Seneca Competitor View

| 1 Comment

Seneca Competitor View

Variation 2
by Karen Nakamura


Overview and Personal Comments

The Seneca Camera Manufacturing Company produced folding medium format and large format view cameras from 1900 to 1926. The Competitor View was their name for their inexpensive line of folding field cameras made from 1907 to 1925. It came in two sizes 5" x 7" and 8" x 10" and in two wood tones: a lighter mahogany shade and a medium-color cherry shade. There were two variations. The first variation parts were made of brass and the front standard had no lateral shift. The second variation parts were made of nickel plated steel and added front lateral shift.

My own Variation 2 mahogany Competitor View 5 x 7" was purchased out of the estate of Marion Carpenter, the first female White House photographer. She was the personal photographer of President Harry Truman. Carpenter died in utter destitution and alone at the age of 82 in late 2002.

My Competitor is in very good shape for almost being 100 years old. The ground glass (pictured) was broken when I purchased it. It came with three film holders and came with a Wollensak Gammax No. 2 lens attached. I'm not sure what the focal length is. The original lens is a standard triplet type, uncoated lens.


Interesting quirks

For being a field camera, the Competitor is very light and compact. The main rail folds up against the body of the camera when it is racked all of the way in. The metal components of the camera are used sparingly. Most appear to be simple nickel plated stamped steel. This makes them supsceptible to bending, so this camera must be used a bit delicately.

The ground glass holder is held in by leaf springs. It doubles as the film holder. This is a nice design. You can focus against the ground glass, and then simply slide the 5x7" sheet film holder in when you are ready to take the photo.

The camera has a reasonable amount of shift and tilt built into the front and rear standards. Not enough for studio photography, but enough for moderate non-architectural outdoor photography.




Burke and James Rollfilm / Ground Glass Holder?

The Seneca came with a couple of sheet film holders, but it also came with an odd Burke and James rollfilm / ground glass holder. I've never seen anything like this. The ground glass chimney hood and rollfilm (120 format) are mounted on a sliding board. You can slide the ground glass in, then focus; then slide the rollfilm over and take the photo.

The entire unit measures 14 1/4" x 8 1/2". The black board is an odd size, it's not 8x10" or 5x7" but seeming a 7 7/8" x 7 7/8". The opening is 2 1/4" x 3 1/4" (6x7cm size).

If anyone can help me identify this holder and let me know what type of camera it's designed for, I'd greatly appreciate it! My e-mail is: karen @ photoethnography dot com (anti-spam encoded).

Help came from the newsgroup from Richard Knoppow and DLMStar:

The inner dimensions of the B&J 5x7 field camera back is 7 7/8 x7 7/8 inches.
So it is a roll film back for that type of camera. The pins on the 5x7 are approximately 7 1/4 inches a part. The same dimensions also apply to the B&J Grover (hexagonal monorail) and the Saturn (diamond 4 sided monorail) models. One of the way B&J kept manufacturing costs low way to use a number of interchangeable parts on their different models.

Their 1967 catelog has 5 pages of fine print listings of different large format backs
Some adapter backs i.e. 8x10 to 5x7, others include large formate to 120
Graflok roll film backs, 35mm backs and sliding backs that allow ground glass
focusing and then sliding the roll film holder in place.

The outer dimensions back are for the back and forth sliding. It is the dimension of the inner black square (light trap) and the shorter outside width that usually determines what camera the sliding back fits.

Hope this helps.



Technical Details

Camera Name Competitor View
Manufacturer Seneca Camera Manufacturing Company
Place of Manufacture Rochester, NY
Date of Manufacture 1907-1925
Focusing System

Direct view
Bellows focusing
Front standard: horizontal raise ±40mm; lateral shift ±30mm
Rear standard: tilt only

Lens mount

Standard lens board

Metering System




Film type

5" x 7" sheet film

Battery type hah!
Dimensions and weight

Retail price



Lens Gammax No. 2 Rapid Rectilinear Seneca Uno
Lens Manufacturer

Bausch Lomb

Place of Manufacture
Rochester, NY
Rochester, NY Rochester, NY
Date of Manufacture Pat. Jan. 18, 1910

Pat. May 30, 1911
Pat. Aug 13, 1912

Lens Construction

3 elements in 3 groups (triplet)
Uncoated glass

4 elements in 2 groups (?)
Uncoated glass

2 elements in 2 groups (?)
Uncoated glass

Lens Mount

Standard screw-mount for lens board


T, B, 100, 50, 25, 10

Brownie Ball bearing
Eastman Kodak
T, B, 25, 50, 100
T, B, Inst.
Apertures f/4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128 f/ 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 f/8, 16, 32, 64, 128
Filter Mount none none none
Body Construction
Dimensions and weight




About Seneca

According to the a history of Rochester camera companies, the Seneca Camera Manufacturing Company was founded in 1900. It had strong connections with Kodak and was quite a well-known camera manufacturer. It lasted until around 1926 when it was fully absorbed by Sears Roebuck and the Seneca brand name disappeared.


About Wollensak

According to the same history of Rochester companies (above), the Wollensak company had its roots in a smaller company called Wollensak and Rauber founded in 1899. It changed its name to the Wollensak Optical Company in 1901. They manufactured lenses and shutters for a variety of cameras until their demise in 1972.




On the Net


1 Comment

Leave a comment