Thursday, September 16, 2021

A Constellation of SPICAs

Named for a first-magnitude star in the constellation Virgo, the 3.5X “SPICA” was Nippon Kogaku’s second post-war product to make it into production, probably in late November or early December 1945. A 2X sport glass named Capella soon followed. Both names would be registered as trademarks by Nippon Kogaku on April 19, 1946. “Opera glasses” or “sport glasses” are binoculars with no prisms to twist the light path into a shorter housing. They typically consist of single or doublet front components that provide the necessary magnification, and negative rear elements that both allow focusing and rotation the image to one that is upright and un-reversed. By avoiding prisms, these binoculars save on weight, but compactness can only come from limiting the designs to low magnifications, usually less than 4.5X. The Spica opera glass is no exception. Four by two by one-and-a-quarter inches (95 x 50 x 35mm), the light-weight, uncased glass slips readily into a coat pocket. Its all-black finish combines clean lines with a feel of precision and quality that most opera glasses lack. In short, this is a glass that is a pleasure to hold and to use. Unlike NK’s first post-war prism binoculars, the Novar and the later Orions, the Spica was a new design. One wonders where NK found the resources to place such a product into production so quickly. But the Occupation forces were looking for quality optics at low prices. Perhaps NK felt that this might be a best seller. It is also possible that it was able to grind down glass that had been molded for use in the military Type 93 4X glasses. Sales of NK opera glasses must have been strong enough initially, for SCAP records indicate a production of 709 in 1945 then 10,426 in 1946 with September the biggest month with 2190 produced. That high may have been in anticipation of that year’s upcoming Christmas season. Almost all of these sales would have been to the CPO (Central Purchasing Office) which provided the stock for the military occupation stores. But then sales slacked. SCAP reports indicate production of only 2926 Spica the January 1947 to February 1948 period—a drop of 50 percent. Of these, 1,050 Spica went to the CPO. An additional 1,000 Spica were sold to the Continental Merchandise Company in New York City. So, only a few—no more than 426 Spica were sold domestically that year. I can find no record of any NK opera glass production for 1948 and only one final run of 569 in December 1949. The Spicas have no serial numbers, so actual production numbers can not be certain, but all these numbers in the SCAP records would suggest a total production of all NK post-war opera glasses, both Spica and Capella, of 21,539. That should make them more common than the post-war Orions, but far rarer than the plentiful and popular Novars. This short span of production explains several features of the Spicas and Capellas. All seen so far feature the older Nikko logo that would be phased out in early 1948. In addition, the body coverings are the same glue-cork or sawdust composite that the early post-war Novars and Orions used. In addition, few seem to have the “Made in Occupied Japan” mark that is seen on almost all post-war Japanese export products. Why? Because that mark was not required until February 1947—at which time the production of the NK opera glasses was drawing to a close.
The typical Spica that shows up on ebay or in auctions has a black glossy finish over an aluminum cast body with a rough finish where hands would naturally grip. The back face is engraved with the “Nikko” mark and TOKYO to the left and SPICA and 3.5X on the right. A central focusing knob to the front moves the back unit for a focus range from infinity to around three feet. Most of the Spicas and the Capellas came in unlined leather cases with a snap flap and a short unadjustable carrying strap. But at least one Spica has been seen with a canvas case. Three basic variations of the Spica seem to come up for sale. The most common type has no MIOJ markings on either the glasses or the case. The second type has MIOJ stamped on the case under the flap, but no markings on the glasses.
The third version, which must date from 1947 or maybe 1949, has MIOJ engraved and white-filled across the top of the focusing arm.
But there is an even rarer version, and these are the Spicas not finished in black. So far I have seen only eight of these: four in red, three in green and one in blue. Were these sold to the Japanese domestic market as children’s binoculars? Were any, ever sold in the PXs? Who knows. They are certainly rare, but except for their paint jobs, they are the same as the black-finished ones.
It is unclear as to what was the antecedent for the Spica design. The optical design is similar to many other opera glasses, but the black, serious finish is in contrast to most opera glasses which tend to feature fancy bodies and multiple metals or finishes. The most popular post-war Japanese opera glasses were the 2.5X Prides manufactured by Tokyo Kogaku in huge numbers (11,815 in 1947 alone). These featured fancier polished chrome trimmings and leather-covered bodies. Why did NK discontinue what had been a lucrative range of products? Since we do not know what the originals sold for, it is hard to know, but competition from other Japanese manufacturers is the probable explanation. Even in 1946, NK’s management insisted that all of the company’s products had to meet NK’s high standards. But by late that year, dozens of tiny startup firms in Japan were attempting to ride the train of Japan’s growing optical reputation by assembling and selling cheap opera glasses. These used aluminum focusing screws, stamped sheet metal housings and marginal optics. Many were simpler copies of the brass and lacquered models that had once been the favorites of theater attendees in Europe and the United States. They were impossible to keep in optical alinement and most soon showed rust along their barrel seams. But they were cheap, much cheaper than NK’s own products. NK wasn’t making much money on the opera glasses—only $3.10 per Spica and only $1.74 per Capella sold to the CPO. Overseas sales were not much better. NK got only $3.40 for each of the Spicas sold to the Continental Company in 1947. That may not have been enough to justify continued production. Another factor may have been a decision to promote the much-better finished Mikrons. These 6X binoculars took up little more space in a pocket than the Spicas did, but with their fine, brushed chrome finishes and obvious quality, they could demand a higher price which Occupation troops were willing to pay. The Mikrons were certainly popular items, so much so that when NK brought out a new range of binoculars in 1950, they called them all Mikrons. The Pair of Spica opera glasses we see here is typical of NK’s line. At first glance, the Spica hints at fine quality and finish, but a closer examination shows evidence of the problems NK was experiencing with getting any manufacturing done that would meet the company’s own high standards. What at first appears to be a leather reveals itself to be merely a baked-on material molded onto the metal barrels themselves. Disassembling the focusing unit, reveals a beautifully-machined brass focus screw, but linings were cut from red cloth ornamented with white and green flowers(!)
[see illustration closeup]. Hardly the most obvious material to use. Still, the alinement has held and the view is sharp and clear, even after sixty years.

