This review started out as a “5 Frames…” article but EM asked me to change it round to a film stock, or experience-led camera review. I decided to go for the latter so please forgive any inconsistencies.
Introducing the Rheinmetall Weltax and its Meyer-Optik Trioplan f/3.5 75mm lens.
I had 14 days’ vacation planned on the beautiful island of Sicily with my wonderful wife and decided to travel (mostly) light on cameras. I took my tiny Rollei A110 to try some Lomography Color Tiger 200 film, the FED 5C to finish a roll of 24 exposures Paradies 200 film (so much for traveling light), and this Rheinmetall Weltax, a 6×6 folding camera with a Meyer Optik Trioplan 75mm lens, so I had something to shoot 120 film; namely Lomography Redscale and Kodak Portra 160. Of course, there was also a “vintage” digital camera and my Android phone.
The Weltax is a nice little 6×6 folding camera, introduced in 1938 by Welta Kamerawerke, which became VEB Welta after WWII and later still, VEB Pentacon. It came to me as a gift for my 50th birthday and not 10 years later I shot it for the first time.
Welta re-introduced the Weltax after WWII and it saw such high demand that the production was partially outsourced to Rheinmetall who also produced parts for the Exa cameras. As it was at the time, and with these type of cameras, quite a few different lens and shutter variations were used: an f/3.5, 75mm Meritar in a Binor shutter, the Meyer Trioplan f/3.5, 75mm in a Junior shutter or, like my “luxury” version, in a Tempor shutter with a maximum speed of 1/250th sec and assorted slow speeds between 1/25th and B.
More remarkable,y the Weltax is a dual-format camera, supporting both 6×4.5/6×6 image formats — if the 6×4.5 mask is not lost like mine, however. The viewfinder has settings for both formats plus can be tilted downwards for parallax compensation. There are also red windows to view frame numbers for either format.
Equipped with this little wonder of socialist camera building, I made it out to shoot some 120 film. Let’s talk about Lomography’s Redscale XR 50-200 first:
Lomography Redscale has numbers printed bold enough for me to see easily and I took it to the beach one late afternoon. I usually don’t go to the beach before four-thirty, earliest, at least not in the summertime, when the weather is hot. Before leaving the beach, I remembered the camera was in my backpack, wound to the first frame, that’s when I had the first “no-see” encounter, I could barely make out the settings on the shutter so it got underexposed — the good thing about it was that random people in the picture cannot be identified and are just part of the scenery.
The next time the Weltax came with us was on a trip to a town called Caltagirone, praised for its ceramics which are “all over the city” as the tourist guide said. Having seen Lisboa we were expecting at least as many ceramic ornaments everywhere, there were fewer, TBH. As usual, we started at least half an hour later than we had planned, lost our way once when trying to find our way back to the Strada Statale, almost ran over a dog sleeping in the street behind a corner, and managed to arrive not an hour later than expected…plus managed to find free parking not too far from the historic center.
We made our way to the beginning of the ascent of the famous Scala di Santa Maria del Monte (Staircase of Santa Maria del Monte) which is almost solely lined by ceramics stores and ateliers mostly selling similar things. It’s 142 steps (130 meters in length), and is beautifully ornamented with ceramic tiles but also too wide to take each step by step and too narrow for two steps on the same level, so you have to lift always the same foot and take a rhythm breaker step every now and then. The top left us unrewarded. The church was closed for renovations and the art gallery/bar named after what was needed most (Oxygen) was also chiuso. We found our way down through some shady, narrow side streets and got our treat of cappuccino and tramezzini in the famous “Bar Escalier”.
We took a little walk from the nearby San Giuliano cathedral to the ponte San Francesco which is beautifully ornamented with painted ceramic tiles and then back to the Piazza Municipio where we paid our tourist tax in one of the famous ceramic shops before heading back to our car to find the final stage of our day tour – the home of Commissario Montalbano at Vigata beach (or Punta Secca which starred as it). There I finished the Redscale and loaded the Portra which was a near disaster experience (not the loading).
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Shooting the Portra was kind of a fail because the frame numbers on the backing paper are printed so faintly that I could hardly see them through the red window without reading glasses. This was clearly telling me that what I thought of as “how hard can it be?” when I was younger, had changed to “I don’t see them f*cking numbers” — all while making a mental note to reserve the Portra for cameras that have an automated film advance.
Listen, young people it will also happen to you, so don’t laugh too loud now 😉
I started with a second shot of the Montalbano house, along with some street scenes before giving up because I did not see any frame numbers (only my reflection in the red window). As you can see, I had a nicely exposed double exposure.
Next time the Weltax was allowed to accompany us was a trip to the Vendicari Nature Reserve. It is a famous bird sanctuary but a 75mm lens would have served me better on some smaller format for bird pics.
There were also the ruins of the Tonnada, a long-abandoned ancient tuna factory that should make for some nice frames. I managed one that was acceptable. Most of the rest suffer from overlapping frames.
Lomography’s Redscale was easy enough to use, and it seems very forgiving. Not having a light meter with me, I was shooting Sunny 16-ish as in, dialing in some probable values for aperture and exposure. I did not take notes so I have no idea what I rated the film at but exposure does not look too bad on the pics so I’m OK with it. I might not be the analytical type when it comes to my photography (translated from: “Too lazy to take notes) but in my defense — I was on vacation and it was hot.
The Portra showed me its unforgiving backside, while the emulsion side is OK from what I can see. However, with the frame overlap and framing problems, it has to show its capabilities to me in a different camera.
The Weltax is fun to use and I understand why it was so popular that its production got split between two factories by the regime of the GDR (German Democratic Republic). It has clear advantages over the Agfa Isolette, which I regard as its closest contender. The 6×4.5 format saves precious film (as important then as it is now) and the camera just feels nicer, especially today when my Isolettes and Jsolette suffer from dried grease disease in the focusing mechanism.
I do like those medium format folders of the 1950s because they are so pocketable, especially the 6×6 ones. These cameras are quite cheap and an easy way into medium format photography and have proved their worth to thousands of families who captured their most precious memories with them over the past 70-ish years.
Thanks for reading.
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