Presenting the “Woodies”: Ilott Vintage’s Refurbished Classic Cameras Covered in Elegant Wood


posted Monday, June 4, 2012 at 9:59 AM EST

Woodies konica-logoWhen I first saw Andrew Bellamy’s wood paneled cameras, it reminded me of the 1948 Ford “Woody” station wagon a friend’s dad owned. It was the classic LA beach, surf bum machine, mixing the chubby round styling of the 1950s good life with the sleek elegance of beautiful wood. They are to my eyes, very Steampunk.

Bellamy, a British transplant to the U.S. started Ilott Vintage in Miami. He started refurbishing and restoring mid-20th century film cameras there, with an attitude of reverence that one rarely sees expressed towards digital gear.

According to the Ilott website, to create these refurbished Woody cameras, he uses "premium quality real wood veneer sealed with Danish oil, cut and tailored specifically to each camera to give it an exclusive, elegant appearance, and a new lease of life. The veneer is durable and makes each camera totally unique."

"We have been operating under the name Ilott Vintage for approximately 3 years, but cameras and photography have been a lifelong passion," Bellamy told me in an interview.

"My dad started repairing cameras in the 60s, so I have grown up around cameras, camera tools, parts, and people. The original Canonet provided the inspiration, direction, and obsession for the project which is actually very narrow. Mechanical rangefinders with fast lenses and big enough for a man to handle. The (Argus) C3 is in there for its own obvious merits design and build wise, but also for the romantic notion of a made in America product.”

Although, the Argus C-3, Canonet QL 17, and Konica Auto S2 were far from the best gear available in their day, many photographers got their start in photography with one of them.

And love is blind. It can make you forget small imperfections, like the C-3’s teensy-weensy, squinty peephole of an optical viewfinder, or its absurdly awkward and slow advance wheel.

Yet, despite that, the C-3 has earned a place in photography. The artist/fashion photographer Duane Michals, even shot his book, Sequences, with an Argus C-3, because it allowed him to easily take double exposures. Its less than perfect lens also added a sense of mystery to the images. (That is something modern digital cameras for the most part do not do.)  

Here’s an example of Michal’s C-3 work.

Obsessive love though can be costly. One of Bellamy’s refurbished C-3s sells for $1,875; while the Canonets and Konicas are a few hundred dollars more than that. No wonder Ilott’s website’s is also available in Japanese. Ilott is looking for people with a yen for unique cameras and beaucoup yen to spend.

But as Bellamy says, “We have had some comments on some websites about the price tags, which we are aware are way higher than the average eBay listing, but the added value of the project and romance as a whole obviously isn't for everyone. We understand that. If ILOTT raises awareness and inspires people to get a bargain on eBay and a roll of film we are more than happy with that.”

Questioning the price of these custom modified cameras is beside the point. Bellamy has to dismantle the cameras, clean gears and, when possible, rewire electronics. It takes time too to strip off the original leather and after thoroughly cleaning exposed surfaces, glue the carefully shaped wood veneer panels in place.

These are objects of desire rather than investment. Each comes in its own “bespoke hand-made box” with a roll of 35mm color film, a service report detailing the camera’s history and condition, and a limited edition 1/1 4x6-inch color print signed and numbered on reverse. 

Bellamy uses these cameras to take the photos in his Gallery at the Ilott Vintage site and they are another example of his romantic view of the world. His images of broken signs and empty streets present a very different take on “art deco Miami” than is usually found in the upscale promotional images of the city.

Bellamy’s devotion to these old, orphaned cameras is total and whenever he talks about it, his passion comes through.

“We remain inspired, perhaps deluded, by the days of old," he says. "We looked into having straps made by some companies in the US and were told it's not worth it and to go to China, which was a tad depressing. So we are making our own. Again, all are hand finished so numbers are going to be limited. Not the best business concept, perhaps, but that's not the point.”

Below is a video from Ilott Vintage that shows the inner workings of these cameras.