Monday, October 31, 2022



By Heinz Richter

Even though I used to own a Kodak Ektra myself, 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 a super high qualityt 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 and the camera was 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 lower 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.

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Sunday, October 30, 2022



By Heinz Richter

Many camera owners take advantage of social media to show off their photographic endeavors, unfortunately often with rather questionable results.  Too many people fool themselves in believing that today’s auto everything cameras are foolproof and therefore don’t require any nominal knowledge of photography.  Nothing could be further from the truth, and the result is that far too often we see pictures with the wrong color balance, with total lack of tonality, wrong exposure settings and poor composition.

Volumes have been written about the topic of composition and probably without exception, it is always mentioned that there are really no rules that are carved in stone.  What we do have is a number of guidelines, all designed to help us create better pictures.  However, these should not be looked upon as a replacement for visually evaluating whatever we try to photograph.  What we see in the viewfinder of our cameras remains as important as ever.  One piece of advice that I always give is “if it looks good, shoot it.”

Some individuals intuitively use good composition and end up with good pictures.  For them the guidelines of composition will turn into an explanation of why their pictures look good.  For the majority, however, these guidelines will help to create better pictures by simply evaluating what is seen in the viewfinder, applying some of these guidelines and thus end up with better pictures than what otherwise might have been the case.

It is not the purpose of this article to touch on each and every one of these rules.  Instead I will concentrate on just the most important ones in order to keep this from getting too tedious.

Of all these guidelines, without question the most useful one is the rule of thirds.  Here we divide the image seen in the viewfinder by two evenly spaced vertical and horizontal lines.  This will help composition in a variety of ways.  Not only does it lead to better placement of the main subject of the picture, it also suggests better placement of the horizon as well as placement of other important aspects of the picture.






In these four examples I used the rule of thirds by placing the main subject onto one of the four areas where the horizontal and vertical lines intersect.  Especial with cameras where the autofocus sensor is in the center of the viewfinder, it is almost intuitive to place the main subject in the center.  That usually has the result of the picture looking somewhat static.  Applying the rule of thirds usually will lead to a noticeable improvement of the picture.

Of course, this brings up the question which of the four intersection point to place the subject on.  In the first example, the upper left intersection point is most advantageous in order to emphasize the height of the flying bird.  In addition, it is usually better to place a moving subject such that it appears to be moving into the picture, with space in front to move towards.

For the second example there is no clear advantage of one over the other.  Here it is simply a matter of what one feels looks best.

The third example is similar to the first one, again leaving room in front of the bird to move towards.  I chose the lower right intersection point since the bird just took off, flying low across the surface of the water.

The fourth example was taken from a low vantage point, leading to an upward camera angle.  Therefore the picture looks better with the bird up high in the picture with space in front of the bird.  The upper right intersecting point is the best choice in this case.


Another aspect of good composition is lines and diagonals.  They help to lead the eye toward the subject and into the picture.  The path in this photograph shows strong lines.  The main subject was best placed on the lower left intersection point because this way the lines lead to the impression of the bikers moving forward and into the picture.


Even though placing the subject into the center of the picture usually will lead to a static looking image, there are times when this is actually advantageous, as in this case.  The picture contains some very strong lines which all lead the eye toward the main subject.  Utilizing these lines actually made for a better picture by placing the subject into the center.

Another aspect of the composition of this picture is the cropping.  Some photographs simply look better when cropped from the typical format of the camera.  The horizontal emphasis of this picture by cropping the top and the bottom further enhance the subject position within the picture.


The horizontal and vertical lines of the rule of thirds also give an indication of proper placement of strong verticals or horizontals within the picture, like the horizon in this case.  The lower horizontal is advantageous because it not only eliminated empty grass space in front of the buffaloes it also allowed to take advantage of the marvelous clouds and blue sky.


This example combines several aspects of good composition.  The strong diagonal lines of the background lead to the main subject, the statue, in the center.  In addition, the columns create a strong pattern which is another element of composition.  Finally, the lady viewing the statue creates a second important viewpoint of the picture.  The placement on the lower left intersecting point very much adds to the composition, as do the strong colors in the otherwise subdued colors of the picture, especially the bright, red hair.


This is another example of strong subject placement, in this case on the right vertical line.  The picture would have had a lot less impact had the subject been placed in the center.  In addition the picture is further enhanced by the cropping and the pattern of the seats in both the foreground and especially the background.


Placing the subject on the lower left intersecting point emphasized the upward camera angle without allowing it to appear distant as it would have been the case had it been placed on the upper left intersection point.  In addition, the mostly black background creates a lot of so called dead space.  This is often preferable over background detail which would be distracting.  Finally, the violin bow is a strong diagonal line, leading to the main subject of the picture.


Color can be another important element of a photograph as in this example.  While the colors are not an element of composition on their own, they have a great impact in this example by being placed prominently in the center, surrounded by the muted colors of the shadows and by creating a very strong diagonal.

Diagonals are especially effective when they combine to triangles as in this photograph.  But it is important that these remain natural.  Trying too hard to create diagonals and even more so triangles can easily lead to contrived looking pictures.



Framing can be used to emphasize the main subject of a photograph.  In the first example, the dark arch draws the eye immediately to the main subject, the street scene.  Similarly, the trees in the second example achieve the same result.


In portraits it is generally preferable to have more space in front of the face than in back.  Choosing to place the subject in the left vertical of the rule of thirds assured proper subject placement in this case.


There are, however, times when the rule of thirds does not apply, as in this case.  The strong face of the person in this picture was emphasized by the close up of it.  Since it fills the entire frame, there was no other choice than to center it.  Anything else would have been distracting.


Another element of good composition is curves or s-lines.  As in this example, they are an interesting element of the picture that helps to lead the eye into the picture.


Of course, these elements of good composition don’t apply just to photography.  They have been applied by the great masters for years, just as in this case of the painting “The Bridge at Argenteuil” by Claude Monet.  It contains numerous elements of good composition.   The bridge shows several strong lines, including a pattern created by the upright pillars and it also leads the eye toward the background.    The sailboat in the foreground is placed in the lower left intersection point of the rule of thirds.  The mast, the boom and the bowsprit of the boat also form very strong lines.  The white sail of the boat in the background form a strong triangle and the invisible connecting line between the two boats form a clear diagonal. The combination of all these elements of good composition ultimately make for a very interesting picture.

There are certainly additional rules of composition.  As mentioned above, to keep this article from becoming too long and possibly too confusing, I tried to concentrate on the most useful ones here.  Applying these when possible or warranted will lead to better pictures and over time, photographers will get used to it to the extent that these rules and their application will become second nature.  At that point, we have bridged the difference between just taking pictures and creating photographs.

For other articles on this blog please click on Blog Archive in the column to the right

To comment or to read comments please scroll past the ads below.

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