Shooting with the Ensign Popular

Isn't this a beauty? This is the Ensign Popular my workmate lent me. We have given it back now, but are hoping to find a cheapish one for sale at some point because it's a lovely piece of kit. As you can see, it's got a leather case about as long as a man's hand, and the front folds down so you can slide out the leather bellows. (That bit has to be done manually.) The cable on top is the shutter release. You can see at the back of the sticky-out bit – very technical there! – a cream-coloured area; that's the bit that helps determine the focal range.

The back of the camera comes off so you can put in the film. It takes medium format film, much larger than the usual sort and so a good sort of film for me and Mr Robot to practise our developing with.

The whole thing is manual, so you have to set the shutter speed, aperture and so on. I have to confess, I don't really understand that myself, but when we went out for the day I was made Mistress of the Light Meter. It was my job to adjust the little wheel to the film ISO we were using and then read off the appropriate aperture and shutter speed for the levels of light around us.

Now, if I've got Blogger's formatting worked out, you should now be looking at the light meter, closed and in its leather cover. Isn't it cute? It is German but the writing is in English so we guess made for the British market, from the 1930s and still functions. You can't tell from the photo, but the plastic on the casing isn't black or brown, it's a very dark burgundy. There's some cracking round the hinge, but that doesn't impair its function and if a bit of the plastic did come off I could just glue it back on again. We bought the light meter on eBay for not much at all. Old camera kit like this is surprisingly cheap, and we had several light meters to choose from but liked the look of this one best.

The following photo should be of the same little device with its top up so you can see the workings. I really love it. There's something so very aeronautical about it. I still find it amazing that things like this can work purely mechanically/chemically; I'm so used to electronics and our age of microchips and arcane circuitry that the simplicity of devices like this and the camera just blow me away.

At first working it was a complete mystery. Stuff of this age rarely has a manual. However, for anything like this Camerapedia is your friend. It will help you date things, fix things and work out how to use things.

And here is a photo we took! You don't get many shots on a roll of medium-format film. You can see there's a dark stripe down one side of the photo. This isn't from developing, we think there may have been a small leakage of light into the back of the Ensign Popular which caused that.

The building is the old 'blindhouse', the drunk tank, in Trowbridge, the County Town of Wiltshire. Taking the photo, it was strange to think that this same camera could have been used to take a picture of exactly the same building 80 years earlier.


  1. Ooh, I love that last picture, very atmospheric.

  2. More photies, please!

    That light meter really is a lovely looking bit of kit. Very swish.


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