Kodak Retina Ia (type 015)

Kodak bought Nagel Kamerawerk in 1932 as they wanted the design and manufacturing facilities to produce top quality amateur cameras. The main camera Dr Nagel designed for Kodak was the Retina introduced in 1934, together with the now standard 35mm cassette. Several models were produced before Kodak introduced the Retina I in 1936. The camera I have before me is the Retina Ia (type 015) introduced in 1951. This is broadly similar to my earlier Retina from 1936 and my folding Retinette of 1951. See photographs.

lens: Schneider Retina-Xenar
focal length: 50mm
apertures: 3.5 to 16
focus range: 
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: Synchro-Compur
speeds: to 1/500
flash: PC socket, synch for X and F
film size: 35mm

The top plate has a film advance lever on the right (this was introduced on this model, earlier models had an advance knob) which incorporates a frame counter which counts down to zero. This moves through about 180 degrees to advance the film one frame. The lever is not on a ratchet and so cannot advance the film with a number of small strokes (c.f. Wirgin Edixa 1).

To the left of the film advance lever and to the front of the top plate is the shutter release button. This is a small chrome plated button and is threaded for a standard cable release. Behind the shutter release button is another button whose use took me a while to establish. This button allows you to advance the film without tripping the shutter – useful if you are re-loading a partially used cassette of film. This is the only camera I have ever seen this on. Left of these is the model name engraved in Italic script.
Centrally, there is the viewfinder in a slightly raised hump. Left of this is the accessory shoe – no flash contacts so a cold shoe – which has the camera’s serial number stamped in it – 503555.
On the far left of the top plate is the film rewind knob. This pulls out around one centimetre for rewinding and two centimetres to release the film cassette. This knob has a film selector on it, purely as a reminder as there is no light meter. The film options are all Kodak films, none of which are available now. They are: Pan X, Plus X, Super X, Kodachrome Daylight, Kodachrome Artificial light and Infrared.
The bottom plate has a tripod boss on the right-hand end and a recessed button to free the mechanism for rewinding the film.  There is also a small button to release the lens door. The back of the camera is mostly the hinged back which allows access to the insides to allow the film to be loaded. This is embossed in the leatherette with the legend “Kodak Retina Camera”. Above the back is the viewfinder eyepiece which is as small as was usual at this time – it measures 3mm by 5mm.
The lens and shutter are in front, behind a hinged door. This is released by the small button on the base. The door does not snap open as my Zeiss Ikon folders do and needs to be opened fully by hand. The shutter and lens are fitted to a chrome plate which is, in turn, fitted to the bellows. The shutter is a Synchro-Compur. This offers speeds to 1/500 seconds. The shutter is released by the button on the top plate which is linked to the lever on the shutter housing. The shutter is cocked by the film advance lever through a hinged linkage to a gear on the side of the shutter housing. Both shutter release and shutter cocking have to cope with the shutter being folded away and also with the whole shutter housing moving when focusing. The lens is a Schneider Retina-Xenar with a focal length of 50mm and a maximum aperture of f/3.5.
Both the folding mechanism and the shutter itself are faulty on my camera – I suspect the folding mechanism was damaged by a previous owner attempting to repair the shutter; the lens is only hand-tight in its fitting which is indicative that it has been removed recently. If I am not careful, the whole folding mechanism will dis-articulate when closing the camera. The shutter fault is that it will open on its own (and stay open) as the advance lever finishes its travel.
Retina right, Retinette left
Retina Ia left, Retina I right

 In use.

I was unaware of any problems with this camera when I started the test film – they became apparent in use. Of the 24 exposures available on the test cassette, 14 had images on them. This indicates that the shutter was working to begin with. However, a further fault is now apparent – there is a humongous light leak in the bellows  which nearly completely obliterates the images. This camera is unusable.

Asahi Pentax MX

This is a very nice, if rather simple, compact film SLR from Asahi. It is intended as a professional camera and gives full manual control of exposures. In fact, all the camera uses the battery for is the light meter and it works fine with no battery.

