box tengor 54

16 Frames / A Whole Roll of Ilford HP5+ in a Box Tengor 54 – #FullRollFriday – by Steve Phillips

My son bought me a copy of David Ellwand’s “Retro Photo” for my birthday in June. An excellent book, it is a guided tour of his camera collection, with examples of the pictures he has taken with them. It soon became obvious that most of these cameras were lovely to look at but out of my price range, until I got to page 80 – Box Cameras. I had never considered them before, but here were cameras which produced interesting, even acceptable, results, and readily available on a well known auction site for peanuts. I decided to give it a go.

A few weeks later I was the owner of a Zeiss Ikon Box Tengor 54. As I see it, apart from the usual hazards of loading and unloading 120 roll film, one of the drawbacks of box camera photography is the economics of it – most cameras only give eight 9×6 images on a roll. The Box Tengor 54 is more generous, with sixteen 6×4.5 pictures. Produced in the 1930s, it has two apertures, f/22 and f/11, and two focus settings, 3ft-10ft and 10ft-infinity.

As for the shutter speed, that brings me to the other slight drawback. The speed on a lot of these boxes is usually around 1/30, or even slower, so a very steady hand or a tripod may be required. Not wanting to carry extra gear around, I went for a different solution. The shutter is basically a curved slot cut into a metal disc, which rotates rapidly when you press the release lever. As the slot passes over the aperture, light hits the film. So, using a couple of pieces of black tape, I covered over the ends of the slot, reducing the amount of time that the shutter is open to something like 1/60. A few sums told me that with 400 speed film, f/11 should be OK in full shade, and f/22 for anything bright. Maybe a couple of stops overexposed in full sun, but close enough.

The box went with me on holiday to Cornwall, and I decided to try and document our favourite walk, from Bodinnick to Polruan along the River Fowey, and then across to Fowey itself. Some of the shots were a bit rushed, but on the whole it seems to have worked out OK. For a camera coming up to ninety years old, it doesn’t do too bad.

My thanks go to my fellow walkers, Sam & Alfie, for putting up with the repeated routine of stop, glasses on, camera out, struggle to see the viewfinder in bright light, steady the camera, click, wind on, camera away, glasses off, walk on!

The start of the walk
A signpost points the way in Bodinnik village

A slightly blurred war memorial overlooking the estuary.

The town of Fowey, across the river.

An early glimpse of Polruan, before the path heads the other way, away from the sea.

The next mile or so is mostly through woods up above a a creek leading to the river.

woods ii

woods iii

Pont Creek
Some very remote cottages at Pont Creek


My walking buddies, wife Sam and dog Alfie.

Hurray! More than half way to Polruan.

polruan shipyard
The ship repair yard at Polruan.

Polruan from Fowey
A short boat ride later, we looked back at Polruan from Fowey.

River Fowey
Looking back up the valley we had walked around.

Waiting for the ferry back from Fowey to Bodinnick.

And finally, back in Bodinnick…the ferry drops you a few feet from a pub with a view.

Thanks for getting to the finish with me.

Steve Phillips

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12 thoughts on “16 Frames / A Whole Roll of Ilford HP5+ in a Box Tengor 54 – #FullRollFriday – by Steve Phillips”

  1. Lilianna Diane Elrod

    Love the article and images.
    One does not need elaborate gear to make lovely images.
    And you demonstrate this well!!

  2. The photos are fantastic so firstly thanks for sharing with us. A question. I am both a collector and a user of old cameras….have been for years and years. Did you clean up the lens/es on the camera before use or did you use as it came? The reason for this question is that I had a Planar lens that looked clean until I ran a roll through it……it had been in a trunk since I put it there in the mid 80’s…..I shot a roll and was seriously disappointed……then figured out that there was haze on the lens that I could not see….probably caused by pollution. A strip down and a serious clean of the lens and today it is one of my favourite lenses in my collection. I have just stripped a Box Tengor from the mid 50’s, one of the last Zeiss Ikon ones……and am chomping at the bit to use it… this was a very refreshing article! Thanks for posting all of these!

    1. Thanks for your kind words Martin. This BoxTengor had belonged to an old lady, possibly since new – part of the instruction leaflet was still in the canvas case – and was in very good condition all over. No idea when it was last used, but I assume it was many years ago. All I used to clean it up were some cotton buds dipped in Isopropanol rubbing alcohol, wiping the lens and viewfinder lenses & mirrors. Hope it keeps going for a few more years yet.

  3. Great photos. I recently acquired an Agfa Clack, a slightly more modern but still very simple box camera, and I’ve been amazed at the pictures such simple kit can produce.

    Your mention getting more shots per roll. The Clack created 6×9 negatives—just 8 shots per roll—but I kind of like that. I concentrate on each shot, but it doesn’t take weeks to shoot a roll like it does with 36-shot 35mm.

    P.S. My wife has a saying that she would have invoked early in your walk: “Scenic enough here. Let’s go back!” Your Sam is much more adventurous!

    1. That’s a good point Eric, about 36 exposure films. I took a 35mm camera out of the drawer today which is on 25/36, and probably has been for many weeks – I have no idea what most of those 25 were! Hope it jogs my memory when they finally get developed.

      1. Oh, oh, I do that sometimes, too. I have been taking a little notebook with me to jot down date, scene, and exposure (if you want to record it). Then at home, I rewrite the notes more neatly in a surveyor’s field notebook with good quality paper.

  4. Amazing results. Your negatives are excellent. What lovely scenery. I have a suggestion: take a yellow no. 2 or K2 filter with you next time. This will give you 1 stop of darkening as well as provide some better sky and cloud definition.

    1. Thanks for your comment. As it happens, I did have a yellow filter in my bag, but forgot to take it with me! Next time…

  5. I recently bought this exact camera and it’s currently somewhere on it’s trip across the world to get to me. Looking forward to using it, so was excited to see your timely article, thanks!

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