Early Novoflex Reflex Housings

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Early Novoflex Reflex Housings
By Marc James Small

 

Karl Müller, Sr., founded a company in Memmingen in Bavaria in 1896 dedicated to the production of sheet film; this company is not believed to


The Reproflex disassembled |more|
have survived to the Second World War. In 1948, he started over again, founding a small optical house under his son's name in 1948. By 1950, Karl Müller, Jr., had released reflex housings under the Novoflex brand name for both the Contax and Leica rangefinders. To these were added a well-built bellows attachment in 1951, a series of long lenses — made initially by Enna, then by Steinheil and, following that esteemed firm's demise in 1961, by Dr Staeble — in 1952, and the pistol-grip which made their "follow- focus" system an industry standard in 1955. By this time, the company had come to be known simply as Novoflex and so it has remained to this day — it

Reproflex side-by-side with the Novoflex |more|
registered the Novoflex brand name in 1950 and the company's name was gradually changed to its present Novoflex-Fotogerätebau after Karl Müller, Jr., took over the company in 1959.

The first product of Karl Müller, however, seems to have been a reflex housing bereft of any mention of the Novoflex trade-name. I was fortunate to pick up one of these units several years ago: at the time, I did


Novoflex reflex housing
mounted
on a Leica IIIc |more|
recognize that the "Karl Müller" name was linked to Novoflex but I didn't realize the significance of this find until I began to compare it to the later Novoflex reflex housings and to investigate the corporate history of the present company.

This reflex housing is similar in size to the later Novoflex housings, being 60mm in depth and of a box-like construction somewhat similar to the original Leitz PLOOT. The finish is bare aluminum, and the only markings are the standard corporate symbols "D.R.G.M.a." and "D.R.P.a.", the name, "Reproflex", the company's name, "K. MÜLLER jr. MEMMINGEN", and a serial


The Novoflex reflex housing
unclothed |more|
number, "1001". A small lever on the right side controls the mirror, while there are two further levers on the back which flip the mirror up when the shutter is fired. There are no markings at all on the release coupler save for the cryptic cypher, "14", engraved on its bottom.


Novoflex reflex mounted
on a Leica M3 |more|

The finish is, well, less than elegant. The bottom of the release coupler is unpolished and raw. The exterior of the reflex housing itself has been polished but nothing further has been done to increase its appearance. The eyecup is plastic and, while utilitarian, its black finish contrasts nicely with the aluminum of the housing itself.


Novoflex Contax RF on a
Contax IIa |more|

I do not know how many of these units were made. The only reference I have found is in Wright and Wilkinson's estimable LENS COLLECTOR'S VADE MECUM CD-Rom and even they based their observations on reports from Photokina 1950. The serial number on my example, 1001, might indicate that only a very small sample were made, commencing with this one, for field testing, as a result of which a return to the drafting table resulted in the much more advanced Novoflex housings released in 1950.

 

The Reproflex seems to have been sold as a set with either the 4.5/13.5cm Steinheil Culminar or an equivalent Schneider Xenar in special shortened mounts to allow infinity focus. With the housing came a bare set of


release bridges for the
Leica M3 and Contax II a |more|
extension tubes of 12mm, 24mm and 48mm depth, and a simple instruction sheet. A lens hood is included which is obviously, from its construction and finish, a product of the Müller works.

Mine came with a Culminar which dates from 1948, though I suspect the unit itself was made either in 1949 or 1950. Though the Reproflex was presented at Photokina 1950, so were the later Novoflex reflex housings, so any production run must have been of only brief duration.


Release bridges on the
Leica IIIc and M3 |more|

The later Novoflex reflex housings were produced for both the Leica thread-mount and Contax rangefinder bayonet-mount cameras. Both vertical and forty-five degree viewfinders were available, and release bridges were provided for the Postwar Contax, Leica thread-mount models through the IIIf, the Leica IIIg, and for M models — the use of the reflex housing on a Leica M camera required the use of a bayonet-mount adapter on a thread-mount reflex housing. These housings were quite expensive, that for the Leica M, for instance, costing $119.50 in 1959, when the Leitz Visoflex I in M mounting cost only $105.00.


A bevy of release bridges |more|

These Novoflex units are quite well made and represent a significant improvement in sophistication and utility over the much cruder Reproflex. The forty-five degree viewfinder is a large and bright prismatic device which provides a right-side-up and right-way-round field. The mirror lock-up, a push-down piece on the right side, cycles firmly. The release couplers for the Contax and Leica M are beautifully machined pieces which provide a most positive operation in use, though that for the earlier LTM cameras is a simpler unit showing a close relationship to that for the Reproflex.


The instruction sheet for the Reproflex |more|

The Reproflex seems to have only accomodated the two lenses supplied with it, the Culminar and the Xenar. The later Novoflex reflex housings would accommodate a variety of Novoflex lenses, though certainly not all of their extensive line. Either unit could be adapted for use on telescopes and many other long lenses as well.

Novoflex is a remarkably responsible firm. In 1992, I acquired a Contax reflex housing but did not receive the release bridge. I contacted Novoflex and, for a charge, constructed a new release bridge for me from their 40-year-old plans. Few, indeed, are the companies so interested in good customer relations.

I recognize that the existence of this Reproflex housing and the later Novoflex reflex housings are but a minor footnote to a small monograph on the lore of Leitz or Novoflex but I appreciate Petra Kellers' kind offer to allow me to have the saga of these reflex housings documented on the Camerabooks.com website.


 
 
 
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