Pentax MX (c) John Margetts
lens: n/a
focal length:   n/a
apertures: n/a
focus range: n/a
lens fitting: Pentax K mount
shutter: cloth focal plane
speeds: 1 to 1/1000 seconds
flash: hot shoe plus 2 PC sockets
film size: 35 mm

The layout of the camera is pretty standard for SLR cameras from between 1960-ish and 1985-ish. The top plate is metal (as far as I can tell. The three ME series cameras from Asahi had metallised plastic top plates). On the right is the film advance lever. This is metal with a black plastic tip. When not in use, it returns flush with the top plate. In use, it sits slightly proud. This allows easier access for your thumb when advancing the film and also allows easier access to the shutter speed dial. In front of the film advance is a window to the frame counter. This automatically resets to -2 (shown as S) when the camera back is opened. The counter then counts up from zero – two frames being used to remove the film fogged when loading the camera.

Next on the top plate, right at the front, is the shutter release button. This is chrome plated metal and is threaded for a standard cable release. Around this is a moveable collar. When turned anti-clockwise, it turns off the light meter and locks the shutter release. However, the shutter itself is not locked as it can still be fired using the self-timer. In the off/locked position, a small red ‘L‘ is revealed to remind the photographer to unlock the camera.
Pentax MX (C) John Margetts
On the left of the shutter release button is a very small window to an indicator for the shutter status :
white = not cocked/not ready
red = cocked/ready
Next along is the shutter speed/film speed selector dial. Shutter speed is set by simply turning the selector dial to position the required speed against the red mark – speeds are from 1 second to 1/1000 seconds plus B. To select the film speed, it is necessary to press a small button on the dial and turn.
Next is the pentaprism hump. This has a hot-shoe accessory shoe on top with then usual central electrical contact. It is marked with a red ‘X‘ to signify that it is synchronised for electronic flash. For flash bulbs, there is other provision.
To the left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind crank. As had become usual by the time this camera was made, the rewind crank pulls up to both unlock the rear door and to free the film cassette for removal.
The front of the top plate is graced with the letters MX which are embossed in the metal and the name Pentax above the lens mount.  The Asahi logo and the name Asahi appear on the front of the pentaprism. Immediately above the name Pentax is a small window. This allows the set aperture to appear in the viewfinder above the image. Below the letters MX is the self-timer lever. This is activated by turning it anti-clockwise (which winds up the timer spring) and then pressing the small button revealed by moving the lever. This gives an eight to ten second delay and also (as mentioned above) will fire the shutter even when locked by the collar around the shutter release button.
On the other side of the lens mount are two PC connectors. One marked FP for flash bulbs and one marked X for electronic flash. These allow for off-camera flash as well as giving provision for using flash bulbs. These come with black plastic caps to protect the contacts when not in use.
The rear of camera is rather plain. There is the viewfinder eye-piece and the rear door. This door is opened by pulling up on the rewind crank. The door is made from black painted steel – on my camera, much of the paint has worn off and the steel has started to rust. In the centre of the door is a holder for the end of the film carton to act as a reminder as to which film is in use – an item all film cameras should have.
The base of the camera is intended to have a rapid wind attachment fitted and to accommodate this there are two holes to act as locating devices and a covered linkage to the film advance mechanism. As I do not have this rapid wind attachment, I can say no more about it. Also on the base plate is a covered battery compartment. This holds two button batteries – those fitted to my camera are marked ‘GPA76’. Fortunately, Pentax did not rely on mercury batteries and these batteries are readily available.
The only other thing to mention is the lens mount. This is a K mount camera and any K mount lens will fit and work with the single exception of modern digital lenses with no aperture ring which, while fitting, will not be able to have their aperture adjusted. There are no electrical contacts on the MX version of the K mount as this is a fully mechanical camera but it does not mind lenses with contacts. I have three K mount lenses – a Tokina zoom, a Ricoh Riconar 55mm and a Sirius Automatic 28mm. All three work well with this camera.

Test pictures.

I am quite pleased with these – no light leaks, shutter working as it should – no pin-holes in the curtains and no hesitating curtains. In the second to last photo, there is severe vignetting. this is caused by me using a lens cap designed for a 50 mm lens with a 28 mm lens – the vignetting is actually the lens cap in view!


Asahi Pentax MX


Asahi Pentax MX


Asahi Pentax MX


Asahi Pentax MX

This next one shows the joy of using the wrong lens hood – severe vignetting!

