Foth Folder

My criterion for buying my old cameras is that they must interest me. I prefer them to be in working condition but it is not essential. In good cosmetic condition is nice but so is ‘well loved’. In this case, ‘Interesting’ is the maker – Foth. Previously, I knew of Foth from the Foth Derby camera which has a very high reputation (yet I do not own one!). This Foth folder dates from the very early 1930s as far as I can ascertain. In many ways it is the same as many folding cameras made by many makers around the world.My criterion for buying my old cameras is that they must interest me. I prefer them to be in working condition but it is not essential. In good cosmetic condition is nice but so is ‘well loved’. In this case, ‘Interesting’ is the maker – Foth. Previously, I knew of Foth from the Foth Derby camera which has a very high reputation (yet I do not own one!). This Foth folder dates from the very early 1930s as far as I can ascertain. In many ways it is the same as many folding cameras made by many makers around the world.

P1050094Dating is hard as there are no serial numbers anywhere. Many features – iconometer for viewfinder, presence of a Brilliant finder, dial-set shutter, slide focusing rather than helical focusing – point to pre-1930 (although pre-1930 can extend into the mid-1930s). Even with those features, the detail of the iconometer suggest earlier rather than later – the eye-piece is a pointer rather than a frame. Yet, the Interweb tells me that having two knobs to extend the bellows means post-1930 on Foth cameras and the presence of the iconometer means post 1931. So, if I am to believe the Interweb, Foth were selling a very old-fashioned camera in the 1930s. I have no evidence on the camera to be able to form my own opinion here.


lens: Foth Doppel

focal length:  105 mm

apertures: f/4.5 to f/36 (Stoize scale)

focus range: 1.5 m to infinity

lens fitting: fixed

shutter: Foth everset

speeds: 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, B, T

flash: No!

film size: 120

The maximum aperture of f/4.5 also suggests a later date but the aperture scale – 4.5, 6.3, 9, 12.5, 18, 25, 36 – suggests an earlier date. I am not sure when the scale used here finally disappeared but my other cameras of this sort of date seem to have changed over to the modern scale around 1930 – the actual dates vary from maker to maker (Zeiss early 1900s, Voigtlander at the very end of the 1930s, Leitz in the early 1940s). All in all, I think I can safely say that this camera was made before 1940 and probably 1931 to 1935.

P1050100The name ‘Foth’ only appears once on the camera. It is embedded in the leatherette on the baseboard/lens door. There is no model name or reference number anywhere. I assume this means that Foth only made the one folding camera model. The rear of the camera has the initials ‘H.E.F.’ stencilled in white on a scroll background – this will be either the retailer or the owner. I tend to think it is the initials of the owner as retailers usually rely on stickers on the inside.

P1050086The camera measures 163 by 80 by 34 mm when closed and by 135 mm when open. It weighs 578 g. While the camera is closed, there are few controls apparent. On one long edge are the film advance key at one end, the viewfinder eyepiece/pointer in the middle and the baseboard/lens door release button near the other end. On the other long edge, at the end, is the tripod socket which is the 3/8 inch version. Near the middle is a sliding button to release the back for film loading. This part is very like a Braun Paxette – the back, the base and part of the front on both sides come away in one piece.

P1050087On the back is only the red window for advancing the film. On the front of the camera is the hinged baseboard/lens door. While closed, this has a folding foot to enable the camera to sit upright on a level surface. Near the hinge is a second tripod socket. Again, this is a 3/8 inch thread.

P1050085P1050084The whole camera os covered with a thick, cardboard based, leatherette. This has been very damp at some point and the cardboard backing has seriously buckled. The leatherette on the hinged baseboard has the legend ‘Foth’ embossed on it.


P1050092Pressing the stud on long side causes the baseboard to spring open. The spring is strong enough to open this all the way without any help. All that is required of the user is to click the baseboard down to finally locate the struts securely.  As an older design camera, the shutter/lens assembly does not move and needs to be pulled out by hand – two chromed studs are provided as a hand-hold. Pulling the shutter/lens out to the stop position will leave the lens focused at infinity. To focus nearer, there is a metal slide on the front right-hand side of the baseboard. This has an ivorine scale which extends from infinity to 1.5 metres. Fine focus is not possible but this will not have mattered as the user will only have had contact prints made and focus defects would not have been visible.

Logo is FCFC

The shutter is an everset shutter made by Foth. It bears the logo ‘FCFC’ for ‘F.C. Foth Company’. This offers speeds of 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 seconds plus B and T (B keeps the Sutter open for as long as you keep your finger on the shutter release. T opens the shutter which will stay open until you press the shutter release a second time). The lens is a Doppel which is German for double and indicates a two element lens. This will be better than the single meniscus lens used on very cheap cameras but nowhere as good as a triplet as used on cheaper decent cameras or an upmarket Tessar with its four elements. There is a socket for a standard cable release just below the shutter release lever. There is no delay action lever on this camera.


There are two viewfinders provided. The first is a small brilliant finder which will only work in good but not bright light. When the camera is folded up this brilliant finder collapses to fit into the tight space available for it in the camera body. I find these finders just about impossible to use. This one is in good condition – usually they are made from steel that has had chromium plated directly onto the steel which is usually too rusted after 50 to 100 years to be usable. The second finder is an iconometer (I think the name ‘Iconometer’ might have been a registered trademark of Zeiss Ikon but I am still going to use it). This consists of a large wire frame attached to the side of the shutter housing. In use, it hinges out to the left. This wire frame measures 60 mm by 90 mm which is the size of the negative. On the camera body is a folding pointer which the user has to centre in the frame. This is not going to be precise but will have been more than good enough for holiday landscapes and beach portraits.

To open the camera to fit film or remove a finished film, there is a sliding knob in the

‘Z” for closed is just visible in the bottom of the slot

centre of one long side. Sliding this as far as it will go, you can pull the two long edges apart, revealing the innards. There are the letters Z and A to indicate open and closed in German (Z = closed, A = open) but these are barely visible. The camera body and the camera back are made of aluminium which is a rather soft metal. Over the years there has been some distortion of both body and back which makes opening the camera fairly hard. I would think that when new, this would have been easy. The two spools (new film and the empty take-up


spool) are held

in place by a black painted brass strip. This does not hold the spools very securely and I find it necessary to keep a finger on each spool as I refit the back. Might get easier with practice.


Wirgin Edixa 2MTL

A Japanese camera rebadged for the German firm Edixa.

Wirgin were a German camera maker from the mid 20th century. Wirgin was formed in 1920 and ceased manufacture in 1971 (as far as I can tell). They made both viewfinder cameras and SLR cameras (and others). The SLR cameras were aimed at the cheaper end of the serious photography market. There was nothing wrong with them – see Edixa-Mat Reflex mod B – but they were clearly built to a price. The manual for this camera can be viewed and downloaded here.

Wirgin Edixa 2MTL

This particular Wirgin camera – Edixa 2MTL – is solid and well made but was not made buy Wirgin. It is, in fact, a rebadged Cosina Hi-Lite DLR. Cosina have consistently made top-quality cameras for other camera names – they were good enough for Nikon, Canon, Olympus and Zeiss Ikon (to name four) to sell rebadged Cosina cameras as their own. My  Wallace Heaton Blue Book from 1971 has a Zodal 2MTL which is clearly the same camera (Zodal was the name used by Wallace Heaton for their own brand kit. This sold for £89.75 with a Cosinon 50 mm lens.

The camera is metal and is heavy. It measures 145 by 95 by 50 mm and weighs 733 g with no lens. The top plate is pressed brass painted matt black – much of the paint has worn away revealing the underlying metal – clearly a much loved and well used camera: a big positive aspect for me. The base plate is aluminium, again painted matt black. The main body is cast aluminium. There is some plastic, but not very much.

This camera offers TTL metering. This is a CdS meter powered by a button battery. Strangely, the instructions for the camera tell you how to fit the battery but offer no details as to which battery you should be using. The instructions for Cosina’s own version of this camera say that the battery should be a 675 type mercury button cell which are now universally banned. Fortunately, this meter works by centring the needle. When the needle is centred, there is no current flowing through the meter so it does not matter what voltage is producing the zero current. So, any button cell that will fit in the battery compartment will be fine (this really means 1.5v with modern cells). This type of circuit where an unknown resistance (the CdS cell) is balanced by three known resistances is known as a bridge circuit.