Friday, May 28, 2021

AkA’s Akarette and Akarelle: compact 35mm cameras from the hey day of German dominance of camera manufacturing.


  
Akarelle type 2 with 50mm Xenon & Akameter.

  Apparate & Kamerabau Gmbh (AkA), based in Friedrichshafen, in southern Germany, was one many small camera companies founded in West Germany during the post-World War II period. It was started by two brothers, Max and Eugen Armbruster. Eugen, with a degree in engineering, was responsible for much of the early design work. Their first camera was the 35mm Akarette I(sometimes referred to as an ‘AkArette.’)
    The Akarette went through several models, including a name change to Akarelle in 1954 before the series ended in 1957. By then the company had moved on to other designs—some with non-interchangeable lenses, some with rangefinders and built-in meters—before returning to the earlier names and dying along with many other small German camera companies in the early 1960s.
    For me, the appeal of the Akarette/Akarelle is that here was a camera that always offered fully interchangeable lenses using a behind-the-lens leaf shutter, coupled to a film advance with double exposure prevention, and a double viewfinder allowing coverage for more than one focal length.
    AkA was a small company with limited resources, yet the Akarette/Akarelles were system cameras offering a wide range of near-professional-level accessories and, ultimately, an extensive range of lenses. Yet, at the same time, their cameras sold at prices far below that of most of their German competitors, and even at lower prices that many American-made cameras during this same period. Perhaps part of the reason so little is known about the company today is that apparently their cameras (except the Akarex and Arette series) were never sold directly in the United States. Even today, most Akarettes/Akarelles only show up in Europe.
Akarelle with Isconar & Akarette with Xenar


