Ernemann Film K - by Zeiss?
An unexpected adventure in flipped lens photography
Ernemann was a high-quality German camera maker in the early 1900's. The Film K box camera was made from 1916 to 1926 and was one of their simpler designs. It came in several sizes. Mine is a 6x9 version that uses 120 film. In 1926 Ernemann merged with ICA, Goerz, and Contessa-Nettel to form Zeiss Ikon. Zeiss Ikon Box Tengors are a well-known continuation of the Goerz Box Tengor, an all-metal camera of a more recent design. It appears that Zeiss added their logo to the last year of Film K production and then discontinued it in favor of the more modern Box Tengor.
The camera is finely crafted of solid wood with a leatherette covering. It has an unusual hinged back that swings open for loading, and hinged flaps that allow you to easily change rolls. All of the tightly made wood joints overlap to prevent light leaks.
Unlike the simpler shutters on the contemporary Kodak Brownie, the Ernemann had a nicely made external shutter with a cable release and three apertures appropriately marked. The M setting is for momentary, and B for bulb.
So how did it go to shoot this well-made German camera? I was sort of expecting a lot given the decent results I've gotten from cheap Kodak and Ansco box cameras, but as soon as I looked at my drying negatives, I could tell something was wrong. The images looked very blurry, and once dried, the scans confirmed it. It seemed something was terribly wrong with the camera. A closer look revealed that the single element meniscus lens had been installed backwards. Since getting at the lens requires removing the shutter and taking out a retaining ring that is held in by nails, I think this is the way it came from the factory.
With a meniscus lens, the concave (curved in) surface should be facing the aperture whether the lens is in front or behind the aperture. While doing the research to find this out, I came across a number of people who were doing this on purpose to their Kodak Brownie Hawkeye cameras, as it is easy to take out two screws and flip the lens over. This produces a very dreamy effect, with a small area that is in focus about 3 to 4 feet away. All of my subjects were farther away than that, so nothing was in focus.
Will I fix the camera? I don't think so right now, it's the way it came originally, and I'd like to try it again, now that I know what effect it has.