Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Recent Updates

I'm not in the habit of going back to revise posts I've made on this blog, but my recent research into Ilford has turned up new information that I've added to my posts on Ilford's G.30 & R.10 plates, as well as finding a data sheet which provides more information on Kodak's O.250 plates.

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Ilford Mk V Motion Picture Film

The 35mm film format was originally developed for motion picture cameras, but the convenience of the format's small size soon led to its adoption for still photography (35mm was known as 'miniature' film, by comparison to the 'medium' format of rollfilms, and large format sheet films and plates). The famous Leica wasn't the first still picture camera to use 35mm film, but it did help to popularise the format; subsequently the Kodak Retina was designed around the 35mm daylight loading cartridge, and by the second half of the 20th century, 35mm film became the dominant film format. Meanwhile, it continued (and continues) to be used for motion pictures and was only challenged by the quality of digital very recently. There were (and still are) some film emulsions produced explicitly for motion picture use which have never been generally available in short lengths for still camera use. However, there are photographers that use motion picture stocks for still photography, with online communities catering for this niche such as Project Double-X, and the Double-X and Orwo Flickr groups.

Ilford Mark V Motion Picture Film
Looking for unusual film stock online, I found, and bought, a lot of 4 cans of Ilford Mark V motion picture film from a well-known auction site. Each can contains 50 ft of film; given roughly 5ft per 36 exposure roll of film, each can would hold about 10 rolls' worth of film. On a generic label, 'Ilford Photographic Materials', the particulars of the film are printed underneath and "Date of test 21.5.73". Shooting 35mm film at 24 frames per second uses 90 feet of film per minute: 35mm motion picture film is usually sold in 400ft to 1000ft lengths. A 50ft roll of film would last just over 30 seconds. Returning to the label, it's a question as to what the 'test' actually refers to: was the film in these cans produced for quality control purposes, to test the Mark V emulsion, or film base, or coating machinery? Or are these short reels produced for film makers to make tests with (although the syntax suggests otherwise)?

Top: Ilford Mark V perforations. Bottom: HP5 Plus
As a motion picture film, it has different perforations from still camera film, but should run through  35mm cameras without any problems: problems occur when using 35mm still camera film in cine cameras, not the other way around. The general practice of edge marking on 35mm film is to print it to be read from the same side as the negative frames, but the lettering on the Mark V film is reversed. It's marked simply "IlFORD SAFETY FILM", obviously without frame numbering, but there are numbers at intervals on the edge of the film.

For a first test, I shot a roll of Mk V with successive exposures at 400, 200, 100, 50, and 25 EI, and then stand developed the film in Rodinal diluted 1:100 for an hour, to give me a rough guide to exposure to make further tests with.

Contact sheet of Ilford Mk V test roll
After developing the first roll of film, I was struck by how grey the film looked. I assumed this to simply be fog due to age, although I later discovered the film also has a grey base. Exposures at 25 and 50 EI yielded usable results (it looks as though the highlights are beginning to block at 25); I had hoped that the film might be faster than that. At this point I didn't know what the film was originally rated at, but I had read online that it was 500 ISO; the results of scanning the negatives show them to be as grainy as a fast film, and in my experience of out of date film, as a broad general rule, faster emulsions are more affected by loss of sensitivity with age. There were also no indications of how these cans of film were stored over the past 40 years.

Ilford Mk V, shot at 25 EI
Ilford Mk V, shot at 50 EI
As a consequence of my research into Ilford Limited's operations in Ilford, I was also able to find out more about Mk V film. Silver By The Ton has an appendix of the company's products. Mark V film is listed under 'Cine and Aerial Films' with an introduction date of 1965. However, this list, unlike the lists for plates, sheet films and rollfilms, does not have ASA/ISO values attached. There is also no mention of any Mark I - IV iterations of the film: I have read some speculation that Mark V may have used a version of the HP emulsion, which was HP4 at the time (HP5 appeared in 1976). For the next couple of test rolls I tried developing Mk V as if it was HP5 Plus, using exposure to compensate for the film's loss of sensitivity, but using the same development times as HP5+. For a second test roll, I exposed the film at 25 and 32 EI, using my Agfa Optima Sensor. Cutting the roll of film in to two lengths, I developed half the roll in Rodinal 1:25 for 6m30s at 19ºC and the other half for 8m45s at 19ºC (I also shot and developed a roll using the Ilford Sportsman at the same time). I had hoped that a shorter development time might reduce the fog without the need to add anti-fog agents, but the effect seemed negligible. Comparing these results to the first roll of film which had been stand developed, I felt like the grain might be a little more pronounced, but, without shooting exactly the same subject matter, making an accurate comparison is difficult.

