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Cameras for the World War II Reenactor

Cameras for the World War II Reenactor

This article was written by a friend of mine Corey Hodgson, reprinted as permitted. If you have any specific questions you may contact him:, with the subject line “GI camera guide”. You may also download a copy of this article in a pdf format here.

The following guide is an attempt to inform WWII reenactors, portraying typical US soldier in Europe. While the guide can be used for those portraying infantry and Marines in various other parts of the global conflict, be sure to research what cameras would be available to a soldier (for example: a Leica or other German made cameras would be next to impossible to obtain for a Marine on Tarawa).

This guide is not meant to be a guide for those wishing to portray a War Correspondent or a member of the United States Signal Corps. While some did choose to use 35mm and 120mm cameras (Like Robert Capa, who chose to use Leica, Contax, and Rollei branded cameras throughout his time in the Mediterranean and European Theater of Operations), the primary choice for the Signal Corps was the trusted Graflex Anniversary Speed Graphic, with its massive 4×5 negative. Please research your specific impression before purchasing any cameras, as you can easily spend a great deal on something you cannot (or rather should not) use.

Cameras we obtained in three major ways: Gifted to the soldier, purchased by the soldier, and stolen by the soldier.


A twin lens reflex is a camera that has two lenses, stacked one above the other, that allows the user to focus using the top one, and expose a 6x6cm negative on 120mm film. The Rollei has, and still is, a rather expensive camera. The build quality is above average, being created for professionals, most lasting longer than the original owners themselves. Robert Capa was known to use a Rolleiflex “Old Standard” (made before 1939) during his WWII travels.

Appropriate for use would be the Rolleiflex Original, Standard, New Standard, Baby 4×4 (all pre-war models made from 1931-1943) Automat Model 1, and Automat Model 2. Also appropriate would be the cheaper entry level Rolleicord, any models manufactured between 1933 and 1949 (The Models Ia Type 3 and IIc were both manufactured through the war and continued for a few years after the war).

A word of warning though, the average GI attempted to reduce weight as often as possible, and a Rollei TLR is not the smallest or lightest camera available. Therefore I highly recommend that you avoid taking this camera in the field, instead using it as a “pre-invasion” camp camera. These cameras would have also been very expensive, costing far more than the average GI could afford.

A cheaper alternative would be the Ciroflex Model A, manufactured in Detroit, Michigan prior to the war and then in Delaware, Ohio during the war. Only the Model A was made during the war. Also available would be the Primarflex I made in Germany prior to the war.

For more information on Rolleiflex cameras and models:
For more information on Rolleicord cameras and models:

Original (New and Old Standard made between 1932-1941) Rolleiflex cameras look like this:

Rolleiflex Camera
Rolleiflex Camera

While Rolleiflex Automats (Models 1 and 2 made between 1937 – 1945) look like this:

Rolleiflex Automats
Rolleiflex Automats


Just as it is today, the Leica brand was one that was known world wide for quality and an enormous price tag. There are two types of Leica cameras to look at: With a Rangefinder and without a Rangefinder.

Unlike today’s cameras, which allow you see what you shoot before you shoot it, a rangefinder shows the photographer only what will be in focus. A rangefinder splits the image and when the photographer makes the two images overlap perfectly (creating one image on the item you wish to focus on), the focus is set and the picture can be taken. Without a rangefinder, the photographer has to either know or guess the distance between the camera and the subject.

Leica cameras load from the bottom, and I would highly suggest you do independent reading on cutting and loading film for any Leica or Leica copy (the Soviet made Zorki and FED cameras) as the film leader must be cut to load film into vintage Leicas.

Acceptable models for use are Leica I, Ic, IIc, IIIa, IIIb, and IIIc. Avoid all gold versions, or ones marked with Luftwaffe markings (and other Nazi markings on the top). 9 out of 10 times, these cameras are going to be fakes and while they might be mechanically sound – they usually aren’t due to them being bastardized Soviet copies (A Soviet Copy of a German camera, made to look like a German camera).

Leica cameras are relatively expensive, and again, the average GI would not have ordinary access to any of the cameras – unless they stole them or found them.

Soviet models, that would be acceptable for just playing around with, include any of the FED 1’s (not the 2, 3, 4 or 5!) and the Zorki 1 and 2.

For more information on Leica Cameras: For More Information on Soviet Leica copies:

A typical Leica I:

Leica I
Leica I

A typical Leica IIIc:

Leica IIIc
Leica IIIc


Made in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the Argus A and Argus C3 popularized the 35mm format in the United States. These cameras were relatively inexpensive for consumers to purchase, and were very common.
The cameras take 35mm film, are built like bricks (the C3 was, and still is, affectionately named “The Brick”), and are very durable. These would be more common amongst the average Joe. For more information on the Argus:

Typical Argus A:

Argus A
Argus A

Typical Argus C3:

Argus C3
Argus C3


Kodak produced many inexpensive cameras, made to encourage everyone to enjoy photography (and purchase the film that Kodak produced). Cameras were manufactured in two primary locations: The Rochester, New York factory, and the Kodak AG factory in Stuttgart Germany.

Acceptable Models: Kodak 35, Kodak 35 RF (not very common due to the $48 USD pricetag – $700 USD in 2007), PH 324 (Very rare and not suggested because of that. Due to the US government’s contract with Kodak, the PH 324 cameras were collected and bulldozed as to not flood the commercial market), Retina I (Types 117, 118, 119, 126, 141, 143, 148, 149, 167), and Retina II (Types 122 and 142).
Retina cameras were made by Kodak AG in Germany, and after 1941, the production ceased for the remainder of the Second World War.

For More information on the Kodak Retina I:
For more information on the Kodak Retina II:
For More information on the Kodak 35:
For more information on the Kodak 35RF:

Typical Kodak Retina I Type 126:

Kodak Retina I Type 126
Kodak Retina I Type 126

Typical Kodak 35:

Kodak 35
Kodak 35

Typical Kodak 35 RF:

Kodak 35 RF
Kodak 35 RF

Typical Kodak Retina II Type 122:

Kodak Retina II Type 122
Kodak Retina II Type 122


On the success of Leica, another German company (Zeiss Ikon) created the Contax I to compete with Leica. These high-end models were known for their wonderful focusing abilities, a removable back for loading film, a quick and reliable brass shutter, and a new bayonet mount lens system (as opposed to Leica’s screw mount lens system).

There are three acceptable models for the time period: The Contax I, II and III. The III has a selenium light meter on the top to calculate exposures with. While this feature was revolutionary at the cameras creation in 1936, today this feature is at best, barely accurate. It is best to use a different form of metering for your exposures, as over time the selenium cells have grown to be less accurate than at their creation. After the war, Contax began production in West Germany of the Contax IIa and IIIa. These cameras are also acceptable for use as they are hard to distinguish between the pre-war models (the rangefinder window is smaller, but these cameras are still recommended over the Soviet Copies).

These cameras would not be common amongst the average GI, instead being common in the hands of professional photojournalists like Robert Capa.

There are Soviet copies of the Contax II & III, as the Soviets had taken the machinery from the factory and brought them back home as war spoils – in fact, the Soviets brought back not only the machinery used to make the Contax cameras, but they brought back ALL the parts the remained. This actually resulted in the first batch of Kiev II cameras having the Contax logo on the inside – with the Soviet KIEV printed on the front. Models that are suggested are the Kiev II and the Kiev III. The Kiev 4 features a different appearance and it is generally not suggested you purchase one for reenacting. The author has used the Kiev II in reenacting previously, and while the camera performed well, the KIEV print on the front stood out rather well. Soviet copies should be avoided if you are looking for a 100% authentic impression.

For more information on Contax Cameras:
For information on Soviet Copies:

Typical Contax I:

Contax I
Contax I

Typical Contax II:

Contax II
Contax II

Typical Contax III:

Contax III
Contax III

Zeiss Ikon

In Germany the two major producers of optics and camera equipment were Zeiss and Leica. Zeiss Ikon was the product of four major German camera companies in 1926. Known for innovation, quality, and for their excellent medium format cameras, Zeiss Ikon cameras were fairly common – in the authors view they were along the lines of Kodak in America.

Zeiss Ikon produced many 120mm folders, including the Nettar, Ikonta, and Super Ikonta (an Ikonta folder with a coupled rangefinder). Acceptable models for the use by reenactors include the Nettel, Super Nettel I & II, Nettax, Nettar (510, 510/2, 515, 515/2 and 515/16), Ikonta (A, B, and C models that begin with 520 or 521), and Super Ikonta (A, B, and C). For specific information on the many models, please do research on Camerapedia or on Pacific Rim Camera.

For more information on Zeis Ikon:
For More information on Ikonta and Super Ikonta cameras:

Typical Super Ikonta B 530-16:

Super Ikonta B 530-16
Super Ikonta B 530-16

Typical Ikonta 520 Series:

Ikonta 520 Series
Ikonta 520 Series

Typical Super Ikonta A 530:

Super Ikonta A 530
Super Ikonta A 530
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Silvertone Records

Silvertone Record Label (1916-1950) by Sears

Silvertone Records: For label discussion and analysis

Silvertone Record Label Link

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Armed Forces Edition Books

Armed Forces Edition Books: A Reenactor’s Perspective and Analysis

One of things I like to do at reenactments is read. Once, after digging a slit trench with a fellow reenactor, I dug out a book I had on 1940s science from my pack and began to read it. We soon broke out into a wonderful discussion on the merits of of what-was-then 1940s science and technology. Fortunately, the Germans attacked way down at the other end of the line.

For the bibliophile reenactor there was not many options in terms of reading material.
You can use period printed books such as Purple Heart Valley, Guadalcanal Diary, or any other WW2 era book. However, you run the risk of damaging these books. Indeed, the paper they are made with is of a lighter material (due to a War Production Board ruling in 1944) and more prone to tearing.

WW2 Printed Books
WW2 Printed Books. BAD do not take into the field!

Original magazines such as Yank or Saturday Evening Post are also an option. Again, same problem. These were printed on cheap and non-durable newsprint. Therefore, they are not designed to last and taking them out in the field is asking for trouble though soldiers at the time did use it for a variety of shall-we-say “hygiene solutions”. Reenactors have access to more modern cleanliness solutions.

1944-1945: Yank and Newsweek
1944-1945: Yank and Newsweek. BAD do not take into the field

For the soldier who had access to travel material or likes to sing there are city guides and army song books. Again same problem. All original, all cheaply printed, all designed not to last.

WW2 Soldiers City Guide Florence
WW2 Soldiers City Guide Florence. BAD to take into the field! GOOD to take on leave to Florence!

WW2 Army Song Book
WW2 Army Song Book. BAD, singing in the field attracts Germans

Alternatively, you could brush up on your language skills. Though you run into the same problem. Cheap books, not durable, and very limited copies produced compared to others.

WW2 Language Books
WW2 Language books:
Top-Left to bottom-right-
Chinese, Japanese, Italian, Persian, French, German

Finally, one could read your copy of FM 21-100 for the dozenths time. Though, this manual was printed by the millions and there enough copies around that you might actually be able to take this into the field, destroy it, and be able to find another one cheaply.

FM 21-100
Yay! FM 21-100 great late night reading material…

However, there are some reenactors who do want to take out original copies to trash in the mud, dirt, and rain. Indeed, some individuals have reproduced newspapers and magazines but those are very costly to print especially in small numbers.

When I attend a reenactment I bring a copy of of FM 21-100 and some “trashed” magazines. These are magazines that have covers ripped off, pages missing, and are in a general state of disrepair. In other words, perfect for getting destroyed. I rationalize the possibility of destroying these artifacts of history as:

“They made millions of these magazines and enough are still around that preserving a WW2 magazine with a defect makes no sense when others can still be bought cheaply and in much better condition”

Trashed WW2 Mags
Trashed WW2 Magazines that I take into the field. Some have pages ripped out, covers missing, or are generally defective in someway that warrants risking destruction in the field.

Currently, there exists an option to buy inexpensive Armed Forces Edition/Armed Services Edition reproduction books to take out in the field. Much has been written about the history of these “pocket-sized books”(see links below) so I won’t dive too much into the history of the books.
NPR Story: By the Books: The Pocket-Size Editions that Kept Soldiers Reading
Book: When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II
Atlantic Monthly Article: Publishers Gave Away 122,951,031 Books During World War II
The Art of Manliness has a historical review of the books
Wikipedia has an article dedicated to it
From the Library of Congress Books in Action: The Armed Services Edition
Virginia University Special Collections Exhibit:  Books go to War
Listing of Armed Forces Edition Book Titles
Listing of Armed Forces Edition Book Authors
Related Publications of Interest including collectors guides
Saturday Evening Post, June 1945: “What the GI Reads”

Armed Services Edition
Armed Services Edition Examples

The current option that blends an economical advantage with historical accuracy are the books produced by The Legacy Project. The Legacy project is a non-profit that seeks to distribute stylized-Armed Forces Edition books to soldiers stationed overseas. Obtaining the books can be a bit tricky. I would suggest three places:
Shop Goodwill

I was able to find my copy: Man in the Arena on Amazon. The books prices can range anywhere between 8-14 dollars (without shipping). Compared to trashing a mint condition original book the price is worth it. The book looks like this:

 Legacy Project Armed Services Edition Book: Man in the Arena
Front Cover
Legacy Project Armed Services Edition Book: Man in the Arena
 Legacy Project Armed Services Edition Book: Man in the Arena
Inside Cover
Legacy Project Armed Services Edition Book: Man in the Arena
 Legacy Project Armed Services Edition Book: Man in the Arena
Legacy Project Armed Services Edition Book: Man in the Arena

Similarities between Original Armed Forces Edition and Legacy Project’s Armed Forces Edition
1. Hip-sized style still the same
2. Cheap pulp paper
3. Back of the book is similar
4. Similar in a side-by-side comparison
Note: The War Time Production Board limited the the margin of books to conserve materials and space. Books produced by the Legacy product do not need to adhere to such rulings and hence there books are longer and thinner.

Armed Forces Edition and Legacy Project Comparison
Front of Book
Armed Forces Edition and Legacy Project Comparison

Armed Forces Edition and Legacy Project Comparison
Back of Books
Armed Forces Edition and Legacy Project Comparison

Armed Forces Edition and Legacy Project Comparison
Armed Forces Edition and Legacy Project Comparison

Differences between Original Armed Forces Edition Books and Legacy Project’s Books

Note: The reason, I would guess, has more to do with modern printing costs and technology.
1. The Legacy Project Armed Forces edition books have a glossy cover. The original ones do not.
2. The size of the Legacy Project’s books are not 100% accurate when compared to originals.
3. Included in the Legacy Project’s books are facets of modern publishing such as Web address, modern printing dates, and modern addresses.
4. Originals had staples that kept the binding together. Staples were along the binding and either included the the books cover in the staple punch OR skipped the cover and started at the first interior page. The books cover would then be glued. The Legacy Project’s books lack the staple and it appears that the binding is glue only.
5. Original books included on the first interior page an outline of the books title in dotted, solid, or double-solid line.
6. Original books have a listing of other Armed Forces Editions on the back interior page.
7. Original books have an Armed Forces Edition statement on the back of the front cover.

Armed Forces Edition and Legacy Project Comparison
First Interior Page
Armed Forces Edition and Legacy Project Comparison. Note the Armed Forces Edition statement on the top book.

Armed Forces Edition and Legacy Project Comparison
Back Interior Page
Armed Forces Edition and Legacy Project Comparison. Note the listing of other Armed Forces Edition books.

As a reenactor I value historical accuracy but realize that we are not living in the past and must strike a balance between what is practical and what is ideal. The Legacy Project’s Armed Forces Editions look very good close-up and are within the unofficial reenactor rule of 3-feet. Though there are some things that can be done to help “de-farb” the book. More on that later.

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SCR-300 Radio for World War Two Reenactments

A collaborative effort between historical reenactors of how to use the SCR-300 Radio for World War Two Reenactments.

The SCR-300 Radio is a backpack (or manpacked) FM radio designed during WW2 as an inter-company or regiment radio. I purchased several in the late 1990s during the heyday of Cold War surplus sales.

SCR-300 Radio
SCR-300 Radio

Several years ago I worked with a buddy of mine to make available a resource that World War Two SCR-300 enthusiasts could use to analyze and learn about the radio. The article is posted on his website:


NOTES from TM 11-242 on the SCR-300 Wired Loops and Battery Case Catches  

The SCR-300 originally came with wired clips. This is according to TM 11-242, 1943. See below

SCR-300 / BC-1000 Original clips, TM 11-242, 1943.
SCR-300 / BC-1000 Original clips, TM 11-242, 1943.


A work order was made in Nov of 1944 for spring catches


Work order for Spring Catches for SCR300/BC1000 World War II Radio


This was then replaced with a New Latch Directive in Jan 1945. The wired loops would fail to hold down the clip so a springed catch was added.

New latch directive, Jan 1945


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Buddy System In World War Two

marines peleliu

 Notes on the Buddy System in World War Two

marines peleliu
US Marines take a break during the fighting on Peleliu

This article originated after observing a disagreement between two reenactors. One was arguing that the buddy system did in fact exist in World War Two. Another reenactor argued the exact opposite, that such a system was yet another example of a modern military concept grafted onto the World War Two hobby. After all, this individual pointed out, the buddy system is not mentioned in FM 21-100. The truth of the matter is somewhere in the middle.

Continue reading Buddy System In World War Two
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78 Records Project Series

78 Records Production

Starting a new portfolio series: The 78 Records Project Series. Click on the link to learn more about those classic 78s

78 Records Project Series

Continue reading 78 Records Project Series

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Voting in World War II

How American Soldiers Voted in World War II

Unlike today, voting for the World War Two serviceman was not such a straight forwarded affair. That isn’t to say voting for modern American Servicemen and Women isn’t easy only that things have objectively improved since WWII. Soldier’s attempting to vote encountered numerous obstacles to make absentee voting difficult or non-existent. It took a series of changes, each building incrementally to loosen-up the restrictions in time for the armed forces to vote in the Presidential election of 1944. One of the biggest changes was the political shift of the Republicans to allow (or at least not inhibit the Democrats) a federal presence in what is to be considered an area of state’s rights.

Continue reading Voting in World War II
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Games of the World War Two Soldier

Board and Card Games for the Allied Soldier

World War Two games were an important part of a solider’s life. As a Second World War enthusiast and historical reenactor, I thought I might share an especially small and unknown historical niche in the history and hobby: Games.

Continue reading Games of the World War Two Soldier