On a bright summer day sometime in the early 1980s, I was negotiating the narrow streets of Salzburg, Austria. Being a medieval city and spread around a hill, streets are winding to boot. As a navigation instrument, I used a large sheet of paper printed in many colours, which, for the benefit of the younger readers, was called a street map. Maps like that had gone the way of the Dodo, in the good company of the LPs, fountain pens, typewriters and carbon papers, rotary dial phones and other antiques that were used just a few decades ago. On a side note, it is good to observe that GPS, that has altogether changed the way we commute, was given to the world by president Reagan, Just a short while after the flight controllers crisis.
Back to the roads of Salzburg, I was driving towards the estimated direction, where here and there I had encountered a blue sign saying ‘Einbahn’. Per my rudimentary German, I understood that ‘Ein’ means one, and ‘Bahn’ means train, together ‘one train’. Concentrating on the road, I didn’t bother to wonder where the rest of the trains are or why is it important to declare one train only. I headed up those streets until I got stuck against a car coming towards me, where a very polite driver explained in immaculate English that I drive against the traffic in a one-way street.
This is to demonstrate the power of convention. At that time I already had about 15 driving years under my belt, practised in two countries. The common traffic sign for a one-way street is an up-pointing blue arrow. Trains, one or more, are not a part of such convention. If a car has three pedals, the order from the right would be gas, brake and a clutch. No matter if the car is built for RH or LH driving.
A concept partially derived from ‘convention’ is ‘intuition’, defined by Merriam-Webster as “Immediate apprehension or cognition”. Using an all-new concept or equipment takes a learning curve. After experiencing one, using others of the same category would be less challenging. After mastering a solid understanding of a product group or a concept, understanding any fresh one should be easy.
Not the case with the Canon Dial. For all my sins, I have fiddled with many mechanical cameras. Some cameras are straight forward. Some require extra digging to operate, but most cameras concede after a few minutes. This camera required a far stretch of the imagination and I had to finally surrender, meaning referring to the manual. The camera designers took much liberty in the concepts employed here, details are listed below.
The Canon Dial 35 and its sister, Bell and Howell Dial 35, were introduced about the same time as the other three subscribing to a similar concept: the WZFO Alfa, the Taron Chic, and the Yashica Rapide. Discounting the Alfa which is a mutant, It seems that the Dial sisters outsold the other two by leaps and bounds. Per camdex.ca, the Dial sisters show 157 transactions combined, the Chic 11, and the Rapide 18. Either the owners of the latter two hold them dear, which is unlikely, or at the time the Dial 35’s sold ten folds over.
The early ’60s saw camera offering in 35mm half frame. Could have been a novelty or a way to get more of a regular roll. I fancied fellow photographers that had a Pen and did not economise on shooting, while I used a 127 format at that time. Think the earliest half-frame offering was by Penti, sold in Europe. Of the mainstream Japanese brands, Olympus Pen led the way, followed by Yashica, Petri and Ricoh. Canon had the mid-market with the Canonet line and tested the water with the Demi.
With the Dial 35 camera Canon introduced a style away from the common rectangular black body, but I think they have ventured too far. The boxy shape and the bright metal finish are attention grabbers till today.
A third addition to the Dial family is the Dial Rapid, that kept the overall looks but done with the mighty winding arm. It uses a Rapid format, still half-frame, but tracks it horizontally.
I have two exemplars of the Dial 35. One is a Canon and the other a Bell & Howell, exclusively sold in the US market. From what I read the B&H could be similar to the Dial 35 II. Online I found no specifics to affirm this but on the surface of it, there are little and insignificant dissimilarities.
The camera is tiny, almost square without its tail. It is about the same size as the popular Rollei 35 and the Olympus XA, each doing a full-frame on a 35mm roll, the Dial 35 does half frame. This is about where the similarities end.
- The camera is heavy for its size. Bodyweight is more than the average for its class, perhaps due to the metal body and the clockwork mechanism inside.
- The viewfinder is large and clear, with parallax compensation markings. Within it, on the left, it shows three ikons to assist in the distance setting, to mark close-up, full-body and landscape. The bottom shows the light meter needle settings. The markings derive from an opaque window just under the viewer.
