Thursday, August 26, 2010

Vest Pocket Kodak Autographic

Vest Pocket Kodak  (3)

I have already mentioned this camera in older posts but I believe it deserves a more in depth review.

The Vest Pocket Kodak Autographic
Vest Pocket Kodak  (5)
Vest Pocket Kodak Autographic by RaúlM.

  • Single meniscus lens about 75mm 1:11
  • Three blades, Kodak ball bearing shutter, 1/25, 1/50 B and T
  • Fixed focus ~1.8m to infinity
  • 8, 4x7cm, exposures on 127 film
  • Folding bellows in trellis struts
  • Autographic window and stylus 
  • Size and weight: 67x121x30mm, 316g
Pulling the lens plate all the way, about 70mm, it clicks and stays rigid and focused.
Then is time to compose the image using the bright viewfinder that can be turned 90 degrees to take landscape pictures. The viewfinder mask accommodate both formats, portrait and landscape.

Vest Pocket Kodak Autographic top view
Top view and the bright viewfinder

Vest Pocket Kodak Autographic shutter closed
Shutter closed aperture 4 = f32

The lens is behind the shutter and aperture blades. There is a choke to avoid apertures smaller than f11. This way only the central part of the lens is used, avoiding the flare, that these lenses are prone.

In Japan this is very appreciated, so there are people that remove the choke and adapt these lenses to modern cameras to take advantage of the dreamy effect produced by the huge flare, at larger apertures.

Vest Pocket Kodak Autographic shutter open
Shutter opened (T) aperture 1 = F11

The apertures are marked as 1-2-3-4.
Being 1 = f11 the others should be 16, 22 and 32.
In some models the numbers have a scene correspondence:
  1. Near view Portraits
  2. Average view
  3. Distant view
  4. Clouds Marine
In these models the shutter speeds were identified like this:
  • 1/25 Clear
  • 1/50 Brilliant

The loading of the film is made by removing the side plate and introducing simultaneously both spools.

Vest Pocket Kodak Autographic film loading
Loading 127 film 

In the back there's a removable round port, to access the back of the lens, for cleaning purposes.
In the centre of that port is the red window, used to monitor the film advance.

Vest Pocket Kodak Autographic back port removed
Back port removed

Vest Pocket Kodak Autographic using stylus
The autographic feature is the ancestor of the the quartz date backs.
After the exposure one could open the small window and, using the iron stylus, write the date, place, whatever, in the backing paper. Then expose it, for a few seconds, to direct sunlight. When the film was processed they got their "analogue EXIF" in the space between negatives.
This was possible with a type of film, introduced in 1915 alongside with this new feature, the Kodak nº A-127.

Some facts about the VPK
It was made by Eastman Kodak Company, Rochester N.Y., U.S.A., from 1912 to 1926.
They sold about 1.750.000 units.
The VPK was the first camera to use 127 film.
This name it's self explanatory, it was a camera that could be carried in a vest pocket. In fact it isn't much bigger than many of the compact digital of today.
This was the successor of the long praised collapsible large Kodak cameras.
It's success was due to the small size and price. They sold for $6.
This price was possible due to it's simpler construction, instead of  wood, metal, leather... of the older and bigger models the VPK was made of an aluminium alloy fastened with rivets. What explains why there are still so many, in very good condition, today.

The first models didn't had the autographic feature and were painted in smooth black.
The autographic model was launched in 1915 with a black crackled finish, also called Japan crystal.
There was some special models with better, some focusing, lenses, like the Rapid Rectilinear by Baush & Lomb, the Cooke triplet, Zeiss Tessar and the rare Lacour-Berthiot Olor. Also different shutters and, some of these special models, were covered in leather.

As it was a very portable camera, there was a lot of WWI soldiers who took them to the trenches, what was strictly prohibited. That gave it the nickname "Soldier's camera".

Charles Lindberg used to carry one with him in his adventurous flights.

George Mallory, maybe the first person to reach the Everest summit, had one with him when he and Andrew Irving headed to the last part of the ascent. Both died, the body of Mallory and most of the personal effects were found, Irving's body and the camera were never recovered, in it could be the proof of their feat.

My camera story
This VPK belonged to an aunt and godmother of my father, named Rosália, she was born in the early years of the XX century. I can't say if she used it much or even if she was the original owner of the camera. All I can say is that she gave it, at some point, to my father.
He liked to show it to me when I was a kid, at home it was called aunt Zália's camera.
My father used it as a young boy.
As I started collecting cameras he gave it to me along with the ICA Minimum Palmos and the Halina X35 Super, on my birthday in 2008.

I was very curious to see what it was capable of, so I got some Efke R100 127 film, from Fotoimpex, Berlin, and made a few rolls with it.
The results amazed me:

Coruña-Praia Riazor
Playa Riazor, Coruña, Galicia, Spain by RaúlM.

Ribeira, Porto, Portugal by RaúlM.

D. Luis I bridge, Porto, Portugal by RaúlM.

These are some of my favourite photos, taken with it.

I take the chance to thank my parents for having given it to me and particularly, to my father, for the "photo infection" that he gave me when I was a little boy.

Vest Pocket Kodak - Os meus pais que me deram a câmara
My parents by RaúlM.

Thank you mum and dad.

Stay tuned (o;


  1. This is amazing, Thanks! I am thinking about buying one from eBay, but I'm not sure about how to determine if it is a good product. Any tips an questions I should ask? Even if they say they don't know if the camera works...?