    The first camera featured here is an Akarelle, dating to 1955 with a Schneider 50mm f2 Xenon lens, a Gauss derivative—the most expensive lens AkA offered and somewhat rare. The more commonly seen lens is a 50mm f3.5 Xenar with front-element focusing.
   Also pictured here are An Akarette II with the 50mm f3.5 Xenar and a type 3 Akarelle equipped with a ISCO Color-Isconar 50mm f2.8 lens—a three-element formula and the lowest cost normal lens that AkA offered. It is also front-element focusing, but the click-stopped apertures and depth of field marks are metal on black and easier to use and see, even if the markings are not engraved into the metal.
    My first Akarette also came with a Schneider 90mm f3.5 Tele-Xenar lens. It is unit focusing, heavy chrome over brass but compact—a top-quality lens with its own case with a slot inside to hold an individual 90mm finder. Nice.

Akarette II with 50 and 90mm Tele-Xenar
   The lenses exchange via a threaded collar that screws over a male thread in front of the leaf shutter. Most of the lenses available came from Schneider or its subsidiary, ISCO. Focal lengths ranged from 35mm to 135mm, although only the accessory 35mm, and 90mm appear on the used market with any regularity and then at high prices.

How do they compare to similar 35mm cameras from this period?
    The body length, height, weight and rounded ends are similar to a Leica II. This is a compact, solid but not heavy camera with simple controls including a hinged, full-opening back and a fixed takeup spool for easier loading.
Top of Akarelle.  Note smaller frame counter.


    The finish of both the Akarette and the Akarelle is a mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly. The bodies consist of two cast-aluminum shells covered with chrome-plated tops and bottoms and two nickel-plated half-moon front plates that surround the shutter mounting. The chrome finish of the particular Akarette shown here's top and bottom plates have a rich glossy finish that almost glows. The Akarelle’s finish is duller. Neither finish is good at resisting scratches. The bottom plate on the Akarelle features two nubs that, together with a peg on the shutter mount keeps the camera from rubbing against any surface it is placed on. The balance of the exterior is covered with a durable black leatherette. The interior is blackened with strength-adding ridges and baffles and nice black ridges and frocking in the light chamber. The clamshell back is hinged on the right side and seals the camera from light leaks due to the way the back edges overlap the front. The shutter is in a module that comes out of the camera along with the viewfinder optics allowing for ease of servicing. All-in-all, a straight-forward design with attention given to details that can be critical for good picture taking.
    The bad part is the lack of a rangefinder, or any coupled means of determining focus—a serious weakness in a camera with possible focal lengths as long as 135mm, and also offering closeup lenses and extension tubes. AKA did sell a separate rangefinder that mounted in the accessory shoe. While uncoupled, it does show the coverage of a normal lens. One can determine focus and frame the picture, then transfer the distance reading to the lens already knowing what the composition would be.
    The uglies are the front plates which almost always show wear. In many samples so little of the front plating remains that the cameras look like they have brass fronts.

    The three cameras here are near look-alikes differing only in details. Starting with the top deck, the Akarette features an advance knob that requires only a short wind. A film speed reminder is built into the top, but the direction arrow for turning the knob is not engraved and mostly worn away. (On the Akarelle the film reminder is set into the top of the rewind knob.) To rewind the film, you need to lift the knob clear of the body. This releases a cog and allows you to turn back the film using a conventional knob at the left end.
    The Akarelles feature a film advance lever. This rests on the top plate with no off-set clearance, but it is easy enough to grab with a thumb. The advance can work with single stroke, but that carries around for 180 degrees and it will interfere with the straps—if one is using the lugs mounted on the front of the camera. However, the throw is ratcheted and one can easily advance the film using a series of short strokes that allow you to stay clear of any straps. To rewind the film, press on a small lever mounted on the advance lever and labeled R. This disengages the advance ratchet.
    Next left is the frame counter under a clear window and behind it a knob for resetting the number. Advancing the film  on the Akarelle causes the counter to rotate completely around before stopping at the next number. (On early Akarettes, the frame number advances when you take a picture.) The numbers inside the small frame windows on both the Akarelle and Akarette  are almost impossible to read except under ideal lighting.
    Just left of middle is the finder hump. In the Akarette, you have two optical finders side-by-side. and separate in the rear. The one to the right shows the field of coverage for a 75mm lens. The one to the left, the coverage for a 50mm lens. The user can select which finder to use by moving a blind over one or the other window via a labeled switch on the front plate.
    The Akarelle still has two windows in front, but in this case, the left hand one shows the coverage of a 35mm wide angle lens. The second window admits light for bright frames that show the coverage of both a 50mm and a 90mm lens, or, the case of the earlier Akarelle, 50, 75 and 90mm.
    The Akarette windows offer bright, neutral-color views with the 75mm near life size. Despite the lack of parallax compensation, these are nice finders. The earlier Akarelle’s bright frames are easy to see. I do not like the reduced view, but the view is bright enough. Unfortunately, the later Akarelle finder is dimmer with a low-contrast, bluish tint, and the bright frames faint. Viewing is the weakest feature of all these cameras, a cost the company was willing to pay  to continue offer a low camera height and compact size.

