Kodak 1A Autographic Special (1917)

This was a very interesting little camera. Mine is pretty scuffed up, but it’s actually in pretty good shape on the inside, for being over 100 years old! The shutter actually sounds pretty accurate to me (which doesn’t mean too much), and the lens seems fairly clear. I’m trying to find a roll of 116 film to shoot and develop to see if I can get any images from this camera (and a long expired roll of film).

One of the reasons I wanted this camera (aside from the fact that it was an Autographic – a pretty cool feature) was because it was one of the first rangefinder cameras built. This camera (Kodak 1A Autographic) was made in 1917. The first rangefinder camera (Kodak 3A Autographic) was made in 1916.

Now, I’ve used relatively modern rangefinder cameras – and I will say, even brand new (without all the dust, etc. on the glass) this was not easy to focus with. It was, however, an attempt to get a little closer to accurate/easy focusing – a step up for those of us that aren’t very good at estimating distance. If you look through the small split image viewfinder, and use your imagination a bit, you can see your subject split, and turning the focusing knob (on the opposite side of the lens) causes the mirrors to move as the lens moves back and forth until the view of your subject isn’t split anymore. Pretty simple – but it takes some practice to be able to see what it’s doing. I suppose it was new technology that people were anxious to try – at least some people (I would have probably wanted one). With all the great technology we have today I have a hard time imaging how they marketed this kind of feature. I would love to go back and try to understand what people’s response was to focusing this way.

Notice, in the image above, on the left the image is split indicating out of focus. On the right, the image is in focus. This is just an image of the white door frame. I was just looking for a straight line to aim at – and this did the trick.

Notice a couple things. First, the mirrors at the bottom of the image – these are what makes the rangefinder work. Also, there is a knurled knob at the top left, above the shutter levers. This knob, when turned, actually moves the lens up and down – much like you do with a view camera to adjust for perspective. I can’t figure out how this would work on this camera. There are no markings of any kind that I can see for measuring this adjustment. I’m not sure what this might have been used for, or how it was used. With a view camera you can see the results of any adjustments of this kind directly on the ground glass. I’m just confused about how this could be used on this camera.

Above the lens, you can see the shutter speed adjustment. It will adjust from 1/2 second down to 1/200th of a second, plus B and T.

Below the lens is the aperture adjustment. This lens adjusts from f/6.3 to f/45. It also includes some instructions on what shutter speed to use with each aperture setting, depending upon the lighting conditions (dull, gray, clear, brilliant). The words are pretty worn, so I need to use my high power reading glasses to make them out.

All in all, this was a very cool camera, for 1917! I think it’s cool that they attempted to add rangefinder focusing to this camera. In some ways, I wish I could go back to visit the time when people were using this kind of camera, to see how they did things, to observe what they went through to take photos and get them processed. It was very different then. It would be fun to experience their lifestyle – and even more fun if I could bring one of my modern cameras back with me to show them what it would be like in another 100 years!