1.18.2017

A Speedy Trip Back to 120: The Ansco Speedex

828: a forgotten format... 
116: a forgotten format... 
127: A forgotten format... 
00: a forgotten format... 
120: a forgotten for..., wait WHAT?!?

I've turned a lot of attention to what is often referred to as "obsolete formats" in the past year, referring to film sizes that are either commercially scarce or completely out of commercial production.  In the process of this interest, I've sort of lost sight of one of the main points of interest in my own film resurgence: the 120 format folding film camera.

In the Fall of 2014, 120 folders were my bread and butter, and I produced many photos with these surprisingly capable compact cameras that I'm still quite proud of, but my use of them had begun to dwindle, as 35mm began to make inroads into my shooting queue for its expanded film selection, while the other mothballed formats began to take more and more of my quirky side's attention. Meanwhile, some of my folding camera favorites began showing signs of their age: the Balda Pontina had an odd light leak, the Ikonta A didn't quite seem to focus properly, and neither my original Franka Solida nor its replacement were working as they should. Further, I'd pretty much stopped looking for additions to my collection of this genre to complement my collection, though I knew I still had some interest in rekindling the time in which my interest in shooting 120 format flourished. 

My budget however was not what it was when I first started shooting.  Where I'd once been OK with spending $60 for a single camera, I now found myself peeking more and more through thrift stores to see what I could snag for under $10.  Times had definitely changed, but indeed for the better, as I became more scrutinizing of spending any money towards new pickups.

The general outcome of these modified shopping habits tended to put most of these deluxe folding cameras out of reach, and yet I still didn't have a 6x6 folder that I could depend upon, but then luck happened upon me.  




Priced at a song, the Ansco Speedex greeted me kindly one evening, and gave me just enough confidence in its abilities to influence me to walk away with it added to my stable. It's shutter wasn't as fast as my TLR cameras, and its lens wasn't as fast as the flaky Franka, but it seemed to work within its still capable confines quite well.  With an Apotar f/4.5 triplet lens and a shutter that went as fast as 1/300, it certainly was adequate enough for most situations, while being both compact and cheap! 

You may recall this camera popped up on my list of "Medium Format on a Budget" cameras posted last year.  Truth be told, I didn't actually have a Speedex when making the recommendation, as I had the Franka which I thought was satisfactory.  Still, the Speedex seemed to hit all the right check marks for being capable and cost-effective, and when I spotted the chance to actually pick one up, I certainly put my money where my mouth was. 


Folded up, the Ansco Speedex "4.5 Special" is about as compact as one will ever get in a 120 camera that shoots 6x6 shots.  Below, the top layout is fairly uncomplicated, with controls to release the camera to unfold as well as a shutter release and "T" lock for the bulb setting.   Note the previous owner's notes legible on the back of the camera. 


I managed to squeeze in a roll of Portra 160 for the Ansco fairly late into my autumn shooting schedule, and took the Speedex out with me over the later part of October 2016 for a bit of deliberate overexposures. Though the novelty of "compact 120" wasn't as thrilling as it had been when I stumbled across most of my folding cameras back in 2014, there was definitely a sense of comfort in returning to a familiar form once again, and the Ansco didn't disappoint.  Estimating distances wasn't terribly tricky, particularly since the focusing ring is in feet.  And with generally favorable conditions and print film in the chamber of the camera, exposure wasn't a huge worry either.  Still, it was nice to know that in the Speedex, I had an exceptionally decent amount of control over my images, something that can often be absent with other similarly compact cameras.  

Eyeballing the results of the Speedex, I'd hoped for a roll full of sharply rendered and well-exposed shots that rivaled the likes of my Yashica and Seagull TLR cameras.  The results looked pretty encouraging, but the true test of the results would come forth after scanning. 

Shots from the Apotar lens were generally fairly sharp, but did exhibit of a soft halo-like effect in highlights on the Portra film.  As such, it seems a camera that would be well suited for portraiture. 


Color rendition was generally pretty vivid despite the soft rendering of both focus and contrast.


Taken during late afternoon light, this image does a good job of portraying a period type effect. 


Light leakage was an occasional issue with the Ansco, despite my attempts to patch the bellows.  Notice the spring blossoms contrasting against the fall foliage. 


Square format cameras tend to beg for one to seek more symmetrical compositions.  This isn't fully balanced, but has some elements of symmetry at play.


I certainly couldn't pass up a stop at Carroll Creek on a pleasant autumn afternoon.  It seems the soft effect works to great advantage here. 


I'm not sure what just happened to this image to make it so amazing to me, but I absolutely love it.  The composition is good, the exposure works amazingly in rendering the colors perfectly, and to top it off, I nailed the focus when shooting wide open.


The Great Pumpkin was nice enough to have left me a subject for one of my exposures, and the Speedex did a handy job of rendering it.  The bokeh is decent, but I so wish I'd rotated a bit to clear out the cars from the backdrop. 


Using the trees on either side for framing helped me to see that the small porthole viewfinder on the Speedex frames scenes accurately.  This is more or less how I recall this very scene looking through the glass. 


One last shot spotlighting a "Sparkler" as Bob Ross would call it. 


No Fall is complete without a few trips through Gold Mine Road.  This visit proved a bit premature however for this slow speed shot taken from the spoiler of the car.  Almost tragically, I got waylayed and left the Speedex on the spoiler only to drive off about 1/4 mile before I realized where it had been perched.  Thankfully, it was completely unscathed by the late afternoon thrill ride! 


Always a night shot whenever I can manage it.  In this case, the soft glowing focus is both a positive and a negative in this shot.  

After seeing the results of the scans of my initial roll of Portra taken with the Speedex, I can honestly say that I didn't quite get the razor sharp images I'd initially hoped for, but I was hardly disappointed, in that I got something better in having found a perfect camera for capturing present day scenes with a wistful and nostalgic feeling that perfectly suits what I'm often aiming to do when I shoot film.  Besides, overly sharp images tend to look a bit more digital in nature anyway.  With the Speedex, I'm pleased to have a great camera for some sentimental images in which to capture the seasons.  C'mon Spring!