James's Camera Collection: Mercury II

Universal Camera Co. Mercury II Japan 35mm cameras
Univex Mercury II
Camera type: Half-frame 35mm non-rangefinder
Approx. dates of manufacture: 1945
Approx. original price: $75
Approx. street value: low

One of the strangest-looking cameras in my collection. Unlike the Fotron, which is simply a white elephant, this one just looks like an escapee from a mad scientist's lab.

Universal Camera Company (aka Univex) was a maker of cheap cameras. Just before World War II they went into the emerging 35mm market with their own offering, an all-metal camera they called the Mercury, which took a film pack. After the war they updated it and designed it for use with standard 35mm cartridges and called it the Mercury II.

click for larger imageThe Mercurys were unusual at the time for a couple of reasons. The first was its half-frame format, which was unique at the time and wouldn't gain any real popularity until the 1960s (see the Canon Demi S). The other is that used a special shutter design that married two discs together: each disc had a hole; by turning one disc in respect to the other, a crescent opening could be adjusted in size, and then the disc could be rotated to wipe across the imaging area. Because of this, the Mercurys were able to get a top shutter speed of 1/1000th at a time when most mechanic shutters topped out around 1/200th—especially on inexpensive cameras.

But that nifty disc shutter limited them to the half-frame format to keep the camera size down, and they still had to add that hump-back on the top of the camera, and the control knobs out front by the lens instead of on the top. The result was a bizarre looking camera even in an age that gave us the Argus C3.

But the post-war world wasn't interested. GIs stationed in Europe bought better German full-frame 35mm cameras and brought them home instead. And the Mercury II became a curiosity.

Mine is from a camera show or swap meet, I forget which.

Camera manual: Orphan Cameras.com

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