"The Experts and the Eastman Kodak Ektra Camera"
How long must camera collectors be burdened with the self-styled experts' pronouncements that the Eastman Kodak Ektra Camera was designed by imported left-handed German engineers? As this writer has repeatedly stated, the designer of the Kodak Ektra was a Hungarian, Joseph Mihalyi who emigrated to America in 1907 to join his older brother in St. Louis. After extensive employment with several optical instrument companies, he was hired by Eastman Kodak Company in 1923 as an apparatus designer, retiring in 1954 as Superintendent of Special Development Engineering.
During his tenure at Kodak he designed and secured patents for the unique Kodak Pocket Rangefinder and the later Kodak Service Rangefinder, the Super Kodak Six-20, the Kodak Ektra and Medalist cameras and the Kodak Bantam Special with industrial designer Walter Dorwin Teague. He also proposed the automatic single exposure per film stop concept which was incorporated as modified by Chester Crumwine, in the 828 Bantam roll film configuration via spaced, single slots at the side of the film strip This method reappeared in the Kodak Instamatic 126 and 110 film cartridges, (also derived from Mihalyi's 1934 and 1944 patents for a film holding package and camera) and is now universally employed in most single use camera film transport systems. Among his more than 200 patents, Mihalyi considered the Super Kodak Six-20 his most important design, but he was very proud of the M-10 Rangefinder he developed during WW II for use in antiaircraft fire control systems and for which he was awarded a Presidential Citation by President Harry S. Truman.
Mihalyi was not left-handed! He proposed that since generally, one's right hand is stronger, it may be given the primary task of holding the camera, while through judicious design, (we call it ergonomic now) most or all camera controls be assigned to the left hand. What a masterful design the Kodak Ektra is! It served this writer in excellent fashion as the "family camera" for several years until that kindly old camera shop owner advised of its landmark status and it was moved to a collector's cabinet.
It is suggested that those experts have not lived with the Kodak Ektra and its functions thereby presenting a dilettante's view of reality. Furthermore they have not availed themselves of the Kodak literature associated with a "The World's Most Distinguished Camera" as Kodak publicity saw fit to proclaim.. Writers and researchers that eschew primary sources are prone to mouthing misinformation and espousing urban legends.
From one of the several Kodak Ektra announcements one may find the following: "......A rhythmic operating cycle for all major adjustments, with controls at fingertips of one hand and all operating scales and dials visible from above...."
and in another brochure, the following;
"Picture taking with the Ektra follows a new, rhythmic operating cycle. The carefully designed main operating controls are so grouped as to be at the finger tips of one hand, the other hand being free for simply holding the camera firmly. The operating hand quickly adjusts the lens aperture by means of corrugated controls on the diaphragm sleeve. A turn of a prominently milled ring gives approximate focus, and the thumb completes the operation by activating the fine focusing knob. Instantaneous and retard shutter speed dials are located side by side on the operating side of the camera. The index finger fall naturally on the adjacent shutter release button. When the user wishes to include himself in the picture, one thrust with the thumb of the operating hand activates the delayed-action shutter mechanism."
"Film advancing and shutter winding are accomplished with similar efficiency. Two thumb strokes of the combination lever complete both operations, and in a situation demanding a quick series of exposures this action is simply alternated with the tripping of the shutter, without moving the camera from the eye."
"Besides optimum control of operative actions, the Ektra provides complete operative visibility - the instant ability to verify performance of operations and correctness of camera settings. All operating scales, dials, special index marks, and signals can be seen from above - those on the lenses as well as those atop the camera - and visible at the same time are the film-movement indicator and film type record on the camera back."
"The significance of the concentration of data can best be appreciated in connection with the operative action. Adjustment, operation, checking - all can be accomplished without changing one's grip on the camera, and without turning or twisting it at awkward angles. There is no lost motion - no lost time - no undue diversion from the subject at hand."
A design by a left-handed German engineer? Hardly!
© 2000 - 2009 K. Kekatos
Do you have a Kodak Ektra? See The Ektra Registry at www.ektraregistry.org.
