Rectaflex: Worlds first PP SLR:
Two beautiful editions of the Rectaflex.
1948: Rectaflex of Rome:
Worlds first penta prism slr, Rectaflex, was produced in Rome, Italy. Its founder, Telemaco Corsi, started construction of a PP SLR in 1946. He made a couple of prototypes later that year to be tested among professional photographers. At the Milan Fair
in May/June 1947 the prototype was shown, although only partly working. At the Milano Fair one year later, the fully working prototype was gaining much attention and went into production a few months later.The first version was for sale late '48, most likely
at least one year before the Contax S of East Germany! (For timeline Rectaflex/Contax S, see PP SLR: 1948-1954
The Rectaflex was produced in different series. Here are the
ones from '48 till '55 ('58):
1948: From June till September: the preseries Standard 947
1948: From September on: the first series production of series A.1000, sn. 1001-2127+
1949: April till June: series B.2000, sn. from -2233 to somewhere
1949: From September: series B.3000, sn. from 3001 to 3970+
1950: From June: series B.4000 Duo Focus, sn. from 4001 to 4471+
1950: From September till May 1952: Junior series, most A.1000 bodies, some B.16000
April/May till April '52: series B.16000, sn. from 16001 to 16862+
1951: From June till December: test series 20000 B; sn. from 20101 to under 20300
1952: From September: series 25000 B/25000. From 25001 to close to 29500.
1954: From January
till very early 1955: series 30000 from 29500 to some 31350
1955: Company sold and moved to Lichtenstein. Prototype series 40000 till 1958, some 200
1957: Production of new prototypes 40000 series in Rome. Only 12 produced.
is based on Marco Antonettos very detailed book "Rectaflex- The Magic Reflex" of 2002.
The Rectaflex features a rapid return mirror - RRM - that follows the movement of the shutter release button, finder going gradually black as you press
the button and opens as the button goes back to normal position. Not as fast as the IRM, but far better than having to rewind to see the motive through the finder. The shutter speeds range from 1 to 1/1000 second, latest versions had 1/1300 and Junior version
had 1/500. It also featured a kind of 45 degree cylinder split image focusing system, introduced from around A 1250, that is already from 1948. As Rectaflex had no intentions of producing lenses of their own, many independent and famous optical companies qued
up to produce for them, like Angenieux, Berthiot, Royer, Schneider, Kilfitt, Carl Zeiss Jena, Dallmeyer, Old Delft. Rectaflex then rebuilt them to fit their own mount.
Some West German camera producers, like Leitz, would not deliver lenses, as they
soon saw the italians as hard competitors to their own cameras. Would Ferrari ever deliver motors to Mercedes?
A sketch of the final Rectaflex construction.
1948: Rectaflex A 1000:
The first series produced Rectaflex was the A 1000 series of September 1948. Some 1150 copies were produced until December. Due to some problems with the quality on the long shutter times, a major part of them were held back at the factory, while most
of the ones sold were called back. The bodies of these cameras were later used for the production of the Junior series in 1950.
Here is a sample of the first series from 1948. The sn. indicates that this sample was produced in October. As from around sn.1250, the focusing was aided by a 45 degree split image cylinder. Because there was no rewind mechanism on the camera, the A 1000, like the test series 947 standard before it, featured a film cutting knife that would cut the film after exposing it. The film was then kept in the receiving cartridge. This very sample was among the ones being converted to the Junior series in 1950.
1949: Rectaflex B 2000:
The second series in the Rectaflex line was unofficially called the 2000 series, and given a B before the number. The same bodies as on the previous series were still used, although not with a film cutter but rather an ordinary knob for rewinding the
film, and with some inner corrections made. Still, the bottom of the camera was maintained as on the A 1000 series. Besides the lack of film cutter handle on the left side of the top plate, the only externally visible change was the somewhat different look
of the back wall opening handle on the base plate. Internally, there where some some small changes. During the production of the B. 2000 series there was an ongoing development, especially as concerns the pentaprism. But officially, this came with the next
As Rectaflex very soon discovered problems with the long shutter speeds on the A 1000 series, the major part of it, not yet being sold, was helt back in the factory. The ones already sold, some 250 pieces, were called back for modification,
and a major part of them returned. The A 1000 series numbered more than 1000, thus having serial numbers up to 2127, as the last known. The ones kept in the factory were rebuilt into later versions, most of them to the less expensive Junior model a couple
of years later.
