127 rollfilm was smaller than 120 rollfilm used for medium-format cameras but slightly larger than 135 film. Because it was a rollfilm, without the need for a rewind knob or a wind-lock mechanism, the cameras could be kept compact. Particularly the half-format cameras, which made 4x3 cm exposures, were therefore usually smaller than equivalent 135 film cameras, even though it produced larger negatives than the 135 film 35x24 mm format.
Nagel Pupille & Ranca
The backing paper of 127 rollfilm only had markings for 8 (6x4 cm) or 12 (4x4 cm) exposures - cameras for 4x3 cm half-format negatives had therefore two windows at the back that needed to be used alternately. Unfortunately 127 rollfilm is no longer easily available.
Nagel was a camera manufacturer founded by August Nagel, one of the great names in camera history as the designer of the Kodak Retina series. Only few Nagel cameras exist, amongst which the Vollenda, a larger folding camera, and the Pupille, as small 127 3x4 camera. It was sold as Rolloroy in the U.K. and a simpler version was called the Ranca.
The 1932-1935 Nagel Pupille was a very small camera with a telescoping lens base on a helicoid and a shutter/lens assembly with its own focussing helicoid. It was available with several lenses, including a Leitz Elmar, which is rather unusual as Leitz did not produce many lenses for other camera makers, and Schneider Xenon or Xenar. To load the Pupille with film the whole top plate with attached film transport mechanism had to be removed from the camera. A set of rollers would guide the film, ensuring smooth film transport.
The camera stayed in production after Nagel was taken over by Kodak, it can therefore also be found with Kodak marked on the shutter plate.
Nagel Pupille with Xenar 50mm f/3.5 lens in Compur shutter. Early Schneider lenses like this one were marked with "Jos. Schneider & Co.". Based on the Compur shutter serial# this example was built in 1933. It has a metal focus ring, whereas most Pupilles had a black one. This one is unfortunately also missing the lever to rotate the lens base helicoid.
Top view of Nagel Pupille. The depth of focus scale is similar to the one found on folding Retinas. The two little holes were for mounting an accessory rangefinder, like the ones found on early Leicas.
A simpler version of the Nagel Pupille was the Nagel Ranca. Instead of a helical focus mount it had a helical lens tube which needed to be fully extended prior to making a photo, and the lens was focussed by turning the lens front element. The Ranca also had a simpler self-cocking Pronto or Vario shutter, lacked a depth of focus scale dial, and had a slower f/4.5 aperture. Some versions had a collar around the lens tube, which therefore could no longer be retracted. I am pretty sure the Ranca was introduced around 1930 or 1931, so about a year before the Pupille.
Mentor was a small camera maker in Germany active in the first part of the last century that mainly focussed on large format cameras. One of the exceptions was the Mentorett, a rare focal plane TLR camera, another was the Dreivier, which is shown here, sold from 1932 until about 1934. It was a small camera with collapsible lens for 3x4 format on 127 roll film. There are quite a few similar cameras on this page, but the Dreivier did stand out by being relatively large but also by having an excellent build quality. It had a helical focus mount, a viewfinder with parallax correction and a nice latch mechanism for removing the camera back. The whole camera oozes quality. Except, perhaps, for the nickel plating, often worn from the wind knob, and the black enamel paint, which is frequently chipped off. It is most commonly found with a f/2.8 Tessar lens, but a f/3.5 Leitz Elmar version was also available (see photo).
A lovely Mentor Dreivier with Leitz Elmar 50 mm f/3.5 lens in Compur shutter. This looks like a chrome version, but I suspect it was original covered in black enamel, as a few small black chips are left on the bottom plate and some of the bare metal parts show faint grinding marks. I have seen a few similar ones on the internet, but also ones that have some black parts left, including the viewfinder, which clearly was painted originally. So in all likelihood, all metal Dreiviers were black originally.