The Kodak Regent Camera (1935-39)
The “Prince of Kodaks" as a contemporary British advertisement by Kodak Ltd., declared! This product from the Eastman Kodak Company subsidiary, Kodak A.G. Dr. Nagel-Werk Stuttgart, Germany, made for use with the recently introduced Kodak Film No. 620, perhaps best epitomized in cameras, the new “streamline” vogue of the 1930s. An improvement of the 120 film size spool by a new thinner ‘620’ all metal spool, providing a raison d’etre for slimmer camera designs, brought forth this unique folding bellows type camera. Aside of its “moderne vue”, one of its operating features was a dual picture format capability to provide eight 2 ¼” x 3 ¼” images, or with the supplied film aperture masks, sixteen 1 ¾”x 2 ¼” negatives. Another attribute was its wholly integrated coupled range finder.
It was constructed of steel and aluminum with a leather covered bellows, the body trimmed in black enamel with polished chrome-plated fittings and covered in black Morocco leather. It was available with 10.5cm f:3.5 or f:4.5 Schneider Xenar or 10.5cm f:4.5 Zeiss Tessar lenses mounted in Compur or Compur-Rapid shutters with speeds to 1/250 sec. and 1/400 sec. respectively, some shutters allowing for intermediate shutter speeds between those marked and also a 12 second delayed shutter release. The Regent incorporated a coupled, coincident image type range finder of 65mm base line, and a folding optical viewfinder with an integral adjustment for the dual format picture option. The range finder and folded viewfinder were completely encompassed within the curved body contours with the retractable film wind knob and adjacent camera front release button barely noticeable with the camera closed.
With the spring-loaded, self-erecting camera front open, a retractable knob placed at the right side of the dropped camera baseboard accomplished the lens focusing with readable distance scale engraved at the baseboard front edge. The shutter release incorporated an extension lever from the shutter’s normal side release position to an upper location of the shutter, thereby providing alternate shutter controls for vertical and horizontal camera handholds. Additional touches to improve the handiness of the Regent were the extensible film wind and rangefinder knobs to afford a better grip. In the film supply and take up spool chambers, one each of the usual pair of film spool points, besides being spring-loaded , also swiveled outwards to permit easier placement of the film roll or spool.
The camera was topped at its carrying end with a leather hand strap carried on metal stirrups attached at the camera back’s sliding latch assembly. The usual camera support strut at the outside of the camera door was present with KODAK embossed in quotation marks, reflecting perhaps the ‘made up’ word. The shutter cover plate bore a faint ‘art deco’ flavor while the lens/shutter assembly support struts and rails reflected a streamlining design effort. As was customary in European cameras, a 3/8” tripod socket with screw-in cover was provided at the camera door center. Weighing in at two pounds with film loaded, this 9.8cm (3 7/8”) wide, 16.5cm (6 ½”) long and 4.2cm (1 5/8”) thick exercise in camera design certainly brought its owner into a new age, until the calamity of World War II arrived.
A handsomely executed brown leather, plush lined pouch type case with hand strap, and "Kodak Regent” embossed on the front flap was available for the camera. The obligatory instruction manual in German was issued and O.E.M. English and French language versions were also published and perhaps in Italian. The Kodak Regent was not imported for U.S. sales by Eastman Kodak Company and is therefore not often encountered here by American collectors. During its time of production, the German prices for the several Regent models were from 135 to 162 Reichsmarks. Kodak Ltd. advertisements in 1936 cited 20 British Pounds for the Tessar/Compur-Rapid version, leather case included - a $100 value at that time and almost $1,400 in today’s Dollars. A 1936 advertisement by Kodak S.A. Milano appearing in the magazine LA VIE D’ITALIA, praised the Kodak Regent, “L’Apparecchio Dell‘Armonia, Della Distinzione” describing the camera’s features equipped with Schneider-Xenar lenses but omitting a price! Kodak AG records indicate that some 10,000 units were produced together with the successor Kodak Regent II camera of 1939.
