This is a 1950s era rangefinder made in Dresden, East Germany. Most of what I know I got off camerapedia. My particular example is the 3rd spec lens/shutter combination with a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar lens, 50mm/3.5 and a Compur Rapid shutter with speeds of 1/250, 1/100, 1/50, 1/25, 1/10, 1/5, 1/2, 1, and ‘B’; and aperture range of f3.5-22. It has no coupled rangefinder/viewfinder and the distances are in meters, 0.8, 0.9, 1, 1.2, 1.5, 2, 3, 5, 10, and infinity. While I can do adjustments on the fly from meters to feet (my more familiar measurement), I just decided to tape a cheat sheet on the back. The viewfinder itself has a little wheel where you can adjust for parallax for composing your image. It ranges from 0.4 to 6 with infinity, so there is a bit of a disparity between the viewfinder settings and the focus element.
First, all the photos on this are from my dSLR a Pentax K-5IIs, using a Pentax SMC Super-Macro 50mm lens. And a tripod. And daylight. Oh, sun, look at that!
So first it is pretty tiny. Since it is a folder, it really has a narrow profile, plus its longest dimension is not that large either (from about Z-N on my keyboard). As with most things from this era, each camera has its own ‘tricks’. To open the lens folding area, looking at the ‘Top View’ picture above, you press the button to the left of the frame counter. Be careful, at least on my copy, the folder has a very strong spring and it flies open. Most other folders seem somewhat lazy in comparison. Continuing along this top view right to left, we see the parallax adjustment wheel, the shutter button, and the rewind mechanism. It takes a little getting used to the shutter trigger being on the left. Also the shutter itself has to be manually set, as on my large format cameras.
Looking at the underside of the camera, again moving right to left we have the camera case mount, the film advance release button and the film advance mechanism. On the shutter you can see a flash sync port and to the left of that is the shutter cocking mechanism. General shooting involves, cocking the shutter (and speed/aperture as usual), judging the distance, setting the focus ring, set the parallax adjustment, compose, remember to press the left button at the top (and a few times you will at that point realize you forgot to cock the shutter), reach underneath and press the advance release and then turn the advance to the next frame. It stops automatically. Unlike some of my Zenits which have a really clunky frame counter, this one is easy to move back and forth with no issue and it always advances. Once you get to the end of your roll, you pull the film advance knob down and that allows you to rewind your film back into the cassette.
I found myself getting the hand of shooting with it when I spent a day with it. Left finger shutter, right hand advance release, advance, cock the shutter, set the distance.
I don’t speak German, but based on what it shown on this plate, I am guessing it is showing distances with ranges of ‘acceptable’ focus with the different aperture and rangefinder settings. So for example, at f11 with the rangefinder set at 5m, everything from 2.4m to infinity will be decently in focus. As with the parallax correction, I find it interesting that some of the settings in the table do not seem to match the ranges on the focusing wheel. There is no 1.3 or 1.7 or 15m setting for instance. I suppose you could sort of guesstimate at 1.3 and 1.7 but it sure seems pretty precise for a guess.
Looking at the back, you can see the back release on the right, between the camera body and the small built-in strap. This release is probably the biggest pain about using this camera. You slide it and then sort of have to hold on to half of the back to open it. It has no great place to make this easy.
I also took some comparison shots to show the size of the Beltica compared to a Canon AE-1 with a 50mm and my Leitz-Minolta CL both with and without a lens. The CL is the smallest camera designed by Leica, and as you can see, the Beltica is comparable in size when open and smaller when folded.
I use a handheld light meter and when shooting this camera, I expect to be in similar lighting conditions without having to monkey with the settings too often. The old style shutter timings do make it a bit of challenge (oh, my lightmeter says f8 at 1/60. Well 1/50 will have to do). Despite it showing 1/500 on the ring, I can’t get there. It does go a little past the 250 mark but never up to the 500 mark. I guess we’ll see how the film turns out when I develop it.
Despite the challenges shooting with it, I do enjoy going out with this little camera. First it is tiny. And silent. And well, weird. But it uses regular 35mm film, has a Zeiss lens so it can’t be all bad. I’m using this camera for my 52Rolls.net project, so I’ll link to that post once I develop the film. My current plan is one roll of B&W and one of color.