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Libby's favorite TLR
Rollei-zilla: the Koni-Omegaflex M

The result of a strange experiment: put two 67mm B+W +1 lenses on a 135/3.5 Omegaflex lens set and shoot within the magic 4.5 foot limit. Check out the bokeh on this - I left the dust in the scan so that you can see I didn't blur the background (on Verichome Pan 120). Apparently, the supplemental lenses jacked up the exposure by shortening the focal length of the lenses; the shirt ended up much brighter on these shots than without the +1s. Yes, not the most flattering picture of my brother. But someone had to sit still for the shot.

There are few substitutes for displacement, or so they say. Someone at Omega (or Berkey or Konica) must have decided that this was true because he then made the decision to make a gigantic twin-lens camera. The Koni-Omegaflex M is pretty much the largest twin-lens camera short of a Gowlandflex 4x5. I am going to limit this review to things which will not be apparent from what is available on the Internet as of this date (10/6/2003).

Basics: The Koni-Omegaflex M ("KOFM") is basically built on the chassis that underlies the Koni-Omega Rapid 200 (note that the shutter button on the KOFM is fragile and unlike the KO rangefinders, it can be broken by forcing it against one of the interlocks). It utilizes the same fully-interchangeable backs and darkslides. The body is predominantly aluminum and fairly light for its size. The lensboard moves back and forth on pinions, and instead of leather or plastic bellows, it has an internal articulated cone that expands and contracts with lens movement. The body has American and European tripod sockets on the bottom and left side (for the latter, you have to remove the grip). PC connection is the top left of the lens board (looking from the front). In terms of size, it is roughly double the size of a Rolleiflex 3.5MX in its major dimensions.

Ergonomics: The KOFM has been attacked for its ergonomics, which are actually pretty good. The grip is on the left side of the camera, as is the shutter release (which sits under your left index finger). On the right are the knob focus (which is quite solid) and the cocking lever for the back. You look into the camera from the back (which is why I do not describe this camera as a twin-lens reflex model). While this sounds pretty weird, like the Koni-Omega rangefinder cameras, it is pretty easy to handle. Holding the camera at eye level is a bit of a challenge. This camera could have been vastly improved by reversing the positions of the controls. You can look down into the finder using the right-angle finder, but more on that later.

— The handgrip is the same one used on the Koni-Omega rangefinders. It is adjustable for angle and position. You can fit a cable release to it.

— There is a flash shoe on the top of the camera for use with auxiliary finders, flash sensors, etc. This is a better location than on the KO rangefinders, since it is further from your head.

Viewing system: you look at the subject through the back of the camera, in view-camera fashion, upside-down and backwards. You compose on the groundglass. As you focus near and far, a frame carrying the focusing screen moves up and down in the finder to correct for parallex (oddly, it moves up as you focus closer, but it makes sense). The fact that the brightener is moving neatly masks off the part that will not be in the frame. The finder has four points (North South East and West) and a microprism spot in the center. It is fairly bright but could be brought up to 2000s standards with a Maxwell screen or the like. There are three optional viewers for the camera:

— A 3.0x eyelevel viewer that magnifies the groundglass, yet lets you focus. Image is upside-down and backwards.

— A 2.8x reflex finder, which lets you look down from the top of the camera.

— A 1.0x folding-hood reflex finder, which lets you look down from waist level. Greg Weber told me about this one.

For critical applications, there is a set which consists of the 3.0x finder and a groundglass that snaps over it. You fit this *into* the film plane to determine precise focus and composition.

Lenses: the lenses for this camera are the same superb lenses as found on the Koni-Omega rangefinders, only they are doubled-up: 58mm f/5.6, 90mm/3.5, 135mm/3.5 (with a second diaphragm in the viewing lens), and a 180mm f/4.5.

— Although someone has said that the viewing and taking lenses are interchangeable, this is simply not true for the 90. Although the elements can probably be swapped, the housing for the 90 viewing lens is not the same as the housing for the 90 taking lens.

— The 90mm taking lens has a 49mm filter thread with removeable Series VI adapter. The viewing lens takes Series VI filters only - or it can have the adapter, depending on the vintage. Don't make the mistake I did, which is to buy two 49mm step up rings - it can only take one of them (on the bottom), and even then if and only if you manage to get the series adapter out.

— Lens controls are canted down and to the right (looking at the subject) and have counter-directional settings so that you can grab both rings, and change aperture/shutter settings simultaneously, yet maintain the same EV. Thank God there is no EV lock on this camera.

In theory, you could probably mount any pair of identical lenses you want on an Koni-Omega lensboard, provided you could like with cocking the shutter separately from advancing the film.

Film Backs: The KOFM can take the Rapid Omega 200-style backs (the ones with the darkslides). On the KOFM, the darkslide interlocks with the film back and the lens board to prevent the removal of either without having the darkslide in place. The Rapid Omega 200 back (which comes in 120 and 220 flavors) is an exceedingly sophisticated film transport:

— You advance the film by racking a slide back and forth.

— Right before exposure, the pressure plate kicks in and smashes the film flat against the film plane. This leads to incredible sharpness at wide apertures. After the exposure, the plate retracts.

— There is a sliding mask with dots that lets you identify the roll of film, the magazine or the lens (depending on your own personal "code" by looking for those same dots in the exposed film, below the frame. In the sample picture, you can see these dots at the upper right.

You can actually leave the front half of the film back in place and replace the film holder (as you did on the older Koni-Omega RFs) to reload (open using the key on the back), but note that the film holders are not compatible across old and new. So an original film holder (from a model with interchangeable holders only) will not interface with the front half of the new back.

When you are changing the entire back (as in mid-roll), you need to insert the darkslide.

The only caveat of KO film backs is that if they sit, they need servicing. It is crucial that they be lubricated. Although they are tough, you can bust them by forcing them when dry.

Discussion: If you think of this as a studio replacement for a 4x5 view camera, it is a great piece of engineering. If you like shooting 6x7 horizontals, you will also like it a lot (you probably have a Rolleiflex T and the 16-frame adapter in your closet).

If you are looking for a bigger-film replacement for the Rolleiflex, this is a great idea which has gone somewhat awry. I think that 6x7 is an excellent format for portraiture, especially since it is proportional to the major portrait sizes (at least in the U.S.) - 4x5, 8x10, 11x14 and 16x20. That said, I think that 6x7 is a much better format vertically, rather than horizontally. In horizontal shots, I prefer 2:3 rather than 4x5 proportions (as in 6x8 or 6x9 rather than 6x7). While the KOFM can be turned on its side on a tripod, it is difficult to shoot handheld like that. I almost wish that Konica had adopted a more conventional film path from top-to-bottom, but I guess that would take the fun out of the interchangeable backs...

The upshot is that this is a well-engineered, solid camera that is quirky - but great.