The Univex Mercury 2
Several weeks ago I was passed this camera more as an oddity for Russell's shop. I think he saw it as more of an ornament, a dressing piece if you like. He liked its quirky look! I gave it the once over and all seemed fine except for a lot of fungus on the lens, when I say a lot I really do mean a LOT! He sent the lens off with a batch of cameras for repair just to see if it might be improved.
So, while its off being cleaned – the camera. Short version! Universal Camera Corps were better known for cheap plastic toy cameras but in 1938 produced the Mercury to compete with higher end cameras. Work moved to the war effort, then in 1945 they returned to cameras with a revamp – The Mercury 2! A half frame viewfinder with a magnesium/aluminium body machined to ridiculous standards, I have never seen a film door fit that flush! It has an odd semi-circular protrusion on top to house the innovative rotary shutter, a black fake hide cover wraps around the main body. The viewer is in portrait mode and while the eye piece is tiny it is clear and bright. As you look at it front on the left knob is the advance and the right one is the shutter speed. The screw on lens is a coated Tricor 35mm f2.7, between that and the body is the distance focus ring with many bold increments assigned. It takes 35mm film which gives you 46 frames from a 24 and 70 from a standard 36…ah, the lens is back!
The lens was better but still heavily marked so I thought just one film. I easily loaded an FP4 and set off on a long city wander with an aim to push every angle, close up and depth of field option while capturing a bit of normal Plymouth that usually just gets passed by. I had to go without a strap as that is on the case that I did not have. I carried a light meter, my trusty universal clip on yellow filter/hood combo and a note book. With so many frames I was fairly loose with metering notes concentrating more on getting the camera set in the right order. You have to advance the film BEFORE setting shutter speed! I also deemed the fast F2.7 and the heady 1000th of second top end shutter speed combined with lots of distance markers a sign I would need to be pretty close with my focusing guesses! All went well I thought, I had a few miss-fires, forgot to put the filter on a few times etc. Then I got to 46, it kept going – 52! – I got concerned – 56! I gave up! I had all sorts of possible disasters in my head, film snapped, incorrect load – had I shot 56 nothings?
Results – straight home and in the tank! 30 minutes of torture, out they came! Lots of tiny cute images but just 45 and a half, the last one had clearly got lots of exposures overlapping so, it takes 46 and doesn't tell you the roll is finished. Once scanned it was clear the lens fungus had softened the images but not too badly really, they have a real era feel about them. It had caused flare though where brighter light was present which is a pain meaning I pushed the blacks and pulled the highlights in post mainly and I presume the smaller images make them a little grainier. If you spot the two pictures of the magnolia flower one was taken centre frame the other using the parallax correction markers in the viewer from 18inches and they work. I tried my hardest to make shallow D of F images but it just wouldn't!
My conclusion – it is a beautifully made funky camera that was immense fun to shoot, the lens is an issue if you want sharp and they are as rare as hens teeth to find. It is a fun collectors piece that is totally useable if you can live with the lens.
Click below to see more photos. Lots more photos will be added here soon