Foca Sport II: The French Connection

Foca Sport II
The Foca Sport II -- a very nice fixed-lens rangefinder.
The camera body is 5 inches wide, 3 inches high and 1 1/4 inches deep. In metric, that is 13cm wide, 7.4cm high and 3cm deep. The lens extends from the body 1 1/4 inches or 3cm.

One day, I was reading an article on some French photographers when the Foca camera was mentioned.

This made me curious. Exactly what is a Foca?

Simply put, it's a series of cameras that were made in France, some featuring focal plane shutters and interchangeable lenses and rangefinder focusing and other simpler cameras with zone focusing, leaf shutters and sometimes a selenium meter.

I found this particular camera on eBay, but I kept my expectations low. While the camera looked nice, a Web site photo doesn't always tell the whole story, and often what you see isn't exactly what you get, as those of us who buy cameras now know. No such problems with this camera.

The Foca Sport II arrived in a small brown box and included the case, a black rubber Foca lens cap, a metal lens shade, a green filter and a close-up lens. I haven't yet tried the close-up lens. All of the accessories are of the push-on variety. The lens hood is marked 36, so I assume the outside diameter of the lens is 36mm.

The Foca Sport II was made in the early 1960s, and the accessory shoe on my camera is marked 62.xxxx, which might indicate that it was made in 1962. This camera has no meter, so you'll want to have a handheld meter or you can guess. There also are no strap lugs on the body, as I imagine that Foca intended for the photographer to use it in its ever-ready case.

The Sport II has lever wind, a coated lens and a fairly wide-base rangefinder, which appears to be about 58mm. A wider rangefinder base provides for more accurate focusing. I'm not sure what the viewfinder magnification is ... probably about 0.7x, which puts the effective rangefinder base at roughly 40mm -- still quite wide for a fixed-lens camera. As you can see in the photo below, the rangefinder window is situated near the end of the camera, so keep your fingers out of the way.

Foca Sport II
The Foca Sport II -- no surprise with the controls. Simple elegance in its operation.

The between-the-lens leaf shutter has an impressively wide range speeds running from 1/300 to one second plus B and is flash synchronized. Rewind is via a knob on top of the camera, and a slide switch on the bottom of the camera allows the back to be removed for changing film. The film spool is fixed, so there won't be any of that nonsense of the spool falling out of the camera and rolling down the street with the photographer in hot pursuit and then looking rather forlorn as it rolls into the sewer.

The coated f/2.8 4.5cm Oplar-Color focuses easily via the large knurled ring. A depth of field scale on the lens barrel helps the photographer take advantage of hyperfocal settings. Being a European camera, the distance scale is marked in meters although the film speed minder dial atop the rewind knob is conveniently marked with both DIN and ASA numbers.

Apertures are changed by using the small tab under the lens. There are clicks for full stops only, although you can always set the aperture between the stops, if desired.

When holding the camera, you have to tilt the camera toward the sky to see the shutter speeds and apertures. No big deal, especially for those who have used a variety of cameras.

The unified rangefinder/viewfinder is to the left and contains no frame lines. That's a bit of a short-coming, because by the 1960s most camera makers were including frame lines in their viewfinder cameras. Focusing the camera is very simple. The rangefinder system uses mirrors to create the secondary image.

The film advance requires a single-throw, and the sprung lever neatly returns to its starting point, hopefully without poking you in the eye. There is no "standoff" position for the film advance lever.

I can't say enough nice things about the Foca Sport II. The body feels very solid with no flex. Choice of materials is excellent. The satin chrome finish on my camera has held up very well, and the body covering, which appears to be leather, provides for a nice surface visually and ergonomically.

Using the Foca Sport II

I'd rather use a camera than fondle it, so off I went with a roll of Agfapan APX100 on a cool February day. The camera was simple to load, although the slide switch on the bottom of the plate requires moderate effort to lock ("O" = ouvrir and "F" = fermer) and unlock. Even off the camera, the slide switch isn't easy to move, and I suppose this makes sense, as it's your last line of defense between you and the back falling off the camera moments after you take that award-winning photograph.

Film runs left to right, and the takeup spool has some knurling that allows you to get the film leader set correctly. Replace the back, which took a bit of fiddling -- ahh, there it is ... lock the back. Fire two blanks and reset the film counter. It's of the countdown variety, so you set the total number of exposures at the start, and then at a glance you know how many frames you have left. There are numerical indicators for every five frames with hash marks for those between. Simple enough.

Out on the street, the leaf shutter is very quiet -- as you would expect it to be. On the higher speeds, the shutter sounds more like "crick" rather than "click" and the shutter release has a crunchy feel to it. It's not bad -- it's just different. The shutter release is smooth and predictive. Turning the aperture ring is stiffer than I would have liked. There's certainly no chance of it being knocked off its setting by accident.

The body is somewhat small, so it was easy to move around on the streets of Pittsburgh without attracting unwanted attention. Focusing the camera was a breeze, and the viewfinder is clear. There are no framelines or parallax indicators, so you just have to use your best guess on closeups.

Overall, the Foca Sport II is a very enjoyable camera to use. The lens is sharp. The controls are just where you expect them to be. And there were no unpleasant surprises while using the camera.

Servicing the camera

It's been a while since I serviced the Foca Sport II. As I recall, this camera had two problems: None of the slow speeds worked at all, and the rangefinder needed to be calibrated and was out vertically. I guess that's three problems.

It took me some time to get the shutter to fire correctly. It's a different design from what you find in a Pronto or Compur. But that wasn't the problem. The primary issue was what appeared to be a sticky substance that covered most of the parts. Once I cleaned all of the parts, the shutter ran smoothly and continues to fire smoothly more than a year after it was serviced.

Cleaning the viewfinder and rangefinder and adjusting the rangefinder was no problem. Correcting the vertical misalignment was a bit of a problem. You have to alter the angle of either the semi-gilded mirror or the secondary mirror to correct for vertical alignment. I kept trying to bend its support carefully, but it always seemed to move back to its original incorrect spot. Finally, I just moved it sharply, and that seemed to do the trick. I don't recommend this approach, even though it worked for this camera.

The rest of the work was routine: Cleaning the lens, the leather covering and the interior. I finished by collimating the lens. I've given some thought to possibly cleaning and relubricating the lens helical, but it focuses smoothly enough, so I've decided not to mess with it now.