Here are the various folding cameras in my collection (not including Kodak Retinas and Agfa Karats that have their own pages).
Thornton-Pickard Imperial 'Triple Extension'
Other types of cameras can be found elsewhere:
focal plane shutters
In the early days of photography, cameras were hand-crafted items requiring great skill and dedication to build as well as operate. Film was not the ubiquitous item it would later become, so other mediums such as sensitised plates were often used. Film enlargers were also uncommon, so generally the 'negatives' would be size of the eventual print, requiring the cameras to be large. Optical lens design was still in its infancy. Yet, impressive results were and still are possible with these over a century-old cameras.
I've always wanted to own one of these magnificent pieces of history, but they are not cheap, and the variety in types and models is quite overwhelming, so it's not something to do on a whim. Eventually the choice came down to a Thornton-Pickard Imperial half plate camera. It came with a working shutter, which Thornton-Pickard was most well-known for, and which gave me the opportunity to find out how these worked. Turns out not that different from later focal plane shutters but with a single roller and a fixed gap in the curtain, requiring the roller to move at different speeds for different exposure times, and the lens need to be capped when arming the shutter in order not to expose the film prematurely.
A Thornton-Pickard Imperial 'Triple Extension' with Beck Symmetrical 8 inch f/8 lens with adjustable aperture from the late 1910s or early 1920s. The cord with the small purple pompom was used to arm the Thornton-Pickard 'Time and Instantaneous' shutter.
The camera itself has many adjustments such as tilt and shift, as well as an extension rail to allow close focus. It folds up to a small box of only about 6 cm thick although one needs to remove the lens. The camera needed to be focussed using a frosted glass screen at the back, which could be swung away making room to insert a sensitised plate or so-called double dark slide containing film. Working this really makes you appreciate how difficult a skill photography was in the early days, and how easy is has become nowadays from a technical point of view.
Zeh is a relatively unknown pre-WWII camera maker from Dresden (the home of Zeiss, Altissa and Certo amongst others), but the Zeca cameras had a reputation of being well-build and engineered. The Zeca Goldi was no exception, it was a folding camera for 127 film with an extremely sturdy scissor-strut construction, later also used on the Zecaflex, Zeh's top of the range folding TLR camera. Supporting its good reputation was the fact that the Goldi was one of the few cameras that were sold with Leitz Elmar lenses, the only other ones I can think of were the Nagel Pupille and the Nagel/Kodak Vollenda. However, the latter two had unit focussing mechanisms, whereas the Elmar on the Goldi was a front cell focussing variant. So this may have been the only front cell focussing Elmar that Leitz produced, but let me know if I am wrong.
A 3x4 format Zeca Goldi with Leitz Elmar 50mm f/3.5 lens in Compur shutter from around 1934.
Same 3x4 format Zeca Goldi in upright position.
The Goldi was rebranded under several names, the Rodenstock Ysella is the most well known, but also as Coloprint, Imperial and Ralikona. Nearly all Goldi's were halfframe 3x4 cameras, but I happened to stumble upon a rare 6x4 version as well (which I only realised after receiving it!).
A 6x4 format Zeca Goldi with C. Friedriech Munchen Corygon-Anastigmat 75mm f/3.5 lens in Compur shutter from around 1933. This is an unmarked example, i.e., missing the Zeh Goldi name, so perhaps it was sold originally under a different name. It is the only image of a 6x4 Goldi variant I have been able to find on the internet, although their existence has been mentioned on a few forum posts.
The very stable strut system (often the bane of folding cameras) can be folded simply by pushing down on two small levers, keeping the lens board parallel at all times.
Ironically, not long after coming into possession of the non-branded 6x4 Goldi, a real one come along. Here they are all shown side by side, clearly showing the difference in size. Also note the different viewfinders, an easy means of checking which version it is. The Goldi-branded 6x4 is on the left, it sports a Schneider-Kreuznach Xenar 70mm f/4.5 lens which can be dated to winter 1934 (these early Xenars had the serial engraved on the rear element ring).
