This camera is a part of history and it kept popping up within things I was reading or watching. For instance, I have been reading a massive table sized book about Everest recently, which detailed the camera carried by Irvine and Mallory. That camera was a VPK.
I saw mine advertised on Facebook marketplace as not working, but it was cheap and I just wanted it. So I arranged for it to be posted to me and it arrived a few days later. I thought it was in remarkable condition considering its age.
This version was produced between 1915-26 and still had the autographic pen attached. There was a 127 film inside, on the exposed side. There was no knowing how long it had been in there. I took that out and researched how to develop it. Even though I followed all the advice to the letter, the film was beyond saving.
Looking closer at the camera, the bellows seemed fine, the corners were in good condition. This is usually where damage occurs. That gave me hope that the camera would work. The shutter opened as I could see light through the red window when activated. What I did notice, was the lens was not sitting in the mount correctly and the viewfinder was very dirty. It was impossible to see through. Luckily both could be fixed.
Firstly, the lens could be removed by unscrewing the whole thing from the lens board. Once off, there was a kind of washer on the back that was not sitting correctly. Once I had removed that by levering it out, the lens just dropped out.
After giving the lens a good clean, I decided to glue it back in place and then screw the black washer back in. As there was just one element I didn’t see this as an issue and I have successfully done that before.
Next, I tackled the view finder. That also unscrewed from the front of the lens board and could then be cleaned with a cotton bud.
Now that was all sorted, it was time to test the camera. As 127 film is quite expensive, I decided to test it with 35mm first before investing further. I attached some 35mm to an old roll of 127 to make use of the backing paper and printed numbers. I also covered the red window with black tape, only uncovering it when winding the film.
Here are some shots from that roll.
Well, it worked. The format meant the middle of the film was sometimes out of focus. Having tried 35mm in similar formats I knew this was possible and not a fault of the lens. So now onto actual 127 film.
I still didn’t want to pay for that, so as you may have read on my last post, I invested in a 120 to 127 film cutter. I seemed to completely forget about the cut and stuck to using the numbers on the backing paper. That produced overlapping shots. I used Ilford FP4 for both the following rolls of film.
A friend suggested I should use a string tripod, but this camera does not have a tripod mount. Therefore you need a very steady hand for the 1/50th or especially the 1/25th shutter speed choices. For the most part I managed, but resting the camera on a sturdy support would be a good idea if you are not use to slower speeds. Sometimes that is not possible though.
Of course I was not content with those results, so I cut another film and tried again. Once the film was loaded I moved the film so the “1” was visible in the red window. Then I took a shot and counted how many turns it took to reach “2”. I then added a couple of extra turns. That meant I turned the winder 5 half turns. In the end I managed to get 8 shots by doing this.
Looking at the developed negs you can see that as the film spool gets fatter, you can reduced this to 4 after the third shot.
So how were these shots?
Considering the camera is probably over 100 years old, they are really good. The minimum distance is quite large as you can see in the photo of my father. It was also hard to judge how much you will get into the shot by using the small view finder. The photo of the gate shows a little camera movement. When I rested the camera on a fence for the stream shots, I got much better results. On the whole though, I am quite pleased with the results and will use the camera again…I have even bought another version to have a play with. There is something about these VPKs that I just love.
Now for a little more about the camera. For a closer look at one just like mine I found this video on youtube. That one has the B shaped winder from the earlier models. Mine has an arc shape which was found on later models. About 1.75 million were produced so they are not rare as such, but given the age of them, the conditions vary greatly.
After falling for this camera, a friend suggested a couple of books to read. One was way out of my price range, but this small one was easy to get.
It is a super little read and makes you realise how important this camera was. It has examples taken during WWI and details how it was banned. If you were found with one you could be placed under arrest. That did not stop the soldiers, Allies and Germans alike used them. The main reason for their popularity was their size and ease of use.
As you can see from my photos below, the camera was smaller than some modern day phones. Here is mine next to my phone case along with a couple of others showing its beauty.
The small size meant it could be easily carried in…a vest pocket..hence the name 🙂
You can read more about their use during WWI here. I will be keeping this one.
5 thoughts on “VPK Kodak Vest Pocket Autographic”
Terrific writeup! I’m sure that in it’s day, this was about as small as a camera could be.
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I don’t think there are many film cameras smaller, especially with film bigger than 35mm.
Fab photos and blog. About the use in WW1, I have seen a photo of one of these cameras with a bullet hole in it. Apparently it saved the owners life!
Thanks. It wouldn’t surprise me considering where they were carried.
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