Asahi Pentax MX


Asahi Pentax MX


Pentax ME Super

This is a very compact SLR from Pentax, Japan.  By the time of the K-mount cameras, the company had changed its name from Asahi to Pentax.  Originally, the Pentax name belonged to the East German Zeiss Ikon as a contraction of PENtaprism conTAX.  This camera is a development of the Spotmatic series.

Pentax ME Super

lens: Sirius automatic
focal length: 28mm
apertures:  n/a
focus range:  0.2m to infinity
lens fitting:  K mount bayonet
shutter:  vertical metal focal plane
speeds: 4 seconds to 1/2000 seconds
flash:  hot shoe plus PC connector
film size:  35mm

 The camera has an automatic exposure system that has aperture priority, the user setting the the required aperture and the camera selecting the shutter speed.  There is also a fully manual setting, the shutter speed being set by + and – buttons.
Pentax ME Super
Pentax ME Super front view showing K-mount bayonet

The top plate is rather cluttered.  Starting on the left there is a combined rewind crank, film rewind crank, film speed setting (marked ASA) and exposure compensation.  The rewind crank is standard for the age of camera.  It folds out and is nearly too small for large hands.  Around this is a slightly knurled ring to set exposure compensation in one stop steps: +2 stops to -2 stops. Lifting the slightly knurled ring allows you to set the speed of the film for the light meter.  This runs from 12 ASA to 1600 ASA. That range is pretty much standard for automatic exposure cameras.  This is adjustable in one third stops which equates to a single degree DIN – there is no DIN scale available: even the Germans had gone over to ASA only by this time, at least on export models.

Pentax ME Super
Pentax ME Super – top plate
In the centre of the top plate, on top of the pentaprism, is an accessory shoe with contacts for flash. This has the central contact that has become standard, and a smaller offset contact that is specific to Pentax flashguns.  This second contract allows elementary communication between camera and flashgun and lets the flashgun set the shutter speed to 1/125 seconds (the synchronisation speed) without the user doing anything.  With other flashguns it is necessary to set the shutter speed to 1/125 manually. There is a red cross embossed in the base of the accessory shoe to indicate that it is suitable for electronic flash.

In addition to the hot shoe connections there is also a PC (Prontor-Compur) socket.  This has two uses. First, it allows you to use a simple flashgun with no hot-shoe connection.  The second use is to allow the photographer to use off-camera flashguns.  This is of particular use in a studio where the photographer might have two or three flashguns all triggered from the camera.

Next to the accessory shoe on the right are a couple of buttons.  These are not marked – the markings by them refer to the mode dial.  These two buttons are used to set the shutter speed in manual mode – one button increases shutter speed, the other decreases it.
Beside the buttons is the mode dial.  This has five settings – Lock, Auto, Manual, 1/125x and B.  To turn this mode dial, you need to press down a very small white button on the dial pointer to free the dial.  This is not impossible but I find it very hard to do.
The Lock position locks the shutter release button.  There are two reasons why using this is important. First, it prevents you taking accidental photographs while handling the camera.  The second reason is that partially pressing the shutter release activates the metering system and slight accidental pressure will run the batteries down.

Auto is the expected way of using this camera.  In this mode, the user sets the required aperture on the lens and the camera will decide on the shutter speed.  Cameras of this age do not have any electronic connection between the body and lens, communication being by two small levers.  In Auto mode, the camera selects the exact shutter speed needed for a good exposure, not just they nearest standard speed. The shutter speed selected is indicated by a LED on the left side of the viewfinder.  The speed indicated will be the nearest standard speed even if the actual speed is slightly more or less.  These indicator LEDs are in different colours.  Green means OK, yellow means a slow speed and a tripod is advised and red means no good.

Pentax ME Super


Manual mode allows for manual operation of the camera (a bit of a give away in the name there!). Here, the user must select both aperture and shutter speed.  Shutter speeds are restricted to the standard speeds in one stop steps.
1/125x is for using non-Pentax flash guns.  Shutter speed is 1/125 and the user must calculate the aperture from the flashgun’s guide number and the distance to the subject.  The reason electronic flashguns need a specific synch speed with focal plane shutters is that the shutter exposes the film by a moving slit.  Shutter speed is determined by the width of the slit.  The flash from an electronic flash is very brief (1/10 000 seconds or so compared to 1/10 seconds for a flash bulb) and the width of the slit needs to be the width of the negative.  If you use electronic flash at a higher shutter speed, only a narrow portion of the negative will be exposed.
The last mode, B, is an extension on manual mode where the photographer must time the shutter himself – the automatic system only going as long as four seconds.
In the centre of the the mode dial is the shutter release button.  This is threaded for a standard cable release.  As already mentioned, partially pressing this button will activate the metering system.

