The Great Kodak Ektra – 1941, here some facts:

  • Kodak world-class rangefinder made in the USA
  • $373.50 with 50mm f1.9 lens in 1941 ($5540 in 2010 dollars)

Kodak’s best-known quality 35mm rangefinders were the Retinas, first introduced in 1937. They were made in Germany by a division that Kodak had acquired with the purchase of the Nagel Camera Company. (A Retina is in this app.) Both rangefinder and SLR Retinas were widely sold, and there was even an Instamatic Reflex in 1968. An indication of the number of Retinas made is that I only paid about $60 for mine on eBay.

But Kodak wanted a US-made, world-class, precision 35mm camera, so in 1941 they introduced the ambitious Ektra, priced at a very high $373.50 with 50mm f1.9 lens, equivalent to over $5500 today. The Ektra had a few features that other cameras didn’t have for years, such as a removable back (with a light-tight slide), focusing to 1.5 feet, and a zoomable, vision-correctable, parallax-adjusting viewfinder.

Ektras weren’t a joy to use, though. There are dials and levers all over, and in strange places, such as the position of the shutter release. Getting the back off is very tricky, and it’s hard to believe that switching in mid-roll is worth the effort. Compare an Ektra to a Leica M3, representing 35mm rangefinder perfection, and it’s obvious that, while Kodak maybe had a start, they weren’t even close to having the design nailed.

World War II stopped Ektra production. The dies were stored, but in 1946 Kodak decided not to reintroduce the Ektra because they estimated it would cost $700, when a 1946 Leica IIIc with f2 lens cost $448.

Nothing close to the quality and features of the Ektra would ever be produced in the US again. Probably fewer than 2,000 were made. Consequently, they’re rare, and one in excellent condition, like mine, costs a lot of money.

But the Ektra sure is nice to look at! Enjoy the photos…

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