The Diax range of cameras was made by Walter Voss in Ulm, Germany. The first cameras were high-quality viewfinder cameras called Diax and Diaxette. Soon followed a range of interchangeable lens cameras, the Diax I series with multiple viewfinders for different lenses and the Diax II series with rangefinder and, apart from the first model, an extra viewfinder for telelenses. There was also the rather rare Standard, basically a Diax with interchangeable lens mount. The story of Diax ended with the L-1 with uncoupled lightmeter, which looked somewhat like a non-folding version of the Retina IB v.1 and was presumably Voss's attempt to modernise its line-up. Production stopped at the end of 1957, but Voss left a legacy of high-quality and well-featured cameras that still fetch good prices on the vintage market.
The first Diax camera saw the light in 1948 and had a miniscule viewfinder, at the rear it was barely the size of one's pupil! A second version, called the Diax I but not marked as such on the camera, had a slightly larger viewfinder in an elevated section of the tophousing. Despite its simple appearance it came with high-quality components like a Compur-Rapid shutter with 1/500s top speed and a Steinheil Culminar or Schneider Xenar lens, plus a flash socket next to the shutter. Early Diax cameras had no such flash socket.
The leaf shutter was behind the lens and the camera featured helical focussing, the whole lens moved during focussing. The aperture control ring was on the front of the lens, the aperture itself in front of the shutter. This lens setup was basically the same on the later interchangeable models, it seemed like the first Diax was already designed with this in mind.
The camera also automatically cocked the shutter during winding the film and had a body-mounted shutter release. The whole camera back was removed to load film, a locking nut had had to be turned 90 to be able to slide the back down. An elegant little push button secured the locking nut, but was unfortunately already missing on the second version.
The Voss Diax, a simple looking but highly specified camera for that time.
The Diax II was introduced around early 1952 and featured a rangefinder. The main body construction and functionality was similar to that of the Diax I (see above) but the Diax II had an enlarged top housing to fit the rangefinder. Because of this the rewind knob had to be redesigned, a larger flat version was fitted on top of the housing. It was available with three different lenses, a Schneider f/2.8 Xenar or f/2.0 Xenon, or a Rodenstock f/2.0 Heligon. This is a fairly rare camera, certainly compared to the later Diax Ia,b and IIa,b models.
The Diax II, a rangefinder reminiscent of the later Diax IIa but with a fixed lens. It was not dissimilar to the Iloca IIa but better built and with better lens and shutter.
Another look at the Diax II, here with its original box and dedicated lens hood and yellow filter.
The Diax II came with dedicated lens hood and filters that had gaps in their mounting rings to show the aperture settings on the lens. They could also be stacked.
The 1953 Diaxette was a less well-specified version of the Diax i, with a Prontor-S shutter and a three-element Steinheil Cassar lens with front-cell focussing. In contrast to the Diax, the shutter was in-between the lens elements. It was thus very similar to contemporary cameras like the Iloca Ia and the Regula I series, although unlike these cameras the Diaxette automatically cocked the shutter during film winding.
The Diaxette, a less advanced version of the Diax I.
The 1952 Diax Ia was the first Diax with an interchangeable lens mount. It was a viewfinder camera with no less than three viewfinders for three different focal lengths: 35mm, 50mm and 85-90mm. The viewfinders had different colour filters, the wide angle was blue, the telelens yellow, presumably so one would not confuse the viewfinders when looking through them.
It still had a wind knob, a wind lever was not introduced until the IIa. The camera featured a time delay, although this may not have been immediately obvious: after cocking the Synchro-Compur shutter during film transport, one needed to push the cocking lever a little further along to activate it. The lens mount was a breech mount, the lens was secured by a rotating ring. Several companies adapted their lenses to the Diax mount, including ISCO, Laack and Schneider. Like the first fixed-lens Diax, the aperture was controlled by the front ring, the focus by a ring behind it. Film loading was the same as for the first Diax.
A Diax Ia with Schneider Xenon 50mm f/2, the top lens in the available range of standard lenses. This particular lens has a serial nr. that dates it to late 1951, before the camera was introduced, so must have been one of the first to be made for the Diax mount.
