View Full Version : Ensign Glass Plate 10x12 Camera

31-Jan-2004, 16:21
I've come across one of these and I'd appreciate comments from anyone who is familiar with this camera. What is involved in making glass plates?

Colin Carron
31-Jan-2004, 17:04
Rory, more info is needed to give you specific details about this camera. Ensign was a UK camera manufacturer producing huge numbers of cameras in the first half of the 20thcentury. Glass plates were used as the base for the photographic emulsion up to 1940 or so when they were replaced by sheet film or roll film. Plate holders or dark slides can often be adapted to be used with modern sheet film. The main difficulties in using an old camera is making sure you have the compatible plate holders or roll film adaptors and getting film the right size. 10x12 may be 4x5 size which is the commonest sheet film available today. If not you would have to cut the film to size.

31-Jan-2004, 17:56

if you want to coat your own plates ...


its not very hard, and kind of fun too :)

good luck!


Ernest Purdum
31-Jan-2004, 21:14
"Ensign" was a tradename for a British conglomerate which went through very many name changes over a history going more than 100 years. Ensign Ltd., was the company name for awhile, late in its history. 10 X 12 (inches) was a fairly common size in Britain, usually stated as 12 X 10.

It isn't entirely necessary to use glass plates in one of these cameras. The holders ("book form double dark slides" in British parlance) can be adapted to use cut film of any size up to that of the holder. This is done by means of reducing frames, often called "kits", and metal sub-holders with the edges and one end rolled to hold the film. Any sheet metal shop can easily make these sub holders, called "septums", but it may be necessary to shim the groundglass slightly to compensate for the thickness of the metal. If your camera has been in use in the last seventy years or so, you may find that it is set up for film already. Except for astronomy, and some other scientific purposes, the use of glass plates has been uncommon for very many years.

1-Feb-2004, 11:32
The camera is in excellent condition and comes with plate holders. If I acquire it, the intention would be to buy glass and apply an emulsion. Thanks, j nanian, for the link on what is involved in doing this.

I'd be interested in comments on the aesthetic differences between glass plate and film prints. Also, why was 12x10 format common? What was it used for? My understanding is that glass plates were still being manufactured until the mid-1970's, which means that there was a demand for them despite the pervasiveness of film. Why is that?

Ernest Purdum
1-Feb-2004, 13:27
Aesthetic differences between plates and film would depend on the emulsions applied to each, not the base to which they were applied.

12X10 was used in the same manner 8X10 was used in the United States or 18X24cm on the European Continent, a general-purpose size large enough to produce large contact prints. In Britain, the next smaller common size was "whole-plate",8 1/2" X 6 1/2".

Plates do have one advantage over films. Questions about film flatness are eliminated. For this reason, they were preferred for certain extremely demanding specialized purposes. On the other hand, films are not subject to accidental breakage, are easier and lighter to store, and, I think, most people would find them easier to process. In the 1970's, some view cameras in Japan were still routinely supplied with book-form double dark slide plate holders, but it was expected that the user would buy a set of septums in order to use film in them. At that time, professional portrait and tourist group photographers in Japan were an ultra-coonservative bunch, but there were also some conservative photographers elsewhere who had started with plates and continued to use them for as long as feasible.

1-Feb-2004, 13:42
I think Kodak only stopped selling plates in 2002. But if I remember the price right you'd didn't lightly choose plates over film.

1-Feb-2004, 14:30

Thanks, I understand that the differences, if any, depend on the emulsion rather than the backing. I have a print made from a half plate photograph taken in 1934 on the deck of the Bluenose. It was made by the marine photographer Frank Beken, who continued to use full and half plates up until his retirement in the early 1970s. I think that this print has a very different look from prints made from modern film. I'm curious to know whether the difference in look is the result of the fact that Beken would have used an older lens, and perhaps that the plate is now rather old, or whether the difference is inherent in the kinds of emulsions used for glass plates.

Ernest Purdum
1-Feb-2004, 15:49
Emulsions for general-purpose use, as distinct from say. spectroscopic photos, usually had the same emulsions as were applied to films by the same manufacturer in the same time period. I just looked at a 1936 Ilford list which showed all their emulsions except for a few 35mm extra fine grain types to be available in either plates or films. The 1934 plate may have been orthochromatic. These were preferred (as opposed to panchromatic) particularly by some portrait photographers but were not confined to that field. This could account for a difference in "look" but there are so many other variables that it would take a real expert (which I am not) in early photographs to make an attrribution to the plate as opposed to filtration, development, of both plate and print, and many other possible factors.

You are fortunate in having that print. Are you in Nova Scotia?

