Carl Zeiss Werra mat

This is a compact but heavy camera from Carl Zeiss. Zeiss is a well known name in optics – Carl Zeiss lenses and Zeiss Ikon cameras. I want to start with a little digression about the Zeiss companies.

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  • lens: Tessar
  • focal length: 50 mm
  • apertures: ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/22
  • focus range: 0.8 m to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Prestor RVS
  • speeds: 1 second to 1/750 seconds
  • flash: PC connector
  • film size: 35mm

_1010537They start with Carl Zeiss in Jena, Germany, who made lenses for microscopes and telescopes. He had the good sense to employ Ernst Abbé who designed lenses for him. Abbé not only made break throughs in lens design, he made good use of the new glasses produced by the Schott glass works. When Carl Zeiss died, Abbé set up a foundation called the Carl Zeiss Stiftung which now owned the lens business (Carl Zeiss) and the glass maker (Schott).

In time, a local camera maker – Palmos – was having difficulties so the foundation took them over to form Carl Zeiss Palmos Ag – the first cameras to bear the Zeiss name. In due course, more camera makers experienced difficulties and the Carl Zeiss Foundation encouraged them to merge with Carl Zeiss Palmos to form ICA (Internationale Camera A.G). After World War I, the German economy had major problems and most of the German camera makers merged to form Zeiss Ikon AG.

After World War II, Germany was split into two countries and the Carl Zeiss Stiftung had companies and factories in both Germanies. In West Germany a new Carl Zeiss Stiftung was set up together with a new Carl Zeiss lens makers and half the Zeiss Ikon factories while in East Germany the original Carl Zeiss Stiftung carried on with the original Carl Zeiss lens maker and the other half of the Zeiss Ikon factories.

In East Germany, Carl Zeiss lenses decided to start making cameras in competition with East German Zeiss Ikon. This Werra mat camera was made by the East German Carl Zeiss – now known as Carl Zeiss Jena to distinguish it from West German Carl Zeiss Oberkochen.

This is not the most basic model – that was the Werra – as it has a coupled light meter. They also produced a version with a coupled rangefinder.

Time for a description. When not in use, the camera is almost devoid of controls. The entire shutter/lens assembly is covered with a screw-on cover, the top plate has the shutter release button and the base has the rewind crank.

_1010548So, the camera measures 115 by 80 by 83 mm and weighs 592 g. The first thing before you use this camera is to unscrew the shutter/lens cover (more on this later). Now the camera is ready to use. The top plate is, as far as I can tell, matt stainless steel. On the top, at the right, is a rectangle of translucent glass. This provides the illumination for the light meter display in the viewfinder. Just to the left of this , towards the front of the top plate, is the shutter release button. This is basically flush with the the top plate and measures 13 mm diameter. In the centre of the shutter release button is a threaded socket for a standard cable release. What is completely missing here is a film advance lever – more later.

_1010543On the rear of the top plate, on the left, is the eyepiece for the viewfinder. This is surrounded by a milled ring which is bad news for spectacle wearers – scratches are almost inevitable. But only almost as turning the miles ring adjusts the focus of the eyepiece so the user does not need to wear their spectacles. This milled ring is 18 mm diameter and the glass lens is 10 mm diameter.

_1010547Inside the viewfinder are dark lines to define the picture area – most cameras have bright lines but not here. Below the dark lines is the light meter display. To use this, you adjust the aperture and shutter speed until a black line is central in the display. To aid this, the bottom right of the viewfinder has a prism to allow you to see both the aperture and shutter speed that has been set.

The front of the top plate are two windows. On the left (looking at the front of the camera) is the light meter sensor. This is  a selenium sensor so no batteries are required. At the other end of the front of the top plate is the viewfinder window, This is 13 by 17 mm. Below the viewfinder window is the camera name – WERRA mat.

_1010541The front of the camera is dominated by the shutter/lens assembly . At the date this camera was made, the rift between east and west Carl Zeiss Stiftungs was complete. The main shutter makers – Compur and Prontor – were owned by the western Carl Zeiss Stiftung and they were no longer willing to sell to the eastern Carl Zeiss Stiftung. So, this camera has an East German copy of a Prontor shutter  – called a Prestor RVS shutter.

