Black and white image of an Ilford Craftsman camera
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Ilford Craftsman and a Roll of Ilford FP4+ – By Kat Good

May 19, 2022

A lot of us have shot with Ilford film, but have you ever used an Ilford camera? About four years ago I vastly overpaid for a camera I knew nothing about from an antiques store while on holiday in Tasmania. I realised lately that the roll of film I had bought at the same time was about to expire, so it was about time to figure out how to get pictures out of this thing. From what I’ve been able to find on this camera, Ilford manufactured the Ilford Craftsman in 1949 for the entry level market and it apparently was also issued to police forces for crime scene documentation! Who knows what gory images mine could have seen…

Fortunately, the Craftsman takes 120 film (6×6 exposures for 12 frames per roll) so is still usable today, 70 years on. In the spirit of authenticity I was using Ilford FP4+ 125. I haven’t tried any colour film with the Craftsman yet but it definitely would be interesting to see the results.

The Craftsman is a little more than a box camera but a lot less than a true TLR camera. You get two options for shutter speed (1/25 and 1/75, plus a bulb setting) and two options for aperture (f9 and f18). It also has a limited focusing range for the taking lens, allowing you to choose from 4-5 feet, 5-7, 7-10, 10-20 and 20-infinity. However it’s not a true twin lens reflex as the viewing lens is fixed focus, so you are kind of flying blind on focus. Since the apertures are so small it’s very forgiving for the most part.

The limited settings can make exposure challenging, but also freeing. Outdoors, stick it on 1/75 and f18 and hope for the best. Indoors, stick it on 1/25 and f/9 and hope for the best… although the only indoor capture I took was blank, so possibly the slower shutter speed is broken.

Carrying around such an eye-catching art deco camera certainly attracts a lot of attention. My grandparents, who feature on the last two frames, said they remembered their grandparents taking photos with a similar box camera, back in the 50s! One of the nice things about working with older cameras is how it brings out people’s memories.

Black and white square image of a bridge

A local bridge

Black and white square image of a waterfall with trees

Minyon Falls

Black and white square image of a pine tree in front of a cloudy sky

Coastal pine trees

Black and white square image of a woman leaning against a railing. Trees and other foliage visible in the background.

Getting the focus right can be tricky without a tape measure

Black and white square image of an elderly couple seated on a couch

My grandparents

Amazingly, considering the camera likely hasn’t been used, cleaned, or serviced in 70 years, 11 of the 12 exposures produced recognisable images. The taking lens seems to have some fungus in it which combined with general dust and debris gives the pictures a definite vintage look! I don’t hate the effect, with some of the nature pictures it’s hard to tell whether they were taken in 1952 or 2022.

Black and white square image of a tree in front of the ocean blowing in the breeze

1952 or 2022?

Black and white square image of a landscape of mountains

The lens definitely could use a clean

I really enjoyed my first roll with the Ilford Craftsman. It won’t become my daily driver but I have big plans for experimenting with colour film, long exposures, double exposures and more. One day I might even clean it.

More of my photography can be found on my website.

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5 Comments

  • Reply
    Bob Janes
    May 19, 2022 at 10:43 am

    I would be surprised if the marks are down to muck on the lens – they seem too well defined (and possibly directional). Might they be a product of a problem in developing, some form of pre-exposure of the film or of scanning artifacts?
    The camera looks very interesting – there were a number of these ‘bright’ non-focusing viewfinder TLRs around at one time – the Ensign full-vue being a very common one.

    • Reply
      Nick
      May 20, 2022 at 12:02 am

      I agree. Gunk in the lens (fungus, scratches, dust, debris, haze etc…) generally shows up in the images as odd flares or occasional haziness, but never as defined objects (primarily because they aren’t being brought into clear focus).

      This looks like film or developing issues.

  • Reply
    Ilford Craftsman and a Roll of Ilford FP4+ - By Kat Good - Digital Cameras
    May 19, 2022 at 10:48 am

    […] Read Original Article […]

  • Reply
    Terry B
    May 20, 2022 at 1:26 pm

    This is quite a well made camera with a slightly better spec than many box cameras of that era, and of which many were made from compressed cardboard. This is made from plastic (bakelite?) and definitely looks all the better for it. I picked mine up at a photographic auction about 45 years ago when I discovered it in a box of miscellanea that I bid on when it looked like it wasn’t going to sell for much. I was surprised at its overall very clean condition. But I’ve never put a film through it.

    I am somewhat sceptical about the model being used by UK Police forces; indeed there is only one unsubtantiated account on the internet, the one you link to. My reasoning is based on the camera’s specification and suitability for the stated purpose. There are a number of practical problems:
    1. The focal length of the lens which I’ve seen as being 95mm. This is quite long for a 6×6 negative, which is usually 75mm or 80mm, and apart from giving a more restricted field of view it leads to potential focusing errors. The 95mm focal length and reduced DoF and angle of view make the Craftsman particularly unsuitable to indoor shooting, especially considering focus has to be guessed.
    2. Camera shake using the 1/25sec shutter setting, in particular. This is roughly 1/4 of the suggested speed recommended for limiting image blur related to focal length. Flash only syncs at 1/25sec, too. So whilst the use of flash may solve available light issues, it doesn’t do anything for image blur.
    3. The police had a far more suitable and more versatile camera at their disposal, the Envoy Wide Angle, often erroneously referred to as Ilford Wide Angle. And this camera is known to have been used by the police. (This was the provenance of my Envoy outfit.)

    As for the odd mottling on your film, I’ve only ever seen once a similar effect and this was caused by a poorly stored film in which the film had reacted with the backing paper and there had been some transference to the film and which impacted on even development for some reason. I agree with the other two comments, dust or other gunge in the lens is unlikely to be the culprit.

  • Reply
    Graham Orbell
    May 20, 2022 at 9:47 pm

    Yes agreed, The marks on the otherwise very good photos look like a processing problem.
    I suspect they are caused by a poor drying technique after the final wash. I would try rewashing a couple of negatives occasionally swishing them gently in a pot of water for about 10 minutes with just a drop or two of liquid dish wash detergent added. Then you could gently squeegee the surplus water off between two fingers and hang them with a paper clip on a corner from a string to gently dry.
    If they had originally been dried without using a wetting agent ( detergent) drying marks will appear on the film.
    Most of those box camera style cameras used a simple meniscus lens so if there is any fungus it will be on an accessible surface if you can set the shutter on open.. My camera mechanic from years ago recommended using a cotton wool bud and good old human spit to remove fungus. I’ve tried it and it works. You could finish off with ordinary lens cleaner from an optician. In my box camera days 70 odd years ago I would stick a piece of black insulation tape over the red window that displays the frame numbers. Back then cheaper films were orthochromatic and a red window was OK. But better films and all B&W films nowadays films are panchromatic and sensitive to all colours. The red window can allow some fogging of the film. But use a short length of black tape and peel it back while you wind on in the shade of your body and you’ll have no problem.

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