The is no reason to doubt the Leitz Elmar lens is original. These are rare lenses on non-Leicas, but can be found on several contemporary camera models, such as the Nagel Pupille and Vollenda, the Welta Welti and the Zeca Goldi. Note that even though the Dreivier is rare, there were still several slightly different versions. This example has strap lugs as well as a foldable stand (the back part on the front left), so is a late production one. A slight oversight from Mentor is that the camera doesn't quite stand straight up when the stand is used because of the addition of the strap lugs.
Rear view of the Mentor Dreivier showing two red windows, typical of 3x4 format cameras for 127 film. Also note the metal part next to the viewfinder, which is the latch to open the camera body, the camera top and back come off when this latch is pushed.
The Ruberg Futuro was a eye-catching little camera with screw-out lens and foldable viewfinder. It was made in Germany around 1934 and featured a two-speed shutter. It used 127 film and could take photos in 4x3 or 4x6 format by means of an internal mask. This in itself wasn't particular unusual, but the Futuro allowed you to change the mask with film loaded by means of a switch button on the bottom of the camera. Thus one could get 4x3 and 6x4 format on the same film. It would have taken a little bit of care to avoid overlapping frames when switching from one format to the other, but I wish more cameras had that feature.
Ruberg & Renner (the full name of the company) made several more pocket-sized cameras, often using bakelite components, and several name variants of the Futuro exist, as well as versions with a crackled paint effect. The company's diversion into cameras only lasted a few years, its main business being industrial products and bicycles.
Ruberg Futuro with Rodenstock-Periskop f/11 lens of unspecified focal length, but presumably around 75 mm in line with other 6x4 format 127 film cameras.
The Ising Puck was an elegantly styled and compact 127 rollfilm camera with a collapsible lens. It had a rather small viewfinder and the shutter had to be cocked and fired on the shutter itself. Like most half-format 127 cameras it made negatives in portrait orientation. It came with a range of shutters (Prontor II, Vario, Compur-Rapid) and lenses (Staeble Kata, Steinheil Cassar, Rodenstock Trinar).
There is very little info about this camera or its manufacturer, lens serial nrs suggest the Puck was likely produced between 1948-50. Other cameras from the same company, which was based in Bergneustadt, Germany, were the 6x6 Ising Isis from 1953-4 and the Pucky, a range of simple pseudo-TLRs, which were also sold in the US by Sears and Bolsey.
Ising Puck with collapsible lens and convenient fold-up stand.
The top of the Puck had a depth of field indicator and wind knob as well as an accessory shoe.
The Picny was introduced in 1935 by Miyagawa from Japan. It was very similar to the later and more common Gelto (see below), so similar in fact that it is hard to believe the camera was not made by the same company. It is said the Picny was inspired by the Wirgin Gewirette. I'd argue that the Picny was of higher build quality and also benefitted from a helical focus mount with an impressive shortest focus distance of only 1/3 m.
The main difference with the Gelto was that the Picny was a little smaller and had a wider lens (40mm vs. 50mm). Also, it missed an accessory shoe but had a holder for a screw-in lens filter instead. Finally, the shutter had a smaller range of speeds. The film frame was only 36x25mm, a little smaller than the normal 127 roll film frame size of 40x30mm, and in fact pretty much the same as 'normal' 35mm film.
The same Miyagawa company also made the Boltax, which can be considered the bigger brother of the Picny but made for Bolta film, i.e., the film for the early Boltavit and Photavit cameras. A Picny 35 also existed, larger still as meant for 35mm film. All these are rare and hard to find, certainly here in the west.
The very cute Picny with a collapsible Picny Anastigmat 40mm f/4.5 lens. The beautiful nickel-plated metal work and black enamal body attests to the high build quality of this 80-year old camera. Only the leather has not survived as well. The small black ring is a filter which could be screwed onto the knob next to the viewfinder when not in use, a nice touch.
Top view of the Picny (left) and one with its top removed (right) with a 4cm 127 spool for scale.