Meter switch

The meter is activated by depressing a button on the left side of the lens mount (this also doubles as a depth of field preview button as it stops down the diaphragm). The meter needle is visible on the right side of the focus screen in the viewfinder. It is usual to use these as a shutter priority system – set the required shutter speed and then adjust the aperture until the meter needle is centred. 

So – time for a description. the top plate is uncluttered. On the right is the film advance lever. This is metal with a black plastic pad on the end for comfort. This lever moves through around 200° to advance the film one frame. this is not on a ratchet so it must be moved in one go. In front of the advance lever is a window to the frame counter. This counts up from one and is reset when the back is opened. Only the even-numbered frames are numbered with the odd-numbered frames represented by a dot.

Top plate

Left of the frame counter window is the shutter release button. This is bright chrome plated and is threaded for a standard cable release. Next to this is the shutter speed selector. This is pretty standard and runs from 1 second to 1/1000 seconds plus B. The shutter is a Copal Square shutter with metal blades and runs vertically. The speed selector will only turn between 1 and 1/1000. to go from 1 to 1/1000 (or 1/1000 to 1) you need to go almost a complete turn around the speeds. 1/125 is marked with a red X and is the synch speed for electronic flash. For flash bulbs, any shutter speed can be used.

This shutter speed selector also doubles as the film speed selector. To select film speeds, you need to lift the selector before turning it. Available film speeds are from 25 ASA to 1600 ASA or DIN 15° to DIN 33°. On my camera, this scale is spotlessly clean apart from 25 ASA which suggests that the user was using Kodachrome 25 almost exclusively (I can think of no other 25 ASA film in the 1970s and 80s that would account for it).

The pentaprism hump is of the size you would expect at this date – this is from just before Olympus rewrote the book with their OM series of cameras. On the left of the pentaprism hump is a pair of PC connectors for flash. One is marked X for electronic flash and must be used at 1/125 seconds or slower – this is marked on the shutter speed selector. The other PC connector is marked with a white M and is for flash bulbs – bulbs can be used at any shutter speed.

PC connectors

On the front of the top plate is a pair of strap lugs. One of these is completely worn through so I can no longer attach a strap to the camera.

As always, the front of the camera is dominated by the lens mount. This is the M42 mount introduced by East German Zeiss Ikon in 1949. It is also known as the Praktica mount and Pentax mount as these two companies made the use of the M42 mount very common. I cannot comment on the lens as none was supplied. The manual (downloadable here) says that it was a Cosina brand Cosinon 50 mm lens. When focusing the lens (any M42 lens will fit) the only focus aid is a disc of micro-prisms in the centre which acts as a whole series off split-image centres – the first time I have seen this effect. It works very well.

Window frame out of focus
Window frame in focus

On the right of the lens mount is a self-timer lever. This is activated by turning the lever anticlockwise. When you press the shutter release, the mirror is raised immediately and the shutter fires after 11 seconds. I expect that this delay would have been 8 seconds when new as this is the usual delay. If you do not turn the setting lever as far as it can go, you get proportionally shorter delays.

The baseplate of the camera has four times on it. Starting on the left is the lever to open the back. This is recessed and meeds to be turned through about 45° in the direction of the marked arrow. Next to this is the battery compartment which is designed to take one 675 type button cell. Just behind the lens is the tripod boss. This is, as you would expect, a 1/4 inch UNC thread.Towards the other end of the base plate is the button to allow the film to be rewound. This is well designed and does not need to be held in while rewinding which makes life much easier than with other cameras.

Inside, this camera is entirely standard. Being Japanese, the camera needs foam light seals around the back and these are seriously perished. I doubt the designers expected the camera to still be used after nearly 50 years after manufacture so this is not really a criticism.

The following is an advert for this camera from the 1971/2 Wallace Heaton catalogue. The model advertised is the Zodel 2MTL but it is the same camera – Cosina made these cameras for many resellers as well as Edixa and Zodal.

2MTL 1972012.jpg

Cocarette 220 or 514/15

I have titled this article ‘Cocarette 514/15’ but I am far from sure as to the camera’s identity. It is certainly a Zeiss Ikon camera as the Zeiss Ikon logo appears twice on the camera. It looks like a Contessa Nettel Cocarette – complete with the film cassette loading system – but there is no model number or name anywhere that I can see. Both model name and model number were usually embossed in the leatherette and it is quite possible that age has removed the embossing. The leather carrying handle is missing and it is possible that this carried the model name/number. The design of the chrome struts holding the lens door is also the same as the struts on other Contessa Nettel cameras and very different to the struts on either Icarette or Nettar cameras so I am going to call this a Cocarette 220 (or 514/15) until someone shows me different.

“This is a very large folding camera – it takes size 116 film which gives a negative size of 65 by 105 mm.”

front of camera – closed

lens: Frontar

focal length:  140 mm

apertures: f/9 to f/32

focus range: 2 m to infinity

lens fitting: fixed

shutter: Ernemann leaf shutter

speeds: 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, B, T

flash: No provision

film size: 116

This is a very large folding camera – it takes size 116 film which gives a negative size of 65 by 105 mm. This is from the day when people usually had contact prints done and the negative size was the print size – large negative = large print.

Zeiss Ikon started manufacturing in 1926 and stopped making Cocarette cameras in 1930 so that gives us a time span for this camera. Normally, with Zeiss Ikon cameras, we can look at the serial number and use this to gain a close-ish date but this camera does not have a Zeiss Ikon serial number (letter + five numbers) but rather a Contessa Nettel one (six numbers). This is actually useful as Zeiss Ikon fairly quickly used their own serial numbers on all production and the continued use of a Contessa Nettel number system suggest the camera was made soon after the merger that created Zeiss Ikon – i.e. 1926 or 1927. Lens and shutter serial numbers are useful in pegging down the date but the cheaper lens and shutter used on this camera do not have serial numbers. Using information about other Contessa Nettel cameras on the Interweb, I can peg this camera’s serial number (436466) down to late 1925 or early 1926. This is pre-Zeiss Ikon but they used up existing supplies of body castings and such.

“The camera is in poor cosmetic condition – it is about 90 years old – and has clearly been stored somewhere damp as there is a lot of mildew on the insides of the bellows and a fair bit of corrosion of the metal parts.”

rear of camera

The camera is in poor cosmetic condition – it is about 90 years old – and has clearly been stored somewhere damp as there is a lot of mildew on the insides of the bellows and a fair bit of corrosion of the metal parts. The body is made from cast aluminium with some steel parts. The body measures 195 by 105 mm and  by 40 mm when closed. When open, the lens extends to 160 mm. It weighs 826 g. To open the camera for use you need to press a small brass button on one of the sides.

lens door open
lens pulled forward

The lens door/baseboard then springs open. With my camera, it  does not click into place as it opens but I suspect that it did when new. The lens then needs to be pulled forward by pulling on the chrome stud in front of the lens. There is only one central stud – every other folding camera that needs the lens pulling forward that I have seen have two studs. The lens will stop when it reaches the infinity focus position. The lens is connected to the camera body by leatherette bellows which are in poor condition on my camera.

lens and shutter detail – see “EW” logo

The lens is a Frontar lens which was made by C. P. Goerz (one of the partner companies in Zeiss Ikon) and is a doublet (two glass elements) which is a cheap option. It has a focal length of 14 mm. The maximum aperture is f/9. The aperture is set by an iris diaphragm which will open to well beyond f/9 but there is a Waterhouse stop behind the diaphragm to prevent a wider aperture being used. A rough and ready measurement of the entrance pupil using a ruler suggests a maximum aperture of f/7 or thereby (formula is focal length divided by entrance pupil equals f/no). I suspect that this is related to the low quality of the Frontar lens being used – f/9 being the widest aperture consistent with usable image quality.