Mk V film, 32 EI, developed 6m30s in Rodinal 1:25
Mk V film, 25 EI, developed 8m45s in Rodinal 1:25
Further to my research on Ilford at Redbridge Central Library, I subsequently found the Ilford Technical Information Book. Rather than a book exactly, these are four ring bound manuals containing information sheets on Ilford's various products, and could be updated with new sheets when required. Dates on the information sheets of the Technical Information Book that Redbridge Library holds range from the early 1960s to the mid-1970s; Volume 1 contained the sheet for Mark V Negative Motion Picture Film, dated L68, i.e. December 1968. Although this was after I'd exposed and developed a few rolls of film, and had found workable parameters for using it, the sheet provided a wealth of information about the film:
This film has fine grain and wide exposure latitude. These characteristics, together with its high speed, make the film suitable for the production of pictures of very high quality under a wide variety of lighting conditions. Newsreel photography in poor light, filming at night and television work generally are situations in which this film is particularly useful. In the studio the high speed of the film makes great depth of field possible without the need for exceptionally powerful lighting units.
The information sheet provides the original speed ratings, two of which are given: a 'daylight average' of 250 ASA and a 'minimum' of 500 (ratings for tungsten lighting are given as 200 and 400 respectively). Under 'Special Development Techniques' it also mentions Microphen for push processing for speeds up to 1300, although it gives no development times.
Two speed ratings are quoted. The minimum exposure rating is recommended when it is necessary to achieve the maximum film speed and image quality, but this is only possible when the processing conditions are strictly related to the exposure conditions. The average exposure ensures image quality of a very high order in a wide range of exposure and processing conditions.
Sensitometric curves when developed in ID11 at 20ºC (continuous agitation).
From Technical Information Sheet A50.7
The film couldn't really be described as having 'fine grain' now, but the wide latitude does appear to still be present even with the loss of sensitivity with age: having initially thought the film might now be as slow as 25, I shot another roll at 50 EI, and bracketed either side of this with usable results (the first test had been shot on a grey winter's day, not the best lighting conditions for this). For this roll I returned to stand development, developing half in Rodinal 1:100 for one hour, and half in Rodinal 1:150 for 3 hours (I had tried this time and dilution with HP5 recently, with good results).

I wouldn't want to be prescriptive about appropriate uses of different types of film: the grain of Mark V is more pronounced than that of modern 400 speed films, and so the choice of subject matter is a consideration when using this film. The grain can appear disruptively prominent in the skies of landscape shots, but from the results of the rolls I've developed so far the subjects that work best with Mark V film, in the examples below, are those such as the dim station interior or the photograph of Dagenham Brook in fading light.

Mk V film, 50 EI, stand developed in Rodinal 1:100 for 1 hour
Mk V film, rated 50 EI, stand developed in Rodinal 1:150 for 3 hours
Ilford Mk V, 50 EI, stand developed in Rodinal 1:150 for 3 hours
Ilford Mk V, 32 EI, developed in Rodinal 1:25 for 8m45s

Sources/Further reading
Silver by the Ton - A History of Ilford Limited 1879-1979, RJ Hercock and GA Jones
Ilford Technical Information Book Volume 1

Labeauratoire (with which I am in no way affiliated) is currently selling Mark V with an expiry date of 1979. Their recommendation is 400 or 200 ISO, which suggests their film was kept better than my stock.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Ilford, Limited, Ilford

Corner of Cranbrook Road and Park Avenue
In the basement of a house at the corner of Cranbrook Road and Park Avenue, Ilford, Alfred Harman began the production of photographic plates in 1879. Silver gelatin dry plates had only recently been invented in 1871: in the preceding wet-plate process, photographers would have to coat glass plates themselves just prior to exposure. With dry plates, as these could be produced in advance, there was the opportunity for commercial production. Initially named 'Britannia' plates, a dispute over the use of the name1 resulted in the adoption of the place of manufacture, Ilford, for Alfred Harman's plates. Trading as the Britannia Works Company, this also changed its name in 1901, with Ilford Council insisting on the company using the word 'Limited' in full and with a comma separating the two words: Ilford, Limited. The house where it began was demolished in the 1930s to make way for a cinema which was never built; after the second world war the Cranbrook pub was built on the plot, which is currently the London Dartbar, shown in the picture above.

