Eho Altissa Altix
Going through the German viewfinders shelf, I reached the Altix models, of which I have four. After looking at mid-past century boring cameras, the Altix models are a wave of fresh air. From my past articles, it is noticeable that I hold the East German cameras in low regard, on par with the Soviet models. That industry there was not driven by a passion to excel but was made to churn out cheap products to sell in the West, generating foreign exchange. If someone regarded it at all, the local market in these countries had to do with whatever poor products were available.
However, I value three camera models from the DDR, the Altix, Werra, and Robot. All are innovative, well-designed, and well-made and have gracefully aged. Holding and operating these cameras feel current, at least in my tired eyes.
So, the four cameras are on my bench: one early Altix, two Altix V, and one Altix nb. I am looking for online information. Judging by researching other DDR models, I expected to find just scraps of data and complement it with information from the printed guides.
Was I ever wrong. I did not expect so much information about an esoteric East German camera. Moreover, most data is original, not the usual copy-and-paste available online.
I have recorded a few links below, which shows that I am not alone in my favourable view of the Altix. Then, I was set to dive into the data.
The most impressive article is at the Dresner Kamera site, written by (I think) Thomas Hafner and Stefan Lange. It is a Ph.D.-worthy document, going to the most minute detail down to the size, style and position of the logo engravings and the type of rewind knob knurling. Only a German researcher can produce such an enumerated document. I can vouch for that, coming from such a heritage where everything has to be done to perfection, only that Opa Jaques und Oma Tony had left Germany when a small man with a funny mustache screamed his way to power.
That aside, I got Google to translate all four web pages and wrote a summary. The next day, I summarized the summary, and the day after, I abandoned it. There is no way to contain the wealth of information held there.
Eho-Altissa history, in short
So, back to the information one could digest. The company, later known as Eho-Altissa, was established in Leipzig in 1892 as Photo Spezialhaus, dealing with very early photographic equipment. About ten years later, they moved to Dresden, the hotbed of the German camera industry. In 1927, Emil Hofert acquired the company and promptly changed its name to Eho – his initials.
The industry of the time moved from luggable wood and brass, glass plate contraptions to compact hand-held cameras, boxes and small folders. Eho made box cameras, regular and baby-sized. Their claim to fame was several models of box cameras with an eye-level viewer, a design later copied as the Bilora Boy. Several TLR models followed under Gehaflex, Hafaflex and Efaflex names, and I don’t make it up. The same model was later named Altiflex.
Interestingly, the company made no klapp models, which were popular with other manufacturers then. There were three stereo box models. A much later stereo made of two Altix n joined together was sold on eBay in 2018, with no further information about it. The chief engineer was Karl Altman, who in 1939 presented a new, compact 35mm viewfinder named Altix, borrowing the first three letters of his name to keep with tradition.
At about that time, the company was named Altissa, but to keep a clear track of its legacy, it is often referred to as Eho-Altissa.
The Altix camera family had several descendants, defined in several different ways. The common definitions are suggested in the table below. Production began in 1939, and the last model came in 1958. As with other private enterprises in the DDR, in the post-war years, it was small enough to fly under the radar but eventually brought under the state-managed camera giants, ending within VEB Kinowerke that had become Pentacon, where its innovation came to a sorry end.
The original Altix of 1938 was an odd-looking, armament-styled, smallish viewfinder camera with a few speed settings, a tiny 3.5/35 lens, and no focusing dial. A later model added had near and far focusing. It had a 24x24mm frame on the newly introduced 35mm film.
The Altix I and II of 1947 / 48 abandoned the imposing style of the first model and were traditionally styled with the same lens. The II offered several skin colours.
The Altix III of 1949 offered three lens options: 2.8/35, 3.5/35 and 2.9/50. Still 24x24mm format.
The III A was similar to the III, with a 24x36mm frame.
