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Bell & Howell Autoload 342
Focus-Matic, Auto Focus in 60's


"Welcome to a new and automatic world of picture-taking ! With automatic Focus-Matic for instant distance setting, electric drive for automatic film winding, and completely automatic electric eye and flash, your camera takes all the effort out of fine pictures." (from Introduction section in manual instructions of Bell & Howell Autoload 342)

Bell & Howell Autoload 342 was a 126 film camera made by Canon, but marketed under Bell & Howell for North American market in 1969. Motor for film advancing and electric eye for exposure control are not so complicated in achieving such automation, but it is quite difficult to imagine how an auto-focus mechanism worked in 60's.

Focus-Matic, the operation of this auto-focus mechanism was not based on electronics (I tested the Focus-Matic function without using batteries). Instead, it is mechanical. I guess, it is something like combining bubble level and some mathematics of tangent.

Assumming that the photographer and subject is approximately on the same level (say, the height is about 5 feet - 6 feet), the angle that the camera is inclined to see the subject base, is related to the distance between photographer and subject. Please refer to the below scanned pages from the instruction manual for the detail steps in focus.

By the push of the Focus-Matic lever, the subject distance will be shown up automatically in the distance scale and the lens focus will be set accordingly.

Using Flash Cube

For taking photos with flash, move the electric eye / flash lever off of the electric eye to the auto flash area. Then this electric eye / flash lever will be moved automatically with Focus-Matic lever. If positioning within the blue Cube Zone, it implies the subject in focus is within the valid flash distance range. (I suppose that the lens aperture is set automatically, although I cannot find this mentioning in the instruction manual). It throw away the troubles of traditional table lookup in using flash. What an intelligent design !

About The Camera

The Bell & Howell Autoload 342 showing in this webpage is purchased via ebay.

  • using 126 film cartridge (How to Adapt 35mm/135 Film to be used on 126 Format Camera)
  • Fix Lens 40mm/F2.8, with Focus-Matic to focus from 4 feet to infinity
  • Focus-Matic lever to check subject distance, and valid flash range
  • Distance scale, and auto flash range indicator
  • Electric eye / auto flash lever, to set camera in non-flash and flash mode shooting
  • Shutter release
  • Battery compartment, for 2 x AAA batteries
  • Socket for attaching flash cube
  • Tripod hole at camera bottom

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