FOCA: The French Leica

The coupled rangefinder interchangeable lens Foca cameras, of French design and manufacture, spanned a 20-year period from 1945 until the middle of the 1960s

The manufacturer of the Foca, ‘Optique et Prescision de Levalois’ “OPL”, produced French military and naval optical equipment. Optique et Precision de Levallois Co. and its production of FOCA cameras, were the result of the ambitious project of Duke Armand de Gramont. After participating in the creation of the Institut d’Optique Theorique et Appliquee, de Gramont decided to compete with Leica and Contax by producing a 35mm rangefinder. He called his camera FOCA, a take-off of the German LEICA, but also to refer to its principal characteristic, the focal plane shutter. The camera factory was based at Chateaudun, Eure-et-Loire. The first Foca camera was designed in 1938, but the Second World War prevented its release until 1946. The first Foca models were named “PF” (for petit format, “small format”) and distinguished by the number of stars – PF1, PF2, PF3. They used a focal plane shutter and screw-mounted interchangeable lenses.

FOCA Standard PF3
FOCA Optics

The “PF1” (one star), later named “Standard”, was the basic version without rangefinder. The PF2 incorporated a rangefinder/viewfinder, a full 8 years before Leitz did so with its M3. After 1949, the company developed a bayonet mount version, called “Universel”, with a series of lenses all coupled to the rangefinder. 

OPL made its own lenses under the brand “Oplar” and derivatives (“Oplarex”, “Oplex”). The “Standard” was offered with alternative ‘normal’ lenses : a 50mm f3.5 Oplar, f2.8 Oplar or a 50mm f1.9 Oplarex. The f1.9 lenses are of the six-element gauss symmetrical design. The f2.8 lenses were 5 element, the 3.5 a 4 element Tessor. 28, 35, 90 and 135 Oplars were also produced for the Standard (see below).

Today, Foca’s are much sought after by collectors of French ‘classic’ equipment and quality Leica copies.

* (PF1)16,001-21,2001946-1947No rangefinder. Screwmount lens.
* (PF1 Standard) 1948-1962No rangefinder. Screwmount lens. Star engraved.
** (PF2)10,001-15,9991945.10 – 1946First model released. Rangefinder coupled screwmount lens. Shutter 1/20 to 1/500.
** (PF2bis) 1947-1957Shutter speed to 1/1000. Rangefinder coupled screwmount lens. Stars are engraved.
*** 1947-1951
1957-
Hi / Lo shutter speed dials (separate). The early 1947-51 are very few in number.

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