The Boltax was build by the same company as the Picny above. Technically it shouldn't be in this list, as it did not use 127 film, but Bolta film instead. This was the rollfilm developed for the Boltavit/Photavit camera range, and the Boltax was clearly inspired by the first Boltavit models. However, it was arguably of much better build quality, well outshining its 'parent', just like in fact the Picny above outshone the Wirgin Gewirette upon it was based. The Boltax was essentially a miniature version of the (already small) Picny, it has a similar removable top locked with a latch, and a similar helical focus mechanism with the shutter and lens mounted at the end of the helicoid tube. The Boltax was introduced just before WWII and was built up until about 1942, when Japan joined WWII.
Miyagawa Boltax III with Picner Anastigmat 40mm f/4.5 lens.
Comparison of the Boltax III with the Boltavit II on which it was based, but which it easily surpassed in features and build quality. Note the 35mm film cartridge is shown for scale only, as both cameras used 'Boltax' film, a 35mm paper-backed rollfilm without perforations.
The Gelto was a range of well-constructed 127 rollfilm cameras produced in Japan by Toakoki Seisakusho from about 1936 to 1952. Its design was based on the very similar Picny (see above). The Gelto had a collapsible lens with a helical focus mount. On early models the top plate had to be removed to load film, on later models the whole back would come off. The most common model has a D III shutter and was introduced in 1937, it is known as the Gelto-DIII, but this name was never actually used for marketing the camera. It came in a variety of body coverings, including black leather, silver and gold versions.
The same company also made folding cameras, including the Semi Gelto, which is shown elsewhere on this site.
A very early black enamel pre-war version of the Gelto with Grimmel Anastigmat 50mm f/4.5 in Gelto-III shutter and body serial# 864. It is almost identical to the more common version with Gelto-DIII shutter below; the only difference I could find was that on this model aperture numbers are engraved in the shutter housing as opposed to indicated on a screw-on strip. However, I have seen later Gelto-III that also had such a strip, so the mystery what exactly is the difference between the 'III' and 'DIII' remains.
Black enamel pre-war version of the Gelto with Grimmel Anastigmat 50mm f/4.5 in Gelto-DIII shutter. This example had a problem with the helical focus mechanism because of a loose metal guide rail, which are quite fragile. The shutter on most Geltos have also not stood the test of time well, this one works but not the B and T settings.
Top view of the pre-war version of the Gelto with collapsible lens fully extended.
Side by side comparison of the Picny and the Gelto, the former slightly smaller than the latter, but otherwise nearly identical. It is hard to believe these were made by different companies.
The New Gelto 3x4 had a removable back and base plate instead of the removable top plate of the earlier Gelto models. The turning key to open the back was located on the bottom plate. Otherwise the construction was very similar to the earlier model, including the shutter which was still marked Gelto D-III. The metal work was finished with chrome instead of nickel like the earlier model.
New Gelto with Grimmel Anastigmat 50mm f/4.5, like the one above. Early production had New Gelto engraved in the top plate, later models, like this one, had a name plate.
Detail of the New Gelto showing the name plate. Camerapedia suggests this was to cover a hole in the top plate, but that is not true in this case, there is nothing under the name plate.
The next change in Gelto models was the introduction of bodies with a gold or silver metal finish and a back release catch located on the top plate. It appears this was after production of cameras restarted after WWII. Initially, these Gelto came with different shutters, perhaps because the manufacturer of the D III shutters was not yet back in production. It also appears the numbering of the lenses was restarted. Unlike the later Geltos, the early gold models had the name of the company Toakoki Seisakusho engraved on the side (see below).
Early post-war Gelto with Northter Model-II shutter and Grimmel Anastigmat 50mm f/3.5 lens. It has an unusual coarse-grained gold-coloured finish. The shutter was made by Nishida, who also made the Wester shutter. Curiously, both these names are marked on the shutter. A strange feature of this camera is that it has only a single red window at the back, despite it having a 3x4 film frame like the other models.
