Meet the Ultra-Fex

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by rick_drawbridge, Jun 30, 2018.

  1. I have a great liking for Bakelite cameras, and in particular French Bakelite cameras. There's something distinctive, singular and slightly crazy about French camera design, and this is typified by one I was fortunate to acquire last week. It's a Fex Ultra-Fex, circa 1950.

    Fex Ultra-Fex

    Ultra Fex Pnet.jpg

    The Ultra-Fex was manufactured from 1947 until 1962 by FEX, an acronym for French Export, though in the later years the company name was changed to Fex-Indo, as in Industrie Optique. There were a variety of slightly different models, apparently often depending on the supply of various parts that were manufactured by sub-contractors. I believe this one to be a Model II as it has an axle to locate the film spool, whereas in the original camera the film just sat in the recess provided. Not surprisingly, this could create problems with the feeding of the film across the gate, so in the second model an axle was added; it unscrews from the top of the camera and is withdrawn, then inserted and screwed home through the film spool. The camera accepts 620 film only, and has a 6x9cm picture format. This example bears the "Himalaya" badge, acknowledging the company's sponsorship of several mountaineering expeditions in the 1950's. The camera is somewhat rare down here in New Zealand, especially in this un-marked condition.

    Using a Fexar-Optic-Spec meniscus lens that appears to have a maximum aperture of about f/8, the camera utilises a curved film plane in an attempt to minimise the inadequacies of the lens, though only the centre portion of the image approaches sharpness. Here's a pic of the camera open.

    Open Pnet.jpg

    The lens and shutter are mounted on a stainless steel rectangular tube that slides back into the body of the camera, making the camera relatively compact for carrying around.

    Closed Pnet.jpg

    It's nice to get a little provenance with an old camera. The writing inside the case relates what is possibly a family story.

    Case Pnet.jpg

    I rolled a 120 film onto a 620 spool and took a walk. There is a choice of two apertures, and speeds of 1/100, 1/25 and B. It's well-nigh impossible to hold the camera steady while tripping the shutter, but I managed to produce a few images that were reasonably sharp, and I'll post them below. The film was Arista EDU Ultra developed in PMK Pyro. I can't see myself doing much more work with the Ultra-Fex, but it was an interesting experience.

    Fex 003

    Ultra Fex 004 pnet.jpg

    Fex 001

    Ultra Fex 006 Pnet.jpg

    Fex 001

    Ultra Fex 002 Pnet.jpg

    Fex 005

    Ultra Fex 005 Pnet.jpg

  2. Fine pictures, Rick. They could be from the 1850s!
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  3. Neat camera. The kids would see those out of focus edges as 'awesome bokeh!' Love that provenance, I street viewed the location, its still there. Oh, and great use of 'well-nigh' you don't hear it enough nowadays!

    This is 16 Route de Locmalo, Port Louis now:

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  4. Love those results; looks a bit like my Lensbaby Spark, tamed down to normal levels. The swirly unfocussed looking corners add a lot of atmosphere to the photos, to my eyes anyway.
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  5. Great post, Rick. Those images definitely have a vintage look to them. With your skills, of course, the results are likely much better than the original owner ever achieved. During this period thrifty users often got 2x prints rather than the 3x (called jumbo prints) or with 6x9 the user could have processed at home and simply made contact prints. Much less taxing on a single element lens. But again, you seem to have gotten the most out of this humble camera.
    Thanks for sharing.
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  6. Awesome review, as usual. :) I was a bit surprised by the sharpness of the centers, even with the added advantage of being in your amazingly capable hands. Possibly due to the inherent advantage of a large negative?

    I have a couple of 35mm bakelite cameras I've been trying to sell, but there's been no interest.
    I second the approval of the use of "well-nigh"! :)

    Not much curb appeal to that house, but what a view it must have!
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  7. Thanks for the input!

    @John: I cheated by using our local Early Settlers Museum as a location, to give the images an "old" look.

    @Stuart: A great piece of detective work! Thanks for fleshing out the post. I guess my prose style reflects my advancing years... When I find myself writing "perchance" or "forsooth" I'll know it's time to give up.

    @Wouter: Yes, I find the peripheral blur quite attractive... Takes me back to youthful experiments with vaseline-smeared filters.

    @ Mike :Thanks, as usual. As you point out, the vast majority of the negatives from cameras of this ilk would have been contact-printed, for sticking into albums. Remember those? So I guess I'm a little harsh on the camera, expecting enlargable images.

    @Dave: Yes, the old single-element lenses were quite capable of rendering some portion of the image sharp. Hence the first Kodak Box cameras with their circular images.
  8. Very Nice camera.. I too have a soft spot for Bakelite. I've noted with many simple lenses that the corners lack some sharpness that is often overseen due to the large negative the main image is sharp.
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  9. Why Dianas and such like, when there are marvelous cameras out there like this one?

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  10. Good point, JDM. I would tell the potential owner of a Diana or other "plastic disaster" to buy a camera capable of high quality images. If they want to make it soft or otherwise "low-fi" do so in post processing since they really can't do much to sharpen up a Diana image if they decide they want it sharp.
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  11. Cool camera, nice shots!
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  12. Results look nice, Rick.

    I might need to feed something through my Ultra-Fex one of these days.
    I think I have the later one with the accessory shoe molded in the body.
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  13. Thanks, Geoff, JDM, Mike, Chuck and Geoff, your feedback is appreciated. Thanks Rick; yes, the last models did have the accessory shoe built in, which rather spoiled the look a little, I feel. I'd be really interested to see some results from yours.
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  14. I've had it for half a year now, so I'd say it's about time :D
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  15. As I just got me a similar (guess a bit newer as it has a cold shoe and a PC connector) camera, some questions from me:

    1. Any chance I can feed it wiht 120 film?
    I have a 620 spool so I could use that on the receiving end, but for feeding I would like to use 120. Enough space?

    2. Besides your excellent composition skills and the surprising sharpness of the pictures I very much like the tonality.
    Which film was that? Arista EDU Ultra says not much, as within different periods of time they sold different emulsions under that house brand name.

    3. Just for my general culture, could you give me a starting point (link) for "well-nigh"? Looked it up with Google, but came to no usable result. As a non native speaker I am just curious.
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  16. eugen_meizi said:
    I'd be interested to see a pic of yours, if you get a chance to post one. They aren't a common camera outside Europe.

    The film would have been Arista EDU Ultra 100, as I use the slowest film I have for these old cameras.

    Unfortunately, the 120 spool is too large for the feed compartment, so you're probably stuck with rolling 120 film onto a 620 spool, as I did. No great challenge, and there's lots of information out there on this procedure.

    As for a starting point, the camera is so simple that you shouldn't have any trouble finding your way around it. If you have a specific enquiry please post it here. Good luck!
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  17. @eugen
    . Just for my general culture, could you give me a starting point (link) for "well-nigh"? Looked it up with Google, but came to no usable result. As a non native speaker I am just curious.

    Nigh (rhymes with high) is an old fashioned word for near. In this expression " well nigh" it's probably best translated as "almost" ie close to or near to .
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