Here are the various SLR cameras in my collection. SLR stands for single lens reflex, cameras that show the subject through the camera lens by means of a mirror and pentaprism or waist-level viewfinder. I tend not to collect these, at least not systematically as I prefer the range and viewfinders of earlier days (and one has to draw a line somewhere!), but I do have several scattered on this site, including several Kodak Retina Reflex, Agfa Ambiflex and some Ihagee Exa/Exaktas. Over the course of the last few years my SLR collection has expanded enough that a dedicated page is warranted, and includes some medium format cameras that often have interesting designs that sets them apart from the more well-known 35mm SLRs.
Zeiss Ikon Contax-S
Other types of cameras can be found elsewhere:
non-SLR cameras with focal plane shutters
various folding cameras
The introduction of the pentaprism SLR started a new era in photography. There's been a fair amount of discussion on the internet which was the first pentaprism SLR camera, the Italian Rectaflex from the relatively unknown camera maker Telemaco Corsi, or the Contax-S from the mighty Zeiss Ikon. The debate appears to have settled on the Rectaflex being the first on the market in 1948, and the Contax-S being the earlier prototype with development starting in 1938 already.
A Zeiss Ikon Contax-S, simply marked as 'Contax' on the front of the camera, with a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f/3.5 lens. Early production had no self timer
SLRs cameras had been available well before, the Ihagee Exakta range for example, but these had waist-level finders, which mirrored the image and weren't very bright. The ingenious design of the pentaprism projected the image correctly, as one would see it through a normal viewfinder, and in addition it illuminated the view more evenly and appeared brighter. The design was so effective that it is still in use today, over 70 years later.
The choice of Zeiss Ikon to name the camera 'Contax' is interesting, as it was a significant departure from their rangefinders with the same name, and had little in common other than the name. It had a horizontal moving cloth shutter instead of a vertical metal shutter, a hinged back door instead of a removable back, and even details like wind knobs were different.
Top view of the Zeiss Ikon Contax-S, looking very different from anything Zeiss had made before.
The Contax-S introduced another first: the M42 screw mount, later known as Practica mount and probably the most popular interchangeable lens mount ever used. After a few years it was updated to the Contax D, which wasn't all that different, mainly the flash contact had moved from the bottom to the top of the camera. Initially it was only marked by a small capital 'D' beneath the Zeiss Ikon logon on the pentaprism, but later the name was marked as Contax D on the front of the camera.
The Pentacon SLRs were made by the former Zeiss Ikon factories in Dresden, which in the late 1950s merged with several other companies and was renamed VEB Pentacon due to legal disputed with the new Zeiss Ikon company in West Germany. It produced the Contax SLR (see above), but was soon after renamed Pentacon for the same legal reasons.
The Pentacon F was first introduced in 1957 and was the successor of the Contax D. It's main new development was the semi-automatic aperture, which set the aperture to a preselected value while cocking the shutter. This avoided have to fiddle with the aperture after focussing the lens.
A Pentacon F displayed with a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f/2.8 lens. It was very similar to the earlier Contax-S, shown earlier. The main difference were the wind knobs, which somewhat ironically were more 'Zeiss Ikon' like than on the Contax-S. The Pentacon logo on the front can also be found on the Pentona II elsewhere on this site.
The KW Praktica was one of the first SLR cameras on the market and sort of a poor man's Exakta. It was a further development by Kamera Werkstatten (KW) of its first SLR, the Praktiflex, introduced in 1939. KW was based in Dresden and had developed some innovative cameras in the early 1930s, including the Pilot Reflex, a small handsome TLR camera. After WWII KW resumed production fairly quickly and introduced the Praktica with M42 screw mount, which mount had only recently been introduced with the Zeiss Ikon Contax S. The Praktica was a great succes and soon after followed a whole range of Praktica SLRs, which lasted until well in the 1990s (as part of VEB Pentacon).
