by John Wade
A brief excerpt from The Wrayflex Story, a new book by John Wade. For more information about the book, go to www.wrayflex.co.uk
It has sometimes been wrongly assumed that the Peckham-Wray drew its name from the fact that the Wray works had once been based at Peckham in South London. Given that, and since the factory was based at Bromley in Kent by the time this camera appeared, why not call it the Bromley-Wray? In fact, the Peckham connection was purely coincidental, the name derived from the fact that the camera was actually the brainchild of Cyril Peckham, Chief Photographer of the Hawker Siddeley group of aircraft companies.
After the Second Word War, Peckham was heavily involved with air-to-air photography and found himself in need of a good quality, reliable and easy-to-use medium format camera. Sadly, he found every camera of the time lacking in the kind of features that he demanded. Drawbacks he discovered included problems with light-trapping dark slides; inconvenience in holding and operating in the difficult conditions that his job entailed; rangefinders that were difficult to use; lack of parallax correction in viewfinders; difficulty in fitting filters and lens hoods while shooting in the field; inadequate light baffles inside the camera; and straps which could be put to better use for holding the camera steady during its operation, as well as carrying it.
It was clear that Peckham was never going to find a camera to suit all his stringent requirements, so he set out to design his own.
The body was made of aluminium casting and rigid, as bellows would have been impractical when working in the slipstream of an aircraft. To combat possible light trapping problems, a sprung flap sealed their entry point into the body. The body shape was made to fall comfortably into a two-handed grip with the focusing control falling under the left forefinger and the shutter release under the right.
The rangefinder was particularly ingenious and, in fact, turned the camera into a kind of single lens reflex. It consisted of a sight tube on the top of the body, to which was relayed, by way of a mirror, a highly-magnified section of a central portion of the lens’s image The mirror swung out of the way as she the shutter was released. A frame viewfinder on the top of the camera body was linked to the focusing barrel to automatically compensated for parallax. And all this in a camera that weighed no more than 2.6 kilograms.
A camera was made for Peckham to his own design, by a local engineering company, and was so successful that he soon found friends and colleagues pressing him to get the camera into some sort of commercial production. Wray got the job, under the promise of a Government contract. Wray’s version of Peckham’s camera did not exactly match the prototype. The 9 x 12cm German shutter mechanism used by Peckham was changed to a 5 x 4-inch English version. The casting was in a denser alloy than the original, the smooth lines of the first camera were not followed and the whole thing was heavier and more cumbersome.
The camera measured 9 x 7 x 3 inches. Top and base plates were finished in black stove enamel and the rest of the body had a sprayed-on rough crackle finish. The carrying handle was sprung and placed diagonally across the end of the body to fit the left hand when shooting. The rangefinder was built into the body rather like the viewfinder of an SLR, rather than as the separate tube seen in the original.
The self-capping focal plane shutter offered speeds from 1/15 to 1/800 second, the tension remaining constant and the speed varying with the width of the slit. The standard lens was a Wray 135mm Lustrar, and telephoto and wide-angle lenses were also planned.
With a focal plane shutter, the cost of the camera was £98. With the Lustrar in a fully-synchronised, eight-speed Epsilon shutter, the cost went up to £103, and with a Compur MX shutter, the cost rose even more to £110.
Unfortunately, by the time of the Peckham-Wray’s launch in 1955, updated and technical cameras had begun to arrive on the English market from both Europe and America and it missed its moment by just a few years.