Monday, March 13, 2017

AN IMPRESSIVE LEICA COMPETITOR – KODAK EKTRA



The following article relies largely on information obtained from Stephen Gandy'sCameraQuest.

 

It is a well-known fact that the Leica inspired quite a number of competitors to offer 35mm rangefinder cameras of their own.  Even today many of them are well known, like the Zeiss Contax, the Nikon and Canon rangefinder models and, of course, a whole number of blatant copies of the Leica.

A much lesser known competitor was the Kodak Ektra.  The Ektra was Kodak's only attempt to produce the best 35 camera. It was amazingly innovative with features that actually outshined the Leica and Contax cameras at that time.  The camera was introduced in 1941, but there was no market when re-introduced in 1948.  The $700 price was astonishingly high for that time and it must be assumed that it contributed to the demise of the camera at the end of 1948.

The Ektra offered a lot of new features, not found on other rangefinder cameras.

1st 35 RF to have a parallax compensated finder!
1st 35 RF to offer lens coating on all lenses
1st 35 RF to offer interchangeable backs
1st 35 RF to offer built in zoom finder
1st 35 RF to offer lever advance
1st 35 RF to use a film rewind lever

Besides its impressive features, the Ektra also had an impressive line of lenses, all rangefinder coupled, fully rivaling the best from Leica or Contax in the late 1930's.  Offered were a 35mm f/3.3, 50mm f/3.5, 50mm f/1.9, 90mm f/3.5, 135mm f/3.5, and 153mm f/4.5.  A 254mm f/4.5 was planned but never put into production.  UNLIKE the best lenses from Leica and Zeiss, all Ektra lenses were coated, a first for this large a lens lineup.  All lenses attached to the camera with a breech lock mount.

 

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Focusing was done with a knurled knob at the lower left of the lenses.

 
The interchangeable back

 
Besides the standard interchangeable backs, the Ektra also offered another very unusual feature,
a ground glass focusing back.

The rangefinder is unusually long, 4 1/8", in fact making it difficult to hold the Ektra without blocking the RF windows.  The viewfinder is almost exactly above the lens to lesson parallax problems.   The Ektra viewfinder zooms from 50mm to 254mm, complete with built in diopter adjustment.   An attachment fits over the finder to show the 35mm field.

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Left: The shutter release is on the upper left edge.  The little lever on the right is the 12 second delay self timer.  The high speeds from 1/25 to 1/1000 are set in the window with the knurled knob. The low speeds 1/10th to 1 second are set on the nearby outer wheel.
Center:  The automatic film counter.
Right: The larger wheel is the zoom setting for the finder, from 50 to 254.  The smaller wheel is the diopter adjustment for the rangefinder!

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The rather large and robust rewind lever

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Other useful accessories included a Contax like close-up viewfinder for the 50/1.9, Left,
a Leica like right angle viewer, Center,
and a "High-Low Angle Finder" for waist level or above the head viewing, Right.

An improved version called Ektra II was planned and three of them are known to exist. They incorporated a built in lens for the 35mm focal length, and could mount a magazine back with a spring driven motor.


The Ektra’s premature demise unfortunately eliminated any further development and along with it any noticeable influence on other rangefinder cameras, including the Leica.  It is interesting to note that feature wise, even the market leader Leica did not catch up to the Ektra until the introduction of the Leica M3.  Even then some of the Ektra’s features were still an exclusive, like the interchangeable backs, the diopter correction of the viewfinder and the built-in zoom finder.  One can only wonder what the camera might look like if it had it survived in an updated version today.


For other articles on this blog scroll down in the column to the right to BLOG ARCHIVE



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