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Review: Bell & Howell Foton (1948)
Old 07-16-2019   #1
eckmanmj
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Review: Bell & Howell Foton (1948)

This is a review of the Foton, a rather obscure camera produced by the Bell & Howell Company of Chicago in 1948.

The Foton was Bell & Howell's first 35mm camera, and offered an interesting wind up clockwork shutter that had the ability to operate in single or continuous shutter modes, shooting up to 4 exposures per second!

It also came standard with a Cooke Amotal lens designed by Taylor, Taylor, & Hobson of England and attempted to introduce the concept of T-stops (instead of f/stops) to the world of still photography.

This is a long review, clocking in at over 7400 words, but I had a lot to say about this camera, so if you have some time available to sit and read a long review, I strongly recommend it!

https://www.mikeeckman.com/2019/07/b...ll-foton-1948/

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Old 07-16-2019   #2
CharlesDAMorgan
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Very interesting - thank you!. All I do know is that the Amotal lens (hat tip to Erik) is astonishing! I have one in later adapted L39 mount and I love it.

I now know how much US$700 was when it came out - that is one expensive bit of kit!

Both Cooke and Taylor Taylor still exist, having been through numerous iterations, and continue in the design and manufacture of top end optics. Given where most of the British camera industry went, that is good news.
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Old 07-16-2019   #3
xayraa33
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Great UK made lens... but that camera was doomed to sales failure with its super high price. Plus the German camera industry was starting up again in a big way in the late 1940s and the nascent Japanese camera industry was on the horizon.
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Old 07-16-2019   #4
Erik van Straten
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Of the Amotal lens (made in 1948) a few were set in China (it is not clear exactly where), quite rude but with great precision, in Leica mounts. Taylor, Taylor and Hobson were at the time very famous for their cine lenses like the Speed Panchro. In China (Hong Kong) the old cine lenses are very much en vogue now (See Jeffo Wong who somtimes shows his great pictures on RFf). These lenses are often used for commercials and advertising photography. They mostly have great bokehs. The Amotal is just like a Speed Panchro II, but offers high contrast (through a for the time very good and hard coating) and at the same time produces a remarkable bokeh. Only 700 Foton's were built, but quite a few more Amotals. These were sold to various other camera makers when the production of the Foton stopped.

Get an Amotal if you can! The serial number of mine is 301114.

Leica MP, TTH Amotal 2' f/2, 400-2TMY, printed on Adox MCC 110

Erik.

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Old 07-16-2019   #5
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That's interesting, even more learned today, thanks Erik

Mine is faintly crude and a little difficult to operate the aperture (I think a CLA would help). Mine has a tiny chip in the front element, but this has no real obvious problems. I harbour the silly idea that the grenade like shape of the adapter is a play upon Amatol, the high explosive, but I think that's fanciful on my part.



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Old 07-16-2019   #6
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The Amotal lens in LTM for Leica was just a conversion done in Italy ( somewhat roughly too) with the leftover Foton camera lenses by photo stores in NYC like Peerless and Willoughby.

The Amotal lens was also converted in even much smaller amount to the RF Contax mount.

These big camera stores could sell a Leica IIIc body much cheaper with an Amotal lens than a IIIc with a Leitz Summitar lens as a manufacturer could at the time dictate the selling price by law if the camera was sold with his make of lens.
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Old 07-16-2019   #7
Erik van Straten
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Yes, this is all true, but honestly I very much prefer an Amotal to a Summitar!


Erik.
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Old 08-20-2019   #8
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Not much to add, another great review. However, I can address 1 inaccuracy in the review that is based on Bell & Howell's own mistake in their instruction manual. From personal experience, I can confirm that the 4"/2.8 Cooke Panchrotal Anastigmat, which is the external mount "portrait" telephoto for the system, does actually couple w/the rangefinder (in a similar manner to telephotos on the Zeiss Ikon Contax). I think the instruction manual may have been referring to 8.5"/5.6 Cooke Telekinic Anastigmat (I have 1, but need to get it fixed to mount correctly, so can't confirm as to whether it couples w/the RF) & was more of a hedge given the Foton's relatively short RF base (i.e., the RF works, but don't rely on it when shooting at closer distances).


On my wishlist is that someone decides to make or retrofit a modern 28 or 35mm lens in Foton mount w/accesory VF. Now that would rock.
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Five a Second. Chicago's Bell & Howell Co. (cameras) announced that it would put on sale this fall the world's most expensive still camera. Its "Foton" will take five 35-mm. pictures a second, sell for $700. Bell & Howell, which has found that "families of both low and high incomes now spend over $550" for movie equipment, hopes to sell 20,000 Fotons a year.
--Facts And Figures, Time magazine, Monday, October 4, 1948
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Old 08-21-2019   #9
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The 5.6 216mm lens is not rangefinder coupled. Personally I think Bell and Howell cherrypicked the TTH lenses to find the ones best matched to the Foton body. It’s too bad I asked for Mike to return my Foton early (I needed it), he didn’t have a chance to use the sequence photo ability of the Foton, or my newly acquired 216mm and $pecial finder. Yes, it beat the Ektra, it would have buried it had Mike done sequence shots, as No other camera could match that for decades! It tough to state the number of Foton made. The serial numbers are useless, lens numbers all mixed up and Bell and Howell has No archive.
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Old 10-01-2019   #10
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That's a snazzy little camera.
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Old 11-08-2019   #11
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Little? little???? No. It’s not little at all it compares roughly to a Nikon F n size and weight.
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Old 11-08-2019   #12
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A great lens indeed !

Found my 1949 2 inch Cooke Amotal f2 LTM lens sn 298669 sold with a Leica IIf.


les cadenas de la Seine
by JM__, on Flickr


Au Jardin du Palais Royal
by JM__, on Flickr

Shot on a M3 with Ektachrome 100

Best, JM.
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Old 11-12-2019   #13
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Thanks for sharing the link !

Best, JM.

Quote:
Originally Posted by eckmanmj View Post
This is a review of the Foton, a rather obscure camera produced by the Bell & Howell Company of Chicago in 1948.

The Foton was Bell & Howell's first 35mm camera, and offered an interesting wind up clockwork shutter that had the ability to operate in single or continuous shutter modes, shooting up to 4 exposures per second!

It also came standard with a Cooke Amotal lens designed by Taylor, Taylor, & Hobson of England and attempted to introduce the concept of T-stops (instead of f/stops) to the world of still photography.

This is a long review, clocking in at over 7400 words, but I had a lot to say about this camera, so if you have some time available to sit and read a long review, I strongly recommend it!

https://www.mikeeckman.com/2019/07/b...ll-foton-1948/

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