© Kirk Kekatos 2005-9
Why not 36mm or 40 or 50 or even 57 like Heinz?
(All of you into digital cameras, read no further unless you’re interested in history!)
Well, believe it or not, for an answer we have to go back to Thomas A. Edison (1847-1931), American inventor and a national icon of the 20th century. Edison, as many scientists and other learned individuals since the 18th century, knew about the physiological phenomenon known by the theory of persistence of vision, i.e., the ability of human vision to retain for an instant the image of a moving object or scene looked upon. After inventing the repeating telegraph, the incandescent light, and the talking machine, as his early ‘cylinder record player’ was called, Edison is reported to have declared, “I will do for the eye, what I have done for the ear!..." Having at his disposal the resources of the Edison Laboratory, he assigned the task of creating a moving picture machine to a laboratory mechanic and amateur photographer, William Kennedy Laurie Dickson (1860-1936), recently arrived from England. Edison of course knew about the 1878 sequential image photography of the trotting horse photographed in California by Eadweard Muybridge, the Englishman (1830-1904). He was also aware of the sequential imaging of bird flight by the Frenchman, Etienne Jules Marey (1830-1904). Perhaps these pre-existing procedures among other such cinematographic developments in England, Germany and America are probably what led the US Supreme Court to issue a statement in 1902 that the Edison claim of inventing motion pictures was not valid.
Dickson worked diligently but was initially unsuccessful with his design concepts. One of which was the application of tiny photographic images or ‘microdots’ to use a latter day designation, upon the curved surface of the Edison phonograph wax cylinders. Not only did this prove difficult to accomplish coincident to the cylinder grooves, but also its proposed use required a microscopic viewing device to be employed while the phonograph played, let alone the fact that the Edison talking machines then in use at public venues used earphones for each customer.
At about this time an individual in another burgeoning industry was thinking of ways to improve his product. George Eastman (1854-1932), after placing on the market in 1885 his “American Film” in a roll holder adaptable to the then common glass plate cameras, thus eliminating the need of glass photographic plates, had in 1888 brought forth the KODAK. This unique 6 ½”X 3 ¼”X 3 ¾” box-shaped camera reduced the photographic process as far as the amateur was concerned, to Eastman’s slogan, “You Press the Button. We do the Rest!” Each camera when purchased, came loaded with a roll of film, 2 ¾” (70mm) wide and about 23 feet long, enough for 100 pictures. The owner, after taking all the pictures, returned the KODAK in its leather case back to the factory. The film was developed, producing 2 ½” circular pictures; each mounted on card stock and together with the KODAK, now reloaded with film, were sent back to the customer. Initially the silver gelatin photographic emulsion had a paper base and the images were stripped off the paper during development, preparatory to mounting. But soon Eastman came upon a superior cellulose base and from 1889 with the introduction of the KODAK No.1 camera, the Eastman film, which was similar to today’s roll films for black & white photography, became a big seller.
The KODAK revolutionized the field of photography both technically and financially by providing the public a camera easy to operate and an ensuing large consumer base whose dollars, companies would attempt to win. The word Kodak soon entered the English vernacular of the day as a verb, “going kodaking”, “I’ve been kodaked”, “Don’t kodak me!” and even an Eastman publication named “Kodakery“, referred to “the Kodaker”. Some contemporary publications can be found using the word Kodak to refer to any small, portable camera.
At the Edison Laboratory, it was soon realized that a flexible strip of images, not unlike that which Marey was using in his rifle-like camera for shooting bird flight, could be made to move past a light source and projected on to a viewing surface. Dickson also understood that the new Eastman film with its cellulose base would better sustain the rapid movements necessary for the persistence of vision in a viewing machine. He acquired some of the bulk film being produced by the Eastman Company, slit the standard 70mm wide film strip in half lengthwise and punching regularly spaced perforations along the edge for traction and image registration, devised 35mm wide strips of film of about 50 feet long, carrying images 18mm X 24mm in size on the film strip. The rest as they say, is history.
