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Resurrecting My Grandfather's 1954 Ansco Karomat

This is a special camera because it was my grandfather's. He bought it in 1954, which was the year I was born and used it to take lots of pictures of me and my aunt (who is only 3 years older than me) and my younger brother.I had just finished scanning all the negatives I had from various film cameras I owned over the years, as well as a few photo prints I had from childhood which included a few my grandfather had taken with this camera. I called my aunt Dawn and asked her if she knew what became of the camera and lo and behold, she said she had it and it showed up in the mail a week later.

I couldn't remember what model camera he had because I was very young and knew nothing about cameras. I'd been reading up on film cameras and was hoping that maybe he had a Leica M3, which came to market about that time. Alas, it arrived and was a model I had never heard of - an Ansco Karomat. But it looked pretty cool and it's retractable bellows made it pretty compact. It had an f/2 lens which was the higher end lens for this camera.

I later found a dealer's ad from a 1954 magazine that showed the Karomat sold for $125. If you use the Consumer Price Index to convert that to today's dollars, it meant he paid the equivalent of $1,200 for it. He wasn't very well off and this would have been a lot of money for him. A Leica would have been three times as much.

The camera was in OK shape, but had a couple of problems. The worst was that all the grease in the focusing helicoid had congealed over the years until it was stiff as glue. I couldn't move the focus lever at all.

I dribbled a bit of Ronson lighter fluid down into the focuing helicoid (by the knurled knob you see in the left side of the picture), worked the focus knob a bit, let it sit, added a bit more Ronson, etc. After a while it loosened it up enough that it's much easier to move around. It's been a couple years and the stiffness hasn't come back.

The other problem it had was that I would have to jiggle and hold the rewind lever (right side of above picture) in exactly the right spot to be able to depress the shutter button. After taking the top plate of the camera off, I could see how the linkage between the shutter button and the actual tripping lever on the lens worked, as well as the mechanism that prevented you from firing if you hadn't wound the film. I was able with experimentation to bend the rod that is engaged by the shutter button just enough in the right direction to fix the problem.

Finally, there was a big scratch on the front lens - I hope I didn't do that as a child :-(

I looked on eBay and found an Agfa Karat 35 (the Karomat was actually made by Agfa and is exactly the same camera). I got one that had the same f/2 lens as my Karomat and then screwed out the front lens element and swapped it with the Karomat.

I didn't want to make too many changes, but the rewind knob was pretty worn and rusty, so I swapped it for the better one off the Karat.

You could also get a "Proximeter" for the Karomat which is a close up lens attached to another rectangular lens that adjusts your view through the rangefinder to enable closer focusing. The picture below of the angel was taken with the Proximeter.

This camera actually takes really good pictures. The pictures I prize most are ones I've taken of my two grandsons, 60 years after my grandfather used this same camera to take pictures of his two grandsons.

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