Compass II - Antique and Vintage Cameras

Compass II


Compass Cameras Ltd



Image of Compass II

f3.5, 35mm CCL3B Anastigmat, wheel stops of: f3.5, f4.5, f6.3, f16, labelled D, O, C, B.

Spring powered rotary, speeds 4.5s - 1/500, T (CU value 22 - 0). Adjustment by changing the sector size and the number of revolutions of the sector.


24 x 36 mm exposures on plates or cut-films held in envelopes.

Helical to 1 ¾ feet.

Coupled rangefinder, double image type.
Direct-vision (lens/lens) view-finder combined with moveable mirror to give a brilliant finder for right-angle view.
Ground glass focusing screen with cross hairs. Magnifier for focusing screen with eyesight adjustment.
Extinction meter, with a readout in Compass Units (0 - 22) which can then be set on the shutter.
Built-in filters: K1(yellow), G (orange), X1 (green).
Click stops for panoramic settings. Stereoscopic setting with 40mm separation.
Spirit level. Lens cap. Depth-of-field scale. Lens hood. Removable back.

Version with shadow script. Focal Distance and blank second lug

Serial Number:
2241 .

CCL was at 57 Berners St. London. W1. until early in World War II when they moved to 45 Cambridge Rd. Kingston (probably in 1940), later (December 1941) they moved to Coombe Leigh, Kingston Hill, Surrey. A stamp in the back of the instruction book has: War Emergency Head Office. Coombe Leigh. Kingston Hill. Surrey.
Address on developing outfit of R. Clifton 51 Eden Street. Kingston-on-Thames.


  • Roll-film back, original model (1937). For 6, 36 x 24 mm exposures on roll-film. Auto-stop on film advance. Two turns of the knob are required to advance the film. Exposure counter. Advance not coupled to shutter. With 2 spools. In box.
  • Roll-film back, improved model, with 2 spools.
  • Tripod, 12" high when extended. Folds up into a cylinder and fitted with a pen type clip. Ball and socket head. There is no shadow around the C of Compass. In box.
  • Cable release attachment.
  • 2 rolls of film in canisters: Gavaert Panchro, 27, 1 exposed the other sealed.
  • Film wallet containing a pencil and six plates, 3 by R. Clifton, 3 by Dufaycolor with a Compass factor of +2 all unexposed. Brown leather.
  • 2 unused plates by R. Clifton and 13 used envelopes.
  • 10 unused H.S. Pan films in sealed box. Compass factor -4, Scheiner 31.
  • Pouch for camera, black leather marked Compass.
  • Developing outfit by R. Clifton, Kingston-on-Thames. Comprises 2 canisters and a plate holder. With instructions.
  • "How to Take Snap-Shots with the Compass Camera I", booklet on using the Compass 19pp. Published by CCL. Two examples one with pasted in note on lens stops.
  • "Instructions For the Use of The Compass camera II", 40pp. Pub. CCL c. 1937.
  • "Instructions For the Use of The Compass camera II", 40pp. Pub. CCL c. 1942.
  • "Photography Systematised & Simplified" c. 1938. Published by CCL. A book promoting the Compass approach to photography.
  • "Something New Under the Sun". Published by CCL. A book promoting the Compass, 46 pp.
  • "12 Points about the Compass Camera". Retailer's printed name of Wallace Heaton and City Sale & Exchange.
  • A letter from CCL dated 18 Jan 1938 signed by A. Willis. The letter states that the teething troubles have been ironed out.
  • Outfit case, brown leather marked "Compass Cameras" inside the lid. For: Camera, roll-film back, tripod, 3 rolls of film, 4 plate envelopes. The camera fits into the outfit case with either the plate or roll-film back fitted. Pencil to fit in outfit case.

It is easy to dismiss the Compass as an eccentric camera designed by an eccentric inventor. It was, though, a genuine attempt to provide a precision miniature camera with many built-in features. It also introduced a method of making exposure setting easier by linking light conditions, shutter speed, aperture, film speed and filter factors together using the Compass Unit.

