This page is no longer actively maintained. (Pardon?)
Maybe if I had the resources and the proper mindset, I would be like everyone else and collect cameras worth collecting, like Leicas, Rolleiflexes, Contaxes, Ermanoxes, Nikons; you name them. I would marvel about their mechanical quality and write stinging Erwin Puts diatribes on the accuracy of rangefinders and the importance of using the right grade of alloy. I would be the king of Old World cameras and strive to complete my shelf collection with all the rare sub-models ever made. And I'd have the best website imaginable on the subject, more influential than Gandy's, better written than Stella's.
But alas, resources and mindset. I'm a student and don't have the cash to indulge in guilty pleasures like that. I'm happy if I can buy a cheap second-hander every once in a while. The flea market and the rest bucket are my place.
As for mindset: I have a strange attitude towards collecting. I don't particularly care about the imposed value of a certain camera, although I do appreciate capital-intensive traits like good design, construction and finish: for me it's more about the objects themselves. I can get lyrical from observing a given camera and drinking in its peculiarities, design and features, transporting myself to that camera's frame of reference, its "world".
That cameras are tools intended to take pictures with is an added bonus since I like photographing, but in the sense of my collection, cameras could be (and have been) traded in for other objects like telephones, calculators and such. See also my Stuff page, which is full of stylish flotsam.
So we get to the Bilora Bella. What I've been building up is the statement that although the Bella might be cheaply built, common and overlooked, I like it regardless. So it's no Leica, so it has rough handling, so it's crudely finished – but I like the Bella's state of mind, the 1950's design, the beige on turquoise, the reluctant European adoption of the Populuxe style, the heavy cast body. I like it as an object. That's why I bought it (for €3, which helped), and that's why it's in my collection and on my website.
Bilora still exists, although they've abandoned the production of cameras for less labor-intensive and more profitable goods like tripods and opera glasses. Based in Radevormwald, northeast of Cologne, Germany, they have a German-language website at www.bilora.de. This site has a short history section with information about the factory, surmised below.
The Metallwarenfabrik (metalware factory) Kürbi & Niggeloh was founded on February 1, 1909 by Wilhelm Kürbi and Carl Niggeloh in Barmen-Rittershausen, near Wuppertal. The first products developed were tripods, but soon other goods were marketed, like songbook stands, hat racks and postcard holders. Apparently business went well enough to commission a 1200 square meter factory two years later, which was erected in Radevormwald. Camera production started in 1935, beginning with the Bilora Box, of which over a million were produced in 21 years. The name "Bilora" was a contraction of Kürbi & Niggeloh, Radevormwald, and was coined by photographic dealer Otto Tönnes during recovery in Berlin from injuries sustained in World War I.
The first plastic injection machine was purchased on June 26, 1961 in recognition of the growing importance of plastics, leading to the formation of a plastics division in 1965. In 1978, production facilities were increased to 12.000 square meters, and again expanded to 16.000 square meters in 1991. Nowadays the form is known as Kürbi & Niggeloh Bilora GmbH, has over 100 employees, and is located at the Kaiserstrasse 163–165 in Radevormwald. Their prime consumer products are tripods.
Camera production was undertaken under the own Bilora trademark and under auspices of various reputed other firms, such as Voigtländer, for which Bilora produced the Voigtländer Box from 1935 to 1939, and Zeiss Ikon, for which Bilora produced the Ikomatic A and F from 1964 to 1968. Other brand cameras produced in Radevormwald included the Yashica Minipak, identical to the own Bilomatic X, and cameras for the Belgian firm Gevaert, such as the Gevabox II.
The Bella was one of many types of cheap roll film cameras Bilora manufactured after the war. The best Internet resource on Bilora's cameras has to be the Bilora section of www.kameraschaetze.de. It has a large lineup of Bella cameras in all shapes and sizes and, informs us that my blue Bella is type 3c, one of over twenty types of Bella's manufactured.
Enough with the introduction, let's go to the camera. The first impression you get when you take it in your hands is that it feels like a cross between a tin car and a kitchen tool. It's a sturdy camera, made of two heavy iron parts that fit together, but the top plate appears thin and tin-like. The iron parts are a bit bolshy and crude-looking, but well finished with thick turquoise paint, and sufficient for the job anyway. When you look at the back, you can't miss the huge key with the inscription "film 127 – made in Germany". Turn the key to the left, and the back comes loose. It's not fixed to the body and bowl-shaped, and interlocks with the body along deep girders. It has a bent pressure plate, and a non-maskable red window in the dead center. The tripod brush, standard 1/4", is in the middle on the bottom, but fairly far from the camera's center of gravity. Not that the camera is so extremely heavy by the way, but it does have some appreciable mass, which I think is useful when shooting medium format at a highest speed of 1/100s. The film plane is curved because it's easier to design a one or two element lens that projects the image in a semicircular plane, than it is to design one that projects on a straight plane. The lens is an unnamed Achromat f/8 of unknown focal length, that can be stopped down to f/11 by flipping a lever that places a plate with a circular hole in the optical axis of the lens. Nice touch: the plate with the hole in it is the same turquoise as the body. Wonder what that does for internal reflections though. The lens focuses between 1m and infinity. The only shutter speeds are 1/50s and 1/100s, with an option for B. The shutter is really simple, and is operated by pressing the release on the front side of the camera. The release is hooked to a spring that gives it a jaunty recoil, but not much of a pressure point. The shutter is self-cocking, which is good, but it's easy to make double exposures, which is bad. The tricky thing with this camera is that you never really know if you've already exposed the current frame or not, if you don't have the discipline to transport directly after shooting. An exposure counter and linked film transport would have helped, but apart from the red window and the wind knob that protrudes from the top plate, you're on your own. You don't even have a film memo widget. Flash is made easy with the hot shoe and the X synchro contact, advertised by the "synchro-flash" print on the top front of the lens barrel. The film format is 6×4.5cm on 127 film. You load on the right and take up on the left. The viewfinder is a small single-element peephole on the optical axis, but on my camera it's become quite hazy. It has no framelines, but strangely appears to be much wider than the actual image.
I think that about sums this camera up. It's stylish, small and cheap, but strictly for good-natured amateurs. I like it because of its charm and unpretentiousness, but maybe my folly will rub off some day.
|Film format:||6×4.5 cm|