The shutter is anonymous but it is marked EW in a monogram. It looks a bit like a Derval but that would be marked with the Gauthier logo rather than with EW. I suspect that the EW is for Ernemann-Werke. The 1928 Zeiss Ikon catalogue offers the Cocarette 220 with a  variety of lenses in ‘three speed shutter’ – is this an Ernemann shutter left over from before the Zeiss Ikon merger? Speeds are 1/25, 1/50 and 1/100 plus B and T. The shutter is an everset design – there is no need to cock the shutter before taking the picture. There is provision for a threaded cable release.

focus scale

The viewfinder is a brilliant finder which I always find very difficult to use. Focus is by sliding the lens/shutter housing forward. There are variations on how this was done before the advent of helical focusing. On more expensive cameras, there was a lever on the lens board which moved radially. This allowed for easier, smoother action and the possibility to set the focus between marked positions. This camera has no lever and only a few preset distances are available: 2, 3, 5, 10 and infinity. I suspect that the distances are meters rather than feet. When opening the camera it defaults to infinity focus. For closer focus, there is a round tab beneath the shutter housing on the left (as when using the camera) which needs to be pressed inwards while the lens/shutter sis moved forwards to the appropriate position. As the negative was never going to be enlarged, critical focus was not an issue.

film cassette

Loading the film is by using the cassette. This is one of the reasons for me thinking that this is a Cocarette as this was a favoured method for Contessa Nettel. Rather than the back of the camera opening on a hinge, with this camera one side pulls off the camera bringing the film cassette with it. the roll of film is then loaded into the cassette and the cassette then reinserted into the camera. I cannot comment  on how this system works compared to the more usual opening back system as the film size (116) required for this camera is  no longer available. Because of this cassette system, there is (and cannot be) no pressure plate to keep the film flat in front of the film gate.

Using the cassette: the base of the cassette is the side of the camera which is made from cast aluminium. The main body of the cassette is pressed steel sheet painted black. The bulk of the pressed steel forms the film gate. Just inside the steel part of the film gate is a brass sheet insert which forms the actual opening against which the film sits. This opening measures 65 by 105 mm.

spool holder

The take-up spool fits into the holder that has a film advance key on the outside. To make fitting the empty spool easier the end of the spool holder hinges out of the way. There is a chrome spring to keep the film taut on the spool. The new film fits into the spool holder at the other end – again the end of the spool holder is hinged and there is a chrome spring to keep the film taut.

As the film is pulled across the film gate, it pass over a chrome roller. It then needs to slide between the pressed steel frame and the brass sheet insert. This keeps the film flat in the absence of a pressure plate.

camera body without the film cassette

Once the film is loaded into the cassette, the cassette needs to be put back into the camera. There are deliberate gaps in the cassette and holes in the camera body which will allow air flow when the camera is opened for use and the bellows extended. These are to prevent a partial vacuum forming which might pull the film into a bow.

cleaning access plus cover

The big drawback to not having the back of the camera opening is the difficulty of cleaning inside the camera. To allow for this, there is a removable disc on the back of the camera. This turns  about 45° anti-clockwise to remove. The red window for the frame numbers is by this removable disc. There are two tripod bosses – one on the lens door and one on the side of the camera. These are both 3/8 inch Whitworth threads.

Voigtlander Bessamatic

P1040597This is a big lump of a camera – it weighs 927g – and will not be easy to use for long periods. The basic design is the same as the Zeiss Ikon Contaflex series, Kodak Retina Reflexflex, Mamiya Korvette (aka Family) and several others. The camera uses a reflex version of the Synchro-Compur shutter. This is very complicated shutter that does a bit more than control the exposure. East German Zeiss Ikon in the late 1940s introduced a reflex version of the Zeiss Ikon Contax which became the standard for SLR design that is still with us with DSLR cameras. This East German SLR used a focal plane shutter (as had the Contax) and most SLR manufacturers followed suit. West German Zeiss Ikon went with a design using the in-between the lens leaf shutter instead as did Voigtlander. This complicates things as the shutter must be open to enable viewing through the lens without exposing the film. The solution – designed by both Compur and Gauthier – is to use a secondary shutter behind the mirror. To expose the film requires seven steps:

  1. close the leaf shutter
  2. raise the mirror
  3. open the secondary shutter
  4. fire the leaf shutter
  5. close the secondary shutter
  6. lower the mirror
  7. open the leaf shutter.

This is relatively slow compared to a focal plane shutter and involves more moving parts working in synch. The thought process behind doing this in preference to a focal plane shutter is long lost but the system had a long life and was used by Hasselblad, Bronica, Mamiya and others for medium format SLR cameras well into the 2000s. This camera cost, in 1965, a whopping £117-8-3 (in old British money, or £117.41 in modern British money). Average wages in Britain in 1965 were £70 per month so this represented 170% of a month’s wages. In 2019 terms, this equates to around £5,156 for this camera.

P1040598This camera is partially automatic. The two controls are the light meter and the shutter speed. To set the exposure, you first set the required shutter speed and then turn the meter knob until the two needles in the viewfinder are superimposed. This sets the aperture required for that shutter speed. If you would prefer to choose the aperture rather than the shutter speed you can do this by matching the two needles in the viewfinder and then adjusting the shutter speed until the required aperture is by the black index pointer on top of the shutter housing. There is no way of directly setting the aperture.

Having given an overview of the workings, I shall give a more detailed description of the camera.

On the far right of the top plate is the film advance lever. This rests flush with the back of the top plate. The lever moves through about 270° to advance the film one frame. The lever is not on a ratchet so the lever needs tone moved all the way in one movement. This is surprisingly easy to do in one motion. Embedded in the advance lever is a film reminder. This has three options:

  1. Black and white
  2. Daylight colour
  3. Artificial light colour

This is purely a mnemonic and has no effect on the operation of the camera.

P1040601Just to the left of the advance pivot is a small lever marked “R” and arrow. Moving this lever in the direction of the arrow allows the film to be rewound into the cassette. This is reset by winding the film advance lever.

At the front of the top plate, between the film advance lever and the pentaprism hump, is the shutter release button. This is chrome plated metal and is threaded for a standard cable release. The pentaprism hump is rather broad compared to other SLR cameras and the image in the viewfinder is accordingly large.

To the left of the pentaprism hump is a large combination knob. This has four functions:

  1. setting the film speed
  2. setting the light meter
  3. adjusting the exposure for filters
  4. rewinding the film

P1040602First, setting the film speed. This is a German camera and although both DIN and ASA scales are present, the German DIN scale dominates over the American ASA scale. Speeds available are from 11 DIN/10 ASA TO 36 DIN/3200 ASA. To set the film speed you need to slide out a nipple on the film speed scale and rotate the scale until the required film speed is against the red index mark.

To set the light meter, you need to be looking through the viewfinder. Zeiss Ikon, on their Contaflex, included a meter read-out on the top plate as well as in the viewfinder but with Voigtlander the only read-out is in the viewfinder. This means you holding a rather heavy (927g!) camera up to your eye for no good reason. In use, you turn the outer ring of the combination knob until the needle with a ring is superimposed on the meter needle. Turning this adjusts the aperture, turning the aperture ring on the shutter housing directly. If it is not possible to superimpose the two needles at the selected shutter speed, it is possible to turn the now stiff ring with more effort which will adjust the shutter speed as well as the aperture.

P1040611As this camera is not metering through the lens, the meter takes no notice of any filters in use. If filters are attached to the lens they have an exposure factor printed on them. Beside the combination knob is a scale from zero to five. These are filter factors. To use these, you set the exposure in the normal way. Any the base of the combination knob is a series of alternating red and black dots. To set the filter factor, you select the red or black dot by the zero and turn the light meter ring until that selected dot is beside the appropriate factor on the scale.

In the centre of the combination knob is the rewind knob which is used in conjunction with the rewind lever mention earlier. This pulls up about 5 mm to make rewinding easier and then pulls up a further 10 mm to allow the film cassette to be removed.

The front of the camera is dominated by the shutter/lens assembly. Above the shutter housing is the light meter sensor. This is a selenium meter and so has no need of a battery.


“This bayonet mount was also used by the Retina Reflex (it is called the DKL mount and Voigtlander and Kodak versions were slightly different).”

