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Rectaflex: The Magic Reflex

Recta 947In the numerous catalogs, lists and publications edited by Rectaflex, four different addresses appear, all in Rome. They are, in chronological order, Via Barnaba Oriani in 1947 (name of the company: S.A.R.A.), Via delle Murratte, 43 in 1948, Via Condotti, 91 in 1949, and finally Via Sicilia, 162 in Rome, in 1951. The production, however, was always carried out in the modern factory in Via Monte delle Capre, in the industrial zone of Trullo.

In its short life, there was a certain improvisation and perhaps also a planning which were not at par with the level of the Rectaflex’s constructive ingenuity. Nonetheless, it is to be considered that this venture took place directly following the second world was which had crippled all of Europe, especially the losing nations.

Presented for the first time at the Milan Trade Fair of 1947, in the form of a wooden and metal prototype, it had the characteristics of the definitive model without the pentaprism for the correction of the image reversal. That is, it had a normal pentaprism, which corrected the image inversion, but the image perceived by the eye was reversed . A few months later (presumably in August of the same year) the actual roof pentaprism was mounted, derived from the “prism of Goulier”.

Recta EL-40000At the Milan Trade Fair of 1948, the Rectaflex was presented to the public in its definitive version, with the roof pentaprism and stigmometric focusing (patent by Dr. Picchioni). The father of the Rectaflex was the attorney Telemaco Corsi, director of a mechanical company (the S.A.R.A.) which was part of the C.I.S.A. Viscosa.

Corsi, an enthusiastic photographer, together with a technician of his company, Emilio Palamidessi, had studied and planned the camera and entrusted the S.A.R.A. with its production after having convinced the entrepreneurs to invest large funds in the venture. (It is also said that the Rectaflex project was the work of a certain street photographer named Assenza, and that it was later edited by Palamidessi and finally sold to the attorney Corsi for Lit. 10,000.)

The company’s life was toiled from the very onset: the camera had stirred a great interest at the Milan Trade Fair, and many people wanted it; but it was only a prototype. It took approximately two years until it was officially placed on the market. Perhaps it was due to the inadequate launching of this extremely promising and highly sophisticated product; or it may have been the failure to satisfy deliveries, resulting in monetary penalties. In any case, after seven toilsome years of continual product modifications, the substitution of the company’s president, Corsi, by the Leon Baume, absolved contracts for the furnishing of 30,000 cameras to the American Army and finally, the company’s changing ownership, Rectaflex was closed and liquidated at the end of 1955.


cromo e vasi

It was said at the time that the Roman factory achieved the record production of 1,000 cameras per month, in addition to the numerous accessories, which constituted a complete system for all amateur and professional applications. Actually, I believe that all together no more than 10,000 cameras were produced in seven years, subdivided into six models of which three were predominant. The models produced at the Roman factory between 1947 and 1954 were:

  • 1947-1948 Rectaflex Standard 947 (pre-series produced in a very limited number in order to test the camera’s characteristics)
  • 1948-1954 Rectaflex (eight different series, the first six featuring 1/1000 and the last two with 1/1300)
  • 1950-51 Rectaflex Junior (two series, both with shutter speeds from 1/25-1/500)
  • 1953 Rectaflex Rotor (with a three-lens turret and a rifle butt upon request; shutter speeds from 1/1 to 1/1300.
  • 1956 Rectaflex 40,000 (named after its serial number; on the pre-series level, it was partially constructed in both Rome and in Mauren in the Principality of Liechtenstein.)

This strange and rare camera was never commercialized. It featured diaphragm pre-selection, but the standard series-lens that was to be mounted is unknown. It was usually used with the Macro Switar by Kilar, also produced in Vaduz.

Certainly, the only pre-selection lens for this camera, most likely produced on no more than the pre-series level, was a particular Schneider Xenon 1:1.9/50mm with a light meter mounted onto the lens itself. Its large range of lenses from the most famous brands of the time (from the wide-angle “Rectofocus” 1:2.5/35mm planned exclusively by Angenieux, to the telephoto 400mm by Kilar) made this the most desired and most requested camera around 1950.

scatola-4lUnfortunately, when the clientele was numerous, Rectaflex was still unable to guarantee adequate provision, whereas once production was in full swing (model 1300), other important companies with capillary distribution were already present with similar cameras to divide the market.
In any case, until the end, Rectaflex demonstrated a surprising vitality. On page 429 of the October 1954 edition of “Progresso Fotografico” an add mentioned the future release of a rapid-advance camera (type I.S.O. Bilux ) with the same pentaprism housing used on today’s SLRs (with two inclining surfaces). A new 6×6 SLR and a 24x36mm, exclusively for scientific use, were also announced, both allowing for the substitution of the ground-glass focusing screens. Unfortunately, that was the last edition of the review in which a Rectaflex advertisement appeared.

We should not forget the golden model, of which less than ten were produced, to be sold or donated to world-famous personalities such as the Pope, President Einaudi, President Eisenawer and the Egyptian King Faruk. It was basically the Standard camera (until now we know of two model 1000 (King Farouk) and six model 1300s) plated in gold and covered in brown or white lizard skin. The body’s gold plating was satin, whereas the buttons were polished. Some fakes were produced in Rome in the ’50s.

scatolaIn 1953, the attorney Corsi planned an anti-Leica camera, the “Recta“, with an original rangefinder and a large central viewfinder. Six of these cameras were produced, largely of the same mechanics as those of the Rectaflex 1300. The Recta’s shutter speeds ranged from 1/1 to 1/1000, and the lens was an ISCO Gottingen Westar 1:3.5/50mm with a 39mm diameter screw-mount. The release of its counterpart, the “Leica M3” dissuaded Corsi from placing it on the market.

In the same period he also planned the “Director” for the American market, a similar camera, without the rangefinder. The Director was actually the society of S.A.R.A., which distributed the Rectaflex in the U.S. In 1957, just after the release of the “I.S.O. Duplex”, Corsi, by now completely removed from the complex of the Rectaflex, constructed the “Stereo Miniature” under the trade name ECOM . It was an attempt to simplify a camera such as the “I.S.O. Duplex” . This ECOM, of which the number 00001 is known, exposed two 24x27mm frames onto 620 film. The mechanical shutter had various speeds and the lenses were ECOM Color 1:7.5/35mm.

R-Rotor-6The Rectaflex Company was sold to the partners in Liechtenstein, who had a certain number of cameras (the 40,000 series, mentioned above) constructed or rather assembled in a factory in Principate (Carena). However, these cameras had the defect of not being light-tight. The Rectamatic was also announced as another of Corsi’s projects. This had a metal curtain shutter with speeds from 1/1 to 1/1000 and automatic exposure based on the film speed. The mirror slid to the base to allow for the use of extreme wide-angle lenses.

This camera was never produced as the company was liquidated, and the name “Rectaflex”, no longer revived, vanished as well.










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