Ica cameras in 1913

This is the Ica model #1! It is a bare bones dirt-cheap box-type entry level camera for the format of 4.5x6cm, vertically oriented, a format considered "miniature" in this time. Still, it was three times larger than our "modern" 35mm film format!

The camera was made of thin steel sheet. The optics is only identified as a "good landscape lens", which means that it was too unsharp to allow recognizing a person on the photo! Probably it was nothing more than a single, uncorrected planoconvex lens. The shutter was capable of time exposure in addition to normal mode. Despite costing only 4 Reichsmark, cheap enough to give this camera to your son for Christmas, it did have some finesse: It could be loaded with six photographic plates, and advanced them automatically after each shot!

Adding another 4.5 Reichsmark, you could instead get this complete kit, an ideal gift for an aspiring photographer. It included the complete camera, 12 plates, 10 sheets of copying paper (they assumed you would mess up at least two of the plates!), 10 carton frames, and all chemicals and tools needed to develop the plates and make the contact copies!

At product #40, we find a very different camera for the same "miniature" format! It features quality brass construction covered in real leather, an adjustable shutter that can go up to 1/250th of a second, an adjustable aperture, and some other goodies. It could load 12 normal plates, or 8 Autochrome plates (which were thicker).

But this is the lower half of that catalog page: The price list. Depending on which lens you ordered with the camera, it cost between 120 and 210 Reichsmark! Compare that to the 4 Reichsmark of the entry-level model!

Most Ica cameras were available with a choice of lenses. Usually the cheapest were those produced in-house, which were available in different qualities and apertures. The most expensive ones invariable were the fastest Zeiss lenses. They were the best - and still are today! All lenses listed here are of the same focal length, 7.5cm. Only the quality and aperture were different.

For many models of cameras, Ica was willing to adapt a lens provided by the customer. So, if you had a worn camera with an exceptionally good lens, you could send that lens in and get the new camera of your dreams fitted with it!

Most cameras of the time looked roughly like this one. Such cameras were available for a wide range of formats, with many different lenses, providing almost countless different features and quirks. This one is specially designed for people who want to take it to tropical locations. For the Europeans of the time, traveling to equatorial Africa or other tropical places was "in", and most cameras simply disintegrated there, either from the heat and humidity, or from simply becoming the food of bugs unknown in Europe! So this camera was made of Teak wood, known to be bug resistant. The leather bellows was specially treated to make it taste bad to insects. For added toughness, all corners were reinforced by brass angles.

The bellows could be extended to 39 cm. The lenses (there was a wide range of qualities and apertures to choose from) could be used complete, giving about 19cm focal length, which was pretty much a normal lens for this format of 9x12cm. But they could also be disassembled, and only the rear lens would be used, while extending the bellows. This gave a tele lens of roughly 32 cm focal length!

Depending on the choice of lens and shutter (yes, there were two versions of shutter!), this jewel of a camera would have set you back by 305 to 530 Reichsmark! If that was too much for you, then you could still choose among another few hundred camera models, in all price ranges, from Ica's catalog!

Stereo cameras were very fashionable in 1913. Ica made a large range of them, for many different formats, with a lot of variation in features and cost. Most of these stereo cameras had two lenses, while the cheapest had only one, that could be displaced to make first one, then the other half of the stereo shot. But this model had three lenses! It could be used as a stereo camera, employing the two side lenses, or as a panoramic camera, using the center lens! And you thought that APS with its in-camera selection of several formats, including a panoramic one, was revolutionary? Think again!

This camera had in fact four modes: Stereo, using the side lenses; panoramic, using the center lens; wide angle panoramic, by displacing the entire front section to one side and using only one of the side lenses; and tele-panoramic, same as before but using only the rear element of one side lens!

Depending on the lenses fitted, the prices for this camera ranged from 380 to 585 Reichsmark.

And this is how such a stereo photography looks! When watching it through the proper viewer, designed to place each of the pictures in front of one eye, in optical infinity, then the two images melt to give a three-dimensional view of this nice street scene of the very early 20th century!

This camera was constructed according to the specifications of court photographer Erwin Raupp, famous for his portraits. I suppose that Mr. Raupp was employed by the King of Saxony, who had his court within walking distance of the Ica factory. Or did he perhaps work for William II, Emperor of Germany? 

The camera had a wide range of bellows extension, allowing the use of lenses of many different focal lengths, and was sturdy enough to use even the fastest lenses, according to this ad. Fast lenses are less tolerant of crooked mounting. The camera allows all kinds of swiveling, so it could be set up to compensate for converging lines and such - but then, almost all bellows cameras could do that! This is one feature we have lost in modern photography. Having no bellows, the ability to displace the lens, even a few mm, nowadays costs enormous sums of money in special shift/tilt lenses!

What do you consider to be "large format" in photography? Maybe 20x25cm, or so?

Well, in 1913 photographers had a different idea. These cameras were available in seven different formats, ranging from 24x30cm to a whopping 80x100cm! The largest of these babies had a bellows that extended up to two and a half meters! The largest model had a price tag of 1640 Reichsmark, including the wheeled desk, but not including a lens. A house probably cost less!

The ad says that these cameras are "an adornment of any photographic studio"! I believe that - in any case, they must have been more of an adornment than of a useful tool! What do you do with a negative on a glass plate measuring 80x100cm? Back then, even living-room windows were smaller! :-)

Are you among the many photographers who believe that single-lens reflex cameras were invented in the 1950s or so? Then it would be good to have a look at the Ica Reflex of 1913. It came in six different sizes, for plate formats of 6x9 to 13x18cm. And it was not advertised as anything new! Ica must have been producing SLR cameras for some time already. At least, the Reflex was advertised as an "artist's camera".

This camera was not at all unlike a modern SLR! It featured a focal plane slit shutter with stepless exposure time adjustment right to 1/1000th of a second! The exposure mechanism and mirror were brought in position by a half turn of the winding knob - just like modern hand-wound SLRs!

When looking at this picture, and reading the specs, I can't help being reminded of a relatively modern Bronica 6x6cm SLR I used some time ago. The Bronica had an external bellows attachment instead of the old Ica's built-in one. The Bronica had backs for 120-size film, shooting 12 exposures, while the Ica had backs for plates - for 12 exposures too! Viewfinder, operation, technology were all pretty much the same, despite the 70 year interval between them!

Fitted with a set of Zeiss Tessar 1:4.5 lenses, this camera was as capable of producing high quality photographs as the most modern medium or large format SLR cameras!

Browsing through the catalog, the sheer quantity of different cameras offered by Ica never stops to surprise me. I think it is safe to state that in 1913 Ica alone offered a greater number of different cameras than all present-day manufacturers taken together! This may seem like a risky statement, but if presently there are maybe 50 different factories throughout the world producing photographic cameras, and each of them in average produces 10 models in any given year, Ica in 1913 would indeed beat that!

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