies the specific characteristics of the glass they want in their blanks from Schott or picks glass from no doubt the wide range that Schott offer, I doubt if we will ever find out, as I would guess it is a deadly trade secret. When Leica design a new lens, it would very much be a chicken and egg situation, do they design the best lens they can and then tell Zeiss what they need in the way of refractive indices and for some elements, anomalous dispersion or start the design knowing what characteristics of glass Zeiss can offer “off the shelf”.

    Wilson

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Wilson Laidlaw
    October 8, 2016 at 10:36 pm

    It would take many pages to cover the complex history of recent Leica ownership. The merger with Wild Heerbrugg, then the merger with Cambridge Optical, then the splitting off of the unprofitable camera business from the profitable parts. Then a failed management buyout, followed by a successful one. Then flotation of the company on the Frankfurt Bourse. The acquisition of a substantial shareholding by Hermes, the acquisition and disposal of Minox. The acquisition of the majority shareholding by the current owner Lisa AG, which is in effect controlled by Dr Andreas Kaufmann. The delisting and re-privatisation of the company. The secretive acquisition of Sinar and finally the partial sale to Blackstone Capital. You could make a soap opera out of that lot. Thorsten Overgaard has written a detailed history of Leica and I am sure that it will be accurate and reasonable readable.

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