The Optifort


The Optifort camera came about at the initiative of the Forte Photochemical Company of Vác to support the introduction of their new roll film, the Orthofort.   The year was 1949, and Hungary was still pretty much in ruins after its devastating defeat in the 2nd World War.   Not many people could afford to buy the expensive foreign made cameras and, thus, the idea to manufacture a cheap, simple camera that was within the reach of an average working class citizen was born.   In tune with the ideology of the new socialist regime, an article that appeared in the first issue of a short-lived photo magazine (also sponsored by the factory) proudly announced the availability of the new camera, saying that apart from it being made from domestic raw materials, it puts photography into the hands of the workers.   "What was once the privilege of the noble few is now available to the masses."


After what has been said in the introduction it will not come as a surprise that the Optifort is indeed a very simple camera.   Made of die cast aluminium, it features a simple collapsible frame finder and a 98 mm f/11 meniscus lens.   The body is painted shiny black and with its stripes somehow reminds one of a much more celebrated camera; the Kodak Bantam Special.   (Incidentally, that camera was also designed by a Hungarian; József Mihályi.)   There are three strap lugs on the body, so that the camera can be carried in a horizontal or vertical position.   Notice the FORTE logo on the back of the camera.

The aperture is fixed, and there is only one shutter speed (apart from B).   Note, that on this camera the marking M means moment (i.e. some fraction of a second exposure) and T means time (nowadays known as B).   To change between the two, the grooved aluminium button has to be screwed fully in (M) or fully out (T).   Pressing down on the lever near the lens fires the shutter.
However, before taking pictures you need to do one important thing: extend the lens housing so that it protrudes from the body like the conning tower of a submarine.   To do it, you simply grab and twist the cone around the lens counter clockwise.   There is nothing to warn you about this and your pictures will be out of focus if you forget to do it.

To open the back, the sliding lock on the side needs to be unlocked and the back can be fully removed.   Simple metal plate springs hold the film spools in position.   As usual in cheap cameras, the film path is curved.   This helps to overcome the distortion inherent in the meniscus lens.   The film is advanced by turning the aluminium knob on the bottom.   There is no frame advance stop and no frame counter.   The photographer monitors the winding of the film through the little red window on the back of the camera.


I don't have production numbers, but the fact is that the camera is rather scarce today.   As far as I know, it was not sold outside of Hungary.   One can occasionally come across a specimen in second hand shops or at auctions in Hungary.   A camera in mint condition is even harder to find.   (As you can see from the pictures mine is in a rather poor shape.)   I have not seen a box or manual for this camera, but I know they exist.   They are just extremely rare.

Further reading:

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