The 1949 Praktica was a fairly simple SLR camera with a non-interchangeable waist-level viewfinder, a wind knob and a fastest speed of 1/500s. It was relatively cheap and reliable. A separate pentaprism viewfinder which could be mounted on top of the waist-level viewfinder was available as an option.
An early version of the KW Praktica, recognisable by its integrated strap lugs, with coated CZJ Tessar 50mm f3.5 lens. The waist-level viewfinder could also function as a so-called sportsfinder by opening the flap with the KW logo on it.
Detailed view of the top of the KW Praktica showing the waist-level viewfinder unit with magnifier. Also note the shutter speed dial, the top dial of which functioned as the slow and fast speed selector. If it pointed to the black triangle, the black numbers applied, and if it pointed to the red triangle, the (slow) red numbers applied. The speed itself was indicated by a small red dot on the lower ring.
Praktica V F
After KW was amalgamated into VEB Pentacon, the Praktica finally received a pentaprism as standard, even though it had already been on their more advanced Praktina (see below) for many years. The first model of these was the Praktica IV in 1959, so 10 years after the introduction of the original Praktica. Perhaps to make up for the lack of one earlier, the Praktica had de largest pentaprism 'bulge' I have seen on any camera. But other than that, the camera was still very similar to the earliest Praktica, as can be seen by comparing photos of the 1965 Praktica V F below and the original Praktica above. Of course it had new features, such as an instant return mirror and a rapid winder in addition to the knob winder, but overall it started to fall behind compared to what was coming out of Japan by then.
A Praktica V F with Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f/2.8 lens. Note the large pentaprism hump, which even leans a little forward.
The 1954 Praktina was a more advanced model of Kamera Werkstatten's Practica, described above. It was highly adaptable, having interchangeable viewfinder, focussing screen and camera back, as well as a provision to mount a motor wind. In addition, the Praktina had a revolutionary feature: automatic aperture control, which allowed to focus at maximum aperture but would automatically stop down to the selected aperture upon firing the shutter. Of course this was also available on the Ihagee Exakta Varex, but there it was done on the lens whereas on the Praktina it was implemented in the body. Moreover, the Praktina took it a step further. On early models (the Praktina FX) one still had to open the aperture manually after shooting, but on the 1958 Praktina IIA the aperture would be opened during film winding (on lenses that allowed this feature), so one never had to worry about it anymore.
A peculiar feature of the Praktina was the presence of a direct viewfinder in addition to the through-the-lens viewfinder. It was brighter so useful in low light, and would not blank out during shutter release, one of the drawbacks of SLR cameras without automatic mirror return.
A KW Praktina FX with Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f/2 lens with semi-automatic aperture control. I believe this to be a Praktina FX-SA3 version 2 according the praktina.com website, as it has a film reminder dial with both DIN and ASA film speed settings.
A KW Praktina IIA with Carl Zeiss Jena Flexon 50mm f/2 lens with fully automatic aperture control. This is a Praktina IIA-A version 2 according the praktina.com website.
Two KW Praktinas with various lenses, including a wide-angle 35mm f/2.8 Flektogon . The one on the right is quite curious. It's marked Jena T, which is what the original East German Carl Zeiss factory called their Tessars after they lost the trademark in a dispute over the rights of the name with Zeiss Ikon, the new West German branch. I removed the front ring from this lens in an attempt to clean the front cell, only to find out there was a second ring beneath it marked Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar and sporting a different serial number. So the ring looks like a quick patch after Carl Zeiss Jena lost the rights to their name. Curiously, the Flektogon has a later serial# but still carries the name C.Z. Jena.
KW Praktisix IIA
The KW Praktisix was introduced in 1957 and was one of the earliest medium format SLRs which handled more or less like a regular 35mm camera. It had a wind lever to transport the film and cock the shutter, and most other functions were in familiar places, especially if one was used to the KW Praktina above. It was available with a waist finder or a reflex finder; the latter could also be equipped with a through-the-lens light meter unit. The camera also featured automatic aperture control, so it would stop down to the pre-set aperture when pushing the shutter release. It had a cloth focal plane shutter. All in all a great, easy-to-use camera, apart from one thing: it was huge!