A Diax Ia from behind, showing the three eyepieces for the different focal length viewfinders. The Diax IIa (see below) had only two eyepieces, one for the rangefinder and 50mm lens, and one for the 90mm lens.
The 1954 Diax IIa was developed from the Diax II, which was the first rangefinder Diax. Whereas the Diax II clearly showed its heritage from the Diax I, the Diax IIa had a new interchangeable lens mount and an added viewfinder for a 85-90mm telelens. It looks very much similar to the Diax Ia, it is only at the back that the difference is obvious, as it has only two eyepieces instead of the three the Diax Ia has. The camera featured a coupled coincidence rangefinder.
The Diax IIa with, like the Ia, its characteristic set of three windows. From the front there was very little difference with the Ia, only the shutter release button differed slightly. The Schneider Xenon 50mm f/2 is of a different construction than the one on the Diax Ia above, with the two front groups mounted in one brass assembly.
Like the Diax Ia, the 1956 Diax Ib was a viewfinder camera with viewfinders for three focal lengths. However, it had a flat streamlined tophousing camera and wind lever film advance.
The interchangeable lenses were marked Diax or Diax b. The Diax b lenses are mounted rotated 90 degrees CW compared to Diax lenses (without b). Thus, when mounting a Diax b lens on a Diax Ia or IIa camera, the focus scale will not be on top but on the right hand side. The rangefinder coupling still works, so it is hardly a problem, but I am clueless as to why Voss changed the configuration of the mount.
A Diax Ib with new streamlined top housing and wind lever.
The difference between Diax I/II a and b versions did not just involve a change from wind knob to wind lever, but also the shutter cocking mechanism changed. On top is the Diax IIa, here a rotating as
symetrical wheel pushes a lever which cocks the shutter. On the bottom is the Diax Ib, which has a piston-like mechanism. Also note that the rotation is opposite: the wind lever turns counter-clockwise, the wind knob turns clockwise.
A Diax Ib with 135mm telelens, the longest (size as well as focal length!) lens available for the Diax system. One would need a separate viewfinder for it such as the one shown below on the Diax IIb, as the body itself only has one for the 90mm telelens. The lacquer used to finish the metal has gone rather yellow over time.
The 1956 Diax IIb was developed from the Diax IIa, with similar new features as the Diax Ib had: a flat streamlined tophousing and wind lever to advance the film and cock the shutter. As one of the windows is the rangefinder window, the Diax IIb misses the 35mm viewfinder present on the Diax Ib.
A Diax IIb with Schneider Tele-Xenar 90mm f/3.5 lens mounted. The Diax IIb had a build-in viewfinder for this lens. Also pictured is a Schneider Xenar 50mm f/2.8 lens. Note the 'Diax b' marking, indicating the lens was meant for the Diax Ib/IIb series, although they could be used on the Diax Ia/IIa without any problem.
An alternative choice for short telelens was the Isco Isconar 85mm f/4.5 lens shown here, slightly slower than the Tele-Xenar but otherwise an excellent lens.
Diax also sold a turret viewfinder for 35mm, 90mm and 135mm lenses, made by Steinheil. The Diax Ia and Ib had 35mm viewfinders but the Diax IIa and IIb did not, so an accessory viewfinder was neccessary to use these models with the wide-angle Schneider Xenagon 35mm f/3.5 lens pictured.
The Diax L-1 was introduced in 1957 and represented the first, and unfortunately last, model of a completely redesigned Diax camera range. Whether it was a change for the better can be debated. Little was left of the characteristic original Diax look, instead the company chose produce a fixed lens viewfinder camera that fitted in with other contemporary camera designs like the Kodak Retinette and Agfa Silette. On the positive side, this was the first Diax with lightmeter and it was not a bad camera, but it did little to stand out from the competition. It did have one new nifty feature, however: a frame counter that automatically reset to zero when the camera back was opened. If that made up for the somewhat akward positioning of the frame counter window at the front of the camera beneath the rewind knob, I'm not sure. Considering its rarity nowadays, it probably was not very succesful. The Diax factory stopped production late 1957.
A Diax L-1 with Rodenstock-Diax-Trinar 45mm f/2.8 lens in Compur-Rapid shutter.