Compass Camera & Selo Spools - circa 1937

A twin pack of Selo films for the Compass. Dated August 1940, so preumably produced around the time of the roll film back being announced, in September 1937.

The Compass roll film back, detached

Compass camera with roll film back

Miniature Camera Magazine (M.C.M; p634, September 1937) Review of Roll Film Back for Compass Camera

OWNERS of the Compass camera can now replace the normal plate back by a film back in a few seconds, and so small is the space occupied by the new fitting that the total thickness of the camera with the film back is only 1½ in. Special spools are used (an empty one is shown lying by the back, above centre), and the film itself, which is 1½in. wide and 9¼in. long, has a paper leader just under 7in. long, attached to it, and a trailing piece of just over 4in. long. Unlike the larger roll films which have a continuous band of paper from beginning to end the film being attached to it by a gummed strip, the paper is attached to the Compass spool only to the beginning and the end, and thus the rolled up film occupies a smaller space than would otherwise be the case.

When the back is open the new spool is dropped into place, the paper leader pulled out an inch or two and threaded into the slot of the take-up spool. Again differing from the usual procedure, the film is wound with the emulsion side out and in passing from one spool to the other it runs over a pressure plate which during exposure holds the film firmly in position. The holder, however, is so designed that immediately one turns the winding key the pressure plate is drawn back so that there is no friction on the film during winding. A very good point.

There are six pictures to the spool, and one complete revolution of the winding handle (it clicks into place at the end of the revolution) turns on the film for the next picture, so that although the number of the film to be exposed appears in a window there is no need to watch the window carefully to see that the film is turned on exactly the right amount.

After exposure the spools are easily ejected by pressing a button. We developed our test films by the old see-saw method as the total length is so small, and found that the developer did not loosen the paper leader and trailer which acted as convenient "handles". The spools we tested were coated with Selo Fine Grain Pan emulsion, and very satisfactory negatives were obtained. The film was developed for six minutes at 65°F in Johnsons' Fine Grain Developer. The negatives obtained with this roll film holder are exactly the same size as those with the Leica, Contax, Retina, Dollina and similar cameras, but are placed transversely on unperforated film l½ in. wide. They thus occupy practically the full width of the film, but there is a good space between them vertically.

The definition of the new lens is extremely good and enlargements of considerable size can be made without any noticeable falling off in sharpness. All our tests were focussed by means of the rangefinder, and we found this to be of high accuracy. The roll film back costs £5, and is immediately interchangeable with the normal plate back. The films costs 1s. 9d. for a packet of two spools (as above, left).
Submitted by Compass Cameras, Ltd., Berners Street, London, W.1.



Modern Camera Magazine (MCM) for April 1958
Compass Roll Film Adapter

Compass Roll Film Adaptor
Just 21 years ago we published a fully illustrated test report (see above) on a new camera which had just been placed upon the British market. Invented by the late Noel Pemberton-Billing, it took pictures 24x36mm, weighed under 8 ounces, and closed down to less than the size of a packet of 20 cigarettes. It was revolutionary in design, contained a number of features not previously incorporated in one camera, performed well, and really justified that much abused description "precision camera". It was made for the British proprietors by a famous Swiss watch-making firm. In the tiny space (closed) of 2.875 x 2.25 x 1.25 ins it packed an f/3.5 anastigmat lens, a built-in collapsible lens hood, a shutter speeded from 1/500th sec. down to 4½ secs, a built-in extinction exposure meter, a coupled rangefinder, built-in filters, direct vision viewfinder, angle view-finder, ground glass focusing with magnifier, a panoramic head, a stereoscopic head and a spirit level!

For operation, the front was pulled out and locked by a twist. On lifting the lens protecting cap, a small collapsible hood could be pulled forward. By adjusting a knurled disc on the side of the camera, four stops could be set (f/3.5, f/4.5, f/6.3 and f/16). Another knurled disc on the opposite side could be set in four positions, the first of which had no filter, the second a Wratten K.I., the third a Wratten G., and the fourth a Wratten X.I.


