Ansco Automatic Reflex

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Note: This camera should not be confused with Ansco's inexpensive Pseudo TLR from 1954 the Anscoflex.

The Ansco Automatic Reflex was a premium-priced American TLR. It was Ansco’s attempt to capture a portion of the advanced amateur and professional market during the brief absence of high-end cameras from Germany after World War II. E. Allan Williford, vice-president of General Aniline & Film at the time, said “the new camera marks the beginning of Ansco’s entrance into a new field.”[1] Officially announced in the November/December 1945 of Ansconian, their house magazine, it took Ansco nearly two years to bring the camera to market.

On November 6, 1947, retailers received the Reflex.[2] A few weeks later, Patrick Daly, manager of Ansco’s branch office in Washington, DC, presented one to President Harry Truman.[3] Almost two years after that, in 1949, Ansco announced the availability of the Reflex with flash sync.

Production

Building the Reflex was a challenge for Ansco. The company was taken over by the Office of Alien Property in 1942 and “all manufacture of cameras was stopped to permit the use of the plants for the production of war materials.”[4] During the war, the camera plant producing “dead reckoning equipment for the Navy, and sextants and other instruments for the Army Air Forces.”[5]

With the end of the war, the camera plant required re-tooling for camera production. Additionally, Ansco had never produced a camera as complex as the Reflex: it lacked both the engineering and manufacturing capacity. Ansco, by admission of Jack Frye, chairman of the board and president of General Aniline, was “never in the strict sense a camera manufacturer. It lack[ed] facilities for grinding lenses, making shutters, and molding cases.”[6]

Plant manager H. A. Herzog was quoted in a Binghamton Press article as saying the new camera “will require increased care and effort on our part in engineering and construction.”[7]

Retooling took far longer than initially predicted, resulting in the nearly two year delay between announcement and retail products.

Design

Ansco enlisted Henry Dreyfuss, a well known industrial designer, to design the Reflex. Dreyfuss was particularly proud of his effort. In his catalog of his own works, he said, “In the Reflex camera, the various controls are so placed as to reduce the possibility of error -- a true precision instrument in a handy and pleasing form.”[8]

Features

The Reflex features a Wollensak Rapax shutter with a “coated Wollensak anastigmat taking lens has a maximum taking aperture of f3.5, a focal length of 83mm.”[9] In production, the lens is labeled Ansco Anastigmat. The viewing lens is f3.2. The C surrounding the W logo indicates that the lens is Wocoted, Wollensak’s hard anti-glare treatment.

Focusing is via the knob on the left side of the camera or via either of the two focusing wheels on the front. All are coupled via cams to the lens board.

The aperture and shutter speed appear at the top of the lens board. Adjusting the aperture moves a printed metal tape and aperture values appear in a small window. The shutter is adjusted by turning the ring around the focusing lens, which is coupled via a gear to a ring around the viewing lens, engraved with shutter speeds.

The lever on the left (from the taking position) cocks the shutter; the lever on the right fires it.

Winding the film never cocked the shutter. When asked why by Minicam editors, the company's reply was “This cannot be done without a radical redesign of the shutter. The single lever operation cannot be directly applied where means of double exposure prevention are supplied.”[10]

A free-spinning arm on the right winds the film: it has no specific resting position and can wind the film from any starting point. A film counter and double-exposure interlock release lever also appear on the right.

The viewing hood incorporates a magnifying glass and reverse Galilean finder.

Sales

At the time of its announcement, Ansco fully expected the camera to sell for no more than $100[11]. The camera initially sold for $275[12] when it finally made it to market. The price fluctuated somewhat but it was never competitive with American or German TLRs available at the time.

Binghamton’s mayor, Walker B. Lounsbery, was the first person to purchase an Ansco Automatic Reflex.[13]

Variants

There are two major versions: with or without flash sync. Flash sync became standard in 1949. Owners of the earlier model could send theirs in to have flash retrofitted to the camera.

The simplest way to identify the model is by serial number. Early model serial numbers start with 0, 1. Later models start with 2.

Criticisms

The double-exposure mechanism is finicky. This was pointed out in some reviews. Minicam's editors said “double-exposure release seems to be extremely delicate” and “we felt that the double-exposure release was a little trick at times.”

Ansco acknowledged that it was prone to problems: “Through improper manipulation it is possible to 'lock' any of the more elaborate cameras on the market today. The Ansco Reflex is no exception to this. A customer using this type of camera should thoroughly familiarize himself with the instruction manual and routine before operating the camera. We supply each camera with a dummy roll of film to facilitate this requirement.”

Notes

  1. Tetherly, George W. “Behind Pay Rolls of the Triple Cities.” Binghamton Press, December 5, 1945.
  2. Tetherly, George W. “Ansco’s Newest Camera Looks Like ‘Going’ Item.” Binghamton Press, November 7, 1947.
  3. Tetherly, George W. “President Truman Given Ansco Reflex Camera.” Binghamton Press, February 13, 1948.
  4. United States. Annual Report - Office of Alien Property Custodian. June 30, 1944. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off.
  5. United States. Annual Report - Office of Alien Property Custodian. June 30, 1945. Washington: U.S. Govt. Print. Off.
  6. Administration of the Trading with the Enemy Act. :Hearings before the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary, Subcommittee To Investigate the Administration of the Trading With the Enemy Act, Eighty-Third Congress, First Session. 1954. Washington.
  7. Binghamton Press. “Ansco to Boost Line Facilities By End of 1947,” October 23, 1946.
  8. Dreyfuss, Henry. A Record of Industrial Designs: 1929 Through 1947. New York: Davis, Delaney, Inc.
  9. Ansconian. “Ansco Cameras Now in Production,” December 1945.
  10. MacFie, Dave. “The New Ansco Automatic Reflex.” Minicam Photography, February 1948.
  11. The Daily Record. “Reflex Cameras Challenging Lead of Candid Type,” August 26, 1946.
  12. New York Times. “CAMERA NOTES: New Twin-Lens Reflex Is Now Available,” November 23, 1947, sec. Drama, Screen, Music, etc.
  13. Tetherly, George W. “Ansco’s Newest Camera Looks Like ‘Going’ Item.” Binghamton Press, November 7, 1947.

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