Meet the Camera: Ciro-flex Model D

Photographers are said to suffer from a common affliction known as Gear Acquisition Syndrome, or GAS. Symptoms basically involve the periodic need to get new stuff in spite of already having more than they know what to do with. Resisting these GAS attacks becomes increasingly difficult the longer it has been since one has last succumbed.

Oddly, though, there is apparently no correlation between the amount spent on a given acquisition and the length of relief from the symptoms of GAS. Whether you buy a $5000 Leica body or a $50 Soviet copy, you’ve got a new toy, and the GAS will stay away (mostly) until you get tired of playing with it.

Your Humble Filmosaur has a relatively rare variant of GAS. As an inveterate tinkerer, it works out even better if the new toy comes pre-broken. One way or another it’s going to be taken apart, so if it’s broken already I don’t have to worry about doing it myself. This has its advantages, however: old, broken cameras tend to be cheaper than shiny new cameras that work. This facilitates experimenting with different types of cameras; after all, shooting with the latest and greatest digital is still pretty much the same as shooting with the previous one, but going from a typical rangefinder or SLR to a folder or a plate camera or something else is a whole different ballgame.

My GAS symptoms had been building for some time, but by last weekend they were becoming critical. I went to one of the little antique shops I check periodically for old cameras with an eye to trying something different, specifically medium format. My film shooting has been limited to 35mm to this point, and the idea of moving up to a larger negative seemed to offer some new possibilities.

Much as I would have liked to spring for the German Rolleiflex (considered the gold standard in twin-lens reflex cameras) he had, and knowing my inability to leave well enough alone, I opted for the cheaper and simpler American version that was sitting next to it: a Ciro-flex Model D.

Behold, the mighty Ciro-flex...
Behold, the mighty Ciro-flex…

Made in Ohio, U.S. of A., in the late 1940s-early 1950s, the Ciro-flex is a basic twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera, which is to say a big empty metal box with a couple of lenses stuck on it. The upper, or viewing, lens is reflected via a mirror to a Fresnel screen visible through a collapsible viewer at the top of the camera. The lower, or taking, lens contains the shutter and aperture, and is used to expose the film. Both lenses are mounted in a frame that moves them simultaneously such that focusing the viewing lens also focuses the taking lens.

The extendable loupe aids in focusing
The extendable loupe aids in focusing

Surprisingly for a camera that didn’t appear to have been used since a time when Saturday morning cartoons were sponsored by Lucky Strike, everything seemed to be working (yes, that was a minor twinge of disappointment you detected…). Nonetheless, it was coming apart; just because all the moving parts were moving didn’t mean that the old lubricants were still good or that there weren’t spiders nesting somewhere deep inside the lens.

As it turns out, there were no spiders. But the old grease was pretty dodgy, and there was a good deal of hazy, oily fogging on every glass surface. A little lighter fluid in the innards of the Alphax shutter, a little rubbing alcohol on the lenses and the mirror, a few dabs of grease on the moving bits, a bit of metal polish on the supposed-to-be-shiny bits and things were looking up. Finally, I adjusted the focus on the viewing lens to make sure it was properly synchronized with the taking lens. I did have to sacrifice a bit of the original “leatherette” to get at some of the screws, but this was no great loss (it’s thin, hard, and relatively nebulous) and easily replaced. Filmosaur is not a stickler for originality.

The exposure settings are pretty limited on this camera, especially the shutter speeds, which range from 1/10 to 1/200, plus B and T. Apertures run more widely from f/3.5 to f/22; with 100 ISO film that gives a theoretical range of EV 8 to 17, or EV 6 to 15 with 400 ISO, but if you’re hand-holding you have to figure that 1/10 and 1/25 are a bit questionable, so low-light shooting is not going to be the Ciro-flex’s strong suit. The taking lens is a coated Wollensak Anastigmat 85mm triplet, which was not exactly cutting edge even in the 1940s, but the glass looks extremely clean (now, anyway). Hopefully it will render reasonable images in spite of its rather pedestrian design.

I'm not sure a top speed of 1/200 warrants lightning bolts...
I’m not sure a top speed of 1/200 warrants lightning bolts…

Using 120 film, the Ciro-flex produces 12 6cm x 6cm negatives per roll. Just for reference, that’s 36 sq. cm, whereas a 35mm negative is 2.4cm x 3.6cm, or 8.64 sq cm; the medium format negative has over four times the area of a 35mm negative. The square format is going to take some getting used to, but one of the main advantages to the larger negative is the ability to crop. I’ve liked a lot of the 6×6 medium format images I’ve seen, so perhaps I can learn to see the world in a square frame without having to resort to the virtual scissors.

Heh said "knob"...
Heh heh…you said “knob”…

Medium-format TLRs are noted for producing great separation through shallow depth-of-field. To aid in this, there’s a handy depth-of-field scale on the side panel; this is necessary because the viewing lens is always at maximum aperture and thus not a useful guide unless you’re shooting wide open. The DOF scale is especially useful in conditions where you may not have time to focus carefully like candid street photography. The smaller knob above and left is the winder.

So there you have it, the newest addition to the Filmosaur stable, the first medium format camera I’ve owned, all clean and shiny and ready to go. As soon as my film order arrives I’ll be giving it a workout (I’ve got Tri-X and Ektar coming); images will inevitably follow. It may not be the pinnacle of engineering, but it’s a nice solid camera, and I’m hoping it acquits itself well. Only film will tell….

Got some old relic you like shooting with? Filmosaur demands details – NOW!

3 thoughts on “Meet the Camera: Ciro-flex Model D

    1. They are underrated cameras, I think. Mine has the simple triplet lens, but still manages to produce pretty decent images – I imagine the Tessar-type lens would be sharper and have more contrast. Still, the triplet can be pretty sharp stopped down, and it has a distinct look opened up. In any case, it’s a solid and robust piece. Maybe you’ll find another one!

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