Utilising the classic twin lens reflex (TLR) design, the Walzflex is one of many Rolleicord copies made in Japan in the 1950s. I do enjoy using TLRs, so I have collected quite a few over the years. There is something magical about looking into the ground glass viewfinder. The photo you are about to make is there, but it is alive and moving. Almost a little slice of the world in square format, albeit in back-to-front form.
The Walzflex is on the side of the heavier TLRs, it is a solidly built camera. While not as refined as a Rollei product, it does feel like a nice bit of kit to be wielding around. They do have a reputation of reliability issues though, as there is a lot of forum posts of where people have written that they have issues with the shutter or film advance.
Luckily this copy is one that does not have those issues, though it did need a CLA (Clean, Lube and Adjust) when I got it as the speeds where not correct. It has performed quite well since then, and does not feel like it is likely to have issues anytime soon.
Walking around with a TLR is an interesting experience as you are noticed everywhere you go. Add to it that it is actually quite a striking camera, the exposure controls markings on the side of the taking lens add a level of class to it.
I used the Walzflex over a period of a few weeks, trying out a few different scenarios. A working and nice looking camera is one thing, the results can be another. Read on to find out how I went after some information about the camera.
From references, Walz was around in the 1930s, and sold cameras which were labelled as made by Walz Camera Works. There are a number of online sources that believe the cameras were actually manufactured by another company called Okada Kōgaku. The reasoning being that an early camera Okada Kōgaku manufactured, the Waltax, has Walz markings on them. It is believed that they actually owned the Walz branding at the time.
The original Walz was a 3x4cm folding camera and it first appeared in 1936. It is not clear if this was still the same company in the early 1950’s which produced the Walz cameras as by then the name was K.K. Walz Shōkai. Shōkai was used by a lot of trading companies in Japan. So it is not clear if they were manufacturing cameras or not, but they were also an Olympus authorised dealer.
During this time, they produced a 6×6 TLR, the Wagoflex. This in fact is the earlier, but same, model as the Walzflex. The cameras were marketed for the more general user at a lower price point than the German competition. There it is no clear numbers of units sold when they went bankrupt in 1961 after a few slight name changes. Each of these intrations all with the name Walz.
Interestingly a coffee company started in 1952 with the name Walz as well. It did trade until at least 2007, outlasting the camera company by nearly 50 years.
The Walzflex is a 6×6 medium format TLR that uses 120 film. It has a the classic TLR style, where the viewfinder is from the top with a reversed ground glass frame. The top opens when you pull it up and allowing viewing either directly or with a magnifier. This copy is missing the magnifier. It can also be used as a “sport” finder in that the front lid and can be lowered. Viewing is then though a slot in the back allows eye level framing, but no focusing.
This copy has the Walzer 7.5cm f/3.5 lenses for both viewing and taking. It is likely to be the Walzflex II model, as it has the Bay I mounts. It is quite difficult to determine precisely as they normally have the Nitto Kogaku Kominar 75mm f3.5 lenses. Not much literature is available about the Walzer lenses.
The Copal MXV shutter is used in the Walzflex. This gives the camera a shutter range of 1/500 through to one second. Bulb is also available. Aperture range is from f/3.5 through to f/22. Both settings are controlled by levers on either side of the taking lens. Flash sync is available through a port next to the taking lens. A cold shoe is on the left of the camera. A self timer is also marked in red with a lever under the taking lens.
On the right of the camera is the focus knob, with a film speed reminder setting in the middle. Distance markings are in both metric and imperial, with depth of field markings over the top.
Loading film is through the usual TLR way, where film is loaded into the bottom and threaded at the top. Film winding is through a knob just behind the focus knob, but requires the centre to be depressed first before allowing the film to be advanced. A film counter with magnifying glass is found just above the focus knob.
The shutter release is on left next to the taking lens. It does not take a standard threaded remote release and looks like it would require a thinner version of the old Nikon/Leica type release.
I am always intrigued by the multitude of Japanese’s TLRs that were on offer in the 1950s. The Walzflex came up on my searches one day. I was trying fill in a shelf I have specifically for TLRs in my collection. As usual, I aim at having working cameras, so was disappointed it was not working correctly when I first tried it out. It was purchased at a reasonable price, so I sent it off for a CLA and any repair it needed.
I also noticed it didn’t have a magnifier, which concerned me a bit. Mainly as I need reading glasses and if I forgot to take them with me (which I do often) I could not shoot the camera except relying on zone focusing totally. That did happen on one occasion.
After a few weeks I had the Walzflex back in my hands and at the next opportunity I took it out for a shoot. I was a little surprised in how well it actually handles. I love using my Rolleicord, so I imagined with the Walzflex being bigger and heavier, it would be a little awkward. It was not. It tends to be the right size for my hands and the exposure controls were all intuitive. The settings by the lens are quite easy to get to and clearly marked which helped a lot.
The focusing screen was bright enough in most cases, but it is a struggle in brighter conditions where the reflection made it very difficult to view. The missing focusing magnifier made this more difficult as I could not put my eye to the camera to view properly, even with my glasses on. So the camera got used in a combination of normal focusing and zone focus, which I do not mind as a number of my other cameras are zone focus only. Also having the distance markings in both metric and imperial helped, as my brain works in metric.
A funny situation I found myself in was that on the first outing I had not looked at the instructions properly and had not realised that it needs the button pressed to advance the film. I thought it was broken, but luckily I slowed down, sat on a bench for a moment and looked properly rather than force anything. When it came to me as to why the centre of the film advance knob could be depressed, I was off and running.
My first roll was some Kodak Tri-X which I shot at EI 400. When I received my negatives back from the lab, I was a little shocked. There was a message from the technician that the film was badly scratched, right down the middle. After investigating the camera I found the culprit. The repair technician had left some gunk (technical term) on the camera which scratched the film on its way through. A bit of cleaning and this was resolved, but I was not happy as this was the second time I had something come back with an issue. Needless to say, I have a new technician now, even though I try and support these guys as much as possible.
For purposes of full disclosure, I have cleaned up the scratches in the Tri-X photos in this review digitally. The reason why I was keen to do that is that the lens is really sharp on this camera, especially in the centre. I was surprised on what was aimed as a consumer model is quite that good, but it does come back with some issues. A real surprise above the sharpness was it actually has significant vignetting. A fixed lens TLR with vignetting at middle apertures, that is not a great overall performance.
Have a look at the car photo in this article, the sky has some significant darkening at the edges. Sharpness though, is fairly consistent across the frame, with the caveat that I did not try open apertures significantly due to my limitations with focusing.
My next roll was Kodak Portra 160 at box speed. This came back without the scratches, so that was a relief. Now this is where the real character of the lens comes in. The photos from the Portra roll actually look like they were shot in the 1950s or 60s. This lens renders colours in a way I have not seen very often. In fact when I had the photos up on my 30” screen and my lovely wife walked past my office, she asked where I had found the old photos until she then recognised our street in one of them.
Originally I thought it must be the way I am scanning and have an issue with my colour conversion, especially as Portra 160 and I don’t necessarily see eye to eye. A quick search online for examples from the same camera, though, shows that this is a common way this camera renders the end photo. It sure does add character.
I must admit, the Walzflex is not my favourite TLR, but also not the one I dislike the most. It is a middle of the road camera, which is what it was aimed at. Coupled with the online forums filled with issues on their frame advance, if you are looking for a camera to be your main TLR, this would not be my recommendation. If you are looking for a TLR to complement your collection which produces quite unique look, then this may be worth the go. Just make sure you dance with it slowly.