This is a Kochmann Korelle 6×6 strut folding camera made in Dresden, Germany by Franz Kochmann Fabrik Photographischer Apparate starting in 1933. The Korelle 6×6 was the fourth in a series of strut folding medium format cameras first released by Kochmann in 1931. As the name implies, the Korelle 6×6 shoots 6cm x 6cm images on a roll of 120 roll film, and has a unique design in which a hinged door is connected to the lens standard, as opposed to the camera body like on other cameras. It also had a very unique frame counter on the back which used feeler rollers and a curved frame counter because when the camera was released, 120 film did not yet have exposure numbers for 6×6 images.
Film Type: 120 Roll Film (twelve 6cm x 6cm exposures per roll)
Lens: 7.5cm f/4.5 Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar uncoated 4-elements
Focus: 3 feet to Infinity
Viewfinder: Scale Focus Telescopic Finder
Shutter: Compur Leaf
Speeds: T, B, 1 – 1/250 seconds
Exposure Meter: None
Flash Mount: None
Weight: 580 grams
There is not a lot of history out there about Franz Kochmann or the company he started in 1921 in Dresden to build cameras like this Korelle. The only sources of information I was able to find online repeat the same couple of sentences over and over without much in the way of additional information.
Franz Kochmann, a German Jew, was born in Dresden in September 1873 and from a young age, he had an interest in art and photography. He either came from a wealthy family, or built a lot of wealth on his own as he owned a large estate called the Villa Kochmann.
Kochmann was interested in art as he had acquired a large art collection, and even had a painting of his house done in 1913 by expressionist painter Ludwig Meidner.
In 1921, his interest in photography led him to form his own camera company called Franz Kochmann Fabrik Photographischer Apparate and he started making simple folding plate cameras. In 1924 a solid bodied single lens reflex camera called the Enolde Reflex was produced. The Enolde name was reused a number of times on various folding plate and rollfilm cameras throughout the 1920s.
In 1931, a new series of compact folding strut cameras called the Korelle was released. Models in the Korelle series were released in pairs for three straight years, using almost every imaginable format of film available at the time.
The first model was simply called the Korelle and it took 3cm x 4cm images on 127 roll film. The second was a full frame model called the Korelle 4×6.5. In 1932, the Korelle P and K were released, the first of which took 4.5cm x 6cm images on sheet film, and the second was a solid bodied model that used double perforated cinema 35mm film and took 18mm x 24mm images.
In 1933, two more models were released, this time using 120 roll film. The first, was the Korelle 4.5×6 which took “half frame” 4.5cm x 6cm images, and the second, the Korelle 6×6 took…you guessed it…6cm x 6cm images.
Finally in 1934, the last of the folding Korelles was released, this time a traditional folding (non-strut) 6×9 model.
Throughout my research for this article, I found very little information about the folding Korelles. Although the starting dates for each model are pretty certain, how long they were in production is a mystery. My particular example has a Zeiss lens with a serial number that suggests the lens was made in 1936, but the serial number on the Compur shutter suggests 1934. Is it possible my Korelle was built in 1936 using a fresh lens, and a 2 year old shutter? Possibly. But its also possible that the shutters and lenses were swapped out from their originals at some point on the past. There is really no way to know for sure.
The ad to the left comes from an unknown German publication for the Korelle 4.5×6 model and lists several combinations of shutters and lenses. The camera could be equipped with a range of lenses and shutters starting with a Vario shutter and E.Ludwig Enoldar lens costing 39 Reichsmarks (RM), all the way to a Compur shutter and f/2.8 Zeiss Tessar costing 110 RM. The ad doesn’t specifically mention the 6×6 Korelle, but I think it is logical to assume that most, if not all of these lens and shutter combinations were likely available for both cameras with prices relatively close to the same. The model being reviewed here has a Compur shutter and Zeiss Tessar f/4.5 lens, suggesting its price would have been around 85 RM.
Converting historical currencies like the Reichsmark to modern US dollars is very difficult, but according to Measuring Worth’s online database of historical currencies, in 1934, 2.54 RM had the same buying power as 1 US dollar. Assuming that’s correct, a camera that cost 85 RM would have cost $33.46 in 1934, which when adjusted for inflation is like $624 today.
