After WWI, Italy was rebuilding its industrial infrastructure, boosted by a government ministry created for this purpose. The traditionally industrial north saw heavyweights and entrepreneurs getting into industries championed by the Germans. Such was the Ducati family, who set shop in Bologna, making small engines and branching into optical instruments and the new electronics industry. The engine side had developed into the Ducati motorbike brand, now owned by Volkswagen, and other lines are no more.
The Italian optical industry of that era was highly fruitful, making quality cameras based on successful German models or own designs. Most are much sought after by collectors.
Ducati had realized the family dream with a petit camera aptly named Sogno. Ready to market just before Italy joined WWII. Correctly anticipating the product to be limited to the upper market only, a junior sister, the Simplex, was paired with the Sogno. For the war duration, manufacturing had converted to military inputs, and by the war’s end, the plant was all but flattened by the Allied. Once rebuilt, both cameras arrived in 1950.
The cameras were designed from the ground up, subscribed to an all-Italian camera style of the time. Most Italian models look as if conceived by graduates of the same design school. The Sogno and the Simplex were well-designed and aptly made, but the market was not there. After three years and a short run of 8,000 Sogno and 2,000 Simplex units, the dream halted.
The Sogno is a rangefinder with removable lenses, while the Simplex is a viewfinder with a fixed lens. Else the sisters share most of the features and a slew of accessories made by Ducati.
The Simplex is a tiny camera with a body made of cast metal and machined parts. The body is gray painted and otherwise chromed, giving it an upscale look. Three models were made, marginally differ by knurling of the knobs. It uses a preparatory cartridge with a short run of 15 half-frame exposures, which probably contributed to its lack of popularity. The manual details loading the cartridge at length, a task made redundant by the already available preloaded Kodak and Agfa cartridges. A tiny viewer provides limited viewing and feels like an afterthought add-on to an otherwise able camera. It has its fair share of quirks:
- Being half frame, the default orientation is portrait.
- The trigger is set for the left hand, although it is forgiven with landscape orientation.
- The lens takes pulling out for shooting, and the shutter will not fire when retracted.
- The aperture ring is at the nose of the lens, taking two fingers to dial, with attention not to touch the glass.
Otherwise, the camera is bare of any extra settings or markings, just the bare minimum.
For the collector, it is a prized trophy. The Simplex is expensive, although it is not as much as the Songo. I believe that will make a good return on investment.
|280 gr, Body with lens
|Class average weight
|247 gr, Body with lens
|Focal plane cloth horizontal