Rodenstock Ysella, a rebranded Zeca Goldi. Surprisingly, it does not have a Rodenstock lens, which makes me suspect the lens and perhaps even the shutter were swapped with another camera.
Merkel was a small camera maker founded in 1900 in Tharandt near Dresden, mainly known from the Reflecta TLR camera (one of the earliest TLRs) introduced in 1932 around the same time as the company was taken over by Richter. The Merkel Metharette was a small strut-folding rollfilm camera for 127 film introduced around 1930. It had quite a characteristic strut mechanism (see photo below) and a baseplate with four embossed corners. The baseplate would move to its forward position upon pushing the release button at the bottom of the camera, and the viewfinder would pop up at the same time. To close the camera one simply pushed the baseplate back into the camera body.
Several different variants of the camera were build, including versions for other companies as the models often bear different names, such as Primula and Embirella (the latter reportedly sold by the Czech company Birnbaum). The Rodenstock Rodella certainly was a rebadged Metharette, and so was the Salmoiraghi Gioia (the name!) for a camera maker in Milan. Apparently a variant was also sold by Meyer (better known for its lenses) as the Megor, but more commonly found is a copy of the Korelle 127 3x4 folding camera with the same name, which had struts on the side of the baseplate instead of at the top and bottom like on the Metharette (see below for an example). It does not help the confusion surrounding the Merkel Metharette that neither the name of the camera or its maker was indicated on the camera.
A Merkel Metharette with Ludwig-Dresden Victar 50mm f/2.9 lens in Prontor II shutter.
Meyer Megor (Kochmann Korelle 3x4)
Meyer was a well-known lens maker located in G�rlitz (close to the Polish-German border) that also sold rebranded cameras under its own name, of course equipped with its own lenses. This was not uncommon at the time (the 1930s), e.g., Rodenstock did the same (see Rodenstock Citonette and Rodinett below). The Meyer Megor was a copy of the 3x4 Kochmann Korelle for 127 rollfilm. It had a spring-supported strut mechanism that could be closed by simply pushing it in. According ads from the time it was available with Meyer Trioplan, Primotar or Makro-Plasmat lenses, but the first was certainly the most common. Kochmann itself was one of the many camera companies based in Dresden, not far from the Meyer factories. Its specialty was small 'vest pocket', handsome cameras, many of them folding cameras, like indeed the Korelle 3x4.
A 1933 Meyer Megor (Kochmann Korelle 3x4) with Meyer Trioplan 50mm f/3.5 lens in Compur shutter.
According sources on the internet there was a second version of the Megor, which was a rebadged Merkel Metharette (see above). This is not a surprise, the Metharette appeared under many different names. However, the examples I have seen on the internet do not have Meyer lenses (e.g., here), so I suspect these were incorrectly identified as being Megors. In fact, a search for Metharette (or any of its rebranded versions) with Meyer Trioplan gives no results, so in my opinion the existence of this second Megor version is uncertain.
It appears the Megor was the only camera sold by Meyer. Like so many east-German companies, Meyer Optik was after WWII taken up in VEB Pentacon/Carl Zeiss. However, the name has recently be revived by a G�rlitz-based company producing modern versions of the classic lenses.
A different view of the same Meyer Megor.
Rodenstock Rodinett (Glunz Ingo)
Glunz was a now fairly obscure camera maker from Hannover, Germany, mainly known for the medium and large format plate and folding cameras that it made during the 1920s to early 1930s. However, it had one surprise on its sleeve: the Glunz Ingo. This was a small folding camera for 127 rollfilm with a pop-up strut mechanism, not unlike the Merkel Metharette and Meyer Megor above. Indeed, the popularity of these models may well have been the inspiration for Glunz to build the Ingo and get a share of this presumably lucrative market.
