Ihagee Exa 1a

Ihagee Exa 1a

Exa 1a, front view

This is a German SLR camera made by Ihagee of Dresden, Germany.  Ihagee (short for Industrie- und Handelsgesellschaft) was started in 1912 by a Dutchman in Germany.  Until the mid-1930s, Ihagee made more or less standard folding film cameras.  In 1933 they introduced the first Exakta, an SLR which used 127 film (the roll film equivalent of 35mm).  Using 127 film enabled them to make very small cameras.  In 1936 they introduced the Kine Exakta, an SLR which used motion picture (35mm) film (hence Kine).  The Exa range was a smaller and simpler version of the Exakta.

lens: Carl Zeiss Tessar
focal length: 50mm
apertures: 2.8 to 22
focus range: 0.5 m to infinity
lens fitting: Exakta bayonet
shutter: Exakta mirror shutter
speeds: 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/175
flash: PC connector, bulb or electronic synch
film size:  35 mm

The Exa 1a was introduced in 1964 and was produced until 1977.  In some markets it was called Elbaflex 175, Exakta 100 or VX 100. The Exa II range were made concurrently with the EXA I range.  The camera can be dated by the origin engraved on the top plate.  This ranged from ‘Ihagee Dresden’ to ‘aus Dresden’, the Pentacon tower, to ‘Dresden’ to no engraving.  Mine has ‘aus Dresden’.  The back of the camera has ‘MADE IN GDR’ stamped in the leatherette as well as ‘1’ in a triangle.  The ‘1’ in a triangle is a quality mark indicating the finished product is of the first quality.   (There were briefly two Ihagees – the original Dresden Ihagee in East Germany and a new Ihagee formed by the pre-war owner in West Germany – this camera was made in East Germany.). This camera cost, in 1965, £22-12-4 ( in old British money, or £22.62 in modern British money) which equates to £731 in 2020 values.

This is an idiosyncratic  camera in some ways.  The camera is rather wide front to back (150 mm) in the middle and narrows at each end with the typical Exakta trapezoidal shape.  The shutter release is on the left side on the front and presses in rather than down.  The shutter release continues through a lug on the lens which shuts down the iris diaphragm just before the shutter is released.  The shutter itself is idiosyncratic  – it is neither an leaf shutter in the lens nor a focal plane shutter next to the film.  Rather, the mirror acts as the shutter in a way that I do not quite understand – but see here for details (link no longer works).  The viewfinder and pentaprism are removable, the focussing screen replaceable and the whole thing can be replaced with a waist-level finder.

Ihagee did not make lenses so the Exa 1a was supplied with various lenses. My Exa 1a has a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar (as opposed to a Carl Zeiss Opton Tessar from West Germany) dating from 1970.  It is a f2.8 50mm lens with an Ihagee bayonet fitting.  Any Exakta or Exa lens should fit although I am told that long lenses (i.e. 100 mm) will cause vignetting.  There is an idiosyncratic aspect to the Ihagee bayonet – it is, in fact, two bayonets – one inside the mouth (for most lenses) and one outside the mouth for larger lenses.  The lens focusses from 0.5 m to infinity and has apertures from f2.8 to f22 available in 1/2 stop click positions.  As mentioned above, the shutter release acts through a lug on the lens and stops the lens down as it releases the shutter.

Shutter speeds are 1/30, 1/60, 1/125 and 1/175 (+ B).  Because of the way the mirror is used as the shutter, faster shutter speeds are not possible.  On the shutter speed dial there is a red dot for synchronising the shutter  for flash.  For electronic flash this is 1/60 seconds and for bulb flash it is 1/30 seconds but the actual setting is against a lightning icon for electronic flash and against a bulb icon for bulb flash.  There is a lever to the left of the viewfinder that will lock the shutter to prevent accidental exposures – a feature I wish more cameras would have.

There is no accessory shoe for a flash gun but grooves around the viewfinder eyepiece suggest that an optional shoe might have been available.  This does not matter to me – I never use flash – except I usually put a film type reminder in the accessory shoe to remind me that there is a film loaded and which type it is.

Exa 1a, top view

The film advance lever is rather small but moves the film on with one movement.  In the centre of the film advance is the frame counter   A wheel under the the film advance sets a reminder for the type of film in use – DIN, ASA, negative or reversal.

The viewfinder gives a 1:1 view of the scene and with the focussing screen supplied is clear and bright.  As is usual with a new old camera, near the end of my test film I am beginning to use the camera automatically.  I also have a waist-level viewfinder for this camera.

Waist-level finder, closed

The viewfinders snap out of position fairly easily when you want to change them (but are firmly held in place normally going on) and both the finder and the focussing screen can be replaced.  Both my focussing screens are plain ground glass.

Waist-level finder, open

It is fairly easy to use from waist level but critical focussing is difficult from that distance.  Using zone focussing, this viewfinder is certainly ok for composing the shot and is much more discrete than holding the camera to your eye.  For critical focussing, there is a built-in magnifier but to use this, you need to raise the camera to face level and you then lose the advantage of having a waist-level finder – but still better than changing finders mid session, I would think.

Waist-level finder with magnifier

I think this camera will be a user if there are no shutter problems or light leaks.


I have just bought a 2X teleconverter for this camera.  It cost me £7.00 including postage.  It was described on Ebay as a Pentax teleconverter and only attracted one bid – mine!  I could easily see it was an Exakta fit converter by the offset shutter release on the lens body – a feature that I have only ever seen on an Exakta (or Exa) camera lens.  It is excellent condition – there are no moving parts to go wrong – and just needed a good clean.

