Wiener Camerawerkstätten: Picoflex & WICA
In this post I would like to talk about a very special and interesting Austrian camera manufacturer.
The Wiener Camerawerkstätten was a very small company founded by Raimund Gerstendörfer in 1921 as a mechanic trade. After receiving a patent in October 1931, they started to handcraft a twin lens reflex camera called 'Picoflex'.
It used 127 film for 3x4cm exposures. There are only about five pieces of this lovingly handmade camera known. They can differ in various details and lenses.
The following cameras are known to us:
– No. ? with Schneider Xenar 2.9/5cm
– No. 113 with Rodenstock Triar 2.9/5cm
– No. 114 with Steinheil Cassar 2.9/5cm
– No. 150 with Steinheil Cassar 2.9/5cm (on display in the camera collection of WestLicht. Museum for Photography) is possibly the last of these cameras built by Gerstendörfer, which would mean, that only 50 cameras were completed.
Gerstendörfer mainly carried out repairs and produced various one-offs and enlargers, but it would take 16 years before a new camera was launched.
The WICA (Wiener Camera) was introduced as THE Austrian 35mm camera at the Vienna Autumn Fair in 1948.
A text in the first sales brochure read:
'Under the greatest difficulties, we have succeeded in developing a 35 mm camera that will satisfy even the most pampered demands. Many years of experience in the repair of cameras of all kinds have been utilized in the best possible way in the construction'.
The camera was a Leica-like rangefinder camera with interchangeable lenses, coupled rangefinder, focal plane shutter up to 1/1000 sec, flash synchronized. There were two models made, the first so-called 'Short Top' version had a smaller top plate with exposed rewind knob, the 'Long Top' model around 1950 had the rewind knob recessed into the top plate. Both camera types are very rare, the first model is known from serial numbers 8–152, which means that about 150 cameras were produced.
From the second model, I think, much less cameras were built, the ones I know are in the number range of 1000–1051. It is interesting, that there are two original cameras that have serial number 1007. One 'Short Top' model is known with the 'Long Top' number 1011.
Like the pre-war Picoflex, the WICA cameras were handcrafted and almost all differ in various details and lenses.
There are cameras with Angenieux 1.8/50mm and 2.9/50mm, Berthiot Flor 2.9/50mm and 1.5/50mm, Heligon 2/50mm, Culminar 2,8/50mm, Tessar 2,8/50mm – for the second model also with Xenar, Xenon, Radionar, Cassar, Sonnar 2/50mm and a Russian Sonnar 2/5cm copy.
The prices between 1400 to 2400 Austrian Schilling (for the version with Angenieux 1.8) were on a comparatively high level.
Although the WICA was designed for interchangeable lenses, very few are known to exist. We know a 'Tele-Tessar' 3.5/10.5cm and a 'Spezial Makro' Telelens 6.3/135mm (the lens head could be mounted upside down for macro photography). The lenses of both were made by the Viennese company Kahles. A Kahles Diakal 3.5/10cm and a Optimar 3.5/10cm were also produced for the WICA.
We do not know if the Universal Finder Optimar and Optimus were also made for the WICA.
Among the available accessories were extension rings, stereo rails, flash units. Furthermore, projectors (WICA I, II, III), epidiascopes, the enlarger 'Gigant' in five sizes from 35mm to 10x15cm and other optical devices were built until the end of the 50s.
For Leica and Contax reflex housings were produced.
I am looking forward to introducing you to further exciting Austrian cameras soon and I would like to express my thanks to Dr. Milos Mladek, Gernot Vollath and Peter Jonas for their research on the Austrian camera industry.