The Paxette electromatic was a series of 35mm cameras produced by Braun from 1959 to early 1964. They all feature the same compact body, a built-in selenium meter and coupled with it a trap-needle exposure automatic. When launched in 1959 the original version was advertised as the world's first and only truly fully automatic 35mm camera causing a legal dispute with Agfa who launched its superior Optima a few weeks earlier. Despite the automatic aperture the original electromatic was a rather simple camera with a fixed focus lens and only one shutter speed and film speed setting. The later Paxette electromatic II (launched in 1960) then had a better lens, manual focussing and fully automatic exposure setting, similar to the much more successful Optima. The Paxette electromatic III (launched in 1961) offered more manual control and shutter priority exposure automation. With the launch of the II and III models the original electromatic was rebranded as Paxette electromatic I and later succeeded by the model Ia, which was almost as simple but featured an exchangeable lens.
|Back view of the original Paxette electromatic (2. variant|
with rewind slider and film speed warning).
This body was used for the entire series.
image by Christoph Batz (Image rights)
In 1959 the original Paxette electromatic was advertised as the world's first and only fully automatic 35mm camera. Its selenium meter controlled the aperture and gave a green light sufficiency signal in the viewfinder. But other automatic functions were missing. Instead, the focusing of the Ennagon 1:5.6/40mm lens was fixed, and it had only the single shutter speed 1/40 sec. Even film speed was fixed and only film with 17/18 DIN (40/50 ASA) could be used. The aggressive advertising caused a legal dispute with Agfa about the definition of the term fully automatic. Braun lost the case and had to commit themselves not to use the phrase First fully automatic camera anymore.
The camera obviously was launched on the market a bit pre-mature which can be can be attributed to the fact that there are 3 variants differing in small details, all of which have their own Kadlubek number (BRA1065, BRA 1066, BRA1070).
The first variant can be recognized in particular by the rewind (unlock) button, which is located directly behind the shutter button on the top of the camera and can be easily mistaken with the latter.
For variant 2, Braun has elegantly transformed the rewind button into an inconspicuous rewind slider, which can now be found on the back of the camera, just a few millimeters away from the original location. This second variant also now has a printed warning on the film pressure plate (see picture) that actually only 17 or 18 DIN films can be used.
Only the third variant, launched in spring 1960, got rid of the limitation of only one film speed. There was now a small slider at the bottom right of the lens, labeled 16-18-21 DIN, or 10-32-64 ASA in the export version. Interestingly, this is not technically the same, but probably reflects the types of films most commonly available in the respective markets. This was achieved using an "improved" shutter that now controls three speeds (est. 1/40, 1/60 and 1/120 s), which are not officially documented anywhere else. This variant was renamed Paxette electromatic I in the course of 1960, but you can also still find examples with only electromatic engraved on the cap.
The (fixed) lens mostly was a Ennagon 5.6/40 mm, a coated triplet, made by Enna. The later variants can also be found with a Katagon made by Staeble (same specification). The camera has a hot shoe, a for its time rare feature, and actually was one of the first cameras re-introducing it to the market as future standard.
|Paxette electromatic (variant 3), version with Katagon lens|
image by Paul Analog (Image rights)
|Paxette electromatic II|
image by Christoph Batz (Image rights)
The electromatic II was a major upgrade compared to the original model which was continued as electromatic I. It was fitted with an Ultralit 1:2.8/40mm made by Rodenstock, focussed with a twist/screw action. Markings on the lens show that it can focus down to 1m (3.3 feet), although with only a simple viewfinder the photographer must use a guess focusing technique. At around 2m there is a symbol of a person to indicate portraiture, and at around 4m there is a symbol of a building. Besides the lens, the most important improvement was the shutter, namely Gauthier's Prontormat-S, a so called "Lichtwertverschluss" (light value shutter). It was controlled by the selenium meter setting distinct shutter-aperture-combinations from 2.8, 1/30s (LV 8) to 22, 1/300s (LV 17).  These are displayed at the top of the viewfinder. Insufficient light is signaled with a red flag. Besides this Auto setting the shutter can also be set to B and flash (1/30s). For both time settings the full set of apertures can be set manually. Interestingly, the hot-shoe from the original model was again replaced by just a standard flash (PC) socket.
|Braun Paxette Electromatic II, bottom view|
image by Christoph Batz (Image rights)
The film speed is set by a small wheel on top of the camera (between 10-400 ASA, or 11-27 DIN). It actually turns the entire spool of the meter, which is located below it.
