New camera: Braun Paxette Electromatic II

Hana went to a car boot sale recently. I half-jokingly asked her to pick up anything photographic if it was cheap, hoping to sell it on eBay for a few quid (and maybe even use it).

Girl done good – she found a early 1960s Braun Paxette Electromatic II for not many pounds. The seller assured her it was fully working, so she bought it.

Braun Paxette Electromatic II

The camera

For those that aren’t familiar with the Paxette series of cameras (I had never even heard of them until this week!) the Paxette Electromatic II has a fixed shutter speed of 1/40s and a variable aperture between f/2.8 and f/22.

It has a crude light meter which shows a red marker in the viewfinder if the light is insufficient and a green marker if there’s enough illumination. I think it’s broken on mine, because it always shows red. I don’t mind though, because it almost feels like cheating to use any electronic or automatic features on a camera like this. I will use the sunny 16 rule to help me expose the photos properly.

Unfortunately it seems quite hard to find much information about it on the Internet. Almost all information refers to the Paxette Electromatic I which seems to be a very similar camera, except with fixed focus. You can tell the I and the II apart because the I has striped ridges around the barrel of its lens while the II has a slanted chrome ring, which also twists for focussing.

Mending it

All day I was hopping with excitement until I got my hands on it. Unfortunately the shutter mechanism seemed to be jammed. Unlike many modern cameras, the shutter is composed of 5 or 6 metal leaves that open in the same way as the aperture leaves. I couldn’t find any service manuals online (without paying – bah) and my heart sank. Anyone who knows me will tell you I have as much dexterity and patience as I have oestrogen. But I thought “what’s the worst that can happen?” and went to fetch my precision screwdrivers.

I wasn’t able to get into the back of the camera because it was very well put together, to say the least. But it didn’t take too much work to get the various elements of the lens out, and I poked the shutter leaves with a tiny screwdriver and suddenly they pinged into place. Apparently they had simply seized up from lack of use. I reassembled the lens in reverse order.

Results

I shot a roll of Ilford Delta 100 black & white film in it, and this evening I developed the film. The results are quite nice. Most of the outdoor shots are overexposed, so I guess everyone else’s definition of “Slight overcast” is different from mine. I’ll know for next time – shoot one stop slower.

A greater shortcoming of this particular set of photos is the focus. The camera has a viewfinder so you don’t get to see the results of your focussing. The focus ring has numbers printed on it – the distance to your subject in feet or metres. I just guessed (or paced) how far it was in each case. Apparently the focus ring is not at all accurate, so most of the portraits and other close-ups are quite badly out of focus. The landscapes and architecture (effectively at ∞) are in pretty good focus.

As I mentioned above, the shutter has a fixed speed of 1/40s. This is a pretty slow shutter speed, and through most of my film there is a fairly large amount of camera shake. Obviously I could use a tripod or monopod to steady the camera, but there is no self timer. It looks like there might be a small hole for a cable release, but it’s filled with half a century’s worth of fluff.

I’ve published all the best photos from this roll of film on my photo blog.

Other thoughts

Loading film into this camera is an absolute pain. It doesn’t hook into the spool very strongly and kept pinging off as I tried to wind the film onto it. Eventually I managed, and closed the back of the camera. I shot about half a dozen frames and then the film apparently became unhooked again. No idea how – you’d think the film being wrapped around the spool several times would be enough. So I couldn’t wind it on, but I couldn’t wind it back either, because it had got snagged somehow and rewinding it tore the sprocket holes out of the film. I had to open the back, ruin all the photos I’d taken so far, cut the spoiled film off, snip the corner off to make a new leader, and reload the film. This time it stuck. Next time I will probably stick it to the spool with a square of sellotape.

Winding the film on doesn’t always advance it by the same amount. Some of my frames were touching, instead of leaving a few millimetres between frames. Not the end of the world – just makes it a bit annoying to scan because my filmstrip holder has a plastic frame round the edge of each picture.

In future I will be using a tripod with this camera, because the 1/40s shutter speed is just too slow for the focal length of the lens. I also noticed by looking at the inside of the shutter (without film) that you can take long exposures by holding the shutter release.

I will calibrate the focus (or at least figure out by how much it’s out). This should be quite straightforward, simply by opening the back of the camera and holding some tracing paper where the film would be. I can place a subject precisely 5m away from the camera (for example) and then see what the focus ring needs to be set to in order to achieve focus at that range. It might even be possible to adjust the alignment of the focus ring.

This review might sound negative. But it’s anything but! If I want an accurate camera with perfect focus and exposure that’s right every time, I can using my DSLR. Which is boring. This camera is fun, and I will be using it again! :)

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