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The Periflex Era

Sir Kenneth began to think about the possibility of producing a camera. The initial idea was to produce a subminiature version of a 35mm camera using a 16mm film cassette. A lot of development work was carried out, but it became obvious that the concept was wrong. Such a camera would only sell in comparatively small numbers and only a few dealers would stock, or even print from, the film in the unique format. The project was dropped, but the seed had been sown, and soon thoughts turned towards a camera using 35mm film.

The initial concept was to produce an economically priced, high quality 35mm camera body with a focal plane shutter and a Leica lens mount, so that Leica owners could purchase one for use as a second body. Another consideration was that at the time there were a lot of second hand Leica lenses on the market. This would make it possible for someone to purchase the camera and a Leica lens, and end up with a high quality camera at an economical price. In the early 1950's, import restrictions meant that new Leica equipment was in short supply in the shops. A lot of manufacturers were producing all kinds of accessories for Leica cameras, as it was often very difficult to obtain the genuine article . It was possible to purchase almost any accessory, but this was the first time that anyone had attempted to offer a cheaper alternative to the camera body itself. 

Work quickly got underway. Many of the parts were made from aluminium instead of the usual brass, as this was both cheaper and easier to manufacture. The shutter was designed to work from a thirtieth to a thousandth of a second using a fixed tension blind with a variable slit. It was made from rubberised fabric. A glass film pressure plate was incorporated as it was easy to polish and avoided film scratches. Another innovation was the sprocket-less film transport which simplified the wind-on mechanism and avoided jamming. It had been decided to include some kind of reflex focussing system. The difficulty was to fit it in the small confined space above the shutter. Sir Kenneth's solution was to use a small periscope which could be lowered behind the lens for focussing. This would allow the user to view the central part of the image through the lens and so focus the image. The periscope was then retracted and the photograph taken. A separate conventional viewfinder was provided to compose the image. 

The camera top plate with the periscope in the centre. The lever to lower and raise the periscope can be seen just above the letter 'p'.

The Corfields were delighted with their new camera. The final design was so good that it could easily compete with the competition as a product in its own right. To sell it as just a camera body would severely limit its potential in the marketplace, and so it was now time to find a suitable lens. Initially the leading UK lens manufacturers were contacted, but not one of them could produce a quality product at the right price. The next step was to contact the European manufacturers, but this became unnecessary after Sir Kenneth was introduced to Frederick Archenhold. He was an experienced optician who worked for the British Optical Lens Co. in Walsall. He suggested that Corfields could make the mount and his company could make the lenses. They had just installed new lens coating equipment and could easily mass produce lenses to a high standard. After some thought Sir Kenneth decided that this was a good option, and gave Frederick the go ahead to design the optics and provide Corfields with a specification for the mount. The lens mount and body were made of aluminium which could be polished to provide a similar finish to the satin chrome finish which was popular at the time. The new lens was called the Lumar and initial prototypes performed extremely well.

New production facilities were now required to manufacture the camera and lens. Luckily the company was able to purchase one of its immediate neighbours in Merridale Works to provide the much needed extra space. New machinery was soon installed and everything was made ready for production to begin. The first cameras had black anodised top and bottom plates, and were finished in pigskin. The camera was named after its unique periscope focussing mechanism and was called the Periflex.  John's workload was lightened during this expansion as he appointed Eric Isles as technical assistant, and Gerry Whitton as toolmaker. Prior to this John had personally designed, drawn and dimensioned every component, and made all of the tools for the various products.

The original Periflex with black top and bottom plates, and pigskin covering. Only the first 200 or so were covered in pigskin. It was replaced by black leathercloth which was easier to handle and more fashionable.
The black leathercloth version. The ring around the shutter release can be unscrewed to allow the fitting of a Leica-type cable release. The flash socket is now recessed into the camera body instead of standing proud.

The first the public heard of the camera was a pre-launch article which appeared in the January 28th, 1953 edition of Amateur Photographer. It consisted of advance details supplied by Corfields and looked forward to the appearance of the camera. The edition of May 20th was the first to announce the arrival of the new camera. The write-up included the following:

The camera has a somewhat Leitz body style, but different in having the periscope eyepiece and the unusual tan pigskin covering. The body is constructed of 16 s.w.g. light alloy, has a removable back and base. Equipped with a Leica thread lens mount, collimation had been carried out to a high degree of accuracy to suit the widest apertures - plus or minus 0.0004in from flange to the face of the film plane. The camera was very comfortable in the hand, with the shutter release being placed on the front of the body in a natural position for the index finger of the right hand. Around the shutter release was a removable collar which, when unscrewed, would allow the fitting of a Leitz cable release. Flash synchronisation was provided by the standard 3mm co-axial socket. The prices were quoted as: body only 19.19.6d, with 50mm f3.5 Lumar lens - uncoated, 29.18s.6d, or coated 32.19s.6d.

The write-up was a great success. As soon as the magazine reached the shops orders started pouring in. It had only been planned to initially produce between 25 to 30 units each week, and so the sudden demand came as a bit of a shock. It took sometime to build up production, particularly as the employees had to be trained in a lot of new skills. 



 

After approximately 18 months the camera underwent some cosmetic changes. The top and bottom plates were silver anodised aluminium and the lens barrel was simplified. Black leather strips were added to the adjustment rings to allow the user to firmly grip them. These changes brightened up the appearance of the camera, and gave it a more modern look. 

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