Because of this, the next series, called the B 2000 and starting with 2233 as the lowest known number, is the oldest series one can expect to find today. Samples from the A 1000 series may still be there, but in extremely low numbers,
if at all.
So, my sample with the number 2238 may be among the earliest ones still around. More than that: it seems to be in perfect condition!
Here are the pictures:
This is how it came. After 64 years.. The original box a bit worn. What would I find inside?
Wow. With a cut out room for it in the box..
and a manual hardly ever read, sales and service documents all there..
Flawless. Perhaps some particles of dust I did not wait to brush off in my eagerness to present it..
The first series had a film cutter. This one hasn't. One of the changes from Standard 947 and A 1000. A very clean layout. Shutter speeds from 1 to 1/1000 second, split in two units, one operated from the top and one small dial from the rear.
The little dial on top of back wall regulates long shutter times seen as 0 and 1 (second) digits on the disc under the short shutter time dial.
Probably one of the earliest serial numbers remaining of Worlds First Penta Prism Single Lens Reflex camera...!
Not even a scratch.. Base plate/back door opener to the left. To be turned 180 degrees.
When doing so, this is part of what you see. Not marked for export.
The Rectaflex logo including La Reflex Magica.
The lens: a little jewel from Carl Zeiss, Jena. A Tessar 5cm/3,5.
Sn. 473934 . As far as I can see, this one is not mentioned among the regular lenses in Rectaflex literature. So, probably a special adaption, but done at the Rectaflex factory.
The lens has a very old style, even some kind of threads that become visual when turning the focus handle. They are not ordinary threads, rather a way to prevent dirt from entering the lens when compressing it, as the lens does not rotate.
With the B 2238 came this lens:
World first wide angel lens for SLR camera: the famous Angenieux Paris 35/2,5 Retrofocus! Sn. 181428.
1949:Rectaflex B 3000
The B. 3000 series, starting with 3001, was produced from September 1949, about the same time as the Contax S started production. The new series represented some changes from the outgoing B. 2000: First of all, the pentaprism had undergone some development
through the year and they were officially presented with the B. 3000. By replacing the sides in the prism with newly developed convex sides, the image was seen bigger and brighter. This led to a somewhat bigger prism house, being 2 mm higher than the previous
To stabilize the film cassette and eliminate the danger of twisting of the film, the bottom of the film cassette well was made more open so that the spole of the cassette could rest on a small aluminum cylinder being attached to the inside
of the base plate.
The sn. on this Rectaflex is 13255, a number that should not exist. There is a gap between sn. 4500 (approximate end of 4000 series) and 16001 (start of next series.) No sources ever mention any sn. like 13xxx. But there is an answer to this quiz: as cameras between sn. 2700 and 2800 and between 3200 and 3400 were exported, the first ones to Great Britain and the later ones to the USA, Rectaflex marked those by adding a digit 1 before the regular sn.! And suddenly my first Rectaflex is not an unknown one, but a part of the 3000 series produced from June 1949!
Hard to find any differences between the B 2338 and the B 13255 on the outside. Until you look closer and find that the penta prism rises 2 mm higher!
This Schneider Kreuznach Xenon 50/2 normal lens was probably the most common lens to follow the Rectaflexes, all through the years of productin. 6 elements in 4 groups. Sn. 2145881.
Studie of serial number. From the B 3000 series, added the digit 1 for export to the US.
Exported to the US distributor Director Products Corp. of New York.
Close up on the long shutter time dial.
The Angenieux 180/4,5 tele lens. Angenieux Paris was among the most famous lens producers and gladly delivered lenses as the italians asked for it. This one came in a very good condition. Here mounted on the B 13255.