- The most dominant feature is the lens assembly which takes most of the front.
- The lens is small, so the filter is mounted on the outer ring, 48 mm compared to the 14 mm actual lens diameter. It makes sense as the light is measured with the filter, kind of TTL.
- The impressively large light meter lens is a facade. The meter cell is mounted at about 2 o’clock. The set of bubbles so prominently displayed the front ring are just fancy covers for a set of apertures, each corresponds to an ASA setting. The smallest aperture at the 10 ASA and largest at the 400 ASA. Three of the bubbles do not cover any opening, just there to keep the dial looks balance.
- Setting the film speed takes moving the inner dial of said bubbles by a pinching fingers gesture. Unnatural way of setting a dial. Value is set against a black line on the outer dial.
- Out of this camera group, this is the only one to has auto settings.
- The shutter release is about the only feature that is where you expect it to be, naturally positioned.
- The frame counter is impossible to read, set in increments of 5. The magnifying lens over it does not do much.
- Aperture override button is under the viewer window, moving a needle in the viewer to the desired F value. It doubles as a flash activator when the needle set all the way to the left. The button is difficult to move, just one shade lighter than impossible. Shutter speed is set via turning the outer lens barrel, set against a black mark on the body. For value reading, it takes to hold the camera upside down.
- On the right side are the flash sync port, cold shoe and back cover opening latch.
- Distance is set by estimate, moving a small lever similar to what on a normal camera will set the shutter speed. The lever is on top of the lens barrel. On the B&H scale is marked in feet only, the Canon in feet and metric divisions.
- While at other three cameras of that class the film is loaded at the bottom and winds up, here it is reversed.
- The main attraction of the Dial is in the winding cylinder at the bottom. This winds a clockwork spring, that in turn fires the shutter and rolls the film to next exposure. It supposed to suffice for 20 shots, I got less, perhaps as it is almost 60 years old and spring grew weak.
- The oddest feature of this camera is the way of rewinding the exposed roll. On the left side, there is a knurled button marked R. It takes pushing it in and turning to the right, towards a white dot mark. Then turning the winding cylinder again in the same direction as if winding the spring, this time it rewinds. No mortal would figure it without a manual. So much for intuitive use.
- The Canon and B&H models take different batteries. Both 1.3 V. The Canon uses an MR-1R battery, unavailable in the modern era. Used a 625 battery, mounted in a cut of a 1/2″ PEX pipe to make up for the diameter, and a spring to hold it in place and close the circuit. The B&H took the same battery with a strip of 1.5 mm foam around it to keep it In place.
- Other unimportant differences: the Canon back locks with a double catch, while the B&H has single. The Canon hand strap is screwed into the tripod mount, so it needs to be removed for mounting. On the B&H the strap stays as has a thread in its base.
- Last, the viewer is meant to aim with the left eye. If you aim with the right eye the nose is on the way.
Using the camera
Loading is straight forward, cartridge placed on the top and film leader into a permanent take-off roll and winding the bottom winder till it is fully cocked. Frame counter should reset to zero, it is difficult to read and verify. Setting film speed seems like an afterthought, takes pushing a recessed dial to the desired value. Being shutter priority, set the shutter to the desired value and the camera will select the matching F value. Guidelines are broad, recommending shutter speed settings per ambient light. To override the camera auto aperture adjustment pull and turn the round button above the trigger and watch the needle inside the viewer. For flash use, attach a cable to the PC port and move the same needle all the way left.
Now it is good to go. The distance setting is estimated and set via a lever on top of the lens assembly. Frame composing is assisted by the ikons in the viewer.
Finally, pressing the trigger will fire and wind the film to the next exposure. Do not expect a rapid fire. It takes its time.
|Brand||Canon||Bell and Howell|
|AKA||Bell & Howell Dial 35||Dial 35 II|
|Country||Japan||US – japan|
|Type||Viewfinder Half Frame|
|Mode||Auto / manual|
|Weight||430 gr, Body with lens||440 gr, Body with lens|
|Class average weight||400 gr, Body with lens|
|Filter size||48 mm – on outside barrel|
|Lens mount||Fixed lens|
|Light meter||Selenium, uncoupled|
|Speeds||30-250. No B.|