The camera was designed by Noel Pemberton Billing and manufactured by Le Coultre & Cie in Switzerland. Either plates or cut-film were available these are held in light-tight paper envelopes having a draw slide similar to a single metal slide. A roll-film back was produced for 6 exposures on daylight loading spools. Several companies produced Compass film including colour.

Built-in features included:
Rangefinder, direct and right-angle view-finder, extinction meter, spirit level, lens hood, lens cap with depth-of-field scale, filters, focusing screen and magnifier with eyesight correction, stereoscopic head, panoramic setting.

Separate accessories included:
Cable release adapter, tripod, roll-film back, neck chain and a photograph album.

The price of the camera was £30, roll-film back £5 and tripod £2.

World War II put an end to the Compass. The company moved out of London to Kingston. Planned accessories such as an enlarger (subject of a patent) and a printer did not materialise. A developing outfit was produced by R. Clifton of Kingston-on-Thames. A roll-film back for 828 size roll-film was made by T. A. Cubit, but this is of very poor finish compared to Le Coultre products.

Noel Pemberton-Billing (1881 - 1948) fought in the Boer war and in the Royal Navy during World War I. He started an aircraft company in 1913, sold in 1916, which later went on to produce the Supermarine Spitfire. He was the MP for East Herts.

The letter with this example lists the Directors of Compass Cameras as N. Pemberton Billing, F. de Tchinatchef, R. de B. Troughton, also listed but crossed through is Sir Birtram H. Jones.

Compass Units (CU)

The exposure meter gives a reading in CU, this single value is set on the shutter dial. The exposure was then correct for a plate of normal speed used with the fastest aperture. If a smaller aperture is required it is set on a dial on the face pate of the camera, a window then shows the CU value of the aperture (0, 2, 4, 8), this is added to the CU value given by the exposure meter and the result set on the shutter dial. Similarly if a filter is in place a window on the camera front shows the CU value (0, 2, 4), this is added to the meter value. Normal plates and films had a CU value of 0, faster films had a negative value, slow films, such as colour, had a positive CU value.

For example: Meter value 2, Film speed +1, Filter +2, Aperture +4, the shutter dial is set to 9 which equates to a 1/25 second. A Compass Unit was equal to half a stop.


The Compass I had a removable lens cap, no cable release fitting (the bayonet surrounding the shutter release) and no magnifier to the focusing screen. Very few could have been sold and Compass Cameras Ltd offered to replace them with the new model II when it appeared. Early illustrations show a model I with a hinged lens cap, this may have been an intermediate model or a hybrid. Later adverts from 1937 show a normal model II. Serial numbers probably started at 1001 indicating that only 4000 in total were produced.

There are some variations of the model II: the lens is shown in photographs to be a CCL 3 later it is called a CCL 3B. The C of Compass on some models has a shadow around it, these seem to be slightly rarer and tend to be in the 2000 band of serial numbers. Different language versions exist, the focusing index sometimes has the word 'DIST' others have 'Focal Distance' or 'Distance', the tab opposite the distance index may carry a country code, e.g. C.H. C.S. F. U.S.

A note pasted into the "How to Take Snap-Shots with the Compass Camera I" booklet explains that some models of the Compass have different labels against the lens stops. These are: D was previously labelled Overcast; O was previously labelled Clear; C was previously labelled Bright; B was previously labelled D.L.O (Dazzling Light Only). The booklet itself used the older labels.

There are two distinct models of the roll-film back. On the earlier there is no lock to prevent the spool release button from being pressed when attached to the camera and there is only one arrow engraved next to the film advance knob.
The improved model has a safety cover and a lock inside the back prevents the release button from being pressed when attached to the camera. A second arrow surrounds the advance knob.

Some versions of the outfit case have a compartment in the lid. A few flat, attache style, cases exist possibly for presentation purposes.

