In the 1960s half frame 35mm cameras enjoyed some popularity and several manufacturers offered models for this format. The idea was that the standard size of the 35mm frame (24×36 mm) was divided into two, which produced a frame half the size at 24×18 mm.
Taking normal 35mm film cassettes, the cameras themselves were smaller than the full-frame cameras of the time and since a standard roll of film produced 72 exposures instead of the normal 36, the cost per frame was reduced. At the time, this only applied if slide film was chosen. Photo labs would obviously charge for 72 prints from negative (aka “print”) film.
In the mid-1960s I was at school and I had a Saturday job working in a local photographic shop. It was my dream job and it gave me a small income with which I could indulge my hobby of photography. The camera I most remember from this time was the Canon Demi. It was a nice camera to hold and use. It had a built-in exposure meter which required you to turn a dial to match the meter needle. The dial was coupled to both the aperture and shutter speed, enabling relatively speedy exposure settings.
Another half-frame camera I remember well was the Canon Dial. This was quite revolutionary at the time, having both automatic exposure on the aperture and a clockwork-driven motor wind.
Well, the long lockdown due to the Covid Pandemic, which has been somewhat more onerous in my adopted city of Leicester which has never been out of lockdown for nearly twelve months, led me to the decision to look on eBay for one of these cameras.
I decided to purchase a Canon Demi — several, in fact –advertised as not working so I could teach myself camera repairs. It has been a long and time-consuming process but I have learned much about the Canon models of this era.
Canon Dial, Demi, Demi S, Demi C, and a modified Demi with which I have converted the meter to CdS cell (Light Dependent Resistor) because the old Selenium cell was no longer of any use.
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I have worked my way through different versions of these models and invariably they have required major strip-downs in order to free jammed aperture and shutter blades. Three of the models had suffered damage due to previous owners trying to force controls to free the jammed mechanics.
I have found that it is necessary to completely dismantle the shutter and iris diaphragms and thoroughly degrease the delicate blades in order to effect a repair. This has been very time-consuming and intricate work but very satisfying when completed.
The final problem I’ve encountered with the Canon Demi models is that the meter is powered by a Selenium cell which ages and produces less power to drive the meter, resulting in gross over-exposure in bright lighting conditions. I have had moderate success by changing the series resistor in the metering circuit. This has produced good exposure accuracy on two of the models but has not proved to be universally successful with all cameras, depending on the efficacy of the old selenium cells.
It’s worth noting that the Canon Demi C version which comes with two interchangeable lenses is set up in the factory to match the two lenses with the body, so the purchase of separate lenses on eBay may lead to disappointing results.
So in conclusion is all this worth the effort? For that, I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions from the results above – ILFORD XP2 Super shot in my adopted City of Leicester earlier this year.
Thanks for reading.
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This is a nice and very grateful work as your pictures are great.
Between the Demi, the. Demi 2, the Demi C, the EE28 and the EE17 and knowing that I’m a bit of a control freak, ie I always look for manual cameras with maximum flexibility, what would be your advise?
The Demi S has the best lens, but the Demi C does not usually suffer with jammed shutter and diaphragm blades because the grease in the focus spiral cannot easily migrate.
I have no experience of the EE models
Thanks for a very interesting article. I bought a Canon Demi about two years ago that had a stuck shutter. I freed it with almost no disassembly with lighter fluid. Then I saw the light seals were rotted but I was able to find a pre-cut set on line and do my first seal replacement. Since then, I’ve shot hundreds of photos with the little beauty and actually prefer it to my Olympus Pen, mainly because of the compact size.
I’m so glad you brought it up as I have been thinking of getting it out again for some diptych and triptych shots and you have motivated me.
My first attempts at freeing up the shutters and diaphragm blades was to use pure alcohol, but this only worked for a few weeks. Basically the grease used in the focusing thread evaporates over several decades and finds it’s way onto these delicate blades. I’ve found that a complete strip down and clean of all the mechanisms produces a reliable repair (so far).
VERY interesting! I have a Dial and a Demo-S which I must now dust off and see if they function. Your commitment to returning your cameras to functioning condition is highly admirable. I must re-examine half frame in light of the tabular grain films and XP2 which far out perform the 1970s films. Thanks very much for this contribution.
This is a welcome change from the usual article of “I kinda did this and kinda did that and these are kinda the results.”
XP2 looks like a good choice of film for this format – thank you for a very interesting and informative article.
Nice results with XP2, good idea!
My S was intended to be a paperweight, when I bought it some yeas ago, but it’s so light that is unsuitable. So I had to clean the blades, repeating the show after some months, and now it’s a delicious partner especially with very fine grain film – let’s say HR50 with red filters.
I’m curious about the Dial, althoug quite skeptic about the chance to find a well working one.
So much envious of guys who are delicate in using a soldering iron, for instance trying to change a resistor …
The resistor change is not difficult. It’s just under the top plate with a wire soldered to each end. The biggest difficulty is stripping down and rebuilding the tiny shutter and diaphragm blades.
Very fine article,Stephan. I also have a few half frame cameras amongst them a Canon Dial which I have not shot yet and an Olympus EE2 and a more modern one of which I don’t know the brand. Thanks for sharing your experiences in that field. I still have to find a way to shoot 1/2frame in a meaningful way.
It does seem difficult to go through 72 frames. And to have the images be, by default, in portrait rather than landscape orientation. And to have a slightly different aspect ratio (4:3 rather than 3:2)
One way of « exploiting » the half-frame format: make diptychs (two images). Since the « frames » are vertical by default, pairings are easier than if the frames were horizontal.
The Dial is a quirky camera which was ahead of its time, offering built in automatic clockwork wind-on.
It posed considerable problems in order to refurbish it into full working order, far too many to list here, but worth the effort (in my opinion).