The Werra – a socialist style icon

I got the loan of a Werra camera, as it is weird and I’ve always wanted to see just how odd it could be. I’m told it’s a Werramat model, which matches the description of the range of models in the manual (thanks again, Mr Butkus).

This is a stylish and sleek camera with some nice design touches. For a start, it has a deep lens hood. The hood is part of the design and stows backwards over the lens, protecting the shutter, aperture and focus controls. You do have to remember to focus on infinity before using it as a guard though, or the protruding lens can crack it. Score one to the idea and take one away for the execution. Give back maybe half a point – you won’t make the mistake of shooting this camera with the lens cap on. You can leave the lens hood covering the lens, take the lens cap off and shoot through the hole, at the expense of not being able to change the settings or focus. If you really wanted to.

Werra closed

You advance the film and cock the shutter by twisting a ring at the base of the lens. The twist is quite short, about 80 degrees. Why go to the trouble? To preserve that smooth and polished top plate, I guess. There is one control on the top of the camera – a large and nearly flush shutter button. This camera looks stylish.

Werra hooded

As a consequence of the smooth top and front, some of the controls were moved to the bottom of the camera. There you will find the frame counter, the release for the camera back and the film rewind crank. In use you will find yourself tipping and turning the camera a lot. Tilt it back to change the settings on the lens or to wind-on. Tilt it forwards to see the frame counter. In use though it is possible to twist the lens base and wind-on with your left hand while the camera is still up to your eye. When you do tip the camera over to see the frame counter, it is oriented correctly for reading. Nice touch.

Werra bum

There are some more nice design features on this model. For example, there is a tiny prism in the bottom right corner of the viewfinder that shows the aperture and shutter speed set on the lens. The lightmeter displays in the bottom of the viewfinder and is coupled to the lens settings, so you turn the aperture or shutter speed rings on the lens to centre the needle. That little rectangular patch to the right of the shutter button appears to be a bit of frosted plastic, but is actually part of the lightmeter and illuminates the scale in the viewfinder. The lightmeter itself is more than just a match-needle affair – if the light is too low for some combinations of shutter and aperture, a dark bar intrudes from one side of the metering scale in the viewfinder. If the light is too high, the dark bar intrudes from the other side. It’s a very clever way of telling you that some combinations of speed and aperture will not give good exposure under the present conditions.

viewfinder

The shutter is, from reading other reviews, also a clever thing. Where most bladed shutters top-out at 1/500, this goes to 1/750. It also has slow speeds going down to 30s. All this from a camera that, if the serial numbers work like Russian ones, will be 60 years old next year. So this camera was built at the same time as the Berlin Wall and was meant for export to obtain hard currency.

The Werra is a technical surprise. Compare it with say, a Praktica, which was also made in East Germany. The Praktica is a basic SLR with obvious controls. The Werra is a clever design with some useful functionality. The viewfinder has built-in diopter adjustment, for example.

So what’s it like to use? The lens is a Zeiss Tessar so should be sharp enough. To an SLR or rangefinder user it feels a little strange doing the whole business of metering and composing with the camera to your eye but having to take it away to set the focal distance on the lens. I carried a little clip-on rangefinder to check focus, but of course there is no flash shoe on the top of the camera to clip it to. The manual shows an optional flash bracket that screws to the tripod mount or a cold shoe that appears to fit over the viewfinder eyepiece.

The shutter is discretely quiet. The twisting film advance worked better than I expected but you need to make sure it fully returns to its start position. The negatives it produced were evenly spaced and different combinations of shutter and aperture gave consistent exposure. Not bad for its age. The film gate has the guide rails cut in a hatched pattern, which would have the effect of stretching the film and flattening it. Like I said: nice technical touches. It all feels very well made and functioning, very different to the Fujicarex I had. The Fuji felt like a very complicated machine working at the limits of reliability. The Werra feels well made, competent and a bit odd.

Werra inside
A is the clever guide rail. B is the export quality mark. C could be the housing for the clever high-speed shutter.

This was an export camera, which would probably appeal to the more technical photographer who would appreciate the details. The Werra range was developed and added features with something like seven models, of which this Werramat is the sixth. The sleek exterior of these cameras hides some good design and manufacturing. In the same year this was made Olympus released the Pen-EE with no settings and 72 shots per film. This mutated into the Trip, sold a squillion and the Berlin Wall (that went up around ’61) eventually came tumbling down. No philosophical insight intended.

quad

I did like the Werramat but as a loaner rather than a keeper. They feel well designed and very well made, so worth a look if you fancy something a bit unusual but stylish or a very clever thing that hides its craftiness.

That, and washing your hands
That, and washing your hands

Thanks for the loan.

Author: fupduckphoto

Still wishing I knew what was going on.

2 thoughts on “The Werra – a socialist style icon”

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