Imperial Herco 620 snapshot toy camera

I’m going to start a new category on my blog here — one about my own cameras. They’re not all particularly impressive, but each has something special or interesting about it, particularly to me. Also, it will give me content to fill some of these long gaps when I’m putting off developing film or just don’t have anything new to post.

Imperial Herco 620 bakelite snapshot toy camera front
A front view of the Imperial Herco 620 bakelite snapshot toy camera, and one of my first ventures into product photography. (Daniel J. Schneider)

For me, this is the camera that started my collection. In fact, it’s the first film camera I’ve personally owned outright.

I found it at an antique mall in southeast Denver, sitting in a case with a dozen other toy and vintage cameras. My interest in it, at first, was purely as a decorative object. But after researching the little bakelite beauty a bit, I realized it was a really stellar example of this particular model. The plastic carrying strap is still supple, complete, and shows no signs of age or wear whatsoever.

Here’s what I learned:

The Imperial Herco is just one of many, many varieties of inexpensive bakelite cameras marketed under the Imperial brand by the Herbert George Company, and had several variants including an early Official Girl Scout model.

One thing I noticed about my Herco was the knurled aluminum film advance knob. Most of the examples I’ve found online have a plastic knob, wedge-shaped in cross section, rather than the metal cylinder I’ve got. I learned, but can’t find the site where, that these were the earlier models and I have it in my head that mine was probably manufactured in 1954 or 1955.

My example was extremely clean inside and out, and looks almost as if it were never used. Bits of flash from the bakelite molding process were still evident even in the film path. I carefully trimmed the worst of these off by simply running my thumbnail over the affected edges.

The Herco uses 620 film, which is no longer available (except from Film for Classics, which can be hard to find and expensive). So the solution was the buy 120 film and respool it onto the smaller 620 spools (same film, but 620 spools are much thinner than 120 spools).

Imperial Herco 620 bakelite snapshot toy camera side
A side view of the Imperial Herco 620 bakelite snapshot toy camera, showing the knurled, cylindrical aluminum knob that I believe is indicative of earlier models. (Daniel J. Schneider)

For the test roll I ran through the Herco, I used Kodak T-Max ASA100 film.

Using the Herco is incredibly simple. Two small steel clips hold the back on the camera, and they just swivel to the side allowing you to slide the back off the camera for loading. Spring steel clips hold the ends of the film spools. As with many inexpensive roll film cameras, there’s a simple red window for viewing the frame numbers on the backing paper.

The shutter is a simple lever — you depress it and the shutter fires in snapshot mode. There’s no T or B setting as with many cameras of this ilk.

Respooling the film as described in the link above will move the film relative to the backing paper something like 1/4-inch, which isn’t enough to move the frames off the end of the film or anything. I’ve noticed that advancing the film until the frame number on the backing paper is just barely visible helps to keep the frames slightly better aligned with the frame numbers on the film stock, if your film stock has numbers. I suspect this applies to pretty much any 620 camera using respooled film, but so far this is the only one I’ve actually used with my respooled film.

The results aren’t great, but really aren’t bad. In my photos you can see that while the center of the frame is fairly sharp, the edges are distorted — quite a bit. The top seems to distort more than the bottom for some reason, and the distortion consists of rapidly diminishing sharpness, slight vignetting and extreme pincushion distortion. Additionally, the negatives had many slight scratches and several deeper scratches from the inexpensive manufacturing of the film path.

Final note: The telescopic viewfinder seems to show about the center 75% of what winds up on your final frame, so framing tightly will still leave some headroom around the edges of your photo.

Summary: It’s a fun little toy camera that makes superb lomography-type photos and enjoys a good showing in the Flickr Imperial Cameras group.

The second camera I added to my collection, and coming up next, is the Mar-Crest toy camera. Maybe by the time I write it up, I’ll have finished and processed the roll of film in it.

If you’ve enjoyed this installment, look for more as I discuss each of the cameras in my collection and my findings in researching them.

Review Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Imperial Herco 620 Snapshot camera
  • Glynhaven

    Very interesting read.  I will keep my eyes open for more vintage cameras for your collection :-)  I wish I had inherited my mother’s camera – I have lots of pictures taken with it but not the camera itself.

    •  Thanks for thinking of me. If you remember what type of camera it was, who knows — I might have one already!

      Don’t go out of your way or spend too much — most of my cameras are $5-$10 thrift-store finds, with a few slightly more expensive additions based on functionality (like my Yashica-D).