The coating on the elder Angenieux lenses was soft and is often damaged. This one isn't.
So, if 2238 is such a low serial number, what about this one?
(To be continued. Stay tuned!)
1950: Rectaflex Junior:
After having discovered the long shutter time problems on the A 1000 series, Rectaflex might have just repaired them before sending them to a market that was so eager to get them. But Telemaco Corsi was already into the next generation cameras, and
the A 1000 cameras belonged to a passed stage. So he a and the rest of the leadership found themselves sitting on several hundred houses that they at first did not intend to use. This is typical to they way the company was run. Production was changed all the
time, giving room for new inventions but also slowing down the production capasity. There are reports of machines being ordered for improved production, but never even used because new ideas made them old fashion before they entered the factory. The machine
costs were phenomenal and production low..
So, Telemaco Corsi needed to do something with the A 1000 houses. As the price of the Rectaflex was relatively high, he saw a market for a less advanced and less expensive model. So, the Junior series, based
on the A 1000, was introduced in September 1950.
The Rectaflex Junior of 1950: At last the remaining houses made in 1948 could meet the market, although modified.
There were several changes from the A 1000 series to the Junior: the film cutter was removed, but the body was the same, so the handle was blinded with a button wearing the the letters Jr. But the body shell itself was maintained, except from the name Junior under the Rectaflex name in the prism front. Even the serial number from 1948, the A 1000 series, was there. This sample is among the early ones without the split image focus system that came around sn. A 1250.
A. 1182: An original 1948 body. Remainings of the first ever PP SLR series.
Shutter time reduced from 1/1000 to 1/500 to mark the lower level on the Junior. No long shutter times, the dial is transformed to a film speed reminder. (DIN values here.) Note the flattened shutter release button (and lens release button on the other side.) This came with the 30000 series and is probably a later modification. A unique meeting between the first and the last Rectaflex series!
1951: Rectaflex 20000 B:
Almost parallel to the production of the B 16000 series, Telemaco Corsi started the production of a test series that was to lead to the 25000 series with shuttertime of 1/1300 a year later. The 20000 B featured above all a new and improved shutter that,
in spite of the 1/1000 mark on the shutter time dial, introduced a faster shutter than the previous ones. This test model was produced between June and December '51 in only less than 200 pieces, the first serial number being 21001 and the last one somewhere
below 20300. Mine has sn. 20292...
The very rare B.20000 series, with less than 200 pieces made, was a test series produced in 1951.
S/n. from 20101 till under 20300. Here is 20292. May have been the last one..
Faster than the B.16000 series. Still showing 1/1000.
The filmspeed reminder came with the B.16000.
Rectaflex aimed at being a system camera, producing all kind of extra equipment for the photographer. Bellows, extension tubes and rings, filters, special lens hoods, adapters for microscopes and more.
A patented lens hood for Telemaco Corsi, with a double function. Beside the sun and reflex shade effect, it was designed to make it possible to preset f-stops, then focus at full opening and bring the diaphragm down to preset value again, all with a fingertip while looking through the finder. Elegantly simple!
Fasten the lens hood around the outer ring of the lens with the black arrow pointing at the chosen f-stop.
Turn the hood with your fingertip until it stops at full opening. Focus.
Turn the hood back again til it stops at chosen f-stop.
Founder of Rectaflex SpA, Telemaco Corsi during work.
Rectaflex SpA factory, via Monte delle Capre 23, district of Trullo, Rome, Italy.
From inside the factory in 1950.
1955-1958: The end:
The structure and economy of the company was not as good as the cameras, and they had to end their production in '55, then taken over by a swiss company that moved the production to Vaduz, Lichtenstein. Some 200 prototypes of a new 40000 series were
produced there, but no new series production took part until the game was finally over in 1958. During this period, in 1957, some cameras were also produced in the lab in Roma. They were not under Lichtenstein contol and were to be sent to the french distributor,
had they ever reached series production.
I have given the Rectaflex story a time frame between 1948-1955 as it marks the start and the end of series production.