My family moved to Ilford in 1983, a few years after Ilford Limited had closed its base in the town, moving operations to its site in Mobberley, Cheshire, where it continues to this day. I first became aware of the company some ten years later, learning black and white photography at college: the iconic bold san serif lettering on boxes of photographic paper bearing the name of my home town had quite a visual impact, beyond any personal associations. At the time I had little interest in the history of the company, but, partly due to finding Maurice Fisher's excellent Photo Memorabilia website as a result of researching old Ilford plates more recently, this interest in Ilford's history has grown.

I conceived a project to photograph the sites of Ilford Limited in Ilford with an Ilford camera. I bought an Ilford Sportsman camera for 99 pence online, and armed with some Ilfodata HS23 document film, I spent two consecutive afternoons in Ilford taking photographs. After taking the photographs on the first day, I went to Redbridge Central Library. In the local museum there's a small display about Ilford, entitled 'A Worker's Story', about the photographic company told through the experience of Mary Davis, who worked for Ilford between 1958 and 1976, when the company closed in Ilford. Surrounding the documents and photographs in this display are cases filled with Ilford cameras, including the same model Sportsman camera that I had just been using, and films, plates and papers. The highlight of the display is perhaps an Ilford Falling Plate camera, representing the company's first entry into the camera market, something they would not attempt again until the 1940s. Objects from the museum's collection are also displayed throughout the library itself in appropriate places: looking in the photography section, I found a display case on the shelf amongst the books containing an Ilford Sprite, a box of R.52 Panchromatic plates, three rolls of 35mm HPS film and a packet of lantern slide masks.

In the local studies section of the library, I asked if they held any material on Ilford Limited and the helpful staff provided me with a folder full of clippings, a copy of Silver by the Ton- A History of Ilford Limited 1879-1979,2 and four pages of a typed document called 'The Ilford Story'.3 Useful for this project, Silver By The Ton has an appendix detailing the early properties of the company, with sections of the 1864 Ordnance Survey map, showing the original buildings, although it does state that "very little documentary evidence has survived about the factory between 1879 and 1891".4

Entrance to Sainsbury's Ilford
Most histories of Ilford Limited describe the company moving to Roden Street after its beginnings on Cranbrook Road, a site now occupied by Sainsbury's supermarket. Although the company's address was 29-37 Roden Street by the time it closed, this is misleading: Alfred Harman initially rented a cottage on the Clyde Estate,5 followed by the nearby Grove Terrace, which was converted into the plate coating department and warehouses.6 As the business expanded, the Britannia Works Company quickly acquired the parcel of land bounded on two sides by Clyde Cottages and Grove Terrace and built a factory. A wood engraving of the Britannia Works Company factory was used in an advertisement for Ilford Plates in 1888.7 It shows the factory bounded by a private road on the north-western side: this runs parallel to Back Street, called Roding Street on the OS map of 1896, and then Roden Street by 1919. In Silver By The Ton, the engraving of 1888 is described as using artistic licence, "presumably to show the rural setting of the factory"; at the time the factory did face open land on two sides, to the River Roding on the west, and to the south.8 The choice of the site was important as being away from the pollution of London, but close enough for business: Alfred Harman used to drive daily to London to deliver his plates by pony and trap. However, the town of Ilford expanded rapidly at the end of the 19th century and the start of the 20th. In 1891 Ilford's population was 10,711, "a large village with outlying hamlets and farms, but with little urban development".9 Ten years later, the population had nearly quadrupled to 41,235 (it reached 78,188 in 1911, and continued to grow, though more slowly, after the First World War).10 Increased pollution was an inevitable result of this expansion: in 1899 25,000 plates were spoiled due to atmospheric pollution,11 which appears to have prompted the acquisition of a site in Brentwood12 at the turn of the century- further out into the Essex countryside, but on the same railway line to Liverpool Street as Ilford.13