There was also a slimmed-down version called electromatic IIs, which had the well-known fixed focus 5.6/40 mm lens, but otherwise the same functionality as the II.
|Braun Paxette Electromatic III (Image rights)|
The later model (1961) electromatic III was still an automatic camera, but rather focussing on the amateur photographer who still wanted to have some manual control. The shutter now was the so called Prontormatic from Gauthier with shutter speeds from 1/30s to 1/500s and B. In Auto setting the aperture would be set by the meter (shutter priority automatic), but there was also the option for full manual control. The lens was the same as with model II.
|Paxette electromatic Ia|
image by Guy Kokken (Image rights)
The electromatic IA was launched in 1962 and replaced the "I". It had the same simple shutter and again the hot-shoe. It's main new feature was interchangable lenses through a proprietary lens mount. Only two lenses were available. Besides the standard lens Trinar 40 mm f/2.8 there was a Rotelar 75 mm f/4, both made by Rodenstock.  There were frames in the finder for both lenses. The camera was sold for 189 DM, the extra tele-lens for 99 DM.
The entire Paxette electromatic series uses the same basic body, including a back made of bent sheet metal surrounding the camera, which can be loosened using a knurled screw around the tripod socket. The cameras are relativ compact, width is about 111 mm, height 83 mm or 88 mm (models II and III), smaller than most competitive cameras. With a weight from 570 g (original model) to about 700 g (II and III) they are quite heavy. The solid film handling was also the same for all models and featured lever for both, film advance and rewind! Interestingly, the models I and Ia need a double-stroke advance, while the advanced models II and III use a single stroke for film advance and shutter cocking. Outstanding for its time was the huge and bright viewfinder featuring a light frame, in case of the later models including parallax marks.
|electromatic||electromatic I||electromatic II||electromatic IIs||electromatic III||electromatic Ia|
|Lens||5.6/40 fix-focus||2.8/40||5.6/40 fix||2.8/40||2.8/40 and|
|Film speed range||17/18 DIN
|Flash||hot shoe||cold shoe and PC-socket||hot shoe|
|Price||168 DM||297 DM||?||289 DM ('61)
198 DM ('63)
Apparently, all models used a single serial number range. The lowest numbers sighted are 397xxx, the highest 516xxx, resulting in possibly 120.000 units made over a period from mid 1959 to February 1964. Most of these (approx. 60-70 thousand)can probably be assigned to the simple entry-level models, which, with an attractive price, particularly appeal to the new target group of photographic laymen. Customers who already knew a little more about photography may have been put off by the fixed focus lens and the original camera's other limitations. In retrospect, Braun wasn't very successful: Despite the significant price difference, customers preferred the actual fully automatic Agfa Optima (500,000 units in 2 years, for 238 DM). When Braun followed suit technically (electromatic II), there was already a lot of competition on the market (including Kodak, Voigtländer, etc...) and it became even more difficult to survive.
References and Links
- Paxette electromatic III on Collection Appareils (french) (page from German Photo Porst Catalogue 1963)
- Paxette electromatic user manual at Butkus.org
- Braun Paxette Electromatic II - photos and information from Jonathan's blog
- Paxette Electromatic, Paxette Electromatic I, Paxette Electromatic IIs on www.collection-appareils.fr by Sylvain Halgand (in French)
- Calibrating the focus ring on a Paxette on Jonathan's blog