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.
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).
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.
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 photo.net 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.