A glimpse of a little wonder:
The following is an article, dropped on facebook!, based on the very detailed book: Rectaflex - The Magic Reflex, by Marco
Antonetto of 2002. Its a google translate, with all the fun it brings: you can read about prices like 65.000 pounds when the author speaks lire. And it says "car" when "macchina", camera, is the word. The founder, Telemaco Corsi, is sometimes called course.
And so on. But it gives some very interesting details about the development of the Rectaflex in 1948.
"At the Milan Fair in May 1948 finally appears Rectaflex the Standard Model 47 fully functional. Courses needs to take a lot of orders to support the program Rectaflex, and finally convince the Board of Directors of the CISA Viscose to allocate the money necessary
for the transformation of plant SARA and for the recruitment of qualified personnel.
The machine is equipped with
the prism of Rectaflex monolithic sloping roof for proper vision right-left; has the tagliapellicola and still does not provide the rewinding of the film. The mirror is free from vibration, and is almost instantaneous return as it is pushed by springs but accompanied by the lever of the shutter button and falls with the release of the button. The mechanism of this is slow and it is very similar to the delay with lever escapement mounted on rubies. In Stand Rectaflex is also exposed a machine immersed in a glass bowl full of water, demonstrating the strength of the materials that compose it.
At the booth Rectaflex there is a beautiful small eight-page, where it appears for the first time the slogan Rectaflex, the SLR magic and
logo with Saturn. On the occasion of the 26th Fiera di Milano also appears in the first price list information, which
is marked in May 1948. The camera body is called STARE and costs Pounds 65,000. The book can be with different optics: Angenieux 75, 90 and 135 mm; Berthiot 135, 145 and 180 mm and the resplendent Boyer 1:1.9 / 100 mm. Undeniably, for his Rectaflex, Courses wanted the objectives of the Leitz Wetzlar but the house would never have granted its optics, such
as Ferrari does not grant its engines to opposing teams: the Rectaflex is a real competitor, which overlooks the market
with an even more attractive of the small Leica.
The accessories that enrich the kit include: Leather Case Ready
(5,000 pounds), the color filters in boxes of 10 (45,000 pounds) and others.
The Pavilion Photography Optics-counts,
alone, over seventy exhibitors.Among the most visited areas we are willing to stand quadrilateral Ducati, that of Ferrania,
the Cattaneo (Rollei and Leitz) and Meccanoptica (Zeiss-Jena).Among the exhibitors there are Fototecnica of Turin (Herman with
the 24 × 36 Rangefinder and Bandi, box 6 × 9, from the front and the colored box integrated in the body); Ferrania (with Condor and Falcon); Ducati (the Dream); Boniforti and Ballerio (Perseus with the 24 × 34), the Kristall (with Lux ISO).
The Gamma Officine Precision exposes the Gamma II and III with Bayonet Lens Mount and optical Angenieux.
the stand of the Filotecnica-Salmoiraghi seems that there has been, placed under the counter, a 24 × 36 with reflex viewing prism. Her you will not have as a result of news.
17. "Er miracle viè from Rome ...»
in the photo appears in a large service in May, written by journalist George Balabani, who, with typical style of the 40s illustrates and enhances the product. The service is called The Miracle Rectaflex, subtitled "Stavorta er miracle viè from Rome." We propose a few excerpts.
"As the Commissioners of the Pavilion Photography Optics-we received many
congratulations for not having exaggerated exaltation of the new standard, which makes Rectaflex's car today and tomorrow, the aristocratic class of its own.
This is a reflex at eye level, with focus on frosted glass to zoom in, checked to come from a brilliant range finder, which can not know because faults incorporated into the prism receiving the image. Also working vertically, that is, when the unit is upside down, the image is always upright, with the right that is to the right, left what
is left. The characters will be read normally.
There you come and say that this particular relative interest, since in the frame is good to see things as they really are: both in groups and in the composition of still lifes or other sports
scenes in particular, since it is easier to follow a carin its true direction in reverse ...
