Futura Standard

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Futura Standard

I look at cameras daily; most are similar, different only on the margin. Now and then, a camera stands out, which is the case here. The outstanding cameras have a common denomination: a modest manufacturer of a few models with different take on technology and features. Offering an uncommon feature to a mass-market item is a tall order, so perhaps this is why all such companies have met an early demise. On the upside, such cameras keep their value in the collector’s market.

The Futura camera is a part of such a group. A short-lived manufacturer with no muscle for further development and marketing against the legacy camera makers.

The company had its roots in wartime Germany, making military optical equipment. Its factory was in the deep south of Germany, under an hour’s drive from the Swiss border. Like most German infrastructure, it was flattened by the Allies and rebuilt as part of the nation’s rehabilitation.

With no further use for military optics, consumer goods were the way to go. Lacking a background in camera making, the result differed from the run-of-the-mill models of the time.

The founder ran the company from inception to 1951 when ownership and the company name had changed. It operated under several names: Futura Optik, Futura Kamerawerk, and Kuhnert Optik. Camera production lasted less than a decade. The name reappeared in the 1990s as a Futura point-and-shoot line by AGFA but had nothing to do with this brand.

Nedinsco of Holland flirted with production rights and looked into talking it over once Futura closed. It did not mature; all left are some Nedinsco cameras with Futura lenses.

The Futura rangefinder cameras had interchangeable lenses, offering an impressive array of proprietary mount lenses. Most lenses were made in-house, which is very uncommon with smaller camera makers. Some lenses were sourced from Schneider and Staeble and found randomly on Futura cameras.  They might have spread too thin, offering a dozen lenses for a young, unknown camera brand.

Lenses greatly varied, from 4.5/35 to 1.5/50, and four telescopic lenses. Prices at the time varied to match, and models with fast lenses fetch much more in today’s used market.

The camera line had two distinct generations. The early model of 1947 was a simple viewfinder, shooting 24x24mm images on 35mm film. Common to most start-ups of the time, the owner threw in his initials, naming it Efka, short for Fritz Kuhnert, in the German pronunciation of the letters. It was known for its fold-in lever winder, which was ahead of others.

The second generation is confusing, having four models under similar names and similar looks.

  • The first model of 1950, with a Compur Rapid shutter, is commonly named Futura, Futura I, or Futura Standard, which is the subject of this page. It came in two nameplate variants: a black nameplate marked just Futura, and later, upon ownership change, marked also Kamerawerk Freiburg Br.
  • Futura P, introduced in 1952, is a variant of the above, with a Prontor shutter.
  • Futura S of 1955 had a Synchro Compur shutter.
  • Futura S III followed in 1956 with Synchro Compur and a fold-in winder lever. The early S III version had a flat top, later replaced with a slight hump in the middle. In the US, Sears sold this model under Futura Tower.

All models of this generation had interchangeable lenses. Lens Mount was an odd 33.8mm screw, which I am yet to confirm; more below.

The Futura cameras are plain-looking, compact and heavy. They are made of solid cast metal, with finishes that have withstood the burden of time. Glass is blemish free, shutter and aperture operate seamlessly. It does have some quirks, and it takes a user manual to understand it fully. Regrettably, the manual is unclear and confusing at best.