    The Akarette’s shutter is an unlabeled Prontor SV with speeds from one second to as short as 1/300th plus B and a self-timer. A quality shutter with a nice speed range for its time.
    The Akarelle’s shutter is a labeled Prontor SVS offering full flash, M or X, sync at all speeds, plus a self-timer. You set this via a small switch on the right side of the shutter. The switch can be easily hit, moving it over to the V mark. You go to take a picture and nothing seems to happen. If you do not realize that the shutter is using the timer, you advance the film again and have just lost a frame.
    In other ways, the Akarelle’s shutter is an improvement. The speed-setting rim is wider and easier to move. The index mark is painted red and easy to see although there are no click marks.

    The best features of all these cameras are their size and a shape that fits easily into one’s hands. Controls are simple and straight-forward. One can learn how to shoot a Akarette/Akarelle in five minutes and start taking pictures. Picture quality is what can be expected from Schneider optics. i.e. quite good. Values are all over the place with top prices often asked for bodies in clean, unworn condition. But if you aren’t fussy and patient, worn cameras can be found at modest prices. It is unfortunate that accessories are so difficult to locate. Unlike other old cameras I have purchased and tried, I think these will be keepers—easy to throw in a bag and take along wherever I go.
Daffodils


 
Sunken farm road in pasture.
Woodpecker work on Sweet Cherry.

Spring flowers. Focus requires care.
Dead hemlock and winter storm.


Main barn at family farm.


Corner of my desk.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

The object at hand: Copy Stand Device for Akarette/Akarelle


The AkA Akarette/Akarelle copier

Many of the West German leaf-shutter 35mm RF camera manufacturers offered close-up devices for their cameras These usually consisted of a closeup lens that mounted on the front of the prime lens, sometimes combined with a parallax-compensating view-glass that adjusted the rangefinder/viewfinder image for the closer distances. These devices usually dropped the closest focusing distance from a meter to half that distance, or around 18 inches.
Illustration from French ad.



AkA also offered a range of closeup lenses, but in the company’s goal of marketing a full systems camera, they also offered copy stands that could be used with either extension tubes or closeup lenses. By doing so, their Akarette/Akarelle cameras joined a small group of rangefinder 35s that enabled true closeup photography all the way down to a 1:1 ratio.

Each of these companies offered different approaches to solving the same problem: how does one set the focus, then change from viewing to substituting the camera into the film path to take the picture. Does one slide the camera over into position, displacing the focusing ground glass in the process (Leica, Nikon P), remove the focuser/framer and attach the camera (Nikon S, SA, Contax, Leica), or attach both the camera and a focuser to a rotating platform (Contax “revolver”).
The similar in concept Zeiss Ikon 'revolver' for Contax.



AkA appeared to have offered two options: a stand with the lens screwed to a holder and a removable focuser above, or a rotating platform that held both the focuser and the camera. To use the rotating unit, the photographer positions the focusing screen over the lens, composes and focuses, then rotates the platform 180 degrees to substitute the camera and takes the picture. In concept, it is similar to the Zeiss Revolver, except that it is easier to rotate the AkA’s platform since changing does not require lifting the spring-loaded upper part before turning.

