To its given luck, the Polish nation is located in between western and eastern Europe. On the face of it, it couldn’t be better, being a commercial and cultural gateway between the two. Regrettably, it was not so as each invading power marching either east or west had passed through this land, in turn imposing rules and forced culture upon the Polish people. Further, within its historical borders, the population had as much as one-third ethnicities other than Polish, causing constant bubbling and internal stress. Having been ransacked by the German, Austrian, French and always the Russian, had left the country fairly backwards compared the neighbours on the west. With the local chiefly agrarian economy, and no industrial legacy.
After the Great War, the country was kept by the ‘Father of Nations’ under the Soviet sphere on influence, in a shotgun wedding. True to their habit, the Soviet moved east anything of value, resources and food. This had swayed the post-war (communist) government into searching for economic engines other than agriculture. The Czech, German, Austrian and Hungarian neighbours were steeped in heavy and fine industries, so the Polish government followed suit.
Less than a decade after the war had ended, with much of the land flattened by both the Allied and the Axis, they embarked on a rebuilding campaign, heading towards modern industries, amongst which was the optical industry. WZFO, short for Warszawskie Zakłady Fotooptyczne (Warsaw Photo-Optical Works), was established in the early ’50s, under a government commission and was government-run. As with any enterprise controlled by a government, and Communist to boot, they faced an uphill battle. To begin with, the European population was still licking their wounds so consumer goods, cameras included, were nowhere near the top of the buyers’ list. Further, other nation with prior optical industry, such as the UK, Germany, France, Italy and the then Czechoslovakia, were working to have their product recapture the market. Furthermore, the all-subsidized Soviet industry threw ex-German, now Soviet-made cameras into the mess. All that to generate real currency.
The first camera introduced by WZFO was an entry to the post-war already crowded TLR market. Creatively named Start, as were other 21 models named at the time. Neither the name nor the camera made a splash.
In 1962 the Alfa was presented to a perplexing world.
Looking at the camera, this camera is the epitome of ‘designed by a committee’ adage. At first look, it had reminded me of a Lego boat that my kids played with some 45 years ago. Same shape and colour scheme, with an added cream coloured superstructure. How the design committee came to such style, resembling nothing made before or after, is beyond me and I assume by many other puzzled observers.
The only positive observation is that the Alfa rests nicely in my hand. I mean ‘rests’ as in ‘rest’, not shooting. It is awkward to hold by whichever hand. The trigger is placed in such a way that only the middle finger comes sort of close to it, an unnatural position for photography. The only way to hold it is to grip it between the thumb and index fingers of both hands.
The Alfa’s body is made of three different materials and finishes, living in poor harmony. The back is cast aluminium, where my copy is painted shiny red. The front is wavy aluminium plated in a shiny finish. The viewfinder is encased in another aluminium casting, yer another colour. The lens assembly and controls are cream coloured plastic. Seemingly the makers were proud to present the world with Polish mastery of old and new materials, else I see no reason for this unsightly melange.
The trigger button looks like a tooth in need of a filling, where the hole is threaded for a remote trigger cable. The convex viewfinder distorts the view, again, for a mysterious reason. A 1.45/45 fixed Euktar lens is mounted within the distance dial, meter marked with DOF markings. Guess ‘Euktar’ is as close they could get to Ektar without being punched on the chin. Aperture selection lever is on the barrel, options are 4.5, 8 and 11, via a choice of three holes. Speed selection is on the barrel as well, with B, 30, 60 and 125. The two-leaf shutter is cocked by film turning a cog on the raceway. The lens cover converts to a hood, guess borrowed from the Werra that came out some five years earlier.
Opening the camera is confusing. On the side, there is a protruding machined aluminium knob that is asking to be turned to open the camera back. It does not do anything useful, it is merely a mounting thread cover and perhaps a lanyard anchor. To open the back it takes to pull out the winding button, which is shaped against being pooled, and to press a release catch at the bottom. The frame counter is set by the trigger release and a sync port is on top of the barrel. A cold shoe is mounted on the side.
The Alfa uses 35 mm film cartridges, but rather than moving the film sideways it rolls it vertically, from bottom to top. As such the default orientation is a portrait. Looking at it in any which way, I cannot understand how to rewind the film so I assume it uses a paperback stock. It could have been Bolta, but the film it takes should be perforated. There is a takeoff spool, so it could be that the camera needs to be taken to the lab for film replacement but it doesn’t make sense, so I do miss something.
A second version, the Alfa 2 came out a few years later. Almost identical, save for a more sensible trigger button and slightly taller viewfinder with parallax correction markings.
Both models were made in many colours: red, blue, pink, yellow and black.
The person who sold me the Alfa was convinced that it is an Agfa. An online search on Alfa camera returns plenty of Sony Alpha information. Searching for WZFO Alfa returns several copy-and-paste articles and more in other languages.
|Format||35mm Half Frame|
|Body material||Metal and plastic|
|Weight||375 gr, Body with lens|
|Class average weight||353 gr, Body with lens|
|Lens mount||Fixed lens|
|Aperture||4.5, 8, 11|