Riverdene Road, looking north-west
Britannia Works expanded again in 1895, with a plate-cutting factory (this had previously been done by hand). An illustration from an article about the Britannia Works Company in The British and Colonial Printer and Stationer, reproduced in Silver By The Ton,14 shows the site viewed from the fields by the Roding to the south-west. The Britannia Works Company bought all the land from the factory site to what is now Bengal Road, with most of the land being sold to a developer, who built the houses on the lane that Grove Terrace faced, becoming Uphall Road in 1907, but some of the land was subsequently bought back in 1908 to build a new plate factory.15 Terraced houses were built on the land to the south as well, with the next road but one to the south-east of Britannia Works named Britannia Road, unlikely to be a coincidence. Uphall Road is now known as Riverdene Road, suggesting the long-disappeared bucolic surroundings of the 19th century Britannia Works. Looking at the ground plan of Grove Terrace as shown on the OS maps, the current wall of Sainsbury's car park with its recessed bays at regular intervals echoes the shapes of the original buildings.

Riverdene Road, looking south-east
At the corner of Riverdene Road and Roden Street stands The Papermakers Arms, and two derelict houses. The earliest reference to The Papermakers Arms I've found is 1872,16 although the shape of the property isn't consistent on successive OS maps, suggesting the pub has been redeveloped during its history. It's a logical to suppose the pub was so named for the paper mill close to the Roding by the railway, which also gives its name to Mill Road, and this was in operation during the early years of Britannia Works.17 The earliest reference to photographic paper made by Ilford is 1884,18 however Silver By The Ton lists Harman's paper suppliers as "the Coloured Paper and Glue Company, Blanchett Freres and Kleber (Rives paper) and Steinbach (Sixe paper)",19 ruling out a very local supplier (in the local studies archive, documents relating to the Ilford Paper Mills were bundled with those of Ilford, Limited, which naturally became a line of enquiry).

Derelict houses next to The Papermakers Arms
The derelict houses on the eastern side of Riverdene Road next to The Papermakers Arms back on to Sainsbury's car park. These would have been adjacent to Grove Terrace; the projecting section of the newer brick wall was at one point the entrance to an alley alongside Britannia Works, the edge of the site before it later extended to Roden Street in 1896. In the 1864 map, the building on the corner where the pub stands appears to extend as far as the alleyway; in 1896 there are four houses here and Grove Terrace has been replaced by Britannia Works. Successive maps show these four reduced to the current two houses and the pub apparently enlarged. Grove Terrace disappeared early in the development of Britannia Works (although one house appears to have been incorporated into the factory), while Clyde, Magdala and Napier Cottages survived well into the 20th century: these all appear on the 1919 OS map, with just Magdala Cottages disappearing by 1938. The cottages are undifferentiated from surrounding factory buildings by 1961-63, however, on Maurice Fisher's Ilford Chronology under 1976 he quotes an employee, Tom Borg, stating that at the time the site closed in 1976 it still had "the old cottages where the business started".20

Sainsbury's car park, view from the top of Audrey Road
Clyde Cottages ran parallel to the terraced houses on Audrey Road, seen end on at the left hand side of the image above. These would have stood in a line roughly from the overhanging canopy in the middle of the picture, but perhaps a little to the right. This is currently a delivery bay for Sainsbury's at the eastern corner of the existing car park. By overlaying the OS maps onto a satellite photograph, enough buildings surrounding the site remain to register the images. Referring to the 1888 engraving, the position of the other cottages can be plotted. The fronts of Magdala Cottages, which look like four buildings in the engraving, and five on the maps, would coincide with edge of the upper deck of the car park as seen in the image below, stopping short of the ramp on the left, with a lane or alley in front. The north eastern end of this terrace stopped a little short of the car park entrance to the supermarket, seen earlier in this post.

Sainsbury's car park, looking west
Sainsbury's car park, looking south
The lane that Magdala Cottages were at right angles to would have followed the direction of the ramp, on the its near side in the photographs above. Napier Cottages appear to have been on this lane between Magdala and Clyde Cottages, facing south west, a terrace of five buildings running to the south east from around the position of the white van in the picture of the car park above. The rest of the Britannia Works factory buildings of the 1880 and 90s would have all fitted into Sainsbury's car park.

