This outrageously handsome Italian camera was as pioneering as it was cool.


Durst Automatica

Cool was born in the fifties, and this looker of a camera is very cool. The Automatica charmed me before I had even handled it.

Italian darkroom giant Durst used to make cameras as well as enlargers. They made four models over a 25 years period (1938-63). The Automatica was the only 35mm camera for standard cassettes they ever made and they certainly broke the mould. Such clean lines when most other contemporary cameras had bits sticking out everywhere.

Why is the Durst Automatica a Landmark Camera?

1: The world’s first aperture priority automatic exposure 35mm camera.
2: The only 35mm camera to use pneumatics as part of the shutter firing mechanism

The User Experience

The Look

Symmetry has long been associated with beauty, and the near symmetry of the Automatica from the front and the top is very appealing. This is helped greatly by the low profile of the shutter button on the front of the body, and the film advance lever and rewind disc being flush with the top of the camera.

Top view of the Durst Automatica.

All I need for this camera is a matching red 1955 Ford Thunderbird or 1956 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta.

The aesthetic beauty of the camera is enhanced by the subtle use of warm colours; the gold coloured viewfinder and the red section of the shutter speed indicator on the top of the camera. Even the crosshatch pattern of the selenium cell meter window is a careful design choice.

The cherry on this attractive cake is the choice of font for the camera name plate; it is pure automobilia. All I need for this camera is a matching red 1955 Ford Thunderbird or 1956 Ferrari 250 GT Berlinetta.

The Feel

It isn’t the most comfortable camera to hold. There isn’t much in the way of grip. The shape is uncompromising. There are no strap lugs, so a good grip is doubly important. The recessed film advance raises as you move the film forwards. That’s a nice touch. The film rewind dial pops up when you press a button underneath the camera.

Durst Automatica with extended rewind dial.

The shutter release is interestingly placed on the front of the camera body and is pressed inwards towards the camera. It is no ordinary shutter release, being one of a very select number of cameras to use pneumatics to trip the shutter. Together with the sound of leaf shutter, it sounds soft and feels smooth.

The interior is also well finished.

In Use

It does have limitations. Auto mode, deployed using a beautifully designed lever on the front of the camera, gives a rather restricted aperture priority function. Setting the film speed using the innermost dial on the lens is directly linked to aperture selection. There’s only one aperture for any given film speed.

View of ISO selector dial on the lens barrel.

The selenium meter governs the shutter speed in a range from 1/4 second to 1/300 second, which can be read from needle indicator on the top of the camera. In manual mode there is more scope, with speeds extending to 1/2 second, a full second and Bulb.


ISOAperture
62.8
124
255.6
508
10011
20016
40022
Durst Automatica’s ISO and aperture combination in auto mode

The Automatica is a viewfinder camera, not a rangefinder, so estimation of subject distance and depth of field are in order. The view is of a good size with a bright line finder, but with no parallax correction. The focus ring scale is in feet. There’s a small but clear frame counter just to the right of the viewfinder window.

Rear of the Durst Automatica showing the frame counter to the left of the viewfinder.

The Schneider-Kreuznach 45mm f/2.8 gives good results and the limited aperture priority mode provided accurate exposures from a roll of Kodak T-MAX 400 developed in FX-39II.

Schneider-Kreuznach 45mm f/2.8.

The photographs were taken at Greatham Creek at a particularly low tide. I thoroughly enjoy using this camera. Its beauty and uniqueness compensate for limitations.

Photographs taken with the Durst Automatica


FURTHER READING:

CJ’s Classic Camera Site
Harrison Photographica