Since its inception as a camera maker in 1949, Finetta made entry-level cameras. Styled differently from other cameras of that time, they were quirky, with little upgrades from one model to another. Yet it must be remembered that the company came and went within eight short years, so whatever they did in this period is outstanding.
Finetta still wanted to make a splash, und wenn schon denn schon; it should be one-up over models that ruled the market. They collected all advanced camera features offered then, added a spring-loaded winder, and the Finetta 99 was born, later sold in the US as Ditto 99.
At the company’s tradition, an odd camera was prematurely presented to the market before ironing out all childhood malaise. It had likely contributed to the company shutting down within a couple of years.
Offering five different lenses system is a tall order even today, let alone for a company with a manufacturing capacity of 100 units a day. Relying on a third party’s mount could have changed the model and company’s fate, but I would guess that hubris also played a role. Also, this was the third lens mount offered by Finetta, and neither was compatible with the other. A spring-loaded technique was not new, but shipping it to the market without thorough testing was irresponsible. Similar to the Fotochrome, cameras were shipped out and returned for service at the same rate. All that with a model that was supposed to change photography and was sold at the time about USD 100, equal to some USD 1,200 in 2023. You would expect more reliability once you spend such an amount. Adding the iffy quality and reputation of the Finetta brand, it was doomed from the jumping board.
Spring-loaded cameras have been available since the dawn of photography in cine cameras. This was translated into compact or miniature models before the Finetta 99. Searching for such models points to John Wade’s book, Clockwork Cameras. Available from Amazon or the publishers, Blurb.com, that print and ship one copy upon demand. Oddly, the entire book is available online at fliphtml5.com, I am not sure why and for how long. Looking for clockwork cameras, Robot is the name that comes to mind, with an early model offered in 1938. The first to gain wide distribution was the Robot IIa, of which I have a pair that work perfectly. This Robot had led the way to a long list of siblings, including the notorious and dreaded STASI models. The Japanese had some early models, miniatures by Niagawa, followed by a glut of Ricoh models. The US Kodak dipped their feet with the Automatic models, which didn’t last long, and Bell and Howell presented the one-off 1949 Foton. Tessina of Switzerland offered some tiny, highly desired models in 1951, and the Soviets had it with the in-your-face 1956 Leningrad. The trend had ended with the miniature battery-operated and cheap electric motors that made the spring loaded redundant.
For good measure, I added a searchable list of spring-loaded / clockwork cameras at the bottom of this page. It is probably incomplete and could be corrected; I appreciate notes, corrections, and additions.
Before getting into the camera, I would quote an excerpt from the English language user manual. Printed in Germany but probably written elsewhere, judging by the style. For this camera, reading the manual is essential.
Long life and faultless performance can be guaranteed for the Ditto 99 with the automatic film advance only if the following notes, and the booklet of instructions, are most scrupulously attended to. (sic)
Further, there is a note to wind gently and a strong warning against self-servicing it. I guess there were some precedents. And lastly:
For the rest (in case you have already gone so far), we need only to say that if you use your largest pair of pliers, a giant screwdriver and a sledgehammer, you can say goodbye to all your hopes of good photographs.
Oops. Untypical language for a user manual, very. It brings to mind Dan Aykroyd explaining to Ned Beatty how not to operate a gun, in the movie 1941.
The camera is neat, good-looking, and nicely styled, much heavier than its contemporaries. With chromed metal and gray skin, it differed from the black-on-black of most cameras at the time. The above note about studying the manual is justified, as it has some mystery functions.
The top has a large winder drum set above the spring mechanism that is contained within the oversized take-off spindle. Frame counter nearby it, with a protruding setting cog at the back. The speed selector is divided into three groups: 50, 100-1000, and B, 25. To use the ‘B’, slide the ‘B’ lever at the front, and remember the manual’s note about not winding while there. A hot shoe and a rewind knob complete the top. A later model, the 99L has an additional slow speeds dial located by the rewind knob.
The side has a lever sliding between X and 1, setting the flash synch delay. The manual has a table specifying which setting is for which bulb. I am not sure how the synch mechanism works in other models, but I have yet to see such a configuration.
The back is boring. The bottom has a flat thumb nut in the middle to unlock the back cover. In my model, there is no indication as to which direction to turn. To open turn anti-clockwise. It is not held by a screw but via two mushroom-headed pins that fit into grooves in the body. A side thumb nut, smaller, is to allow rewind. When unscrewed, it releases the clutch holding the take-off spool. The nut has a matching hole in the bottom of the back cover, so it is accessible with a mounted back cover.