Entrance to Sainsbury's car park from Roden Street
The earliest reference to Ilford's site being extended to Roden Street is from 1896, "the latest improvement to the firm's premises" being new offices, "the large and imposing front is in Roden-street [sic], and at the side is a wide entrance, or rather exit for the comapny's conveyances".21 In the image above, taken from a position standing on the pavement of Roden Street, the ramp represents the edge of Britannia Works as seen in the OS map of 1896, evidently the new offices opened that year are not represented on the map; this shows a row of terraced houses or shops on what was then Roding Street, these would have been located in the immediate foreground of the photo; in the map of 1919, the 'new' offices of 1896 are presumably the large building with the alley alongside; with references to purchases of properties in 1922 and 1924, by 1938 the terraced buildings to the east on Roden Street have been replaced with larger properties.22 In 1928 a new head office building was constructed on Roden Street, to the east of the 1896 offices, and looking at photographs of this, the distinctive corner entrance makes it easy to locate on the maps of 1938 and 1961-63. This was roughly at the northern corner of Sainsbury's car park, and used as for office space after Ilford left, only being demolished in 1985,23 situated where the trees are in the image below.

Roden Street, looking west
North of Roden Street, in 1911 the company purchased two houses and land on Ilford High Road, the present day Ilford Hill (these two names appear to be interchangable on different OS maps).24 There was clearly some expansion in this area between Roden Street and Ilford Hill: the company rented part of Ilford Skating Rink which extended from one road to the other (the edge of the skating rink was roughly where the hoarding beyond where the cars are turning in the image above), with plans to build a central sales office, but this was abandoned, and the new despatch office was converted to this function in 1931, complete with what was known as the 'Bonus Garden': as no bonuses were paid to staff that year, it was said that the money was used for the garden instead.25 The continued development of Ilford's premises in the area between Roden Street and Ilford Hill I have found difficult to plot: large buildings appear either side of the skating rink in the 1919 and 1938 maps and in the 1961-63 map these are simply labelled 'Works'. I was unable to find evidence that these were all Ilford premises. Silver By The Ton, refers to developments in the 1930s, such as the new central engineering department, but it isn't always clear whether these are further expansions of the site or redevelopments of existing buildings.

View of Sainsbury's supermarket across Winston Way
From the top of the multi-storey car park on Clements Road, there's a partial view over Sainsbury's, which gives some indication of the size of Ilford's site, developed piecemeal over nearly a century. The decision to leave Ilford was taken in 1973: the last plates were coated on 11th November 1975, with the site finally closing in February 1976.26 Administative functions were relocated to Basildon, and finally consolidated to the current premises in Mobberley, Cheshire when Basildon and Brentwood closed in the 1980s.27

Golding Court, Riverdene Road
Possibly the last expansion of the Ilford site was the Renwick Laboratory, built on the west side of Uphall/Riverdene Road on land where some of the terraced houses built in 1907 had been destroyed by bombing in the Second World War. The laboratory, named after a former director of research, F. F. Renwick, opened in 1954;28 the site is now a relatively modern apartment block called Golding Court. Intriguingly, there are two industrial buildings situated behind the terraces of Riverdene Road, one immediately to the north of the Renwick Laboratory site, and runs up to the far end of Roden Street, and the other to the south, the northern one listed simply as 'Works' as far back as 1919; the other appears more recent and currently belongs to the council. The immediate proximity to other Ilford premises is cause for speculation. The second image below shows the building to the north of the Renwick Laboratory site in relation to Riverdene Road and Roden Street, with The Papermakers Arms on the corner. It also shows the hoarding around a car park on the site of Britannia Music Club (1969-2007), which I remember as large modern office block. This was on the site of the skating rink that Ilford rented in the 1930s. Britannia Music Club may have been so named from Britannia Works; the company sponsored the Brit Awards.