  2. Hi Lorna,
    You may ask about the condition of the bellows, it´s easy to see if it's punctured, by flashing a light from the back, in a dark room, with the cleaning window removed. If you see any light leaks especially on the folds corners the bellows is punctured, and that's bad.
    Next is the shutter working? Press the shutter release if it opens and closes it's OK. This kind of shutter doesn't need to be cocked.
    Is there an empty spool? It's better to have one.
    good luck in your VPK hunt. It's an amazing little camera.

  3. Thank you so much for this post! I just bought camera and am so excited about it, but being a product of the digital age, I've really only ever used digital cameras. Any tips on where to get film, how to use it, etc? The camera itself seems to be working wonderfully, now I just need to get my act together! Also, how do you take the round port off the back? Thanks!

  4. @ Kara:
    I'm always glad to know that someone is planing to take one of these relics to the service again.
    If you read this article:
    I think you get some guidelines.
    The round port on the back turns CCW 1/4 of a turn and comes off. Probably is hard to turn, mine was the first time I took it off.

  5. These little Kodaks are a landmark camera in the popular development of our hobby, I too love to collect and use early cameras you can see my Kodak at a few others including Soviet cameras. One disturbing thing I was told these old Kodaks because the lens is uncoated produce a different softer image that most modern photograhers have never seen. In japan they are dismantling these Kodaks and grafting the lens onto moden DSLRs !

  6. @ Dave Dockerill:
    It's true, in Japan they like the dreamy look produced by these lenses at full aperture.
    The softness is due to the design of the lens that only assures some sharpness in the centre, that's why these cameras have a choke that doesn't allow apertures larger than f11.

  7. bonjour
    je viens d'acheter sur Ebay un VPK autographic version crystal japan avec les chiffres 1 - 2 - 3 4 à la place de f:11 f16 f22 f32.
    d'après un site français de collection d'appareil photo c'est un modèle rare dans cette version!
    il est en bon état , je vais essayer de prendre des vues!!

  8. Lovely camera, I use one and am getting a second in even better condition! Simple, perfect. I haven't had one exposure go wrong so far!

  9. Do you have any idea on how much the VPK costs?
    i have the same camera as yours and I'm planning
    to sell it. Thanks. . .

  10. @reynaldodayao:
    Depending on the condition it might worth 30-80€.

  11. ho acquistato anche io questa piccola grande macchina, purtroppo l'ho trovata senza lo stilo. Nella piastra dell'obiettivo non ci sono i numeri 1-2-3-4 ma 8 16 e 32. Dove posso trovare film 127?


  12. @ massimo:
    Look in here:

  13. Hello, I recently picked up a vest pocket kodak it is the one that has
    PATENTED MAR. 4, 1902

    the bellows seem to be fine, but was wondering about the shutter, I press down the shutter release and the shutter closes and I have to press the release again to open the shutter, is this normal? The red glass piece in the back is also missing and I was wondering if it is alright to wind the film without the glass piece as I would have the hole covered except for winding anyways. Thanks!

  14. @Kami:
    Congrats on your find!
    At 25 and 50 the shutter should open and close instantly, at B it should remain open as long as you press the shutter release, at T it should open when you press the shutter release and close when you press it a second time.
    About the red window if you keep it covered and advance the film, with it uncovered, in a very subdued light, it may work, but if I were in your position, I would try and substitute it by a piece of red plastic or even cellophane.

  15. Thanks so much I tried the shutter at 25, 50, B, and T and they all worked as you described! I must have had it left on T, which would be why I had to press the shutter release twice.

    As for the red window, should I take the back circular window off and put the red plastic / cellophane in there or put it on the outside? And since it all seems to be in working order except for that, would it be possible to find a broken vpk with the red glass piece in take and put that in mine? Thanks for all your help.

    PS, this is something I would like to use so should I send it away for cleaning and such before use and if so is there a place you'd recommend?

  16. I am getting one of these vpk's. One from 1908.

  17. I've just been given one of these for Christmas by my daughter and can't wait to try it. I've sent off for two rolls of film. It all looks in great condition, so I'm hoping my pictures will be as good as yours! Thank you for such an illuminating site.

  18. Hi RaulM ... I have a pocket Vest Pocket Kodak - model B .... its in excellent condition ... would like to sell it .. could you advise me please
    Mob +919892336666

  19. Thanks for the article!

  20. My grandfather left me this same camera decades ago. I have been researching this little gem and until I stumbled upon your page I was about to pull my hair out. Thank you for the information!

  21. Hi to all. I have just found this wonderful little camera in a box of things handed down to me. It is dated 1913 and it the autographic model. The bellows are in excellent conditon. Needs a clean. Not sure what I will do with it. I think it may have a roll of film in it. Can anyone tell me where one gets film. Thanks for the great web site. JB from Sydney Australia

  22. Salve, possiedo una Use Autographic Film, l'obiettivo non è limpido. Come posso pulirlo? Grazie

  23. I have my grandmothers camera which happens to be this model it's in excellent shape and I found a place that makes 127 film it's called bluefire film so I plan on using it this weekend

  24. Very interesting article. I've just bought one off Ebay in fantastic condition, complete with the stylus! All that appears wrong with it is the bellows have perished - not really surprising after a century! I'm sending it to a camera restorers in London, and am really looking forward to getting it back!

  25. Do you know when your model was made? I have the same one (inherited from my grand-father) and as I am writing about it, I wanted to figure out when this particular version was made. Thanks for your page! the most useful and well-done one I have found.

    1. It's hard to tell, they were produced from 1912 to 1926, this particular specimen was produced after 1920, because of the patent dates printed in the back.

  26. thank you ! yes, now that I'm looking mine has 'patented in Canada in 1918'
    thanks again for all your work here. :)