There were two shutter releases, one operating all shutter speeds except (T) Time, and the other was used with time alone. Complete, it sold for £30. Yet with all these features it suffered from a grave disadvantage. Although taking pictures 24 x 36mm, instead of the popular and readily available 35mm perforated film, it used small glass plates measuring 2in x 2¼ins, each being enclosed in a little paper dark slide. Three emulsions were available, all Ilford, namely Selochrome, Special Rapid Pan and Hypersensitive Pan. The plates sold for 2s.6d (12.5p) per dozen for Selochrome, 2s.10d (14p) for the Special Rapid Pan, and 3s.6d (17.5p) for the Hypersensitive Pan. There was also a roll film holder, but here again a special film was used, wound on extremely thin spool spindles. The six-exposure rolls sold in little boxes of two spools for 1s.9d (9p), the only emulsion available being Ilford Finegrain Pan.

In practice, the little glass plates in their paper dark slides proved most inconvenient. Before a photograph could be taken the spring back of the camera had to be opened, a paper dark slide dropped in place, the back closed, the paper sheath pulled upwards, and then, after the exposure had been made, the sheath had to be slid back into place, the back of the camera opened and the dark slide taken out. If it was desired to take two or three pictures following one another, this delay was a nuisance as, of course, apart from inserting, opening and withdrawing the dark slide, the shutter had to be reset each time. In any case, developing these glass plates individually was tedious and time wasting. The manufacturers were obviously unaware that a very large number of people who buy cameras of this kind want to develop their own and would not want to use a processing service.

Although, at first glance, it might seem that the roll film holder would be more convenient, the very small spools with extremely tightly wound film took only six exposures, and any attempt to process them revealed at once that the film had been rolled so tightly that it was extremely difficult to unroll it for processing, while of course the short length was difficult to handle.

In spite of a vigorous advertising campaign and a good deal of publicity in the non-technical press, the Compass never really caught on, particularly as one could buy a Leica with an f/3.5 interchangeable lens for about the same price. Before many years had passed the original company had ceased to trade and the plates and special roll film were no longer available. For a time, an attempt was made to sell the paper dark slides loaded with single frames of 35mm. film, but of course processing these single frames was even more tedious. These have long since ceased to be available and we are frequently receiving letters from people who have innocently purchased the Compass camera only to find they cannot get any films or plates for it. There must be dozens, if not hundreds, of Compass cameras in first-class condition lying idle for no other reason.

We were accordingly very pleased to have the opportunity of examining and testing a new Compass roll film adaptor which has been designed to use the 828 or "Bantam" size of film which can be easily bought anywhere, because it is the size of material used in the Kodak Colorsnap camera, the Coronet Viscount and a few other makes. The back, which is made to the same standard of precision as the original camera, can be fitted quite easily, and although one has to dispense with the ground glass focusing, which was a feature of the original instrument, one still has the coupled rangefinder, which gives all the accuracy of focusing required. Our illustrations (see above) show the holder fitted to the camera ready for use and also its internal construction. An interesting mechanical feature is that there is a kind of tunnel from the back of the holder to the front where a red window covers the backing paper of the 828 film and reveals the number. After exposure the film is turned on in the conventional manner until the next number appears in the window, but while the cover which normally closes this little tunnel is open, pressure on the pressure-plate, which holds the film in position against the gate, is released so as to obviate the risk of scratching. Closing the tunnel-mouth automatically restores the pressure, thus keeping the film perfectly flat in the gate.

In our tests we satisfactorily exposed an 8-exposure Kodachrome film and obtained as good a set of transparencies as we could wish. This new Compass roll film adaptor known as the "Tac" Mark I, is made and has been submitted by T. A. Cubitt & Son of 22 Daventry Street, London, N.W.I. The cost is ten guineas (£10.50p) which we feel sure will be willingly paid by the many Compass camera owners whose cameras have been idle for so long.


This page last updated: 17th December 2014