The Edison Laboratory developed a moving picture viewing machine, a four foot high, and about two by three foot square wood cabinet, named the Kinetoscope and an immobile, electrically powered motion picture camera, the Kinetograph. The moving images inside the “peep show” contrivance were viewed by one person at a time, from a viewing ocular on the cabinet top after electric direct current was turned on by the Kinetoscope attendant, and later as an improvement, by the customer inserting a coin in a slot. At once,“Kinetoscope Parlors” proved very popular as a public entertainment venue, although they soon lost favor to the idea of picture projection on to a wall or screen, to which Edison did not choose to invest his inventive talents. Edison also neglected to patent the Kinetoscope outside the United States, which permitted others overseas like the Lumiere Brothers in France to quickly copy the machine and together with other American inventors and entrepreneurs hasten the development of motion picture technology. Various motion picture film formats were in use during the early cinema days, but by 1909 the Edison 35mm film format with 18mm X 24mm images was adopted as an industry standard.
This rapidly developing industry soon found that after filming a movie using thousands of feet of film stock, they had unusable short lengths of film, “short runs” as they were called. Concurrent with these situations was the new interest by camera manufacturers to design cameras to use this new “miniature” film format. Beginning about 1904 some two dozen different American and foreign cameras for 35mm cine film were put on the market or patented, but the German Leitz Leica camera marketed in 1926 proved to be the most commercially successful. Because of the graininess of the emulsion of available cine film stock and a preference for a horizontal orientation of picture view, the Leica designer Oskar Barnack
(1879-1936), increased the Leica film format from 18mm X 24mm to 24mm X 36mm, with the film traversing horizontally in the camera, although the Leica was not the first camera to utilize this concept.
By the 1930s this ‘small camera’ idea using 35mm film had caught the imagination of photographers, both amateur and professional worldwide. Pre-eminent were the finely made Leica and Zeiss Ikon Contax cameras from Germany with their extensive array of interchangeable lenses and numerous accessories. However, their high cost (several hundred Dollars in America) prevented the average photo enthusiast from participating in the new “candid camera” idea. In the early 1930s the Eastman Kodak Company had acquired the German camera manufacturing firm, Dr. August Nagel Kamera-Werk Stuttgart, from which in 1934 they placed on the market a superb small folding 35mm camera, the Kodak Retina. Although without interchangeable lenses or a large array of accessories, it was a precisely crafted camera with an excellent f:3.5 50mm lens, a multi-speed shutter and a price in America of $57.50.
Concurrently with the introduction of the Retina Camera, Eastman Kodak Company introduced the Daylight Loading Cartridge, a pre-loaded 35mm film magazine. This quantum step towards a universal film containment and supply cassette for 35mm cameras, fostered by the increasing interest of 35mm photography, caused many low cost 35mm cameras to come forth in increased numbers in the 1930s. In America the International Radio Corporation of Ann Arbor, Michigan, manufacturers of table radios with plastic cases introduced the Argus Model A Candid Camera in 1936. It had a simple optical viewfinder, an f:4.5 50mm lens with a multi-speed shutter housed in a black plastic body with stamped metal back at $12.50, soon reduced to $10. A Candid Camera for Everyman! After two years, and now called International Research Corporation, they introduced the Argus Model C series of which the Argus Model C3, (1939-66) sometimes referred to in the trade as the ‘brick’ because of its shape and durability, held an American camera sales record at almost 2 1/2 million sold.