In many respects the Glunz Ingo was very similar to its contemporaries mentioned earlier (including the 3x4cm frame size), but it did have one feature that set it apart: its double (or barn) door strut mechanism. This was a very elegant solution to protect the lens and shutter when folded up, unlike other folding cameras of similar size that often left the lens exposed. It also made for a very sturdy platform for the lens itself. I am only aware of one other camera with a similar mechanism, which was of course no other than the Voigtl�nder Vitessa.
An unbranded (copy of?) Rodenstock Rodinett/Glunz Ingo with Laack Regulyt 50mm f/2.9 lens in Compur shutter. Note the curved doors, typically found on the Rodinett. The Regulyt is quite an unusual lens, especially in this focal length, but I have found no info about it that might help finding out which company sold this camera.
The Glunz Ingo was typically equipped with a Rodenstock f/4.5 or f/2.9 Trinar-Anastigmat lens in Compur shutter, and it is therefore perhaps no surprise that Rodenstock sold a rebadged version of the Ingo as the Rodinett. However, there were some differences, which I have not seen documented anywhere else before: whereas the Ingo had straight doors, those of the Rodinett were curved, and the Rodinett had a helical focus mechanism, whereas the Ingo had a front-cell focussing lens. The helical focus is probably the reason behind the curved doors, as it allowed more space and one did not need to set the lens to infinity to be able to close the doors. Somewhat curiously, the Rodinett did come with a different Rodenstock lens than the Ingo: a 50mm f3/.5 Ysar.
To confuse matters, another variant of the Ingo could be found, which had curved doors like the Rodinett but with a front-cell focussing Laack lens, and which did not bear the name Glunz or Rodenstock (or any other, see photos). Was this perhaps another rebranded version?
Top view of the Rodenstock Rodinett/Glunz Ingo showing its strut mechanism.
Beier was a company based in Freital near Dresden, the centre of German camera manufacture before WWII, and the same town as Welta was based. It was a fairly small company mainly known for its range of Beirette cameras, of which several examples can be found elsewhere on this site. It also produced an early 35mm camera, the Beira, which also can be found on the Beirette page just mentioned. The Beier Rifax was one of the many folding cameras that Beier produced before WWII. It was available as a 6x6 as well as a 6x9 medium format cameras which used 120 film. The most advanced Rifax was the 6x9 model with coupled rangefinder, which is the one shown below. The rangefinder was the split mirror type and had a separate viewfinder window. The camera was provided with a mask for 6x4.5 exposure, which would double the amount of photos one could take with one film. A nice touch is that the viewfinder came with small masks as well. The camera had a shutter release build into the front door, not unlike the Voigtlander Bessa. As slight oddity was that despite having a rangefinder, it still had the small waist-level viewfinder common on viewfinder folders of that era.
A Beier Rifax with Rodenstock-Trinar-Anastigmat 105mm f/3.8 lens in Compur-Rapid shutter. Note that the stand which the camera leans on is the focus lever. By rotating it the whole shutter/lens assembly would be pulled forward, the rangefinder would move simultaneously.
Beier Precisa II
The Precisa was Beier's 6x6 folding camera for 120 rollfilm, which with a film frame mask could also be used for the 6x4.5 format. It was introduced around 1936 as a camera with a a fold-up viewfinder, which incidentally was the only model that was for the 6x4.5 format only. It was continued after WWII, and like so many cameras updated with a larger top housing with a fixed viewfinder (the Precisa II). An uncoupled rangefinder version, the Precisa IIa, was also produced.
A Beier Precisa II with E. Ludwig Meritar 75mm f/3.5 lens in Tempor shutter. It has one of the best strut mechanisms I have encountered, there's virtually no play in the extended struts or the lens board at all.
Rear view of the Beier Precisa showing the two different red windows for 6x6 and 6x4.5 frame size, as well as the Beier logo. This particular example had a small surprise for me: the whole backdoor came of soon after I got it! It turned out that it must have broken in the past and was poorly repaired with epoxy. The rivets that fix the door hinge to the body had sheared off, but thankfully these could easily be punched out and replaced by screws, so thankfully an easy fix after the initial shock.
