I can think of no mechanical product that celebrates 65, yet still looks fresh and is usable. 65 years are almost three generations, where technology, style, use, materials, and so on have evolved. Today, a product made just a decade ago is of no use and carries no sentimental value.
Enter the Werra. Introduced in 1954 and looks as fresh as the latest digital camera. A camera that is simple to use and a pleasure to hold. Small, even at today’s minuscule standards, yet advanced enough for a demanding photographer. Like Dorian Gray, it is still at its prime while other products have long become stale.
The Werra was made within one year from concept to production, using pencils, drawing boards, and slide rulers, with no CAD in sight. Conceived with no market research, giving the engineers a free hand to plan without any external influence. Designed along with the Bauhouse principles that gave it an eternal flair. And all that by the nation that made the Trabant.
The manufacturing background is as if history pulled a joke. Eisfeld, the city where the Werra was made is as much a hole in the wall as it can be in Germany. Before the war, the factory that came to be known as Carl Zeiss used to make binoculars and a secondary line of optical equipment. The only other claim to fame for Eisfeld Is a razor factory that has been there since forever and now makes razor blades under Harry’s. Other than that, there was no significant industry present. Jena, Zeiss’ birthplace, is about an hour and a half drive. Buchenwald, a concentration camp complex as large as a city, was just a stone’s throw away from Jena. About 300,000 prisoners passed through Buchenwald; whereat its peak some 100,000 were kept there, working for the German war industries. Some 60.000 were murdered there and the rest were transported to the death camps. In comparison, the population of Jena today is about 110.000, and Eisfeld has 8,000.
The reasons why the authorities chose this location and this particular product are shroud in fog. An online source suggests that there was a 20,000 strong demonstration demanding employment for the area. I find it hard to believe. The GDR did not tolerate demonstrations well. The authorities would have shot a few so the rest would disperse, or have arrested the lot. Further, judging by the city population I doubt if there could not be 20,000 demonstrators. Lastly, a camera factory is not a practical way to provide employment in the rural countryside.
There is also a thought that the East Germans planned to make a camera for the masses, a Volkskamera. I wonder if the Communists cared much about that so close to the war’s end.
What could have happened could be more prosaic. At the war’s end, the Soviets looted the German industries. Factories were entirely moved beyond the Soviet lines, together with the workforce. After so many years, when the exiled Germans trained enough Russians and Ukrainian, they were allowed back to East Germany, trading one workers’ paradise with another. The GDR was cash strapped, as was the entire of Europe, so making cameras for export was deemed to be a good idea. I assume the factory premises were not damaged, as there was no reason for the Allied to flatten it or the area.
The facts are that a group of engineers, designers, and trades were set together in an abandoned factory and in less than a year hatched a camera like never seen before. Or after. In ordinary times, there would be an idea, defined target market, concept, technical details, and prototypes, back and forth to the drawing board. But that was not an ordinary time. Also, designers did not have an existing schema to base on, so they came out with this unique product. It was named Werra after the river that runs just south of the city and colored green after Thuringia, the state called ‘the green heart of Germany’.
This factory made only the Werra camera. True to the socialist planned economy principles that killed anything that worked, Pentacon took it over and shut it down in 1968 after producing over 520,000 cameras.
I assume that the Werras were not meant for local consumption but targeted for export. With this in mind, the makers did all they could to confuse the capitalist bourgeois who will buy these cameras. They have sure achieved that by the marking and naming conventions.
There were three options as to where the camera name could be found: front, back, or none at all. In addition, the cameras marked Werra and Werra 1 are identical. Further, each model in the lineup has an ‘e’ version; presumably for export, else identical to the base model. Body marking is still the same as the latter.
Searching for references, there is as much contradicting information as the sources. Regrettably, this seems to be the norm. The early models were also defined with a letter after the model number, as shown in the table below. I had to stitch together details from different sources, trust it makes some sense.
The camera kept its distinct appearance throughout the models, where the body came in a flat or curved top, with matching straight-lined or rounded snout respectively. Throughout the line, the ‘e’ model was dressed up with a clear/lined forehead. Other variants were minor, such as the frame counter and the winding knob at the bottom, which saw slight changes. Also, the first model base was 2mm shorter than the following.
Note that the early versions used a bare metal, serrated control ring, re-placed later with a streamlined (and easier to clean) leatherette-covered ring. Thanks to reader Fresto for drawing my attention to the omission.
Still within the above shape variations, as models progressed, there were added light meter lens, rangefinder window, or both. See sketches below for easy identification.
The Werra’s unique feature is locating all controls on the lens barrel. A screw-on, the cup-like cover is mounted over the barrel. It doubles as a sunshade, with the end cap removed. I cannot recall seeing such cover on any other camera. Note that screwing back the cap, an aggressive turn will cock the camera.