To the far right of the top plate is the film advance lever.  This has a closed position with the lever parked over the top plate and a rest position where the lever sticks out at about thirty degrees.  The lever moves through about 130 degrees to advance the film one frame.  By the tip of this lever when in the parked position, there is a small window.  When you take a picture this turns to black.  When you wind on the film, this changes to red.  This is supposed to tell you if the camera is ready to use or no.  I find it easier to gently turn the film advance.  If it will not move, the camera is ready.  In front of the film advance is the frame counter.  Opening the camera resets this to -2 (indicated by a red dot).  On loading a film, you need to wind on the fogged start of the film which is two frames. Once you have done this, the counter will be at zero.

On the front right of the camera is a delayed action lever.  To use this, you turn it through 90 degrees to set it and then to activate it you nudge it upwards.  You then have ten seconds to get yourself in the frame.

On the bottom plate are a number of items.  In line with the lens is a tripod boss.  This is the standard 1/4 inch Whitworth (or UNC).  Next to this is a battery cover.  This takes two button batteries of LR44 size.  The meter electronics have a bridge circuit which means the exact voltage from the batteries is not important so when using alkaline batteries you can continue to use them safely until they are entirely flat.

At the opposite end of the base plate is what looks like another battery cover.  Under this is a mechanical connector for a motor-wind unit.  There are also three electrical contacts in a line which I assume are also for the motor-wind unit.

On the back is one of the most useful innovations in photography – a holder for the end-flap of the film carton.  Using this, you always have a reminder of the type of film in the camera.

Also on the back is a strange indicator.  This consists of a small window with black and red stripes in it. When the film moves – either advancing or rewinding – these stripes wobble.  The benefit is twofold – it tells you the film is inserted correctly and is advancing and it also tells you the film is rewinding.  When rewinding film, when these stripes stop wobbling you cans top rewinding.

Pentax ME Super
Pentax ME Super back view
The lenses I am using with this camera are a Sirius 28mm macro lens and a Rokoh Riconar 55mm lens. Although the Sirius lens is called a macro lens it is not really as the best reproduction ratio is 1:4 – macro is usually taken as being 1:1.
The Sirius lens focusses down to 0.2m (8 inches for my older readers) which is why Sirius call it a macro lens.  Looking on the Interweb, this lens does not have a good reputation but I shall make up my own mind when the test film is finished.  The claimed fault is that the lens is very soft.
Any softness apart, this lens is a delight to use.  Both the aperture ring and focusing ring are easy to find by feel – the aperture ring has wide ribs and the focussing ring has a coarse rubber knurling.
Focussing is through very nearly a complete circle giving very precise control over focussing.  This compares well with my modern Canon EOS lenses that only move through 80 to 90 degrees or less.

This lens is a prime lens and is multicoated.  The focussing scale is in both metres and feet which will benefit some although I am entirely metric.  The lens is made for a more modern K-mount standard than the camera.  The lens contains electronics (I can clearly see a resistor through the mount end) and has two electrical contacts in the bayonet.  It also has an aperture setting marked (A)P which I assume is to do with the electronics. The camera mount is plain machined, chrome-plated brass with no electrical contacts. However, this lens fits well and works well with this camera – the more modern K-mount is clearly backwards compatible with the original K-mount.

The Riconar lens is to the older standard – it has no visible electronics inside the lens and no contacts on the bayonet mount. This lens focuses down to 0.8 metres which is just under three feet.  Its aperture range is less than the Sirius lens – f2.2 to f16.  I am now using this lens with a roll of film and will post the results when I have finished the roll (the results below are for the Sirius lens only).

This camera is very small and light – it measures 130 x 45 x 85 mm – compared to most SLR cameras. It is certainly much smaller and lighter than the Spotmatic. The body of a focal plane shutter camera is always going to be longer than the body of a leaf shutter camera as the mechanism for the shutter plus the rolled shutter blinds must fit in there somewhere. Lighter will go with smaller.

