It all began at Ebay. I was looking for new lenses for my Leica IIIf and entered „lens, 39mm thread mount“. Among the results was a lens i had never heard of before, a Röschlein-Kreuznach Telenar 3.5/90mm. Amazing how many companies built lenses for the Leica, i thought, but then i read on. The Telenar was not a lens for the Leica but for a camera that was unknown to me until then: A Braun Paxette. The seller stated clearly that this lens was not compatible with the Leica. You could put it on a Leica, but it could not be focused because the flange focal distance of the two cameras was significantly different.
A line up of strange lenses
My curiosity was aroused, as i already owned a camera built by the Carl Braun Camera Works in Nürnberg, a little Colorette i hsf grabbed for two Euros at the bargain bin of a large photo dealer in Munich. Together with a half exposed roll of film that had been forgotten in the camera for decades. A camera with interchangeable lenses from the same manufacturer sounded quite interesting. A few weeks ago i ran across a Super Paxette II BL. I paid 10 Euros for the camera together with a Carl Zeiss Tessar 1:2.8/50mm, which is a lens not so often founed on a Paxette as Carl Braun preferred lenses from lesser known manufacturers in the south of Germany like Enna and Steinheil in Munich oder Staeble in Altenstadt near Schongau.
When i took the camera out of its shipping box and removed the ever ready case (i really love these brown leather things) i noticed immediately that i was holding a precision machine made to the highest quality standards. It’s compact, it’s heavy and it’s nice to look at, featuring a matt chrome finish, pristine and nicely structured black vulcanite and – how cool is that? – a bluish shimmering glass pane in front of the viewfinder and the window for the frames that reminded me of the reflective sunglasses popular with the Hippies in the late Sixties. Fits the name of the camera that has pax in it, the latin word for peace.
In its hayday the Paxette was nicknamed „the teacher’s Leica“, but that monicker can not derive from its physical appearance which is definitely not commonplace or ordinary (but i don’t want to say that teachers are commonplace or ordinary). The Paxette boasts characteristic features not found on any other camera. And it offered for a significantly lower price similar attributes as the contemporary Leica M 3: Interchangeable lenses with corresponding framelines and a rangefinder that is coupled with all lenses.
Featurewise the Paxette – at least my Super Paxette II BL – is technolgically ahead of the Leica as it has a built-in, albeit uncoupled exposure meter – a detail no Leica had until the M5 was released in the 1970ies. The meter in my Paxette – a selenium cell device built by Bewi – is still working, by the way. The fact that the little round window of the rangefinder is enclosed in the exposure meter’s honeycomb pane is one of the nice little details of the Super Paxette II.
No, this camera is not an enchanted school teacher who has had an encounter with a wicked fairy. Actually when i compare the Super Paxette with my Leica M 3 it is the Leica that looks conventional to me. And it is quite a big bigger than the compact Paxette.
A different kind of rangefinder camera
Maybe we are so used to see the Leica as the prototype of a rangefinder camera that we see other cameras built at the same time as rather peculiar contraptions. This starts with the leaf shutter of the Paxette that features times from one second to 1/500 second and is a bit slower than the Leica’s focal plane shutter that sports a fastest time of 1/1000 second. Leaf shutters and interchangeable lenses are not the ideal couple unless you put a leaf shutter in every single lens and this solution has its own disadvantages starting with the weight and the price of the lens. If you use one leaf shutter for a variety of lenses you have to refrain from extreme wide angle lenses, a 28 mm is the widest i’ve ever encountered with this kind of camera.
At least the exchangeable lenses of the Paxette are real lenses, not just front elements like the ones i have for my Kodak Retina III and which are rather cumbersome to use. To exchange a lens of the Paxette is easy: Just screw it off and screw another one on. At present i do not own one of these refreshingly compact supplementary optics that Braun bought at a variety of manufacturers, so i cannot say anything about their handling and image quality.
The handling: unusual
When you are taking pictures with the Super Paxette II you have to be aware of a couple of things. In order to take the next picture, you have to move the rapid advance lever on the right side of the camera twice: the first swing moves the film, the second tenisons the shutter. In this respect the Paxette is quite similar to the first models of the Leica M3 which also had a double-action lever. What the Leica does not have is a second rapid advance lever on the left side of the camera that is used to rewind the film. For me this is the only really cumbersome detail with the Paxette. The continuous movement of the left thumb is a rather unusual one even to the experienced photographer and much less inutitive and slower than turning a knob or a crank – both of which would not find a place on the Paxette because of the placement of the dial for the exposure meter. An additional operational bewilderment is the fact that you have to press a button on top of the camera continuously while rewinding. In case you let the button go the operation stops abruptly. To make things even worse: This button does not only look like a shutter release button, it is also placed exactly where this button normally should be: on the right side of the camera directly above the rapid advance lever.
