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“A poor man’s/boy’s Leica”

written by Leif Johansen.

As a boy of 15 years  I wanted to have a camera for my own. I saved some money from my confirmation.  My father had a Brownie Box from the 1930ies – really old fashioned stuff, but this was no camera for me.

I then borrowed some German fotomagazines, thus making my mind up about the main features of my future camera:

  • Interchangeable lenses – of course a tele lens for taking pictures from a distance.
  • Fast shutter speeds – to match my dreamings of car pictures.
  • 24 x 36 film format.
  • No bellows which was a characteristic of grandparents’ cameras.

Leica certainly was a dream! The Contax was out of range. The Rolleiflex didn’t have the desired film format. Exakta was an exotic camera for scientists. But there was a serious problem for a boy from the lower middleclass: the Leica was too expensive.

 In the next city nearby I found the camera which (partly) made a match with my dreams.

  • The Diax Ia (Isconar 3.5) had interchangeable lenses. I hoped for over 15 years to afford a tele lense. What I didn’t know was that the Diax production was closed down 2½ years later.
  • The Diax had a Syncro Compur shutter with 1/500 sek. I had only little knowledge about shuttertypes  and I didn’t know that this shutter speed was only one step below the Leica’s 1/1000 sec which was achieved by a focal plane shutter. But I am sure I have used the 1/500 sek  only 10 times in the 25 years I used the camera. Instead I used the slow speeds under 1/30 very often.


What is  “a poor man’s Leica”?

This may describe a small and compact camera for 35 mm film with real interchangeable lenses in opposite to a front lens adapter or removable front elements.  From this reason the shutter must be attached directly to the camera body behind the lens and not in the center of the lens. The shutter mostly is a leaf shutter type. With this solution only a reduced number of focal lengths is possibly. Standard is 45 – 55 mm. Wide  angle about  35 mm. Standard tele lenses are 85 – 90 mm and 135 mm. The prices for normal tele lenses are very high compared to the prices of the cameras. Voigtländer supplied very heavy and expensive 200 mm and 350 mm tele lenses for the leaf shutter SLR Bessamatic.


Kochmann Korelle K 1932/33 pictures “stolen”/”copy” from Google

The first poor man’s Leica was perhaps a bakelite camera  with Compur shutter made by Kochmann, Dresden 1932/33. The Korelle K was a 18×24 mm half format camera on  35 mm film (vertical format). Details from McKeown’s and pictures from  Google  are showing interchangeable lenses. The shutter is behind the lens. Publications about the construction of this camera are very unspecific.

The best known “poor man’s Contax” before WW II is the Zeiss Ikon Tenax II. The format is 24×24 made from 1938 until 1941, then it came to a stop because of war production. The production was not restarted after the war. The Tenax II was developped from the  Tenax I (fixed lens). Both cameras showed shutter cocking by turning  a lever at the base of the lens. This solution was used with a ring instead of the lever on the Carl Zeiss Jena Werra cameras 1954 – 1964. Some of these models also showed features of a poor man’s leica.

After WW II several brands in Germany made this type of cameras. The first was the  AkArette/AkArelle from AkA  – Apparate und Kamerabau Gmbh which started in Wildbad/Schwarzwald (Black Forest) in 1947 but soon moved to Friedrichshafen/Bodensee in 1949. Also the Futura Werk in Freiburg started in 1947 with the 24 x 24 Efka.

From the   1960’s there were no more new models of this camera conception introduced, only Voigtländer had another try in 1974.  The buyer’s interest changed to various leaf shutter SLRs (“poor man’s Exakta” ?) and later to Japanese SLR with focal plane shutter, which in the end “killed” the German camera production.