2X teleconverter, Exakta fit

Unfortunately, I cleaned it with ROR lens cleaner and sprayed directly onto the glass instead of on to a tissue and I now have condensation between the lens elements.  I am thinking that if the moisture got in that easily, it will dry out again fairly easily. When it has dried out, I will try it and post the results here.

2X teleconverter, top view


I now have my test film developed so here are some of the test pictures.  They disclose a slight fault as many of the pictures have a dark wedged shaped line at the top of the picture.  It is present on the negatives so is not down to the scanning.  I suspect the shutter is slightly out of line.  Bearing in mind that this camera has lain unused for many years before I bought it, I am hoping that the fault will rectify itself with the camera being used.

Lincoln High Street through the Stonebow
Lincoln Corn Exchange
River Idle at Gringley Carr
Lincoln High Street


I now have finished my second film on this camera and the shutter is working fine.  Those black wedges have gone from the tops of the frames entirely.  Many old cameras that are a bit ‘hesitant’ just need to be used for a couple of films to be alright.
The Trent, viewed from the Nottingham-Lincoln train
Canal in Nottingham

Braun Paxette

My latest purchase is a Braun Paxette.  I am not entirely sure of the model – it seems to be a variant on the Paxette I – it has a Roeschlein-Kreuznach lens and a lever film winder.  This camera is fairly heavy for its size (that it to say, solid!).  It measures 11.5 cm wide by 6 cm high and 6 cm deep.  The Braun that made this camera is Braun of Nurnberg – there being at least one other Braun company making cameras.  I also have a different Braun Paxette model, the Paxette IIM – details here.

While this camera is not quite of the quality of the Voigtlander Vito B, it is a well made camera and was far from cheap when new.  Wallace Heaton (a photographic retailer) was advertising this in 1952 at £24/10/6 (in old money. That equates to £24.52 in new money and is equivalent to around £1,500 at 2013 values).

Braun Paxette
Braun Paxette

lens: Pointar

focal length:  45mm

apertures: f2.8 to f16

focus range: 3 feet to infinity

lens fitting: fixed

shutter: Prontor SVS

speeds: 1,1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/300

flash: PC socket, X and M

film size: 35mm

The back is removed by unscrewing a ring around the tripod boss on the base.  The back, base and half the front then come away as one piece.   The new film cassette is held securely by a swivelling arm which makes this camera much easier to load than the Zeiss Ikon Contaflex cameras which also have the base and back come away in one piece but have nothing to hold the new cassette until the loading is finished and the back/base replaced.  In my camera, the new film is held beneath a plate that must be hinged out of the way before the film is loaded.  This plate then acts as the pressure plate that keeps the film flat – there are a couple of springs in the back that keep this plate snug against the film.  In other Paxette models, there is only a small clip to secure the film while loading.

The shutter is a Gauthier Prontor SVS leaf shutter which offers the usual speeds – 1,1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/300 and B – as well as M and X flash synchronisation and V (vorlaufwerk = delay) and has a PC flash connector.  The shutter release is on the side of the shutter housing.  As this shutter is cocked by winding the film, it is very easy to take photographs by mistake.  In use, it is going to be necessary to wind the film on just before taking the next picture.

The lens is a Pointar lens made by Roeschlein- Kreuznach.  This is a 45 mm lens and is coated (at least, the lens bezel has a red “C” on it which I assume means it is coated).  Roeschlein were a small lens designer and manufacturer in Kreuznach set up in the 1940s and sold to Sill Optics in 1962.  Their lenses were mostly designed to order but they made several lenses for the Paxette range of cameras.  This lens does not seem to have a very good reputation but I will judge for myself when I see the results of my test film.

Film advance is by way of a short lever which needs to be turned full travel twice to fully advance the film.  In earlier versions of the Paxette, film advance was with a knob only and I suspect this has merely had a lever attached rather than being redesigned as a lever advance.   The film rewind is a knob on the left side of the top plate.  This needs to be pulled up fully to engage the rewind mechanism.  In the rest position, it is not connected to anything which I originally mistook to mean the film was not attached properly as the rewind knob does not turn as the film is advanced.

The extinction meter is simplicity itself to use.  You look through the right-hand window at a series of numbers.  The faintest number you can see indicates the required exposure – this number is looked up on a chart on the rear of the leather every-ready case to get the aperture/speed combination required.  Downsides:  you need to look at the numbers for a long time (20 seconds is suggested in the manual) to allow your eye to adjust to the available light and you need to have the case with you at all times to access the chart.  This actually works quite well.  I have been comparing the exposure suggested by the extinction meter with the reading from my Zeiss Ikon Ikophot meter and they pretty much agree.

The frame counter is in a slightly sunken recess in the top plate and counts down to zero, so needs to be set with the length of the film loaded.  This recess also doubles as an accessory shoe – a cold shoe in flash terms.

This camera is not the easiest to use. The viewfinder is too small to use while wearing my glasses and the shutter release has a hair trigger. Those are my main complaints in using the camera. To hold, it is very much like the Voigtlander Vito B – the same size, weight and basic shape. I suspect the Braun designers had a Vito B in mind when they were designing the Paxette I. Apart from squinting through the viewfinder, I enjoyed using this camera although I don’t think I will bother with the extinction meter again. It is so much easier and quicker to use my Ikophot or Leningrad handheld meters. Loading film while out and about is easy enough – the hardest part is finding somewhere to put the removed back/base while fiddling with the film.

