Ansco Pioneer

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The Pioneer is a rollfilm camera manufactured in Ansco's Binghamton, New York, factory beginning around 1940. It was made for two film sizes, 620 and the larger 616 (2½ x 4¼ inch negative).The camera is metal-bodied, with a resin-plastic lens barrel. The Pioneer uses a curved film plane in an attempt to better match the field curvature of its one-element lens. (This trick is also used in the Agfa Clack and many recent 35mm trashcams.)

Until 1943, the company was still using the Agfa Ansco brand, and so the original models say Agfa Pioneer above the lens. At least some examples of the 616-size camera are badged as the Agfa Chief, as in the second picture on the right. Junk Store Cameras shows a rather battered example of the Chief which has a focusing lens, and a built-in yellow filter.[1] The postwar cameras (about 1947-1953) carry the name Ansco. Ansco used their own designations of PB20 and PD16, respectively, for these two sizes but the cameras were sold as the Pioneer 20 and Pioneer 16 respectively in post war Advertising.[2]

Ansco-branded models have a red-tipped shutter-release lever at the end of the lens tube, and no bulb setting. The earlier Agfa-badged cameras have a shutter button on top of the body, and also have a lever under the lens to switch between 'I' (ca. 1/50 sec.) and 'B' shutter mode. Together with the f/14 lens this makes fast ISO 400 film preferable for cloudy or foggy days, but slower films (ISO 50, 100) will work very nicely in fine weather.

The camera was styled by New York-born industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss, also known for doing several of the rotary telephones provided by the Bell System in the US.

For the Christmas shopping seasons of 1949 and 1950, Ansco offered a special Jr. Press Photographer camera, intended as a children's gift. This was a renamed Pioneer, in a kit with flash and instructions aimed at the budding photojournalist.


  1. Agfa Chief with focusing lens and yellow filter, at Junk Store Cameras.
  2. Ansco Models in the 1950 directory of Photographic Equipment of Popular Photography May 1950