The other item on the front is a PC socket for attaching a flash gun. This can be used with either M rated flash bulbs or with electronic flash – there is a lever to select between the two on the side of the shutter housing. As well as M and X, this selector has a third option of V. This is short for Vorlaufwerk and is a shutter delay timer. This can only be set once the film has been advanced and currently (on my camera) delays the shutter firing by 12 seconds. To mover this selector between M,X and V, you need to simultaneously press a small lever on the other side of the shutter housing.

On the shutter housing itself, there are three movable rings. The inner-most controls the shutter speed and can be moved between 1/500 and 1 seconds. This moves easily without altering the exposure as the aperture ring moves at the same time but in the opposite direction. The next ring out is the aperture ring and can to be directly controlled by the user. There are two ways to change the aperture – change the shutter speed or adjust the light meter. The next movable ring is the focus ring – this will focus between 1m and infinity. To aid focus, there is a ring of micro-prisms in the viewfinder with a split-image centre.

This lens does not have a separate DOF scale. Instead, there are two red pointers by the focus scale  which move as the aperture changes and these red pointers indicate the new and far limits of the DOF for the selected aperture.


The lens on this camera is exchangeable, although few options were available. The lens is fitted in a bayonet mount just in front of the shutter blades. This bayonet mount was also used by the Retina Reflex (it is called the DKL mount and Voigtlander and Kodak versions were slightly different). To remove the lens you press a plunger beneath the shutter housing and simultaneously turn the lens through about 45° anti-clockwise.

The lens is a Color-Skopar X f/2.8 50mm lens. It has the DKL bayonet mount. The serial number (5,671,055) dates the lens to 1961. The camera body has a separate serial number (100433). Focusing moves the whole lens, not just the front element. The focus ring is fairly deeply scalloped to both provide a grip and also to allow the ring to be found by touch.

P1040607The back is opened by squeezing together two serrated lugs on the left side of the back. The back is hinged (which is better than Zeiss Ikon’s idea of a detachable back which makes loading film in the field awkward). Inside is as you would expect from a late 20th century camera. The film cassette goes on the left and the take-up spool, which is fixed, is on the right. Beside the take-up spool is the toothed sprocket shaft. This shaft has a milled section which is used to rotate the shaft prior to loading the film. The reason for doing this is that this is the only way of setting the frame counter. The frame counter counts down to zero so must be set to the length of the film plus two prior to loading the film. This is a very crude and cumbersome way to do this – it takes quite a long time – and is not up to Voigtlander’s usual standards.

Praktica Nova (no name version)

This camera has no name on it anywhere – in fact, no writing on it at all. The only clue to its identity is the Ernemann Tower embossed in the leatherette on the back. Ernemann was one of the four camera makers that merged in 1926 to form Zeiss Ikon. With the partition of Germany after WWII, East German Zeiss Ikon (Zeiss Ikon also got partitioned along with the country) used the distinctive Ernemann Tower as a logo. With the morphing of East German Zeiss Ikon into Pentacon and the establishment of VEB Pentacon as a merger of the East German camera makers (Exakta, KW, Balda, Zeiss Ikon and others) the Ernemann Tower was used as a logo on all of them.

P1040580So this is a Pentacon camera. There are clues to the marque in the design. The shutter release is angled on the front right of the camera. This narrows it down to Contax or Praktica (a dangerous statement as I do not know all East German camera models!). There are two PC connectors on the top of the front left of the camera. Looking at imagers of Contax and Praktica cameras on Google, only one camera looks like this one – an early Praktica Nova. As a check, I went to and they have details of a model that was issued with no printing – the Praktica Nova No-Name. I already have a Pentaflex SL which is a cut-down Praktica Nova and this camera is very similar although the Pentaflex SL dates from the year that the Praktica Nova No-Name was discontinued.

Ernemann Tower embossed in the leatherette

This is an early part of the Praktica Nova series. It dates from 1964 to 1967. It lacks a meter and has a top shutter speed of 1/500 seconds. The shutter speed selector is old school for the time with separate low and high speed rangers. The slow speed range is in red and offers 1/2, 1/4 and 1/8 seconds. The high speed range is in white and offers 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250 and 1/500. Also in the high speed range is the flash synch speed (denoted by a lightning flash) and B. The flash synch speed is between 1/30 and 1/60 seconds and I am guessing 1/40 based on other Praktica cameras of the time.

P1040582Although B is in white and so a part of the high speed range, it can be used with the selector set at red. Switching between low and high speed ranges is done by a ring on top of the speed selector dial. Actual shutter speeds are selected by lifting the outer ring of the selector snd turning. The selected speed is indicated by a red dot. This works both before and after advancing the film.

This camera is a big step forward from my Praktica F.X2 which lacks a pentaprism. The shutter release button, as mentioned, sits on the front right the camera and is angled for ease of use. This is an improvement over the F.X2 where the shutter release is at right angles to the camera body. The button is threaded for a standards cable release. The edges of the button are milled and the button can be turned clockwise to lock it – a feature that will save me many blank frames.

P1040581The lens mount is M42 (42 mm diameter and 1 mm pitch) and not to be confused with M43 digital mount. It is the automatic version. This means that a bar comes forward when you press the shutter release button which presses on a pin on the rear of the lens to close the aperture. If you are using a non-automatic lens which would foul this bar – or if you just don’t want to use it – there is a red rivet just behind the bar which can be moved to one side to disable the auto feature.

The viewfinder eyepiece has a sort of bayonet fitting which I assume was for fitting a rubber eye cup or correction lenses so the user can discard their spectacles while using the camera.

The focus screen is a Fresnel lens which gives uniform brightness over the focus screen. In the centre is a plain ground glass circle (I initially thought that this was a micro prism ring but it is plain ground glass). Inside this circle is a split-image disc. This has a horizontal division. To use this, you find a strong vertical near the centre of the image and superimpose the split-image part over it. While the image is out of focus, the image in the part will be disrupted. You adjust the focus until the disrupted image comes together again.

P1040583There are a few other features worth noting. Under the rewind crank on the left of the top plate is a film reminder. This has two components: film length and film speed. To use this, you rotate the film speed ring until the required film speed is against the film length. Available film lengths are 12, 20 and 36. Film speeds are in either DIN (German system) or ASA (American system). Din speeds range from 9 to 33 and the ASA speeds from 6 to 1600. The back of the camera, as well as having the Ernemann Tower embossed in it, also has a triangle with a ‘1’ in it embossed below the Ernemann Tower. This indicates that the camera is of the first quality. There is a 1/4 inch Whitworth tripod socket on the base which is otherwise plain.

Also, there are two PC connectors on the top, front left of the camera. One is marked ‘F’ and is for using flash bulbs and the other is marked ‘X’ and is for electronic flash. The ‘F’ connector will fire the flash slightly before the shutter is fully open to give the flash bulb time to burn to maximum brightness while the ‘X’ connector will fire the flash as soon as the shutter is fully open. The frame counter is below the film advance lever and it counts up from zero. Opening the back to change films automatically resets the counter to -1.

The film advance lever has lost its black plastic tip – there is a rivet still in place that used to hold the tip in place – but it works fine as it is. The camera has studs on the front corners for attaching a neck strap. This is the form of the early Praktica Novas during the three year production run of the model. Later in the production run these were changed for eyelets.

Pentacon F (Contax F)

This is a ground breaking camera. This was the first modern 35 mm SLR camera (in the S version). SLR cameras have been around for a very long time and there were many SLR cameras that used glass plates rather than film. There were also earlier 35 mm SLR cameras – the Kine Exakta is generally accepted as being the first – but these earlier designs did not lead on to the ubiquitous 35 mm SLR of the 1950s and beyond.

Pentacon F

lens: n/a
focal length: n/a
apertures: n/a
focus range: n/a
lens fitting: M42
shutter: cloth focal plane
speeds: 1 second to 1/1/1000
flash: PC connector
film size: 35 mm

The name ‘Pentacon’ was only used for cameras sold in Western Europe and North America. Elsewhere, it was the Contax F. This other name tells us a great deal about the design of this camera. It is a development of the pre WWII Zeiss Ikon Contax rangefinder. The main changes made are that the brass shutter is replaced with a cloth one, the shutter moves side to side rather than up and down and the rangefinder is replaced with a mirror and pentaprism. This last give rise to the name Pentacon which is a contraction of PENTAprism CONtax. There are also other changes – the Contax bayonet lens mount is replaced by the M42 thread lens mount. It was necessary to change the lens mount to increase the film to lens flange distance – the mirror needs the additional room to move – the diameter of the M42 lens mount (at 42 mm!) is also significantly larger than the diameter of the Contax bayonet mount (35 mm) allowing longer focal lengths to be used.