Some sample pictures from this camera.  These were taken with a colour film that was several years past its best before date and had not been stored properly – hence the colour cast and colour noise.  Also, I exposed according to the built-in extinction meter and they were all rather under exposed.  With old film it is usual to give a stop or so extra exposure but this film got to be under exposed.

The following is an advert for this camera from the British Journal of Photography Almanac of 1953:

1953 005

And this is an advert from the 1952 Wallace Heaton catalogue:
Paxette  1952 006.jpg

Some sample pictures from this camera.  These were taken with a colour film that was several years past its best before date and had not been stored properly – hence the colour cast and colour noise.  Also, I exposed according to the built-in extinction meter and they were all rather under exposed.  With old film it is usual to give a stop or so extra exposure but this film got to be under exposed.

Braun Paxette
Best exposure of the bunch
Braun Paxette
Piano busker
Braun Paxette
Autumn walk
Braun Paxette
Jazz buskers

Adjusted pictures for noise and colour cast:

Braun Paxette
Braun Paxette

Agfa Silette

Agfa Silette
Agfa Silette

Agfa used the name ‘Silette’ for a large range of camera over many years.  Mine is the Silette type 4 from (I think) 1958.

It is a basic 35mm camera which seems to be well made.  It has a Pronto leaf shutter and an Agfa Color-Agnar f2.8 lens.  It has a double viewfinder – the opaque window adds brightness to the frame lines in the clear window.  There is no light meter nor a rangefinder in this model although both were available in other cameras in the Silette range.
As this is a typical basic camera, there is little to say.  The shutter is a Pronto four speed shutter – 1/30, 1/60, 1/125 and 1/250 seconds plus ‘B’.  It also has a timer delay which works well (even though the general advice is not to try the self timer on old cameras).  On a fifty-plus year old camera, this shutter seems to be at least adequately accurate.
The lens is an Agfa Color-Agnar lens – not a lens I have come across before.   This is a Crooke’s Triplet lens – originally designed in 1893 in England but still in use today.  My camera came with a cassette of film already loaded, so I tried the camera out with that.  The results were decent – especially when I removed the cassette and looked at the inner surface of the lens which was very dirty (but without any trace of fungus).  This lens is clearly coated – there is a blueish/purplish hue to the glass – but the lens is very susceptible to flare.
One fault with this particular specimen is the light seals.  These have obviously failed at some point and have been replaced with black wool.  This is not a technique that works.  I shall shortly replace the wool with black foam.
The viewfinder is clear with bright-lines for framing the picture – including parallax lines for close-ups.  There is a film speed reminder on the rewind knob.  This is not as easy to adjust as it could be – you need to lift the rewind knob (as if rewinding the film) and turn a knurled ring underneath the knob.  A sign of the age of this camera is the range of ASA speeds that are available – 14, 16, 17, 40, 100, 250, 650 – you would be hard pressed to find ASA 16 film now.  Kodachrome slide film was made as ASA 16 in the 1950s – the time of this camera – and Kodacolor print film was ASA 32.  Ilford monochrome film of the time had a speed rating of about ASA 160.
The exposure counter in at the centre of the base showing on the back of the camera.  Alongside this is the serial number – VI 2457 in my case.
The camera is marked as “Made in Germany” (i.e. West Germany).  There is sometimes confusion about Agfa cameras as Agfa sold the rights to the names and designs in North America to Ansco who continued to make “Agfa” cameras for some time separately from Agfa Germany.  This is not an Ansco camera.

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE
Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE
Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE

This is a fairly simple compact camera along the lines of Zeiss Ikon’s other Ikonta derivatives, the Contina family.  It is small enough to fit comfortably in one hand – 115mm wide by 85mm tall by 35 mm thick (75 mm thick including the lens).  It takes 35 mm film in standard cassettes.  The Contessa range was made from 1960 until 1971 and the Contessa LKE was made from 1963 to 1965.  The name “Contessa” is a look-back to the companies that made up Zeiss Ikon in 1926 – one of which was Contessa Nettel.  This camera owes nothing to that make of camera and nothing to Contessa Nettel’s designer, Dr Nagel. The price of this camera was £53-16-9 in old British money or £53.83 in modern British money. This equates to around £1,738 in 2020 values.

This camera has a coupled light meter and a coupled rangefinder.  Both of these are visible in the viewfinder which makes using the camera easy.  The rangefinder if the usual double image in an orange spot in the middle of the field of view.  Turning the focussing ring on the end of the lens moves one image – focus is achieved when the two images are superimposed.  A nice touch is the addition of two prominent plastic lugs on the side of the focussing ring which makes it easy to find it by feel while looking through the viewfinder.   The light meter in the viewfinder is not so easy to see.  It is at the top of the viewfinder in the middle and if this part of the viewfinder is against a bright sky, it disappears completely.  Originally, I found it much easier to use the other light meter view on the top of the camera but with practice the display in the viewfinder is easier to use.  When setting the exposure, it is possible to set either the shutter speed or the aperture and then adjust the other until the meter needle centres in the window.  It is much easier to preset the shutter speed as this is merely a knurled ring – the aperture ring has two plastic lugs much as the focussing ring has and it is so much easier to find the aperture ring by feel than it is the shutter speed ring.  Both the aperture value and the shutter speed are visible at the bottom of the viewfinder – this time much more clearly than the light meter is.

