Ansco Speedex Brought Back to Life by John Kossik
A few years back I was scrolling through the local Craigslist postings for cameras here in Seattle, a great place to do this by the way as there are many with too much disposable income here making them prone to impulse purchases, and came across an Ansco Speedex being offered for $35.
Interested, I met the seller at where else but a Starbucks. A guy in his 50s, my age, met me there with his Dad’s old camera.
He had never used it, he worked of course at Microsoft, and was just cleaning out some “stuff.”
The exterior was nice and the shutter worked but was sluggish. It would have been a no-brainer to purchase but I was hesitant as I viewed it as a family heirloom with sentimental appeal. He insisted so I purchased it.
The camera is labeled on the front as a Agfa B2 Speedex with a 85mm f/4.5 lens. It was actually made in Binghamton, NY when Ansco and Agfa merged. It takes twelve 6×6 images per roll of 120 film advanced manually looking for the appropriate numbers on the back of the camera. Top of the camera is not metal, most likely an early plastic, but I do like the look.
The MADE IN U.S.A. label on the back I have to admit appeals to me.
Upon further inspection of the camera when I got home I found that I had some work cut out for me as moisture had done a number of the steel in the camera. The inside had some rust but much worse was the front lens mount once I got the shutter removed from its support.
Some careful use of sandpaper and then some flat black spray paint, with the appropriate masking of course made short work of this rust. Where the rust had damaged the front of the bellows some excess black fabric solved this problem. The bellows which is not made out of leather had numerous pinholes that I resolved to fix later. Now for the real challenge, the shutter.
With the shutter as sluggish as it was I knew a teardown of the assembly was needed. This was also necessary as the glass of the lens also needed cleaning after some 50 years. Removal of the shutter assembly from the camera revealed that the rust from the support had started its work on the shutter casing. But then again this is easily fixed as with the shutter support. More complications come when the shutter assembly is opened.
The assembly was taken apart, glass removed, and dipped in some CFI Products Super Solv to remove all the gunk. It came out very clean and after drying the shutter seemed to actuate very smoothly. Not bad after 50+ years but then again this is a simply mechanical device, no disposable integrated circuits involved. Of course now is the challenge to get it all back together again.
With no assembly instructions and the preverbal spring popping out when I initially disassembled the shutter I have to admit that the re-assembly was a little challenging without any instructions but eventually I got it back together without breaking it. Probably would not have had the patience when I was 25 but in your 50s patience seems to grow on you.
Being a Zone Focus or Scale Focusing with no range finder, and since I had totally disassembled the lens and shutter assembly I had to collimate the lens, basically setting the focus to be clear at the infinity mark. This is done via the set screw on the lens when it is focused at infinity. I set the camera up on my porch and trained it on a tree in the far distance. I taped a split-screen ground glass flush up against the back where the film plane would be and found the sharpest point at infinity. I then checked this at various closer distances and it was spot on. Collimating done!
Upon reassembly I found some of the pinholes in the bellows and plugged them with some black silicone with the idea that eventually I will replace the bellows myself as the silicone fix is far form ideal. I found in my first run of film through the camera that not all the pinholes were found.
The results? Surprisingly this is a very nice and sharp camera!
You can see in the Little Naches River (outside of Yakima, WA, USA) that the light leaks were still there in the first outing with this camera.
By the second outing on a winter hike in the snow up to the Big Four Ice Caves (up the Mountain Loop Hwy, Washington State) that the light leaks had been stoppered up with some more silicone, again not the ideal solution.
This is a very, very light and pocket-sized medium format camera that takes very nice pictures, as good as any 25+ MP digital camera as far as I am concerned and it only cost $35 and some elbow grease. Great for an old guy like me on a few mile hike in the mountains.
I have purchased another similar camera in much worse shape without a shutter assembly for the purpose of learning how to remove the bellows, which does not seem to be easy, so that I can out a new one on this camera.
The only downside of the whole experience is that I lost the email of the guy I purchased it from. After seeing how nice a camera it is I really wanted to give it back to him all fixed up so that he could us it and pass it onto his kids. Before I lost his email he did send me a picture of his Mom, Dad, and Aunt with his Dad holding this very camera back in the 1950s.
Really wish I could get it back to him.
Mill Creek WA
Thank you, John. This is a lovely story on the resurrection of this camera. I really hope that through this piece we might be able to reunite the camera with its family.
John has been a regular contributor to the site over the years. You can read more of his articles here.