Ancient, grotty Dacora Digna camera

28 Jul

I’ve been working on the first of my little stories, which mostly means just trying to check facts etc. In the first draft I mentioned that there were no photos to include, because I didn’t have a camera at the time. Now I find out that the second part of that was not true, although I still haven’t found any images from the camera.

My father died late last century; he was always a keen photographer, and I knew he had taken many 6*9 black and white photos wherever he and my mother went (and a few colour slides as well, another story). I remembered him having a folding Zeiss camera, and asked my sister (who still has most of the contents of my parents’ house) if she could find it. She gave me two cameras: one folding Zeiss Ikon, although square 6*6 format rather than 6*9, and one rather grotty, low budget Dacora Digna that also shot 6*6 photos on 120 film.

I assume the older Zeiss got lost or stolen, or perhaps broke, and was replaced by the smaller one. But I was very puzzled by the low budget camera. I couldn’t think what my father had been doing with it; it didn’t seem like his sort of thing at all. Anyway, I didn’t much like the look of it, and got it down from the shelf recently to clean up a bit before getting rid of it. Doing so, I noticed my father’s initial and surname scratched on the back. That’s odd, I thought. I checked the Zeiss Ikon, which I knew to be his, no name scratched there. The name was also inked into the inside of the Dacora’s leather case. Then it dawned on me… we share the same initial, it wasn’t my father’s name but mine. I had been on a couple of adventure holidays in the Norfolk Broads as a teenager, and I vaguely remember some unsatisfactory photos from there, which have vanished but I assumed to have been taken with a Box Brownie or something like that. But I think now that this was my camera, bought for one of those holidays and kept by my parents after I abandoned it for the giddy heights of the Werra 1 I got for my 21st birthday.

So, this wasn’t just any crappy old Dacora Digna, it was in fact MY old rubbish Dacora Digna, from my early teenage years. Oh, the camera was made in 1959 and I was off to Uni in 1964, so my guess is this camera is likely older than almost all of my potential readers (if any).

Anyway, this discovery inspired me to shoot a roll of Ilford FP4+ through it. So here’s a brief review…

TLDR… don’t bother with one of these! To be fair, this example is pretty much the base model, and has sat in a converted cowshed for most of the last 20 years.

Things would probably have gone better if I’d put a spot of oil on the bearings of the wind-on knob! I’ve nearly worn the skin off my fingers winding the roll through, and I had to open the back after the last shot before the backing paper was fully wound in. It would turn a little, then jam up. Little red window in the back to check how far you’ve wound on of course, how I hate those.

The view finder is tiny, and I don’t expect it to be very accurate. Zone focus is pretty easy to forget about; at least one shot is going to be in completely the wrong zone. Two apertures, f/11 and… f/7.7! Why not f/8, I wonder? This rather hints at someone with a false sense of accuracy and maybe not too much photographic knowledge, designing this camera. I used a red filter held against the lens on some shots to give an extra stop or so… but it’s a bit rubbish having to use hand-held external filters to control exposure. And I hate having to use an external meter.

As far as I can see, the leaf shutter isn’t released by the shutter button, it’s fired by it… I think the button travel must compress a spring and then trip the shutter. A second or so later the shutter resets somehow (not quite sure how, but I can hear it happening, and before that happens you can’t fire the shutter again). The good and bad consequence of this is that you can take multiple exposures very easily. In fact, the first exposure I made was at least a triple exposure, as I wasn’t sure the shutter had fired (it is very quiet). The second shot, I forgot to change the focus from 5 feet. Another shot was a deliberate double exposure that just didn’t work. One shot missing because I overshot the number in the red window. But a few were better than expected.

Dacora 1Dacora 2Dacora 3

A bit of vignetting, and maybe a little bit soft, but the lens is better than I had expected. The last one had a red filter held in front of the lens. Altogether I’m surprisingly pleased! That doesn’t mean I want to use it again, though…

So, it appears I did have a camera to take on my road trip, and I assume I probably did take it. Maybe one day I will find the prints or negatives from it.

This does underline one the developing themes from these stories, though: remembering things from 50 years ago is hard!

 

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