They Didn't Ask Me (dr_phil_physics) wrote,
They Didn't Ask Me
dr_phil_physics

Gotta Love The Internet

So we're watching Rear Window on AMC this Black Friday afternoon, and it occurs to me -- I don't know 1950s 35mm SLR cameras well enough to know what camera and lens Jimmy Stewart is using. For one thing, as often happens in films and TV, the brand name is blacked out. But the Internet comes to my rescue and my second guess on the camera seems to be right. (First guess was a Practica, but that should have been a screw mount, not bayonet -- M42 Pentax/Practica mount.) See this photo.net forum:
Rear Window. Jimmy Stewart. c.1954. Which camera?
Lynn Loeffel , Aug 21, 2004; 10:35 p.m.

All right all you classic camera people, in the 1954 film "Rear Window" by Alfred Hitchcock, James Stewart (also starring Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter, Raymond Burr) is often seen using his camera with an extreme telephoto lens to spy on the neighbor across the way. It drove me crazy trying to find evidence of what that camera was. I didn't see any insignia or markings. Had to be an SLR by shape of it. That was no rangefinder. But what is it? Anyone know?
Jonathan Stark , Aug 21, 2004; 10:48 p.m.
It's an Exakta. Not sure what model, but it couldn't be anything more modern than a VX (Varex). Now as to what lens it was, that question perpetually generates a lot of discussion among Exakta enthusiasts, but there's some consensus that it was a Kilfitt 400/5.6.

Peter Naylor , Aug 22, 2004; 01:19 p.m.
Hey, great question, Lynn - and one that's been vexing the Exaktaholics out there for yonks. "A V, or not a V, that's the question". OK, let's give it some Sherlock Holmes application theory, and eliminate the impossible. It can't be a Kine Exakta or Exakta 11, because they didn't have i/c pentaprisms. So, it's either going to be a V or Varex, and seeing as the 1954 movie was made in the US, you'd have to suspect the former. (Little bit of Exakta history here - US market models were not marketed as "Varex"'s, because Argus had taken out a copyright on that name, for a camera that never went into production - Strange But True ..... ) The other possibility is that it's a VX/Varex VX, and for the same marketing reasons, more likely to be a VX. Now, V models were only made in 1950/51 and are considerably rarer volume production-wise than the next VX model, made from 1951 right through to 1957, but of course here we're only concerned with up to 1954. So, statistically, you'd have to go with the VX. Now, the visual comparisons! From front on, both are very similar. Mid 54 VX models lost the bi-polar flash synch connections, but that's not visible in the vidcap. The other usual comparison also isn't valid, ie in that the standard lenses on the V have no diaphragm assistance, but the VX ones now have a preset aperture ring. You can't even use even the other usual comparison, ie that the Zeiss f2 Biotar on the V is much slimmer and in a black finish, whereas the same lens on the VX is much fatter and now finished in plain shiny alloy, because we ain't got no standard lens here, just that Monster Kilfitt 400mm job. So, what are we left with,, in the way of distinguishing features? Well, sitting here while I'm typing with one eye while staring at both my V and VX with the other, one thing is apparent. The strap lugs are positioned differently! The ones on the V are absolutely at the East/West ends of the top plate, whereas those on the VX are slightly further forward. In time comparison terms, the V's are at the absolute 9am/3pm position, but the VX's are at more like the 8am/4pm position. So, bearing in mind that all the vidcaps I've ever seen of Jimmy Stewart clicking away with his mystery Exakta on Raymond Burr doing away with his wife, aren't sharp enough to perceive the subtle differences in strap lug location - can anybody in our illustrious Forum advise if they've got a bigger, better and sharper vidcap series from Rear Window, sharp enough to enable them to differentiate here? One other aspect is that the V's strap lugs are sited higher, ie above the level of the top cover, but the VX's are slightly below that level. Oh, yes, before I finish - I don't think the blacking out of the Exakta name was anything to do with advertising, or the prevention thereof. Remember, 1954 was smack bang in the middle of the Cold War, with Korea still a vivid memory and the Hungarian Uprising not far away. Exaktas were the then State-Of-The-Art SLR, but came from East Germany, or the German Democratic Republic, or Soviet-Occupied Germany, depending who you believed and where you were back in 54. The masking of the "Exakta" nameplate was surely just a concession to the politics of the time, with Joe McCarthy and his Hollywood witchhunting in full swing. PN

Jonathan Stark , Aug 22, 2004; 01:40 p.m.
Ahhh, Peter, the strap lugs! You're a genius! Of course, that's a Varex VX -- the strap lugs are too far forward to be a Varex.

Now to complete my descent into Exakta-nerdiness(!!!), I'll cast my vote that it's a version 1 Varex VX. When I enlarged that movie frame to full screen it surely looked like there's no shutter release guard on that camera. A version 2 would have the guard. Makes sense, version 2's were just coming out in 1954, maybe after the movie was filmed.

François Pottier , Jun 16, 2013; 04:59 p.m.
(A long time ago,) Peter Naylor wrote:

the Zeiss f2 Biotar on the V is much slimmer and in a black finish, whereas the same lens on the VX is much fatter and now finished in plain shiny alloy, because we ain't got no standard lens here


Actually, about one third into the movie, when Stewart first picks up the camera, he can be seen taking off the standard lens and mounting that huge telephoto lens. The standard lens looked shiny to me, not black, although I could be wrong.

The L.A. Times puts it more succinctly:
According to Wikipedia, the camera and lens featured prominently in the movie was a 35mm Exakta Varex VX with a Kilfitt Fern-Kilar f/5.6 400mm lens.

Seeking some confirmation, I found this 1954 Life magazine article on “Rear Window.” The lead image is a closeup of a large lens. Clearly visible in the lens is the marking “Kilar 1:5.6/400″ – backing up the Wikipedia article.


Camera Quest article on the Kilfitt 400/5.6 Tele-Kilar
The 400/5.6 Kilfitt is arguably the most famous Kilfitt lens, and one of the most famous camera lenses EVER. The 400/5.6 co-starred with Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly in Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 film "Rear Window" mounted on an Exakta.



My theory is that for any odd thing you want to look up on the Internet, you'll find at least three web pages devoted to it. Having included material from three web sources, my work here is done.

You gotta love those who relish in tracking down minutiae. (self-grin)

Dr. Phil
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