View Full Version : Air Ministry Ground Camera Type S.4

Robert B.
11-Dec-2011, 13:39
I'm having trouble uploading images, both to this forum and photobucket, so apologies for these poor quality pictures as they're all I can put up at the moment.

A few weeks ago I rescued this old military camera. It is a full plate format monorail studio camera made by the Houghton Butcher manufacturing company. I assume it dates to the 1930's. The data plate reads:

Camera Ground S.4.
Ref 14A/685
A (crown) M

It carries the serial number 185. The movements are tilt, twist, rise and fall for the front standard with twist and tilt for the rear.

To date it has been disassembled, cleaned, rubbed down with wet and dry and repainted in Humbrol "bureaucratic" grey:p . The bellows have had a handful of pinholes patched and will eventually be replaced in due course.

I'd be interested if anyone here can tell me more about it, particularly what shutter and lenses it would have been fitted with (the lenses have been robbed from their housing, and the shutter assembly ((which sat behind the lens)) completely removed).

The plan currently is attempt to find a suitable film back and use it as a pinhole camera, as the student budget probably doesn't stretch as far as a decent lens and shutter assembly.



Steven Tribe
11-Dec-2011, 14:19
No real help! Not many experts here on Air Ministry store numbers (14A means photographic) apart from the lenses supplied from Ross, Dallmeyer and TT & H.
If you don't know already! - this item (serial no. 185) was on offer on E**y UK this year in August as 140595809901.
I would say this is a special build by Houghton - that is, it is not a simplified version of something they had been making on the civilian market.
The only functions I can think of are:
Photographs of damaged aircraft/components.
Or possibly, Screen shots of early RADAR images. If so, it would have been a useful prop in an episode of "Foyle's War" - if you remember that TV series from the BBC.
Special cameras/lenses were used post WWII for Cathode Ray tube radar images and are plentiful.

11-Dec-2011, 14:22
The Imperial War Museums seem to have one: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30004712 - you might want to ask there...

Robert B.
11-Dec-2011, 15:04

Yes, it is indeed the specimen off e-bay, I was the fortunate winner (albeit later in the year after it was re-listed). My thinking is that it may have been used to produce pictures for technical publications. I did wonder (hope-?) that it may have simply been a re-badged civilian product, hence making a wider "population base" from which to scavenge parts. If it truely is an exclusively military product then I suspect the entire production would be limited to the low hundreds.


Many thanks for the link, I hadn't come across that one. I see they list theirs (serial No. 66) as being produced in 1937, which agrees with my assumptions. They give the lenses as Dallmeyer Anastigmatic s/n 367842 Dallmeyer Wide Angle Anastigmatic s/n 373773. Something else to follow up...

As an interesting aside, I have been told that in RAF parlance an "F" in front of a camera designation signifies (roll) film and "P" plate. If that is true, then I do wonder about "S". Sheet perhaps?


Steven Tribe
11-Dec-2011, 15:50
Just because a well-known museum has put a date on it, don't assume that it is correct!
Was probably distributed in a nice wooden box with a normal and wide-angle Dallmeyer set for general photographic RAF use. Serial no. of the Dallmeyers are a better guide to the age.
I have just checked VM which suggests that the lenses at the Imperial War Museum have serial numbers that are from 1945 or later (were coated).

Colin Robertson
11-Dec-2011, 16:58
Robert- you may or may not be aware of lf-photo.org.uk
It's a UK based large format site. I was unable to register with them, but you might have better luck. Also, try FADU (can't remember the web adress, but google film and darkroom user and you'll get there). If all else fails, go ask at on the amateur photographer forum (look for 'everything film') It's full of old farts, some of whom were even in the RAF. Congratulations on being probably the first person who ever posted an image which included a Tesco bag!!!

collectable cameras
22-Apr-2012, 12:46
Hi Robert,
I just saw your thread, thought you may be interested that I have an S. 4. outfit, camera no. GG 1102
Mine is in the original canvas suitcase, complete with two mounted Dallmeyer lenses: 10 inch f8 no.367827 (uncoated) and 5 1/2 inch f6.5 no.347957 (uncoated)
I also have one substantial darkslide plus masks, and the matching wooden tripod (dedicated, with specific mount) in original canvas bag.
I'm lucky that mine is in super overall condition, looks to have been well kept.
I believe this was a general outdoor use camera, eg for taking pictures at air bases etc, but it is really uncommon and hard to find, I am guessing because it didn't have a long service life.
I remember maybe 20 years ago seeing a home made enlarger in a local auction which was adapted from one of these cameras, but that one, and now yours, are the only others I have ever seen.
Does yours say that it was made by Houghton's? mine doesn't mention a maker anywhere and I have wondered.

Steven Tribe
22-Apr-2012, 14:31
If you want to contact Robert (which seems like a good idea for both of you!) you will probably have to use the PM (personal message) system here, as this is the only thread he has been active on (twice).

Pete Watkins
23-Apr-2012, 00:41
Rather than messing about with pin holes try to find a Repromaster/ Escophot lens or something similar. Then look for a LUC shutter, similar shutters were made over here. Other shutter options are Thornton Pickards (Ian Grant restores them) and Packards (Dallmeyer made Packards under licence over here). Shuttered 240 G-Clarons are not expensive and cover 8x10.
Good luck.

Robert B.
3-May-2012, 02:28
It's nice to see another example of this camera, complete with all its equipment. Would it be possible to see a close-up of the other lens to see if it matches the mount already present? I've since been told that they were issued for general squadron photographic duties - e.g. annual squadron crew photographs.

Does yours say that it was made by Houghton's? mine doesn't mention a maker anywhere and I have wondered.

Indeed it does, the "HBM" oval logo is stamped on several metal components - the most prominent being on top of the lower runner. I notice that yours doesn't feature the brass serial/A.M. property plate that mine does. Given the difference in serial numbers, it might be that they were built by different contractors?

Indeed, I haven't been overly active - others are far more knowledgable, buit I enjoy reading through all the same. The camera is currently a shelf queen until I figure out a way of mounting it to a tripod. In the meantime I'm playing with single sheets loaded into a Fairchild K20 (4" by 5") aerial camera.


3-May-2012, 02:52
I don't know if Pete saw it but there was one of these cameras for sale at Wolverhampton Camera Fair last month. I did't look at it very closely but I saw a lot of similar cameras at A.W.Young or Marston & Heard back in the 1970's. There was also a light weight ex RAF wooden field camera they sold and I've never seen one on ebay. Houghton Butcher were the largest of all the UK camera manufacturers and also had a manufacturing subsidiary in India.


Robert B.
19-Jun-2012, 12:32
I've had to put my messing around with cameras to one side recently, but am now in a position to start work on this fine old lady again. My task this week is to recondition the bellows. I intend to treat them the same way I do leather riding harness and tack, with saddle soap to nourish the leather and linseed oil to get it supple. I shall have to deal with the pinholes - I'm thinking of patching them from the inside with a few layers of paper, then applying dark shoe polish? Any thoughts on this? Having new ones made would appear to be probitively expensive at present, and I'd rather get some 'playtime' before spending such sums on it.

One area I think I will need to spend money on is a suitable darkslide. Can I use any full plate slide or is it an item that has to be matched to the camera?