The Commando Camera

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The first Commando camera made for the military during WWII.

Better than Zeiss...by Ensign

At the 'Britain Can Make It' exhibition of 1946. Ensign Ltd. exhibited a new camera which they hoped would break the pre war Germanophile tradition and become a top seller. The camera was called, the Ensign Commando. Yet, although the Ensign Commando camera was introduced to the public as late as 1946, it had been in the design stage before the Second World War and had already been in production for a number of years.

The first examples of the camera were issued to the armed forces towards the end of 1945. As can be seen from the photograph they differ from the later civilian production model in a number of ways. The military models were 12 on 120 cameras.

The most unusual feature of the camera is the focal plane focusing. The Commando is the first camera specifically designed to use this focusing method. However it was not the first camera produced that used this method.

Britain Can't Have It

The camera introduced to the public at the 1946 'Britain Can Make It' exhibition was a more refined version. It was dual format, with a two red windows, one marked for 12 exposures and one for 16. The addition of a sliding mask in the view finder accommodated dual format viewing. Inside the film chamber two barn doors are fitted which can be swung into the frame giving a 4.5 x 6 16 on format for the negative. The wind on interlock was improved and the redesign included a small knob atop the film winding knob, that could be lifted to release the exposed roll of film so that it could be removed from the camera with greater ease. The overall finish was better and the words Ensign Commando were now embossed into the leatherette of the lens cover. The lens was now a 75mm f3.5 Ensar Anastigmat and the shutter was clearly labeled Ensign with the name Epsilon at the bottom of the front plate.

However, despite the blaze of publicity surrounding the cameras release, it was not possible to buy one at the London exhibition and even some months later, after the camera had been widely advertised in the photographic press, restrictions on materials continued to keep them in short supply.

Britain Doesn't Want It

So how was the Commando received by the public and the press? The press in those days rarely gave a bad review but there were reservations. Additionally, Barnet-Ensigns inability to supply the publics initial demand proved a problem with the shops. Dealers exerted a strong influence on what was bought by their customers, often preferring to sell their customers German cameras which were still felt by many to be superior.

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Making Britain Want It

In 1948, Barnet-Ensign responded to certain criticisms of the camera by remodeling the knob for loading and removing the film. They replaced the bulbous knob with a flat disc that sat more neatly atop the wind. Later in 1949 the camera was given a newly styled and slightly faster Epsilon shutter, with a top speed of 300th of a second, and a new lower price of 43 including tax. This remodeled camera was introduced at the British Industries Fair held at Olympia in 1949. In a rarely seen piece of inspired marketing, the company exhibited 15 display panels showing the construction of the Commando and the new Epsilon shutter with its 120 component parts. The company won great praise for the display and a review of the exhibition described the panels as:- "The most complete story of the production of a precision camera ever presented.". Barnet Ensign Ross Ltd's advertising continued to stress the advantages of the focal plane focusing method and the quality of the Ensar le~s which had been designed in- house. Although this new version of the Commando received good reviews in magazines like 'The Miniature Camera Magazine' of August 1949, it did not sell well. Ensign cameras still not having gained the popularity that the company had hoped to achieve with the introduction of the Commando.

By 1950 it seems it was too late to rescue the Commando's fortunes and Barnet Ensign Ross decided to drop the camera from the Ensign range in favour of a new range of cameras that used Ross's copy of the Tessar lens, the Xpres. The Xpres was an excellent lens and the new range of Selfix and Autorange cameras proved extremely popular.

Chronology

Model Production
Military Camera c. 1945
Commando (first version) 1946
Commando (Flat wind knob, 2nd Ver) 1948
Final version with 1/300 Epsilon 1949 - c. 1950

NOTE: To be able to produce a meaningful serial no. correlation I need details of more cameras any help with this from visitors would be appreciated. If you reply please state the type of camera as referred to in the list above.

In fact, if You have any Houghton-Butcher/Ensign cameras in your collection could you take a moment to let me have some information about them? Just visit my ONline serial number data page.

Ensign Serial number Data Project

Copyright Adrian Richmond 1998. All rights reserved.

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