Pentacon F rear

The camera measures 145 by 80 by 50 mm and weighs 850 g. It is an all metal construction and the exposed metal is chrome plated with a matt finish. The rest of the body is covered with a fine grained black leatherette. The controls are bright chrome plated.

Pentacon F top plate

The top plate is not what later became ‘standard’, but is not far off. On the right is the film advance. This is still a knob at this age. This knob rotates clockwise which in turn turns the take-up spool clockwise so that the film is wound with the emulsion side outward. To the left of the film advance is the shutter speed selector. This is v very different to the speed selectors that became normal in the 1950s and 1960s. The selector wheel turns clockwise and must be depressed teen-age the mechanism beneath. In front of the speed selector wheel is a window. This gives onto a disc with two speed scales – one black and one red. The black scale is the fast speeds and offers speeds of 1/50, 1/100, 1/200, 1/500 and 11/1000. The red scale is the slow speeds and offers 1, 1/2, 1/5, and 1/20 and B. To choose which scale to use, there is a slide on the back of the top plate. When this is slid to the left a red arrow appears on the left of the selector window and the red range is selected. Moving the slide to the right changes the red arrow to a black arrow on the right and the black range is selected.

The idea is that you only select a red speed while the red arrow is present and only select a black speed while the black arrow is present. However, there is nothing to stop you choosing a black speed with the red range selected – and vice versa. If you do this, the shutter fires just fine but there is no telling as to which shutter speed you will actually get. Shutter speeds can be changed either before or after the film is advanced. Before the film is advanced, the selector knob will only turn anti-clockwise (actually, it will turn both ways but will not select a new shutter speed if turned clockwise) but after advancing the film it will turn in either direction.

When you press the shutter release button, the disc in the selector window will rotate clockwise – part of one revolution while the release is depressed and the remainder of the revolution once the release button is raised again.

Left of centre is the pentaprism hump. This is a normal pentaprism and there is not a lot I can say about it. It turns the image on the focus screen so that it is the right way around in the viewfinder. The eye-piece is nice and large and the focus screen is plain ground glass – no focus aids here.

Film reminder – B&W at 100 ASA

Left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind knob. On this camera, the rewind knob does not double as a catch for the back – that is a slide on the right-hand end of the camera – nor does it pull up to ease the insertion of film cassettes. Beneath the rewind knob is a film memo. This consists of a ring with three icons on it. One icon is a black circle next to a white circle – this represents black and white film. The second icon is a sun and this represents colour film balanced for daylight. The third icon is a light bulb and represents colour film balanced for artificial (specifically tungsten bulb) light. To remind yourself as to what film is loaded, you rotate this ring anticlockwise until your chosen icon is against the film speed (which is ASA only. I assume that cameras intended for the home German market will have had this film speed reminder scale in DIN).

Between the pentaprism hump and the rewind knob is a PC connector for flash. There is no accessory shoe on this camera so the flash gun would need to be fitted to a bracket or separate stand. There is no indication given on the shutter speed disc as to what speed is required for flash but the manual states that it is 1/10 seconds.

The shutter release button is on the front of the camera to the right of the lens mount. Its is angled and falls nicely to my fore-finger when holding the camera. The button is threaded for a standard cable release. Below the release b button is a delay action lever. To use this, you move the lever anti-clockwise as far as it will go. To set it off, you give a slight turn to the knurled knob holding the lever in place. This takes eight seconds (on my camera) to fire the shutter. It is not possible to move the lever part way to give a shorter delay. If you try this, the shutter will not fire.

The lens mount is an M42 (42 mm by 1 mm thread) mount and so will take a very large number of lenses from many makers. This is the automatic version of the M42 mount which means that just inside the mount at the bottom is a plate that a moves forward as the shutter release button is pressed. This plate presses on a pin on the back of the lens and closes the diaphragm to the set aperture. Just beneath the lens mount there is a folding foot. Folding this out will allow the camera to stand level on a suitable surface to let you take selfies in conjunction with the delay action lever.

back and half base removed

As mentioned above, the back is opened by a slide catch. The Contax that this camera was based on and all West German Contax derivatives have the back and base come away from the body in one piece. With this camera, the back is hinged but still takes a significant portion of the base with not. This is to facilitate the insertion and removal of the film cassettes. As was common with German cameras, the take-up spool is removable and can be replaced with an empty cassette. This avoids the need to rewind the film at the end and supposedly makes changing films faster and easier. The downside is that it is easy to drop the loose take-up spool when fitting a new film.

back and other half base

As was the German practice, the flanges around the edges of the back are designed to be light tight and so this camera has no foam light seals to go bad. There are two light seals – velvet, not foam – by the hinge and by the slide catch. Apart from these velvet light seals, this camera has no need of seals. A boon for collectors of old cameras!

back inside view

The one weakness of using flanges to keep out light is where the sprocket shaft attaches at the top. This shaft is connected to the film advance mechanism to control the length of film advanced each time. This locally reduces the depth of the flange. To keep the camera light tight, there is a secondary flange at the top of the back just where the sprocket shaft is.

On the base is a standard 1/4 inch Whitworth tripod boss. It looks to me that this has been fitted into a 3/8 inch Whitworth boss. Also on the base is the button to release the advance mechanism for rewinding the film. The only other thing to note is the presence of a strap lug on either front corner.

Praktica F.X2

This is an early Praktica made by KW (Kamera Werkstätten) between 1958 and 1959 i.e. before the merging of East Germany’s camera makers into Pentacon. In many ways, this camera is much like what became the ‘standard’ SLR camera – such as Asahi’s Pentax and Nikon’s F. In other ways it shows its position in the move from rangefinder to SLR. It also, of course, reflects the available technology of the day.

P1040504In the 1940s and 50s, East and West Germany were both at the forefront of redesigning their existing cameras into SLR cameras. East German Zeiss Ikon produced the Contax S from the Contax rangefinder. West German Zeiss Ikon also started with the Contax rangefinder and produced the Contaflex SLR series. The West German attempt was well engineered and over complicated and was a design dead end (but not for Hasselblad, Bronica, Mamiya and their medium format SLR cameras which used a similar system). The East German attempt lead to modern SLR cameras and not that much has changed to produce our current digital SLRs.

P1040505There are four things that really date this Praktica F.X2 camera. The first is then use of a film advance knob rather than a lever. This was quite usual for the time and the design changes necessary for using clever happened slowly over the 1950s.

The second thing is the shutter speed selector. In common with many cameras with a focal plane shutter, there are two separate mechanisms for fast speeds and slow speeds. There is a single selector knob but this is used in conjunction with a fast/slow selector. Fast speeds are the black range and slow speeds are the red range.

The third item that dates this camera is the viewfinder. Most 35 mm SLR cameras had/have an eye-level pentaprism finder or an interchangeable finder such as on Exakta cameras. This camera has a fixed waist-level finder but did have an optional pentaprism to convert the viewfinder to eye-level – I do not have one of these.

The fourth is the mirror. This does not return automatically after the shutter fires and so the viewfinder in blanked out until the film is advanced. Apart from being surprising, this does not really matter as you cannot use the camera without advancing the film.

top plate

This camera also has innovative features. The camera name, FX, is one of them as the camera provides flash synch for bulbs (F) and also for the newer electronic flash (X). Two PC connectors are provided for this.

The camera also offers automatic aperture closing which allows for composition and focus at the widest aperture and then closes the aperture to the set value without the user worrying about it (or forgetting it!). This is achieved by way of a moving bar just inside the throat of the lens mount – this bar moves forward and presses a pin on the rear of the lens which in turn closes the aperture.  In case this bar fouls the rear of a non-automatic lens, there is a rivet painted red just behind the bar that a can be slid to one side to disable the mechanism. I have never found this to be necessary.

