When does a box camera not look like a box camera? When it is the Ensign Ful-Vue from 1946. Until then most were basically a box with a lens on the front. There were a few variants, including box cameras that had better viewing lenses and looked more like Twin Lens Reflex cameras, but still generally had a box shape. When Ensign released the Ful-Vue they moved to a very modern shape for the period, and I think created one of the most striking looking box cameras ever.
I picked this camera up when I was living in London around 1999 and promptly put it on a shelf. While I was into photography, I was not collecting cameras then, so it never occurred to me to try it out. In early 2016, I picked the camera up and thought I would check it out, as I was building quite a collection, and I prefer that all my cameras are in working condition. I turned the film advance knob, and it was stuck. So, I played a bit more with it and it moved a bit more. I then opened up the camera and was surprised to find that the camera I had on my shelf for 17 years had film in it!
Photo of a wedding found in exposed film in the Ful-Vue.
Luckily most of it had been exposed and wound tight with the backing paper around it, so I did not lose a lot. The reason it would not wind was that the previous user, which I estimate in the 1950s or 60s, had inserted 620 film in rather than 120, which I believe is a common misconception with this camera. I had the film processed and did get some very interesting photos, unfortunately heavily damaged by age and possibly fusing to some extent to the backing paper. Sitting on shelf for so long probably did not help, but it is amazing to think that this could have been in that camera for over sixty years!
The first Ful-Vue was introduced by Ensign in 1939. Ensign was formally known as Houghton Butcher Manufacturing Company, which had been manufacturing cameras for decades previously.
It had regular TLR type design but had a large brilliant reflex viewfinder. This made framing the photos much easier and accurate. Shooting in 6×6 format on 120 film gave this camera an advantage as it allowed to avoid a second viewfinder due to the square format.
In 1946 Ensign, after production restarted from a pause of 3 years due to the war, took a different design to box cameras and the more streamlined Ful-Vue was produced. Its design was very much influenced by art-deco design and influences by the new emerging industrial design of the time.
There were a few models after this Ful-Vue including the Ful-Vue II, the Ful-Vue Super and the Ross Ensign Ful-Vue. A final plastic Fulvueflex was produced when the company closed.
The Ful-Vue is constructed from pressed and folded metal. This does give it a nice and sturdy feel to it. Its very appealing feature is the very bright “brilliant” viewfinder made from a light polished chromium covered steel plate. The viewing lens is 22mm.
The taking lens is a 75mm meniscus lens, with a rotary shutter set at roughly 1/30 sec for “I” instantaneous or as long as you like on the “T” setting. The aperture is roughly a fixed f/11. There is some focusing with the lens, based on approximation, by pulling out the lens and twisting to the desired distance.
Film is loaded by the side, where the whole insides are removed and 120 roll film is threaded through. There is a locking knob on the side so it does not open accidentally. Film advance is fully manual, with alignment by the little round red window at the back. Later models had flash sync, but this one does not.
It does allow for a strap with some lugs on the sides and there is a custom leather case which it fits in snugly.
Having removed film from the camera and getting some results from possibly 60 years ago, I felt quite comfortable taking the Ful-Vue out. My son, Alec, joined me on this little trip out to Centennial Park in Sydney, where I have tested out a few cameras. He coincidentally was testing a new (vintage) SLR I bought for him as he is now interested in film photography.
As with some of the older cameras, my main concern was the slow shutter speed for both shake and over exposure as my film reserved these days are faster than the film available when this camera was new. Luckily modern black and white film is very forgiving and has a wide latitude.
In terms of over exposure, I need not have worried too much, I timed it quite well in the day to handle it with some Ilford Delta 100. Camera shake is another matter, I found this quite difficult added that it is not the greatest of lenses. There is not a great deal nice and sharp in the results. They are useable though for what the camera was aimed at, home and social snaps. As such there, is no need to go into discussion on whether it is sharp in the middle etc.
Interestingly it has quite a large shutter vibration, I could feel it though my hands. That may also very well be because the shutter lever is located at the front, and is actually quite awkward to trip, leading to not holding the camera properly.
Using the camera was fun, the viewfinder is extremely bright and gives you a feeling that the camera will produce much better results than it does. It was not too hard to frame and then it was a matter of ensuring it is focused on roughly the right distance, and trip the shutter.
I’m not likely to use the Ful-Vue again, but as a display piece it is one of my favourite looking cameras. I am glad I did take it out for a shoot and enjoyed the experience, but the quality of the results negates its use again. If you do come across one, and it is reasonably priced, it is worth having a go with it, and then displaying it, especially as you can get them in multiple colours.
Some further photographs follow, including the rest from the found film after the ones taken by me.
These are the rest of the photos in the exposed film found in the camera.