1-Feb-2004, 15:54

i'm not sure what emulsion beken would have used :(

kodak's last glass plate was tmax 100 - the cost was something like $100/25 (4x5) plates from what i remember - pretty steep!

if you can get ahold of a book called liquid photographic emulsion - grab it! it has everything you need to know about coating and making emulsions, it is still sold by silverprint in the uk, but not imported by amphoto anymore. i haven't looked, but it might be available in the used book market or on FEEbay ..

the main difference between conventional film and silver bromide emulsion ( might have been used for dryplates ?) is that the bromide emulsion is like a paper emulsiion, it is blue sensitive and REALLY slow. it is about asa 1-3 or so. you can get a traditional silver bromide emulsion today in a bottle - liquid light. it might give you the same look as beken's dryplate emulsion, but it is just a guess.

modern emulsion ( pan emulsion ) has special dyes in it to allow it to be sensitive to more than blue light. if you are very wealthy, and sophisticated, it can might be possible in a home-lab, but my research tells me that it is pretty expensive, and tricky to do.

making bromide emulsion doesn't "read" hard, but it seems kind of time consuming and probably will take more than a few tries to get it right. if you write to kodak, they will send you a pamphlet (J-10 i think) on how to do it --- the recipe they give you is very similar to the bottled stuff -- liquid light. i've coated plates before, its kind of addictive to "subb" window pane and use liquid light :)

... there is a alt-group that makes their own emulsions, if i come across the URL i'll post it for you.

have fun!


1-Feb-2004, 18:34

I'm not in Nova Scotia, although I've spent time there, most recently after the hurricane that hit Halifax this past fall. I bought the Bluenose print on the Isle of Wight. Apart from liking the print, I'm interested in how it got made. It surprised me that the Bluenose was in the English Channel in 1934, and I'd like to know why.

Ernest and John,

I didn't realize that Kodak's film and glass plate emulsions were the same. This suggests that a print from glass plate or film should look the same, all other things being equal. That said, I think that Beken's prints from glass plate, including those made in the 1970s, just don't look the same as prints made from film. I don't know what emulsion(s) he used, but I think that I can find out.

I'm trying to decide whether it's worth buying this camera, assuming that I can get it for the right price, and making my own emulsion and maybe experimenting with different concoctions. John, thanks for the reference to the silverprint book. As for the cost of plates when Kodak stopped making them, it sounds like they cost about the same (well, maybe a bit more) as Readyloads and Polaroids.

Ernest Purdum
1-Feb-2004, 20:41
I think you probably do have a pretty good chance of finding out Beken's preferencess. Either the Royal Photographic Society, www.rps.org, or www.beken.co.uk should be good possibilities.

I found a reference to Bluenose being in English waters in 1935 as part of the Silver Jubilee of the coronation of George V and Queen Mary. http://www.cs.ubc.ca/spider/flinn/bluenose/bluenose.html and go to major events. Don't try the Isle of Wight link, though, I wound up in some german website and had a hard time getting out.

2-Feb-2004, 11:22

Thanks for your comments. I re-checked and the photograph was indeed taken in 1935. The Jubilee fits perfectly. Now that I know why the Bluenose was in Cowes, I'm curious about who the people are on the deck. They are clearly guests rather than crew. It amazes me that Beken was able to make a half-plate photograph on a schooner that was under sail and heeling. He made other photographs on the decks of yachts, but in the others that I have seen, the vessel is stationary or nearly so.

Ernest Purdum
2-Feb-2004, 18:20
Had I been Beken, (and it would, I think have been rather wonderful to have been) I suppose I would have had a "Soho" or a "Minex" SLR made up in the 1/2-plate size for use on heeled yachts. That wouldn't have been the largest SLR size offered. Folmer listed the original Graflex in up to 8" X 10", though whether any were actually made is perhaps questionable.

2-Feb-2004, 19:39

Frank Beken is still going strong and, as I understand it, goes into the office once a week. I go to Cowes fairly regularly (I have close friends there who live about three blocks from Beken) and will probably be there this spring. I have this idea about meeting him, and maybe doing a taped interview.

As you may know, he made a purpose-built camera for this kind of work. It is on display in the store.

When I was last there, I saw the archives. They have tens of thousands of glass plates wrapped in newspaper. I believe that some of those photographs are of considerable historical significance. I also think that there has never been a full cataloguing process and that they don't actually know the full extent of what they have.

Their printer, who came from London a few years ago, told me that it is the best job that he's had in his life. These days, they do the prints from copies of the plates. However, they also do some directly from the originals, which how my print of the Bluenose was done. I'm satisfied that making prints from the originals is a time-consuming process that also involves retouching, partly because some of the plates have been around a long time and have not necessarily been treated with loving care over the years.

Ernest Purdum
3-Feb-2004, 20:10
My very best wishes for your visit to Cowes and your plate coating.