A slightly different post-war Gelto, this time with New Paragon shutter by Toa Optical Co and the standard Grimmel Anastigmat 50mm f/3.5 lens. The shutter ring bears the name NKS Tokyo, which is a little confusing, as that's a different company (Nippon Kosokki) than Toa Optical. The back of the camera says 'Made in occupied Japan', typical of postwar cameras. This camera has the fine-grained gold-coloured pattern typical of most later Geltos.
The company name Toakoki Seisakusho as engraved on the side of the Gelto with Northter shutter.
The later post-war Geltos featured D III shutters again and had coated lenses. Some of these are marked 'Made in Occupied Japan' at the back.
A gold-coloured post-war Gelto with coated Grimmel C 50mm f/3.5 lens and with 'Made in Occupied Japan' markings on the red window cover at the back. This is the most common post-war model.
Top view of the post-war Gelto-DIII with collapsible lens extended. Note the lever to release the back, instead of a turning key like the pre-war version above.
Two versions of gold-coloured Geltos. Note the difference in the patterns of the metal body.
The Arsen was a special version of the Gelto sold by Ars, which was the publisher of Ars Camera, a Japanese camera magazine. The Arsen had a few different features from the standard Gelto, the most significant of which was the different film frame, with was 4x4 cm instead of 3x4 on the Gelto. It therefore had only a single spy window at the back. In addition it had a wind mechanism with a frame counter and an automatic frame stop in a heightened section of the top housing. Other than that it was nearly identical to the pre-WWII version of the Gelto, including the removable top plate to load film and the collapsible lens with helical focus.
A Toakoki Arsen with Grimmel Anastigmat 50mm f/4.5 in Arsen shutter. Note the chained metal lens cap with the name Arsen engraved, a nice feature not found on the Gelto. The main blemish of this example is the wind knob, which had the grooves filed off by a previous owner, presumably in an ill-conceived attempt to remove the top housing.
(left) The wind and frame counter mechanism inside the top housing of the Arsen. Pushing the long lever would reset the wind mechanism to 0 once the end of the film was reached. (right) Top view of the Arsen, with the small spy window for the frame counter located just left of the wind knob.
Just added here for completion, information about this camera can be found on the Wirgin page.
The three musketeers: a Gewirette, Picny and Gelto together. The latter two are thought to be based on the first. They were certainly similar but the Picny and Gelto were finished to a much higher standard.
The Foth Derby is a somewhat overlooked little folding camera that had impressive specifications for its time, the early 1930s. The history of the Foth Company is quite vague. It appears the company started producing optics and binoculars in the 1920s and was based in Danzig, then part of Germany but nowadays Gdansk in Poland. In the early 1930s the company moved to Berlin and started producing a small line of cameras, including said Derby, as well as a TLR, the Fothflex. Then the history becomes muddled, it appears the company moved to France and merged with Gallus, continuing to produce the Derby and later the Gallus Derlux.
Back to the Derby. The outstanding features of this camera were the focal plane shutter, at the time mainly found on high-end cameras of the likes as Leica and Contax, with a fast top-speed of 1/500s, a helical focus unit and several lenses including a for the time very fast f/2.5 Foth Anastigmat. The frame size was initially 35mm but later increased to 4x3, as commonly found on 127 cameras. This all in a small handy package that would fit in your pocket. The camera was probably fairly popular, as they are still relatively easy to find, and was exported to many countries, including the USA and the UK.
A Foth Derby with Foth Anastigmat 50mm f3/.5 lens.
Top view of the Foth Derby showing the scissor-like strut folding mechanism.
This Derby came with a non-functioning shutter, the ribbons on one of the curtains had gone. The shutter on the Foth Derby is easy to get to and has a simple design, so if you want to get into fixing focal plane shutters, the Derby is a good place to start.
Above oy can see the shutter after being removed from the camera with the folding struts still attached. Beneath the clip marked by the red circle are the tension screws for the curtain rollers. Marked by the blue circle are the supports for the non-tensioned rollers, which are easily removed if curtain repairs are needed. The green circle marks the selftimer mechanism.