Zeca Bettax, 03 March 2011


No, I’m not just making up words…there is, in fact, a camera out there with that name attached to it. But I’ll get to that in a minute; for right now, check out what it can do!

ZecaBettax CHI MarHupShwrm01B

Photo Information:

Location: Chicago, Illinois; Uptown Neighborhood
Camera: Zeca Bettax
Lens: Schneider-Kreuznach 105mm f/4.5 Radionar
Film: Fuji Neopan Across 100

The building in this photo is the former Marmon Hupmobile Showroom (1920, designed by Paul Gerhardt), now Nick’s Uptown, a bar in, well…the Uptown Neighborhood. The Egyptian Revival style was apparently somewhat popular in the early 1920s, and there are a few buildings in Chicago from around that time period that feature such detailing.

As for the camera I used, you can see what that looks like below.

Zeca Bettax

The camera itself was manufactured by Paul Zeh Camerawerk, a small(ish) German manufacturer that was most productive during the 1930s. I suspect the name of the camera was created by combining Zeh and Camerawerk – a similar combination resulted in the famous Leica name (from Leitz Camera) – though I have no idea what “Bettax” is supposed to mean. The camera itself is a fairly typical example of a folding-bed “pocket” camera, a type that was very common during the early decades of the 20C. Kodak was the first manufacturer to produce one of this design, but the style was copied by innumerable manufacturers after the fact. While the camera does have a wider range of setting than, say, my Duaflex (about which I have previously blogged), it is still not particularly sophisticated. The lens is not particularly fast (f/4.5 is its maximum aperture), and the shutter tops out at 1/150 sec. – by this time, Compur was already manufacturing their famous “Rapid” shutter that had a maximum speed of 1/500 sec. – and the focusing mechanism is not much more sophisticated than that available on the Duaflex (the front element of the lens screws in and out to provide a rudimentary focusing mechanism – not nearly as precise as other methods). The range of shutter speeds also provided a little more nuance than cameras that didn’t have such options, but photographers were still limited to estimating exposure values, as there were no light meters available at the time – the range of settings made these estimates a little more forgiving of erroneous settings, but not by much.

I should also note that in the spirit of embracing the low-tech nature of the camera and the time period in which it was produced, I decided not to carry along my fancy spotmeter – which would’ve made determining the exposure values much easier and more precise. Instead, I used an exposure “table” to set the estimate the values – a fellow photographer had mentioned to me something called the “Sunny 16 Rule,” which I hadn’t heard of until that point; naturally, a quick Google search revealed what it is and how to use it. I should also admit, however, that I did cheat a little. Since this camera can fold up into a very compact package, it wasn’t difficult for me to carry it along with my D80 – so I occasionally spot-checked the exposures by shooting the same shot on my D80, and previewing the result on the latter’s display screen. Generally speaking, the exposure table actually worked out to be rather accurate, though it does get a little tricky estimating exposure values on cloudy days. Overall, though, it was nice not having to pull out my spotmeter for every shot – using a spotmeter requires doing a bit of calculation to figure out the exposure values based on the various light readings one takes around the intended composition, and y’all should know by now just how much I love doing math.


2 Responses to “Zeca Bettax, 03 March 2011”

  1. […] similar to the Zeca Bettax (and other folding-bed pocket cameras) about which I’ve written previously. Apart from having a slightly more complex focusing mechanism than the Bettax, the Retina operates […]

  2. […] rather like the earlier pocket cameras (like the Zeca Bettax, about which I’ve written previously) – like the 120 film those cameras used, 828 film has an opaque backing paper with frame […]

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