In 1935, the Korelle name was used in a new series of solid bodied single lens reflex cameras called the Reflex-Korelle. The Reflex-Korelle would prove to be Kochmann’s most successful model, with variants being released both before, and after the war.
The Reflex-Korelle was successful enough in Germany, that the company attracted the interest of Burke & James in Chicago, and an export arrangement was made allowing for models to be sold in the United States.
As is the story of all German Jews in the late 1930s, the rise of the Nazi party proved to be a problem for Kochmann and his family. Franz Kochmann would attempt to flee Germany, but unlike other German Jew camera makers like Henry and Joseph Wirgin or Paul Guthe and Benno Thorsch from KW who successfully migrated to the United States, Kochmann and his family were denied exit from Germany.
Later in 1938, Kochmann’s company, his estate, and all of his belongings were seized by the government, and he was forced to relocate to the Dutch city of Utrecht, which at the time was already under Nazi control. Under a law called the Alteration of Family and Personal Names, all Jewish men were forced to change their name to “Israel” to more easily identify them as Jewish.
Israel Kochmann would remain in Utrecht for the remainder of his life, at one point working for the Dutch camera maker Vena, designing simple and inexpensive cameras like the Venaret. Kochmann would tragically die on June 25, 1956 after being hit by a car.
Back in Germany, after Franz Kochmann’s departure, the Kochmann company would be renamed Korelle-Werke KG and ownership was given to G.H. Brandtman & Co. The Korelle-Reflex would remain in production and for a short while in 1939, exported to the United States as the Korelle-Reflex II.
After the war, Korelle-Werke attempted to setup a temporary manufacturing location in Dresden as their original factory was completely destroyed by Allied bombing raids. New production of Reflex-Korelles was short lived as in early 1946, the Soviet army would take over the company halting production. I do not know if any Reflex-Korelles from this period were ever completed. If they were, they have to be very rare.
A second attempt to restart Reflex-Korelle production occurred in 1947, but the factory condition was so terrible that full scale production never got going and no new models were completed.
In 1948, the Korelle-Werke company was taken over by an all new entity called VEB Werkstätte für Feinmechanik und Optik (WEFO). The abbreviation VEB stands for Volkseigener Betrieb which translates to ‘Publicly Owned Operation’ in English and was the main legal form of industrial enterprise in East Germany from the late 1940s until the early 1960s.
A redesigned Korelle-Reflex called the Meister-Korelle was to be the primary product of VEB WEFO and production started in 1950. The Meister-Korelle had several changes from the original Korelle-Reflexes, most notably a redesign of the top plate including a right handed lever film advance, an all new interchangeable lens screw mount with helical focusing, and a revised shutter speed selector with all speeds 1 – 1/1000 on a single dial (compared to two on the original models).
The Meister-Korelle was an ambitious model produced by a company with little experience with precision optics manufacturing and the model was constantly plagued with technical problems. Many models had issues before they left the factory, with film transport issues being very common. VEB WEFO stumbled through production of the Meister-Korelle for about a year, at which point, the company was shut down and it’s assets merged with VEB Welta-Kamerawerke.
It is believed that another Dresden area camera maker, VEB Kamera-Werkstätten Niedersedlitz considered restarting production of the Meister-Korelle, but it was deemed too complicated of a design. Instead, the company designed their own 6×6 SLR called the Praktisix.
Other than working at Vena in the late 1940s and his death in 1956, not much else is known about Franz Kochmann or his family. He had a wife named Clare, who died in 1971, but the couple never had any children.
The story of Franz Kochmann and his cameras has no happy ending. Unlike Henry and Joseph Wirgin who would have limited success in the United States and eventually get the rights to the Wirgin company back after the war, or Charles and John Noble who would eventually be freed by the Soviet government and at some point regain some of their company’s assets, Franz Kochmann got nothing.
Today, the name “Korelle” is almost always associated with the Reflex-Korelle which was the company’s most successful line of cameras. The earlier strut folding Korelles are far less common. I had been collecting cameras for a couple of years before I even knew such models existed. I can’t with any level of certainty guess at how desirable they are, but I have to image that there’s some level of interest as they are a fine example of the nickel and leather pre-war German style of cameras. The strut design of the Korelles is unlike any other out there, and the model lineup has some pretty interesting models. If one ever crosses your path, I recommend picking it up, if only for the story. Franz Kochmann had his entire life stolen from him and if his memory can live on through the cameras he produced, then I guess that’s something.