Having made the camera smaller, Pentax have left enough room for my not-too-small hands to hold this camera securely. The final weight of the camera will depend on the lens attached but with no lens attached it weighs 445g. My two lenses are small prime lenses which reduces the total weight compared to using a zoom lens. On the other hand, these two lenses have metal barrels which will add weight compared to a modern polycarbonate lens. Any road, the lens/camera combination is one of the lightest of my collection.

I have created a small problem with this camera in that I have bought two lenses which focus in opposite directions. This is a camera I really like and I intend to use it as one of my go-to cameras. I am helped by the fact that I frequently change from SLR to rangefinder to viewfinder cameras and from German to Japanese so I have no instinctive expectations as to camera controls.

The only controls on the body that you use frame-to-frame is the on/off control and the shutter button. I find the on/off control hard to use as you need to press a very small white interlock while turning the knob. I am unable to do this with one hand and switching the camera on or off is a two handed affair.

The film advance lever, while the camera is not in use, sits very close to the body which is slightly awkward to use, but after the first shot it sits slightly proud which makes it much easier to use.

Walking around with this camera slung around your neck is much nicer than with most of my other SLRs – my OM10 being the exception. Both the ME Super and the OM10 are similar in size and weight. It is no hardship to use either of these two cameras on a long day out which is more than I can say for any of my German SLRs or my modern digital SLR.

Sad note: I picked up this camera today after cleaning it and the back swung open and my thumb went through the shutter – it is well passed repair.  But they are common enough so I don’t expect it to take too long to find another one in good condition.

Sample pictures.

These are taken on Agfa Vista + colour film, 200 ISO (actually made by Fuji) and the Sirius 28mm lens.  With the third picture, I have taken a detail from the centre to see how the lens performed as I have been told this Sirius lens is ‘soft’.  My test reveals very little as the scan the lab did was only a medium resolution scan but this lens does not seem to be unduly soft to me.

Pentax ME Super
Cannon Street, Lincoln


Pentax ME Super
Wheat Harvest, Lincolnshire
Broadgate, Lincoln


Detail from above

Agfa Silette

Agfa Silette
Agfa Silette

Agfa used the name ‘Silette’ for a large range of camera over many years.  Mine is the Silette type 4 from (I think) 1958.

It is a basic 35mm camera which seems to be well made.  It has a Pronto leaf shutter and an Agfa Color-Agnar f2.8 lens.  It has a double viewfinder – the opaque window adds brightness to the frame lines in the clear window.  There is no light meter nor a rangefinder in this model although both were available in other cameras in the Silette range.
As this is a typical basic camera, there is little to say.  The shutter is a Pronto four speed shutter – 1/30, 1/60, 1/125 and 1/250 seconds plus ‘B’.  It also has a timer delay which works well (even though the general advice is not to try the self timer on old cameras).  On a fifty-plus year old camera, this shutter seems to be at least adequately accurate.
The lens is an Agfa Color-Agnar lens – not a lens I have come across before.   This is a Crooke’s Triplet lens – originally designed in 1893 in England but still in use today.  My camera came with a cassette of film already loaded, so I tried the camera out with that.  The results were decent – especially when I removed the cassette and looked at the inner surface of the lens which was very dirty (but without any trace of fungus).  This lens is clearly coated – there is a blueish/purplish hue to the glass – but the lens is very susceptible to flare.
One fault with this particular specimen is the light seals.  These have obviously failed at some point and have been replaced with black wool.  This is not a technique that works.  I shall shortly replace the wool with black foam.
The viewfinder is clear with bright-lines for framing the picture – including parallax lines for close-ups.  There is a film speed reminder on the rewind knob.  This is not as easy to adjust as it could be – you need to lift the rewind knob (as if rewinding the film) and turn a knurled ring underneath the knob.  A sign of the age of this camera is the range of ASA speeds that are available – 14, 16, 17, 40, 100, 250, 650 – you would be hard pressed to find ASA 16 film now.  Kodachrome slide film was made as ASA 16 in the 1950s – the time of this camera – and Kodacolor print film was ASA 32.  Ilford monochrome film of the time had a speed rating of about ASA 160.
The exposure counter in at the centre of the base showing on the back of the camera.  Alongside this is the serial number – VI 2457 in my case.
The camera is marked as “Made in Germany” (i.e. West Germany).  There is sometimes confusion about Agfa cameras as Agfa sold the rights to the names and designs in North America to Ansco who continued to make “Agfa” cameras for some time separately from Agfa Germany.  This is not an Ansco camera.

