In post-war Japan, about half a million allied troops stayed for nearly a decade. The economy was in tatters, so the allied poured much effort and money to rebuild it, not the least of which was the soldiers’ buying power supplementing it. There were few outlets for that cash, as GIs would only buy so many Daruma dolls and other souvenirs. In a trough capitalistic move, the local industry geared toward making consumer products, cameras included. Besides the major manufacturers, a camera’ cottage industry’ flourished, with many one-hit brands that vanished as fast as they appeared.
At the same time, the German economy was rebuilding as well, but with great tradition, a meager infrastructure, and know-how. While the West frowned upon pre-war Japanese industry, the German industry had been highly regarded. Optical products included. Together with the majors, several start-ups wet their feet in this industry. Some made a modest splash, like Diax, Finetta, or Kunik, while others hardly a ripple and were all but were forgotten, such as Neidig, Sperling, or Oehler.
The only claim to fame by JB Oehler company was its location, Wetzlar, a name proudly stamped on top of the camera. Wetzlar, the birthplace of Leitz industries, had become a synonym for camera quality, with other camera and lens makers residing there. I would go out on a limb and guess the JB either worked for Leitz or had a cousin who did.
The Infra, made by the said JB Oehler, seems to be the only model JB had offered. Or is it? There is scant information online and equally little in print. There is a bare-bones mention in the guides, but there is a break. Willi Kerkmann’s book II, edited via old-time typewriter, scissors, and a UHU stick, shows the Infra with some basic information. On the same page, just above it, there is a Reka camera, almost a tween, save for the light meter detail.
The Reka was made by Kurt Kuhn of Wetzlar, together with three other cameras, one of which is the very same Infra. Now it is anyone’s guess which of the two brands made the Infra and who was a mere distributor.
The camera is a cute apparatus. It is small in stature and very lightweight, almost toy lightweight. The top and bottom are made of thin, punched steel, with the name embossed in a kind of rough way. The body is some plastic, kunststoff, literally translated as artistic material.
A no-frills, modest viewfinder window in the middle of the top fascia. I am not sure if done on purpose, but the cocking lever sits in front of the viewer window and pulls aside when cocked, perhaps to remind the shooter.
An extinction meter window is at the left of it. This metering mode was all the rage in the post-war years till it vanished in the mid-1950s. It seems to be popular with American manufacturers and, to a lesser extent, with the Germans. The telltale sign is the elongated window at the front and back of the camera. Using it is simple. The meter window shows a line of numbers getting progressively darker. Hold the camera a few inches in front of your nose, aim at the subject and pick the dimmest value. Take this value to the exposure table supplied with the camera, extrapolate the speed and aperture, and Bob’s your uncle.
The Infra takes Karat / Rapid cartridges, an Agfa answer to the 135 format. It did not catch up, perhaps for the Japanese makers adopted the Kodak version. This style uses an empty cartridge as a take-off, where media is pushed in, rather than pulled as in the 135. There is no center spool, and the winder is not connected to the cartridge, but two cogs push the film into the take-off cartridge. The Rapid takes 24x24mm images on a 35mm film, a reminder of the square pictures available in the 120 and 127 formats.
A knob winder surrounded by a frame counter adorns the top, with an arrow punched in the metal, rough embossing as at the camera name. It does not cock the trigger. A button by it allows the winder to forward a frame at a time.
The Infra controls are straightforward at the lens barrel. The lever at the top cocks the shutter, and a bottom right lever discharges it. Remote release, PC ports, and a self-timer lever augment it. Speeds and lens are modest, but this camera was intended to serve entry-level users, so it sufficed.
|Kuhn Kurt Infra
|Metal / Plastic
|235 gr, Body with lens
|Class average weight
|Some none, some cold.