A radio parts supplier in Chicago, turned camera manufacturer and becoming the Candid Camera Corporation of America, introduced the Bakelite and metal bodied 35mm Perfex “Speed Candid” camera in 1938. It was the first American standard (full frame) 35mm camera with focal plane shutter and was available with f:3.5 or f:2.8 50mm lenses. There soon followed an extensive line of Perfex 35mm cameras ending in 1959. The Universal Camera Corporation of New York had already in 1933, entered the ranks of small format cameras with its tiny plastic UniveX Model A at a price of 39 cents! It used a special imported 35mm roll film that gave 6 exposures of 1 ½ by 1 1/8 inches. In 1938 they introduced the unique 35mm UniveX Mercury camera with leather trimmed, cast aluminum alloy body, fitted with f:3.5, f:2.7 or f:2.0 35mm lenses, a focal plane shutter and using a proprietary spooled 35mm roll film stock as before. The Mercury camera provided 19mm X 24mm images (almost the cine format!) and its successor, the 1946 Universal Mercury II camera gave 65 like exposures on the standard 36-exposure cartridge of 35mm film. In 1938 the Eastman Kodak Company introduced its first American made (full frame) 35mm cameras, the Kodak 35 Camera series - the range finder versions of 1940-51 in particular, being excellent picture takers but often outsold in the marketplace by the contemporary Argus C3. Finally In 1941, Eastman Kodak brought forth America’s finest 35mm camera, the landmark Kodak Ektra with its series of superlative interchangeable Ektar lenses and singular accessories, only too soon to be eclipsed by the consumer production restraints of World War II and finally by postwar economic considerations.
© Kirk Kekatos 2000-2009
For camera references see:
McKeown’s Price Guide to Antique & Classic Cameras, 2005-06, 12th edition
The KODAK – pg. 472
Leitz Leica ca. 1932 - pg. 601
Zeiss Ikon Contax ca. 1932 - pg. 1043
Kodak Retina 1934 – pg. 520
Argus Model A - pg. 72
Argus Model C3 - pg. 74
Perfex “Speed Candid” - pg. 175
UniveX Model A - pg. 940
UniveX Mercury - pg. 938
Universal Mercury II - pg. 938
Kodak 35 - pg. 508
Kodak Ektra - pg. 492
Selling your Vintage, Collectable, or Usable Camera
When you try to sell a camera or photographic item you are entering a marketplace. There are many possible venues to sell your items. Ebay is by far the most used at the present time but there are other electronic auction sites and many dealers sell on line. Some of them also buy on line. There are auctions on occasion at smaller local houses, but the few major auction houses that will accept photographic material will only do so for major collections. There are antique dealers, newspapers ads, garage sales, flea markets, and other places to dispose of your items. All have pluses and minuses.
Ideally you should have a realistic idea of the retail value of what you have but this is difficult for those without experience in this area, as it is for all other areas of collecting. The major guide book in this field is McKeown’s “Guide Book to Antique and Classic Cameras” (12th Edition, 2005-06). It is large, extensive, and expensive. Larger libraries may have it or an earlier edition. Inquire at email@example.com.
The following factors are important to keep in mind:
SUPPLY AND DEMAND: Cameras made in smaller quantities and those popular with collectors will carry higher prices, all other factors being equal.
CONDITION: Cameras in demand and in clean and working condition will carry a premium over those in poorer condition. The nearer “mint” the better
WHAT’S HOT: Such items benefit from price escalations. Leica’s are always in, Polaroid’s are not.
AGE: Older is not necessarily better. The Eastman Kodak Co. made many folding and box cameras by the hundreds of thousands early in the last century. Older may be better at your local antique store but not necessarily in the camera market.
INITIAL COST: Cameras that cost more when new are generally worth more than those that initially cost less. Higher initial cost usually means that fewer were sold.
SENTIMENTALITY: Just because it was your grandmother’s camera plays no part in the market.
Keep the following in mind: There area probably more than 50,000 models of cameras made excluding many variations of a model. Nobody knows everything. Accessories are generally of less interest than cameras, but age and condition are relevant. Movie equipment is collected by fewer persons than still cameras. Older professional 35mm items can command high prices, and generally there is more interest in 16mm items than 8mm or super eight.. Equipment with unusual and older formats may attract interest. If you sell to a dealer at a show keep in mind that he has overhead, inventory he has paid for, expenses to sell items, and therefore cannot pay retail “book” prices.
But remember that almost anything will sell to the right person, at the right price, at the right time, and the right place. GOOD LUCK!
Joe Marlin, Revised March 2012