Camera Patents

  • GB423035. Photographic cameras; exposure meters; developing-apparatus. July 18, 1933, Describes the general form of the Compass.
  • GB423226. Photographic lens fittings and mounts. July 18, 1933. Describes a lens mount "comprising of front and rear lens components carried by superimposed plates or discs having in their faces circular recesses, eccentric to the optical axis of the lens, in which are mounted rotary discs which lie between the lens components, and carry colour filters, stops, or extension lenses. A shutter may also be similarly mounted between the lens components".
  • GB428003. Stand heads. Nov. 3, 1933. Describes panoramic heads and tripod fittings.
  • GB428455. Photographic shutters. Nov. 3, 1933, Describes the Compass shutter.
  • GB428515. Developing - apparatus. Nov. 3, 1933. Describes developing apparatus.
  • GB428516. Photographic contact or projection printing-apparatus. Nov. 3, 1933. Describes a printer.
  • GB445611. Photographic-film holders. Oct. 15, 1934 Describes a carrier for photographic films.
  • GB447901. Photographic roll-film cameras. Describes a roll-film camera.
  • GB452013. Photographic-film holders. Feb. 13, 1935, Describes a holder for photographic sensitive material having a support of celluloid, paper, or other thin flexible material.
  • GB463943. Photographic roll-film cameras. Sept. 4, 1935. Describes a roll-film back.
  • GB465102. Photographic cameras. July 16, 1936. Describes a camera back similar to the Compass.
  • GB467837. Photographic roll-film spools. Dec. 23, 1935.
  • GB478342. Photographic cameras. May 16, 1936. "The scale indications on the shutter mechanism, the exposure meter and the diaphragm stops of a photographic camera are formed by or obtained from the terms of geometrical progression so that a simple calculation determines the correct shutter setting for any particular exposure meter scale reading. The camera comprises a casing and telescopic sections". The patent goes on to describe the two discs, one carrying diaphragm apertures, the other carrying colour filters.
  • GB480108. Photographic film carriers. Aug. 13, 1936. Carriers for photographic sensitised material of the type comprising inner and outer envelopes separable for exposure, such as described in Specifications 445,611 and 452,013, one of the envelopes carries a flexible tongue which slides in a slot on the other envelope when separated for exposure.
  • GB489557. Collapsible cameras. Jan. 28, 1937. Not directly related to the Compass.

The address given on most of the patent applications is London Laboratories, 6 Lower Regent St. S.W.1.

References & Notes:
BP 423035/1933. BP 423226/1933. BP 428003/1933. BP 428455/1933. BP 445611/1934. BP 452013/1935. BP 463943/1935. BP 465102/1935. BP 467837/1935. BP 478342/1936. BP 480108/1936. BJA 38, pp. 255, 286, 288, 666. BJA 39, p. 651. MCW 3/1937, p. 192. MCW 4/1937, p. 261. MCW 11/1937, p. 657. AP 17/2/1937, p. 160.

Further Information:
Stoney, Twentieth Century Maverick.

A Compass I is shown in Sotheby Cat. 21/12/1976 lot 280. A flat style outfit case is shown in Christie's Cat. 5/11/1992 lot 361 and 18/7/1991 lot 466. A case with a compartment in the lid is shown in Christie's Cat. 14/4/1976 lot 85.

Company Details:

Compass Cameras


No. 00 Cartridge Premo





Ansco Memo

Leica I(a)

Leica I(b)

Leica I(c)

Leica Standard

Leica II

Stereo attachment

Leica III

Leica Motor

Leica IIIa

Leica IIIb

Leica IIIc

Leica 250

Leica Single Exposure

Leica Ic

Leica IIc

Leica IIIc

Leica If Black Dial

Leica IIf Black Dial

Leica IIIf Black Dial

Leica IIf Red Dial

Leica IIIf Red Dial

Leica Ig

Leica IIIg

Leica M3

Leica M2

Leica MD

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Contax III

Super Nettel


Tenax II

Tenax I


Peggy II

Korelle K

Argus A

Argus C-2

Argus K

Retina I


Certo Dollina

Super Dollina

Compass II



Verascope F 40

Finetta 88


Mercury II

Adox 300




Vitessa T


Werra IV





Kiev 4


Optima Ia

Super Shot 2.4

KI Monorail

Wray Stereo Graphic