Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Clarus MS-35

A couple of weeks ago I posted to my FaceBook page that I'd acquired a 1946 Clarus MS-35 coupled rangefinder. This camera is wonderful to look at, a brick to hold(!) and has a somewhat checkered past...

Clarus MS-35 rangefinder. ©Mike Vega

The Clarus company was based in and manufactured it's cameras in Minneapolis, MN. in the good ol' United States of America. The Clarus MS-35 was the ONLY model of camera the company ever produced.
Originally designed in 1940, it didn't go into production until 1946 due to financial difficulties. The camera features a parallax focusing system, a cloth shutter, no light meter, no ISO/ASA setting and, unusual for an early rangefinder, interchangeable lenses (35mm, 50mm and 101mm).

The Mad Hatter, Main Street U.S.A. Disneyland, CA. ©Mike Vega

Due to several small design flaws, the MS-35 quickly earned a reputation as an unreliable camera. That coupled with a price tag of $122.00 ($1,200.00 in 2012 dollars!) made for slow sales and ultimately in 1952, ended it's production run.

Sand and Sage Motel Pomona, CA. @Mike Vega

Due to it's dubious reputation, suspect quality and pleasing aesthetics, this camera has become a oddly collectible.
While all of that is fine and good, what matters to me is ultimately the images produced by the camera. So, what else to do but clean it up, run a few tests and load it with film! The above color image of the camera was taken using my iPhone. The black and white photographs were taken with the Clarus.

Travel Motel, Pomona, CA. ©Mike Vega

It turns out that while the optics are not bad (these are taken with the 35mm lens), the color is well faded from the parallax focusing system and therefore it is very hard to focus in good light and next to impossible in low light and/or darkness.

Tea Cups nighttime long exposure. Disneyland, Anaheim,  CA. ©Mike Vega

I love looking at the camera, and it was interesting to shoot with, but it's definitely not a "daily driver".
So, welcome to the family MS-35. You are an oddity among oddities.

Rubidoux Drive-In Theatre. Rubidoux, CA. ©Mike Vega


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