The new rangefinder that works integral with the prism, and is called stigmometro (from the greek stigma = sign, point, stigma) is constituted by a
tiny cylindrical lens which has the characteristic feature of deforming the image when it is not perfectly in focus, any is
the focal length of the lens used, and at all distances. The split screen, which guarantees the math finally focus at
any distance with any focal length, is covered by patents worldwide, marking it a real discovery in the vast domain of photography. No one had thought of before!
The optics, it is not even ready the Italian one, is completely French.Angenieux in all its editions F: 2.9 5 cm F: 1.1 5 cm in series. In the list we also find the Angenieux 10 cm up, as well as the classics Berthiot from 1 .1.5 3.5 from 55 mm to 35 mm, and - on request - the famous Boyer Saphir 1.1,4 10 cm.
The slow motion of time, so much admired by the meticulous Swiss engineers, and mounted on non-synthetic rubies, is a jewel of modern and
reliable watches. The optical part of reflection is monolithic (patent Rectaflex).That is insensitive to moisture, shock, heat. The entire interior is anodized, that is unalterably. Reveal and ribbons in processed rubber fabric and
pure silk, insensitive to light because sheltered from the reflex system. Bushings bronze gears reported on the mass. All parts of duralumin are treated so as to be insensitive to moisture, weathering, and a surface hardness equal to that of corundum.
List with all spare parts, photographed and numbered in the event of an accident. The Rectaflex is delivered to the customer sealed inside a luxurious Plexiglas hood which was to become an ornament for cigarettes or playing cards ... Match won! ".
18. The construction of the factory
After the Fiera di Milano, with many orders in the portfolio - it
seems to be at least 300 only for the Italian market - and with interesting open negotiations with some foreign traders, begins the real phase of the productive organization of the Rectaflex.
Corsi went to the extraordinary meeting of the Board of Directors of the CISA, and the preliminary contracts from foreign distributors in hand. It comes with the assurance of an appropriation very conspicuous Refers to 300,000,000 lire, for the construction of the new area at the SARA, and to finally
begin mass production.
In June of 1948, meanwhile, comes a second eight-page brochure entitled Rectaflex, the SLR
magic. Annex brochure you will find the list n. 2, in which are presented the same items of the first order, but, for the most part, be increased by about 15% in the price.
In the early autumn of 1948 will begin the construction of the wing intended completely to Rectaflex, by raising a portion of the existing premises. Is erected a new four-storey building, in the typical architectural footprint adherent post-fascist, structured in a very practical way, in the manner of Walter
Gropius, with wide stairs to the upper floors, large rooms open-space which receive light large windows facing east. The new building, yellow ocher, is painted the great written Rectaflex, brick-red. The services and the canteen are also completely new and modern.
The factory is not delivered completely alone in these places: some departments may be less important or less clean, such as electroplating, painting and the Warehouse, are housed in adjacent buildings. The offices and environments drafters intended to occupy the central building, along or adjacent to those of SARA.
It then goes on to commission the equipment - lathes, milling machines, presses, pantographs, all equipment sophisticated for its time! - For the construction of the appliance.
Changing corporate structure and moves forward with the plan of recruitment.The
registered office leaves via Barnaba Oriani and moved to Via delle Muratte at number 43 (premises owned by the CISA Viscose) and the name becomes Soc Rectaflex Srl In this way Corsi comes off more and more from the previous activities of SARA and undertakes the manufacture of the new camera.
From the books of the Company Rectaflex, and precisely from the records of the staff of the Assembly Department Rectaflex Officine SARA, it is found that the company carries out the recruitment of staff to the first
half of 1948, which increased in the autumn of the same year, in line with the launch of production. The workers are trained by the Heads-editors, which are now the handyman, Fraiegari, Judicone and unoccupied. At the end of December are 12 mechanical fitters, all specialists in fine mechanics, the most coming from Officine Navali di La Spezia and the Laboratory
of Precision Italian Army.Among the staff employed there are also some women, because of their natural attitude to manual work
19. The first sales
The first Rectaflex, assembled by mechanics under the watchful
guidance of department heads and Fraiegari Judicone, leaving the new company and go abroad, to feed as much as possible the first demands of the distributors.
