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.
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.
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.
Toa Koki Gelto
The Gelto was a range of well-constructed 127 rollfilm cameras produced in Japan 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 model with D-III shutter was introduced in 1937 and came in a variety of body coverings, including black leather, silver and gold versions.
Black pre-war version of the Gelto with Grimmel Anastigmat 50mm f/4.5 in Gelto-DIII shutter. It had a problem with the helical focus mechanism because of a loose metal guide rail. The shutter on most Geltos have 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.
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 post-war Gelto still featured the DIII shutter and had a removable back like the New Gelto, but with a release catch located on the top plate. It is most commonly found as the gold coloured metal version like the one in the photo.
A gold-coloured post-war Gelto with coated Grimmel C 50mm f/3.5 lens and markings 'Made in Occupied Japan' on the red window cover at the back.
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.
Toa Koki Arsen
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 Toa Koki 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.