I’m continuing to examine and test SN 2708 to work out the issue of the unsteady image. I’ve done more shooting, repairing and testing than I have had time to write up, so while I’m waiting for more film stock to arrive and footage to return from the lab I’m writing informational posts about the history of DeVry cameras, the story of some other equipment I have recently collected and projects I am about to begin.
The information in this post is from various sources, including personal correspondence with other DeVry collectors and research I’ve done over the last year. It’s not complete but it does provide a basic manufacturing and use history of the DeVry Standard Automatic. By the way, the camera’s name is derived from the type of film it uses and how it is operated: “standard” means it uses 35mm film, the standard gauge for professional use when the camera was made; “automatic” means the camera has a motor, or can be operated automatically by the press of a button. DeVry Standard A’s can actually be operated in two ways, by winding and releasing the internal spring motor or by cranking the camera by hand.
The DeVry Standard A was manufactured from the mid-1920’s until the early 1930’s. At its introduction the Standard A was priced at $150.00, or just over $2000.00 in 2014 dollars. It was aimed at what is today known as the prosumer market, serious amateurs or professionals in need of a less expensive camera. DeVry produced two models of the Standard A during its production run: one operating at 18fps and one at 24fps. The 24fps model was introduced after the perfection of synchronous sound recording. The easiest way to tell the difference between the two models is to look at the logo badge over the drive sprocket. The 24fps model has a red badge over the drive sprocket and the earlier 18fps model has a black badge over the drive sprocket. My camera is a bit of a mystery. SN 2708 has a black badge over the sprocket but operates at 24fps.
DeVry cameras saw some use in feature film production, but were more widely used to produce newsreels and educational and industrial films. The Standard A was also a favorite of early documentary and avant guard filmmakers because of its ease of use and low price. Documentarian Joris Ivens used a Standard A to shoot parts of his classic films Rain and The Bridge. Robert Florey used a Standard A to film two of the best examples of American avant guard filmmaking, The Life and Death of 9413: A Hollywood Extra and Skyscraper Symphony. A full post on each of Florey’s films is in the works.
The Standard A was also a favorite of scientists and explorers through the 1930’s. The marine biologist William Beebe loaded one into a bathysphere and descended to the bottom of the ocean near Bermuda. Some of the footage Beebe gathered was used to produce a film called Titans of the Deep. A Standard A was also used by the Ornithology Lab at Cornell University to capture some of the last images of the now (possibly) extinct ivory-billed woodpecker.
DeVry Standards were used as combat camera by the British Army Film and Photographic Unit throughout World War Two. DeVry cameras captured the North Africa campaign, the Normandy invasion and the liberation of the Bergen-Belson concentration camp. The Imperial War Museums have several DeVrys in their permanent collection as well as audio recordings with veterans of the Film and Photographic unit. After the war a Standard A was shot into space on top of a captured V2 rocket.
Use of the DeVry camera faded after World War Two. The use of the 18fps model was limited by it’s inability to run at sound speed, but the 24fps model continued to see use by amateur, experimental and documentary filmmakers. As war surplus Eyemo cameras, which were newer, lighter and operated and variable speeds, flooded the market the market the use of DeVry cameras declined. The DeVry was eventually replaced when the production of educational and documentary films almost entirely switched to much lighter and more advanced 16mm cameras.
Today the DeVry Standard A is a collectors item. The arrival of digital post production means any model of the Standard A can still be useful, but the camera’s use is limited by the fact that the original production run was so short. Most DeVrys were poorly maintained or improperly stored over the years, meaning they need a thorough cleaning, lubrication and adjustment before use. The limited production run means spare parts are in short supply and getting a DeVry Standard A back into operating condition can be difficult.