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Classic Marque - the Purma Speed (7 images)

Discussion in 'Classic Models & Marques' started by gray1720, Oct 12, 2013.

  1. gray1720

    gray1720 Well-Known Member

    The Purma range of cameras were produced in Britain from 1936 to about 1960, and must rate as one of the more interesting and unusual solutions to a perceived problem ever to hit the photographic dealer’s shelves.

    The brainchild of two commercial artists, Edwin PURves and Tom MAyo (hence Purma), the intention seems to have been to produce a camera with variable shutter speeds at an affordable price. When you consider that people were making do with simple cameras with a single shutter speed into (in my case, at least) the 1990s, and that box cameras continued to sell up to about 1960, a camera launched in 1936 and selling for 35 shillings with six shutter speeds was science fiction stuff.

    But what of the camera? The first model, the Purma Speed, seems only to have been produced for about a year so nearly eighty years on they are rare, and I’ve yet to find any period reviews or instructions. The camera looks a little like a nul-series Leica, especially when viewed from a distance in bad light. It’s also not dissimilar in size, a more modern comparison being that it’s about the same size as an Olympus XA with the flash attached. The top and bottom plates are brightly chrome plated, as is the lovely lens cap with the camera’s name on it in curvaceous script, all unusual in an era when duller nickel plate was far more likely to be used. The rest of the camera body is painted in cheap crackle-finish black, and appears to be made from steel pressings.


    How were all those shutter speeds achieved without buying in an expensive precision made shutter? The clue is around the pop-up viewfinder’s rear element. Around the square hole (square – remember that bit) are inscribed three pairs of shutter speeds – 1/25 and 1/100 to the left, reading bottom to top, 1/50 and 1/150 at the top reading left to right, and 1/75 and 1/200 to the right reading top to bottom. There’s a prominent knurled knob next to it on the top plate, with instructions stamped into the top plate on how to set the high and low range, and a little lever to allow timed exposures – mostly for show, as there is no tripod bush. But there is nothing to change the shutter speed – so how is it done?


    Well, the simple answer is that if you hold the camera so that the indicated speed is horizontal, that’s the speed that is selected – the way you hold the camera up determines the shutter speed! The square viewfinder is because the negative is square, so you get the same aspect ratio whichever way up the camera is. There is a simple guillotine capping shutter, behind which is a curved focal plane shutter, pulled by a spring . When the spring is pulling with gravity the shutter slides faster, and slower when the spring pulls against gravity. It’s very, very simple. The high and low ranges are controlled by altering the width of the slit in the sliding shutter.


    But what is it like to use? Well, there aren’t many people out there who have used one to ask. In fact, I haven’t found anyone else who has, and my photos are the still the only ones on Flickr taken with a Purma Speed! So you will have to accept my observations. The body is quite broad, and it sits very comfortably in two hands. There are two red windows in the back allowing more than the usual eight exposures on 127 roll film – by winding until the frame number appears in the first window, exposing, then winding until it appears again in the second window, you are doubling the number of exposures possible. This is a good thing as the images produced are only about 25mm across (Purma also made and sold enlargers to make larger prints from the tiny negatives), and really too small to make contact prints from unlike a full-frame 127 camera. Having got the first frame wound on, you cock the shutter with the knurled knob, selecting high or low range as you see fit, and pop up the two halves of the viewfinder, front and rear, which are folded over the shutter release button when closed. It is not difficult to remember to remove the lens cap as the shutter will not operate until it has been removed, a quarter turn and it pops off and the lens assembly pops out on a spring. It’s 50mm (or two inches), and as you might expect from a cheap camera, is fixed focus. Now to take a photo... but there is an (another) added complication. Remember those viewfinder halves closing over the shutter release? Well, your finger intrudes into the viewfinder! There it is, fat and pink, looming in your line of sight. Finally, the shutter release button has to be pressed down and sideways before the shutter fires with a satisfying clang and a noticeable jerk in the hands.

    Annoyingly, mine has something not quite right, and the film stopped winding before the end of the roll. However, it did give me an opportunity to see what sort of image quality it could produce – or not, as the case may be. To be honest, they’re not great! I was wrestling with pallid winter sunshine which probably didn’t help, and the lens is of course uncoated, but contrast and sharpness are in pretty short supply! Really, the only reason to use on in this day and age is for sheer weirdness value and the very limited supply of 127 film since Efke ceased production means that it’s likely to be a shelf queen from now on – a sad fate for a brave effort at something giving out of the ordinary performance for an ordinary price.

    The Rainbow (or "Subsription") Bridge at Medley by gray1720, on Flickr

    Purma Speed - can't remember what this was! by gray1720, on Flickr

    Purma Speed - Balls Bridge, Wolvercote by gray1720, on Flickr

    Purma Speed - Turl Street, Oxford by gray1720, on Flickr

    The Purma Speed seems to have been over-complicated, as it was succeeded by a much simpler model – watch this space for details.

  2. gray1720

    gray1720 Well-Known Member

    Harrumph. It was Tom Purvis and Alfred C Mayo!

    So much for accuracy...


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