The Alpa Alnea Model 5 is a unique, high quality 35mm SLR, and was first produced in 1952. Alpa cameras are often considered the Leicas of the SLR world, as they feature similarly exquisite build quality and fetch comparably astronomical prices. However, they prove to be quite a bit rarer than most Leicas. I've only seen a few Alpas in my life, and only behind locked display cases at Chicago camera shows. So, needless to say, I was extremely excited to buy this Alpa off a nice older professor who teaches at my university.
The Alpa design is a bit bizarre and archaic compared to more contemporary SLR's. The one design aspect that seems to catch most people off guard is that even though it's an SLR, the Alnea features a viewfinder in addition to a reflex finder. I believe this viewfinder was upgraded to a fully focusing rangefinder on later Alpa models. The reflex finder is pretty strange. It's a pentaprism finder, but you look into the eyepiece at a 45 degree angle. So, you are constantly looking slightly downward, even when the camera is aimed straight ahead. It makes composition a bit tricky, especially for portrait oriented pictures. The focusing screen has a split-image aid, so obtaining exact focus is not a problem.
The shutter mechanism is a bit unusual as well. The shutter controls are located directly on the advance knob. To change speeds, you must press down on the outside of the knurled knob, and turn. Speeds between 1/1000th and 1 second are available. It's a bit unwieldy, and my particular camera has an issue where sometimes the outside of the knob just... wont.. go.. down! I think it needs to be cleaned or lubricated. Once your speed is selected, the shutter is tripped by a release on the front of the camera. Like with the Exakta VX system, many Alpa lenses have an automatic diaphragm that's operated by a plunger that connects to the release on the camera body. So, as you depress the plunger, the aperture on the lens closes, and then the shutter fires.
Rewinding is surprisingly straightforward and conventional! It's done by pushing a button on the bottom of the camera, and then turning the rewind knob clockwise. The frame counter does not reset on its own upon opening up the film chamber; you have to manually set it before each roll using a little dial. Loading film is much easier than on a Leica. The entire back of the camera comes off:
I took my Alpa out for a test run this last week. While the issue with shutter selection was a bit irritating, I still had a good time using the camera. Check out the results below! All pictures were made with a 50mm f/1.8 Switar lens. The film was Kodak Tri-X 400.