Altix IV of 1954 kept the 2.9/50 lens and was also sold in the US under the ‘Classic’ brand. In 1962, production in East Germany was halted but continued in Sarajevo, in former Yugoslavia. The same camera marked ‘Zarak’.
The Altix V of 1956 introduced an interchangeable lens, including a modern 2.,8/50. As the II, it offered several skin colours.
Altix n, 1957, had a restyled body; gone are the sharp angles, now a rounded body, the first Altix with lever winder.
The Altix nb of 1957 came with a light meter in a superimposed bulge above the body. It is the Altix N with a meter; the suffix ‘b’ stands for the meter.
The Altix nb II of 1959 kept the light meter, but now embedded within the body.
Above is a broad overview of the Altix variants. There were inconsistent markings and finishes throughout the models, so specific model identification depends on which school of thought you follow. Other than the n and nb models, All early camera models carry only the Altix name; there are no variant names.
The first Altix design was away from any convention. The small body has a military-styled bulging lens housing, softened with trimmed corners. The viewer housing follows the same style.
- Two equally sized wind and rewind knobs at the sides, with a thumb-driven frame counter at the winder side.
- The speed selector is via a fin mounted over a scale on top of the lens mount.
- The aperture setting is the dial around the lens, where you may expect to find the focusing dial. There is no focusing dial on this model.
- The trigger is proudly mounted on a tall arm with a nice and wide fingerrest. I have not seen such a configuration elsewhere.
- The bottom plate comes off by pushing a protrusion toward the ‘O’ mark, where it comes out in the original Leica style.
- Once removed, the back hutch cover flips up, exposing the 24x24mm mask.
- A cog in the film pathway allows trigger release to eliminate double exposure.
- A lanyard eyelet is mounted on the bottom plates.
- A serrated fin at the back, by the winder knob, allows rewind.
- On top and at the back, there are two moving tabs, interconnected, that cock the shutter. This is a unique configuration.
- There is no take-off spool, so it takes a wasted cartridge spool.
Here, the design is back to the conventional style. Gone is the tank turret style; instead, it has a bulbous lens barrel.
- The focusing dial is closest to the body and the second is the aperture setting dial. The speed selector dial is at the front.
- The cocking lever is on top of the barrel, by the speed dial.
- To remove the bottom, turn the large dial there towards ‘A’ for auf, open. To close, towards ‘Z’ for zu, close. The back hatch cover flipps up, exposing the 24x36mm opening.
- The same cog for the film to draw to enable the trigger and prevent double exposure.
- On top, a traditional trigger is surrounded by the frame counter dial.
- The viewer is tiny, smaller than the earlier model, which is small on its own accord.
- On the front, under the viewer, is the PC port.
- There is no integral takeoff spool; use a spent cartridge spool.
- At the front of the lens barrel, at about 7 o’clock, a pinhead is within a grove. With strong nails, you may use it to actuate the shutter without winding the film / turning the cog. Another Grove hosts a screw head, no reference to it in the manual.
- To allow rewind pull up the winding knob and lock it clockwise against the arrow.
- To cock the shutter, pull the cocking lever up.
- A minor design flaw, the camera would not stand on its own. It takes a tripod or alike to stay put and not fall on its nose. Further, the base thread is 3/8″ BSW, so you’ll need an adapter for the standard 1/4″ thread on today’s mounts.
I have two of this model, one with a cursive logo and the other with block letters. Otherwise, there is no visible difference. Interestingly, on one, the shutter was stuck; this morning it came alive by itself. I guess it’s just an aging assembly.
Came 1956, and Eho-Altissa abandoned the super creative design concepts and introduced the conventionally styled Altix n.
Later, the same model, with an added light meter, the Altix nb came into being.
With these models, they introduced interchangeable lenses with a proprietary bionet mount, a fully removable back and a lever winder. The camera I have comes with the Pentacon logo. Assumingly, that’s where the design cues came from.
