Kochmann Reflex-Korelle (1935)

This review is part of the Cameras of the Dead series which I have been publishing every year on Halloween and “Halfway to” Halloween, featuring three cameras that I’ve wanted to review that either didn’t work, or was otherwise unable to shoot.

I am republishing each of those individual reviews this October in anticipation of this Halloween’s Cameras of the Dead post as a way to revisit the cameras of the past that allows them to be properly indexed on the site.

This is a Reflex-Korelle single lens reflex camera made by Franz Kochmann, later Korelle-Werk, in Dresden, Germany.  The Reflex-Korelle is one of the earliest examples of a single lens reflex camera.  It took twelve 6cm x 6cm images on 120 format roll film.  It had a cloth focal plane shutter and a 40.5 mm interchangeable lens mount.  Later revisions of the Reflex-Korelle had shutter speeds as slow as 2 seconds and as fast as 1/1000, but this is an earlier model which could only do 1/25 – 1/500 seconds.  The Reflex-Korelle was a relatively successful model being sold before and after WWII.  Later revisions were sold as late as 1952.

Korelle2Film Type: 120 roll film (twelve 6cm x 6cm exposures)
Lens: Ludwig-Dresden Victar 7.5cm f/3.5 uncoated
Lens Mount: 40.5mm Screw
Focus: 4 feet to Infinity
Viewfinder: Waist Level Coupled Reflex Viewfinder
Shutter: Cloth Focal Plane
Speeds: B, 1/25 – 1/500
Exposure Meter: None
Battery: None
Manual (in German): http://www.cameramanuals.org/pdf_files/korelle-reflex_model-i_ii.pdf

My Thoughts

The Reflex-Korelle is a pretty distinct looking single lens reflex camera made by Franz Kochmann in the mid 1930s.  Kochmann’s earlier models were reflex box cameras that would use a moving mirror inside of a large box with a top down viewfinder.

Although pretty popular when first released, time has not been kind to these cameras.  For one, they were on the cutting edge of camera design for the 1930s and employed experimental methods for moving the mirror involving a piano string, and the shutters were relatively rudimentary designs.

Although a very early SLR design, all of the elements of a modern SLR are here, including the large cloth focal plane shutter.

While not resembling what we could consider a modern SLR camera today, you can see the basic parts are there.  There’s the waist level finder common of early SLRs like the Kine Exakta, there’s a cloth focal plane shutter behind a hinged film compartment door.  Inside of the large cube in the middle of the camera is a large moving mirror that flips up when firing the shutter, and there’s even an interchangeable lens mount.

It is extremely difficult to find a Kochmann Reflex Korelle in working condition, and even harder to find someone to repair them.  There is an interesting post on photo.net by Cliff Manley who successfully restored a Reflex Korelle and in his own words:

Not only (is the Reflex-Korelle a) bad design, but (it’s) also built badly.  I’m showing it here just because it was such a pain to get working.  In fact when I say fix, it really is not the correct term for something that never worked correctly from the beginning.

I was well aware of the Reflex-Korelle’s reputation prior to acquiring this example, and I knew there was a very good chance it wouldn’t work.  Luckily, the camera’s price was in a territory where I was willing to take a risk.  After all, the body looked complete, the leather wasn’t peeling and even the shutter curtain looked to be in tact.

Upon receiving the camera, sadly I discovered that it wasn’t working.  I had hoped that maybe if I could get one or two shutter speeds to work, I could shoot at only one speed, or if the curtains had holes in them, that I could use some fabric paint to get at least one test roll through it.  But it wasn’t meant to be.  Although the first shutter curtain was in pretty good shape, the second curtain was shredded.  I could cock and fire the shutter, but the second curtain wouldn’t close at any speed.  I could have used this camera as some sort of long exposure astrophotography camera and mounted it on a tripod in the night sky to take minute long exposures, but there was no way to use this shutter in anything resembling normal light.

The Reflex-Korelle has a waist level finder similar to most TLRs. Also like most early TLRs, the image is extremely dim. I boosted the levels in Photoshop in this image so you could make out the bus, but in reality, it was much dimmer.

The problems didn’t stop with the shutter, the reflex mirror was badly desilvered. a common problem with older cameras as humidity and other pollutants can cause the front side reflective material on the mirror to dissolve or chip away.  Looking through the viewfinder was very dark.  The image to the left is misleading as I boosted the levels in Photoshop to get something visible.  In reality, the school bus was very hard to see.

The Reflex-Korelle is chock full of subtle details like the folding ‘bowling pin’ shaped handle for the frame advance, and the ivory colored exposure counter.

In person, the Reflex Korelle is quite a nice camera to look at. While I have a general goal with collecting cameras to only keep ones that work, I sometimes do make exceptions. I have always loved the nickel and leather look of 1930s German cameras, and this one displayed quite nice.

I really liked some of the small details of the camera.  The frame counter was made out of something resembling ivory.  Most likely it was a type of white Bakelite plastic, but it looked cool.  The wind knob had this flip up handle that resembled a small bowling pin.  This bowling pin was how you could both cock the shutter and reset the mirror.

I went back and forth on whether or not to keep this camera, but my decision was made as I had acquired this camera along with a lot of other cameras that cost me a bit of money and I wanted to recoup some of that money.  I listed it on eBay with some nice photos of the camera, and an accurate description of the camera.  When it sold, I was able to double my money on what I paid for it.

Reflecting on this camera now, I still like the design and wish I had kept it.  I think that if I could get one of these in working condition, it would be a fun way to shoot 6×6 medium format.  I’ll keep this camera on my radar for a future purchase if I ever find one in nice enough shape for a price that’s not too high.

If you’d like more information about the Kochmann Reflex-Korelle, Pacific Rim has a couple different catalogs, including this German language one.

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