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Gnome Baby Pixie III box camera
Gnome Photographic Products Limited was a Welsh photographic accessory manufacturer, and well known for their enlargers and slide projectors. According to the National Museum of Wales, by 1960, 80% of enlargers sold in the UK were produced by Gnome, who also exported their goods to 72 different countries.
Gnome had little expertise in camera design, nevertheless, they made four camera models:
- Pixie (1949),
- Baby Pixie (1950),
- Pixie Flex (1951), and
- Pre-View (which was presumably introduced post 1951, since it upgraded the Pixie Flex specification, and does not appear in 1951 advertising).
Pixie production seems to have ceased by 1954.
All Pixies used 620 film, but the Pixie Flex could also use 120 film (which has a larger spool size).
The Pixie, Pixie Flex, and Pre-View took twelve 6cm x 6cm exposures, while the Baby Pixie produced sixteen 4.5cm x 6cm negatives.
The Pixie and Baby Pixie were simple box cameras with flip-up sports finders, while the Pixie Flex and Pre-view were pseudo TLRs
All Pixies otherwise shared the same features (or should that be
lack of features?):
- a simple shutter with two settings - Instant & Brief (Bulb) - where
instantis stated elsewhere on the Internet to be in the order of 1/30th to 1/50th sec.,
- a single element, fixed aperture and fixed focus lens,
- a wind knob and shutter release ...
and that's it … the sum total of their controls.
There were two versions of the Pixie, Baby Pixie and Pixie Flex: the all black enamelled metal bodies, and those with a chrome trim around the edge of the front and rear faces (some of which may also have had leatherette covers?). There appears to be a further variation of the Pixie Flex, with a silver face-plate, which can be seen here, but I think it's a Photoshop fake.
The chrome trimmed variants are often assumed to be later models (which they may well be), but a 1951 advertisement in the British Journal Photographic Almanac shows the two types of Pixie and Baby Pixie were sold concurrently, and called the:
- Pixie Model I (all black),
- Pixie Model II (chrome),
- Baby Pixie III (all black), and
- Baby Pixie IV (chrome).
The 1951 price of a Pixie was:
- Pixie I - 27s - 6d (= £1.22½),
- Pixie II - 31s - 6d (= £1.57½),
- Baby Pixie III - 24s (= £1.20),
- Baby Pixie IV - 28s (= £1,40), and
- Pixie Flex (chrome version) - 58s - 9d (= £2.94).
My model is a Baby Pixie III
... purchased in February 2019 for £17.00. I thought that was probably too much for an old and - let's face it - crappy box camera, but it's quite adorable and will make a great ornament. The red window cover is missing, but otherwise the condition is good and it's in working order.
If the framing of the sports finder is accurate, the field of view is about equivalent to a 75mm lens - a 50mm lens in 35mm film format.
The shutter is a single bladed
guillotine type, where pressure on the release button provides the force required to move the shutter blade, and a small spring returns it to the closed position.
I'd hazard a guess that the aperture is about f/11 or f/16 … on the basis of the
sunny 16 rule (i.e. On a sunny day, set the aperture to f/16 and shutter speed to the reciprocal of the ISO film speed.). A typical film speed of the period would be about 32 to 50 ASA, and the camera would be geared to sunny day photographs. But … it's just a guess!
The film transport mechanism is unsophisticated; the advance knob does no more than wind the film on to the receiving spool, without any form of device to ensure sufficient winding, nor prevent double exposure. The knob does however turn in only one direction (advance), so there is some engineering present. A red window allows the user to monitor correct frame advance and count exposures taken … well it would if mine still had one!
This Flickr page shows the disassembly of a Pixie Flex, but any other Pixie is essentially the same: it's a very primitive design.
Many box cameras of the early 1950s have few identifying features that make them standout from the crowd, but the Pixies are kind-of cute. The Baby Pixie is pretty small, with the body measuring 3½" tall, 3" wide, and 2¾" deep. It's smaller than the Pixie with a reduced depth.
Performance is undoubtedly quite poor.
So, who would want such a simple camera? Apparently quite a few people, and this little Pixie attracted some degree of interest when it came up for auction (six bidders all pushing the price up in 50p increments).
There is very little information available for Pixies, which made the camera quite attractive to me … I love researching the more obscure models.
The Gnome Pre View
The scarce Pre-View was - in comparison to the Pixie Flex - a deluxe model, with two aperture settings markedcloudyandbrilliant, plus a synchro-flash port. The few images of cameras I've seen all show the viewscreen hood missing.