Agfa Karat 6.3

Agfa Karat 6.3
1936 Art Deco Karat        –        1938 karat
 In many ways this is a very attractive camera.  It is small (22cm wide, 17cm tall and 14.5cm thick), not too heavy (for a metal camera) and simple.  It has two downsides – it uses a different cassette to other 35mm cameras and it is cheaply made.  The body is made from cast aluminium which is painted gloss black.  The controls all seem to grate a bit and although this camera is now around 70 years old, Zeiss Ikon and Voigtlander cameras of this age do not grate.  The Karat 6.3 was introduced in 1936.  Two years later Agfa introduced an improved version – still called the Karat 6.3

Aesthetically, the camera is attractive.  It has a rounded body and has an Art Deco front panel on the lens board. Focussing and aperture controls are on the lens panel.  While these work well, I find them difficult to use.  The focussing knob is below the lens and moves from about 4 o’clock (infinity) to 8 o’clock (3.5 feet).  The aperture control is a milled ring around the lens with apertures from f6.3 to f22.  One of the problems I have with this camera is that altering the aperture means my finger hits the focussing knob making it difficult to move the aperture ring.  By the by, the maximum aperture of the camera – f6.3 – gives the camera its name “Karat 6.3”, later models were Karat 3.5 and Karat 2.8.

The lens is a three element Igestar lens (Sometimes with a fancy “I” which makes the name look like Jgestar).  The view finder is a reverse Gallilean finder which gives a small image (the ‘reverse’ part of reverse Gallilean means it is like looking through a telescope the wrong way with a smallified image).  On the original Art Deco version, this viewfinder is not only rather small but is low down on the body, making it hard to use.

The camera is a folding camera – the lens pops out on a short bellows , it only moves two cm – released by a button on the top plate to the left of the viewfinder.  The lens panel simply pushes back in  when the camera is finished with.  The top plate of the camera is dominated by the film wind-on knob and the shutter release is very close to this.  Next to the shutter release is a sliding lever which can engage the shutter release when the B setting is used to hold the shutter open.  However, this is difficult to set while your finger is on the shutter release and almost certainly impossible to do without jarring the camera to some extent.  Also on the top plate is the frame counter.  This is quite small and recessed making it less than easy to see.  The frame number is rest by a small knurled knob next to the counter – the start of film is set to “A” and then the film wound on until frame “1” is reached.  There are also two strap lugs on the top plate – one of which is missing on my camera.
The back hinges open to allow the loading of film.  The film for this camera must be in one of Agfa’s Karat or Rapid cassettes.  The original format was the Karat cassette.  This was revived in the 1960s as the Rapid cassette.  There is only one difference between them – the later Rapid cassette has a film speed indicator on the cassette in the form of a metal “T”.
Agfa Karat 6.3
Karat cassette (left)        Rapid cassette (right)
Film loading is easy – insert the film in the left-hand chamber and fix the film leader under the two clips.  Close the back and wind the film on to frame 1.  Unloading the film is even easier – there is no need to rewind the film, you just take the cassette with the exposed film out of the camera.
The 1938 improved version is basically the same.  It has a raised viewfinder  – no bigger but easier to use.  It also has an external frame counter rather than a window to an internal counter.  The front fascia is plain and when extended has a lock to prevent the camera from being closed accidentally.  There is also an improved catch to the back and the strap lugs have been removed.  To off-set the lack of strap lugs, the case has been changed to an ever-ready type case where the camera can be used while in the leather case.  In the original Karat, the case was a drop-in case.
Agfa Karat 6.3
1936 original Art Deco case      –      1938 improved case

Fed 5 (ФЭД 5)

This is a very sturdy camera. It is black, square, solid with no frills or cosmetics. Fed cameras started off as copies of German Leica cameras and while the design of a Fed might be identical to a 1930s Leica, manufacturing standards are certainly not.

As I am being fairly negative here, I would like to point out that I do not have experience of Fed cameras in general, merely of my own Fed 5B. (since writing this article, I have bought two more Feds – Fed 2 and Fed 4 – which articles see).

