The Petri Flex 7 is a single lens reflex camera introduced by Petri in 1964 and is claimed to be the world’s first SLR with a fully integrated cadmium sulfide light meter. Known by many as “the poor man’s Contarex” for its superficial (and most likely intentional) resemblance to the Zeiss Ikon Contarex “Bullseye”, the Flex 7 was marketed as Petri’s flagship model and was supposedly meant to compete with the nigh untouchable Nikon F. Advertisements put special emphasis on the camera’s auto-indexing feature (meaning that the lens’s aperture setting would be automatically relayed to the body), the fact that its integrated light meter had an in-viewfinder indicator, and how Petri’s mastery of mass production meant high quality cameras at low prices.
Perhaps the most eye-catching feature of the Petri Flex 7 is its cadmium sulfide light meter which sits on the camera’s pentaprism directly above the lens. Surrounding the round light meter cell is a ring with which to set your current film speed and just behind it on top of the viewfinder is a cold shoe. On the user’s left hand side of the top plate is a light meter power indicator and a film rewind knob. The shutter speed dial (with speeds ranging from one to 1/1000 second and Bulb), frame counter, and film advance lever are on the other side. An unconventionally angled shutter button can be found on the camera’s front below the “Petri Flex 7” badge and above the self-timer lever. On the opposite side of the bespoke breech-lock lens mount are a small flash sync port and battery door. The film rewind release button and standard tripod socket are on the bottom plate.
The Petri is a Japanese camera. The company began making SLRs in the late ’50s and the Petri FT went into production in 1967. I bought mine in 1970, probably at the end of the production run. The company brought out several other FT models (FTE, FT EE, FT II) before going bankrupt in 1978. It had a couple of odd features: the shutter release was on the front of the body and angled at 45 degrees but it worked well when you got used to it. That large lever beside the shutter release is the depth of field control, press it back to stop down the lens to check the depth of focus. I have never seen one like that before or since. The Petri FT wasn’t a high quality camera, it was on a par with the early Praktika and Yashica SLRs.
The Petri FT was my friends first SLR and is third camera he ever owned. He had been using an Agfa rangefinder for a while and was now interested enough in photography to want to start developing and printing is own black and white images. And it seemed that to be a serious photographer, you had to have an SLR. He had no idea about SLRs, I had no one to ask and very little information available. I had been working for about 18 months in London in 1973 he had saved some money so I started going to the camera stores with no luck. One camera store was advertising ‘the perfect camera for the new photographer’, a Petri FT – $155.00. So he bought it. And so began years of learning to develop film, print images, mix chemicals, build darkrooms, enter competitions, trying to get better, disappointments, great expense and eventually going digital. And along the way we have had some fun and met some talented people.
I how know that this particular Petri Flex 7 was purchased brand new on August 27, 1965 at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport shortly before his flight to New York City. He paid $113.70 (about $880 in today’s money) at the Capi duty-free shop which I think is still in business today.