Dawe Instruments

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Dawe Instruments Ltd of London was the maker or seller of at least two cameras, in the years following the Second World War. Advertisements reproduced at Grace's Guide give a company address in Brentford in 1947, and two addresses in Ealing in later years.[1] The announcement of the Nelrod camera in the British Journal Almanac (BJA) gives a Piccadilly, London address.[2] Dawe made a wide variety of electronic instruments, including oscilloscopes and stroboscopes. Some of these were for industrial measurement; testing of textiles or wood.[1] Perhaps in a progression from the stroboscope business, the company produced both studio and portable photographic flash units. The two cameras marketed by Dawes both allow for a camera-mounted flash; this uses a gas-discharge tube, instead of (or as well as) disposable flash-bulbs. The cameras exploit Dawe's development of a synchronising mechanism for gas-tube flash.[3] The device relies on a spring-loaded flywheel, whose rotation when released proceeds at a reliable rate, so it can be calibrated to trigger the flash a certain delay-time after firing the shutter-release (which is also electrical). In the patent diagrams, the synchronising mechanism is in the column below the flash reflector, where the batteries would be in a Graflex flash. The discharge-tube flash requires batteries that were too large to be contained in the camera; there is a separate power pack.


Nelrod Liteflash

The Nelrod Liteflash,[4] made in about 1950, is a press camera of sorts, for quarter-plate[5] or 4x5-inch exposures (film or plates in dark-slides; perhaps a 120 roll-film holder could also be used). Notes in the BJA state that the camera was designed by G H Williamson Photographic Appliances of Oxford, but sold by Dawe.[2] The body incorporates a coupled rangefinder at the top. Instead of a folding bed at the front, there is a boxy front superstructure, with an improbably large machined-aluminium focusing knob on the side, and a large focus-distance scale and pointer on the top. The lens and shutter are mounted on the front of this.

An example shown by the Science Museum, said to be quarter-plate, has a 135mm f/4.7 Xenar in a Synchro-Compur shutter.[5] A flash unit (Liteflash, based on a Mullard gas-discharge tube) is mounted on the right of the camera (user's right), and there are separate sockets on the left of the front superstructure to allow triggering of external Liteflash units or bulb flash. There is a leather strap-handle on the left, behind which another electrical connector can be seen; it seems likely that this is for external power for the built-in flash unit. There is a simple aluminium folding frame-finder on the top. The camera has a table-stand (so that it sits stably on a flat surface). It is described as using metal, '3x4' (presumably quarter-plate) single dark-slides, and one such is shown attached in photographs.

Another camera sold by Christies, identified as model 1712B, has a 5½-inch f/4.5 Ross Xpres in a Compur shutter and also a focal-plane shutter (which the Science Museum example lacks).[6] The flash mounting is on the left of the body in this example. This camera conforms quite closely to the description in the British Journal Almanac of 1950, which specifies double dark-slides, and does not mention a quarter-plate size; so perhaps the Science Museum example is a prototype or special-request. The example sold at Christie's is numbered 56, perhaps suggesting that not very many were made in any case.

A third example, serial number 119, has a 5½-inch f/4.9 Xpres, and machined parts around the lens standard, allowing geared rise and shift movements.[7]

The lens shutter is triggered and synchronised electrically by a solenoid. An interesting consequence of this is that the shutter and flash can be triggered by connecting a battery across any external flash lead (up to four can be used). The power for the solenoid is supplied by dry-cell batteries housed in the camera body. These also supply the power to fire bulb flash. There is also a feature which shines light through the rangefinder, giving a twin-beam focusing aid in poor light (like the Kalart Focuspot of around the same time), also powered by the dry cells. Power for the reusable discharge-tube flash is from an external battery pack, a satchel bigger and heavier than the camera itself (that is, the solenoid triggers the flash tube, but does not power it).[2]

The focal-plane shutter is not electrically-triggered, and only synchronises with bulb flash.[2]


The Dawe Universal is a more conventional press/field camera with a folding bed for rack-and-pinion focusing, on a rear body similar to that of the Nelrod. It has a coupled rangefinder on the right side, with a large distance-dial in a plastic bubble on the top. It has a focal-plane shutter. Notes at Early Photography state that this gives speeds from 1/20 to 1/1100 second, by varying both the slit-width and spring tension.[8] The front standard allows for front rise and tilt, and perhaps shift. There is a telescoping frame finder on the standard. Two examples have been seen in auction listings. Camera serial no. 044 has a 5½-inch f/4.9 Xpres in a Synchro-Compur shutter, fired by a solenoid.[9] It has a flash reflector attached on the left (presumably this is for Liteflash tube flash). The other camera, serial no. 066, has a 184mm f/4.5 Wray Lustrar in Compur shutter.[10] It does not have a Liteflash unit attached, but was sold with a flash reflector, presumably for bulb flash. It is in a wooden outfit box with British military markings and giving the Piccadily company address. Both these examples were sold with wooden double dark-slides


  1. 1.0 1.1 Dawe Instruments notes and advertisements, at Grace's Guide.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 BJA announcement of the Nelrod Liteflash camera, 1950, reproduced among notes at Novacon.
  3. British Patent 645285, Improvements in or relating to devices for synchronising flashlights with photographic camera shutters, granted to Frank Walter Dawe and Dawe Instruments Ltd on 25 October 1950, describing a synchronising mechanism for gas-discharge tube flash; at Espacenet, the patent search facility of the European Patent Office.
  4. It seems likely that the name refers to the Royal Navy battleships HMS Nelson and HMS Rodney. The Rodney played a major role in sinking the Bismarck during the War. The ships were scrapped in 1948 and '49, just before the camera was made.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Nelrod Liteflash camera in the Science Museum collection.
  6. Nelrod Liteflash camera serial no. 56, sold by Christie's in December 2002.
  7. Nelrod Liteflash camera serial no. 119, sold at the auction Photographica by Chiswick Auctions, in October 2021.
  8. Universal camera (engrave as Universal Press Camera) serial no. 25, at Early Photography.
  9. Universal camera serial no 044, also sold at the Chiswick Auctions Photographica auction, October 2021.
  10. Universal camera serial no. 066, also sold at the same auction.