Vest Pocket Kodak Autographic


by Bellamy /

4 min read

Vest Pocket Kodak Autographic
Recently a very dear friend and mentor was kind enough to give me a very beautiful camera as a touching gift. When I saw the box I didn’t know what it was, but once I opened it I soon got to see and learn a bit about this beautiful camera. So, I thought I might share with you what I have learned.

Back in the early 20th century, the Eastman Kodak Company was already a powerhouse in the photographic world, and amongst the largest camera manufacturers of the era. During this period, the folding pocket camera was coming into the market, and in 1912 Kodak released the Vest Pocket series of cameras. They were produced until 1926, and nearly 2 million units were sold during this time. Although I doubt very much that there are that many left now.

The camera which I was given is the Vest Pocket Autographic Special, which was introduced in 1915 and quickly became extremely popular during the first world war, being advertised as the ‘Soldiers Camera’. As the camera was a folding camera it was easily pocketable, making it far more portable than previous cameras. in fact, folded it is not much different in size from a modern compact camera. It was also fast to set up and use, so you wouldn’t need to spend time in the line of fire. You could fold the camera out, set the shutter and lens and then put it where you needed it to take the picture with ease.

The VPA special was special for a couple of reasons, one of which being the lens. On the standard cameras there was a 72mm f/6.8 Meniscus lens, with a Kodak ball bearing shutter. But this special came with a Kodak 84mm Anastigmat f/7.7 lens. The lens on this camera is in remarkable condition, bearing in mind that it is nearly 100 years old. It looked a bit foggy, but after I cleaned it with a lint free cloth it sparkled. Same for the viewfinder. Although the viewfinder may be a surprise for you if you are thinking of your camera. You can basically compose with it, and little more.

The shutter is very simple too. You only have 4 settings, 1/25th of a second, the bulb setting which holds the shutter open as long as the release is pressed, the timed setting which opens the shutter and then closes the shutter when it is pressed again, and 1/50th of a second. So your options are pretty limited when it comes to high speed and sports photography. The aperture on the special had more range though, from 7.7 through to 32.

There were other lens versions available too, but this one is the kodak. But this is not what made the special, well, special. The VPA cameras all used 127 roll film, which is still available now (although it is not cheap at all). And although they were fiddly to load, you could still get several shots from one roll, instead of one shot per plate.
The autograph is special because of the pen, do you see it? The pen could be used to write onto the backing paper of the film, which would then be exposed, leaving a note between each image. The precursor to the data back I guess. A pretty cool little feature. I cannot believe that after all this time, the pen and everything are still there. These cameras were cheap (relatively for the time at $6), so they were made from aluminium, which has stood the test of time very well. The finish on this camera was known as ‘Japan Crystal’.

For me this is a cherished gift and something that I will never ever let go of. It is a stunning piece of photographic history and I am completely hooked now. I want to buy more 127 cameras and folding 120 cameras and try them out. Every element of this camera shows a time in history that was so very different from now. It is like looking into a time capsule. The design, the packaging, everything about it is carefully manufactured. The manual is brilliant, and show you every step, including development.

This may not be my most expensive camera, but it is certainly one of my most personal and important cameras. Even if I never shoot a picture through it, the gesture of this gift will never be forgotten.

I have heard stories of this camera being the first camera at the top of Everest in 1924, but the climbers Mallory and Irvine were lost on the mountain, and Irvine’s body and possessions were never recovered, so no evidence has been found of this claim.

This camera has become popular again recently for people who want to adapt the lens onto a digital camera. A very interested idea, but it will not be happening with this particular camera. I want it to last another 100 years.


8 comments on “Vest Pocket Kodak Autographic”

    ZDP-189 June 1, 2013 at 3:34 pm / Reply

    That’s a gorgeous camera, Bellamy.

    127 is a good compromise format, between 135 and 120. You might still be able to pick up some recently discontinued but unexpired EFKE films. These should be processed at home. The Paterson tank plastic reels have a size setting for 127. Keep the rolls and paper afterwards and you can respool 135 or split 120 onto them.

    Dave Powell June 2, 2013 at 6:15 am / Reply

    I was looking a similar type cameras at the show. There was a very cool Voigtlander I saw. Great gift!

    Jonathan Foo June 4, 2013 at 12:46 pm / Reply

    Test photos?

      Bellamy June 4, 2013 at 12:51 pm /

      I wish, 127 costs a fortune here. I will have to think about it.

    Huw June 6, 2013 at 4:11 am / Reply

    I became fascinated with these cameras recently – as you say they were often carried by soldiers in the first World War. My understanding is that they were popular because they were easy to conceal. Soldiers weren’t allowed to carry cameras.

    It is relatively straightforward to cut a roll of 120 to size with cigar cutters and respool it – but obviously you need two 127 spools (search on youtube for instructions – it’s not for the perfectionist, but it does work!). I have put a couple of films through mine (I have the earlier one with a meniscus lens) and was quite surprised at how well it came out. The pictures have a vintage look – even on modern film.

    I doubt anything bought new today will still be going strong a hundered years from now!

    Daniel June 18, 2014 at 5:38 am / Reply

    I have one my grandmother have me and there is a company called bluefire film who makes 127 film for it they are based in Calgary Canada. Just do a google search.

    Cheyenne Morrison April 13, 2017 at 4:46 pm / Reply

    Dave Bias has a cool site selling 120 film cameras, he is also the rep for Ferrania Film,way to go Dave

    Graeme Tregay December 26, 2017 at 10:36 pm / Reply

    My grandfather had a vest pocket camera with him when he served as an artillery Sergeant in 1917-18. Earlier this year I scanned his old negatives and in October travelled to Italy to find the locations. It was a fascinating trip prompted by finding the old photos. Sadly the camera hasn’t survived.

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