Week 46 – The Ensign Autorange 820
“That one!” Russell said, he went on to excitedly tell me it was a rare beasty and I might never get the chance to shoot one again. I was somewhat bemused to hear this handling the rather ordinary looking 6x9 folder. He showed me the 2 listings on EBay, £1750 & £2100! NO WAY! I was intrigued, so accepted it and took it home, A little research told me when new in 1955 it would set you back £53 pounds which was over a month’s wages, about £1000 now. That was twice the price of the next Ensign down, it was their flagship camera. Ensign shut around 1960 with the Autorange their last design and probably contributed to their down fall with low sales.
So what is so special – NOTHING! Yes it has a range finder, others did. It had the high quality f3.8 Ross Xpres lens and Epsilon shutter but so did the much cheaper Selfix 820. It took 120 film with a choice of 6x9 or 6x6 and that has a built in fold out mask which is cool as you won’t lose it. Focusing with the wheel is nice and moves the whole bellows. I can tell you the focus spot is good and clear in good average light but not so much in bright or dull conditions where it almost disappears. The “bright” framing screen in the eye piece does the same, this is frustratingly quite some way in from the edges meaning you have to really check what is actually in frame.
I picked Ilford FP4+ as my first roll and set up the 6x9 framing, I would shoot it from a tripod exploring the lower end of the shutter speeds B to 1/25th. I took a walk by the river Plym where the city abruptly meets the country side, I would walk under the flyovers where the young folk meet and do young stuff, then cross the footbridge over the railway lines and into Saltram House grounds finishing at the tidal marshes where Canadian Geese were arriving on mass. It went really well, I enjoyed the walk and slow setup for each frame. Conditions were difficult for some shots with deep shadows under the flyovers and high highlights in the sky. I used an orange filter predominantly deliberately leaving it unfolded the whole time checking for leaks, there were none. Longest shot was 56 seconds, this was my only bulb shot. I did consult with mentor Craig Pindell and a development in DDX and time were agreed. They are I think quite nice, I am pleased! Well exposed and sharp the lens and limp sounding shutter were spot on.
Roll 2 I decided would be hand held on a city walk, I selected Ilford HP5+ and folded out the 6x6 mask. Off I set nice and early to avoid the predicted rain, I switched around the filters between orange and yellow or none at all. I used all the shutter speeds from 1/50th to 1/500th. When pushing on the filters I found the bellows unit that moved with the focus pushed in, this was irritating. I think I managed some fairly interesting images but I preferred the slower style of the day before. I opted for my preferred Rodinal developer for HP5+. They again came out almost spot on exposure wise but an annoying light leak had appeared! I think this is when the front unit moves as you push on the filter so that needs looking into.
On the whole I enjoyed the camera, it works really well. I had a great time with the slow stuff and it rewarded me with pleasing images. Is it worth all that money? As a camera, NO WAY! It is good but really? As a collector’s piece then I suppose it is, it is rare and people want it. As a user I think there are better all-round folders I would rather own and use for a fraction of the cost. On a personal note I found I preferred the 6x9 to the 6x6 which for me is somewhat of a surprise.
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