Sir Charles Bell used at least two medium format cameras in Tibet. Of one of thse we have no information at present, but Bell refers to a '3A' camera in his. The camera in question was either a Kodak 3A or a Kodak 3A Autographic. The Kodak 3A was a folding pocket camera introduced by Kodak in 1903 and sold until 1915; seven different versions were manufactured. The cameras were developed to take 122 roll film, but could be adapted for use with glass plates by using a 'Combination Back' glass plate adapter, which consisted of a plate holder and a ground glass focusing screen. The Combination Back and a double plate holder could be bought at extra cost. The camera also had an automatic shutter with a pneumatic release. This helped to prevent camera shake when using the timing and bulb settings and would have been essential when taking photographs in the difficult conditions found in Tibet. The camera had a waist-level viewfinder which could be rotated to take horizontal or vertical photographs. It also had two tripod sockets so that both vertical and horizontal time exposure images could be taken. The camera, when folded, could fit into a large coat or jacket pocket and was considered a stylish camera when first marketed. It was most commonly used to take postcard-sized images, and many of the p-sized glass plates in the collection could have been taken using this. However, it seems that he used it for taking quarter plate-sized images in Tibet and he must have had an adaptor for this purpose.
This type of camera was used by Hugh Richardson. The Reflex Korelle was a German-made mirror reflex camera designed for taking 6 x 6 cm images on roll film. Each roll could take 12 square images. It was also possible to insert sheets of 6.5 x 9 cm film into the camera in a dark room. The camera was designed for the "exacting amateur" according to the company's own advertising and thus combined popular features such as simplicity of use, light weight with easily attached additional features such as lenses with a range of focal distances. The company also stressed the quietness of the shutter mechanism and the fact that it was shake-free. The focal-plane shutter was also better at maximising the existing light intensity than other, central shutter cameras, which was a feature of great benefit when working in the difficult light conditions in Tibet. The camera also had an eye-level frame finder which served "for the popular snapshots" according to the company's advertising and instruction leaflet. A folding magnifier would enlarge the picture on the ground glass screen to assist with focus. The camera had a wind-on arrangement that would automatically limit each film portion - winding would cease when the counter showed the next figure. The makers stressed that amateur photographers would appreciate the square-format negatives because they took away the problem of whether to create vertical or horizontal shots, facilitated the making of contact prints that were sufficiently large that enlargements would not be needed and eased the process of trimming and enlarging to any desired shape. The exchangeable lenses were also pitched to amateur photographers who were versatile or who were "eager for out-of-the-ordinary subjects".
This type of camera was used by Frederick Spencer Chapman and, after the Mission of 1936-37 under Sir Basil Gould left Lhasa, by Hugh Richardson. A number of different models were produced of this camera and they were made by the Zeiss Ikon Company in Germany. The first model was made in 1934 and the last in 1959. The camera was considered by many to be the best 6 x 9 cm format camera on the market when it was produced. It is not clear which type the Mission members used but it was most likely the Zeiss Super Ikonta C. This camera had a special semi-frame or film-plane mask which could be inserted into the film chamber enabling twice as many images to be taken on the film by changing the frame size to 6 x 4.5. cm. This is a feature that Richardson in particular made use of in order to maximise use of the film available to him in Lhasa after the main Mission party had left in 1937. The camera was spring-folding and could fit into a large pocket; it was the smallest and lightest camera able to take 6 x 9 cm images available at the time. One problem created by the lack of a rigid camera body was that it was sometimes difficult to keep the lens parallel with the film. The camera was notable for the extensive range of lenses that could be fitted, making it a complex piece of photographic equipment suitable for those with a serious interest in the technical aspects of medium-format film photography.
The Contax 35mm camera was produced by the Zeiss Ikon Company in Germany and was intended to be a challenger to the 35mm camera made in 1926 by the rival Leica Company. There was much debate in the mid-1930s as to whether the Contax or the Leica was the best, and this debate was also played out among Mission members, Chapman preferring the Contax, Neame preferring the Leica. The earliest Contax cameras were notorious for having a bad shutter mechanism. This difficulty was partly resolved when the company introduced a new model in 1936 but it seems likely that Chapman and the other Mission members used the first model made in 1934 as there is sometimes evidence of problems with the shutter. The Contax cameras used Tessar lenses and had quite a complicated inner bayonet system to load and change them, making it relatively complicated to use. The frame counter, which was large and easy to read, had to be manually re-set. There were also a number of interchangeable frame masks that could be slid in front of the view finder to give different mask lines for the image frame. Because of its 'super speed' lenses, the Contax was considered even better for low-light photography than the Leica and it was the quality and range of lenses that made the camera particularly desirable, despite the flaws sometimes experienced with its shutter. In addition to the lenses, the Contax also had an extensive system of accessories for reproducing and enlarging images; the Magniphot Enlarger, for example, used the camera's own lenses with a condenser system to enlarge the images. The ability to enlarge images was particularly important with 35mm film as the negative was too small to view the image easily - which was the feature that medium-format cameras had and which was of use to photographers in Tibet who had to develop their own photographs with careful use of resources. If the Mission was able to use one of the later Contax cameras made available in 1936, they would have benefited from improvements to all the mechanical aspects of the camera, as well as a state-of-the-art rangefinder
This kind of camera was used by Frederick Spencer Chapman on the British Mission to Lhasa under Sir Basil Gould in 1936-7. The Nixe was part of the Icarette line made by the Zeiss Company and was considered a 'deluxe' camera being covered in finest Moroccan leather with a leather carrying handle, black stove enamelled finish and nickel plate fittings on a hard aluminium body. The Nixe was made between 1927 and 1934 and came in two sizes known as the 551/17 and the 551/16. It seems that Chapman used the former. Although both Zeiss Nixe camera types could take roll film or film sheets, Chapman used sheet film. The sheets of film were bought in a pack that would be loaded into the camera back. The sheets were numbered, as can be seen on the negatives presented on this website. The sheets used in the 551/17 were 9 x 12 cm and were thus the largest format negatives used by the Mission members. The camera was bulkier than the Contax and Super Ikonta cameras that Chapman also used, having a double extension bellows. Interchangeable lenses were available, although not of the same range as the later Zeiss cameras, only two being used primarily, the Zeiss Distar and the Zeiss Proxar. It had a rack and pinion focusing movement and Compur delayed action release shutter.
F. and S. Marriott's Reflex Korelle Leaflet
Michael Butkus Jr's Camera Manual Archive
3A Folding Pocket Kodak Camera Information at "Scott's Photographica Collection"
Ken Rockwell's Camera Formats Information
Plates, Negatives and Prints at EdinPhoto
Zeiss Ikon Company, Instructions for use Super Ikonta II , Dresden, undated