  • Top houses the winder that also cocks the shutter, not a common feature at that time.
  • The trigger is marked with a surrounding arrow and ‘T’. With the shutter speed set to ‘B’, press the trigger and turn a slight clockwise to lock it in place. Hence, speed becomes ‘T’.
  • An easy-to-use frame counter, reset by a push of the thumb.
  • An unmarked mystery lever is mentioned in the user manual (1), it seems to be the self-timer lever, but I still cannot figure out how it works. An online reference (2) to it is as confusing. It extends only once the shutter is cocked. Either it malfunctions on my unit, or I miss something. I will thank any suggestion.
  • Early models had a memo film-type lever bouncing off the accessory shoe. None on my camera. The markings are SW for black and white, C for colour positive (slide), and CN for colour negative.
  • A synch port is by the rewind knob, an uncommon location, but it makes sense with a top-mounted flash gun.
  • A smaller rewind knob complements the top.
  • The front lens assembly is uncommon:
    • The shutter speed dial is closest to the body, assisted by an easy-to-reach tab (two on later models. It offers a generous speed selection, from B to 1 to 400, heavy on the slow speeds, to meet the film sensitivity of that generation.
    • Set the speed to 400 only before cocking the shutter. However, at my camera, it does not click into place either before or after cooking. Again, it could be a fault.
    • Next is the focusing dial, marked with feet. Easy to use via a maple-leaf styled lever. (on other models it is round) Smooth and long travel, easy to focus. The viewer tough is tiny, typical of the era; perhaps users then had better eyes. No parallax marks.
    • The next ring is the lens removal grip, which is knurled for easy purchase. On my camera, the ring does not budge. An old adage says, “If it doesn’t go with force, use more force.” I have decapitated several cameras using more force, so this will go back to the shelf for further investigation.
    • At the front is the aperture dial, which is easy to read and turn.
    • Contrary to some fellow reviewers, I find the lens assembly a sterling example of human interphase. Assuming the lens will agree to come off in peace.
  • The bottom is another example of the thought vested in this camera. A large metal ring houses the mounting socket, whereas in many other cameras, it is just a thin metal mount. It is proud of the bottom, so it will not have scratch marks when fully threaded and toted on the tripod base.
  • Four protruding pinheads ensure that the camera will stay in place. It’s a very uncommon touch.
  • The back release latch is a serrated thumb pad in the bottom plate, pushed backwards at the direction of the arrow.
  • A similar but smaller pad is the rewind release.
  • To remount the back, slide it on, and it will click into place.
  • Inside, there is not a single plastic piece, all metal. A double cog pivot pulls the film just the proper distance for a frame.
  • No integral take-off drum. It can use a take-off spool or a second cartridge for self-loading users.
  • A roller on the back cover keeps the film from scratching by the pressure plate.

For the collector, it is a first-grade artifact. It is an exceptional camera, relatively rare. All models have similar features and appearance, so any will look good on the shelf. Prices vary, with the 1.5/50 lens versions selling at an average of USD1,000.

(1)  From the manual: After setting the range and the time of exposure, the setting lever>4< is turned back and allowed to recoil (fig.4). At the same time a white control mark will appear in the smaller window of the range finder. After a pressure on the release button a preliminary clockwork is actuated which will release the shutter only after about 12 seconds. The disappearance of the control mark shows that the shutter is in action.

(2) Google Translate from Japanese: The operations from here on are not really necessary, right? This is an explanation of the operation. A cheap-looking lever is attached to the center front of the military executive. After winding the film, pull this lever toward you to an approximately 45° angle. When you do so, a beige tongue will pop out from the rangefinder’s double-image lighting window and the self-timer (15 seconds) will be set.

Camdex list number 13957
Brand Futura
Model Futura
Manual Butkus
Value Futura
Futura P
Futura S
Futura S III
Format 35mm
Introduced 1950
AKA Futura I, Futura Standard
Country Germany
Qty made
Initial price 128
Currency USD
Type Rangefinder
Body material Metal
Mode Manual
Weight 660 gr,  Body with lens
Class average weight 641 gr,  Body with lens
ASA range N/A
Kit lens 2.8/45
Lens make Xenar
Filter size N/A
Lens mount Thread
Mount size 33.8mm ?
Shutter Leaf
Shutter make Compur Rapid
Light meter None
Winder Knob
Lock No
Speeds B, 1-400
Mirror N/A
Viewer Rangefinder
DOF preview No
Exposure lock No
Exposure compensation No
Shoe Cold
External sync M
Sync speed 50
Timer ??
Battery, original N/A
Battery, replacement N/A
Battery voltage N/A
Integral flash None
Service / repair links See camerlog.com
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