The Bolsey Model C is a curious little 35mm film camera with its TLR design and cast aluminum body. The design of the camera is unique and eye catching, one of very few 35mm film cameras that boasts a twin lens reflex system, waist level finder and, just to make it even more unique, a range finder. This little camera has a lot going for it.
Bolsey was a small American company based in New York city that started making cameras in 1947 founded by Jacques Bolsey after he came to the United States before WWII. He started out designing aerial cameras for the government before striking out on his own. Bolsey was also the designer of the Bolex 16mm movie cameras before selling the rights to Paillard around the end of the 1920’s. Bolsey designed numerous cameras during his life, several under the company bearing his last name which continued to make cameras until his death in 1962.
Based on the Bolsey B2, the Model C has a cast aluminum body making the camera very lightweight with either a Nickle or Chrome plating. It has a fixed, slightly wide, 44mm Wollensak lens and helical focusing mechanism that is operated by a small lever on the left side of the lens barrel. You can use the waist level finder to frame and focus the camera or the rangefinder. The only way to visually focus the camera however is through the waist level finder as the rangefinder just frames the picture. Like all cameras with waist level finders, the Bolsey uses a pop-up hood with a built-in magnifier for fine focusing. The screen is clear and bright (even if it is small) so focusing is pretty easy.
Design and operation
Everything on the camera is manual and uncomplicated. The camera is small, lightweight and durable. You have two dials on top of the body; the right advances the film, the left rewinds it. The knobs are also pulling double duty with another base dial for film speed on the left and frame counter on the right. The Bolsey also has a Depth of Field Calculator on the back of the camera body so you can focus by calculating how far from the subject you are.
Loading film into the Bolsey is pretty straight forward. There’s a small latch on the base of the camera that rotates and the entire base and back slide off revealing the gearing, pressure plate and take-up spool. The film canister goes on the left and you slide the leader into the catch on the take-up spool, put it back together and you’re all set. The only thing to be careful of is that the film remains pretty taught against the camera so it doesn’t catch on the pressure plate as you slide it back together. Unfortunately there’s no real way to make sure you’re advancing the film the correct amount so you just have to “feel” your way through it. More than likely you will have some overlap and weird spacing issues on your first few rolls of film until you get used to winding it. You’ll also have to be careful not to over-wind the film too, just take it easy and once the film gets hard to advance, you’re at the end of the roll.
Shutter, lens and accessories
The strangest part of this camera has to be the shutter mechanism. The shutter itself is a Wollensak leaf shutter with 3 blades, but the firing/cocking mechanism is a small lever and a pin. To cock the shutter you have to press the pin and slide the lever over it to hold it in position. Once you’re ready to take your picture, you slide the lever down and release the pin. Weird. Kind of finicky, but it works. The shutter speed is adjusted by a small sliding lever just to the top of the lens and the aperture is on the bottom.
The optics of this twin lens reflex camera is a 44m Wollensak Anastigmat lens. Wollensak lenses are common on huge variety of cameras from 35mm to large format. They are decent lenses that seem to hold up pretty well over time. I own several Wollensak lenses on 35mm cameras and 16mm movie cameras.
The Bolsey had a decent amount of accessories available from a filter kit to a flash that attached to camera body with a simple thumb screw. Like a few other cameras I have found from this era there are no strap hooks on the body so if you want to carry it around with a strap, you have to use the case. The filters are similar to the filters on the Argus C33 in that they are drop in filters held in place by the threaded lens shade. You could buy the whole “Prize kit” for around $140.50 in 1950 when the camera was released. That would be roughly $1,500.00 today, so the Bolsey wasn’t an inexpensive camera.
The Bolsey Model C is a at the very least a uniquely designed camera that has held up pretty well. Mine has more than a fair amount of wear and is missing the bright red Bolsey medallion on top of the finder (which is common) but it still works quite well. It’s a great example of the creativity common among camera manufacturers and their willingness to try just about anything and is a fun and unique camera.
Bolsey Model C
Type: Twin Lens Reflex/Range Finder
Production: 1950 -1956
Shutter: Leaf shutter
Weight: 1lb 3 oz
Flash: PC connection (prong)
Shutter speed: 1/10 sec – 1/200, B, T
Manual shutter release cable
Aperture: f/3.2 – f/22
Filter size: Series V
Focus range: 2ft – infinity