A KW Praktisix IIA with Carl Zeiss Jena Biometar 80mm f/2.8 lens and waist-level finder.
The Praktisix was a successful range of cameras, but it evolved only little during the two decades or so it was in production. The first model was made by KW before it got amalgamated into VEB and later Pentacon. Early production shows the KW logo, whereas later production already shows the Pentacon symbol. The Praktisix II was introduced in 1964 but any modifications were merely incremental, and the IIA, which is the model seen above, again only differed little, one addition being a film speed reminder on the back of the camera. In 1966 the name was changed to Pentacon Six. On this model the film transport was upgraded to make it more reliable, as it had been a bit of a weak point of the Praktisix. The final model was the Pentacon Six TL, which was in production until the late 1980s. The change was mostly in the name, to signify the release of a TTL metering prism. So the final variant still looked a lot like the first variant from the late 1950s, which serves as a big compliment for the quality and longevity of the original design.
A KW Praktisix IIA with Carl Zeiss Jena Biometar 80mm f/2.8 lens with semi-automatic aperture control.
Big brother and its much smaller sibling. Note the similarities, including the design of the lens, position of shutter release button, and so on.
The 1957 Kalimar Reflex was built by Fujita and was an improved version of the earlier Fujita 66 and Soligor 66. Although technically an SLR, it handled very much like the TLR cameras above, the main difference being the mirror which was not fixed (to a viewing lens), but retractable and therefore could use the taking lens as viewing lens. The system is best known from the Hasselblads. A focal plane shutter was used to make this setup possible (as a leaf shutter would block the view). Other than that, one would wind the film with a knob on the side and view the image from the top through a hood with a frosted glass, very much like most TLRs. The Kalimar Reflex also featured an instant return mirror, making the experience even more similar to a TLR.
One important difference was the ability to change lenses, which is simpler to implement on a system like this than on TLRs, as one didn't have to worry about different viewing and taking lenses. In fact, the Kalimar had a 52mm wide angle lens available, one of the few medium format SLR systems to do so. The lens mount was a 46mm screw mount.
A Kalimar Reflex with Kaligar 150mm f/4 lens. This is not the standard lens for this system, as that would be the 80mm f/3.5, which I do not have.
Arsenal Zenith 80
The Zenith 80 was a close copy of the iconic early Hasselblads, the 1600F and 1000F, and therefore sometimes jokingly referred to as a Hasselbladski. It was made by Arsenal, the producer of Kiev cameras, not to be confused with KMZ, who made the Zenit (and Zorki) cameras. The Zenith 80 was the UK export version of the Salyut, the only difference being the wind knob, which was chrome on the Salyut, but had a 'zebra pattern' on the Zenith 80. A few more very similar cameras were produced, namely the Salyut-C and its export twin the Kiev 80, as well as the Kiev 88 which featured a prism finder instead of a waist level finder. To add to the confusion, these have several slightly different lens mounts.
Arsenal Kiev Zenith 80 with Industar-29 80mm f/2.8 lens. This lens had a cool conical filter mount that allowed small filters to be mounted deeply recessed just in front of the front element. Note the big red warning sticker on the wind knob to alert people to only change the shutter speed after winding, otherwise damage may occur but also, the camera won't wind on properly.
Like its inspiration the Hasselblad, the Zenith 80 had a modular design with removable film back, viewfinder and lens. In principle this would allow great flexibility but in reality there were only few lenses for the Zenith 80 and only one viewfinder. The lens mount was also slightly modified on the later models, so that lenses for those can only be used in stopped down mode on the Zenith 80.
Nevertheless, it was an impressive camera. The film would be advanced and the shutter cocked with one full turn of the wind knob. This knob also doubled as a speed selector, which should only be done after winding the film. The shutter was of the focal plane type and was made of metal (as on the early Hasselblads, later Hasselblads had lens-mounted leaf shutters). It had a top speed of 1/1000s but also allowed long exposures up to 1s. The lens had an automatic stop-down aperture. The camera had an interlock so one could only remove the film back with the dark slide in place, and the shutter could not be fired if the dark slide was accidentally left in.