The front contains an extensive lens board, having two modest-looking pins at its sides. Squeeze in both pins, and the lens pops out. The lens has a large diameter mount – 46mm / 1 7/8″ ring, much larger than the lens body diameter, hence the size of the lens board. A notch in the lens base directs to a pin in the body, making it easy to remount. The front of the lens takes the ends of two fingers to turn the aperture dial, a typical Finetta. Depending on the model, focusing is marked in meters or feet, and the focusing dial forever turns to a full 3600.
Opening the back, a fold-down pressure plate tends to be in the way. The film track has no guide gears, so it advances only by the pull of the spool. There are two bulges on the spool to catch the film’s perforation and pull. I think the designer dropped the ball here; it is impractical. The spring mechanism is set in the take-off drum. At the bottom are two spring-loaded pins; it seems the only purpose they serve is to push the back cover off once the catch is released. I think it is an overkill, so it may serve another purpose, but the manual does not mention it. A crude, very early horizontal cloth shutter is mounted in the middle of the camera. Curtain shutters were earlier available in the Leica models, copied by a host of makers, widely offered by the Soviets, Canon, and a long list of Japanese and a few US, UK, and Italian; other than Canon, none is still among the living. It means that a camera like the Finetta 99 was premature in its days, and to succeed, it needed the manufacturer’s deep pockets and a serious customer base, neither of which was there.
Finetta had high aspirations for this model, so it had announced a full lens line to match and a slew of accessories. Other than the kit 2.8/45 lens, there were also 4.3/45, 4.5/70 and 6.3/105. I have not seen any for resale, so I will cautiously assume that actual distribution was limited based on the initial cost and the short life of the brand.
My unit sat on the shelf for a good decade, and the winding mechanism and the shutter are dead. Popular camera models have easy-to-find service manuals; here there is only one source, a well-edited booklet by Jean Bruno. The first 15 pages are available online in Google Books. A hard copy can be bought online for 25 Euro, but the best is to get immediate gratification with a cheaper PDF copy at the author’s site. It has pictures galore and French descriptions, easily translated via the camera on Google Translate on your mobile or on a desktop with a PDF editor, copy and paste. I got the PDF copy and will attend to it when time allows, most likely never.
For the collector, I would highly recommend having it on the shelf. It is a unique model, an exemplar made by a mouse that roared.
|Weight||620 gr, Body with lens|
|Class average weight||480 gr, Body with lens|
|Lens mount||Proprietary bayonet|
|Shutter||Focal plane cloth horizontal|
|External sync||X & manual delay setting|
|Service / repair links||See camerlog.com|
|More||Finetta camera family list
CJ’s Classic cameras
Spring loaded / clockwork camera list
|Ansco||Memo II||1967||Eye level direct||USA|
|Bell & Howell||Dial 35||1963||Viewfinder Half Frame||USA|
|Bell & Howell||Foton||1949||Rangefinder||USA|
|Canon||Dial 35||1963||Viewfinder Half Frame||Japan|
|Canon||Dial 35 II||1968||Viewfinder||Japan|
|Fotofex||Mini Fex MG||1939||Submini||Germany|
|Great Wall||Great Wall SZ-1||1969||Rangefinder||China|
|Great Wall||Great Wall SZ-2||1976||Rangefinder||China|
|Japy||Le Pascal Prototype||1897||Jumelle||France|
|Kilfitt||Robot Prototype spring motor||1948||Viewfinder||Germany|
|KMZ||Foton||1969||Eye level direct||USSR|
|KMZ||Foton 2||1973||Eye level direct||USSR|
|KMZ||Foton 3||1975||Eye level direct||USSR|
|KMZ||Foton M||1970||Eye level direct||USSR|
|Kodak||Instamatic 400||1963||Instamatic type||USA|