Certo Super Dollina II
Certo was perhaps one of the lesser known Dresdner camera manufacturers, but its cameras had a good reputation. The Dollina range was a series of 35mm folding cameras first produced in 1935, about the same time Kodak introduced their first Retina. The Super Dollina II was first introduced in 1951 and featured a coupled rangefinder and a rather unusual focussing mechanism: a knob on the top housing would move the lens base forwards and backwards as well as move the rangefinder. The magnified coincidence rangefinder was separate from the viewfinder. One could also read the distance at the top of the camera but this was not needed for the camera to function.
A Certo Super Dollina II with Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar lens in Vebur shutter. The lens serial number suggests this particular camera was produced in 1958. It was a well-made camera and would have been a joy to use, but the rangefinder adjustment is unfortunately rather tricky, so if it is off (like on this one) it will be hard to turn it into a usable camera again.
Rear view of the Dollina showing its name in the embossed leather. The small knob on the far right is the focussing knob which moves the rangefinder and the lens.
The Certo Durata was a simpler and very compact 35mm camera compared to the Dollina above, and was introduced a few years after the end of WWII. Although based on the same body, including front door and strut mechanism, the Duratas lacked rangefinders and had front-cell focussing mechanisms instead of unit cell focussing. The first model, simply named Durata, was a small camera with a pop-up viewfinder. It could be found with Prontor II, Compur-Rapid or Ovus shutter, and a variety of lenses such as a Rodenstock Trinar, Meyer Trioplan of CZJ Tessar. The Durata II looked very similar to the Super Dollina II above, with a viewfinder build into a chrome-plated top housing, but was functionally not much different than its predecessor.
A Certo Durata with Carl Zeiss JenaT Tessar 50mm f/3.5 lens in Compur-Rapid shutter. It looks a little like the Voigtlander Vito II when closed, but the front door opens downwards instead of sidewards.
The Certo Six was a 6x6 camera for 120 rollfilm with some quirky features that clearly set it apart from contemporary folders like the Ikonta and Baldix ranges. First, it had a wind lever, a very welcome feature although unfortunately it did not cock the shutter, which still needed to be done by hand. Second, it had a focus lever at the bottom of the camera (when unfolded) which was best operated by one's thumb. Finally, it was parallax corrected by moving the lens closer to the viewfinder during close-focusing instead of the other way around like most cameras. It was a very well-build and sturdy camera although there are many reports of the rangefinder semi-transparent mirror fading with time. It was the last great camera build by Certo, which for unclear reasons moved to producing cheap plastic cameras instead.
A Certo Six with Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 80mm f/2.8 lens in Tempor shutter. It was also available with a Meyer-Optik f/3.5 lens and Synchro-Compur or Prontor-SVS shutter.
The Certo Six had a parallax corrected rangefinder, but instead of moving the viewing frame it was the lens itself that moved relative to the centre of the film frame. Move the mouse over the photo to see the difference between infinity and closest focus (1.5 m). The focus lever is visible at the bottom of the lens door in close focus position.
Rear view of the Certo Six. A nice feature was the build-in folding stand. The small button on the top right is the double-exposure lock reset, right above it is the remote release socket - perhaps not the most obvious location.
Franka Solida IIIE
The Franka Solida IIIE was a 6x6 rollfilm camera with uncoupled rangefinder that bore some resemblance to the Balda Mess-Baldix. The Solida I, II and III mainly differed in lens speeds, f/4.5, f/3.5 and f/2.9, respectively. The E version had uncoupled rangefinders (E = 'Entfernungsmesser'), whereas L versions with light meter were also available (see below for an example). Several versions existed, e.g., early Solidas had separate rangefinder and viewfinder windows, and the location of the distance dial of the uncoupled rangefinder changed.
Franka Kamerawerk was based in Bayreuth and a rather small player in the German camera production. Nevertheless, it did produce a wide range of cameras, like the above-mentioned Solida folding camera range as well as the fixed-lens Franka and Frankarette. The company was in 1962 taken over by Wirgin.