In practice, the second type is easy to operate. The ground glass has no condenser, so the view shows edge falloff. It does offer a nice etched grid for composing. With just a normal lens, focus is at about sixteen inches.With a 1.5+ diopter closeup lens the distance drops to six inches. I am not sure what other combinations will yield. One problem is that once the camera is fastened in place, it is impossible to change the the shutter speed. So one needs to plan settings in advance.

The rotating copy stand that I have consists of two aluminum disks each machined out of stock, The top has a machined art deco swirly surface: different and kind of neat. A large screw holds the two together and provides the pivot point. The focuser was missing, as well as the stand. I can use a Zeiss focuser without a problem. The post is internally threaded for 3/8 inch, allowing direct mounting on a tripod, but I also manufactured a new stand out of plumbing pipe. Long ago, the person who assembled this unit etched a number ‘2’ on the inside of both the top and bottom parts.
Inner surface of
bottom plate showing number 2

Otherwise, there is no serial number. We have no idea how many AkA manufactured, but probably not many.
With the copy stand set at maximum height, the lens covers an area of about nine by six inches, or 1/6 life size. With the 1.5x closeup lens added and the lens focus set at its closest distance, the coverage is about 82mm X 50mm, .5X reduction, or half life size.

Results are good but not gee-whiz, due more to the limitations of the front-element focusing Xenar than the copy stand’s potential. Since I like to do closeup work, I will continue to experiment. 

Baldric closeup
Using device in the field: Daffodils
Patch for the Hawk Mountain Highlanders Bagpipe Band














Tuesday, November 3, 2020

The Karat 36, Agfa's top-of-line 35mm folder.

My Agfa Karats: A journey in discovery, frustration and finally satisfaction (Sorta’). 

 Agfa offered its first Karat in 1936. A small, rounded-body bellows camera with a collapsible lens plate mounted on struts, it took Agfa’s Rapid cassettes for 12 non-rewindable exposures per roll. The series moved to a rangefinder-equipped body after the war, taking on a modern chrome and leather appearance. It gained weight and size in the process but remained a compact, well-finished camera. In 1948, responding to the decline in demand for cameras using the Rapid cassette, Agfa brought out the first of its Karat 36 cameras. Although similar in appearance to the earlier Karats, these used 35mm film in standard magazines, and featured a now essential rewind knob.

Agfa Karat 36, type 3 with Xenon lens

In quality and appearance, the Karat 36s rival the Kodak Retina cameras sold during the same period, offering better features in some ways, not so good in others. All were marketed as Agfa’s highest-quality 35mm camera. Priced at $165, they were also Agfa’s most expensive camera, the equivalent to almost $1500 in 2020 dollars. They came with the same quality optics that the Retinas did: Schneider Xenar or Xenon lenses or Rodenstock Heligons, and later, Agfa brand Solinars and Solagons. Also, like the Retinas, all featured Compur Rapid or Synchro-Rapid shutters except the last, very-different Karat IV. I got interested in the Karat series after working with the Ambi-Silette cameras and liking their features. The compactness of the Karats and their split-mirror rangefinders appealed to me. I located a restored Karat, but found that its bellows leaked. The seller took it back, but I kept looking. Prices typically run-higher than the Ambi Silettes, often over $100, and I tend to go as cheap if I can, so it took some time. Several purchases revealed non-operational shutters and/or frozen helicoids. Repair attempts were unsuccessful. Finally, down to zero Karats, I located a Ansco Karomat 36 with the 50mm f2.8 Karat Xenar lens at a low enough price. I took a chance and got lucky. Everything worked, although the advance lever return was initially stiff and the focus lever difficult to move. 

