Vintage camera collection – Illford sportsman

This is a camera which I inherited from my Dad a few years ago. It’s a simple 35mm viewfinder camera with a Dacora Dignar 45mm f/2.8 lens made about 1959.

I’ve had this camera in a box in my office since the day Dad gave it to me and never really looked at it until today when I decided to dig it out. I had always assumed it was just a cheap ‘throw away’ camera but now I’ve had a proper look at it, I discover that it’s actually quite a capable performer for its day.

The lens fitted to this camera is a Dacora dignar 45mm f/2.8 and the shutter is a Prontor-svs which is quite a renown make. The dacora lens is a bit of a giveaway to the fact that this camera was also sold as a Dacora Dignette. In fact, since the camera has written on it ‘Made in Western Germany’ and Ilford was a British company, I suspect that this is actually a camera made for Ilford by Dacora.

The mechanical condition of the camera is quite sound with the shutter working at all speeds and the aperture moving freely, but there is a fair amount of damage to the covering. I’ve tried to peel the cover off in order to properly stick it down, but it is a very brittle, fake leather and it rips rather than peel, so I may need to cut some replacement covers and stick on in place of the original. I think this must be a common problem because a lot of the Ilford Sportsman models I see on eBay show similar signs of cover peeling.

The exposure system of the camera allows the adjustment of the aperture and shutter speed, and there is also an Exposure Value scale on the lens mount. The Exposure Value system (EV) was quite popular in the 1950’s and was an early attempt to simplify photography by allowing the exposure to be set without worrying about f stops and shutter speeds. Once the EV value was set (which was simply a combination of f number and shutter speed), it could be shifted as a whole to determine the type of picture you wanted to take. If you wanted to freeze motion you would turn the dial one way, if you wanted the background out of focus you would turn it the other way. It’s a bit like Program Shift which is available on many modern cameras. Of course, if you were to set the shutter speed too low you could get camera shake, so it didn’t completely remove the need for a bit of knowledge on the part of the photographer.

On this camera you set the EV value by pressing down a lever on the lens barrel, and moving the combination of shutter speed and aperture until the red arrow lines up with the desired EV number. You could also set aperture and shutter speed if you wanted – the result is the same.

The shutter has an V, X & M lever which I assume is to select Self timer, x sync and normal operation. On my camera the V setting won’t lock into place, so I guess the self timer is broken. I know of other cameras of this vintage with that problem.

The viewfinder is a simple window with lines indicating the approximate limits of the picture you will take. In common with most, if not all viewfinder cameras of this era, there is no other information shown.

To focus the picture, you basically guess the distance and set it on the focus ring. In order to assist with this there are icons of landscape, group and portrait subjects but since this camera was most probably used for holiday snapshots, it was probably mostly set to a small aperture and the focus set just off infinity to ensure most of the picture was in focus.

In many ways the camera reminds me of my Voigtlander Vito B. The frame advance lever is in the same position and works in the same manner as that camera and the shutter has the same ability to lock the speed and aperture and shift the exposure with the EV system.

  • Ilford sportsman Prontor-SVS 35mm viewfinder camera
  • 1sec to 1/500sec +B leaf shutter
  • Flash sync at all speeds from front mounted sync socket
  • 45mm f/2.8 Dacora Dignar lens with f/22 min shutter
  • EV range 2 to 18
  • X, V & M lever for self timer, sync and normal operation
  • Film type reminder on rewind knob
  • Front mounted shutter release with cable release thread
  • Cold shoe accessory
  • Ser No 228453

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