Vintage and Classic Cameras
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KW Pilot Super, 120 roll film SLR camera, c1939

The Pilot Super was a product of Kamera-Werkstätten Ghute & Thorsch of Dresden, or simply KW. A number of KW cameras variously had Pilot in their names but the first Pilot 6 for 12 exposures on 120 roll film came in 1936 and is the direct ancestor to this Pilot Super. The principle advance being interchangeable lenses and dual film format for either 12 exp 6x6cm or 16exp 6x4cm, courtesy of a removable film plane mask. From contemporary adverts, KW only intended this camera for keen amateurs, and the name reflects this as Pilot is another word for a guide. The KW Pilot Super has an unusual shutter that seems like a really good idea, initially at least. The idea is that the mirror tray also acts as the first blind and a second blind follows behind to finish the exposure. In practical terms the two blinds take on a form rather like excavator buckets sharing a common axis, on the face of the first bucket is mounted the mirror. When set the mirror reflects the view from the lens onto a ground glass screen as is normal. The delay between the first and second bucket is governed by a mechanism buried under the shutter speed selector. The buckets are made from aluminium to keep the weight down. The main shell of the camera is die cast from zinc alloy with a steel strip cast in situ along the top closure. The lower closure lip is of brass fastened with screws. The side panels are stamped steel plates and the hinged back is also a stamped steel component in turn hinged to the front panel of (probably) austenitic steel. Sitting atop this is a collapsible viewing hood of sheet steel and stamped brass, painted gloss black externally with matt insides, originally a box like component containing an extinction meter was mounted on the hood but deleted on our example. Decoration takes the form of a linen backed faux leather covering and polished exposed raised edges of the main casting. Various buttons and clasps are of brass, with nickel plated finish but for the film advance and shutter speed knobs which appear to be zinc. Nickel plating was giving way to Chrome plating during the 1930s but the Pilot Super is doggedly hanging on to an older process. The lens barrel is brass painted black and the control rings for aperture and focus are turned brass then nickel plated. Despite being a box full of air, all this brass and zinc comes out at a weighty 666gms (1,5lbs). A button can be used to unlock the shutter so it can be cocked without winding on the film, ostensibly to allow double exposures but it also enables the user to cock the shutter should the setting slip from their fingers the first time. From a technical viewpoint, the Pilot Super is a fascinating camera and a nicely made one too. The shutter mechanism is unusual and not taken up by other makers, and with good reason. Although an attractive idea, it brings a host of trouble. The mass of the glass mirror and tray, in conjunction with the rotating mass of the setting knob means that the first blind spring needs a fair bit of torque to get it all moving, all this inertia is then dissipated as the mirror crashes against the stop. Both of these events make it very difficult to hold the camera steady. The second blind isn't anywhere near the mass of the first, but this brings issues of its own as both blinds are totally independent and are expected to have identical acceleration and speed characteristics, despite having different mass and running friction. Dirt and wear causes the characteristics of each blind to diverge over time. The mirror which would ideally be set at 45° when cocked is held there by the shutter release, a part subject to some pressure from the shutter spring and consequently wears. This allows the mirror tray to relax a little, drawing closer to the focus screen which renders the whole SLR concept a bit null and void. It's quirky though and you have to love something that dares to be different.

This well used example was rescued as a wreck and rebuilt in January 2021, becoming the last in what we call our Covid Camera Collection, a box of seriously decaying wrecks that would usually be cast aside, bought in August 2020 specifically to stop me going bonkers during lock downs. You can see the restoration partially documented in Project 12. The camera was modified early in its life to have the extinction meter deleted and a flash contact fitted, or possibly it was used to illuminate a remote indication or trip a relay. The restoration has honoured this modification.

The history of KW is fascinating too and well documented on the internet. Apart from the Pilot and other cameras, in the mid 1930s they became interested in making a 35mm SLR, a camera that subsequently emerged as the Praktiflex. Being one of Dresden's many camera factories, it was absorbed into Soviet controlled East Germany post WW2 and tasked with making largely original cameras, whilst Zeiss and other tooling was shipped out to produce near copies in the USSR. Over many mergers KW eventually became part of VEB Pentacon to produce the Praktica range, echoing it's past and recognizably related to the Praktiflex.

View other larger format SLR cameras in this collection.

KW Pilot Super camera
Body No. 32815
Shutter, Integral mirror blind and capping system, B, 20, 50, 100 and 200th
Lens, Laack Pololyt 8cm f/3.5, serial 406376
Condition, 5F
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