First ILFORD Sportsman; 1957

As the desire to own a 35mm camera blossomed within popular amateur photography during the latter 1950s, in part prompted by the more economical production of projectable colour transparencies on 35mm instead of roll film, Ilford Ltd must have been concerned that they did not have their own range of such cameras.

Kodak was importing their 35mm Retina/Retinette range from Kodak A.G. in Stuttgart, a factory they purchased in 1931, (originally the Nagel Camerawerks).

To provide a suitable 'popularly priced' 35mm camera, Ilford entered into an agreement with Herr Dangelmaier of the Dacora Kamerawerk, Reutlingen, near Stuttgart, (West) Germany. Dacora produced a simple 35mm camera, the Dacora Dignette, but rebadged it as an Ilford Sportsman for sale in the UK. This first (Style 1) Sportsman camera was reviewed by Amateur Photographer magazine in their 10th July 1957 issue.

Note the exposed leverwind and manually reset exposure counter, knurled rewind knob, low height top cap and small direct vision viewfinder that had only a small circular opening at the rear for the users eye.

A pdf file of the Sportsman instruction booklet is available here, by clicking on the icon  It is dated November 1957 (J57) but was reprinted in January 1958 (A58) with improved film loading instructions.

Both cameras in the picture alongside (Sportsman to the left and Dacora Dignette to the right), have the f3.5 45mm Dignar lens in 3-speed (1/25, 1/50. 1/200 + B) X flash synchronised Vario shutters. Front cell helical focussing is between infinity and below 3.3feet for the Sportsman and below 1m for the Dacora (clearly the German metric focussing scale was simply re-marked into imperial feet).

The same Dacora body was also fitted with a Steinheil Cassar f2.8 45mm lens in Pronto and Prontor SVS shutters, but the 1957 Sportsman equivalent (as sold in the UK) was equipped only with the f3.5 Dignar and Vario combination.

The only other minor variation between the Dacora Dignette and the Style 1 Sportsman is the film type reminder dial, set within the knurled rewind knob. The Sportsman version (on the left) is much simplified, having just ASA black & white film speeds (25-400) and three colour type film types ('D'aylight, 'A'rtificial and clear 'F'lash bulb lighting balance). The Dacora also has DIN speeds and differentiates color (sic) film into NK, NT (presumably 'N'egative film balanced for artificial light - 'K'unstlicht, and daylight -'T'ag), and transparency film similarly separated into types K and T.

Thanks to an e-mail from Ceri Evans, who sent a copy of a 1957 advert from 'Good Photography' magazine (see alongside), I have learned that the price of this first Sportsman camera was £13.17s.4d (£13.87p) with the leather ever ready case costing a further £2.9s.4d (£2.47p). Thus, the camera and case cost £16.34p, a substantial sum of money at a time when the average weekly wage of a non-skilled worker was around £12 and explains why I had to manage with a 7/6d (38p) VP Twin from Woolworths.

Note the small round rear viewfinder eyepiece, which prevented the full scene being comfortably viewed by spectacle wearers. The larger rear eyepiece of the Sportsman Style 2 can be seen here.

In the picture showing both the Dignette and Sportsman cameras alongside each other (see above, left), the physical similarity might originally have been even greater than is shown. The Sportsman (LHS camera) has the name 'ILFORD' on a small metal plate attached to the lower left hand front of the body, whereas the Dignette has the name 'DACORA' painted in white, surrounded by a white oval line, directly onto the black leatheratte. The advert alongside suggests the same arrangement was intended for the Sportsman, with the word ILFORD replacing DACORA.

However, it is currently uncertain whether this version was ever marketed.

The Sportsman shown at the head of this page, on the right hand side, has the ILFORD name in white paint, directly on the body's leatherette; there is no accompanying white line surround, and the word FOREIGN is embossed below (see close up alongside - with the word ILFORD enhanced to show it more clearly). It may be that this was the earliest version of the 1957 Sportsman camera.

Ilford presumably found their white painted name was gradually rubbed off (as had affected the one shown above), since users would have naturally held them in a way that the user's right hand 'rubbed' against the lettering. Hence, it is likely that the small Ilford metal identification plate was used later, to avoid this problem. Alternatively, or in addition, it provided the ability to legibly state 'ILFORD, MADE IN WESTERN GERMANY'.

Logos photographed and made available to me by David Muggleton.

Geoff Birch, who posts on the Polaroid blipfoto site as GEO2B, has sent me pictures and information about his Sportsman Style 1 that he purchased new (and still owns) for £10.5shillings (£10.25p) excluding the case.
He paid "ten bob" a week (10shillings=50p) to the dealer from the 12/6d a week (62.5p) that he earned from his newspaper 'round' (delivering newspapers to houses), until he had paid for it. His Mum purchased the camera's case for his Christmas present, while Ray, the dealer, gave, and processed, his first film. The dealer had a darkroom and taught Geoff processing and that was it, Geoff was "on the path" (to a life-long enjoyment of photography).

The dealer was 'Photorama' of 12, Stockport Road, Ardwick, Manchester. This is viewable on the purchase receipt that can be seen on one of the following images.

The pictures below were all taken and supplied to me by Geoff Birch. This complete Sportsman is not his original. It is one he purchased relatively recently, in "mint condition and irresistible". It is an early version, with ILFORD in white paint on the lower left front of the body, and the word 'Foreign' embossed into the leatherette below the Ilford name.



This image is of Geoff's original Sportsman, (partly) dismantled. The Sportsman Style 1 was a simple construction, with no exposure meter, rangefinder or facility to change lenses. A modern electronic digital would be less easy to dismantle - and certainly less easy to re-assemble !

Selling a range of cameras, which could advertise the film brand, was seen as a definite marketing advantage. lford used the term 'silent salesman' when referring to the sticker they subsequently placed on the inside of all their cameras, encouraging the owner to purchase Ilford's films. The sticker visible in the Sportsman below reads "ALWAYS USE ILFORD 35mm FILMS".

Further down is a picture of the original Sportsman Style 1 box.


In the spring of 1958 the Chancellor of the Exchequer halved Purchase Tax (PT; predecessor to Value Added Tax; VAT) on photographic goods, from around (?) 50% to 25%. According to a Wallace Heaton magazine (June 1958), this increased the photographer's purchasing power by approx 14%. Perhaps this explains how Geoff Birch paid 'only' £10.25p against the original 1957 retail price of £13.87p.

This reduction in PT resulted in a rollfilm which had previously sold at 3/4d (17p) being reduced to 2/10d (14p) and a 35mm cassette at 8/3d (41p) was reduced to 7/- (35p). Price reductions were not just confined to cameras and films, but also to cine cameras, camera accessories, enlargers, flash equipment, photographic papers, cases etc (though John Lewis tells me PT never applied to projectors, so there was a 33% assured profit mark up on them).

Credit Sales & Hire Purchase arrangements were made easier in the 1958 budget, which further encouraged a mini-boom in sales.

Apparently, the 'bright line' (BL) viewfinder, as featured in the 1959 Style 2 and subsequent Sportsman (and most all 35mm viewfinder cameras), became a 'must have' and many amateurs lost money by trading in perfectly good Style 1 cameras for the new Style 2 BL models.

This page last updated: 2nd April 2015