Close-up showing the red rivet

I shall give a very general description: The camera body measures 155 by 90 by 48 mm and weighs 630 g. Film advance is a knob rather than a lever. The top surface of the advance knob is a frame counter. This counts up from zero and needs to be set to zero manually when a new film is loaded. Frames are indicated by marks with frames 0, 10, 20 and 30 having numbers.

The shutter speed selector has two ranges of numbers – one is black and one is red. The red range is the slow speeds and are 1/2, 1/5 and 1/10 seconds. The black range is the fast speeds and are 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/200 and 1/500 seconds. Also in the black range is B. There is also a lightning flash on the black scale for the flash synch speed. The manual suggests that this is 1/40 seconds and will be the fastest shutter speed at which the shutter is fully open (at faster speeds, exposure is by a moving slit).

Shutter speeds are set by lifting the outer ring of the speed selector and turning until the red dot aligns with the required speed. To select between fast and slow ranges, you turn the inner ring so that the red arrow points at either the other red arrow or the black arrow. Shutter speed can be selected either before or after advancing the film (unlike shutters used on the Leica mechanism). If you select a ‘red’ speed while the selector is pointing at the black range then the shutter still fires but who knows at what speed. Same applies if you select a ‘black’ speed while the selector is pointing at the red range.

finder opened for use

The viewfinder initially looks very strange – there is no eye-piece! First, you must open the viewfinder by pressing a small stud on the rear of the top plate. The top of the viewfinder then springs up and forward and a small baffle at the rear springs up. At this point you can use the viewfinder (if it is blank, you need to wind-on the film).

The fact that the image is reversed left to right can make composing the image awkward until you are used to it. Focusing the lens is possible  at this point but critical focus is hard. To make it easier, there is a pull-out magnifier to enlarge the centre of the image. Using this entails holding the camera very close to your eye.

view of waist-level finder

There is a second option of converting the waist-level finder to a ‘sport’ finder. To do this, pull magnifier into place, pull up the front of the viewfinder lid and pull up a small eye-piece at the rear of the finder (see photos for clarity). Looking through this, you line up the edges of the two frames. You are just looking through the frames – no glass or focus screen is involved. You need the lens to be focused on infinity and the aperture small enough so the depth of field obviates the need to focus precisely. The idea is that it makes it easy to track movement such as a sportsman  – the image reversal in the standard viewfinder makes this very difficult.

KW also offered a pentaprism insert for the viewfinder to convert it to the ‘standard’ viewfinder used by nearly every other camera maker.

On the front of the camera, beside the lens, are two PC connectors for a flash gun. The bottom one is for F synch (that is flash bulbs – the flash is fired just before the shutter is fully open) and the top one is for X synch (electronic flash – the flash is fired as soon as the shutter is fully open).

PC connectors

On the other side of the lens, at the top, is the shutter release button. usually with front mounted shutter releases, they are angled for ease of use. This one pushes in at right angles to the front. The button is threaded for a standard cable release.

The catch for the back is a slide on the left hand end of the camera. Sliding this up causes the back to come away completely from the camera – there is no hinge. As this is a German camera, the flanges around the edge of the back are large enough to prevent light leaking in without using the silly foam seals that the Japanese insisted on.

The serial number is stamped inside near the catch in the well the film cassette sits in. Mine is 311540. The take-up spool is firmly fixed in place unlike cameras from Zeiss Ikon and Exakta at this time where the take-up spool was loose.

There is an undocumented feature. On later and more expensive SLR camera, it is possible to move the mirror separately from opening the shutter. This allows any vibration caused by the mirror hitting its stop to dissipate before the film is exposed. On this camera, you can press the shutter release gently and the mirror will flip up and then you can wait a second before pressing the release button further to trip the shutter. This works well with the camera on a tripod and using a cable release.

Other features: there is a tripod boss on the base, significantly left of centre. This is a 3/8 inch Whitworth thread and mine has a more usual 1/4 inch Whitworth slug fitted in it to allow most tripods to be used. This slug is easily removed with a screwdriver if the user wants to use a larger threaded tripod. There is a lug on each front corner for fitting a neck strap.

The name of this camera is F.X2. There were three versions: FX2, F.X2 and FX.2. The position of the dot is significant but I have no idea in which way . The site tells me that the position of the dot signifies a modification of the F synchronisation

I shall be fitting a test film this coming week to try out this camera. I have no reason to suspect the it will be other than excellent but time will tell. I would like to try it with an East German lens but I do not have one. Instead, I shall use a Soviet Helios 44M lens (which is a copy of a Carl Zeiss Jena  Biotar lens – designed in East Germany if not made there).


I have tested this camera using Agfa Vista+ film. As this camera came with no lens, I have used my Soviet Helios 44M lens – this lens is a Jena design even if it was made in Russia, so it is the most appropriate lens I have. Film was developed and scanned by Snappy Snaps in Lincoln as always. Here are a selection of results.

I am quite pleased with the camera. There are no light leaks (it is German so I did not expect any) and the shutter is behaving at least adequately. This is a delightful camera to use and I suspect I will continue to use it. All photos were taken in Lincoln.

Praktica FX2-12
Praktica FX2-7
Praktica FX2-3
Praktica FX2-22
Praktica FX2-14

Akarette II

A fairly cheap West German viewfinder camera with exchangeable lenses from the 1950s.

Akarette II

The Akarette II is a small metal 35mm camera from the early 1950s – Interweb tells me it was made from 1950 to 1954. This makes it contemporary with Voigtlander’s Vito B, and Braun’s Paxette I and Paxette II and is visually very similar to these. It is, however, not designed as well nor made to the same standard. It is clearly built down to a price but is certainly not cheaply made. My particular camera has been “well loved” – much of the nickel plating has worn off the fascia and around the viewfinder eyepiece.

Akarette II

lens: Schneider Xenar
focal length:  45 mm
apertures: f/2.8 to f/16
focus range: 1.5 m to infinity
lens fitting: AKA proprietary
shutter: Prontor S
speeds: 1 second to 1/300 seconds
flash: PC connector
film size: 35 mm

Akarette II

This camera was sold by P. Karbach Optik Photo in Detmold, Westphalia, West Germany and belonged to D.W. Easton – DW had his name engraved on the top of the viewfinder. I like these personal touches. While some might think the rather crude engraving of the owner’s name detracts from the value of the camera, to me it adds a great deal.

The top plate is brass, plated with nickel. Unfortunately, nickel is a rather soft metal and wears away fairly quickly and if stored in a damp environment (as this camera clearly was) will tarnish. So, the nickel plating is everywhere dull and in places missing.

Akarette II

On the right of the top plate is the film advance knob. This camera was made at the time that designers were moving away from advance knobs to advance levers. The Vito B already had lever by this time but this still had a knob. Later versions of the Akarette had an advance lever. This knob also contains a film speed memo – there is no meter so this memo has no mechanical function. Film speeds are limited to 11/10 DIN or 10 ASA to 24/10 or 200 ASA. As the camera is German they are using the German DIN system as well as ASA (and using DIN correctly as a fraction – 11/10 DIN rather than 11 DIN) – ASA is almost identical to the later ISO speed measure.

 At the front of the top plate by the film advance knob is the shutter release button. This is chrome plated metal and is threaded for a standard cable release (this standard thread is a conical thread which is very fast to screw in and screw out compared to a more usual helical thread). Next to this is the window for the frame counter. When winding the film on, the frame counter rotates one complete revolution for each frame – less a small amount. Frames are counted in fives with a large dot indicating each even numbered frame. This frame counter is reset to 1 manually with a small thumb wheel just behind the window. The current frame is indicated by a wire across the window.

In the middle of the top plate, offset from the centre to the left, is the viewfinder. This is somewhat reminiscent of a pentaprism hump on an SLR camera but is a straight through viewfinder. The top of the back of the viewfinder is completely missing its nickel plating where the user’s eyebrows have rubbed it off.

