Classic Scale Focus Cameras:
Detrola Model H

by Karen Nakamura


Overview and Personal Comments

Detrola was an American company in Detroit (Detrola = Detroit, go figure!) that manufactured radios and cameras. That's not as far fetched a connection than you might think. Both were considered the epitome of high-tech in those days. Sort of like how Samsung makes both cell-phones and LCD televisions.

Now it looks like Detrola actually tried to make what they thought were good cameras. At least they weren't the toy bakelite cameras that Kodak was selling. Near the end of their reign, Detrola even came out with a Leica-clone called the Detrola 400 (CameraQuest has more info on it), an interchangeable screw-mount lens rangefinder.

Aside from the flagship 400, Detrola made about ten bakelite cameras. McKeowns lists them as the Models A, B, D, E, G, GW, H, HW, K, and KW. Apparently the company only lasted about 2 years, from 1939-1940. Talk about one-night wonders.

The Detrola Model H caught my eye in an antique store because of its beautiful Art-Deco styling. Up close, it turned out to be closer to the toy bakelite Kodaks that I disparage so much. The body is made of stamped tin and bakelite. What's surprising though is the lens unit, it's extremely solid.

The lens is a Detrola Anastigmat 2" (50.8mm) f/4.5. What's interesting about it is that it's telescoping. You release the lens by turning the focus ring until the bayonet lugs uncock. The lens will spring forward because of an internal spring. Pull it forward and it locks into position with a click.

The lens is scale focusing from 3' to infinity. What looks like a rangefinder on the top is a simple viewfinder. The rectangular space next to it is open in my unit, but an extinction lightmeter belongs there in production cameras.

The shutter is a simple leaf-shutter with speeds from 1/25 to 1/200 with B and T modes. The aperture is also a simple 9-blade affair. Nothing fancy, but light years ahead of anything Kodak was making (except the Retina).



Interesting quirks

Unfortunately, the Model H uses 127 film which is difficult to obtain these days. I'd like to clean up the lens, lube the shutter, and give it a spin sometime. The rear windows on the back of the unit allow you to adjust the frame spacing when winding on.

Technical Details

Camera Name
Detrola Model H  
Detrola Corporation
Place of Manufacture

Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.

Date of Manufacture
around 1939-1940
Focusing System

Scale focusing
Simple viewfinder


Detrola Anastigmat 2" (50.8mm) f/4.5
f/4.5 - 22 (stepless)
9 blades


Leaf shutter
1/20 - 1/200 + B +T

Metering System

Built-in extinction meter (missing on my unit)



Film type / speeds

Type 127 (medium format)

Battery type
Dimensions and weight

xx W x xx H x xx D mm
xxx g

Retail price





About Detrola


On the Net



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