Rear view of the Zenith 80 with the film back removed. Note the gold-coloured metal shutter curtains, which are quite fragile as the various dents show. It also makes a lot of noise when fired. On the right side of the rear of the camera from bottom to top one can see the dark slide interlock, the drive wheel for the film advance that couples to the film back, and a small pin to reset the film advance sprocket on the film back after winding.
A view in the throat of the Zenith 80 with the internal light baffles removed to expose the shutter and wind mechanisms. Bottom right is the slow speed mechanism, whereas the large perforated wheel in the centre is part of the shutter timing mechanism. Visible in the back are the shutter release mechanism, the brass wind axle and the mirror mechanism. The main issue with working on these cameras is that all the different mechanisms have to synchronise very precisely, and it is easy to get it wrong.
The Zenit line of SLR cameras was introduced in the early 1950s by KMZ, the maker of the Zorki Leica copies, and started in fact off as a Zorki II which had been converted to an SLR model by adding a groundglass screen and a mirror. It kept the same L39 screw mount but the flange distance increased to make room for the mirror, so lenses are not interchangeable between the two mounts. It's also slightly different than the Braun Paxette mount, which also uses a 39mm screw mount. Other than the pentaprism it handled almost identical to the Zorkis, including bottom loading of the film.
An Zenit-C with an Industar-50 50mm f/3.5 lens. The Zorki II origin of this early SLR is clearly visible; all controls are virtually identical, only the rangefinder is replaced by a bulbous pentaprism and the lens mount has been extended to make room for the mirror. Nevertheless, it is one of the smallest SLRs one can find. The Russian (Cyrillic) letter C is equivalent to our letter S and stood for 'synchronised', i.e., flash-enabled.
Top view of the Zenit-C. I don't have a Zorki II, so can't show a direct comparison, but it's still rather similar in layout to my Zorki 4K rangefinder.
In 1960 the Zenit-3 replaced the Zenit-C, and featured a film advance lever instead of a wind knob as well as an new top housing made of one piece. It was still bottom loading (like most Leica copies), this was however changed to a hinged back on the Zenit-3M, like the one shown below. The next model received a lightmeter in 1967 the lens mount was changed to the more practical m42 mount. Many more generations were to follow; the Zenits were a great succes with a production in the tens of millions, and as recently as the early 2000s.
An Zenit 3M from 1966, assuming the serial# starts with the year of production. It is fitted with an Industar-50 50mm f/3.5 lens. It is not a particular advanced camera for its time, lacking slow shutter speeds and having a top 1/500s speed, no lightmeter or automatic diaphragm, etc. But that also means not much can go wrong with it, and indeed it still works quite smoothly.
Top and rear views of the Zenit 3M, showing off its unassuming and functional design. One neat feature of this otherwise fairly low-spec model was the mirror lock-up button in-between the wind-lever and speed dial: push it once and the mirror would lock up, push it twice and the shutter would fire. A similar way of avoiding mirror shake could be achieved with the time delay button, as it would lock up the mirror several seconds before opening the shutter.
Pentax is probably the biggest camera brand of which I didn't have a single camera for a very long time, due to the fact they only ever made SLR cameras, which I generally don't tend to collect. Most well-known SLR brands such as Minolta, Canon, Nikon, Olympus started out making folding cameras or 35mm rangefinders, as I have documented elsewhere on this site, but not Pentax,or rather Asahi, which is the company that it started as. Asahi was an optical company that after WWII decided to expand into the camera industry, and reckoned that the relatively new SLR cameras were to way to go. Thus, they build a copy of the KW Praktiflex, the 1952 Asahiflex, which had a waist-level viewfinder. They named their first pentaprism model the Pentax, and the rest is history. The decision to get into SLRs was absolutely the right one, and Pentax developed into one of the most successful camera brands. However, they did no do as well with the transition to the digital era, and Pentax was sold off to Ricoh in 2011, which still continues the use of the brand name and produces several high-quality DSLRs.
