Just when you thought that Your Humble Filmosaur’s camera collection couldn’t get any larger or more esoteric, I bring you the latest addition, the Certo Super Sport Dolly, a medium format folding camera capable of shooting 6×6 or 6×4.5.
First off, let me be clear: I bought this camera solely because of the name. Well, that and the fact it was cheap. I’d never even heard of the thing prior to stumbling across this one. Once I saw it, despite its sorry state (more on that shortly), I knew it would be mine. I mean, come on: Super Sport Dolly? How could I resist?
Despite the fact that the name reminds one of slogans seen on Japanese T-shirts in the mid-1980s, the Super Sport Dolly is actually German. Who’d have guessed the Germans had such a sense of whimsy, especially in 1939, when this camera was likely produced. But yes, it’s true: this camera was built by Certo Kamera Werk near Dresden right around the same time the Second World War was breaking out in Europe.
This particular Super Sport Dolly is the last variant of the model, and boasts a pretty impressive set of specifications. First off, and most unusually for a folding camera, it has a coupled rangefinder. Rather than the more common front-cell focusing of many folders, the whole shutter and lens assembly moves as a unit when focusing. There’s even a meter, though it’s a fairly useless extinction meter, made even more useless by the fact that the reference card is for 32 ASA film. The lens is a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 75/2.8, very fast by pre-war folder standards (or any fixed lens medium format standards), mounted in a Compur-S shutter, complete with self-timer. This was clearly a top-of-the-line offering when it was produced – few competing companies offered anything to match the feature set of the Super Sport Dolly.
Considering all the bells and whistles, and the relative rarity of the thing, at the price there had to be a catch, and there was: this thing lived a hard life. In addition to the usual haze in the lens, barely functioning shutter with stuck blades, and overall grunginess of most old cameras, this one had an archaic rangefinder that was thoroughly out of whack, had one of the cast aluminum strap lugs broken off, and was missing a couple non-essential screws, a piece of the shutter linkage, and the rear optical element of the viewfinder. Several bits of the shutter linkage were loose, and a piece of the leather body covering was missing. If it was to be revived, it was going to involve a lot of work.
Some stuff was relatively easy. The shutter and lens cleaned up fine, with the glass in excellent shape and the shutter quickly coming back to reasonably-accurate life after a bit of cleaning and lubricating – even the self-timer works now. Thankfully, the bellows appear to be light-tight, so I didn’t have to delve into that messy job. A little epoxy and gloss black paint took care of the ragged corner where the strap lug once lived (I had no desire to replace it – hanging something this heavy from a strap is a neck injury waiting to happen) , and a piece of generic leather replaced the once that had disappeared. Since I could trip the shutter just fine with the primary release or a cable, I decided to hold off on fabricating a replacement piece for the one absent from the linkage.
The biggest struggles lay under the top cover. The viewfinder was a real issue, since until I replaced the rear optics it was useless. Eventually I found a suitable part I salvaged from an old Agfa; with some judicious sanding and reshaping I made it fit snugly. It’s not perfect, but at least the viewfinder is now usable. The rangefinder is simple and complicated at the same time. It’s a split-image type, with two mirrors projecting an image into the lower half of the frame. A series of arms move to position the second mirror relative to the first. Simple in theory, but tremendously frustrating in execution. The parts are seemingly hand-fitted, and the whole thing relies on little tweaks and nudges to get all the parts aligned. Touch one thing and another goes awry. Only after considerable cleaning, shimming, adjusting, and swearing did I finally get it somewhere close to accurate. How long it stays that way is anybody’s guess.
After much fettling, the Super Sport Dolly lives and breathes again. While it is theoretically capable of 6×6 or 6×4.5 formats, mine only has the mask for the latter. In most cameras this wouldn’t be an issue, but in the Super Sport Dolly the mask includes the film rollers and guides; without a mask, you’re going to end up with some seriously scratched film. This means that mine – barring discovering a 6×6 mask somewhere – is going to be shooting 6×4.5. Fine with me – I’ve got my Rolleiflex and the aforementioned Perkeo for 6×6.
The build quality of this thing is very high, comparable with Voigtländer or Zeiss – the chrome is still shiny, and the whole thing seems pretty bomb-proof. It also has some very well-though-out details, like one of the best film spool location and retention system I’ve seen in a medium format folder – film goes in easy, comes out easy, and stays firmly in place. It’s larger than my Voigtländer Perkeo II (but then what isn’t?), but still manageable. It’s heavy too, but what else would you expect with all that equipment?
So there it is, the Certo Super Sport Dolly in all its refurbished glory. For a few dollars and a little work (well, not so little really), what’s not to like?