A late Franka Solida IIIE from 1955 with Schneider Radionar 80mm f/2.9 lens.
Top view of a Franka Solida IIIE showing the rangefinder distance indicator and wind knob with double exposure prevention.
Early version of the Franka Solida IIIE with separate viewfinder and rangefinder windows. The back of the camera is marked 'Made in Germany US Zone'.
Franka Solida IIL
As one can infer from the name (see above under Solida IIIE), the Franka Solida IIL was a 6x6 rollfilm camera with uncoupled lightmeter. To fit the lightmeter the top housing needed to be enlarged compared to the non-lightmeter models, which is why this model looks a little more square than the Solida IIIE above. In addition, the front door would open downwards rather than sideways, as was also the case on the Solida IIE, and I never quite understood why this was. From most angles the Solida II and II look nearly identical, yet they have a different door mechanism. All I can think is that it must have been cheaper to produce, and worth making a different body.
Franka Solida IIL with, somewhat surprisingly, a 75mm f/4.5 lens. I say surprisingly because Solida II models generally had f/3.5 lenses, whereas the slower f/4.5 lenses could be found on the Solida I models. Note that on this example the flap of the lightmeter has broken off.
Franka Rolfix IIE
The Franka Rolfix II was the big brother of the early Solida IIIE above. It was essentially the 6x9 rollfilm version of that camera, but it could also be used for 6x6 photos by means of frame on the film gate. To assist this there was a switch on the top housing to switch the viewfinder between and on the back of the camera there were two separate red spy windows, one for 6x9 and one for 6x6 exposures. The Rolfix had a body mounted shutter release and a double exposure prevention mechanism.
The Franka Rollfix II came with a 105mm f.3.5 lens. I have never seen a Rolfix I, but if the naming system was the same as for the Solida, it would have been similar to the Rolfix II but with a slower f/4.5 lens. Likewise, the E version would have had an uncoupled rangefinder (E = 'Entfernungsmesser'), like the example below. Older versions of the camera with a fold-up viewfinder were also produced.
Franka Rolfix IIE with Rodenstock-Trinar 105mm f/3.5 lens in Synchro-Compur shutter. The serial# of the lens dates this camera to around 1952. Like the early production Franka Solida IIIE above, it had separate viewfinder and rangefinder windows and the back was marked 'Made in Germany US Zone'.
The Rolfix has a 6x6 mode but that does not give the same result as a 'native' 6x6 camera like the Franka Solida, as shown by this comparison of fields of view of the Rollfix II with its 6x6 mask and 105mm lens, and the 6x6 Solida with 80 mm lens. The Solida field of view is clearly 'wider' than the Rolfix.
Comparison of fields of view of the Rolfix II 9x6 camera with 105mm lens and the Solida 6x6 camera with 80 mm lens. Due to the smaller focal length of the Solida, its field of view is not much narrower than the Rolfix with its wider frame size, but shows more at the top and bottom of the frame. The Rolfix 9x6 field of view is equivalent to that of a 45mm lens on a 35mm film.
A Franka Rolfix IIE 9x6 and its smaller sibbling Solida IIIE 6x6 side by side.
Dacora was mostly known as a company producing cameras for others (see Ilford Sportsman) and was certainly not known for its innovative designs. However, the Dacora Royal was a bit of an exception, as it was one of the few 6x6 folding cameras to sport a windlever for film transport and shutter cocking. Although this feature was common on 35mm cameras, it had been difficult to implement on rollfilm cameras. The camera also featured an uncoupled rangefinder and was otherwise fairly unremarkable.
Dacora Royal with Subita 75mm f/4.5 lens, a lens I have otherwise never heard of, and Pronto shutter. The Royal was also available with better speficied lens and shutter, e.g, Enna Ennagon lens and Prontor-SVS shutter like found on the Balda Baldix.