As a TLR fan in general and fanatic Lubitel 2 owner, I have been lusting after this old East German TLR camera for quite some time, with its sexy upmarket leatherette-and-steel cosmetics. Having finally obtained a copy, I have found it to be a highly underrated and effective piece of equipment.
SLR cameras do nothing for me. For me, it’s TLRs all the way. From what I can find out online, the Welta company in Dresden produced this lovely heavy TLR from around 1955 onwards. Given my twin obsession with Communist bloc cameras in general, and TLRs in particular, I have long longed to own one.
The Weltaflex is particularly interesting compared to the Soviet Lubitel series, because it is so obviously more ‘upmarket’ in intent, imitating the Rolleiflex series (right down to copycat title) rather than the pre-war Voigtlander. Though therefore comparable in both style and intent to Yashicas of the same era, it never acquired the fame of the Yashicas, and is therefore still available at far lower prices online.
The Weltaflex’s more ‘professional’ aspiration is particularly reflected in the generous aperture span — bulb, 1,2, 4, 8, 15, 30, 60, 125, 300 on my model. F stops are 3.5, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16 and 22. It has a flash mount with synchronizer settings but no remote cable release mount. Incidentally, there appears to be at least two distinct models, one with a 1: 3.5 f 75mm Meritar lens and the other with a technically identical Rectan lens. The model I have reviewed here has the Meritar lens, and is also distinguished by a automatic frame stop device.
The Rectan-issue camera by contrast, or the ones I have seen, relies on the user using the normal rear mounted red window at the back to track frame progress. The manual forward winding system accordingly took me a little while to get used to on this camera—a small friction wheel on the right hand side can be set to advance film either frame by frame or to let the take-up spool spin freely, and a small metal ‘foot’ on the bottom inside right of the camera needs to be placed against an adjoining metal post for the frame winding system to work. Film is then loaded and wound to where arrows on back of the film intersect with a painted dot on back of the camera, not unlike a Yashimat, and after closing the back a small yellow window on the side of the camera then shows frame progression. This system theoretically prevents double exposures, since you cannot take another shot without winding on, although in practice (see photos) it does not always work.
The overall camera is an impressively heavy metal beast compared to a Lubitel, and has a Rolleiflex-style focusing wheel on the left hand side rather than the interlocking front cogs of the Lubitel system. Together with a pop-up internal magnifying glass inside the viewing hood, this makes it quite easy to create nicely focused shots, although the viewfinder is quite dim. The shutter is cocked at the front, as on a Lubitel, but the taking lever is a small and enchanting motorbike-style pedal on the right hand side of the camera. Some complain that this pedal is heavy to push down, but I find it absolutely fine, and certainly appreciate the fact that the cocking and taking mechanisms are not placed right next to each other. Moreover, I love the photos so much, particularly the sharpness and sometimes dreamy colour, that I have just bought another copy of the camera with the Rectan lens and technically simpler loading/frame tracking system for comparison/laughs.
Overall this is a great and unjustly neglected TLR, a fitting addition to any collection, and an interesting insight into the GDR’s relatively greater technological ambitions at the time.
Photos taken on Weltaflex using Sekonic L-398 light meter and Fujiifilm Superia 120 ISO 400 film. Product shots of Weltaflex courtesy of the ebay seller from whom I bought the camera.