Box cameras are boxes with a lens. Simple. In Italy, Ferrania had other ideas and created one which just oozes style. The Ferrania Rondine was created when workmanship was still a priority, and even tools like a camera had to have a great aesthetic to them.
In the wild, this camera brings out comments from “Isn’t that so cute!!” to “That is a beautiful camera”. Make no mistake though, this is not a high-end camera, but a camera aimed at the lower end of the market, but Italian products seem to have a very sophisticated look to them.
Why? you ask, is it the Little Italian Bird? The word Rondine means “swallow” in Italian, so technically it is the Little Italian Swallow. The camera is small, but does this translate to nice to use? Let look at some details first and then see the experience.
Ferrania as a company links back to 1882 with an explosives manufacturer, in Italy. The manufacturer, SIPE (Società Italiana Prodotti Esplodenti, “Italian Society of Explosive Products”), was greatly expanded during the first world war, including a plant in the Ferrania hamlet of Cairo Montenotte, Italy. As the manufacturing of chemicals for explosives is similar to manufacturing of the chemicals for film, in 1917 towards the end of the war, FILM Ferrania was established. In 1923, it then became Ferrania.
Ferrania’s greatest growth came after the second world war, where they produced very popular films like Ferraniacolor and the black and white film Pancro 30 (P30). P30 was famous as it was being used by film directors such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Vittorio De Sica and Federico Fellini. During this period they also produced a number of cameras, mainly aimed to the general amateur market which was at odds with the high quality films being produced. This is when the Rondine was released.
In 1964, Ferrania was acquired by 3M as part of the Imation division. Under this ownership they produced films with alternative branding including Scotch Chrome, Dyanchrome and Solaris. Most people would also be surprised how many white label films they produced for some very well known brands. Ferrania is also well known for being the last manufacturer of the 126 cartridge films, right up to 2007, while Kodak had abandoned 126 in 1999. In October 2010, 2 years after the planned shut down, Ferrania shut the last factory and ceased production.
In 2014, a new FILM Ferrania ran a kick-starter campaign and raised money to create a new colour reversal (slide) film. Unfortunately, they ran into significant problems starting up production, including health hazards in the buildings purchased on the original Ferrania factory site. During this building process they uncovered a handwritten recipe for the original P30 black and white film, and in 2017 released the new P30 which has received very positive acclaim in the photography market. At the time of writing, they are still working on producing the reversal film and to ramp up production of P30 which sold out very quickly.
The Ferrania Rondine was manufactured in Italy in 1948. As mentioned earlier, it was named Rondine as the swallow it is named after is a small beautiful bird. The body is mainly metal, and the one in this article has a black leatherette covering. There are also variants available for the avid collector in green, red, blue and burgundy.
The Rondine uses 127 film and produces 4×6.5cm frames. There are 8 frames per roll of film. Framing is natively in portrait format. There is a red round window in the back for the frame counter on the backing paper of the film. Film is wound forward by rotating the knob on the right side of the camera.
The lens is a meniscus Linear 7,5 cm/8.8 lens. Focusing is available through estimation and by rotating the front of the lens against the distance markings on the front of the lens grip. This one is in imperial (feet) but there are copies in metric. The shutter is operated by a lever beneath the lens and set at a fixed 1/75th second when on instantaneous. When set on time mode, it is open while the shutter lever is held open. The lever triggers the shutter by being pulled across the bottom of the lens. Another lever next to the lens allows the mode selection. There is also a flash contact on the front of the camera.
There are two viewfinders available. On top is the sports finder, which pops up when released. A prism reflex finder is centred above the taking lens. There are no markings in the viewfinder, so framing is roughly what you see. No parallax correction is included.
To load film, the Rondine is literally is pulled apart. A slider on the left side which is usually set in the “C” (Chiuso, “Closed” in Italian) position first needs to be slid across to the “A” (Aperto, “Open”) position. Then the right side of the camera is slid out of the camera frame, bringing out the film mechanism. The film is then threaded through, ensuring the film plane holder is in place. Then it is all slid back into the camera frame, the slider is then positioned back to “C” and the film wound through until it reaches the “1” position in the red window.
I first saw the Ferrania Rondine online and right away decided I wanted one in my collection. In my opinion it is one of the most elegant looking box cameras around. In the true Italian style, it is understated in design, and simple, but very attractive. I soon found one and ordered it.
When it arrived, I had to wait for my next film order, as I did not have 127 film on hand, and being in Australia, it is much more cost effective to wait for a bulk order from the United States. I was really excited to try it so when the time came, I ordered some Rerapan 100, a film I had used before and is quite nice.
I loaded the camera up, and headed out initially to Maroubra Beach, which is in the east of Sydney and has a nice rock pool, to capture some rock formations. Due to the 1/75th shutter speed, I timed it closer to sunset (for those around the world, we get a lot of sunshine in Sydney, so can be a challenge with older cameras).
When peering into the prism viewfinder, while it is bright enough to see the scene well, I encountered some issues in that you must view exactly directly above, otherwise the edges of the viewing lens start to creep into the frame. At times this was quite difficult to see, compounded by the fact on that day I left my reading glasses at home. Interestingly I found using the sports finder quite useful to use, especially for landscape shots.
The other challenge I had was the actual shutter lever. To fire the shutter, I had to use my left hand finger to pull it across the front, right to left. This movement made it quite awkward to hold the camera still, even though it is quite small. I was quite worried about camera shake, on a quite a slow shutter speed. Looking at the results, I was right to be a little concerned. I continued with the camera on a couple more occasions, and found the size really was convenient.
When I got back my film, I noticed a lot of black specs on the film. I discussed this with the lab technician, as I use a local pro-lab and he is available to discuss. We could not work out what would cause this, and his initial thoughts were the backing paper might have been the culprit by leaving some residue. In any case, it is not the camera. It has meant that some of the photos have some white specs all through them, especially in the shadows.
The quality of the photos are what you would expect from a meniscus lens, some sharpness in the middle, with considerable fall off of both focus and exposure the further to the edges you look. Contrast is quite low, as the lens is not coated. They do, though, have the look which brings me back to using old box cameras over and over again.
While I had some challenges using this camera, I had a lot of fun with it. Interestingly it was also mistaken for a motion picture camera. I really enjoyed trying it out, and most of all love the way it looks. This may be style over function, but I think in life we all need some of that. If you come across a Rondine and want to have some stylish fun, definitely worth a try.