|Kodak||Instamatic 814||1968||Instamatic type||USA|
|Kodak||Instamatic X-45||1970||Instamatic type||USA|
|Kodak||Instamatic X-125||Instamatic type||USA|
|LOMO||Lomo 135 BC VS||1975||Viewfinder||USSR|
|LOMO||Lomo 135 M||1980||Viewfinder||USSR|
|Lone Riders||Gatling 72||1963||Viewfinder|
|Minolta||Autopak 800||1969||Instamatic type||Japan|
|Nichiryo||Nicnon TF Binocular Camera||1970||Niche||Japan|
|Ricoh||126 C Automatic||1968||Instamatic type||Japan|
|Ricoh||Auto Half E Auto Sun||1968||Point and shoot||Japan|
|Ricoh||Auto Half SE Black||1968||Point and shoot||Japan|
|Ricoh||Auto Half SE2 Black||1968||Point and shoot||Japan|
|Ricoh||Auto Half||1963||Point and shoot||Japan|
|Ricoh||Auto Half E||1966||Point and shoot||Japan|
|Ricoh||Auto Half E2||1976||Point and shoot||Japan|
|Ricoh||Auto Half EF||1978||Point and shoot||Japan|
|Ricoh||Auto Half EF2||Point and shoot||Japan|
|Ricoh||Auto Half SE2||Point and shoot||Japan|
|Ricoh||Auto Half Professional||Point and shoot||Japan|
|Ricoh||Auto Half S||Point and shoot||Japan|
|Ricoh||Auto Half SE||1967||Point and shoot||Japan|
|Ricoh||Auto Half SL||Point and shoot||Japan|
|Ricoh||Hi-Colour 35 S||Viewfinder||Japan|
|Ricoh||Super Shot 24||Rangefinder||Japan|
|Robot||OS 35 F||1985||Niche||Germany|
|Robot||Royal 18A||1957||Leica type RF||Germany|
|Robot||Royal 24 Black||1957||Leica type RF||Germany|
|Robot||Royal 24 FKF Danish Army||Rangefinder||Germany|
|Robot||Royal 36 III||1955||Rangefinder||Germany|
|Robot||Royal 36 Vl||1955||Leica type RF||Germany|
|Robot||Royal 36 A||1955||Leica type RF||Germany|
|Robot||Royal 36 B||1959||Rangefinder||Germany|
|Robot||Royal 36 B Black||1959||Leica type RF||Germany|
|Robot||Royal 36 S||1956||Rangefinder||Germany|
|Robot||Royal 36 S A||1961||Leica type RF||Germany|
|Robot||Star 25 Endoscope||1969||Niche||Germany|
|Robot||Star 50 D||1969||Viewfinder||Germany|
|Robot||Star 50 DA||1991||Viewfinder||Germany|
|Robot||Star 50 ED||1975||Viewfinder||Germany|
|Robot||Star 50 18||1975||Viewfinder||Germany|
|Robot||Star 50 ES Black||1975||Viewfinder||Germany|
|Robot||Star 50 S||1975||Viewfinder||Germany|
|Robot||Star 50 Spy Outfit||1969||Viewfinder||Germany|
|Robot||Star 50 STASI||1969||Viewfinder||Germany|
|Robot||Star 50 STASI Briefcase||1969||Niche||Germany|
|Robot||Star Classic Colours||1996||Viewfinder||Germany|
|Robot||Star I Sweden Air Forces||1955||Niche||Germany|
|Robot||Star II FKF Danish Air Force||1955||Niche||Germany|
|Robot||Star II S||1958||Niche||Germany|
|Robot||Super Recorder 24||1973||Finderless||Germany|
|Robot||Star II Auto Side Winding||1958||Viewfinder||Germany|
|Robot||Star II Auto Scientific||1954||Niche||Germany|
|Robot||Star II Auto STASI||Viewfinder||Germany|
|Robot||Star III Auto||Viewfinder||Germany|
|Robot||Star II Auto Danish Army||1958||Viewfinder||Germany|
|Sears||Easi Load FC 600||1970||Instamatic type||USA|
|Standard Projector & Equipment||Gatling||1963||Viewfinder||USA|
|Teraoka||Auto Terra IIB||1957||Rangefinder||Japan|
|Teraoka||Auto Terra IIBS||1958||Rangefinder||Japan|
|Teraoka||Auto Terra IIL||Rangefinder||Japan|
|Teraoka||Auto Terra P||1959||Rangefinder||Japan|
|Teraoka||Auto Terra Super||1959||Rangefinder||Japan|
|Teraoka||Auto Terra Super L||1959||Rangefinder||Japan|
|Teraoka||Auto Terra II||Rangefinder||Japan|
|Teraoka||Auto Terra Super P police||1961||Rangefinder||Japan|
|Teraoka||Auto Terra Super A||Rangefinder||Japan|
|Tessina||Tessina 35 red||1957||Miniature||Switzerland|
|Tessina||Tessina 35 'STASI'||1966||Miniature||Switzerland|
|Tessina||Tessina 35 black||1957||Miniature||Switzerland|
|Tessina||Tessina 35 Gold||1957||Miniature||Switzerland|
|Tessina||Tessina L Black||1957||Miniature||Switzerland|
|Tessina||Tessina L Chrome||1957||Miniature||Switzerland|
|Tessina||Tessina L Gold||1957||Miniature||Switzerland|
|Tessina||Tessina L Red||1957||Miniature||Switzerland|