The lens is about as good as they come – a Carl Zeiss Tessar.  Because of the age of this camera (1960s) it is not a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar but a West German Carl Zeiss Opton Tessar.  Still a very good lens, though.  The serial number of the lens indicates it was made between 1965 and 1969.  As this camera was only in production until 1965, my specimen must be one of the last to be built in 1965.  The focal length is 50mm with a maximum aperture of f2.8 – so this is a vary fast lens – stopped down to f8, it is going to be superb.  The shutter is a Gautier Prontor 500 LK leaf shutter which is a meter-coupled Prontor with a maximum speed of 1/500 (about as fast as any leaf shutter ever will be).  The one thing that I miss on most modern lenses is the depth of field scale that was ubiquitous on lenses of this era and is present here.

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE

The accessory shoe is a hot shoe for flash connection and there is no PC connector for cold shoe flashes (an adapter was available as an added extra to allow cold shoe flashes to be connected).  These is a frame counter around the shutter release and a window that can be moved to indicate the type of film being used.  The options are Black and white, Neg, Flash, Sun, Artificial light.

The viewfinder is central and large enough even for spectacle wearers.  There are bright-lines in the file of view with parallax marks for framing close-ups.  The film advance is a lever of the top right as was now usual for 35mm cameras.  The film rewind, however, is underneath – a lever that pops out when the rewind button is pressed.  There are no strap lugs on this camera which means it is sensible to use the every-ready case but I like to carry cameras in my pocket, so I will end up one day dropping this one.  The only other thing of note is the presence of a tripod bush in the centre of the bottom plate.

After running one roll of film through this camera, I was very pleased with this camera.  It is easy to use, fits in my jacket pocket and is a suitable camera to use as a walk-around camera (i.e. one I take with me when I am not particularly wanting to take photographs but prefer to have a camera to hand just in case).  It is not obtrusive and I have found it to be excellent for street photography.

18 September 2012:  

In the five months that I have owned this camera, this camera has grown on me.  My hands have now learnt where the controls are so I no longer have to look and think.  This probably happens quite quickly if you only use one camera but I have several that I use frequently. 

The exposure indicator is clear in the viewfinder – the arrow for the shutter speed less so.  The exposure indicator is repeated on the top plate but this is not really useful.

I have a tendency to carry cameras in my pocket and that generates two problems with this camera.  Firstly, the shutter release gets accidentally pressed.  This is easily cured by not winding the film on until immediately before pressing the shutter release.  The second problem is that the delayed action lever gets moved which means that it takes a while to take the next picture.  This is made worse by the fact that the delayed action mechanism does not work very well any more.  It grinds its way through the nominal eight seconds with numerous pauses that necessitate manual assistance.   

The rangefinder is reasonably clear in use but as I take mainly landscapes, I keep the camera focussed on the hyper-focal distance (which at f8 is twenty feet).

I really like the recessed rewind lever on the base.  This is a good two centimetres long – much longer than the rewind lever on most 35 mm cameras.  It is easy to use and fairly fast.

The only really awkward part of using this camera is setting the film speed.  As I only set this rarely (I generally use APX100 film so I only reset the film speed when I use a different film) it is not a problem.

Sample pictures:

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE
Spurn ex-lighthouse now water tower


Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE
Staithes harbour

Dacora Digna

Dacora Digna
Dacora Digna
This is a very cheap camera from the mid 1950s.  It takes 120 film (12 negatives to a roll) which was more-or-less standard for amateur photographers at the time.  The Digna came in several versions and my example is, apparently, close to the top of the range.  The camera is fairly small for a medium format camera – 130mm wide, 90 mm tall and 70mm thick when closed – and also relatively light.
The camera has to be opened before use, but not by extending bellows.  You turn the lens very slightly clockwise and the lens pops out on a spring.  The shutter on my example is a Gauthier Vario leaf shutter – 1/25, 1/75 and 1/200 seconds and B.  As I say, this is the upmarket version so I dread to think what the lower end of the range had for a shutter.  The lens is a Subito f4.5 75mm lens – a make I have never heard of before.  As I have no intention of putting a roll of film through this camera, I shall never know how good the lens is (or not).  The lens focusses from 3.5 to infinity (I assume that is in feet as 3.5 meters would not be very usable as a near focus.  There are two Happy Snapper settings both at f10 – nine feet and around thirty feet.  At the nine feet setting, the depth of field is from seven feet to fifteen feet, and and the thirty feet setting the depth of field is fifteen feet to infinity.  Those two happy snapper settings are going to be quite useful.  The snap-shotter can keep the focus at the near Happy Snapper setting continually if he usually takes shots of people and at the far setting if he usually takes shots of landscapes.
To open the camera, the back comes away completely – no expensive hinge on the side away from the catch!  There seems to be very little holding the back in place, but it is quite secure.  The spool carrier for the new film hinges out for ease of loading, and the take-up spool carrier is partially hinged.  For a cheap camera, this is very good and easy to use.  When the back is removed, the mechanism for the pop-out lens is exposed – it is not at all sophisticated or complex so no worries about damaging it.  In fact, I was easily able to apply a few drops of clock oil to the moving parts and thus allowed the mechanism to work as if new
The finish is very poor.  It would seem to be nickel plated mild steel and aluminium. The main body seems to be die-cast aluminium with just the top plate and back being mild steel.  There is rust coming through the nickel plated portions and there is no evidence of anodising on the aluminium and it was rather corroded on my example.  There is the normal red window on the back to view the frame numbers and there is no blanking mechanism so the film could become fogged eventually if the camera is left in the light.
I am unable to say how the camera feels in use as I am not going to actually use it.   However, it fits in the hand very well and is ergonomically designed – the viewfinder and shutter release are both where you would want them to be.  In fact, the basic design is fine, it is just the poor standard of manufacture that lets this camera down.