Cocking and winding are done by turning the wide ring closest to the camera body. It takes a short turn, about a one-eight of a circle, and it is good to go. Intuitively I turned it outwards, to the right, but it takes being turned left.
In front of the winding ring are the shutter speed markings on a fixed ring, where the speed is selected via a sunken dial in front of it, operated via two protruding pins. A tiny red dot marks the chosen speed, visible only when the camera front Is facing up. Guess a small price to pay for the futuristic design. DOF markings follow next, and after that the focusing scale is based on an estimate. The unit I have is marked with feet and meters; meaning manufacturers looked at the UK and US markets. The aperture setting dial is at the front end; here, the scale values turn with the focusing ring, so it may take turning the camera upside down if the distance is set to close up.
The viewfinder window is bright and clear, 1:1, with a composition subframe. Later models had other viewing ratios.
Frame counter and rewind knob are bottom-mounted, leaving the top cover clear, keeping with the camera’s distinctive appearance. Both knobs had slightly evolved with further models. Mount thread is 3/8″ as the German cameras of that time. As a side note, it is interesting that while German cameras are metric and the Japanese subscribe to JIS, which is based upon the metric standard; yet till today all cameras carry a mount thread based on the long-defunct BSW.
Later models added controls and restyled existing ones, yet all remain on the lens barrel. The rangefinder option added parallax marks in the finder, with a very clear split window. Speed and aperture markings are larger, engraved on white background. Protruding pins on the speed dial were replaced with easy-to-use knurled pads, with a similar pad on the aperture dial. Both dials are set against a red dot on the fixed part of the barrel.
The lightmeter model added to the lens barrel a film speed selector, a pain to read, which could be forgiven as it takes setting change only with using a different media. DOF scale is by the front end. The metering is displayed as an elongated rectangle at the bottom of the viewer where a black fill slides right or left, marked with a middle indentation for the ideal setting.
Models with flash sync carry ‘X’ & ‘M’ selector at the bottom, some with added ‘V’ for self-timer.
Models with removable lens assembly added an additional ring, unmarked, on the lens barrel. A slight turn and the front lens assembly pop out. There was a scant lens offering for the Werra, and a changed lens added a superficial viewer lens to compensate. Remounting the lens takes matching a tiny screw head with a groove on the body and turning back the unmarked ring.
Late Werra models
Werra added advanced configurations, presumably to catch up with the competition at the other side of the border. Werramat and Werramatic of the traditional style or the ‘e’ version were slight variations of the Werra four and five. The Werramat Super and Werra Supermat were the last models offered before the company was shut down.
Small batches were made of special-use cameras, with an endoscope and microscope attachments. Some still show up on eBay. Some makers clamped two Werras together for stereo configurations, either mounted upside down or side by side. I don’t think they have any value save for novelty.
Postscript: see a note below by Hubertus, that elaborates on the above copy. Thanks.
Werra cameras evolution
|Model||Year||type||Lens make||Lens||Speeds||Shoe||Light meter||Style|
|1||Werra Green||1954||Viewfinder||Tessar, Novonar||2.8/50||B, 1-250||No||No||Flat top|
|2||Werra 1 Black||1955||Viewfinder||Tessar, Novonar||2.8/50, 3,5/50||B, 1-250||No||No||Flat top|
|3||Werra 1 Blue||1955||Viewfinder||Tessar, Novonar||2.8/50, 3,5/50||B, 1-250||No||No||Flat top|
|4||Werra 1 Braun||1955||Viewfinder||Tessar, Novonar||2.8/50, 3,5/50||B, 1-250||No||No||Flat top|
|5||Werra 1 Green||1955||Viewfinder||Tessar, Novonar||2.8/50, 3,5/50||B, 1-250||No||No||Flat top|
|6||Werra 1 Silver||1955||Viewfinder||Tessar||2.8/50||B, 1-250||No||No||Flat top|
|7||Werra 1a||1958||Viewfinder||Tessar, Jena||2.8/50||B, 1-250||No||No||Flat top|
|8||Werra 1b||1959||Viewfinder||Tessar, Jena||2.8/50||B, 1-250||No||No||Flat top|