The actual shutter release button sits at the front of the camera, a rather hefty knurled knob on the right side of the shutter. You press it with your middle finger while your thumb operates the advance lever. Once you get used to it this worksharing is all right, and if you want to use a cable release that naturally cannot be screwed into a knurled knob, you’ll find the threads for it between two of the rather spacy looking „butresses“ of the shutter assembly that kind of look like the stabilisation films of a russian space rocket.
But these are not all of the camera’s peculiarities. Others are a frame counter enclosed in the cold shoe you cannot read when a flash is attached, and the unusual construction of the Paxette’s back. It is not a hinged door we know from more modern film cameras, it can be removed completely together with a good part of the camera’s front after opening a big knurled screw surrounding the tripod socket at the bottom of the Super Paxette. Once this is accomplished, loading the camera is a peace of cake.
Who copied whom?
And here is another Leica similiarity, but not with the M3 that was introduced in the 1950ies around the same time the Paxette was produced, but with the Leica CL that was built to Leitz‘ specifications by Minolta in Japan from 1973 to 1976. So instead of calling the Paxette a school teachers Leica it would only be fair to call the Leica CL a university teachers Paxette.
Taking pictures with the Paxette: A pleasant experience
But how does the Paxette stand its ground in every day photography? All in all remarkably well, i would say. It took me some time to get used to its unusual user interface, but after i hade trained my muscular memory to cock the shutter twice and release it with my middle finger at the front of the Paxette i was able to shoot the camera quite fast. The viewfinder is quite big and bright with framelines for the most common lenses, and the rangefinder with its bright patch is precise enough to get the focus of the 50 mm Tessar pinpoint sharp at f 2.8. I doubt that this is the case with the telephoto lenses of 90 or even 135 mm focal length Braun offered from different manufacturers. The base length of the range finder is simply too small. With my Leica CL that has a comparable range finder it is not really easy to focus the Tele Elmarit 2.8/90mm fully open. Once i have a 135mm for the Paxette i will give it a try and write a blog post about it. But talking about the viewfinder – the finder of the Super Paxette has a little detail i have not seen on any other camera: After taking a picture the left vertical line of the 50mm frame disappears until the film is transported and the shutter cocked again. Another nice detail of the special apparatus.
One little quirk in the handling of the Super Paxette i did not like. It is more a quirk of the tessar lens, but i have read in the internet that it exists with other lenses as well: The ring to focus the lens is situated very close to another ring that opens or closes the aperture. When i was taking pictures with the Super Paxette i sometimes unintentionally changed the aperture when i wanted to focus the lens. This would not be so critical if the aperture ring had click stops so you could reposition the aperture without taking the camera from your eye and dial in the correct number again. Maybe i will get used to that gradually, at least the two rings are differently knurled.
All things considered the Super Paxette II BL is a camera that is capable of producing high quality pictures and a lot of fun to use. It is well built, sturdy and very compact – not only compared with the Leica M3 – even my CL – the compact camera of my choice when i need interchangeable lenses – is a couple of millimeters longer and higher than its role model from Nürnberg. Its elegant, more rounded shape in comparison with the more angular shaped CL make it an elegant looking camera. A part of this elegance is based on the fact that the Paxette has no lugs for a shoulder strap. So in order to carry it over your shoulder you have to have one of these brown leather ever-ready cases that were so popular in the 1950ies and -60ies. Some photographers hate these things and call them never-ready cases, i am extremely fond of them as they are good in protecting the camera and have that distinctively old fashioned look i cherish with the equipment of days gone bye. The ever-ready case of the Paxette is custom built for the camera with brown leather and chrome metal linings and the name „Paxette“ is embossed into its front part. The leather is not as robust as that of my Kodak Retinas, but the front part is easily detachable so you are ready to shoot without having to open it.
Here are a couple of pictures from the first film i shot with my „school teacher“. I think they speak for themselves – and for the quality of the Super Paxette II BL.