Walter Voss Diax IIa – a Shooter’s Review of a Collector’s Camera

There’s an previous saying in boxing – ”types make fights.” Probably the most entertaining boxing matches function complementary types, well-demonstrated within the slugger-on-slugger brawl of Gatti vs. Ward or the brains-vs-brawn bullfight that was Ali vs. Foreman. Conversely, the worst bouts function types that neither conflict nor agree; assume the dismal Mayweather vs. Pacquiao battle, during which a hyper-defensive Mayweather clinched and ran his strategy to victory over the hyper-offensive but badly injured Pacquiao.

The Rolleiflex 2.8D, the Nikon FM, the Pentax Okay1000, these have all proved to be good matches for my reviewing type, which is often approached from a trendy film shooter’s perspective. All of these cameras provide a mix of historic curiosity and capturing prowess, and hold differing degrees of relevance right now. However just lately Casual Photophile website founder James sent me a totally different sort of machine, and for the past few months I’ve been capturing the Walter Voss Diax IIa, an obscure, hard-to-use, and just-okay-looking previous digital camera.

The Diax IIa has been the Mayweather to my Pacquiao. It’s a match made in hell.

Let’s Get Ready To Rumble

Some context first; the Diax IIa was designed as an interchangeable lens rangefinder digital camera by Walter Voss Photokamera-Fabrikation & Feinmechanik, a company based in Ulm, Germany in 1945 by its namesake, Walter Voss. The Diax line was meant as a lower value various to the top shelf Leicas and Contaxes of the day. The Diax design wasn’t groundbreaking compared to its higher-end contemporaries, however provided shooters a high quality digital camera mated to some pretty nice German glass. The road wasn’t terribly aggressive in its own time, and the corporate folded in 1957.

The precise model, Diax IIa, exists as we speak within the Goldilocks zone of Diax cameras in that it benefits from all of the incremental improvements that the Walter Voss company made to their digital camera line all through the years, whereas being spared the cost-cutting measures carried out later within the company’s lifecycle.

It options an advanced-for-the-time mixed viewfinder and rangefinder system, a further viewfinder for 85 and 90mm lenses, a sturdy leaf shutter that tops out at a comparatively speedy 1/500th of a second, and a design temporary that borrows pages from the Kodak Retina collection and Leica screw-mount playbook. Although the Diax IIa’s design doesn’t quite match up to the German heavyweights, it seems to be respectable.

At the moment, the Diax IIa and its stablemates fetch a somewhat pretty penny offered they’re bought to those within the know, and exist principally as a mildly fascinating artifact of photographic historical past. Relevant to the fashionable day shooter or revered by hardcore photograph geeks they don’t seem to be. They’re collector’s cameras by way of and through, suited rather more to the spotless shelves of obsessive digital camera geeks than to the worn digital camera luggage of lively image-makers. But that didn’t stop me from shoving one into my bag simply to see what it was made of.

Buying and selling Blows

From the primary bell, the Diax IIa hit me with the basic digital camera one-two punch of old-school allure and frustrating design. Superb German workmanship abounds even in a consumer-oriented digital camera like this, with each knob, lever, and dial being made of metallic and machined to extremely advantageous tolerances. The result’s a pretty, semi-flashy compact digital camera that proudly sports activities the apparent design thrives of the 1950s. However even German high quality can’t save an inherently flawed design, and the Diax suffers from greater than a few flaws.

On most cameras, the crucial mechanical bits are naturally hidden beneath the outer shell, away from our clumsy palms. While most of the Diax’s mechanisms lie beneath the floor, a essential part of the shutter mechanism is situated externally surrounding the lens mount. It’s all too straightforward to journey this lever while holding the digital camera usually, which may waste valuable exposures.

One other irritating quirk of the Diax is the shutter cocking mechanism itself. The Diax’s leaf shutter maxes out at 1/500th of a second, however the velocity is just accessible by turning the shutter velocity dial earlier than winding onto the subsequent frame, presumably because the shutter wants additional tensioning at that velocity. And should you do determine to make use of the 1/500th velocity, the shutter dial locks itself and doesn’t allow you to use another velocity. Re-training yourself to set the shutter velocity before winding can get rid of this drawback, but that is still annoying, particularly to Leica screwmount shooters who’re indoctrinated to all the time (and I imply all the time) wind the shutter before setting the velocity.

And eventually, the viewfinder on the Diax is completely dismal, particularly when you wear glasses. It appears that evidently the concept of eye aid simply wasn’t a factor for any of the designers at Walter Voss, as full viewing of the viewfinder body requires the shooter to jam the viewfinder into their cornea. Glasses create troublesome distance from the finder, so some bobbing and weaving of the top is required see the sides of the frame, which isn’t correct anyway because neither of the Diax’s viewfinders have parallax compensation.

From a shooter’s perspective the Diax IIa is just disappointing. The aforementioned quirks current obstacles at essential factors within the capturing process. In a roll of thirty-six exposures, about twenty-four have been accompanied by my muttering an expletive in response to a misfire of the shutter or one of the opposite weird quirks I forgot to think about. The digital camera’s only saving grace whereas capturing is how well-made every little thing is, however this becomes a moot level when using the digital camera is a pain.

