As well as being a Leica fan I’m also intrigued by the many ‘Look-a-Leicas’ that mostly appeared in the decade after WW2. The launch of the first Leica in 1925 caused a sensation, changing the way people took photographs. Tens of thousands were sold and rival manufacturers looked on enviously but helplessly as Ernst Leitz had protected the design of the camera with worldwide patents (the letters DRP on the top plate of the cameras means Deutsche Reich Patent). Only the Soviet Union in the 1930s ignored the patents and produced their own version of the camera, not as well made but almost identical in appearance, to the extent that some of the FED copies even had the Leica name on the top plate! Some of these have been faked-up to resemble rather unconvincing Nazi era military Leicas that appear in Ebay regularly!
1930s Soviet made FED 1 with 50mm f3.5 lens (Leica II with Elmar lens copy)
A (misspelt) ‘Kriegsmarine Leica’ with no resemblance whatsoever to anything from Wetzlar!
In the aftermath of WW2 the American and British military governments in Germany suspended the country’s patents as part of the war reparations and restrictions on German industry. This opened the floodgates to world-wide copies of the Leica camera, most notably in Japan. Some of the Japanese clones (many of which had ‘made in occupied Japan’ engraved on the body) were very good indeed, particularly from Canon and Nicca. Probably the best copies of all were made by the English aircraft manufacturer and instrument maker Reid and Sigrist whose cameras (more or less exact copies of the Leica III series) were just as beautifully made as the ‘real thing’, and are even more valuable and sought after (there were even Russian copies of this Leica copy).
I couldn’t resist this beautiful little camera on Italian Ebay recently! More in the Leica style rather than a direct copy, the Elettra II is a strikingly modern looking design made by an obscure and short-lived Italian company from Florence, SIRIO (S.I.R.I.O. – Società Industriale Ricerche Innovazioni Ottiche). Its first effort in 1945, the Elettra I (note different spelling in the advert!) was a simple design in black enamel and leatherette, with a separate screwed-on viewfinder, looking rather like a Standard model Leica, even to the similar knobs on the top plate. Deliberately so as it is even mentioned in the ad. below. Presumably the name was chosen to give the camera a futuristic image as Elettra/Electra doesn’t mean anything in Italian and it is mechanically operated!
Advertising a clearance sale of ‘Electra I’ cameras
A year later a much improved second version with the familiar Leica finish of satin metal and black leatherette was launched at the 1946 Milan Fair. This had the viewfinder cast into the aluminium top plate which made it look very streamlined, and it had more modern knobs and a better looking lens. It is an elegantly simple design, with the bare minimum of controls, that wouldn’t look out of place in the Apple catalogue!
Both were designed for 35mm film in standard cassettes and had a 3 blade, 4 speed (25, 50, 100, 200) shutter within the lens, a much neater design than most of the rim-set ‘Compur’ type lenses. The Elettra II had a 4cm f5.6 ‘Sculptor’ lens as standard, with an option of a 5cm f4.5 ‘Mizar’ lens. Other focal lengths were available, as well as lens hoods and filters. There was no rangefinder or light meter available (and no accessory shoe for them). I can’t find anything about Sculptor lenses (made by SIRIO?) but I have seen another obscure 1950s Italian viewfinder camera with a similar lens made by Mizar (Closter IIa).
Comparison with 1930s Leica 1 Model C showing similar layout and shape!
Film loading via bottom plate as for all early Leicas
Advert for the second model with a simpler viewfinder (not made?)
The Elettra II was only produced for 3 years (with a final variant that incorporated an accessory shoe in the top plate) as the firm closed in 1949 after only around 10,000 cameras had been produced. I am unable to find out much about SIRIO other than looking on Google Earth to see where it was based – Via Bolognese 89 is in a rather upmarket area of Florence behind some large iron gates! No one seems to know who owned it, who designed the cameras, and why the company disappeared after only a few years. Although the Elettra II is a great looking camera it is very basic and lacks most of the features expected by serious photographers in the post-war era.
There is hardly anything on the web about SIRIO except a good summary of the firm in this comprehensive review of the Italian camera industry during il miracolo economico in the two decades after WWII (two adverts above courtesy of this site):
Fotocamere Italiane 1946-1964 by Donato Consonni
Photo of FED camera from Wikimedia Commons taken by Michele MF
FED has a fascinating history!
Fake Nazi Leica from Ebay