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    The 1941 Kodak Ektra    

    America's   Best System 35 Camera

an amazingly innovative, very unique and strange camera

 

The Ektra was Kodak's (and America's) only and last attempt to produce the finest system 35 camera. It was amazingly innovative and feature laden, actually outshining the contemporary Leica and Contax in terms of features.    Introduced in 1941, it found no market when re-introduced in 1948 at the princely sum of $700.  The Ektra's firsts and features  are very impressive:   

Alas, the Ektra did have one small problem.   Ektra shutters are notoriously unreliable.  It probably has the dubious honor of having the most unreliable shutter ever put into a quality 35 mm.   Roughly 95% of all the 2500 or so Ektra shutters stopped working decades ago.   If you want to shoot one on a regular basis, find yourself a good Ektra repairman first.

The original Ektra brochure shows Ektra # 1004.    Presumably Ektra serial #'s start at # 1000.  Serial numbers, on the camera, lenses, and backs, are usually preceded by two letters.  They are for the last two digits of the year. The code comes assigning 1-9, 0 #'s to the word CAMEROSITY.   Thus a serial number preceded by EC was made in 1941.    Camera backs were calibrated for an individual camera.  The camera back will have the serial number of the camera it was intended for.  Likewise,  cameras may show the serial numbers of the backs mated to it, visible on the bottom of the camera casting after you remove the camera back.

Ektras did not leave the factory with flash sync.   If it has been added, the value of the camera is decreased by 25-40%.

The lens lineup was very impressive, fully rivaling the best from Leica or Contax in the late 1930's.  Offered were a 35/3.3, 50/3.5, 50/1.9, 90/3.5, 135/3.5, and 153/4.5.  The rarest is the 153.   The 50/3.5 is the next most difficult to find.  A 254/4.5 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.

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The lens mounting is the most complicated I have seen.   First you push back the lens catch, below the lens next to the tripod socket.   Then you turn a breech style lock mount through about a 200 degree turn on a very fine thread mount.  Pulling the lens off reveals a fantastically complicated geared coupling system. 

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Left to right, the Ektra's list of extras (what a great pun) included a Contax like close-up viewfinder for the 50/1.9, a ground glass focusing back, a Leica like right angle viewer for sneaky photographs, a "High-Low Angle Finder" for waist level or above the head viewing, and a nifty ultra modern flash synchronizer for flash bulbs.

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Operationally, the Ektra is a strange camera indeed.   Notice the large wheel besides the lens.  That's the focusing wheel!  The rangefinder is usually long, 4 1/8",  in fact making it difficult to hold the Ektra without blocking the RF windows.  The commendable viewfinder is almost exactly above the lens to lesson parallax problems.   The Ektra has viewfinder which zooms from 50 to 254, complete with built in diopter adjustment.   An attachment fits over the finder to show the 35 field.   Besides the viewfinder is the separate high magnification 1.6x split image rangefinder.   That long lever on the lower back is the left handed double stroke advance lever!  Surprise!  The Ektra's designer was left handed.  The large button below the viewfinder is the camera latch.  The film reminder is below the camera latch. 

 

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Left pic:  The shutter release is at the back of the camera and appears as a hole, since it's the top of the threaded cable release mount.  The little lever on the right of the pic is the 12 second delay self timer.   Now get this, this is funny.  For the high speeds from 1/25 to 1/1000, you LIFT the knurled dial and rotate it to reveal the desired shutter speed in the window beneath.  The low speeds 1/10th to 1 second are set on the nearby outer wheel.  Damn, how convenient!  I wonder why no other camera copied it.

Center pic:  the nifty modern automatic film counter that neither Leica or Contax had.

Right pic: 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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This is a close-up of the hard to find 90 portrait lens, the focusing wheel, and the combination carrying case for a body and extra magazine.

 

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   This bottom view of the camera shows the amazingly large and robust rewind lever. The "LOCK" and "UNLOCK" markings are for the sliding magazine lock and dark slide.  The screws on each side of the camera back are the other magazine attach points.      

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  The film back opens up at the BOTTOM!  Notice the large chrome film pressure plate.

 

  

 

The Ektra is one of my favorite camera because it's so incredibly strange.   The Ektra proudly combines 35mm design highpoints and low points (reliability) into one camera -- not an easy feat at all.


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Revised: November 25, 2003 Copyright  1998-2003  Stephen Gandy. All rights reserved.    This means you may NOT copy and re-use the text or the pictures in ANY other internet or printed publication of ANY kind.  Information in this document is subject to change without notice.  Other products and companies referred to herein are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective companies or mark holders.