|9||Werra 1c||1962||Viewfinder||Tessar, Jena||2.8/50||B, 1-750||No||No||Flat top|
|10||Werra 1f||1965||Viewfinder||Tessar, Jena||2.8/50||B, 1-750||Yes||No||Flat top|
|11||Werra 1e||1964||Viewfinder||Tessar, Jena||2.8/50||B, 1-750||Yes||No||Flat top, lined front|
|12||Werra 2 Black||1957||Viewfinder||Tessar, Jena||2.8/50||B, 1-750||No||Selenium, covered lens||Flat top|
|13||Werra 2 Green||1957||Viewfinder||Tessar, Jena||2.8/50||B, 1-750||No||Selenium, covered lens||Flat top|
|14||Werra 2a||1961||Viewfinder||Tessar, Jena||2.8/50||B, 1-750||No||Selenium, covered lens||Curved top|
|15||Werra 2b||1964||Viewfinder||Tessar, Jena||2.8/50||B, 1-750||No||Selenium, exposed lens||Curved top|
|16||Werra 2d||1964||Viewfinder||Telesar||2.8/50||B, 1-750||No||Selenium, covered lens||Curved top|
|17||Werra 2e||1964||Viewfinder||Tessar, Jena||2.8/50||B, 1-750||Yes||Selenium, covered lens||Curved top, lined front|
|18||Werra 3 Black||1958||Rangefinder||Tessar, Jena||2.8/50||B, 1-750||No||No||Flat top|
|19||Werra 3 Green||1958||Rangefinder||Tessar, Jena||2.8/50||B, 1-750||No||No||Flat top|
|20||Werra 3e||1964||Rangefinder||Tessar, Jena||2.8/50||B, 1-750||Yes||No||Curved top, lined front|
|21||Werra 4 Green / Black||1958||Rangefinder||Tessar, Jena||2.8/50||B, 1-500||No||Selenium, covered lens||Flat top|
|22||Werra 5 Green / Black||1960||Rangefinder||Tessar, Jena||2.8/50||B, 1-500||No||Selenium, covered lens||Curved top|
|25||Werramat||1961||Viewfinder||Jena||2.8/50||B, 1-750||No||Selenium, exposed lens||Curved top|
|26||Werramat E||1965||Viewfinder||Jena||2.8/50||B, 1-750||Yes||Selenium, exposed lens||Curved top, lined front|
|27||Werramatic||1961||Rangefinder||Jena||2.8/50||B, 1-750||No||Selenium, exposed lens||Curved top|
|28||Werramatic E||1964||Rangefinder||Jena||2.8/50||B, 1-750||Yes||Selenium, exposed lens||Curved top, lined front|
|29||Werra Supermat||1963||Viewfinder||Tessar||2.8/50||B, 1-750||No||Selenium, exposed lens||Curved top|
|30||Werramat Super||1965||Viewfinder||Tessar||2.8/50||B, 1-750||No||Selenium, exposed lens||Curved top|
Werra cameras identification:
Werra green, the first in the Werra line. Introduced 1955. Werra 1 models Black, blue or brown are similar to the early green model. Common lens: Tessar 2.8/50. Speeds B, 1-250. Timer: on some production series. Fixed lens
1B, 1C, 1D, and 1F were introduced in 1965 with a cold shoe. Common lens: Tessar 2.8/50. Speeds B, 1-250. Timer: on some production series. Fixed lens. Offered in green and black. A brown model is seen but could be reskinned. A silver-plated version made as premium for employees is rarely seen.
Werra 1e introduced 1964. Common lens: Tessar 2.8/50. Speeds B, 1-250. Timer: on some production series. Fixed lens.
Werra 2 Black
Werra 2 Green or black Introduced 1962. Common lens: Jena T 2.8/50. Speeds B, 1-250. Timer: on some production series. Fixed lens.
Werra 2e introduced in 1961. Common lens: Tessar 2.8/50. Speeds B, 1-500. Timer: Yes. Fixed lens.
Werra 3 Green and black introduced in 1958. Common lens: Jena T 2.8/50. Speeds B, 1-500. Timer: Yes. Interchangeable lens.
Werra 3e Introduced 1964. Common lens: Tessar 2.8/50. Speeds B, 1-750. Timer: Yes. Interchangeable lens.
Werra 4 green and black was introduced in 1958. Common lens: Tessar 2.8/50. Speeds B, 1-500. Timer: Yes. Interchangeable lens.
Werra 5 Green and black introduced 1960. Common lens: Tessar 2.8/50. Speeds B, 1-500. Timer: Yes. Interchangeable lens.
Werramat introduced in 1961. Common lens: Tessar 2.8/50. Speeds B, 1-750. Timer: Yes. Fixed lens.
Werramat E introduced 1965. Common lens: Tessar 2.8/50. Speeds B, 1-750. Timer: Yes. Fixed lens.
Werramatic introduced 1961. Common lens: Tessar 2.8/50. Speeds B, 1-750. Timer: Yes. Interchangeable lens.
Werramatic E introduced 1965. Common lens: Tessar 2.8/50. Speeds B, 1-750. Timer: Yes. Fixed lens.
Werra Endoscopy and Werra Microscope – niche use models.
Werra Supermat – late edition of the Werramat.
Werramatic Super and Werra Supermatic – similar to the Supermat but with interchangeable lenses. Only prototypes were made.
Werra camera images
Werra square and rounded models. The rounded style is common to the ‘e’ models.
Lens assembly cover, rounded and straight line.
Lens cover mounted and doubles as a lens hood.