5 frames with...

5 frames with a Ferrania Condor II – Francesco Melis

December 21, 2017

The 1952 Ferrania Condor II rangefinder camera, alongside with some famous and well sought-after postwar productions, is normally considered a Leica copy, although it shows many original features, like the rangefinder patch inside the viewfinder or the rewind lever, that Leica would adopt with the M series only starting from 1954, and other solutions, like the central plane shutter, the loading spool with opening back or a curious but useful articulated rewind lever, that would never be adopted by contemporary or following Leicas.

Equipped with the lovely collapsible EsaOG 50 mm f/2 lens, probably the fastest Italian-produced lens in history, this fine piece of machinery was also the camera my dad purchased in 1953 with his first wage as a young schoolteacher and used for more than 20 years, until a Leicaflex SL became the new official family camera. Now I look after it for the generations to come (you can hope it with all-mechanical solid-metal film gear) and it serves my big family, shooting fond memories of everyday life.

Here you are some samples of family life taken in my hometown Cagliari, Sardinia, with Kodak BW400CN film, digitised at home with my Nikon D90 body and Leica R 135 mm f/2.8 lens mounted on Leica R bellows.


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  • Reply
    Terry B
    December 21, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    Francesco, A lovely story about the history of this, now rare and collectable, Ferrania camera. And from the photo you show of it, it has been lovingly cared for. I’m not exactly sure what you mean by the camera having an original feature of the combined rangefinder/viewfinder winder (beating the Leica M3 to market with this feature) as pre-war Zeiss Contax II and III have this, also I can’t make out what you mean by the following “..other solutions, like the central plane shutter, the loading spool with opening back.” What do you mean?

    I think you’ve done a wonderful job copying the negs with your digital rig.

    • Reply
      Francesco Melis
      December 21, 2017 at 2:39 pm

      Thank you very much Terry for your kind words about the post. What you write about Zeiss Contax cameras is correct and they already had the combined rangefinder/viewfinder before Ferrania Condor; what I wanted actually to stress is the fact that this camera wasn’t a plain copy of Leicas and this feature, as well as others like the central shutter or the flipping backdoor for loading film (it’s what I was meaning with “loading spool with opening back” – Italian is simpler…) made this camera an original model for its time. It’s just my opinion.

      • Reply
        Terry B
        December 21, 2017 at 3:12 pm

        Francesco, now I understand. I couldn’t find an image of the Condor showing the back, just a normal straight-on front view, otherwise what you said about the rear panel door would have been clear. The only Italian camera in my collection, by the way, is the Ferrania Elioflex, a twin lens reflex. It’s not a true tlr as only the taking lens focuses by scale, but although only sporting an f8-f22 aperture range, and a five speed shutter, 1/25-1/200 sec. +B. it is well made and even has a feature that I’ve not seen on any other camera. The film is wound using the traditional red window and using the frame numbers on the film backing paper; there is no double exposure or blank frame prevention. But one shutter blade is painted red and the other black. When the shutter is cocked, the shutter blade is black, but once the photo has been taken the closing blade is red and can be see when looking into the lens.

        • Reply
          Francesco Melis
          December 21, 2017 at 6:59 pm

          Starting from the end of second world war to the mid-fifties there had been lots of camera manufacturers in Italy which made some good Leica copies but also tried to follow more original paths. Ferrania, with lenses made by Officine Galileo of Florence, probably the most important optical company in Italy, was very innovative and tried to target its production to different levels of customers, from the fixed focus for beginners to the sophisticated rangefinder aimed to professionals. High quality manufacture, innovative solutions and elegant design made these cameras very popular among the Italian photographers for longtime.

  • Reply
    Dan Castelli
    December 21, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    Your story resonates with me on so many levels: photography, family, tradition, an appreciation of fine mechanical tools & equipment. How nice to use the camera in the 21st century to photograph your family, in the manner of your father.
    I like the pics, nice b&w’s.
    Such nice styling & design of the camera.
    Continued good luck with it.

    • Reply
      Francesco Melis
      December 21, 2017 at 3:31 pm

      Thank you very much Dan for your kind words, especially because photography is a traditional passion in my family.

  • Reply
    Ken Hindle-May
    December 21, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    It’s a handsome thing, and would make an interesting alternative to a Barnack Leica with an Elmar. The Condor I is available for relatively little, but it looks like the Condor II was considerably improved. The lens has a sort of cinematic quality I like very much.

  • Reply
    Mauro Pastore
    December 21, 2017 at 4:28 pm

    Ciao Francesco,

    davvero bella, del resto Officine Galileo ha realizzato senza ombra di smentita le più belle fotocamere italiane.
    MI piacciono molto gli ultimi due scatti. Nei primi si vedono i limiti ottici nel gentile il controluce.
    Si tratta di un menisco o di una tripletta?

    • Reply
      Francesco Melis
      December 21, 2017 at 4:44 pm

      Ciao Mauro, grazie, sono d’accordo con te sui limiti ottici della lente, che però ha una resa morbida che trovo molto adatta per i ritratti. Inoltre preferisco usarla col bianco e nero, a colori non mi soddisfa pienamente.
      E’ una tripletta, esattamente 6 lenti in cinque gruppi, di cui i tre frontali costituiscono il primo gruppo della tripletta.

  • Reply
    Ed Worthington
    December 21, 2017 at 4:34 pm

    Beautiful images and a beautifully cared for little camera as well, it looks practically new. Great stuff and thanks for sharing.

    • Reply
      Francesco Melis
      December 21, 2017 at 7:17 pm

      Thank you Ed: use is the best care for a camera, and this camera has always been mantained ready for use for about sixty years.

  • Reply
    Ian Do Carmo
    December 22, 2017 at 12:28 am

    What a beautiful camera with an exceptional effect on its lens. Lovely images. If a camera like this comes up for sale that you know of, please let me know.

  • Reply
    George Appletree
    December 22, 2017 at 7:50 am

    In the times of cellphone cameras, resisting the unavoidable impersonation, there it is. Smart, shiny. Like brand new but exactly as old as it is. Silver like to contain silver. The family camera. Always there to be used. Bravo

    • Reply
      Francesco Melis
      December 22, 2017 at 8:30 pm

      George, thank you so much! I really appreciate your words and that you liked this post.

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