Franka Solida III camera

The first Vintage camera that I bought was a Franka Solida II.  The Solida III is basically the same camera, as you would expect, with a different lens and the addition of a non-coupled rangefinder.

Franka Solida III camera

The Solida III takes 120 film and produces a 6 cm by 6 cm negative – twelve frames to a roll of film.

lens: Schneider-Kreuznach Radionar
focal length:  80 mm
apertures: f/2.9 to f/22
focus range: 3 ft to infinity
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: Prontor S
speeds: 1 second to 1/250 + B
flash:  PC socket, no X/M switch
film size: 120

The lens is a Schneider-Kreuznach Radionar 80 mm, f/2.9 lens.  This is a bit unusual as the aperture sequence usually goes to f/2.8 rather than f/2.9.  The minimum aperture is f/22 which is more than small enough coupled with the 1/250 shutter speed.  It is probably worth noting that the physical size of the aperture at f/22 on a medium format camera is much larger than f/22 on a 35 mm camera and so diffraction effects are negligible and so give sharper images than an equivalent lens/aperture would with 35mm.  With an APS C format digital camera, the difference will be even sharper.  The test film showed this lens to be better than adequate, at the least.

Franka Solida III camera
The shutter is a Prontor S leaf shutter by Gauthier, offering shutter speeds from 1 second to 1/250 plus B.

Happy Snapper settings are indicated in red and are around f/9 and twenty five feet, giving a depth of field from twelve feet to infinity.  There is also a secondary Happy Snapper setting of f/9 and eight feet which gives you a depth of field from six feet to twelve feet – presumably for portraits.

There is the usual delayed action lever giving  a delay of around eight to ten seconds.  A PC socket is provided but no synchronisation lever so the flash synch could be either for bulb or electronic flash. Given the camera’s age, I suspect it is synced for bulbs but whether for M or F bulbs I do not know.

The rangefinder works well and the two images are nice and clear.  There is enough separation between the two rangefinder windows (43 mm) and there is enough movement on the adjusting wheel to make the device effective.  Unfortunately, as a non-coupled rangefinder, it is necessary to read the distance off the rangefinder and set it on the lens focussing scale.  I find guessing the distance and using a smallish aperture to be fine and I don’t think I would use this rangefinder very much.

The other niggle with the rangefinder is that it uses a separate eyepiece to the viewfinder making focussing and composing totally separate activities and further reduces the utility of the rangefinder.

There is a safety interlock between the film winder and the shutter release meaning it is impossible to make a double exposure.  There is a (very) small window beside the film winder which shows red when the film has been wound on.  In fact, it is only necessary to turn the film winder 3/4 of a turn to reset the shutter which is not enough to wind on to the next frame.  Not having a manual for the camera, I had thought the shutter faulty before I finally twigged the purpose of the small window.

The red window on the back which allows you to read the frame numbers has a sliding cover to prevent the fogging of panchromatic film.  Loading is easy.  Both the film spool and the take up spool are contained in hinged housings which hold the film securely until the back is closed.

The pressure plate is significantly larger than the frame size (80 mm wide) which means that the film is kept nicely flat – not always the case with medium format cameras.  The lens standard pops out nicely when the button on the base is pressed – this camera is fully self-erecting.

In use, this is not anywhere as easy as the Franka Solida II.  That camera opens vertically with the baseboard at the bottom under the lens. This Solida III opens sideways so that the baseboard is to the right of the lens when you are using the camera.  This leaves very little camera for the right hand to hold on to which is rather awkward. With the fingers of the right hand curled, it is quite usable and the forefinger drops quite nicely onto the shutter release.

Small items – there is an accessory shoe – cold shoe in flash terms – and a single tripod socket on the base which is to UK/USA standard.  Lastly, the film winder has a film speed reminder on its top, with DIN/ASA numbers from DIN 12/ASA 12 to DIN 24/ASA 200.  On a camera of this age, it is worth noting that the ASA numbers are the “new” ASA scale

Franka Solida III camera
Medieval troubadours, Stonebow, Lincoln
Franka Solida III camera
Medieval guildhall, Lincoln

Agfa Billy Record

Agfa Billy Record
Agfa Billy-Record
Agfa Billy Record
Agfa Billy-Record landscape format

This is a fairly standard full frame 120 film camera from the mid 1930s.  I think this camera is a grey import – no “made in Germany”, distance scale in metres and the tripod socket is continental rather than UK or USA. The 1937 Photographic Almanac refers to this camera as the Speedex Record but it is clearly the same camera. The suggested price is £5-5-0. As the average working wage in the UK in 1937 was around £1-10-0, this was around a month’s wages so really a middle class camera.