Ansco sold the Karat 36 in the US

Ansco Karomat & Agfa Karat 36. Same cameras with different labels


Agfa 35mm camera focusing helicoids are notorious for their greenish lubricant that hardens over time and can become like glue. The solution is a complete disassembly of the lens helicoid, flushing out all the old lubricant, cleaning, re-lubricating and re-assemblying. Not fun work. A 

little lighter fluid dropped into the threads from the rear, followed by heat from a blower gun freed the focus enough for day-to-day picture taking. But, even though I now had a working Karat, I was still on the lookout for a Karat in better working condition, particularly one with the faster f2 Xenon lens, or equivalent. In July I finally found one at a price I was willing to pay. The metal work shows some corrosion, but the 50mm f2 Karat Xenon was clean and scratch-free. The shutter operated at all speeds and the focus was smoother than the Karomat’s. 

Agfa mark on Karomat
 

The Ansco label
The Karat top.


 

Only the rangefinder was out of alinement—an easy problem to fix since access to the rangefinder prisms is pretty straight forward. So was I happy? For a while. Shot a roll and the results were pleasing. Two weeks later, while exercising the shutter to help the advance get smoother, the shutter suddenly jammed. This time I sent this Karat off for repairs. It’s back now with a replacement shutter. So, we shall see. 

The most distinguishing characteristics of the Karat 36 is its split-mirror rangefinder and its pull-back advance lever. The nice thing about such a rangefinder is that it does not depend on a superimposed image but uses a split image instead. The result is a clear view plus faster and easier focusing, even in low light. I like it. The pull-back advance lever takes a little getting used to, but operates well enough. Hook a thumb or index finger around the front of the lever and pull back. Why did Agfa go with such an advance? Probably due to the demands of the Rapid cassette. When Agfa went over to the 35mm magazine, it carried over the same advance used in the Karat 12. Here is where I feel the greatest weakness of the Karat lies. Instead of a pair of sprockets for pulling the film out of its magazine, the Karat 36s have only one, set back away from the takeup stool and guarded by a snap-over plate. This means that advancing the film depends almost completely on the takeup spool with the sprocket drive pushing the film forward like it would have using a Rapid cassette. It usually works, but advancing the film requires a hard pull accompanied by discomforting crunching sounds. 

 In operation the Karat is solid and easy to steady, the release firm, the shutter ultra-quiet. Since no cover shields the lens when collapsed, it is wise to carry a lens cap if one wishes to stow the camera in one’s jacket pocket. Like other 50mm Schneider lenses during this period, the Xenon takes 29.5mm filters, or 32mm slip-ons. Focus is down to one meter, but with a slip-on proximeter, you can get down to 18 inches. The film type guide and manually-set, additive frame counter are easier to set than the Silette series. Linkages from the body to the shutter are more robust than the Retina’s and the frame counter does not care if you shoot more than 36 exposures on a roll. The 50mm f2 Xenon is the same lens as the Retina IIa came with. Like so many German 35mm camera from the 1950s, shutter speed and aperture settings have no click stops and are difficult to see. This makes bracketing exposures a slow process. I wish the Karat had strap lugs. The cameras came with cases but today many are missing and invariably the straps are rotten and undependable. Still, it is an easy camera to slip in one’s jacket and just take along for a walk or photo shoot. 

With closeup device

 










Saturday, September 12, 2020

The Voigtländer Prominent: A System 35mm camera from the early 1950s

 The Voigtländer’s 35mm Prominent camera is a strange beast. Nothing seems “normal” with this


camera with many of its controls in strange locations. But bear with me, for there is a logical explanation as to why Voigtländer placed the controls where it did. The reason being the problems all 35mm camera manufacturers and engineers had to deal with in designing a fully-interchangeable lens camera while using a leaf shutter.

