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Homemade 35mm Camera

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When I first set eyes on this camera - I knew I hadn't seen one before.
Caroline and I found it at a car boot sale in Berkshire, UK in June 2001 and it caught our attention. The lens was English, the shutter was American and there wasn't a makers mark anywhere on the camera body. However the Agfa Karat cassette in the leather case and the fact the camera took 12 pictures according to the frame counter - indicated that it was a 35mm camera possibly as early as the 1930s. Parts of the camera looked factory made - but other bits had a cruder appearance.

However there was no obvious way to get the back open - so we decided to buy it anyway once we had bargained it down from 20 to 15. As well as the actual camera we also got a fitted leather case, an Agfa Karat cassette and a homemade brass tube which looked like it was to hold 2 Karat cassettes.

Photo of homemade camera - ready for use


Lens Type

5 element (uncoated) Dallmeyer Pentac

Focal Length

3" (75mm)

Maximum Aperture


Film Type

35mm film in Karat cassettes

Picture Size



4 speed Gammax No.2 + B + T

Flash Sync


Self Timer






All pictures of this camera taken with an Epson PhotoPC650 camera.

On getting it home - we found the back opened quite easily. No catch, just tight fitting - and pulling on the ring opened it. We also discovered that the ring operated a bar which moved the film from one cassette to the other and also operated the film counter. We were very fortunate in finding 2 very nice Agfa Karat cassettes in the camera as well as the one in the case.

Some of the other features took a little bit more time to figure out. Focusing is by the lever on the bottom - which also operates the coupled rangefinder. The rangefinder appears to no longer work - and there is no focus scale so this now really is by guess work! The body mounted shutter release also wasn't obvious and hung loose for a few days until we figured out how to fit it into place. Also as well as the rangefinder window, the camera appears to have 2 viewfinders. This I think is to allow both eyes to frame the view - like binoculars.

Other than the lens and shutter which are factory made - the rest of the camera seems handmade out of mainly brass. Workmanship is very good but lacks the consistency and smoothness that factory made equipment has. The rangefinder mechanism may well contain parts from another camera as the prisms/mirrors would be quite hard to produce.

Inside back showing Agfa Karat cassettes

Camera closed for storage. Note lens does not fold away

Inside back showing Agfa Karat cassettes.

Camera closed for storage. Note lens does not fold away.

Inside of back door

Bottom of camera

Inside of back door showing film transport mechanism. This is operated by a pull/push action on the rod connected to the ring on the left. This ring is also used to open the door for film loading.

Bottom of camera showing frame counter, focus lever and rangefinder mechanism.

Initially I thought the lens/shutter had certainly been taken from another camera. Whilst Pentac lenses were certainly sold military surplus after WWII - these tended to have much longer focal lengths - whilst this one was obviously for a fairly small negative format. Additionally the Gammax No. 2 shutter was of the simplest type and not suitable for military use. However I then stumbled across the following advert from “The Miscellaneous Trading Co. Ltd”. This advert is from “The Amateur Photographer”, dated February 23, 1938 - but the same advert appeared for several weeks:

Pentac Advert

There is a very good chance this camera’s lens/shutter is one of the 100 or so mentioned here. The date of 1938 would tie in well with the use of Agfa Karat cassettes. Alternatively its possible that these 100 lenses were the remains of a much longer production run and the lens/shutter was stripped from a camera originally fitted with this combination.

Whilst this camera takes ordinary 35mm film strip - as the cassettes are non standard its a little bit more effort to use. It should be easy enough to reload the Karat cassettes in a darkroom - but I'd have to do my own film processing as finding somebody to process from the Karat cassettes might be difficult. As a work around I have done some tests using Polaroid i-zone film which I've loaded into the camera with the help of a changing bag.

HERE for the complete procedure for doing this. The pictures below are some of the test results so far:

Photo of garage block

These pictures are scanned directly from the i-zone prints at 300dpi using our flatbed scanner. They have been cropped, adjusted for contrast, dust/mark spotted and mirrored - but otherwise unchanged.

Photo of house across road

Value wise - this is a difficult camera to judge. I've certainly had a lot of fun loading i-zone film into it and figuring out exposure and focus. With all the bits which came with it - its worth at least the 15 we paid for it and as its probably a unique camera as a addition to the collection its been worthwhile.

I'd be very happy to hear anybody's comments/questions on this camera and if anybody can shed any light on its history or design then I'd be very grateful.

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All text and images Copyright © 2000-2011 Roland Givan, unless otherwise stated. All Rights Reserved.

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