Vintage Camera Test: 1930s Franka Rolfix (I think!)

Last week when we visited the Anjezika neighborhood, I brought along a couple of untested vintage cameras from my collection.  One of them was this folding camera with virtually no identifying information, other than the brand on the lens and shutter.

Franka Werke unknown model

This is one of the first vintage cameras I bought when I started collecting them…waaay back in 2013….and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what kind it was, with no luck.  It has a Wollensak Velostigmat f/4.5 lens and an unidentified Vario shutter.  The bellows are in great shape and everything seems to work fine, except, strangely, the shutter sticks at every speed but 1/100s.  Which simplifies the “sunny 16” rule if you use 100-speed film, so that’s what I did.

There are two red windows in the back to see which exposure you’re on when you wind the film, so there must have been a removable mask at one time to allow either 8 6x9cm photos or 16 4.5x6cm photos.  To double the number of photos, you’d put in the mask which would cover part of the film, and then you’d wind it so you’d see the number “1” in the first window, snap a picture, then wind so the “1” was in the second window, and snap again.  The owner must have liked the larger photos, since he covered one of the windows with electrician’s tape and apparently lost the mask.

Unknown Franka Werke Camera

After looking at other cameras online and talking to a few collectors, however, I am pretty sure the camera is a Franka Werke, probably a Rolfix, dating from between 1937 and 1939.  I have seen ads for this type of camera being sold by Ward’s, which could explain the “generic” appearance (manufactured for direct sale by a department store), and it’s relatively simple, and thus was likely inexpensive at the time.

Franka was a Bavarian company.  I’m guessing it was a Rolfix because it resembles early versions of this line that was manufactured from the mid-1930s to the mid-1950s.  This particular model is one of very few that has its pop-up viewfinder on the right side of the camera when it is open and propped on its little stand.  But I’m more confident it was made in 1939 or earlier because I think it would have been unlikely for a Bavarian company to make cameras marked in “feet” during World War II.  And the 1950s models had much fancier viewfinders and round knobs to wind the film.

Unfortunately, the photos are all a bit blurry, which could mean either a miscalibrated lens or just a cheap lens, and a rough spot somewhere in the camera caused a long scratch (thin blue lines) down each picture that gives a bit of character, I suppose….but disappointing considering this is what I’m able to get with a 1951 Franka camera:

Granite Balls

I may try to repair the sticky shutter and try another roll of film. In the meantime, here’s what I got this time around using Ektar 100:




Water World

Some of the farther-off pictures came out relatively sharp, which suggests the lens is just miscalibrated.  I don’t know of any way to fix that, because it literally just screws all the way out if you want.  So you screw it all the way in and it’s at infinity; back it off slightly to get other distances.  No way to adjust that…



Boys on a Bike

This could have been a great photo.  These kids were zipping by, they are in focus, and the background is a nice blur, showing movement.  But unfortunately I was leading them by a bit too much.  Anne was next to me with a digital.  This is how hers turned out:


Something to be said for using a fancy modern camera…

Two Girls

I wish this last one had come out.  These little girls were so serious, and at the same time cute.

You can see the photos taken with this Franka Werke camera on Flickr in this album (more will be added if I decide to try again).

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