The Altix nb had two body styles. One has a proud meter assembly towering over the body, Contax / Kiev style, and the other is with the meter embedded within the top fascia. Further, as I read different and confusing descriptions of this model, it seems to have many sub-variants. I refer to my camera, so I apologize in advance if you have a different model.
- To remove the back, turn the dial on the bottom till it comes out. It is not off/on position, just needs to unscrew.
- At the back, a trapdoor flips out, with a pressure plate on the back cover.
- To cogs on the film path. They turn with the cocking lever, unlike early models where the film perforation drives the cog to eliminate double exposure.
- There is an integral takeoff spool.
- The rewind release is just under it, and protrudes from the bottom cover.
- On top is the lever winder arm, surrounded by the frame counter, which is reset manually.
- By it is the meter calculator control, composed of three concentric dials. The outer is the speeds, the middle the F stops, and the inner, fixed, is the film speed. Unfortunately, the dials’ markings are almost worn out, evidently an East German quality, and the two outer dials are very stiff. The meter needle is dead, so there is no good reason to fool with the dials. I looked online for an image showing the meter calculator dial ASA values. Oddly, all images show worn-out markings. Perhaps someone in the factory had a side business selling pigment.
- At the left end is a rewind knob, sized for a six-year-old fingers.
- To its right is a clear window that hosts the cropping marks in the viewer. I think there is a Pentax with a similar configuration; otherwise common.
- The front is where the action is. A nicely styled light meter lens covered with a hinged lid. It is perforated and brings to mind the Contaflex meter cover. When closed, it is used in strong counter light.
- The viewer’s lens shines, both figuratively and literally. Where the other Altix models had a practically none-usable, minuscule viewer, it is large and clear here. Add the parallax marks, and it is a pleasure to use.
- The lens is removable, with three dials and one lever on the barrel. The lens is mounted by a three-prong bionet type lock, held in place by an easy-to-hold large ring. It would be nice to have a mark as to where to position the lens for remount instead of looking for a tiny screw head to match with equally slight indentation within the socket.
- The body-mounted dial closest to the body is the speed selector. To my taste, derived by my fingers, it is too close to the body and difficult to purchase. Further, the red dot marked the speed selection is hardly visible, let alone in poor light.
- Next to it is the self-timer arm, also used to enable double exposure. It is an odd configuration. At the off position, the arm is left, above the 4 speed mark. When winding, the arm moves to the right, to above the 30 mark, and clicks back once the shutter fires. To cock the shutter for double exposure, pull the arm right and fire. To enable self-timer, pull the arm all the way right, just shy of the 250 mark.
- The middle ring is the focusing, marked with feet and meters, evidently an export model.
- The outer ring is the aperture setting, with a nice click in place for the F stops.
See camdex.ca for options
|Altix III a||1952||24×36||Fixed|
|Classic 35||1952||24×36||Fixed||Altix V, US export|
|Altix IV Export||1955||24×36||Fixed|
|Altix IV Sarajevo||1962||24×36||Fixed||Marked Zarak|
|Altix nb||1957||24×36||Interchangeable||Meter above body|
See camdex.ca for options
|Altix nb type II||1959||24×36||Interchangeable||Meter within body|
|Model||Altix||Altix IV||Altix nb type II|
|Weight||375 gr, Body with lens||430 gr, Body with lens||490 gr, Body only|
|Class average weight||475 gr, Body with lens||745 gr, Body with lens||490 gr, Body only|
|Lens make||Laack Pololyt||Trioplan||Tessar|
|Filter size||23 mm||30||35 mm|
|Lens mount||Fixed lens||Fixed lens||Bayonet|
|Shutter||Leaf, scsissors type||Leaf||Leaf|
|Light meter||None||None||Selenium, uncoupled|
|Speeds||B, 25, 50, 100, 150||B, 1-250||B, 10-250|
|Service / repair links||See camerlog.com|
CJS classic cameras
From the focal plane to infinity
All my cameras
Altix IV images
Altix nb shutter arm positions