Home Features Vintage Cameras: 86-years-old and still Perfekta

Vintage Cameras: 86-years-old and still Perfekta

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That’s the camera, not the author (yet). Odds on, you haven’t even heard of the Welta Perfekta, let alone used one. But this fine 1934 example of a rare camera example came into my possession to help quench my old-camera passion, and I can report that it lives up to its name even 86 years on.

It’s a Twin Lens Reflex (TLR), like a Rolleiflex, and was made near Dresden in the 1930s. Unlike the Rolleiflex, however, this camera is a folder type and it expands, almost like a flick-knife, when a button on the side is pressed, to give this bizarre shape

Welta used a variety of lenses for its various models, including ones made by Leitz, Zeiss and some with its own name. My camera came with the humblest of versions, a 7.5cm f/3.5 Meyer Görlitz Trioplan. Beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to a camera as rare as this, but I already knew that the Trioplan on my father’s Super Baldina, which has featured on this site before (see author link below), was a pretty good performer.

The Darkroom, Dublin

I have been working quite a bit with film recently here in Dublin and I have been improving on my meagre (almost non-existent) darkroom skills under the tutelage of my good friend, Mella Travers. Mella, who had previously been a fashion and portrait photographer, set up The Darkroom ten years ago to practice her own techniques with film photography and to pass on the experience which she had acquired during her professional career.

Last January, on a very windy day, that seems so long ago now, I took my Welta Perfekta loaded with a roll of Kodak 400 T-MAX 120 over to the local park. I also had with me a Nikon FM3a loaded with a roll of 400 T-MAX 35mm for additional shooting experience and also to use as a ‘metering mule’. While I have a number of hand-held meters by Gossen and others, I usually prefer to take meter readings through a device that I can look through in order to know where my reading has come from.

I took the two rolls to The Darkroom where I processed them under Mella’s supervision and then brought them home for scanning. The 35mm shots from the Nikon were good, but I was really thrilled with the 120 negatives from the Welta, some scanned examples of which are shown below

Quiet shutter

One of the reasons I am so pleased is that, on the day in question, the wind was so strong that it kept blowing the metal leaves of the viewing hood over to obscure the screen. I mainly used the little fold-out magnifier for focus. Also, the noise of the storm was such that I could not hear the almost silent Compur-style shutter — with speeds from 1s to 1/300s — as it clicked. The only way that I could tell whether I had taken a shot was by looking at the position of the cocking arm.

I was so satisfied with the results that I have since shot some rolls of Fomapan 100 and Kodak 100 T-MAX 35mm film on a Leica M6 with a 50mm DR Summicron but, as The Darkroom is now closed for the duration, it may be some time before I can see the results.

Some other film projects are lined up, but it’s likely to be some time before I get them fully underway. The main task is to use one of my superb Grubb brass lenses which were made in here in Dublin in the 19th Century. I now have five Grubb lenses. The smallest one, from about 1863, is capable of superb results such as those above when linked up with a digital camera. However, these lenses should really be used with a more in-period camera. And, perhaps, with more in-period materials.

Wet plate collodion, for instance, was common around the time that the lenses were made. I participated in a wet-plate workshop in 2018, but, with poor dexterity, I was useless at it and, of course, you need to be near to processing facilities when taking the photos. I discussed this with various friends and decided that I would see how I might use the Grubb lenses with 5×4 (4×5 if you are in the USA) sheet film. I attended a 5×4 workshop at The Darkroom late last Autumn and I was pleased with the results

Gute Reise!

I have since acquired an ICA Reisekamera (travel camera), from around 1910 to 1925, with a view to adapting it suitably at the front and the back for the Grubb lens (shown above, left, beside the camera) and 5×4 film slides respectively.

The no-brand brass lens on the camera is mounted on a roller-blind shutter based on the famous Thornton Pickard (TP) design. I will need a shutter of some type as simply taking off a lens cap and counting will not work, even with ISO 100 film.

Other projects include linking up the Leitz lens shown above (right) with a 5×4 camera produced by the Intrepid Camera company. It is somewhat overdue now and I may be waiting a long time for it in current circumstances. The Leitz lens was really designed for 120 film cameras, but I will decide on what to do when I get it. I could fit the Intrepid with a 120 back, or I could get another lens. It is just the idea of a medium/large ‘Leica’ film camera that appeals to me.

Dalliance with the Contessa

Finally, I have just acquired this beauty. It is a gloriously named, Contessa Nettel Cocarette II Luxus from the period in the 1920s when Zeiss was taking over this company. It is made for the now long-since-defunct 116 film. I had acquired some spacers from Camerhack in Italy to allow 120 film to be used with the camera when a friend told me that he had a roll of old 116 film which he could give me.

