Ansco Shur-Flash box camera review and photos

Denver City and County Building
A snowy view of the Denver City and County Building (yes, THAT shot) with the Ansco Shur-Flash and Ilford Pan-F+. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The Ansco Shur-Flash (sans flash) is the only camera I found on a trip to Denver’s Mile High Flea Market, but it was well worth the drive.

It’s not that there weren’t other cameras at the flea market, just no others I wanted to buy.

I have other box cameras, though no functional ones of the paperboard-construction era like this. My Brownie Junior Six-16 is in rough shape and the viewfinder mirrors have all come unglued. Most of my boxes are Bakelite beauties from the Art Deco period.

Ansco Shur-Flash front
Front view of the Ansco Shur-Flash box camera, with it’s beautiful pressed steel front plate. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The Ansco Shur-Flash, though, is both in one — it’s paperboard construction, mirrorless viewfinder, Art Deco and utility all wrapped into a neat, attractive package with a shining stainless steel front panel and a big, Cyclopean lens dead center (not that it would be terribly useful anywhere else).

In fairness, I didn’t spot it first — Kate did. But it made its mark as soon as she pointed. I negotiated the price down to $12 and carefully added it to my camera bag for the ride home.


It doesn’t have many. It’s simpler than the Minolta SR-T 200. It’s got basic camera things in it like a shutter and shutter release button, a film advance and a lens. Oh, and flash contacts.

That’s right, it’s an early-ish example of a box camera with flash contacts. Mine didn’t come with its flash, but that’s okay with me. It’s honestly much more elegant without it (see for yourself).

The shutter speed seems to be around 1/40 sec. like most other boxes of its era; unlike some, it has only snapshot mode — no bulb mode. It’s got an aperture somewhere around f/11 that is very nearly exactly f/22 (h/t commenter James T. Randall).

The Shur-Flash was reportedly introduced in 1953. A kit with the camera, flash attachment, four flash bulbs and three rolls of Ansco film sold for $9.45 in 1955 (it was on sale for $5.99 on the weekend of July 2-3, 1955, at Mack’s in Schenectady, N.Y., according to an ad in the June 28, 1955, Schenectady Gazette).

Ansco Shur-Flash side
A side view of the Ansco Shur-Flash shows how shiny the front plate is, and the simple viewfinder, winder, and very easy-to-use shutter button. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The shutter release button is big for its day. It’s not just a little switch near the lens like so many Brownies. It’s located on the side, or top, in just the right place for your right index or middle finger when holding the camera up in “landscape” mode, and it’s neither so easy to depress that you’ll fire accidentally, nor so difficult that you’ll induce too much movement for the relatively slow shutter.

At f/11 and 1/40th sec, you’ll make good exposure with 50 or 100 ISO film in reasonably full sun. As you’ll see below, you may want ISO 200 or 400 for mostly cloudy or heavily overcast days.

I tested the Ansco Shur-Flash with a roll of Kodacolor VR 100 that expired in 1985. I don’t know how it was stored before it spent a couple years in my refrigerator, but I’m guessing not well. As you can see below, the backing paper’s markings bled onto the film, leaving impressions of all the arrows and numbers in a strange, ghostly purple, and a yellowish cast over most of the frames. The film also exposed more like ISO 8 or 16 (2-3 stops underexposed), which would be consistent with the 1-2 stops per decade of deterioration expected with most color films.

The film advance knob is comfortable to use, if a bit small. Its “winged” shape is easier to turn than many knurled knobs. It also has a one-way clutch, so you can’t accidentally wind the wrong way and add more scrapes to your negatives.

Ansco Shur-Flash open
A view of the Ansco Shur-Flash opened up and awaiting a roll of film. (Daniel J. Schneider)

The film path is pretty clean and even features two long, thin rollers for the film to move over, so scratching is considerably lessened compared to many of its competitors, particularly most of the Bakelite ones — pretty advanced compared to most cameras of that era that I’ve tested.

The lens is big — almost twice the diameter of several of my other, similar 6×9 box cameras. It’s not bad, either. It’s pretty darn sharp in the center, and while it goes soft at the corner, it’s not all that soft, and is really quite a pleasant effect.

The Ansco Shur-Flash camera’s biggest enemy is its slow shutter. As user TW Oliver reports, “‘Shur’ hand needed for the Shur-Flash.” As you can see below in the photo of Denver’s Ogden Theatre, very little movement is needed to soften your photo’s edges. But in the photos of downtown seen from Cheesman Park and the man on the ladder you can see the lens is capable of an exceptionally sharp exposure, for a $10 (about $82 in 2013 dollars) box camera.

A man and his pot-bellied pig
A man and his pot-bellied pig out for a stroll in Cheesman Park, at the heart of the historic Cheesman Park neighborhood in Denver. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Cheesman Park Pavilion
The Cheesman Park Pavilion was dedicated in 1908 and has been a popular location for senior and wedding photography as long as I’ve lived in Denver. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Downtown Denver from Cheesman Park
A view of the Cheesman Park neighborhood’s high rises and downtown Denver from the steps of the Cheesman Park Pavilion. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Inside Cheesman Park Pavilion
Looking out from the Cheesman Park Pavilion, it’s clear the Kodacolor VR 100 wasn’t good for its rated ISO 100 any more. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Liks Ice Cream in Cheesman Park
Liks Ice Cream parlor in Denver’s Cheesman Park neighborhood is a fantastic place for fresh, delicious ice cream in both traditional and interesting non-traditional flavors. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Penn Garage, Denver
Penn Garage has been servicing cars in Denver for over 60 years, and their building at 13th Avenue and Ogden Street in Capitol Hill is full of classic character. (Daniel J. Schneider)
ReCyclery Cafe Denver
At 14th Avenue and Ogden Street in Capitol Hill is ReCyclery Cafe Denver, featuring a table made from an ironing board and some bicycles. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Ogden Theatre Denver
The Gaslight Anthem’s tourbus is parked on Ogden street a quarter block south of Denver’s historic Ogden Theatre. Steadiness clearly matters with the Shur-Flash. (Daniel J. Schneider)
16th Street Mall
A look up the 16th Street Mall from around Cleveland Street in downtown Denver. The ISO 50 Ilford Pan-F+ was no match for a heavily overcast day. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Civic Center snow storm
Snow comes down fast over Denver’s Civic Center, nearly obscuring the Denver Public Library Central Branch in the distance. (Daniel J. Schneider)
After the snow
Repairs on the roof of The Denver Post building in downtown Denver after an overnight snow. (Daniel J. Schneider)
Review Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Ansco Shur-Flash box camera
Author Rating