My history of Czech TLRs part 10: Flexaret VI
It is worth repeating at this point that the important word in the above is “my” not “history”. These notes on the Flexarets and their precursors are merely my observations and experiences and do not purport to have any historical accuracy.
Onwards! The Flexaret VI. Oh what sorrows I have had with this one: its condition (even its very existence) is a bit of an embarrassment to me. It is peeling and falling apart and that is nothing to do with faults in the construction, but with highly strung and overly emotional shutters.
This was the first or second Flexaret I owned (I claimed earlier that a IIIa was my first but now I am not so sure as I got them around the same time). It was also my prime shooting Flexaret for many years (which may help explain its worn looks), then, one day I was in a junk shop and saw a little Rolleiflex 621 and as I reached out for it this thing lept from its case to the floor never to work again.
It was that damn Prontor! (bloody emo shutters getting depressed over nothing)
SInce then it was sat around unloved and got mankier and mankier. I really should just replace it with a Metax shuttered version.
The main changes from the Va to the VI: a completely new taking lens assembly with a B36 bayonet for hoods (external) and filters (internal); a Prontor SVS that goes all the way to 1/500th sec; a chunky and satisfying EV based exposure adjustment lever (on the ones with EV); a vastly improved 35mm mechanism (though I still think you would be nuts to use it); a film reminder (manual) on the back; and a new colour and texture to the cover.
The grey version of the VI is just a bit unpleasant actually. The leatherette has a ridged herringbone pattern that holds dirt like nothing else and feels a bit nasty. The VI grey is also rather yellowish. I am not sure if they changed the colour or just the cover formulation for the VII but grey VIIs are much nicer looking than grey VIs.
As I mentioned my VI has (or had) a Prontor SVS with a top speed of 1/500th second. This is up there with the Compur-Rapid on my late 1940s Flexaret III; not bad for about 20 years of product development. Until that suicidal leap it had given me several years of service without complaint or incident. The EV based exposure adjustment knob was a huge step forward in terms of usability. It is big enough to find without looking and makes adjustments a breeze. One still has go look at the front of the lens to determine what exposure is set however, the Rollei top view exposure never made it to the Flexarets.
The VI is common though currently slightly over-priced IMO. They are good solid, if unspectacular, cameras. The black VI looks better than the grey but I really dislike that grey finish. They are simpler than the VII (no 6x4.5 capability making for a simpler winding mech) and are less likely to go wrong. They do not have the primitiveness of the Standard, so some people may prefer them.
I will be getting a replacement VI because I think this is a good TLR and my dead VI is dead: getting them repaired in Australia costs way, way more than getting a good replacement. I am not sure it will replace the VII and Va as my go-to Flexarets but it would be nice to have a working one in my collection (as well as one which is slightly less knackered looking).
Oh, and lastly, that “automat” label on the name plate: it is a marketing ploy. The VI (and VII) are exactly as ‘automat’ as the V. Winding cocks the shutter and the auto-stop and frame counter do their job; loading is by presetting the film indicator to two markers within the film gate before closing the back. No Flexaret ‘automat’ is as automated (as for film load and advance) as a Rolleiflex Automat.
My history of Czech TLRs part 9: The Flexaret V and Va
The V and Va are, in my opinion, the most handsome of all the Flexarets. The weird (but loveable) release lever of the IV/IVa has become a smart, threaded push button and the front standard is a delightful piece of 50s modernism. The camera front has a well structured asymmetry introduced by the flash connector opposite the release/shutter lock (yes, a shutter lock, just what one needs with a push button release). The double anchor focus has a built in depth of field scale and again adds a boost to the camera’s aesthetics.
My V has a Prontor SVS shutter. Now I am not a fan of the Prontors but this one has been solid enough, though it tops out at 300. It also has EV settings which sync the shutter speed and aperture. I use this with my Voigtlander Vitessa and Hasselblad and really like the feature. The Va with a Metax shutter does not have this.
In addition to their good looks the V and Va also introduce coupled wind/shutter cocking for the first time on a Czech TLR. It is said on the interwebs that this can make them a little unreliable. I have not had that problem with any of my Flexarets but, as usual YMMV. It does make winding these things an adventure in hand muscle development.
Apparently the V is rather uncommon whereas there are a lot of Vas around. The only definitive way to tell them apart is that the V does not have a 35mm rewind knob (just like the IVa). You should be able to pick up a clean, working Va for well under $100.
The V and Va are the last Flexaret to use the 30mm push-on filters and hoods. These are much easier to find than the B36 filters and hoods used by later models (which are not bay 1 no matter what you might read elsewhere). So if these things are important to you (and you really should use a lens hood, the Belars flair) then a Va is the one to go with.
If you must shoot 35mm with your Flexaret get a Va because it is the one with a rewind knob: but if you must shoot 35mm with your Flexaret you are a nutter. Even a Praktica MTL will give you a better 35mm experience. Actually even a Zenit will give you a better 35mm experience, and they are shite.