Shutter speeds run from one second to 1/750 seconds (which is faster than either a Compur or Prontor shutter). Apertures are from ƒ/2.8 to ƒ/22. Shutter and aperture together allow for any exposure that a photographer might want apart from specialist usage – which this camera is not intended for.

_1010544The shutter speed ring is turned by holding two small black tabs. This is not as easy as it could be. The selector ring has click stops at each speed. The aperture ring is easier to turn – it also has two small black tabs. There are no click stops here so intermediate aperture values can be set if required.

Focus is via the outermost ring and is firm and smooth. There entire lens assemble moves when focusing, not just the front element. An aside: when refitting the shutter/lens cover, make sure the lens is focused on infinity or the cover will not fit. The focus scale is in metres and there is a secondary scale in red for distances in feet. The shutter/lens cover has a 365 mm diameter end which can be unscrewed. This cover can then be reversed and screwed onto the end of the focus ring to provide a lens hood.

_1010539The lens is a Carl Zeiss Tessar with a serial number of 6159930 which means that the lens was made in 1961 to 1964. Its focal length is 50 mm.

A big idiosyncrasy is the film advance. As mentioned earlier, there is no film advance lever. Before the advent of electronic cameras in the 1980s just about all 35mm cameras had a film advance lever (or advance knob on older cameras). Film advance here is achieved by turning a leatherette covered ring where the shutter/lens housing joins the camera body. Turning this advances the film one frame and cocks the shutter. As I lack a manual for this camera, I have to learn functions by fiddling with things and its took me a good while to fathom this out.

Another anomaly is the position of both the shutter speed and aperture scales. These are offset to the left which makes reading them slightly awkward. The reason for this, as mentioned earlier, is to allow both scales to be readable from the viewfinder.

Also on the aperture setting ring, on the right, is a film speed setting lever. The scale for this is in both DIN and ASA. The range in 9 DIN to 27 Din (or 6 ASA to 400 ASA). In the early 1960s, 27 DIN/400 ASA film was about as fast as you would find and 18 DIN/50 ASA the usual speed of film that most photographers would use.

_1010545As the top plate is very uncluttered, the base plate is more cluttered than is usual. In the middle is a tripod socket. This is the 3/8 inch UNC thread rather than the more usual 1/4 inch UNC thread on miniature cameras. Around this socket is a milled ring. Rotating this ring 180º anti-clockwise unlocks the back of the camera. The back and baser come away as one piece. In front of the tripod socket are the three letters X, M and V and in front of these is a small lever. X and M are flash synchronising settings (X=electronic and M=flash bulbs) and V is the delayed action setting (V=vorlaufwerk). Using this V setting will give a delay of around ten seconds between pressing the shutter release button and the shutter firing.

On one end of the base plate is the folding rewind crack. To rewind the film, you first need to press the small chrome button at the other end of the base plate. It is necessary to keep this button depressed until the film is fully rewound. At the other end of the base plate is the frame counter. This has to be manually set to zero when loading a new film. It will count up to 38 but if you manage to load a very long film the counter will quite happily follow 38 with 0, 1, 2 etc.

On either end of the top plate are strap lugs. These double as the screws keeping the top plate in place. On the right hand side of the camera is a PC connector for flash. This camera has no accessory shoe so in order to use flash, you will require a flash bracket to screw into the tripod socket.

4 comments

  1. I had the meter-less version of this camera. The main complaint was that film advance, the mechanism wore over time and the ring became sloppy. It still functioned, but just added to the “what were they thinking?” aspect which the design had.

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  2. I remember this camera being new to the market. It struck me as being elegant then: that remains the case. It’s obvious a lot of very careful consideration went into the design, from both functional and aesthetic standpoints.
    In my view this is a camera design classic.

    It would be interesting to hear about your experience when taking photos with the camera.

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  3. I have a Werra and it is quite an interesting camera. Confusing at first because when I bought it I had no idea how to use a camera from this era. It’s a bit stiff when turning the shutter / lens advance, but with practice and a use of the Sunny 16 rule, or light meter, this camera’s lens makes great shots. My camera’s light meter is kaput – but that’s life! I think this is such an interesting bit of engineering – such as the lens hood / lens cover. Mine has a case, too, but those old cases are best for storage. One thing I do appreciate is the tip of focusing the lens at infinity to remount the lens cover. If you have some images, please post. And thank you for such a delightful article about a nice camera.

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