Probably the first foreign distributor is the Director Products Co. of New York.Is
added immediately after the Exclusivités Télos Henry Tieman for France. In addition, other trade agreements,
some partially successful, others aborted in the bud, are made in Switzerland (Eschmann of Lausanne), South America (Optica Beri, Caracas), Australia (Puccini) and South Africa.
The Rectaflex intended for export are marked with special symbols, burdened on the black plate that covers the internal delay, for the United States is engraved Exp N. 1 and for France Exp S.
Progress Photo announces, in the October 1948: "The Rectaflex is already on sale abroad alone for the moment, and Italy are the lucky few who are already in possession of the car."
It seems that there are almost practically delivered cars this year in Italy. A strange trade policy that undertaken by the company. The fact is that the marketing
department, which depends marginally from classes, already has orders in hand (or promises) with different foreign distributors and want to honor them, even for introitare currency. Neglecting the Italian market, thinking of dealing then through a network of sellers when the assembly line will work at full capacity, is perhaps a fatal error that will be later on, when the domestic
market will not respond as expected precisely because of a neglected penetration.
Telemachus course does not hide its aims: to produce a technical object with the same quality and excellence of a German equivalent. The goal of course is identified with the Leitz and Zeiss. This continuous search for technical perfection, also made of simple construction, the door - plus in the first person - day after day to experiment with new solutions and to make new changes on the
equipment during assembly. The everything slows down, however, the construction which is always fragmented by continuous
modifications and rearrangements and grow at a phenomenal machining costs. The different changes (or variations) can be
born and die during the production of a contract, and are not necessarily present in the devices manufactured later.
parts that undergo more changes, in those early years, are precisely the prism, the back and the body made of aluminum alloy. A
few changes are subject to the apparatus of the tendon and perhaps none of the retarder slow.No apparent change seems to involve
the external structure of the Rectaflex.
Several are in the first period, the Rectaflex who returned to the factory
to be re-checked and modified, and many are the machines that do not then passing the final test, they remain in warehouses.
20. The Mille
With the return to work after the summer holidays of 1948 starts the production itself, with a new series, called A.1000. Factory is still in the temporary premises of SARA, not yet completed the new wing.
The first of the
series Rectaflex A.1000 are still without the split screen, and have in fact frosted glass completely smooth. The device
appears after about 200-300 machines produced. This machine series A.1000 - the serial number that starts from number
1001 - has the look of Standard 947, with its tagliapellicola, the cap of the prism shape similar to the previous, only less pronounced. The prism has all the flat faces. The group of the body, housed in die-anodized aluminum, is composed of
four main parts, which are assembled together during the various stages of assembly: the body itself, the castle that contains the prism and the mirror, the front plane that with opening the lens and the back of which is an integral part of the case back. The attack of the flash is two holes with wide chrome outer edges, as usual in those years, and can be used with the Vacu-blitz (that kind of flash that uses incandescent bulbs called flash bulb).
The mechanism that controls the timing lenses, mounted on rubies from watchmaking, is now an improved version of the original 947's.
The series A.1000, being the most experimental of all, it has several changes and others are made in the years to come when you will be
transformed into Rectaflex Junior.
This first series is produced at least up to the number A.2127 (last known number).
The series A.1000 opens a characteristic that remains current for all the first devices Rectaflex: the internal numbering
of all the main components, including the prism. In fact each of these components is stamped (or etched awl, depending
on the piece) the serial number of the device as to the holes on the body are used as masks, the various external parts (castle, frontal, caps, back, etc..) and then make that single device.
At the beginning of the commercialization of Rectaflex,
the Company expects that any repair the unit can be carried out by local fotoriparatori - an idea which unfortunately does not reveal exact, because of the complexity and the diversity of construction compared to normal other machines on the market - for which is provided for a whole series of replacement parts for each individual device. This would allow to send to the repairer of Turin or the Palermo this component for this device that has the same serial number.
In the autumn of 1948 appears in the list n. 3, virtually unchanged from the previous year.
The Rectaflex Via Monte of the
Goats, 23 (district Trullo, Rome)