As a minimalist, I have never been much of a collector of anything, especially old film cameras, which have now become functionally obsolete. But I accidentally discovered an antique shutterbox recently that I fell in love with. The camera is called the Flexaret Automat and was manufactured for a period of only about 25 years starting at around the end of the second world war by a Czech company named Meopta. The first Flexaret was produced in 1946 and, as time went on, there were a total of 7 different versions of the Flexaret created before production of the camera finally ceased in 1971.
The Flexaret is a brushed aluminum TLR (twin lens reflex) medium format camera that shoots using 120 roll film and produces 6″x6″ square format frames. The lens is a fixed mounted 80mm prime with a maximum aperture of F/3.5 that stops down to F/22.
What attracted me to this camera so much as a shelf piece is its Art Deco looking design and the chunky feel of it when grasping it in your hand. It actually weighs almost a kilo, or 970 grams to be exact. The TLR design is nothing unique to the Flexaret though and the double lens TLR style camera was first made popular 15 years earlier by Rolleiflex (a German company) starting back in 1929.
After discovering the existence of this camera I was lucky enough to find a second hand model of it in very nice condition for my own keepsake. The one I picked up (seen here) is the Flexaret model VIIa, made in 1968. So it is about 46 years old and is the most recent version of the camera.
Since the start of production of the Flexaret, the design of the camera was slowly improved by Meopta every 3-5 years by adding a few new functions and capabilities to each new version. The VIIa is the all singing model with shutter speeds of up to 1/500th, Bulb and double exposure capabilities, a focus lock button, 3 different flash modes, an improved, higher quality shutter made by Meopta, with a self timer, and the ability to shoot with adapters to produce 6″x4.5″ format frames as well. Plus, it has a special adapter allowing it to shoot with regular 35mm film too if you prefer not to use 120. Most all of the previous models don’t have nearly as many functions as the VII as a result.
What I especially like about the overall Flexaret design is its unique focus control arm, which is in the form of an anchor that swings back and forth like a pendulum underneath the lower lens to focus both of the lenses at the same time. And, as you can see, this camera makes a beautiful showpiece if you are a collector of cameras, or even if you just like owning vintage items in general. You can find them being sold second hand pretty regularly on eBay for between US$100-$250, depending on condition and model. All the models though prior to the VI had a black face, which in my opinion isn’t as pretty as the silver face found on the VI and VII models. So, if you do feel like picking up one for your own collection, then it isn’t going to set you back very much money, even for the latest versions.
Beware though, many of the ones floating around out there now have not been used in a very long time and in many cases the shutter could be stuck and wont fire. At the moment, my shutter seems to have packed up too, perhaps some oil from the blades hardened up inside and the shutter is now frozen as a result. So I may try to have it serviced at some point to see if I can get it working again. It might be fun to try and run a roll of film through it just to see what the old light box can do during a walk down memory lane.
Are you a Flexaret fan too? Please feel free to share your thoughts below.