My history of Czech TLRs part 8: the Flexaret IV and IVa
(This series of posts about Flexarets and their precursors are based solely on my experience with the cameras and are not meant to be in any way historically accurate.)
The IV and IVa are an evolutionary step in the Flexaret lineage. They see a return to knob wind: much more reliable than the flakey crank of the III/IIIa; but also have several advances.
The red window is gone and the frame counter (introduced on the III but I still recommend the red window with one of those beasties) actually works well enough to rely on it - the first working autostop on a Czech TLR since the pre-WWII Bradac Autoflex. The wind is not coupled to the shutter advance so there is still a need to go fumbling around the taking lens to find a shutter cock lever. There is, however double exposure prevention. Resetting the shutter after taking a photograph will not allow a second exposure until the film has been wound; not even using a cable release in the body release. There is a tiny release tab on the shutter, so multiple exposure is possible if one is really keen.
The release has been moved from the shutter itself to a lever on the camera front. It is an odd release but I really like it, and there is, as mentioned, a hole in the front to which a standard cable release may be fitted. Earlier Flexarets had the cable release connection as part of the shutter (except my III - it seems the Compur Rapid has no remote release at all).
The final finesse over the earlier Flexarets is the finder hood which is a well constructed two part folding hood folder instead of the four sloppy flaps used previously. The large magnifier was moved to the back of the hood and is much easier to flip up and down than earlier ones.
Loading is not as automatic as the older Rolleiflex automats but is straight forward. The holder for the film spool folds out on one side which makes fitting the fat plastic modern spools a little easier. Then align the wide arrow on the film backing paper to the small markers on the sides of the film gate and then shut the back. These markers are usually black dots but I have seen some red ones.
The IVa can be used with 35mm film by using an adapter. The most obvious cosmetic difference between the IV and the IVa being the cut out 2x3 window in the finder cover which can be used as a 35mm frame guide/’sports’ finder. It has a second counter on the side: one has to manually set it after each 12 exposures to get the next 12 up to 36. This is a pain and is the same mechanism used right through to the VII. The IVa is not useful as a 35mm shooter though as it has no means to rewind the exposed film.
I have used 35mm with my Va and VI just to see how the adapters work but do not recommend it. I see no point in using 35mm in a medium format TLR when one can pick up a Spotmatic and fast 85mm lens for very little and have a far superior 35mm experience.
Whilst neither camera will ever win a beauty contest I think the IV an IVa are functional and usable TLRs. They are reasonably easy to find and usually cheap. Probably only the IIa costing less, and the IV is a better camera than the IIa in almost all respects. Both my IV and IVa have Metax shutter and both seem to just keep on working. My IV has a rather lovely black bakelite lens cap. The IVa having the much more common translucent (and usually discoloured) plastic-y thing.
My History of Czech TLRs part 6: Flexaret IIa.
Here comes the Meoptas. The Flexaret IIa was the first Meopta Flexaret and was introduced in the late 1940s. The only real difference between the II and the IIa is the domed Meopta finder front/top on the IIa. There are, however, a plethora of IIas around and they are cheap.
They usually sport a Metax shutter. These are, in my opinion, underrated. I have never had a problem with a Metax but the Prontors on my Flexarets are always giving me gyp.
My IIa has always been completely reliable. The Metax shutter runs and runs and seems accurate enough (given ‘modern’ film stock, I shoot 80% HP5+ and 20% FP4+ so not really that modern).
As a regular user the IIa is the pick of the Flexarets after the Standard. This is because the wind on does not set the shutter, it is a simple knob wind with a red window. These simple beasties just have nothing in them to go wrong.
I would pick a Standard over a IIa because they are just a lot less old, have a slightly brighter screen and a slightly better taking lens. The Standard, however, is a lot harder to get than a IIa and, therefore, a lot more expensive (well, a lot less cheap - none of the Flexarets except maybe a I or a III should cost too much).
My history of Czech TLRs part 5: The Optikotechna Flexaret II.
The first real post-WWII camera of the Flexaret family. Produced by Optikotechna before it was swallowed into the state run Meopta concern.
This shows many of the marks of all following flexarets most notably the front standard focussing (at last - no more strings) with the focus knob/anchor and distance scale in an arc below the taking lens.
The taking lens is a bit cheap and nasty: a Mirar 8cm/4.5 triplet. The focusing screen is still dull (doesn’t really get much better in later Flexarets either) but the focus is smooth, the red window works and the Prontor II shutter is about as good as one could expect from an inexpensive camera in the aftermath of the war.
This example is actually rather nice to use: shutter, aperture and focus are all good. She doesn’t get taken out often enough though, the younger and more robust models get a bit more attention.
Not as rare as the Flexaret I (or the III for that matter) but not the ubiquitous floozy that is the IIa either. More about her later.
My history of Czech TLRs part 4: Optikotechna Flexaret I. These things are incredibly hard to find and I got mine from rural Victora of all places. It is basically a minor update on the Flexette with all the same idiosyncrasies and flaws. Very dim viewfinder, rather fragile and unlikely to ever be used. I really ought put some time and effort into restoring it.