Today’s post comes from a Bencini CMF Erno that I recently got with a bag of 35mm cameras. I have written a detailed illustrated post about this camera that has been published on my blog at the same time as this one, you can find it here. The Erno is a 6×9 120 film folder, pretty much as simple a camera as there is. Were it made of plastic it would fall in the “toy camera” category, whatever “toy” really means. It has a single aperture of f10.5, a “B” (bulb) setting and an “I” (instant) setting of about 1/30th second. There is no way to attach filters, to the very simple aplanatic lens. The only control over exposure is the choice of film and then the time of day one shoots.
I chose a long expired (Nov 1997) roll of Ilford XP2 because of its fantastic tolerance for different exposure values. The spec sheet for Ilford XP2 Super (the successor to the film I used) says that while it is rated at ISO400 it can be shot anywhere from ISO50 to ISO800 without adjusting the processing. Metering on a cloudy day with bright patches suggested my ideal film for this camera at that time was ISO200 so the XP2 seemed perfect. And I had some in my fridge.
I checked the camera over, cleaned the lens on both sides but not between what appear to be air separated elements (there is a bit of dust in there), reattached some of the leather covering that was lifting at a few corners and otherwise just figured out how it worked. The only thing broken with the camera is that one of the side struts that holds the lens and bellows rigid when opened has come loose at the body end. I see no way of attaching it without removing the bellows so I thought I would give it a try as is. The back is a bit loose at the catch end as well – it seems one of the two catches does not engage fully. I made minor adjustments but it is still not perfect. However, there is a great deal of overlap around the seams and no seals so I figured it would be OK. Since some of my old XP2 has bled the frame numbers through onto the negative, I taped over the frame counting window so as to eliminate a possible variable in testing. This is because some of those red windows have bleached and leak light on the backing paper and through to the negative, or they always leaked light of sufficient intensity to be recorded on modern fast films.
So how did the camera work? Well, it takes pictures though I found that using the camera took some getting used to and one roll of film was not enough practice:
- The shutter works fine,
- It is probably as much in focus as a lens of this type can be though perhaps it could be sharper if the side strut was attached and held the lens perfectly parallel to the film plane.
- There was no noticeable lens flare or loss of contrast when shooting into the light, which perhaps was just not strong enough (though one shot had a bright sunny patch of water in the distance).
- I wound the film too far and lost the first frame, which out of eight shots is a bit annoying.
- The viewfinder was much smaller than I have used on other folders and thus was very difficult to use. This was not helped by looking at a mirror image.
- I shot all frames in landscape mode and the ergonomics of the shutter are designed for portrait mode and very awkward to use “sideways”.
- Several times I could not be sure that the shutter had fired, though in all but one instance chose to assume it had. That one time I shot a second exposure just in case it had not, but it turned out to be a double exposure.
- Inside the camera were some threads along one edge, and some that must have been loose and drifting around because there a lots of black threads and specks on the negatives which would come from junk on or near the negative during exposure (I removed dust from the scans, but left the black muck as it is related to camera function rather than my scanning technique).
- The final insult added to these minor injuries was that the lab appears to have put the negatives into the sleeve just before it was dry. One edge of two negatives have what look like water marks.
- The big fail came in the framing. I am not sure how much was operator error though I think probably some of it is.
- But I also think that the viewfinder is, at least in landscape mode, a bit out of alignment, pointing too much towards the ground and consequently I got a lot of sky and little of my prime subjects in most of the photos.
- This could be related to the loose strut, or the little tab of metal on which the viewfinder rotates could be a bit bent. It would be best to fix the strut before bending the metal tab, so I will just leave it alone.
I might use this camera again. Like many of its ilk it has some attractive features. Most attractive is that it’s small for a 6×9 camera and is very easy (too easy) to use for double exposures which can be fun. Unlike most Kodaks of this size it takes 120 film without the need to mess around with respooling and so on. But, since it turns out this is a rare or even very-rare camera I don’t want to mess with it too much. Most likely I will sell it and use the money to buy even more cheap cameras! There seems to be a vigorous Bencini user and collector community (such as this Facebook page), so I expect it would be easy to sell.
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2016-3: Bencini CMF Erno, Ilford XP200 400, expired Nov 1997, commercially processed, scanned at home.