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Al-Vista 5-F Convertible Panoramic Camera, c.1901-1910

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    Posted 7 years ago

    (307 items)

    Eric’s recent post of his Victoria camera gave me inspiration to share this rare Al-Vista Model 5-F convertible camera outfit. As he points out, the market wasn't always clear, and this ‘5-F’ is a really good example by a company - Multiscope & Film Co., Burlington, WI. USA - trying to ‘hedge their bets.’ In this case it was for photographers who might want one camera to shoot normal and panoramic pictures.

    Various styles of panoramic cameras have been around since the late 1800s. The challenge was to make very wide pictures with no distortion. Multiscope was best known for making box style panoramic cameras. Instead of a cumbersome design in which the camera turned on a tripod (ala the well known Cirkut cameras of the time), Al-Vista models had a novel spring-driven (clockwork mechanized) swinging lens. Exposures were regulated by the speed of the lens swing; and a spinning fan acted as a retarder. The bigger the fan the slower the lens swung.

    These cameras were offered at a time when roll-film and glass plates coexisted in the market. Recognizing this, Multiscope designed two specialized models of their Al-Vista: 5-F and 7-F. (The # references the film width in inches.) What makes ‘F’ models unique is their ability to swap fronts. Shown here is a near new [original] condition outfit with both its bellows front (red leather bellows, nickel plated hardware and polished mahogany interior) for making 4x5 images, and, panoramic face for shooting up to 5x12 inch pictures on roll film. (Not pictured is the leather case with packing pillow.) The company’s 1908 catalogue states:

    “For the tourist, and especially the foreign traveler, etc., this outfit meets the universal demand, as with both plates and films of standard sizes on hand, the operator is equipped with the equivalent of an assortment of Cameras, and is prepared with less than 10 lbs. of apparatus to do work of any kind-panoramic, view, or portrait. It is MANY Cameras in ONE and but ONE in many.”

    It was an expensive camera in 1908 costing $45 ($80 with a higher grade lens). This equates to $1,132 or $2,013 in 2012 dollars!

    Given that the camera was sold for nearly 10 years, there must not have been much “universal demand” because only a few of these in any condition are known to exist.


    1. rniederman rniederman, 7 years ago
      Thanks, officialfuel!
    2. ericevans2 ericevans2, 7 years ago
      The Americans certainly did it in style!
    3. walksoftly walksoftly, 7 years ago
      Love the ingenuity of people, the swinging lens with retarder fan is a prime example, love it!
    4. rniederman rniederman, 7 years ago
      Thanks mustangtony and vetraio50!
    5. rniederman rniederman, 7 years ago
      Thanks, shughs!
    6. realthings realthings, 7 years ago
      Old cameras are so wonderful. I just love them so much. Great description!
    7. rniederman rniederman, 7 years ago
      Thanks Sean and f64imager!
    8. rniederman rniederman, 7 years ago
      realthings - thanks for the comment. Old cameras are very interesting especially if you dig into their history. Take a moment to look at a couple of our CW profiles to see many more. You will be amazed at the variety of forms.
    9. rniederman rniederman, 7 years ago
      Thanks, blunderbuss2!
    10. wesrex, 7 years ago
      i have a camera Westex III (B-A). 1935-1942,but i dont know what is the price for this camera.please leave a comment or contact me at
    11. rniederman rniederman, 7 years ago
      Hi wesrex ... the best thing to do is post a nice picture or two of the camera here on CW. I specialize in early wood and brass cameras, yet I do have limited references for many later cameras. There are a couple different makers such as Beier, Balda, and Wirgin. Values cannot be determined without a good 'look' ... then again, operational condition is also important.
    12. rniederman rniederman, 7 years ago
      Thanks, Eric!
    13. rniederman rniederman, 7 years ago
      Thanks, walksoftly!
    14. rniederman rniederman, 7 years ago
      Thanks, Belltown!
    15. rniederman rniederman, 7 years ago
      Thanks, chrissylovescats!
    16. rniederman rniederman, 7 years ago
      Thanks, leighannrn!
    17. rniederman rniederman, 7 years ago
      Thanks, sugargirl!
    18. rniederman rniederman, 7 years ago
      Thanks, egreeley1976!
    19. rniederman rniederman, 7 years ago
      Thanks, petey!
    20. rniederman rniederman, 7 years ago
      Thanks, bobogal!
    21. rniederman rniederman, 7 years ago
      Thanks, pops52!
    22. rniederman rniederman, 7 years ago
      Thanks, Scott!
    23. rniederman rniederman, 6 years ago
      Thanks, Sean!
    24. rniederman rniederman, 5 years ago
      Thanks, aghcollect!

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