Several of my previous posts have featured photos taken by my Dad or myself, back in the 1960s. All those photos were taken with the family camera, an Ilford Sporti, bought by my Dad in 1959, around the time that my Mum and Dad married. They took the camera on honeymoon with them and many other trips before I was born. They also used it to take the first family photos of my sisters and me, when we were just babies. By the time I was shown how to use it, and borrowed it for day trips of my own, it was already 10 years old.
The trusty Sporti was used as the only family camera until the early 1980s, when my Dad replaced it with a small light plastic camera and I bought my first camera, an Agfa Silette LK. (More about that another time.) In over 21 years of use it survived many day trips to the seaside, holidays around the UK and Ireland, walks in the country and numerous house moves. The inside of the brown leather case has the various home addresses inscribed in the heavy biro style of my Dad – so that we would get it back if it was ever lost, but it never was. So this is my tribute to the Ilford Sporti – a camera that captured so many family moments that now help us to recall those times.
This photo of our actual Ilford Sporti was taken with my current digital camera.
It looks very plain and simple now, but in 1959 it was quite a new and trendy piece of kit. It has several features that at the time were not available on most cameras aimed at the family user.
There was a setting for sunny and cloudy (f11 and f9), a mount point for a flash on top. The flash was synchronised by a cord that plugged in under the lens. The lens could be adjusted, with guide points labelled in feet, as well as close-up, group and views, so that the camera could be correctly focused by any user. The shutter speed was fixed though at 1/50th sec. The shutter release button had a centre whole with a screw thread for a cable release to be connected. There was also a tripod bush in the base – with our camera it served as the anchor point for the leather case, a large thumb screw holding the two connected.
In truth it wasn’t really an Ilford camera. It was built for Ilford by Dacora, in West Germany, and was a modified version of their own Digna 1 camera. For more information on the Dacora camera range and further background information see The Camera Site and in particular this page. The Dacora origin wasn’t really hidden as you can see in my photo above, the Dacora name is prominent on the surround of the lens.
It was featured in early TV adverts and also on Radio Luxemborg! One advert was mid-show in The Cliff Richard Show, called ‘Me And My Shadows’, which was sponsored by Ilford. The advert claimed it was “the most smartest little camera you have ever seen”. The advert also recommended the use of Ilford black & white film, which shows that colour film was not in common use in 1960. All our family photos in colour are from around 1965 onwards and at first only about 12 pictures in a year!
The Photographic Memorabilia website deserve the credit for the radio advert details, they even have a link to a recording of it! I also want to thank them for technical details on the Sporti. They have an extensive history section covering several aspects of film and photo processing from that era too. I recommend the site to any camera and film enthusiast.
This magazine advert for the Ilford Sporti kit, from 1961, shows the whole kit that could be purchased for the camera. A large dish style flash reflector and a row of flash bulbs can be seen, as well as two rolls of Ilford film. My Dad never purchased a flash gun so we never used the camera with a flash. (Advert image from Photographic Memorabilia – Sporti.)
It is also interesting to note that the price is shown as £5 13 shillings and 9 pence – that’s old money! The decimal version of that is £5.69 (decimal money didn’t arrive until 15th February 1971 – see here for convertor.) To give that figure more meaning, it was around two weeks wages for my Dad at the time, and he earned reasonably good money as a carpenter on building sites. When he bought the camera in 1959 he may have only paid around £4 for the camera and leather case. My Mum also worked full time before us kids came along, so with two incomes an investment like that wasn’t too difficult. It proved to be a very good investment as the camera never broke and was still working well over 20 years later. It had taken hundreds of lovely memorable photos that are still treasured now.
When it came to using the camera it was all fairly simple and I learned how to load film before I was 10. We probably had the little Ilford instruction booklet, but if so it was lost a very long time ago. But again Photographic Memorabilia had a link to a PDF of the booklet. For a fun read of it click the picture.
The photo of the back of the camera shows the location of the viewfinder and the red window on the rear of the camera which allowed the user to see the arrows and numbers on the back of the film as you advanced the film by turning the wheel on the top right.
There was no automatic film movement or preset stop points, so you had to pay careful attention that you remembered to move the film forward after a picture was taken or you would loose both shots with a double exposure. Also if you moved the film forward too far there was no way of moving it back, you just had to take the shot and hope it still came out when developed.
The last photo shows the Sporti with the back open and the film spool to collect the film as it was moved on. At the end of taking 12 pictures you just kept winding till it went loose and then carefully opened the camera in a dimly lit room or in the shadow of a blanket as I was shown to do. More recently I have discovered that it just needed to be out of direct sunlight or bright lights. The film wasn’t enclosed in a cassette or case so if handled carelessly could unspool and expose the whole film to light and you would loose the pictures or ruin the film if you were loading it. To help illustrate what loading a camera using 120 film looks like I have included a video in the previous post, as well as another in which a young photographer explains why he still chooses film photography in the digital age.
I hope you enjoyed this reflection on an old-fashioned film camera. Things have really moved on in the last 50 years. Now many people take and share pictures without ever using a camera, just the camera functions built-in to their smartphone and often the results are very good. Many people still enjoy the old school methods of producing photographs with film and all the other processes that are involved. Much as I appreciate the memories saved with this Ilford Sporti, I am happy to have moved into the digital age. I enjoy being free to take hundreds of high resolution photos in a day and no longer be limited to a roll of film with just 12 photographic opportunities and waiting days or weeks for the prints to come back from a processing shop.