The camera takes eight pictures on 120 film which makes it an expensive camera to use.  There are two finders: a brilliant finder and a two frame Galilean finder.  I can never get on with brilliant finders – too small mostly.  The shutter is a Prontor II leaf shutter from Gauthier and the lens is Agfa’s Apotar 10.5 cm focal length and f/4.5 maximum aperture.  This lens performs very well – with colour as well as monochrome.  Lenses from the 1930s were usually colour corrected even though colour film was unusual.  This is because the new (for the time) panchromatic films were sensitive to all colours and non-colour corrected lenses would produce a very soft image.
Shutter speeds on the Prontor II are 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/150 as well as B and T.  1/25 and 1/50 seem very slow by modern standards. but the 6cm by 9cm negatives would be unlikely to be enlarged.  For most people, contact prints would be normal.  The lack of flash synchronisation and the 1/150 maximum shutter speed date this to the first Prontor II design and so dates the camera to between 1934 and 1938.
The lens focusses down to less than one metre to infinity.  On my camera, the lens will not focus to infinity – either because the grease on the focussing thread has solidified (something Agfas are notorious for) or because someone has attempted a repair (also common on old cameras).

As was normal until the mid 1950s, the shutter release lever is on the shutter housing.  As was also normal from 1930ish, Agfa provide a secondary shutter release on the camera body which is connected to the lever on the shutter housing by an articulated link.  This is a seriously weak link and barely works on my camera.  When opening the camera, there is a significant danger of the release link missing the lever on the shutter housing.  Agfa actually stress the importance of this in the manual for the camera.  The long term effect of this link missing its proper location is that the link has bent and frequently dis-articulates itself.

There are the two tripod bushes we would expect on a camera of this format and date.  One is on the base board – centrally placed which makes fitting a tripod easier than on some cameras – and one near the centre of the base.  Both are 3/8 Whitworth which is larger than most tripods use.  My other cameras from this era have a 1/4 Whitworth insert and these may well have been present at some time.

Sample pictures:

Agfa Billy Record
Stamp End, Lincoln
Agfa Billy Record
Lincoln Cathedral

Agfa Karat 6.3

Agfa Karat 6.3
1936 Art Deco Karat        –        1938 karat
 In many ways this is a very attractive camera.  It is small (22cm wide, 17cm tall and 14.5cm thick), not too heavy (for a metal camera) and simple.  It has two downsides – it uses a different cassette to other 35mm cameras and it is cheaply made.  The body is made from cast aluminium which is painted gloss black.  The controls all seem to grate a bit and although this camera is now around 70 years old, Zeiss Ikon and Voigtlander cameras of this age do not grate.  The Karat 6.3 was introduced in 1936.  Two years later Agfa introduced an improved version – still called the Karat 6.3

Aesthetically, the camera is attractive.  It has a rounded body and has an Art Deco front panel on the lens board. Focussing and aperture controls are on the lens panel.  While these work well, I find them difficult to use.  The focussing knob is below the lens and moves from about 4 o’clock (infinity) to 8 o’clock (3.5 feet).  The aperture control is a milled ring around the lens with apertures from f6.3 to f22.  One of the problems I have with this camera is that altering the aperture means my finger hits the focussing knob making it difficult to move the aperture ring.  By the by, the maximum aperture of the camera – f6.3 – gives the camera its name “Karat 6.3”, later models were Karat 3.5 and Karat 2.8.

The lens is a three element Igestar lens (Sometimes with a fancy “I” which makes the name look like Jgestar).  The view finder is a reverse Gallilean finder which gives a small image (the ‘reverse’ part of reverse Gallilean means it is like looking through a telescope the wrong way with a smallified image).  On the original Art Deco version, this viewfinder is not only rather small but is low down on the body, making it hard to use.

The camera is a folding camera – the lens pops out on a short bellows , it only moves two cm – released by a button on the top plate to the left of the viewfinder.  The lens panel simply pushes back in  when the camera is finished with.  The top plate of the camera is dominated by the film wind-on knob and the shutter release is very close to this.  Next to the shutter release is a sliding lever which can engage the shutter release when the B setting is used to hold the shutter open.  However, this is difficult to set while your finger is on the shutter release and almost certainly impossible to do without jarring the camera to some extent.  Also on the top plate is the frame counter.  This is quite small and recessed making it less than easy to see.  The frame number is rest by a small knurled knob next to the counter – the start of film is set to “A” and then the film wound on until frame “1” is reached.  There are also two strap lugs on the top plate – one of which is missing on my camera.
The back hinges open to allow the loading of film.  The film for this camera must be in one of Agfa’s Karat or Rapid cassettes.  The original format was the Karat cassette.  This was revived in the 1960s as the Rapid cassette.  There is only one difference between them – the later Rapid cassette has a film speed indicator on the cassette in the form of a metal “T”.
Agfa Karat 6.3
Karat cassette (left)        Rapid cassette (right)
Film loading is easy – insert the film in the left-hand chamber and fix the film leader under the two clips.  Close the back and wind the film on to frame 1.  Unloading the film is even easier – there is no need to rewind the film, you just take the cassette with the exposed film out of the camera.
The 1938 improved version is basically the same.  It has a raised viewfinder  – no bigger but easier to use.  It also has an external frame counter rather than a window to an internal counter.  The front fascia is plain and when extended has a lock to prevent the camera from being closed accidentally.  There is also an improved catch to the back and the strap lugs have been removed.  To off-set the lack of strap lugs, the case has been changed to an ever-ready type case where the camera can be used while in the leather case.  In the original Karat, the case was a drop-in case.
Agfa Karat 6.3
1936 original Art Deco case      –      1938 improved case

Zeiss Ikon Contina Ic

Zeiss Ikon Contina IcNot a lot I can say about this camera.  It is mid-range amateur – well above the Box Brownie and well below the likes of the Contaflex.  The standard of manufacture is what you would expect of Zeiss Ikon – solid, heavy, works well – perhaps a bit over-engineered. It was not cheap – the version with the Novar lens cost £29/7/- (in old money or £29.35 in new money). Given the average working man’s weekly wage was £9 in 1957, this equates to around £1,500 in 2013 values.

