The Wrayflex; An English SLR (Via Germany?) Page 2

Wray claimed the Wrayflex to be “the most sensational camera development of the last 25 years” and initial reaction was favorable. For a while demand exceeded production, but sales soon waned and in the end only around 800 of this model were made.

In ’53, Wray introduced the camera we now call the Wrayflex Ia, this time with an f/2.8 Unilux standard lens and a 24x36mm negative size. The two cameras, which were sold side by side, were very similar and the only real way to tell them apart was to check the frame counter—up to 45 on the first model and 36 on the second. This proved to be Wray’s most successful SLR, even though they only sold about 1600.

An unusual variation of the Wrayflex I with an extra large film wind
knob and rewind key, plus a 50mm extension tube and 90mm lens. This specially-adapted camera was used as part of the American space program in a NASA-sponsored department at Washington State University.

About this time, Wray must have started to think about addressing that viewfinder problem that was still inherent in the second model. The most obvious solution was to build a camera with a penta-prism, but they had other ideas. In the patent for the Wrayflex I, reference was made to an option of replacing the mirror at the front of the body with two others at 90? to each other and at 45? to the plane containing the optical axis of the lens. The idea was that the rays reflected by the mirror at the back of the body would now undergo a double reflection in the two new mirrors from one to the other. As a result, the image in the viewfinder would be corrected.

We know that at least one prototype of this camera was built, based on the body of the Wrayflex Ia, and with the right-angled mirrors housed within a triangular protuberance on the front of the viewfinder assembly, giving it a look unlike any other Wrayflex.

Whether more than one prototype was ever built is not known, but the camera never went into production. Instead, Wray eventually did what they should have done in the first place and produced the Wrayflex II, complete with a penta-prism. But with Wray being Wray, it wasn’t that simple.

The problem lay in the way the reflex mirror and focusing screen, as a single unit, swung up and into the space between the viewfinder mirrors. Substitute a solid penta-prism for the mirrors and there is nowhere for that assembly to move into. So the penta-prism had to be placed above the assembly, resulting in an ugly, top-heavy viewfinder housing, with a much higher than usual eyepiece, as opposed to the rather sleek design of the Wrayflex I and Ia cameras.

Even so, the Wrayflex II was a good camera with a reasonable range of lenses to go with it. For the earlier cameras, Wray had already produced two 50mm standard lenses, a 35mm wide angle, and a 90mm medium tele, and to this was now added a 135mm telephoto. A 203mm telephoto was also planned, but never went into general production. A set of three extension tubes was available for close-up work.

The Wrayflex II should have been a success. But by now it was ’59, those Board of Trade restrictions had been lifted and into the country flooded cameras, first from Germany and then Japan. Up against the likes of the Nikon F, the Wrayflex II didn’t stand a chance and less than 350 were made.

Today, all three cameras are highly collectable. A Wrayflex I or Ia fetches around $400-$500. The rarer Wrayflex II is usually seen at around $800-$1000. As for that prototype with the extra mirror, who can say? I paid $2500 for it and have since rejected an offer of $11,500. The Wrayflex I preproduction hand-built prototype was bequeathed to me by an ex-director of Wray, who died early in 2009, just before his 99th birthday. There’s no point in putting a value on it because I am never, ever going to sell it!

More about the Wray company, the Wrayflex and other cameras made by Wray can be found in “The Wrayflex Story” by John Wade. Full details at: www.wrayflex.co.uk.

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