After I shot what I might with the Diax IIa, I was nearly able to throw in the towel. It had been a very very long time since I’d been so annoyed when tested a digital camera. Because of the substandard expertise when capturing the machine, I routinely assumed that I couldn’t have probably made any pictures either usable or fascinating in my time capturing it. The results stated in any other case.

The Knockout Punch

As mentioned before, the Diax IIa is an interchangeable lens rangefinder, which is exceptional for a digital camera with a leaf shutter. A couple of German lens manufacturers made lenses for the Diax system, these being Isco and Laack which, if I’m trustworthy, sound extra like IKEA furnishings names than the names of German lens manufacturers. However there’s one identify that stands out from the remaining, and the one that makes cameras just like the Diax IIa value capturing – Schneider Kreuznach.

I’d lengthy been fascinated by the Schneider Kreuznach identify. It’s not quite as nicely generally known as Leitz Wetzlar or Zeiss, however among hardcore photograph geeks, the Schneider identify is each bit their equal. Their lenses have most notably graced the acclaimed Kodak Retina collection, Rollei SLRs, and the Rolleiflex 2.eight collection. Schneider Xenotar-equipped Rolleiflex 2.eight’s particularly are thought-about of larger quality than the Zeiss Planar variations, a exceptional status that’s well-deserved. But I’ve never had expertise with a Schneider lens, personally, so I wasn’t positive what to expect from the one mounted to this Diax IIa.

The Diax IIa was marketed with totally different Schneider-made commonplace package lenses, ranging from a Tessar patterned 45mm f/2.8 Xenar to a Double-Gauss patterned 50mm f/2 Xenon, with a few extra lenses of varying focal lengths and speeds. My Diax IIa came with the 45mm f/2.8 Xenar which, after testing, has come to be one of the most effective lenses I’ve but examined for the location.

The Schneider Xenar 45mm f/2.eight is patterned after the four-elements-in-three-groups Zeiss Tessar method. The Tessar method is famed for its corner-to-corner sharpness and comparatively excessive contrast at low value, which makes it a widespread selection for consumer-oriented cameras just like the Diax IIa. Mix that with Schneider’s extremely excessive optical standards and ahead-of-its-time lens coatings and also you get one of the perfect lenses of its period.

The pictures this Schneider 45mm f/2.eight lens made are merely mind-boggling. To take a page out of fellow author Chris Cushing’s evaluate on one other Schneider lens, this lens is punishingly sharp. I’ve shot numerous Tessar-style lenses before, but I’ve by no means come across one that was as sharp corner-to-corner as this Schneider. This sharpness comes with high contrast; the gradient between mild and shadow (also known as microcontrast) is ok and nuanced, a high quality that’s often attributed to the most effective glass from Leica and Zeiss.

The place the Schneider appears to outperform its contemporaries (and most trendy lenses) is in its lens coatings. The Tessar method is flare-resistant as it’s, however the coatings go a great distance in the direction of mitigating flare, making capturing in troublesome lighting circumstances a breeze. The colours offered by the lens coating are additionally some of probably the most vivid and saturated I’ve ever seen.

I ran some Kodak Portra 400 by means of this digital camera, and the movie’s extra neutral colour palette paired completely with the excessive saturation produced by the Schneider. Reds and blues are deep and vivid with out being overbearing, and scenes appear to be more “alive” via this lens. The lens seems to stroll that effective line between accuracy and fantasy, and the outcomes are among the many most clever I’ve urged out of a classic lens.

The Decide’s Scorecards

The Diax IIa is a robust digital camera to guage. Functionally, the digital camera simply doesn’t maintain up to others of its classic. At its worth, which hovers in and around the $200 vary, competing cameras can easily outperform it. If historical relevance is a precedence then the Diax IIa is a nice consultant of the Diax line, however its collectibility isn’t so great, which means that its worth is low compared to different, more collectible cameras.

However there’s one thing that makes me balk at dismissing the Diax IIa out of hand, and that’s its lens. Not only can it mount the implausible Schneider Kreuznach 45mm f/2.8 that I examined, there’s a entire system of Schneider lenses that have been made particularly for the Diax, together with a 35mm f/3.5 Xenagon, a 50mm f/2 Xenon and a 90mm f/3.5 Tele-Xenon. That’s a entire system of knockout lenses that can be used with the Diax, two of which can be utilized natively.

The lens is the perfect thing concerning the Diax, and its outcomes almost forgive the shortcomings of the digital camera itself. Even so, I can’t deliver myself to say that I’d shoot this Diax repeatedly regardless of how pretty these pictures end up, and that’s frustrating.

The Diax did, nevertheless, make me take note of one thing – reviewing fashion. Maybe the rationale why I don’t react properly to cameras just like the Diax IIa is as a result of I have a tendency to guage cameras more as things to be used somewhat than issues to be collected. But I do know many others (together with some of my fellow writers of article on this website) won’t value cameras for a similar causes as I. The Diax IIa is ideal for many who acquire cameras and spend time admiring old-world mechanics and design. It’s so far-removed from the fashionable that it sparks dialog, and its history is obscure sufficient to entertain the hardest of hardcore photograph nerds.

I’m going to need to call this battle a draw. The types simply don’t match. Despite the fact that I acquired some good photographs, I nonetheless don’t feel good about the Diax IIa. And I don’t assume I’ll be asking for a rematch anytime quickly.

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