The Kochmann Korelle 6×6 is an interesting camera. Folded up, it looks like most other pre-war nickel and leather German cameras. It has the most unique exposure counter of any camera I’ve encountered which I’ll get to later, but also, when opening the camera, there are two notable differences.
For one, the dual struts extend the lens with quite a bit of force. If you’re not prepared for it, it can actually startle you. Strut folding cameras like the Korelle, the Kodak Jiffy, and the AGFA Karat are beneficial in that by having the lens standard supported on both sides, you ensure a parallel and more accurate film plane. Single hinge door folding cameras like the Kodak Retina, and pretty much every other folding camera from the era can sometimes become bent, and lose their parallel alignment with the film plane, causing focus issues.
The other more obvious difference is in how the door attaches. Unlike other folding door cameras where the door swings out of the way of the lens standard, the door remains attached to the lens standard and opens independently of the camera. To be perfectly honest, I don’t see a benefit to this. I guess it’s nice that the door is there to protect the lens and shutter when not in use, but it’s actually a bit of a pain since the door can be independently opened and closed regardless of the position of the lens standard, it is also possible for the door to accidentally close in the process of taking a photo (ask me how I know).
Back to the exposure counter, the Korelle 6×6 came out at a time when the exposure numbers on the backing paper of 120 film only indicated 6×9 exposures. The numbers for 6×6 exposures like the Korelle shot did not appear until the mid to late 1930s after the rise in popularity of the Rolleiflex.
This required Kochmann to come up with a unique exposure counter that used a rubber coated roller inside of the film compartment to “feel” the movement of the film and move a needle on a curved exposure counter on the back door of the camera. There was still a traditional red window with a sliding door on the very edge of the door which relied on the 6×9 numbers on the paper backing to get the film started at the first exposure. Once you saw the number 1 in the red window, you would close the door, reset the main exposure counter, and use that for the remainder of the roll.
The system actually worked quite well. The rubber rollers were connected to a worm gear which would rotate a disc with a pointer on it pointing to numbers in the circular exposure counter window. When the numbers reached the end and you needed to reset the counter, a dial on the back of the door could be rotated with your finger to roll back the counter. I actually found that if you were at the end of the roll, after removing the roll, it was much faster to just open the camera and turn the rollers by hand to reset it. In the image to the right, you can see both the rollers, the worm gear, and next to it, the inside of the red window on the door for setting the first exposure.
The rest of the camera was pretty straightforward to use. The top of the camera had a large film advance knob on the left, along with a hinged viewfinder that would flip up 90 degrees. Although the viewfinder works fine, I found the design to be curious as there’s no reason I can see to flip it up. Since the Korelle shoots square images, your aspect ratio is the exactly the same if the viewfinder is flipped up or down. Maybe Kochmann just thought people would appreciate a way to extend the viewfinder a little bit farther away from the top plate.
Next to the viewfinder is the release button for the front of the camera. On my example, the camera had a hard time staying shut as there was clearly something either damaged or worn out in the latching mechanism, so my camera spends most of it’s time in the open position. When I try to force it shut, I can quickly open it with this button. Finally, there is an accessory shoe, likely to be used with an auxiliary rangefinder.
Opening the film compartment requires sliding a latch on the side of the camera under the leather handle. Despite the age of my example, the door appeared to be well sealed from light and I had no concerns about light leaking in through the hinge or the seams, but if you were to come across one of these cameras, I would advise checking it.
The inside of the film compartment looks like any other folding German camera from the 1930s. A fresh roll of film goes on the right (supply) side, and the take up spool goes on the left. There are little latches on the bottom of each compartment that you can bend to make loading a spool a little easier.
Turning our attention to the front, we see an 8 speed Compur shutter with speeds from 1 – 1/250 + T and B, and a Zeiss Tessar f/4.5 lens. Earlier in this article I mention an ad for the Korelle 4.5×6 model that lists a variety of lens and shutter combinations which I draw the conclusion was likely the same as those available for the Korelle 6×6. If my assumption is correct, this model was one of the more expensive Korelles you could buy, with a price at the time of around 85 RM.