He swears that it was never exposed before. So now I have a roll of about 65-year-old Kodak Verichrome Pan sitting in my 92-year-old Contessa ready to be shot. I have even sourced an old Universal Developing Tank, made by Johnsons of Hendon, which can be adjusted to take 116 film. My major issue is how to rate the film while shooting it as it will have lost some ‘strength’: ISO 50, 25? Suggestions would be welcome.

My journey with old cameras and lenses is just starting and, hopefully, it will be never ending and the source of many stories. It is temporarily on hold because of present circumstances, but readers will see the results when they arrive.

Currently here in Ireland, as an over-70, I am confined to barracks and cannot go out except for medical reasons. I am seeing a lot of 70+ types walking past my house although none with cameras. I am the only one that fits that description with a ‘real camera’ in these parts.

Read more from William Fagan on Macfilos


13 COMMENTS

  1. Just a quick addendum. My Intrepid camera arrived just this morning at about 11am and I have managed to get the Leitz lens mounted on it with a makeshift home made lens board. I am also delighted to report that, racked back, it will give 5×4 coverage and not 120 as I feared. I am sending photos of it to Editor Evans right now. A nice thing to get during a lockdown. Somebody mentioned 5×4 Polaroids to whet my appetite while I cannot get to the Darkroom, but I have been told that these don’t exist. Any suggestions would be gratefully received.

    William

  2. I must confess that is the oddest looking camera I have seen, but it can still produce images when you need – so the sign of decent German workmanship. Built to last. I almost feel you have a rare form of Jurassic GAS (is that a thing Mike?), whereby you naturally magnetise towards photographic memorabilia, or long forgotten gems from the archives.

    I am tempted to venture in to film myself, but I cannot say I was very welded to it back in the day. It just didn’t float my boat, and half of my shots were of poor quality. Whereas Digital has taught me how to both shoot decently, and to at least walk away knowing I have the right image, or the one i visualised.

    Be interested in a dark room articles, or more film stuff in general.

    Cheers for sharing William.

    • Thanks Dave. There are a number of aspects to this. The first aspect is that I know how to use digital cameras by now as I have been using them for about 16 years now. I can get the images I want from them, but as objects they are not really that interesting and everything about using them is just too easy. The second aspect is that I have this memory that the most thrilling moments in my ‘photographic career’ were when I received a box of Kodachrome or Fujichrome slides through my letter box, which was when I saw the images for the first time in glorious super saturated colour. The Fuji Velvia modes in Lightroom come close, but not close enough.

      The third aspect is that I have always wanted to have the use of a Darkroom and to see the magic happen as I examined a roll of developed film for the first time and then to see the print image as it developed in a dish. I never had the time for this and my boss here would not allow a darkroom in the house even, though, as Mike will confirm, she is a lovely woman. When I bumped into Mella last year at a trade exhibition, where we had adjoining stands, she suggested that I should call by the Darkroom, which is in town. Everything developed from there, if you can pardon the pun, with a 5×4 Workshop, developing lessons, printing lessons etc and then coronavirus struck. I have something to look forward to when this thing is over or abates enough to allow me to go back to the Darkroom.

      The final aspect is that I have the collecting gene since birth, although once or twice in the last year I have been tempted to start offloading. I also received a donation of old Nikon gear just before last Christmas and I donated some of it to Mella to use for teaching her younger students at the Darkroom.

      A multi faceted thing, therefore.

      William

  3. So as a true Wizard how long have you been practicing Necromancy on departed cameras? I wonder if that foldability was used in advertising as a more portable camera. Please keep using your friends and mesmerizing us with the photos. If ever I can be of assistance with a quick trip old Rochester HQ TO TRACK something down please don’t hesitate.

    • Thanks John. I keep in touch with some people on your side of the Atlantic, such as Jim Lager and LHSA colleagues, but the conversation is mostly about collecting. As for necromancy, I am sure that the Vatican does not approve of that. The Welta actually opens like a flicknife with a menacing sound. The real magic will happen when I use those 160 year old Grubb brass lenses to photograph the areas where they were made all those years ago. I could do this with a digital rig at the end of bellows, but that would feel a bit like cheating. Believe me, I am enjoying all of this.

      William

  4. Dear William,

    Verichrome Pan was originally rated at ASA 125 – that’s now ISO 125 – but as it’s getting long in the tooth, I’d rate it at about ISO 75 ..or the nearest thing is probably ISO 50, where it should work well in the shadows, but may be a teeny bit over-exposed in very bright highlights.

    I’d develop it in the usual Kodak D76, and just over-develop slightly, to get a fairly dense negative. Take a look at (this is a condensed website name) tinyurl.com/veripan for a few suggestions, and a few results.

