The Westex III
This camera is the cutest folder in my collection, as well as the most uncommon. Internet is not much of a resource for once. It is a 6×6 cm viewfinder from the 1950’s. Internet sources claim it is from 1953 and I have no more certain source. In many parts and details it is similar to the Balda Baldix but this one has no “Balda” engraved on the top, nor has it a “Baltar” lens. Well, it is not branded “Baltar”, but apart from the name it looks exactly the same! The camera itself says “Westex III” and “WEST GERMANY” on its cover. The country of origin is printed almost like one word and with irregular print and letters.
The Westex is slightly smaller, about half a centimeter less wide and tall, than the Zeisses of the same age. The weight is only 500 grammes without film. The Zeiss folders weigh in at some 600 grammes. While this article is not intended to be Zeiss-bashing fact remains the Westex is smaller and lighter.
The camera’s bellows pop out by a right hinge, to reveal the Prontor-S shutter (“S” = flash sync) and a Isco-Göttingen 75/4.5 Westar lens. The Prontor has shutter speeds of B, 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/300 s. I have not measured these times but the shutter works splendidly and even the 1 second runs without any hesitation. Very uncommon indeed for such an old mechanical shutter.
The escape mechanism within the shutter has a soft stable simmering sound at all slow speeds. At the other end it is clear that the 1/300 actually is faster than the 1/100 speed. The fastest speed incorporates an extra accelerator spring and even this spring acts like new. Impressive!
When removing the shutter assembly from the bellows there are two paper spacers to ensure proper distance between the shutters exit lens to the film plane. There is also a hand written number of the assembly, presumably indicating some optical property of this “individual”. The bellows end in a front standard also with a number on it. I assume these two numbers helped at the manufacturing plant for selecting the correct amount of spacers.
The back of the Prontor-S shutter is marked “BALDA” in ink. If this indicates that the entire camera or just the shutter is manufactured by Balda, I do not know. Since the lens is a Isco-Göttingen Westar the Westex seems to be a mix of parts from several manufacturers. I have searched and searched but nowhere can I find a serial number on the camera body. The only serial number is the one on the Westar lens (#229438). It is reassuring to see the red “C” on the front lens, presumably states it is “colour ready”!
The distance ring has two red dots on it, one for just over 2.5 metres and one at 10 metres. The corresponding aperture is f/11 and is marked also with a red dot. Usually these coloured dots indicate settings for perifocal focusing, what these two distances really are I do not know. The instruction manual for the Baldix only mentions these as “Ever Ready”-setting for short and long distances, not mentioning any actual metres.
Current state of affairs
This Westex III has been in my cupboard for a while, as I learned a lesson when dismantling it several years ago. The front focus lens can be unscrewed after loosening three small screws around its circumference. This is as usual and had no suspicion disaster was near…
The front lens’ outer threads grips to the inside of a brass cylinder with another lens normally fixed in the camera. This brass assembly has to be removed to have a peek at the shutter mechanism. But it was practically stuck in place. Of course, I should have known better than to get a grip around the brass with a tongue-and-groove pliers. Even though I did take care to use it as lightly as necessary. The end result was that the inner threads of the brass cylinder were not cylindrical anymore but ever so slightly oblong.
At reassembly the front lens jammed and despite several attempts to remedy the situation it was impossible to focus at infinity (where the front focus lens is screwed in the most). So the camera was left in this non-functional mock-up state. Until today that is. In short, what I did was to use the pliers to, in tiny increments, touch the brass up into circularity again. This was however not enough and I also had to use some very small amounts of carborundum and oil in the threads before engaging the lens and twisting it left and right. It was only after being molested in this way for well over half an hour it started to feel looser and could be screwed in all the way.
I was afraid all the threads would have been worn up by the carborundum but after thorough cleaning, first with water and then with isopropyl alcohol (washing spirit) I was happy to find this was not the case! It ran very well in the now enlarged threads with no play at all. After applying small amounts of a thicker grease on the threads it now runs smoothly.
A final calibration of the focus distance scale at infinity at some tree-tops a long way away and the camera is finally ready to be used again.
With the little lever on the back one slides the metal blind of the film number window.
Winding the film is a bit peculiar compared to other cameras: One has to turn the left ratcheted knurled knob counter clockwise until it stops and then turn it clockwise. The latter turn transports the film and clears the double exposure prevention mechanism. There is a mechanical stop when turning clockwise and it is easy to assume that the stop indicates that a new frame is in place and ready for shooting. This is however not the case: To properly wind the film one has to watch the frame number appear in the red window on the back of the camera body. To prevent light from leaking through the red window to the film via the film paper backing the window is protected with a metal slide. The slide incidentally is marked “12 Exp”, should one forget that…
From above are, from left to right, film advance, folder opener button, cold shoe, trigger (with a blank photo stopper: photos cannot be taken unless shutter is cocked) and below that a little window indicating whether film is advanced or not (white or red dot) and an film sensitivity and kind indicator .