Industrial building behind Riverdene Road
View from Chapel Road towards Roden Street

1 Alfred Harman's plates were first distributed by Marion & Co of Soho Square: Marion & Co began using the Britannia name for their own plates, and Alfred Harman lost a court case over the trade name in 1886. Silver by the Ton - A History of Ilford Limited 1879-1979, RJ Hercock and GA Jones, and The Ilford Story, unpublished typescript, initialled JCS, dated 11.5.60, held in Redbridge Central Library local studies section.
2 Silver By The Ton.
3 See note 1 above. The document states it was "Reproduced by the Ilford Azoflex Process". Azoflex was Ilford's dyeline document copying process, see advertisement here.
4 Silver By The Ton, p28.
5 At this point Alfred Harman was still making the emulsion in his basement in Cranbrook Road, but coating the plates in the cottage, transporting the emulsion in light-tight jars along Cranbrook Road by handcart.
6 The Ilford Story.
7 British Journal of Photography, June 29, 1888, reproduced in a centenary article in Amateur Photographer, May 16, 1979, p99.
8 The reproduction of the engraving in Silver By The Ton is provided with a key, which locates one of the houses from Grove Terrace, the rest of the terrace does not appear. The engraving does not show Clyde Cottages, which should be in the hazy countryside in the distance behind the factory, but it does show Magdala Cottages, and also mentions Napier Cottages, not shown.
9 'The borough of Ilford', A History of the County of Essex Volume 5 (1966), pp. 249-266.
10 A History of the County of Essex, pp. 249-266.
11 Essex Countryside Vol 32, no. 332 Sept 1984, p35. The source appears to be Silver By The Ton, which states 25,000 plates were ruined in April 1899, Silver By The Ton, p47.
12 Silver By The Ton, p20. However quality control at the new factory at Brentwood was inadequate, and production was concentrated back at Ilford, as, by 1905, "modifications at the drying rooms at Ilford had overcome the problems of atmospheric pollution." Silver By The Ton, p48.
13 Incidentally, Alfred Harman moved out to Chelmsford along this axis in 1886, but returned to another house on Cranbook Road, called 'Langsett', at the corner with Wellesley Road. Silver By The Ton, p150.
14 'The Britannia Works Company Limited A Progressive Institution', The British and Colonial Printer and Stationer, October 1st, 1896, p4. Illustrations reproduced in Silver By The Ton, pp36-37.
15 This may account for the incomplete terrace on the northern side of Audrey Road. Silver By The Ton, pp49-50.
16 At some point this was called the Sheepwalk Inn, but it has now reverted to its original name. http://pubshistory.com/EssexPubs/Ilford/papermaker.shtml
17 "Paper making was carried on at the Ilford Paper Mills, near Ilford Station, from c. 1862 to c. 1923. This business, which gave its name to Mill Street, appears to have been founded by William Simpson & Co., but later passed through the hands of several owners." 'The borough of Ilford', A History of the County of Essex, Vol. 5 (1966), pp. 249-266.
18 "1884: Introduction of Bromide & 'ALPHA' paper", http://www.photomemorabilia.co.uk/Ilford/Chronology.html
19 Silver By The Ton, p137.
20 Silver By The Ton, p137.
21 The British and Colonial Printer and Stationer, October 1st, 1896, p4.
22 A property called 'Rodenside' in a lane south of Roden Street, and the Loxford Social Club in Roden Street itself. Silver By The Ton, p61.
23 Ilford Recorder, Thursday February 28th, 2002.
24 Silver By The Ton, p50.
25 Silver By The Ton, pp61-62.
26 Silver By The Ton, p91.
27 Ilford Recorder, Thursday February 28th, 2002.
28 Silver By The Ton, p37, and The Ilford Story, which gives the opening as 1960, or more specifically "work was completed".

Sources/Further reading
Ilford Chronology on Photo Memorabilia
Silver by the Ton - A History of Ilford Limited 1879-1979, RJ Hercock and GA Jones
The Ilford Story, unpublished typescript, initialled JCS, dated 11.5.60, held in Redbridge Central Library local studies section
The British and Colonial Printer and Stationer, October 1st, 1896
Amateur Photographer, May 16, 1979
A History of the County of Essex Volume 5, 1966. Retrieved from http://www.british-history.ac.uk/report.aspx?compid=42730
Essex Countryside Vol 32, no. 332 Sept 1984
Graces Guide British Industrial History
Ordnance Survey maps dated 1864,1896,1919,1938, and 1961-63, retrieved from old-maps.co.uk; but also a large scale rates map, based on the 1896 OS map with revisions of 1912, and a scale model of Ilford town centre from the mid-1980s, both held at Redbridge Central Library.

