In the October 1998 'Pieces' I referred to the small
number of well-known names involved in both still and
cine equipment manufacture. The Universal Camera
Corporation is a good example of a lesser-known company -
at least, it is less well-known in Europe, although I
suspect quite well-known in the US - which both had
cameras made and, later, manufactured cameras themselves.
They introduced some interesting cameras, both still and
cine, but they also broadened access to photography,
especially in the early years of the company, by making
many of their cameras reasonably priced, to appeal to a
The Universal Camera Company was
started in 1932, by two businessmen with no previous
photographic business experience. Otto Githens and Jacob
Shapiro were in their thirties when they got together to
start a company, having met while both were working on
the financial side of the taxicab business, one in loans,
the other in insurance.
The business went bankrupt in 1952,
and was bought out. It continued trading, under new
ownership, until the early 1960s. In 1964, 12 years after
filing for bankruptcy, the proceedings officially
During the lifetime of the company,
they made far more cameras than I can list here. I can
only recommend, to anyone interested in the subject, that
you try to get a copy of The Univex Story by Cynthia A.
Repinski (publ. Centennial Photo Services, 1991, ISBN
Cameras: Probably the best-known
of the Univex cameras, the Mercury has a distinctive
appearance, due to the housing for the rotary focal plane
shutter which extends above the top plate like a halo.
This shutter is similar to that found on a cine camera.
It has a 1/10 second rotation, and varying shutter speeds
are obtained by changing the size of a slot in the
shutter. It is reputed to be extremely accurate and
reliable. The cameras use 35 mm. film, but wound onto a
special spool, not in a cassette. Film leader is required
to prevent fogging.
The Mercury Model
CC, now usually called the Model
1, was introduced in 1938. When originally introduced, it
had a 35 mm. f/3.5 Wollensack Tricor lens, and cost $25.
Other verions have aWollensack f/2.7 Tricor lens or a
Wollensack f/2 Hexar lens. The rotating focal plane
shutter gives speeds from 1/20 second up to 1/1000
second, but a special version was produced for a very
short time with a top speed of 1/1500 second. With the
f/2 Hexar lens, this version cost $65 in 1939, and the
limited production (about 3,000 are believed to have been
made) means that this now a rare camera (unlike the
standard model, which is fairly common in the US,
although not so common in Europe).
The Model CX,
also called the Model II, was introduced after the Second
World War, when Univex returned to camera production. It
is very similar to the Mercury I, but uses the standard
35 mm. cassette, and it was supplied with Universal-made,
coated f/2.7 or f/3.5 lenses. It takes 65 exposures on a
36-exposure 35 mm. film. When introduced, at the end of
1945, the camera cost about $65. It sold well,
world-wide, and is now common, especially in the
Univex AF cameras. If the Mercury
cameras are memorable for their rotary shutters, the AF
cameras were remarkable for their price; in 1935, when
the camera was introduced, it cost $1.It is a simple,
folding camera, made of cast aluminium and finished in
enamel. There was a choice of five colours - black, grey,
brown, light green and light blue. The light green and
light blue are now rare, as are some of the special
models with promotional faceplates. The shutter allows
for snapshots and time exposures. The AF required a
special Univex film, designated #00, giving 6
AF-2 has a
black finish, with red and silver front plate, and a few
minor changes to the design. It was sold with a "Karry
Kase" for $1.
AF-3 has a
better lens, and a silver-finish front plate; in 1935, it
cost $2.50, inlcuding a "Karry Kase".
identical to the AF-3, except for small changes to the
front plate. It came out about 1937, and it was sold
without a case, at $1.95.
The final model, the
AF-5, has an Ilex 60 mm. Achromar
lens, a wire frame-finder and an optical viewfinder and
an eye-catching antique bronze finish. The camera sold
for $3.50, and the ever-ready case was an extra $1. Note
that some AF-5 cameras are identified as "Minicam" and
others are not.
Production of all AF cameras appears
to have ceased in about 1939.
straight-8 cine cameras. The
original range of 8 mm. cine cameras produced by Univex
all took a non-standard, single run, 8 mm. film on a
special film spool. Geveart contracted to make the film,
usually called either 'single-8' or 'straight-8'. I
prefer the term 'straight-8', as there is then no risk of
confusion with the much later, completely different and
unrelated Japanese Single-8 system.
The first of these low-cost cine
cameras was the
introduced in 1936 and sold for $9.95. This is a simple,
clockwork, single speed (16 f.p.s) camera, with an
interchangeable lens mount. The camera was supplied with
an Ilex Univar f/5.6 lens. It has an open-frame finder,
but an optical viewfinder was available as an
similar to the A-8, but with the frame finder replaced by
an optical viewfinder. The black finish of the A-8 is
superseded by a bronze enamel finish. The B-8 was
launched in 1939, when it cost $9.95.
introduced in about 1938, had a built-in optical
viewfinder, rather than the clumsy-looking tubular finder
of the B-8. It cost ,with f/5.6 lens, only
Also launched in 1939 was the
model, which is like the C-8, but with a three-lens
rotating turret, and viewfinder masks which automatically
come into play when the taking lens changes. It was
supplied with a Univar f/4.5 lens, at $25 or with a
Univar f/3.5 lens at $29.95 - both prices are those
applicable in 1939.