James's Camera Collection: 4x5 Ansco View

4x5 Ansco View USA 35mm cameras
4x5 Ansco View (rear)
Camera type: View camera
Film type: Sheet Film (4x5 inches)
Approx. street value: moderate

Poor Ansco cameras—they get almost no love at all. Ansco was Kodak's prime US competitor for most of its history. Like Kodak, Ansco saw its bread-and-butter in the low-end consumer market, so they made cheap drugstore cameras for people who wanted to snap vacation photos of themselves standing in front of the Eifel Tower, or the gang at work, or little Timmy's third birthday party. Unlike Kodak, which also produced quality products for serious amateurs and pros, almost all of Ansco's stuff was cheap, and much of it looked like knock-offs of Kodak or other competitors' products. So Ansco doesn't have much of a following.

It surprised me to find that they made a 4x5 view camera. The guy I bought it from thought it was a Burke & James Grover, but I found an article in View Camera magazine about it. The author had bought one just like mine—painted the same awful 'Frisco-fog gray. He stripped the paint off and revealed a very pretty walnut wood grain underneath. I did the same; there was not much to it so disassembly is easy. I stripped the paint, sanded it down, stained it and reassembled it. It's a handsome camera now. That's Ansco: take a pretty wood camera and paint it battleship gray.

A strange camera and not very good. Strange because most view cameras have the rear standard mounted directly to the bed, and the front standard travels forward and back along the rails. Not this one: the front standard is frozen into position and the rear travels. Which means you have the rails sticking at your neck or chest when you're trying to view the image on the ground glass. Another problem is that the standards just aren't that strong, and the tops tend to converge if there's much tension on it. Not much of a problem for landscapes but it's a pain if you're trying something close with the bellows racked out.

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