    You may find that there’s a baseline ‘fogging’ of the film, due to its age, too. So you may not get sparkling highlights, but there may be an overall ‘hazy’ look to the pictures.

    Incidentally, I’d open the back of the Contessa, put a lightbulb or strong torch inside, and then, in a darkish room, look at the bellows from the outside of the camera and see if there are any light leaks through the old leather, especially at the bellows’ corners. If there are pinpricks of light seeping out, I’d open the camera – when using it – just before you take photos, but not carry it already open, or external light may leak IN and leave little pale spots on the photos.

    The Perfekta is better protected from light leaks by its large front lens panel.

    (I don’t know if the Perfekta has a rotating bellows and back: the similar Superfekta had a rotating rear panel (for taking horizontal photos) but that took 6x9cm pictures, whereas I think the Perfekta takes 6x6cm ..so there’d be no point in rotating it!)

    Your Perfekta photos look ..what’s the word? ..er, Perfekt!

    • Thanks David. I will show your comments to Mella, who knows more than a thing or two about developing old film. I had intended to rate it at ISO 50 and then discuss with her about how long we should give it in D76, which is what we used for the Perfekta pictures. I don’t really mind a little fogging that much so long as there is an image there. The fogging might even add some atmosphere.

      I have inspected the bellows of the Contessa and have not seen any leaks, but the only sure way to check is to expose a roll of film. The bellows on the Contessa is in beige cloth with decorative brown stripes instead of the usual black. I have black textile paint from France (Le Mans no less) called ‘Deco Textil’ which will dry on the typical cloth used in bellows and cloth shutters and will seal any light leaks. This was recommended to me by Noel P Young who repairs my vintage cameras here in Dublin. I might be looking to see if they have beige paint sooner or later.

      Light leaks are not always bad and last year I got a wonderful one on a roll of 127 film that I was putting through a Vest Pocket Kodak from 1919 last year. It consists of a curving streak of light falling diagonally on a basket of flowers. It was pure serendipity, of course, but you could add a new photographer’s prayer ‘may all your light leaks be good ones’. I will send my ‘Serendipity Picture’ to Editor Mike to see if it might make a little footnote some time.

      William

  5. Another informative and most interesting article William. Much thought went into the Welta Perfecta design. The Trioplan lens should be ideal for portraiture. Look forward to the ICA Reisekamera / Grubb lens update. Tony Lovell has recently made a wooden guillotine shutter for use with his wet plate cameras. BW, dunk

    • Thanks Dunk. A flicknife Welta and a guillotine shutter make it seem a bit like gangland warfare. In the normal course I would have sent links to this article to yourself, John Dodkins and Tony Lovell, but between the Intrepid camera arriving and a Zoom meeting of the Dublin Camera Club, I have had very little time today. Retirement and lockdowns don’t really give me all the time I thought I would have. Tony Lovell has fantastic knowledge and I will have to line up some really intelligent questions to ask him as I am on a steep learning curve with large format and he specialises very successfully in ‘really large format’.

      I will miss meeting yourself and TLS colleagues because of the cancelled AGM in Cheltenham next weekend. There is always Buxton next year, hopefully .

      William

  6. A very informative article. I did not know that one but it clearly reminds me of my father folding camera that I still have and procuces wonderful images. Thanks for sharing

    • Thanks Jean. You have reminded me of one thing that I forgot to list for Dave above. I still have my father’s little 35mm folder, a Super Baldina, which he bought in 1940, just after his 24th Birthday. I have written two articles for Macfilos about the camera. One before it got repaired, with photos taken by my father in the 1940s and the second, after I had it repaired, with photos taken by myself. If you search under ‘Super Baldina’ or ‘Baldina’ you should find them. The camera means a lot to me, as, when I was growing up, it was ‘the camera’ in the house.

      William

  7. Thank you for this article William. An interesting read, and a learning experience for me.
    Great to see the output from 86 year old technology. I wonder whether there will be any digital cameras which will still be functioning at that age. Sadly I suspect that sensor rot and electronic decay will mean that they will be compost.
    One of the joys of Macfilos is going to the ‘site daily, and often finding something unexpected.
    Your passion and commitment is evident.

    • Thanks Wayne. It is good to hear from you. I think that the older cameras will last a long time as long as there are people around who are still able to repair them and they will still be used so long as the necessary film and chemicals to make pictures with them still exist. Like LPs, film is now making a major come back with the younger hipsters who grew up with digital everything and now want something different. This is good news for old fellas like me. I am lucky with my friends, including Noel P Young who repairs my cameras here in Dublin, my friend Paul Kay who now lives on a Scottish island and shares my passion for Grubb lenses and sends regular advice and, of course, my friend Mella Travers, mentioned above, who has a wonderful darkroom where I can practice the ‘dark arts’ when this dreadful virus has gone away.

      William

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