Antique & Vintage Photographic Equipment

Ensign Focal Plane Rollfilm Reflex

Houghton-Butcher Manufacturing Co Ltd.

Name: Ensign Focal Plane Rollfilm Reflex
Manufacturer: Houghton-Butcher Manufacturing Co Ltd.
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Construction: Essentially a box rollfilm camera format, but with a reflex mirror assembly built into the rear half of the chamber with a folding viewing hood above it.
Production Period: 1928 to mid 1930s (possibly 1936, TBC)


Plate / Film Size: Ensign 2¼B (equivalent to 120 rollfilm)
Lens: Aldis-Butcher Anastigmatic f4.5, 4.25"
Shutter: Vertical focal plane shutter, 25-500, T. Speed adjusted by varying the slit width
Movements: None
Dimensions (w x h x l):  
Date of this Example: c1929
Serial Number: Serial E9782 impressed into inside of base, revealed once the camera is opened. Lens serial #147376.
  • Common [ ]
  • Uncommon [ ]
  • Hard to Find [x]
  • Scarce [ ]
Inventory Number: 256


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Box-form SLR with a tall leather folding hood. Carries name plate on the metal cover over the hood. According to McKeown, the camera only adopted this name when it was initially introduced, subsequently being renamed as the "Ensign Speed Film Reflex" (refer to Notes below).

The name plate also declares patent number 271145. This patent relates to the general form of the camera. A second patent 280352 relates to the movement of the pressure plate when winding on the film, controlled by the act of lifting the cover over the red window. This same mechanism was also used on the Duo-Ensign and All Distance Ensign box cameras.

The camera is focused by turning the knob on one side of the camera near the front. The shutter control is on the opposite side near the back of the camera. This consists of a knob that is used to tension the blind, while a concentric lever arrangement sets the shutter speed by varying the slit width. The shutter release button is on the front of the camera adjacent to the lens, and the film winder is on the top face at the front of the camera.

This example of the camera is in good order, with little damage to the leather work as it has been stored in a sturdy leather case. The shutter seems to be operational. The hood is difficult to unfold and refold afterwards on this example, so care is needed.

The camera came in an original brown leather case, lined with red velvet (see final photo in the group above) although the hinge on the lid has given out.


I have several Ensign catalogues covering the production period of this camera. A 1926 catalogue only mentions the standard Carbine Roll Film Reflex camera, fitted with a conventional front shutter. The catalogue for 1931 includes both the standard model and the version fitted with the focal plane shutter but by then the latter has been renamed to the "Ensign Speed Film Reflex". The same catalogue also describes the "Telephoto Speed Film Reflex", fitted as standard with an Aldis Uno f4.5 Anastigmat that was interchangeable with a Dallmeyer f6.5 9 inch telephoto lens. The 1932 catalogue lists the same models, but with a wider set of lens options, the most expensive being a f4.5 Zeiss Tessar at a cost of £18, compared to well under half that price for the basic Aldis Uno Anastigmat f4.5. The Ensign Speed Film Reflex is still listed in a 1936 catalogue. A tropical model in teak was also available, but this is not listed in any of these Ensign catalogues.

The first reference I can find to the focal plane model in the BJPA is in 1929 where it is included in their advertisement, but identified by then as the Ensign Speed Film Reflex. The advert describes this model as a "remarkable new camera", which might perhaps reflect the text provided by the maker after the camera was renamed. It is also described under the "New Goods" section in the main text of the same edition (p289).

This camera is uncommon and examples that appear can often be in quite poor condition.