This particular Contina is a model Ic although that was never Zeiss Ikon’s designation.  It is distinguished from other Continas by 1) not being a folding camera and 2) not having a built-in exposure meter.  I also have an article on a Cortina IIa.

The viewfinder is a Galilean finder with bright-lines.  I find this awkward to use after using either an SLR or a camera with a crude frame finder as the finder shows much more than the image area.  It is necessary to remember to compose entirely within the bright-liners.  The finder is reasonably large and easy to use while wearing spectacles.

The top plate is uncluttered – the rewind knob, film type reminder, accessory shoe and combined film advance/frame counter/shutter release is all that is there.  The whole frame counter/shutter release assembly is depressed when the shutter is fired and it is possible to fire the shutter when setting the frame counter to zero (I did!).

On the front of the camera is a satin-chrome bezel with the lens sitting centrally.  The shutter is a Prontor SVS leaf shutter by Gauthier and uses exposure value settings.  With this system, you read an exposure value from a light meter (from 3 to 18) which sets a combination of shutter speed and aperture.  It is then possible to move the shutter speed ring to the desired shutter speed and the aperture will adjust itself to keep the exposure correct – or move the aperture ring and the shutter speed will adjust automatically.  It is not possible to move away from a “correct” speed/aperture combination without depressing the EV button.  This works in much the same way as the ‘program’ mode on a modern digital camera.  People either love or hate this system – I am the only person I know whom loves it – but it was in general use for many years so must have had general support.

There is what, at first sight, appears to be a second, useless range of shutter speeds.  These are in green and cannot be set.  “Then why have them?”, I hear you ask.  Well, there is a reason.  In the case that the EV value is low, the usable speed/aperture combinations allowed will be small.  For an EV of 3, the speed/aperture combination is 1 second at f2.8 – and that is it.  If you want a smaller aperture, say f8, you read the necessary shutter speed of the green range opposite f8 (in this case eight seconds).  Now adjust the EV setting so that f8 is against the B setting on the speed ring.  This sets the aperture to f8 and allows the photographer to keep the shutter depressed for eight seconds.  Clearly, a tripod and shutter release cable are required for this, and the shutter speed is only as good as the photographer times it, but when you realise that the shutter manufacturers worked to a 20% margin on shutter speeds, timing the exposure to between seven and nine seconds will be fine and we should all be able to time that accurately.

The lens is a Zeiss Ikon Pantar f2.8, 45mm lens.  This is a triplet (three pieces of glass) rather than the Tessar’s tetraplet structure, that focuses from about three feet  to infinity (the nearest marked distance  is four feet, but the lens moves well beyond that).

This lens has the usual Happy Snapper  settings – with this lens it is f8 and around twenty feet (both marked in red) which gives a depth of field of from nine feet to infinity.  If the lens is set to its smallest aperture (f22), the depth of field is from less than four feet to infinity.  As with all lenses, the largest and smallest apertures are best left alone and the lens will work best stopped down two or three stops – f5.6 and f8 in this case.

Film is rewound using a small knob on the left.  When this is turned to rewind then film, it automatically raises itself so it is above the level of the top plate.  When you have finished rewinding the film, you need to turn this knob one turm anti-clockwise to lower the knob again.  The only other thing to note is that this camera has a PC flash connector and can synchronise for bulb (M) or electronic (X) flash.  There is also a setting (V) for delayed action shutter release.

In use, the camera operates much as you might expect from Zeiss Ikon.  I have large hands and the camera is a bit small – the edge of the shutter housing is where I would like my fingers to be and the shutter release is a little too close to the right-hand edge of the camera.  I suppose this is unavoidable when making a small camera and it is far from the worst camera that I have, ergonomically speaking.

Some example pictures from this camera (note: these were scanned with my Canon flatbed film scanner – not the best scanner).

Zeiss Ikon Contina Ic
Mr Musicman High Bridge, Lincoln

Zeiss Ikon Contina Ic
Stonebow, Lincoln

Zeiss Ikon Contina Ic

Zeiss Ikon Tenax I

Zeiss Ikon Tenax I

This camera is unlike my other Zeiss Ikon cameras in that it was aimed at the middle of the amateur market – above the box Brownie brigade but below the Contaflex, Ikoflex, Ikonta market.  The Tenax I came out in 1938 (actually started retailing in early 1939) just after the Tenax II.  They are both named after the Goerz Tenaxes of 1909 and 1921 (Goerz being one of the camera companies that merged to form Zeiss Ikon in 1926).  You will frequently see these described as being made from 1930 to 1941, but that is due to a misprint in McKeowns and the correct dates are 1939 to 1941.  WWII meant that production was curtailed fairly soon after the launch and so these are fairly rare cameras.  My specimen is probably produced for the German home market rather than a British version as Zeiss Ikon usually produced British and American versions of their cameras with the distance scale marked in feet.  This camera has the distance scale in metres and, also, has the catch for the back marked Z and A (zu and auf – close and open) rather than in English.  Liberated by a British soldier in 1944/5, perhaps.