Akarette II

Surprisingly, there are two viewfinders in the housing. The reason for this is to allow for different lenses to be fitted. One viewfinder is for a 50 mm lens and the other for a 75 mm lens. In front of the viewfinder is a lever to select which viewfinder is in use. When the lever is horizontal, the 75 mm viewfinder is blanked off and when the lever is vertical the 50 mm viewfinder is blanked off. The blanked off finder has a red dot in front to make sure you know which. This is quite an elegant way to deal with varying fields of view and, to my mind, is better than Leica’s having different sets of brightlines in one viewfinder. My camera comes with a 45 mm lens so the 50 mm viewfinder will not be totally accurate but then, no viewfinders are.

Akarette II

On top of the viewfinder is a small accessory shoe. This will take standard accessories as the stop is forward of the shoe. No electrical contacts here so a cold shoe – flash contacts are provided elsewhere. In front of the accessory shoe, a previous owner has engraved their name – D.W. Easton. Left of the viewfinder is the film rewind knob. To free the internal mechanism for rewinding you need to pull-up the film advance knob and rotate it slightly. The rewind knob pulls up to facilitate the insertion and removal of the film cassette.

Akarette II

As always, the front of the camera is dominated by the shutter housing. This shutter is a Prontor S shutter from Gauthier. The S signifies that the shutter is synchronised for flash and a PC (Prontor Compur) connector is provided on the side of the shutter housing. There is no indication on the camera as to whether this is M or X synch. but the manual states that it is X synch. That means that the flash fires once the shutter is fully open. For electronic flash, the makers recommend a shutter speed of 1/30 but with F rated flash bulbs you can go up to 1/100.

The shutter is a leaf shutter just behind the lens – rather than a focal plane shutter next to the film. The shutter has five blades and offers speeds from 1 second to 1/300 seconds and B.

In front of the shutter is a fixing for the lens. I have already mentioned these when talking about the viewfinder. According to the manual there were four lenses available – 35, 45, 50 and 75 mm focal lengths. I have the 45 mm lens. This is a Schneider Xenar lens with a maximum aperture of f/2.8. The Xenar is a copy (more or less) of Carl Zeiss’ Tessar. It is a very good lens. It is coated which is designated by a red triangle on the lens fascia. While coated lenses are the only type in 2018, in 1953 it was not yet ubiquitous and varied between single and multi coated and between just the outside of the front element and all glass surfaces throughout the lens.  As Schneider were (are!) a top manufacturer (good enough for Zeiss Ikon to use on occasion) I suspect this lens is coated on all surfaces but in 1953 might still be single coated. Attaching the lens and removing the lens is not obvious. It is neither a screw fit nor a bayonet fit. This article on Sylvain Halgand’s Collection Appareils site explains it much better than I possibly could.

The lens focuses by moving the whole lens on the focus helical rather than just moving the front element. This method helps to maximise image quality. The focus range of my 45 mm lens is from one metre to infinity. The outermost ring on the lens adjusts the aperture. The aperture range is from f/2.8 to f/16. There are no click stops so intermediate stops are available. The iris diaphragm has ten blades which gives a very round aperture. The serial number of the lens (3432526) gives an approximate date of manufacture. Serial number 3,000,000 was reached in May 1952 and 4,000,000 in October 1954. Mine is just about halfway in that range so an approximate date of 15 months after May 1952 which is August 1953. The front of the lens is threaded for filters or a lens hood. I have the Akarette collapsable rubber lens hood which looks to be original – it certainly has significant age.

Also on the shutter housing is a delay action lever. On my camera, this does nothing. It is not seized but when pushed to the set position it immediately springs back.

The back of the camera is opened by squeezing together two studs on the left hand end of the camera. Inside is metal painted gloss black. The cassette goes on the left as with most cameras and the rewind knob lifts to facilitate this. There are two sprocket wheels – one above and one below the film gate – rather than a sprocket shaft. These count the holes in the film and thus measure when enough film has passed over them for a fresh frame of film. Above the film gate is the camera serial number – 106541. The edges of the back have significant flanges to keep the interior light proof. This is so much better than the Japanese idea of foam light seals that degrade with time.

Akarette II

On the inside of the door is a retailer’s label – P. Karbach Optik Photo of Detmold which is in Westphalia. I can find nothing about this retailer on the Interweb so I would think a local retailer who is no longer in business. This camera is marked ‘Made in Germany’ on both the shutter housing and the lens. This suggests that the camera was intended for export to either the British Empire or the USA which is at odds with the German retailer’s label. I cannot think that German cameras intended for the German domestic consumption would be marked as made in Germany, but why would a small provincial retailer be exporting?

I have been given further information about Peter Karbach’s shop in Detmold. It is still in business and is now owned by a Thomas Redeker. The business no longer sells photographic equipment. Tobias (who shared this information with me) suggests that D.W. Easton might have bought the camera in Detmold while on military service – if the cameras were intended for sale to us British, they might have had the ‘Made in Germany’ added specifically for that trade.

Akarette II

Some small details. The non-plated parts of the exterior are covered in black leatherette. This is in very good condition with no evidence of lifting at all. There is a standard – 1/4 inch Whitworth – tripod boss centrally in the base. There are two aperture scales on the lens. These scales are forward of the focus ring and move when the lens is focused. The aperture scale that is on top when the lens is focused at infinity is below the lens when focused at 1.5 m – but the other scale is now on top. There are no indents for the aperture ring and it is too easy to move it accidentally when focusing the lens. There is a small strap lug at either end of the top plate.

I have yet to try this camera with film but I will be doing so and will post the results here when I do.

Test Film.

I have my test film back from Snappy Snaps. I have no faults to find – it would have been helpful if the weather was sunny, but dreich is all I had available. The lens and shutter are both industry standard and it would be strange if they did not produce good results. The only slight niggle I have is with rewinding the film. Usually, it is clear when the film has been rewound. The tactile feedback from the rewind knob on this camera allowed me to think I had rewound the film completely before I had actually done so. I then fogged four frames by opening the back too soon. A fifth frame has light flare on its right edge (see the first image below). Luckily, undeveloped film is pretty much light proof and the exposed film still on the take-up spool when I opened the back is fine.

Akarette II-15
Akarette II-6
Akarette II-4
Akarette II-13
Akarette II-12
Akarette II-10
Akarette II-9
Akarette II-8
My Final Word A simple 35 mm camera from Germany. It handles well and is very usable but with no bells or whistles.
ImagesHandlingFeaturesView -finderFeel & BeautyHistoryAge
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Bonus 0
Final Score51

Franka 125L (aka Boots Pacemaker 35LM)

This camera is a rebadged Franka 125L 35 mm camera sold by Boots the Chemists in the UK. At least, it was sold to me as a Boots Pacemaker 35LM. The name badge (13 x 18 mm) on the lower left of the front has fallen off and what remains could be the Pacemaker 35LM, Franka 125L or one of the many other own brands that Franka made cameras for. It is a simple camera – a bit more than a point and shoot but well within the capabilities of the average person.

Front view

The camera dates from 1964 and the overall styling of the camera reflects this (and its German origins). The top plate, which appears to be made from anodised aluminium, is very uncluttered. Just right of centre is the light meter dial. This has settings for film speed in DIN and ASA and for shutter speed. The aperture is then read off against the meter needle. The meter works well on this camera (no battery needed – it is a selenium meter) which is far from a given with old cameras. The meter needle – which is white – is quite a long way from the surface of the meter window which makes it harder to use than need be. A user with younger eyes might find it easier, mind.

To the left of the light meter dial is the accessory shoe. there are no electrical contacts here so it is a cold shoe. Right at the lefty hand end of the top plate is the rewind knob. This also serves as a film speed reminder.

Rear view

The back of the top plate sports the viewfinder eye-piece. This is nice and large – 13 x 18 mm. There are bright lines in the viewfinder for framing the picture. These are in very poor condition in my camera and are barely visible. Below the viewfinder eye-piece is the frame counter. Just below the numbers is a small thumb-wheel – you use this to set the length of the film. The thumb-wheel can only be turned to the right which reduces the numbers. The highest number is 36. In use, the counter counts down from the set number to zero. It will happily go past zero to 36 and on if the film maker has been generous.

