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Classic marque - the Purma Special (2 images)

Discussion in 'Classic Models & Marques' started by gray1720, Oct 15, 2013.

  1. gray1720

    gray1720 Well-Known Member

    The Purma Special

    The Purma Speed was succeeded in 1937 by the Special, which was a very different beast. No longer a Leica-a-like, it was a rather elegant rhomboid of black Bakelite, with a smooth top and bottom and delicately ribbed front and rear. Allegedly it was styled by the UK branch of design genius Raymond Loewy’s studio, although the well-known artist Eric Ravilious has also been mentioned. Whoever it was responsible, it was a distinctive and attractive look.


    Inside, the mechanicals were still pressed steel, but gone were the high and low range shutter speeds, replaced by a simple choice of slow, medium and fast. Once again a simple guillotine capping shutter sat in front of the focal plane shutter, to which a heavy brass bob weight was attached. This ensured a slow speed, with the spring pulling against the weight, of an alleged 1/25[SUP]th[/SUP] of a second whilst at the other end, with both spring and weight travelling in the same direction, an impressive 1/450[SUP]th[/SUP] was claimed. This was right up there with expensive Compur shutters at the high end of the market, and with Leica and Contax, but from a vastly simpler and more affordable camera.


    On top of this, there was a surprising variety of extras available. While it would perhaps be pushing it to describe the Special as a system camera, there were enough accessories to keep any tinkerer happy. Four filters – yellow, orange, blue and light green – were available, each of which simply clipped over the end of the lens, and the red windows in the back of the camera could be replaced with green to allow the use of panchromatic film. The lens itself (bloomed on all interior surfaces, apparently) was fixed focus, anything beyond ten feet would be in focus, but no less than six clip-on close-up lenses could be bought, bringing the focus distance down as close as eighteen inches. There was also a Bakelite lens hood that to modern eyes looks suspiciously like something Ann Summers might sell.

    What was the Special like to use? Despite the odd rhomboidal shape, it actually fits very well in my not-that-large hands, and feels quite comfortable. The viewfinder is a tunnel in the top part of the camera body and is interesting for minutiae fans for the first use of plastic in a camera’s optics – the viewfinder lenses are made of Perspex. Normally it is pejorative to describe a viewfinder as “lousy” but I had a shock when I first peered through mine to discover a large and very dead louse in it! Actually it isn’t too bad – though small, there is enough relief that spectacle wearers should be able to use it satisfactorily.

    The camera has a rather snub-nosed look with the plain Bakelite lens cap on but, like all the Purma range, it must be removed before the shutter will operate. The lens pops out on a spring and is an anastigmat design made by Beck Ltd, with a fixed aperture of f6.3 and 2 ¼” focal length. As with its predecessor, the camera uses two red windows for 16 exposures on a roll of 127 film, but the negatives are slightly larger – approximately 1 ¼” square.

    The shutter must be cocked with the swivelling Bakelite knob set at the front of the top plate – the middle one of the incredible three controls this camera has. 5D MkIII owners, eat your hearts out! Once you have selected the shutter speed by – yes – working out which way up to hold it, the next surprise is that the shutter release is on the left – I think only my Moskva 4 shares this, in a collection of over 70 cameras! The Focal Press took the Purma range seriously enough to issue a guide to them, which suggests that you use the same hand to press the shutter release whichever way up you are holding it- all I can say is that their tester had a considerably more flexible wrist than me (oo err!), Whichever you do use, a long press –the travel on the release must be close to half an inch – operates the shutter with a satisfying clang. There is a startling kick as well, especially on the fastest speed, but as the book says, the shutter has already closed when the camera jumps.

    So not a great camera? Maybe, but the Focal Press guide describes it thus: “But its utter simplicity is responsible for the fact that more than one Fleet Street ace carries one as a sort of insurance policy against the occasions when split seconds can rob the dailies of a scoop”. Cobblers? It seems not, for the photos inside the guide include one taken at the Cenotaph on Armistice Day 1938 by one James Jarche. Who he? Well, his work has undergone something of a renaissance of late owing to a program on BBC2 by his grandson, David Suchet – yes, him! Lo and behold, there is a photograph in circulation of Jarche with his grandsons John and David all holding cameras, and he is indisputably clutching a Purma Special.


    (you do not want to know how much time I spent trying to find a version of this photo not linked from the Daily Heil).

    Sadly, like its stable mates, the dearth of 127 film pretty much renders this a shelf queen these days, but what a fetching and elegant dress this queen of the cheap cameras wears!

    (I was going to post some photos, but I've just discovered I don't have any to hand from the Special. Ooops...)
    Last edited: Oct 15, 2013

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