The Compur lens on my example has a self timer on top which requires you to slide a little lever towards the camera body while simultaneously cocking the shutter. Like all early Compurs, you do not need to cock the shutter to use T or B mode as these will function at any time. Finally, a selector exists at the bottom of the shutter to control the aperture. Your options here are f/4.5 through f/22.
I spoke earlier about problems with the door accidentally closing while shooting the camera. When holding the camera at a normal orientation with your eye to the viewfinder, it’s not immediately obvious if the door has started to close and block the lens, so as a workaround, I discovered that if I rotated the camera 90 degrees and kept the door facing down, this prevented it from being an issue while simultaneously putting the shutter release in a very convenient location. I shot most of the images with this camera with the camera like this and found it to be a very comfortable experience.
The Kochmann Korelle 6×6 might at first seem to be just another pre-war German folder, but upon handling it and shooting a couple of rolls of film through it, it proved to be more. It has a unique design and a very unique exposure counter. My particular example has a Compur shutter that works at all speeds, and an excellent Zeiss Tessar f/4.5 lens so I had high hopes for the images it might make.
My first roll through the Korelle was on a trip to northern Michigan around Christmas 2017 and for that I loaded in a roll of Ilford Delta 100 with the intent of developing the pictures myself. Prior to shooting the roll, I was reasonably certain the camera was working correctly, so I loaded in the roll, reset the frame counter and went shooting.
When shooting 6×6 images on 120, you should get 12 exposures per roll, but something strange had happened at the 9th shot when the frame counter stopped working and I could feel a change of resistance when advancing the film. I had reached the end of the roll, despite only shooting 8 photographs. As it turns out, time had not been kind to the rubber rollers which advance the exposure counter when film is being wound in the camera.
As rubber typically does as it ages, it gets hard and less grippy, causing the film to slip ever so slightly and not advancing the exposure counter as much as it should. After developing the roll of film, I could clearly see wasted space between each frame, which is why I only got 8 images on that roll. The image to the right is the actual film as it was drying. Notice the large gaps between each image. In an effort to see what I could do using the red window on the back of the camera, I loaded in a roll of expired Kodachrome II and quickly shot another roll.
Well, that didn’t work either. Stupid me forgot that the red window on the back of the camera only shows exposure numbers for 6×9 images and not 6×6 images. Since a roll of 120 film only allows for eight 6×9 exposures a roll, it didn’t matter that I was shooting 6×6, and still got eight exposures from the second roll too. I guess 16 is better than nothing, so I scanned them all in and got to work on this review.
Film winding issues aside, the Korelle was everything I had hoped it would be. A couple of the color images hint at a subtle light leak, but it’s not present on every shot and didn’t show up at all in the black and white images. Sharpness and coverage from the Tessar is excellent. There was no obvious vignetting or any chromatic aberrations in the color images. I would venture to say that results shot with this camera would be indistinguishable from those shot with a quality 6×6 TLR from the same era.
Although it does not have a top plate shutter release, when holding the camera with the door facing the ground, the shutter release is in the most comfortable position of any non-top-plate-shutter-release leaf shutter camera I’ve used. In my review for the Kodak Vollenda 48, I lament the position of the shutter release right by the door hinge blaming it for camera shake, saying that camera would have really benefited from a top plate shutter release or at the very least, a shutter release cable. Not so with the Korelle. It turns out that the odd position of the front door turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
It’s at the point in a positive review where I say something like “if you have the chance to pick one of these up, I recommend it”, but I know that these cameras are very uncommon. So while my recommendation is still valid, I know that it’s unlikely one will show up on your radar any time soon, but if it does…you know what I’m gonna tell you!
|My Final Word
|The Kochmann Korelle 6×6 is a prewar German “nickel and leather” camera that is unique among other cameras from the same era. It has a unique strut system for opening the camera, a hinged door mounted to the lens standard, and one of the most unique exposure counters I’ve ever seen. Although the camera caused me some trouble due to the age of the exposure counter, the images I got back from it were excellent. This camera has the quality of a Rolleiflex in a much smaller body. The camera is quite rare, and hard to find, but it is one of the more unique cameras in my collection and I loved shooting it.
|Feel & Beauty