Light meter display – set to 1/125 and f/5.6

To the right of the viewfinder eye-piece is the film advice lever. This is mostly recessed between the top plate and the camera body, only enough projecting for the user’s thumb to latch on to. This lever moves through about 270 degrees to wind one frame.

The front of the top plate has the viewfinder to the right and the meter sensor to the left of centre. These both are surrounded by a black plastic bezel.

Lens and shutter

The front of the camera has the shutter/lens assembly. The shutter is a Prontor 125 offering the three speeds of 1/30, 1/60 and 1/125 seconds as well as B. There is a PC (Prontor-Compur) connector for a flash gun. I expect (but do not know) that this will be X synch for an electronic flash. The apertures available are from f/2.8 to f/22

The lens is from Isco-Gottingen and is a Color-Iscoar, focal length 45 mm. I am led to believe that this is a triplet (made from three pieces of glass). The bluish tint of the glass says that the lens is coated – to be expected by the 1960s even on cheap lenses. These lenses have quite a good reputation but I have yet to use one.

The main focus scale consists of three icons – head-and-shoulder, group and landscape. For more accuracy, there is a metre scale below the lens ranging from one metre to infinity. The shutter release is a large, semi-circular button. This is easy to find by feel, even with gloves on. On the underside of the button is a small threaded hole for a standard cable release.

Icon focus scale

Metre focus scale

The underside of the the camera has a central tripod boss and a large red button for rewinding the film. The base also tells me that the camera was made in West Germany (young readers, please Google it) and has the serial number 278000


Inside the camera has the standard layout. The fresh cassette of film goes on the left and the large take-up spool is on the right. There are no DX contacts at this age nor automatic feeding of the film.


Voigtlander Brillant "TLR" camera

This is Voigtlander’s attempt to cash in on the Rolleiflex design. As well as this cheaper model, they also produced a much more expensive model called the Superba. This camera looks exactly like a TLR (Twin Lens Reflex)  – and it is: it has two lenses and the viewing lens is reflex; it looks via a mirror. The big difference is focussing. Rolleiflex and their cousins focus by moving the front plate (with taking lens and viewing lens) back and forth and the user focusses via a ground glass screen which is missing on this model. Here, focussing is via a helical screw thread on the taking lens.

Voigtlander Brillant, front view

This camera was produced in the early 1950s and the lens serial number dates from between 1947 and 1950 – and is probably from 1950. This camera cost, in 1952, £22/11/6 (old money) or £22.57 in decimal money. The case cost a further £2/17/9 (or £2.89). This was seriously expensive –  the UK average salary in 1950 was £100 per year which is £2.00 per week – the camera cost over ten week’s pay for an average person. For comparison, the average salary in 2016 is nearly £28,000 which would make this camera worth £5,600 today.

This camera is made from Bakelite (an early plastic) which becomes brittle with age. My camera is in very good condition with no visible cracks. The only damage I can see is one of the strap lugs has snapped off.
My usual technique with this blog in describing cameras is to start with the top plate and work my way down. Right at the top is the maker’s name ‘Voigtlander’ in Italic script. Below this in the front panel are two lenses. The top lens is the viewing lens (essentially the viewfinder) – the user looks down on the top of the camera and through this lens via a sloping mirror. There is no focussing screen and this lens is fixed (there was a more expensive version with a focussing screen) – it is essentially a massive brilliant viewfinder.
Below the viewing lens is the shutter assembly with the taking lens. The shutter has the AGC logo telling us that this is a Gauthier shutter – in fact a Prontor II going by the range of shutter speeds.


Gauthier shutter (Prontor II)
As always with older clockwork shutters, it is necessary to cock the shutter before use. There is a lever at the top of the assembly for this purpose – the user pulls the lever down to the right (in use; to the left, in my photo of the shutter) where it stays until the shutter is fired. Just below this cocking lever is the shutter release lever. This release lever pushes down and in. Below this is a threaded socket for a standard cable release.
The shutter has two ranges of speeds operated by different parts of the shutter mechanism. The fast speeds – 1/25, 1/50, 11/100 and 1/175 seconds – are working well on my camera and seem to be close to the marked speed (test film will tell for sure). The slow speeds are usually hesitant or non-functional on old shutters. These are 1 second, 1/2, 1/5, and 1/10 seconds. These do not work  on this camera without the user forcing the cocking lever back to its normal position. In addition to the fast and slow shutter speeds, there are two more. B keeps the shutter open while the user keeps the release lever depressed (or more likely in practice, keeps the cable release depressed). T will open the shutter when the shutter release is pressed and the shutter will stay open until the shutter release is pressed a second time. B and T work well on this camera.
The taking lens is a Voigtlander Vaskar. This is Voigtlander’s cheap triplet (a Crooke’s triplet design as far as I can tell). Triplets usually perform very well if stopped down to f/8 – the test film will show for sure how well this lens performs. The focal length is 75 mm which is ‘normal’ for TLR cameras. The negative is square – nominally 6 cm per side. ‘Normal’ is the diagonal of the negative. Pythagorus gives us a diagonal of √(36+36) =  √72 = 8.5 cm so this lens is very slightly wide angle. Maximum aperture is f/4.5 (very respectable for a cheap camera in 1950) and the minimum aperture is f/16. The aperture is set by a lever on the shutter assembly on the photographer’s left. At the base of the shutter assembly is the delay action lever. As with the slow shutter speeds, these rarely work well on old cameras and the standard advice is to never try them.

Below the shutter assembly is the camera’s model name – Brillant (not Brilliant!).

The left side of the camera has a hinged door with space inside for two filters/close up lenses. My camera has one yellow filter in place – these are a push fit on the taking lens.


Left side showing the filter compartment

The right side of the camera has various controls. The most obvious is the film winder at the top. This winds the film on between shots. he lever to the right of that releases the frame counting mechanism while winding to the first frame.The lever in the middle sets the frame counter to 1 which is displayed in the small window. Detailed instructions on how these knobs and levers work can be seen in the instruction ‘book’ on my Google Drive (one small sheet of folded paper ).


Right side showing controls

On the back there is the ubiquitous red window that medium format cameras usually have. This is covered by an internal blind to prevent the film being fogged while not in use. This is opened by a knurled ring below and to the right of the red window.  The blind has a large white cross on it to make it clear that the blind is in place. This red window is only used to position the first frame. Thereafter, the internal mechanism will move the film the right amount.
Brillant back with red window
The bottom of the camera has a 1/4 inch Whitworth tripod socket. This sits slightly proud of the  base, presumably to give enough plastic for strength. On the front edge of the base are two raised spots. Together with the raised tripod socket, these provide a stable base for the camera to sit on for long exposures or self-portraits.


Base of the camera with tripod socket and place of manufacture
The top of the camera has the viewfinder. In this style of camera, you look down into the viewfinder to compose the picture. In storage, the viewfinder folds down out of the way (see top two pictures above). To open, you lift the rear of the top piece – the other three pieces then  rise under spring power.


There is no focussing screen as there would be with a Rolleiflex (because the viewfinder is not used for focussing) – rather, you look through a large square lens via an angled mirror and through the top lens in the front. This is, basically, a giant brilliant finder. The image is very clear and bright but significantly smaller than the negative size. The image is the right way up but reversed left to right. This takes a bit of getting used to but soon becomes second nature. On the left side of the viewfinder panels is a depth of field table (referred to on the camera as a depth of focus table).

looking down the viewfinder
The front panel of the viewfinder has a fold-down section. This is to allow the camera to be used as an direct vision eye level finder. These were referred to as ‘sport’ finders as the direct view is not reversed left to right, making following motion much easier. this fold-down section is used in conjunction with a punch hole in the read panel.
The back of the camera is opened by pressing together two chrome buttons on the top of the back. The back then hinges down in one piece with the base. The new film goes in a recess in the base, held in place by a leaf spring.
inside the camera


The roll of film is a fairly snug fit in here. The film backing paper is pulled over a small roller, across the film gate, across a second small roller and into the take-up spool. On the right hand edge of the film gate is a recessed toothed wheel. This is rotated by the film moving over it and serves to measure how much film has been advanced between shots – the red window only being used for the first frame.
Film recess in the base

The take-up spool fits into a hinged carriage to make fitting easier.

raised carriage for the take-up spool



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