Actually, the camera works very well. Setting the exposure using my trusty Leningrad light meter, all the images in my test film were exposed as I would wish – good blacks, clear whites and a usable range of greys in between. This means that both the shutter and the aperture settings are at least reasonable. I have no means of testing shutter speeds, but they are clearly close to nominal. The aperture has six blades giving a hexagonal aperture – for those concerned with bokeh, this should bode well.

The lens is much better than adequate. Scanning the film taken with this camera and enlarging to full screen on my fifteen inch monitor gave an image that was still sharp with no visible vignetting or barrel/pin cushion distortion. The only problem optically is light leakage from a poorly fitting back.

The controls are “firm” – that is to say, definite effort is required to make this camera do any thing. I find focussing difficult as the focussing ring is close to the camera body and is stiffish to turn. This stiffness seems to be entirely in the lens assembly as the rangefinder mechanism in the camera is quite free and requires very little effort to move. Advice on the Internet is to dismantle the lens, remove the Soviet grease and replace with modern light grease. It seems that the Soviet grease hardens with time and stops the lens turning freely. Actually, this is not confined to Soviet cameras – all old cameras suffer from this to a degree and Agfa camera are notorious for it. The plus side here is that the whole lens mount moves to focus, not just the front element which means that image quality is not sacrificed in order to make a cheaper lens. As this is a rangefinder camera, focussing is easy and accurate – a simple matter of aligning the two images in the centre of the viewfinder. If this is inaccurate, it can be adjusted by focussing on a clear vertical at infinity (i.e. anything over 40 feet or so away) and turning the adjusting screw until the images coincide.

To load a film, the back and base are removed in one piece – much like a Contax. This makes it easy for large fingers to access they film chamber and fit the new film. on my specimen, the cams that hold the back in place are badly made and the back does not quite fit snuggly. This allows light to leak into the camera and fog the film. This is easily obviated by applying black plastic tape to the joins after loading with film – not a really satisfactory technique but it does allow the camera to be used.

Care must be taken when buying second hand FSU (Former Soviet Union) cameras. If the writing is in Cyrillic and the camera is pristine, it most likely has never been used as it was seriously flawed from new. Buying a camera with clear and definite signs of use means that the camera, at the least, has worked well at some point. Dating Fed cameras is easy – the first two digits of the serial number are the year of manufacture. My FED5 body has the serial number 849211 and so was made in 1984. On the other hand, the lens I have has the serial number 9249524 and so was made in 1992. This means that the body/lens combination is not original – not that it really matters.


Zeiss Ikon Contaflex

I have been after a Contaflex for while now. Zeiss Ikon put a lot of thought into the design of their cameras and all that I have come across have been a joy to hold. The Contaflex is no exception.

P1040144After WWII with the partition of Germany, Zeiss Ikon became two concerns.  Both continued to use the Zeiss Ikon name and initially produced the same range of cameras.  After litigation, East German Zeiss Ikon were not allowed to use the Zeiss Ikon name outside the Warsaw Pact countries – their products became Pentacon and Pentax.  West German  Zeiss ikon continued as much as before as they could.  Both Zeiss Ikons developed Zeiss Ikon’s flagship camera – the Contax.  This article is concerned with the West German Zeiss Ikon’s development of the Contax into, amongst others, the Contaflex.

The Contaflex is actually a completely new camera which owes little to the Contax.  Zeiss Ikon continued to use elements of the Contax name – Contaflex, Contina.  Zeiss Ikon needed to produce a camera to compete with East German Zeiss Ikon’s new range of SLRs – the Pentaprism Contax.  They took a different route and used a between the lens leaf shutter rather than a focal plane shutter.  This proved to be a developmental dead-end but continued in use for a decade or so. Initially, several manufacturers followed suit – Voigtlander, Kodak – but now just about all SLR’s follow East German Zeiss Ikon’s (Pentacon, Pentax) lead with a horizontally travelling focal plane shutter.

P1040146The Contaflex was aimed at the serious amateur market.  It is very well made and very heavy.  The quality of both design and build is evident in that they still work just fine  fifty-plus years after they were made.  The cameras were introduced in pairs – I & II, III & IV, Alpha & Beta and so on.  The pairs either did not have a built-in exposure meter (I, III, Alpha) or did (II, IV, Beta).  Up to and including the Beta, the meter was not coupled and offered nothing over a separate hand-held meter and had the disadvantage of being attached to a very heavy camera making it harder to use than a separate hand-held meter would be.

