Ilford Sporti Camera

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.

Ilford Sporti a

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.

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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.  tn_Sporti_frnt_cvr

Ilford Sporti b

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.

Ilford Sporti c

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.

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120 film loading

This video is the best illustration I could find of loading 120 film into an old style camera.  In this video the camera is a plastic Holga camera that is popular with film camera enthusiasts.  Loading the film is very similar to the action taken when loading the same type of film into the Ilford Sporti – the subject of my next post.  Hope it revives some memories for those who recall older cameras and serves as an eye opener to anyone younger as to what was involved in using a camera all those years ago.  People still use 120 film in many types of cameras and then experiment with developing their film and printing their own pictures in the old fashioned way, in a darkroom with little baths of chemicals.

Searching for the video above I accidentally discovered this video by a young photographer, Hessel Folkertsma, in which he answers his critics who are baffled why anyone in this modern age, particularly someone young, would want to take photographs on old style film.  When I was 10-11 years old my school science teacher taught us the full film to print process, so I have done all that this photographer describes.  I also took photographs with 35mm film cameras for over 20 years.  I no longer feel the need to do so and I don’t want to be burdened by such physical processes like developing and printing photographs.  I love the digital era – but I also love the fact that this young guy wants to process film the way he does.  He makes some very good points in putting forward his case for being allowed to make his art the way he wants to.  I wish him and any others who enjoy the process every success!

My first photographs

Some time in 1969, when I was only a little over 7 years old, my Dad allowed me to borrow the family camera for the day. I took it with me on a school trip to London Zoo.  These pictures below are the only surviving photos from my first solo use of a camera.

Emperor Penguins (1968)

Emperor Penguins at London Zoo in 1969 – they look so colourful!

Penguins (1968)a

I believe this is another photo from that visit to London Zoo, this time of the African Penguins.

Both photos were taken with an Ilford Sporti camera on Kodak 120 roll film, that only allowed 12 pictures to be taken per roll.  The original photos had the usual white border, but after scanning them I removed the border by cropping the picture.  I also sharpened the picture and reduced the back-light a little, using the free software Photoscape.  Not exactly enhanced, just cleaned up a little for the modern digital age.

Unfortunately, I have no idea what happened to any other photos of other animals I took that day.  I seem to remember seeing giraffes, elephants, camels, chimps, kangaroos and a whole range of birds.  Maybe they didn’t come out for some reason, or perhaps I just liked the penguins more than the other animals!

My view of zoos has changed much over the years.  Whilst I am in no way an animal rights campaigner, I am now opposed to  housing wild animals in restricted environments far from their natural homes.

I am persuaded that there may be some limited and specific good reasons for keeping some endangered species safe from harm.  So long as the aim is to breed a small group to establish a wild population again.  Otherwise I cannot now support the keeping of animals in zoos or even wildlife parks, although I am sure many people do find some educational value and enjoyment visiting those sorts of places.  To me they seem more like animal prisons or detention camps, with a commercial reason for continuing, so I cannot go there any more.

To show Emperor Penguins in their natural environment and to illustrate how much more can be learned by intrepid camera men observing them in the wild I posted two two videos from YouTube in the previous post.  They are only short but I hope they are enjoyable to see.

My next post will be an article about the camera I used and how cameras, film and photography for the amateur has changed for everyone in the last 40 years.

Richmond Park – learning to take photos

On a beautiful sunny day, late in the summer of 1969, we took a family trip to Richmond Park.  By that time we had moved twice since 1968 and lived in a small flat in West Hampstead.  It wasn’t too far to travel to Richmond, but I have no memory of the journey, or if we went by bus, train or both.

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Richmond Park, so close to the tower blocks, yet full of rural beauty.  Photo nathan-harrison.com

My new little sister, Suzy, was about 18 few months old, so it was probably a bit of a hassle for our Mum & Dad, needing to take all the things a young child needs during the day.  We also took a large blanket to lay on the grass and a picnic lunch – there weren’t any McDonalds or Burger King take-away outlets until the mid 1970s – so it was sandwiches and a flash of tea, and Ribeana or something similar for me.  It turned into a very memorable day out, partly  because we have photos of the day that reinforce the memories, but for me I will always remember it as the day I learned to take photographs.

Richmond Park, the largest walled park in the UK, is one of the 8 Royal Parks of London, with its origins dating back to 1625, when the King, Charles I, brought the Royal Court to Richmond palace when plague was spreading through London.  The park grew out of an area set aside for hunting deer.  Charles I upset locals by enclosing the area with a wall, that is still standing today.  Public right of way was allowed and that has continued for most of its history, but was established by Act of Parliament in 1872.  It has been a popular recreational area for many years, a place to escape the city and enjoy a picnic, walking and cycling, with cycle ways around the park.  During the 2012 Olympics in London the road race cycle courses passed through the park.

It is remains home to over 600 deer, both Red Deer and Fallow Deer.  The deer are free to roam large parts of park and due to the high number of daily visitors they are fairly tame, although they still need to be treated with care and caution, and people are discouraged from feeding them or getting too close.  Sometime during that summer afternoon, back in 1969, when the sun was high in the sky, my Dad did a quick scout out of the area around where we had settled, leaving Mum, me and little Suzy laying on the blanket in the sun.  He came back all excited, saying that he had discovered we were fairly close to the lake at the centre of the park, where the deer came to cool down and drink.

He quickly rummaged in a bag for his trusty camera, an Ilford Sporti he had bought in 1959 and invited me to come with him and see the deer.  We walked a short distance through some fairly long grass and small bushes and trees, before we approached the lake.  Dad encouraged me to be quiet and we followed the edge of the lake for  a few more yards as he found some bushes to help hide us from the deer.  Not much happened for a while and I was soon bored of looking at the sun glinting off the water and became restless, wanting to run around and explore.  But Dad kept me calm for a little longer and we were suddenly rewarded with the approach of a group of around 20 Red Deer.

As they waded into the water Dad pointed out that we were downwind from them, so if we were quiet and moved slowly they wouldn’t be disturbed by our presence.  Then he took the first photograph of the group of deer.  Looking at the photos now I can’t be certain of the order in which they were taken but I know that the second two pictures I had a hand in taking.  Dad showed me how to use the viewfinder to aim the camera and how to press the shutter release button carefully so as not to shake the camera.  With that simple lesson I was introduced to the world of photography and have remained fascinated with it ever since.

The following three pictures are the photos from that encounter with the Red Deer of Richmond Park, on a summers day in 1969.  I scanned the originals some years ago and used the free software Photoscape to sharpen and very lightly enhance the tone.  Two of them also had small marks on the cloud and sky which I was able to remove with some careful restoration, again using Photoscape.  For more information on how to scan and restore old photos see my earlier ‘how to guides‘.

Deer - Richmond 1968 - 3

Deer - Richmond (1968) - 2a

Deer - Richmond (1968) - 1b

Whilst my encounter with the deer that day went very calmly and without incident, this was largely due to my Dad’s experience with the deer of Richmond Park.  Mum and Dad used to visit the park regularly and even photographed the odd deer close up, as can be seen in the black and white photo below, from around 1960.

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Not everyone has such a calm relaxing experience, especially if they take a disobedient dog with them.  I am of course referring to Fenton and his outraged owner who together became a huge internet sensation in late 2011.

I have shared two videos in the previous post, to keep the videos separate from this post.  The first one is a clip of the news reports about the web viral status that the second clip received.  The second clip is the full uncensored version by the original uploader.