AMPRO EIGHT MODELS 340, 344 AND 350
Ampro Corporation, 2835 N. Western Avenue, Chicago 18, Illinois December, 1950 - 1955
The Ampro Corporation is as well known for their reel-to-reel tape recorders, as they are for their amateur motion picture equipment.
Ampro began with 16mm projectors, bringing out their Ampro Precision Projector by mid-1930. With Eastman Kodak's introduction of the 8mm format in 1932, Ampro would subsequently enter this new dimension of the amateur market. But, it appears to have been another 18 years before they would offer an 8mm camera. Although its actual date of introduction is presently undetermined, by late 1950, the Ampro Eight 8mm movie camera was available in a single-lens version designated the Model 340 and a two-lens turret version, the Model 350.
The camera was beautifully crafted from stainless steel with leatherette panels, and utilized a pre-loaded magazine (or cartridge) for speed and convenience. Six speeds were available and the camera incorporated a 10-ft watch indicator to let the operator know that the spring was winding down. One of the camera's unique features was the "Accurator", an easily adjustable view finder that depending on the focal length of the lens being used, scaled the field of view to represent what was actually being taken. This was the camera's featured selling point, over conventional finders found on competitor's cameras that never really represented the actual image taken.
Another unique feature was the film chamber's door lock, incorporated on the door's hinge side. Rotating the lever 90 degrees permitted the door to be opened. As the door was manually held back in the closed position, the lever was then returned to the locked position, securing the door.
The inside of the doors on both the Model 340 and Model 350 shown here, are stamped "Pat. Apld. For". At least eight patents have been found that are believed to apply to the Model 340/Model 350, as these appear to be the only camera models Ampro ever manufactured. All of the patents were granted to Irving Cisski, with one of the patents being shared with Abram Shapiro, Ampro's lead engineer. Pending more information, Irving Cisski is also believed to have been a design engineer with the company. All of these patents, with one exception, were assigned to the Ampro Corporation. Advertisements touted the "Accurator" as a patented feature. Patent No. 2,542,939 was granted February 20, 1951 to Irving Cisski for a "View Finder Masking Device" which covers this design. The patent was assigned to General Precision Laboratory Incorporated, which was Ampro's parent company.
The "Accurator" Finder
According to a 1951 magazine advertisement, the Models 340 and 350 were equipped with Ampro-Wollensak f2.5 coated lenses and retailed for $149.50 and $169.50 respectively. A December, 1950 ad from Popular Photography magazine, and the Directory Issue of Popular Photography, May, 1951, lists the Model 340 the Model 350 as retailing for $139.50 and $159.50, respectively. Ampro also offered a retrofit kit, to easily convert the Model 340 from a single-lens to a two-lens turret.
These prices represented somewhere in the realm of $1,500 to $1,700 in 2022 dollars. Granted, like many other products of the time, movie cameras were sold at a discount off the retail. Despite this, at prices exceeding a thousand dollars in today's valuation, these cameras were no small piece of change for the average family.
The Model 340 and Model 350 examples featured here, are equipped with Wollensak-Ampro f2.5 13mm Cine-Raptar standard lens. Having a D-mount, any number of standard or telephoto lenses could have been used, such as the Kinotel Anastigmat 8mm Movie 1-1/2" f3.5 lens (chrome) and the Sun-Tak Wide Angle 6.5 mm f1.9 lens (black) shown here in some of the photos.
The Model 344 is somewhat of a mystery, as no references have been found to it in advertisements, buyer's guides or factory literature...yet here it is, clearly labeled "Model three forty four". This example is equipped with a Wollensak-Ampro f1.9 13mm Cine-Raptar lens. The f1.9 13mm was an upgrade from the f2.5 on the Model 350, available by May, 1951 (and through 1955), but appears to have never been offered as an option on the Model 340.
Appearing identical to the Model 340, possibly the Model 344 designation meant the camera was intended for export, or because it had the faster f1.9 lens. I'd be interested to hear from others with any information or opinions on the Model 344. The Ampro Eight Model 340 and 350 are seen very infrequently when compared to other U.S. made 8mm's, and are harder to locate in very nice condition. Given its obscurity and this being the only example I've encountered, in the United States the Ampro Eight Model 344 will be the most difficult of all three known models to locate.
Ampro Eight Model Three Forty Four
Ampro wasn't the only company offering a well made 8mm, and quality products were available from Bell & Howell, Wollensak, Revere and DeJur-Amsco to name but a few. Examples from all of these manufacturers can readily be found today, but the Ampro Eight is quite scarce in comparison. So far, only a few advertisements have been found from the early 1950's, beginning December, 1950. However, both the 340 and 350 models were still being offered in Popular Photography's Directory and Buying Guide, 1955 Edition, and by 1956 they disappeared from this annual publication.
The Ampro Eight lasted for about five years. Although priced at the higher end alongside cameras from other makers, it apparently proved less popular as relatively few examples are seen today.
For an outstanding history of the Ampro Corporation and its origins, please follow the link below to the Made in Chicago Museum. This is a great website featuring many things manufactured in Chicago, a city that was literally the epicenter for motion picture equipment development as the film industry surged and amateur home movies emerged: