• Panorama
  • 120mm f6.8
  • 120 Film
  • Ground-
  • Handle
    & latch

B&J 120 Panorama Camera

Panorama 120 Camera

Probably the last 120 Panorama produced by B&J.

120mm f6.8 Angulon

90mm f6.8 Angulon

The 120mm f6.8 Angulon lens used on the very late production B&J 120 Panorama cameras.

B&J 120 Panorama Film Back

film plane 120 film plane.

film back knot B&J manual advance knob with B&J film number viewing window.




Ground Glass Focusing Back

ground glass back

2 1/4" by 7 1/4" ground glass back.

B&J Carrying case


B&J Modifications


  • Side B&J handle.
  • Film back locking latch (custom modification).







Aircraft Torpedo Camera

By James S. Vilett

2010 ©

Burke and James Inc. (Chicago IL) designed and manufactured view cameras, portrait cameras, lenses, darkroom, and other items. They also imported Toyo view cameras. In the 1970’s the company was bought by ILex Optical, and later by Burleigh Brooks Optics. The company probably failed due to employee embezzlement and shut down about 1981 or 1982.

The Aircraft Torpedo Camera was manufactured for the U.S. Navy during late WWII by Russel Vought a division of Solar Aircraft Company.  The camera is of British design and came in two non-interchangeable models, either 12 or 24 volts.  The voltage of each camera was marked clearly on a large side plate.  They were made up until at least early 1944.  The purpose of the camera was to determine the results of a torpedo squadron’s torpedo attack.  The camera was attached to the aircraft and bore-sighted with the aircraft’s line of flight.  When the torpedo was released the camera was simultaneously electrically fired.  The camera produced 2¼"x 7¼" negatives on rolls of specially spooled 120 film. (This is the actual size of my negatives.) Photographs could be analyzed to determine target identification, and also if a torpedo hit had been made on the target.   These cameras were also used in training to check pilot technique without having to fire a live torpedo.   When the plane made a run on a ship the picture was taken. They were able to tell if the pilot in training would have sunk the ship from the picture. This was much cheaper than firing a torpedo.  Also sinking a ship in training might not have been a great idea.  Pictures were cheaper by just a bit.  Opps pushed the wrong button, sorry guys.

The camera was equipped with a solenoid-fired louvered horizontal-blind shutter with a single speed of 1/100th of a second. The shutter was electrically fired;and could be opened manually with a lever for bore-sighting.  High speed Super-XX Panchromatic film was used and allowed 4 pictures per roll of film. While the film was the standard 120 size it did have a longer leader, and the take-up spool was geared for electric advance.  The film magazines were removable.  The film was electrically advanced when the camera was fired.  It took 51 seconds for the next film frame to be ready to fire.  It was suggested that this was not a problem as each plane only carried one torpedo. Carrying only one torpedo might have been a slight drawback. Call it a hit or miss thing. One flaw in the original design was the end film magazine latch did not lock tightly against the camera which tended to caused light leaks.  The film backs had no dark slides so the roll had to be fully used before removing the back.  (After the war film backs were often used to mount on 5x7 cameras to make them into panorama cameras.)  Once the camera was mounted on the plane a special 2¼”x7¼” ground-glass back was used to bore-sight the camera.  The lens was an f4.0 Ross Express barrel lens of 5” focal length.  The f stop for the camera had to be set manually before takeoff of the aircraft.  These cameras were often wing mounted; changing the f stop setting during flight could have been a slight problem.  It was advised that it was better to overexpose the negatives rather than underexpose them. The lens came with a large clamp on yellow filter.  During flight the air between the lens and the filter was heated to prevent condensation. The heater was on whenever power was being supplied to the camera. The pilot was advised that the master power switch to the camera be left OFF except during the actual torpedo run.  The entire outfit came in a large wooden box with the camera, two film backs, a ground glass focusing back, and an aircraft mount.  The electric motors were built into the camera body making a massive heavy cast aluminum camera. 

After the war the cameras sold in raw form at Harringays war surplus in London (and probably other places).   Burke and James (nicknamed-bunk and junk) bought many of these cameras for conversion to panoramic 120 cameras for civilian use.   Early B&J versions (later called Mark II) were sold in the late fifties as the “Royal Panorama”; and were offered with the original lens with only the 1/100th speed shutter.  Which sounds pretty much like an original camera less the electric parts to me?   I have not seen one of these early conversions. The Mark III version was by far the better version and cost slightly more ($324.50 in 1963). This camera was offered at least up until 1971. For this version the lens, motors, solenoids, gearing, shutter, and all other electrical parts were removed.  Once B&J cut off all the wires and motors they were left with an empty shell with a 120 roll film back.  The electrical hookup box had to be sawed off the main casting, and a large protruding casting at the back also had to be sawed off. Once this was done numerous holes then had to be sealed on the original body casting. B&J then designed and machined a helical lens focusing mount. Next the early B&J Mark III cameras added a 4 ¾” f6.8 Schneider Angulon in dial set Compur.  By 1971, later version Mark III models had a 120mm f6.8 fully coated Angulon lens in a rim-set Synchro-Compur shutter.  A red film window and a manual advance were added to the film backs. Once converted by B&J these Mark III cameras were marketed as the “PANORAM 120” VIEW CAMERA.  What you got from Burke and James is a converted camera that took 2¼" x 7¼" panorama pictures, with a film back and a ground-glass back, the case was sold separately.  In 1963 B&J sold the B&J carrying case for $27.00; a spare magazine for $28.00; and a spare focusing panel for $24.00.

The ground glass viewing glass was nice.  It allowed the user to use the camera much more like a panoramic view camera. The only bad part was that all viewing had to be done prior to the first shot due to the lack of a darkslide. These cameras interestingly may be upgraded to an even more modern optic by installation of a 120mm f6.8 Grandagon lens which has almost the exact flange to focal length distance as the 120mm f6.8 Angulon and also will cover 7 ¼”negative.

J. J. Chesna was a senior repairman/chief machinist for B&J.  As I understand it, the company lacked funds to pay him when He retired (about 1971 I think) so they gave him this B&J Panorama 120 camera. Mr. Chesna designed, machined and upgraded the film back side-latch (of this camera) to fix light leaks. Also shown in this article are some of B&J’s original engineering drawing for camera conversion.  Mr. Chesna used to do his own darkroom work and some of his prints are also shown.

The converted B&J Panorama 120 camera has a coated 120mm f6.8 Schneider Angulon in an MX Synchro-Compur shutter.  Shutter speeds are T, B ,1 – 1/400th of a second with a lever for viewing at all speeds.  F stops are from f6.8 to f32. The mount is a helical focusing mount designed to focus from infinity down to 10 feet.  There is a special wire sports finder. (The glass finder in the camera picture is a later non-B&J custom addition) Once the film is loaded exposures are shot at 1 - 3 - 5 and  7 for a total of 4 pictures per roll.  Film spacing is set using a small red film window at the back of the camera.  A large handle (which reminds me of a fence gate handle) is attached to the side of the camera with standard hardware store type sheet metal screws. A special film back side-latch is attached to this camera to avoid light leaks on the film.  With the ground glass back attached this may be used like a view camera and pre-focused before taking the pictures. The quality of pictures is a little soft with the lens wide open, but pictures are much sharper when the lens is stopped down to around f8. I often think of shooting this camera as just winging it.

Jim V.

Self Portrait



B&J AD: (c1963)

Make Distortion-Free Wide-Angle Pictures
The camera covers an extreme wide angle of view without the distortion common to cirkut cameras.  Custom remodeled of lightweight aluminum. Lighter, more compact than other wide angle cameras.  Excellent for convention groups, sports etc., indoor and outdoor, in B & W or color. Make four 7” x 2 ¼” exposures on standard 120 roll film. Wire frame viewfinder.  Weight only 9 pounds. Dimensions:  4 ½” high, 10” wide, 8 ¼” deep. Detachable magazine and detachable ground glass back included.  Standard tripod socket.