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
 9 8 8 10 6 55
Bonus 0
Final Score51

Kodak Retina Ia (type 015)

Kodak bought Nagel Kamerawerk in 1932 as they wanted the design and manufacturing facilities to produce top quality amateur cameras. The main camera Dr Nagel designed for Kodak was the Retina introduced in 1934, together with the now standard 35mm cassette. Several models were produced before Kodak introduced the Retina I in 1936. The camera I have before me is the Retina Ia (type 015) introduced in 1951. This is broadly similar to my earlier Retina from 1936 and my folding Retinette of 1951. See photographs.

lens: Schneider Retina-Xenar
focal length: 50mm
apertures: 3.5 to 16
focus range: 
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: Synchro-Compur
speeds: to 1/500
flash: PC socket, synch for X and F
film size: 35mm

The top plate has a film advance lever on the right (this was introduced on this model, earlier models had an advance knob) which incorporates a frame counter which counts down to zero. This moves through about 180 degrees to advance the film one frame. The lever is not on a ratchet and so cannot advance the film with a number of small strokes (c.f. Wirgin Edixa 1).

To the left of the film advance lever and to the front of the top plate is the shutter release button. This is a small chrome plated button and is threaded for a standard cable release. Behind the shutter release button is another button whose use took me a while to establish. This button allows you to advance the film without tripping the shutter – useful if you are re-loading a partially used cassette of film. This is the only camera I have ever seen this on. Left of these is the model name engraved in Italic script.
Centrally, there is the viewfinder in a slightly raised hump. Left of this is the accessory shoe – no flash contacts so a cold shoe – which has the camera’s serial number stamped in it – 503555.
On the far left of the top plate is the film rewind knob. This pulls out around one centimetre for rewinding and two centimetres to release the film cassette. This knob has a film selector on it, purely as a reminder as there is no light meter. The film options are all Kodak films, none of which are available now. They are: Pan X, Plus X, Super X, Kodachrome Daylight, Kodachrome Artificial light and Infrared.
The bottom plate has a tripod boss on the right-hand end and a recessed button to free the mechanism for rewinding the film.  There is also a small button to release the lens door. The back of the camera is mostly the hinged back which allows access to the insides to allow the film to be loaded. This is embossed in the leatherette with the legend “Kodak Retina Camera”. Above the back is the viewfinder eyepiece which is as small as was usual at this time – it measures 3mm by 5mm.
The lens and shutter are in front, behind a hinged door. This is released by the small button on the base. The door does not snap open as my Zeiss Ikon folders do and needs to be opened fully by hand. The shutter and lens are fitted to a chrome plate which is, in turn, fitted to the bellows. The shutter is a Synchro-Compur. This offers speeds to 1/500 seconds. The shutter is released by the button on the top plate which is linked to the lever on the shutter housing. The shutter is cocked by the film advance lever through a hinged linkage to a gear on the side of the shutter housing. Both shutter release and shutter cocking have to cope with the shutter being folded away and also with the whole shutter housing moving when focusing. The lens is a Schneider Retina-Xenar with a focal length of 50mm and a maximum aperture of f/3.5.
Both the folding mechanism and the shutter itself are faulty on my camera – I suspect the folding mechanism was damaged by a previous owner attempting to repair the shutter; the lens is only hand-tight in its fitting which is indicative that it has been removed recently. If I am not careful, the whole folding mechanism will dis-articulate when closing the camera. The shutter fault is that it will open on its own (and stay open) as the advance lever finishes its travel.
Retina right, Retinette left
Retina Ia left, Retina I right

 In use.

I was unaware of any problems with this camera when I started the test film – they became apparent in use. Of the 24 exposures available on the test cassette, 14 had images on them. This indicates that the shutter was working to begin with. However, a further fault is now apparent – there is a humongous light leak in the bellows  which nearly completely obliterates the images. This camera is unusable.
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