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Houghton Victo



The Victo is a George Haughton & Sons folding half-plate field camera produced between 1898 and about 1904*.

1889 Houghton Victo advert

* I have assumed the 1904 end date on the basis that the improved Triple Victo was introduced in that year.


Houghton & Sons

In 1834, George Houghton joined Antoine Claudet to manage a glass warehouse in London, operating under the name Claudet & Houghton. The pair secured a license directly from Daguerre (Inventor of the latest photographic process of the time) and became the sole GB importers of Daguerreotype cameras and equipment. On Claudet's death in 1867, the company became George Houghton & Son, and began to manufacture and wholesale cameras. In 1892, George Houghton & Son became George Houghton & Sons.

Further changes to the company structure included the absorption of a number of other small manufacturers, and by 1908, the now Houghtons Ltd., operated the largest camera factory in Britain, employing over 700 people. In 1911 they adopted the Ensign badge for their camera models, that being the name of the company's headquarters at Ensign House, 88/89 High Holborn, London.

1876 George Houghton & Son advert


Thornton-Pickard Roller Shutter

My camera is equipped with a Thornton-Pickard Time & Inst (an abbreviation of instantaneous) roller shutter with the speeds;
115, 145 and 1⁄/90 sec.

This type of shutter was produced from 1892, and there were numerous design variations. Further details can be found at Early Photography, but briefly, my shutter's construction appears to be that of an early variation.

The shutter mounts in a horizontal plane (i.e. the longer side is horizontal with the controls at the bottom). On the Triple Victo the shutter mounted vertically (i.e. the longer side vertical with the controls on the user's left).

Thornton-Pickard shutter

The shutter is opened for focusing by pulling a short chord with an end tassel (emanating from the middle of the housing), and a further pull primes and closes the shutter blind ready for installation of a photographic plate. A turn of a tensioning knob increases the firing speed, and a push on an adjacent lever reduces it. However, there is no set speed indicator (a later addition), and instead, a small ivory-style disc inset on the top of the shutter housing instructs the required number of turns of the tensioning knob to set a particular speed (i.e. 5 turns for 1/45, fifteen turns for 1/90). The procedure is not quite as arbitrary as it may appear: each turn cranks the resetting lever with an audible click. Releasing the shutter is accomplished by pulling on another longer string (emerging from the edge of the shutter housing). This pulls down a lever, which can also be operated by an air bulb (there's a small looped bracket to hold this).


The Lens

The lens has no identifying marks, but is described in Houghton & Sons 1989 advertisement as a Rapid Rectilinear Achromatic, and features a 12 blade diaphragm with the aperture settings; f/8, f/11, f/16, f/22, f/32, f/44 and f/64. A Rapid Rectilinear lens is a symmetrical pair of cemented achromatic doublets (4 elements in 2 groups), which was introduced by the British company J. H. Dallmeyer in 1866. It's also known as the Aplanat.

Shutter and lens

Early lenses did not generally carry a name or maker's mark, and neither were their focal length or maximum aperture commonly specified. But, some simple maths can be used to reveal the focal length of the lens.

The maximum aperture is f/8, and measures about 30mm in diameter. f/8 is another way of expressing the focal ratio (1:8), which is the ratio of the focal length to the aperture - i.e. 1:8 describes the maximum aperture diameter as being 1/8th of the focal length.

The focal length of the Victo lens is therefore 8x30mm = 240mm (or about 9 ½"). The diagonal of the plate size is also 240mm, so the lens is the equivalent of a standard 43mm (or 45mm) lens in 35mm format (see my page on apertures and f-stops).



The camera is not self-erecting. On opening from the closed position, the front standard has to be clipped into a fixed upright position, but its height (rise & fall*) can be moved up and down. The rear standard can be swung* left or right in the horizontal, and tilted* forward and backwards in the vertical plane. The bellows extend forward on a frame that winds out of the baseboard to a maximum of 15", making the camera a double extender. The ground glass focusing screen can be both removed completely, or hinged open for insertion of the plate holder. The use of double hinges mean that the focusing screen can be neatly folded back again to cover the film plate.

Houghton Victo single extension

Houghton Victo double extension

The film plate fits in portrait format only. It was common practise to turn the camera on its side for landscape exposures. The plate size is 6 " x 4 ".


My Camera

I paid £120 for my Victo in January 2019. The Victo is made of polished mahogany, with lacquered brass fittings, and tapered leather bellows. It's beautifully made, and a masterpiece of engineering in wood; a large camera that folds into a compact size, and adjusts every which-way. Despite its age, the camera is in fabulous condition and full working order. It required a few hours of cleaning, including feeding the leather, and polishing the tarnished lens housing, but needed no repairs or adjustments. The shutter roller blind is a bit crumpled, and could possibly benefit from replacement - if I ever wanted to use the camera - but there are plenty of articles that describe shutter servicing on the Internet. The camera came with a velvet shroud, a velvet lined leather lens cap, and one double dark slide plate holder.

Houghton Victo

Houghton Victo folded


A quick word about the Triple Victo

Most of the information and photos on the Internet relate to the later Triple Victo, although the camera is often identified as a Victo. This model was different in a number of ways. Triple refers to the secondary rearward bellows extension facility. The front standard was self erecting, and the shutter mounted in a vertical orientation (as previously described), along with numerous other small differences.

Thornton-Pickard shutter box cover



Further reading > View camera terminology

A brief explanation of view camera parts, camera types, and perspective and focus controls - rise & fall*, shift, tilt* and swing*.