    Vignetting is the fundamental issue. A camera with a focal plane shutter does not have this issue since the opening the shutter creates is as large as the film plane opening itself. However, leaf shutters with their round openings cannot give that same coverage. A leaf shutter must be located somewhere closer to the taking lens in order to intercept the cone of light emerging from the rear of a lens before it had spread wider than the largest shutter opening.
    This would suggest that the optimum location be immediately behind the rear element of a camera’s lens when the cone of light focused by the lens is at its smallest. However, two problems remain. One is that a location ideal for a normal lens might not be ideal for other focal lengths. Two, a focusing mount that moves a lens away from the shutter as close focusing occurs may result in vignetting anyway as the distance increases between the rear of the lens and the shutter.
    This was the dilemma Voigtländer faced in the post-war period when it was apparent to the entire German camera industry that 35mm film was going to be photography’s wave of the future. The company wanted to offer a professional, “system” camera that would compete directly against the post-war Leica IIIf and the new model Contax IIa. While as both these cameras featured focal plane shutters, this was not really an option for Voigtländer. Not only did German patents pretty much preclude such a shutter on other makes of rangefinder cameras, but manufacturing a new type of focal plane shutter in-house promised to be expensive and difficult: witness the problems that Eastman Kodak and Bell-and-Howell had in manufacturing and pricing their premier 35mm cameras.
    But Deckel’s Compur Rapid shutter could serve as an alternative. The Compur Rapid shutter had several benefits: It offered a full range of shutter speeds from one second all the way down to 1/500th of a second. In the new “Synchro-Compur” version, full flash sync for all bulbs and electronic flash was available at all shutter speeds. But, more important, it was available to any camera manufacturer and, with the economics of mass production and standardization, Compur shutters were selling at a cost far lower than an in-house focal plane would have.
    The problem with the Compur shutter available in 1950 was that it was really only designed for between-lens installation where vignetting and opening size were not issues.
    Having decided to go with the Compur shutter, Voigtländer attempted to solve the vignetting problem in several ways. It designed a whole series of lenses that would have smaller rear elements that would offer a light cone that could clear the shutter. It placed the shutter right behind the rear element. Then, most important, it fixed the distance between the rear elements and the shutter by causing the shutter and the lens to move as one unit when focused.

    This need to fix and maintain the distance between the back of a lens and the shutter is what led to the placement of a focusing knob on the body of the camera underneath the rewind knob. Focus the Prominent, and the shutter and the lens move in and out as one unit, the distance

between the lens and the shutter never changing. Problem solved.

    But solving one important problem led to other problems and solutions that are less obvious. Deckel later offered

Synchro Compur shutters specifically for behind-lens work. But these shutters were not available until 1956. So the Prominent used a standard Synchro Compur probably designed for larger format cameras. As a result, advancing the film and cocking the shutter requires a complex mechanical linkage with a prong reaching out to slide the cocking lever over, then retracting. Another lever then must come down on the right to release the shutter when the body release is pressed.


    Placing the focus lever on the left end of the camera body in turn required the reticle to be to the right. Convenient for left-eyed users, but not for the opposite.

    The good things: Construction and finish are superb. The chrome is excellent—on a par with post-war Zeiss Ikon cameras. Loading film is straight-forward and conventional. The advance knob/lever is where one would expect, as is the shutter release. The Ultron 50mm f2 lens that came with my camera produces images that are sharp with pleasant colors, although not as impressive as the Nikkors I have used. The normal lens mounts and unmounts easily and can be twisted on either clockwise or counterclockwise. The clickstops are deep and lettering better than most German cameras of that period. All the lenses take the same size accessories. The shutter is quiet, although not as quiet as an Ambi Silette.
    The bad things: The viewfinder is small, dull and the rangefinder patch difficult to see. Later versions of the Type I added albada lines and the Type II went life-size, but that might have been too little too late since Leica had already solved the viewfinder challenge in 1954. At two pounds with the

smaller Ultron, this is one tall, heavy camera: heavier than most SLRs. Certainly not something you want to hang around your neck all day. The two-stroke advance lever has to travel too far each stroke. But worse, the lever hides the frame counter, so the only way you can check the frame number is either start to cock the camera, or kind of peer around the lever. The shutter release is too low on the camera I have and requires me to hook my finger over the wind knob.
    All-in-all, an interesting camera and a leader in the attempt to solve the challenge of a fully-interchangeable-lens 35mm camera while using a leaf shutter, but I camera I will not reach for when I want to enjoy taking pictures.