Ilford Sportsman

Ilford Sportsman 35mm camera
For the purpose of taking photographs for my post on the history of Ilford Limited in Ilford, I wanted to use an Ilford camera. Perhaps described as the lower end of the middle market, the Ilford Sportsman is a little more sophisticated than a simple point and shoot camera: Ilford's competition in the domestic market at the time was the Kodak Retinette (specifically, the first Sportsman model looks very similar to the Kodak Retinette Type 022 model) and the Agfa Silette. As was the case with all Ilford-branded cameras (which continues with the current Titan cameras, made by Walker), Ilford didn't manufacture the Sportsman: it is a rebadged Dacora Dignette, a German-made rigid-body 35mm camera. Peter Wallage's page about the Sportsman gives a good potted history of Ilford entering the mid-priced 35mm camera market after the Second World War, following problems with their expensive high-specification Witness camera and the moderately more successful Advocate.

This model is the earliest iteration; later Sportsman/Dignette cameras had larger viewfinders, then rangefinders, and selenium cell lightmeters. The camera is of all metal construction, the main section of the solid body appears to be cast, while the top plate and lens/shutter housing are stamped. The lens is a 45mm f3.5 Dacora Dignar, in a Gauthier Vario 3-speed shutter, with speeds of 1/25th, 1/50th, 1/200th and 'B'.  The lens focuses down to 3 1/3 feet (for export Dacora simply converted their existing markings in metres to feet), with a depth of field scale around the lens. There is also a PC socket for flash and an accessory shoe on the top plate.

Ilford Sportsman top view
The film counter is built into the rapid advance lever, this counts down, and needs to be set manually, with figures 'A' and 20 marked in red. There is also a film reminder dial set into the top of the rewind knob: half of this dial is marked for black and white with film speeds from 25 to 400; for colour the other half is marked 'D', 'A' and 'F' corresponding to Ilford's colour films available at the time. The shutter release is positioned on front of body with a screw thread for a cable release.

The Ilford Sportsman was first marketed in 1957 (the Dacora Dignette itself appeared two years earlier); the manual which came with my camera is dated 1958. There are some very minor variations during the production run of the first body style, notably in the badging: the earliest versions had the word "Foreign" stamped into the leatherette underneath the Ilford name printed in white. This was then replaced by a small metal badge with 'Ilford' and "Made In Western Germany". In 1959 a new version of the Sportsman/Dignette appeared with a redesigned top incorporating a larger viewfinder, a change common to the design of cameras in the late 1950s (a contemporary example being the Vito B, with a larger viewfinder in its 1959 variant).

An interesting curiosity about the Sportsman's Dignar lens is that, although the smallest aperture marked on the camera is f16, the aperture lever goes further, perhaps to f22. The Dacora version of the camera was also available with a faster f2.8 lens. Obviously the aperture lever needs to travel further for the f2,8 lens and as the camera body housing has the same length slot for this lever, with f3.5 as the widest aperture, the slot is wide enough for the aperture lever to move further in the other direction, i.e. to a smaller aperture setting (this is a speculative explanation as I do not have a Dacora Dignette for comparison). The two images below were shot at f16 and the smaller aperture. From the results, any benefits of increased depth of field are offset by the increased and very clear vignetting.

Exposures of one second at f16, left, and the smaller aperture, right
Despite the pleasures the Sportsman's simplicity of operation, the Sportman's Dignar lens' performance is fairly undistinguished: relatively sharp in the centre at smaller apertures, there is vignetting, and, especially towards the top right hand side of the images, the focus falls off, and in some of the images at wider apertures this is very intrusive, like the first photograph below. This looks like distortion caused by the lens plane not being entirely parallel to the film plane, essentially a tilt effect. The lack of choice of speeds with the Vario shutter is limiting, and eccentric: a 1/100th speed would have been useful in terms of determining exposures; 1/200th was simply too short an exposure with the slow films I've used with the Sportsman for this blogpost.

Sample image on Ilfodata HS23
Sample image on Ilfodata HS23
Sample image on Ilford Mark V film

Sources/further reading
Ilford Sportsman on Photomemorabilia
Peter Wallage's Ilford page
Ilford Sportsman on Camera Wiki
Dacora Dignette on Lippisches Kamera Museum (in German)
Ilford Sportsman in Sylvain Halgand's collection (in French)