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The Ektra was a very advanced 35mm rangefinder camera launched by Kodak USA in 1941. Before World War II, Kodak presented some really advanced cameras under the supervision of Joe Mihalyi, among which the Medalist, Super Six 20 and Bantam Special.
The Ektra was a 35mm coupled rangefinder camera. The shutter was of the focal plane type, from 1s to 1/1000, with horizontally traveling cloth curtains. The Ektra had a system of interchangeable magazine backs, allowing to change film in the middle of a roll. The advance lever was at the left of the magazine back, and needed two strokes. The release button was at the left of the top plate. It is said that Mihalyi was left-handed, so all the camera was designed to be used by a left-handed person. However this theory is contradicted here.
The viewfinder incorporated a zoom device, from 50 to 254mm. Only the 35mm lens needed an external lens to be put in front of the finder. The viewfinder also had a diopter adjustment, from -3 to +3 diopters. The rangefinder of the Ektra had a very large base, but it was not integrated in the viewfinder.
The Ektra had interchangeable lenses with a breech lock mount engaging a fine screw thread. All the lenses were named Ektar. The available lenses were the following:
- 50/1.9, seven element
- 50/3.5, four element
All the lenses were coated, at first only on the internal surfaces, and later on all the lens elements. A 254mm lens was planned but apparently never produced. About 2000 of the 35mm, 90mm and 135mm were made, and 400 of the 153mm. The lens cases were very nice cylindrical aluminium boxes.
An Ektra has been sold at a Christies auction (1/4/2003) with a 50/1.9 and a 90/3.5 lens marked Television Ektanon instead of Ektar. Apparently these lenses were for some post-war cine camera (see this page at the Golden Age Television site). The 50/1.9 is pictured mounted on the body, so the lens mount must be the same.
A lens marked Wollensak-Dumont 50mm f/1,5 Raptar has been offered on auction by Auction Team Köln, it was said to be probably a prototype lens for the Ektra, with Steinheil lens design. However it had no focusing ring and a 40.5mm screw mount, so it was not a functional Ektra lens.
The accessories included:
- waist level brilliant finder (shoe mounted)
- angle finder (shoe mounted)
- magazine back
- ground glass back
- flash unit
- close focusing rangefinder
- synchronized flash
- tripod clearance head
About 2500 Ektra were sold, and it was advertised until 1948.
An improved version called Ektra II was planned, three of them are known to exist. They incorporated a built in lens for the 35mm lens, and could mount a magazine back with a spring driven motor.
Ektra RF followup: A very solid heavy design, extremely advanced for 1939 designing, with parallax, zoom viewfinder, film backs, many lenses, angle finders, etc. and too small a port for the rangefinder viewing, split image with diopter control. Lens release is subject to sticking, threaded unscrew of lens diffucult if not done in many years, Helicoil heavy and hard to turn, large focusing gears everywhere all need to be lubed. A modular design that when serviced last 25 years with no problems, until the next servicing! its possible to get a messed-up ebay model back in focus and working well for back removal; BUT, if the shutter is bad, the top must come off and be cleaned and lubed! Intricate rangefinder prisms, wedges and diopters require careful cleaning and can be brought back to 92% light transmission max! If the shutter curtains are bad, you MUST replace and thats going to have only one guy for service, Ken Ruth of Bald Mountain, Ca. lately the chinese machinists have designed a adapter for ektra lens mount to m4/3 rd's and Sony Nex, selling on ebay. The ektar 50mm F:1.9 is an outstanding lens if its real clean an takes amazing photos on a m4/3 rd's chip camera. Resolution of old Ektar lenses was superb in the center focus for the science of 35mm film in the 1940 time era, and on 2011 digital chip cameras, yield mind blowing results. try it, youll see what i mean quickly! Don@eastwestphoto
- The Kodak site by Brian Wallen has great info about the Ektra, with detailed pictures of the Ektra and Ektra II
- The Ektra at Cameraquest
- The Ektra at Pacific Rim
- Tales of the Kodak Ektra, an article by K. Kekatos at the Chicago Photographic Collectors Society
- The Experts and the Eastman Kodak Ektra Camera, another article by K. Kekatos at the Chicago Photographic Collectors Society
- Kodak patents, a collection of over 1,200 Kodak patents, including some about the Ektra.
- US patent: Shutter of the Ektra
- Instruction manual for the Ektra at www.orphancameras.com