It is very small – just 110mm wide and 65mm tall and only 45mm thick.  This is not a folding camera but has a lens of 35mm focal length.  The camera uses such a short focal length lens because it produces a negative that is 24mm square – the ‘normal’ lens for any camera is the diagonal of the negative (or sensor for digital cameras).  For its size, it is remarkably heavy.  It is made of die cast aluminium and brass.  The brass is bright plated, but the way the plating has worn off the brass on the top plate and shutter fascia I suspect the plating is nickel.  My specimen is “well loved” – it has obviously been well used over a great deal of time.  Much of the textured leatherette on the front has worn smooth and significant plating has worn off .
It is an unusual camera in many ways.  There is no wind-on knob or lever on the top – the film is wound on using a combination film advance and shutter cocking lever that is pressed by the index finger of the left hand.  This film advance will move the film on one frame (24 mm) each time it is pressed and this is interlocked to the shutter release preventing wasted film.  The shutter release is on the front of the camera on the shutter as was becoming very unfashionable at the time this camera was designed.  It does, though, make the camera easy to use – if the shutter release was on the top plate as was becoming normal in the late 1930s, it would be hard to place the user’s finger on it with such a small camera.  The shutter contains a double exposure lock – you cannot take a picture without winding on nor wind on without taking a picture.
The controls on the front are hard to use.  Apart from the stiffening we might expect on a camera that is 72 years old, the parts are quite small and my fingers quite large.  The aperture adjuster is very stiff and, even when holding the lens, the focus changes more than the aperture does. This is probably telling me to open the front and get some clock oil in there.

To open the camera to load a film or removed an exposed film, the circular button on the base has to be turned a quarter turn and then slid to one side.  This allows the base and back to be removed in one piece.  This is supposed to make loading the camera easier, but I find the take-up spool is liable to drop out as is the cassette of film.  This operation is made much easier by using a table top, but in the field, table tops can be hard to find.  The take-up spool I have is a later Contax plastic spool.  The original Tenax I spool was die-cast metal.

Zeiss Ikon Tenax IZeiss Ikon Tenax I

The shutter is a Compur leaf shutter with speeds 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/256, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/300 seconds as well as B.  The aperture can range from f3.5 to f22 which is a good range for most photography.  There is a Happy Snapper setting of between f5.6 and f8 and a distance of 6 metres signified by red dots.
The lens is a Novar Anastigmat 35mm lens which is only 11mm across.  Focussing range is from 1 metre to infinity – at the Happy Snapper setting, from 3 metres to infinity should be in focus.
The mechanism was not particularly free running so I took the bull by the horns and took the top plate off.  Inside is fairly simple – not a lot for me to damage.  I have applied clock oil to all the pivots and linkages and the mechanism is working much better now.Zeiss Ikon Tenax I


 Because this camera is idiosyncratic it takes a bit of getting used to.  The viewfinder is a standard size for the time but almost impossible to use wearing my glasses.  This is a point I find with most pre-1960 cameras.  The shutter release is not quite where my finger expects it to be but once I have started taking pictures it is fine.
The film advance is taking more getting used to – it is on the ‘wrong’ side of the camera and is a plunger rather than a knob or lever. Again, once I am using the camera it is fine.  In fact, the combination of the two levers on either side of the lens means you can take a couple of pictures per second which is not bad on an entirely manual camera.  Zeiss Ikon claimed it was capable of four frames per second but that would require a camera in smoother condition than mine and more nimble fingers than I have available.
The hardest part to use is the diaphragm setting.  It involves turning the centre of the lens mount – I suspect that the designer had smaller fingers than I have.  I am quite enjoying using this camera – it is definitely a pocket camera – compact and reasonably light (not compared to digital point-and-shoot cameras, but compared to metal film cameras in general).  I suspect that if the second world war had not happened just after this camera was designed, the two lever system of shutter release and film winder would have become normal.
This particular camera is suffering from ‘Zeiss bumps’.  This is common on older Zeiss Ikon cameras and appears as small (two to four mm) bumps under the leatherette.  My Tenax has four large (four mm) bumps and two small (two mm) bumps.  These are caused by the rivets holding the components together reacting with the glue holding the leatherette on forming a local deposit of what I assume to be oxides.  They only occur on the back of my camera.
I could probably ‘cure’ this by removing the leatherette and cleaning the metal beneath and replacing the leatherette but I suspect I would do more harm than good.  The frame of the front element of the viewfinder is stamped ’24×24′ and ‘3.5 cm’ – the first indicating the image size and the second the film size.
The shutter is covered by Zeiss Ikon’s own fascia.  This hides the shutter serial number which would help to date this particular camera.  However, the body serial number is J78039.  This partly dates the camera as pre-1945 production was in three tranches each of 10,000 cameras.  The first tranche (1938-9) has serial number letters H, the second tranche J and the third tranche M.  So my camera dates from the second tranche which means it was made after 1938-9 and before 1945.  After 1945, eastern Zeiss Ikon continued with the production of the Tenax I, initially exactly the same as the wartime version and then with a Tessar lens.  However, this later production did not have serial numbers starting with a letter.
Some pictures taken with this Tenax I (not Photoshopped at all).  These pictures suffer from light bleed from the light areas into the darker areas.  It has been suggested to me that this is due to the poor quality glass that Zeiss Ikon had available during WWII.
Zeiss Ikon Tenax IZeiss Ikon Tenax IZeiss Ikon Tenax IZeiss Ikon Tenax IZeiss Ikon Tenax I
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