Asahi Pentax S1a with Asahi Super Takumar 55mm f/2 lens and accessory flash shoe mounted. There are a lot of early Pentax models with small incremental changes, but from the start they had instant return mirrors, advance levers and a back that opened as a door, and quite quickly gained automatic aperture stop-down, which put them ahead of all their competitors.
On a more personal note, my first introduction to an SLR camera (in the early 1990s) was in fact a Pentax. My girlfriend at the time had a fully manual Spotmatic and we used it extensively on our many trips. I didn't really have a proper camera and it was only when I was going on fieldwork in Indonesia by myself that I decided I should have my own camera. This ended up being a Minolta 500si, which had the benefit of having autofocus, and because Minolta was considered the poor-man's Canon or Nikon, which I as a student couldn't afford! My current use of Sony cameras is still the result of the ad-hoc decision I made at the time.
Early Asahi Pentax S with Asahi Super Takumar 55mm f/2.2 lens that I fixed for a client. I didn't really appreciate it at the time, but this is a pretty rare model. Only the first few Pentax models had a separate slow-speed dial on the front of the camera, a feature more commonly found on rangefinders such as the Leica III and many of its copies.
There is not much I can say about Nikon that hasn't been said before. It is one of the most well-known camera brands and probably the most well-reputed of the big brands. The Nikon FM2n was introduced in 1982, so one of the most modern cameras on this site, and was one of Nikon's last fully manual exposure cameras. By this time focal plane shutter design had developed to a stage where cloth shutter blinds had been replaced by metal blade shutters that scissored vertically across the film frame. This made shutter movement more reliable and faster, allowing faster shutter speeds, like 1/4000 on the FM2. It also made possible fast flash sync speeds of 1/200s, previously only possible with leaf shutter. The 'n' in the name stands for the new version, which was introduced in 1984, and had an even faster flash sync speed of 1/250s. It was produced until 2001.
A Nikon FM2n with Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AIS 'new' lens from 2005. This lens no longer had the aperture prong first found on the very first SLR pre-AIs Nikkors, but also on much later AIS ones for backwards compatibility. However, it still featured two rows of aperture markings.
Polaroid SLR 680
Polaroid is one of the most recognisable names in photography, but perhaps more so due to those iconic instant photographs with thick white borders which used to cover people's refrigerators and pin boards than as a brand of cameras. The instant camera was developed in the 1940 by Edwin Land, the founder of Polaroid, hence the name Land cameras for the early Polaroid models. The concept caught on quickly and Polaroid sold many millions of their cameras. Although with the advance of digital cameras and photo printers the concept is less popular now, the Polaroid company still exists.
The Polaroid SLR 680 camera was introduced in the early 1980s and was based on the SX-70, the first fully automatic instant folding camera. The Polaroid 600 series used a film cassette which also included the battery to run the camera. Unfortunately Polaroid recently stopped making these, but a new company, the Impossible Project, has developed an equivalent film. Ironically, Polaroid still advertises a camera that uses this film, as well as the film itself.
Most 600 series cameras were simple point and shoots, but there were some more advanced models, including the SLR 680, a professional quality camera which featured auto-exposure, auto-focussing, automatic electronic flash, through-the-lens viewing and an excellent lens. In addition it folded down to a flat but fairly large package. It was discontinued after about five years, but was reintroduced in 1996 as the SLR 690 with only minor (internal electronic) modifications. Both models are still sought after these days.
A Polaroid SLR 680 camera with 4-element lens 116 mm f/8 lens which (auto)focusses from 26 cm to infinity. What looked like a little gold-coloured speaker on the camera was indeed just that: an ultrasound generator that the camera used to calculate the distance to the nearest object and to autofocus the lens, i.e., a sonar system. The flash angle would also be automatically adjusted.
The following SLR cameras can be found elsewhere on this site. Please click the photo to go there.
Wirgin Edixa-Mat Reflex
Olympus OM10 / OM2