The shutter is a between-the-lens leaf shutter rather than a focal-plane shutter. This is a superior design in several ways. Firstly, the shutter moves radially and so confers little in the way of vibration to the camera. This is, unfortunately, offset by the need to close the shutter, lift the mirror, open the secondary shutter and then open and close the main shutter again. The result is a very firm shutter release and a respectable “clunk” when the shutter is fired. Secondly, the shutter and flash can be synchronised at any shutter speed. Thirdly, the shutter does not distort moving objects in the way a focal plane shutter must.  Usually, the shutter was a reflex version of a Synchro-Compur shutter, but the Alpha and Beta models has a Prontor Reflex shutter (the Super has Synchro-Compur shutter). Similar cameras were produced by Voigtlander and Mamiya amongst others.

The main (only) drawback of having a leaf shutter is that the lens is difficult to replace. Zeiss Ikon overcame this by having the front element replaceable to give wide angle and telephoto versions. This was not as big a drawback as it might seem as in the 1950s and 60s it was rare for amateur photographers to use anything other than the standard lens that came with the camera. Collections of lenses had to wait for modern design and manufacturing systems and cheap lenses. The strangest part of Zeiss Ikon’s shutter design here is that the mirror does not return automatically after the shutter is fired. It is hard to understand why Zeiss Ikon did this as there is no great technical problem with having the mirror return automatically.  In the Super, the action of the shutter has been improved by angling the secondary shutter to sit just behind the mirror so it has less far to move before the primary shutter can open.

P1040145In the Contaflex I, II III, IV and Super, the lens was the renown Carl Zeiss Tessar f2.8 lens.  The Alpha and Beta models had the cheaper three element Pantar lens, with front element focussing.  The filter size is 27 mm.  In the Super, the Tessar lens focusses by moving the entire lens.

P1040147To load the film, the camera is opened by removing the base and the back as one. I was a little nervous of this technique initially as the only time I have come across this before was with my Ukrainian FED 5. With the FED 5 the fit is loose to say the least and it leaks light. The Zeiss Ikon version works well, fitting together reassuringly well.

As I mentioned earlier, the lens in the Alpha and Beta focuses by turning the front element.  With this camera, there are two drawbacks to this. The first is common to any camera and that is that the performance of the lens drops as the front element moves relative to the rest of the lens elements. It is much better to focus by moving the whole lens. This is difficult with the shutter in the middle of the lens so front element focussing was easy option in the lower priced models.  The second drawback is that the front element can be removed to allow a replacement element to give either a wide angle or telephoto lens. There is a small lever below the lens that needs to be depressed to remove the front element and this lever gets in the way whilst focusing. Apart from that niggle, focusing is easy as the viewfinder has a split-image microprism circle in the centre. The viewfinder is certainly bright enough to see what you are doing.

With the Super, the whole lens moves and has two ‘knobs’ attached to the focussing ring which makes focussing much easier – in fact, only one finger is required for fine adjustment.

There is also an light meter which is not a TTL meter.  With the Beta, it is not coupled and gives you an exposure value which you set on the Prontor shutter.  The meter covers film speeds from 12 to 33 DIN and 5 to 650 ASA.  Unfortunately, this is old style ASA where 21 DIN equates to 40 ASA rather than to 100 ASA as the new style ASA standard would have it (new style ASA is the same as ISO).  The ASA range was adjusted in the late 1950s to be a more “sensible” range.  This makes using modern films with old exposure meters fraught.  Personally, I rely on using the DIN scale which has remained constant since its introduction.
With the Super, the exposure meter is still not TTL but is coupled.  It has an indicator in the viewfinder which makes using this version much easier.  It also uses the modern ASA range and so can be used with modern films easily.  This is a shutter priority system – you set the required shutter speed and then turn the front meter-setting knob until the meter needle in the viewfinder points at the central notch.  Turning this knob moves the aperture ring on the lens to an aperture that matches the shutter speed for the required exposure.  If your initial setting of the shutter speed was inappropriate, it will not be possible to set a suitable exposure and it will be necessary to change the shutter speed accordingly.

The following extract is from the 1957 copy of the British Journal of Photography Almanac. It is not the model described here but gives a flavour as to how this camera was presented to the public.

1957 004

Zeiss Ikon Contaflex
Busker, Lincoln Stonebow
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