The Edixa Problem - Symptoms of Decline and Fall of the German Camera?

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by dave_g|1, Jan 9, 2012.

  1. Now I have nothing against the Wirgin Edixa Reflex series of 35mm SLRs. However I think considering the cameras in the context of SLR development during the 60s one can potentially see the Edixa as symptomatic of the decline of the German camera industry.
    The first Edixa Reflex came onto the scene in 1954. It was the first West German SLR to use a focal plane shutter and the first to use the M42 mount. Prior to this the East Germans had dominated the miniature SLR scene - Exakta was first on the scene with a system SLR, Praktica came out with the first consumer grade SLR and popularized the M42 mount. The Contax D introduced pentaprism viewing.
    In the early years of miniature SLR development, the Wirgin Edixa Reflex stayed on the cutting edge. They adopted right handed lever advance from the start - Before Praktica, before Pentax. They adopted internally triggered automatic diaphragm operation at about the same time Praktica did (and years before Pentax finally adopted the system in 1960). The Edixa-Mat introduced the instant mirror return to the Edixa Reflex line in 1960, half a decade before Praktica and Exakta finally adopted the feature, and hot on the heels of the Japanese manufacturers...
    But then the innovation stopped. For various reasons the Edixa ceased to keep up with the latest and the greatest in SLR technology. Improvements were minor. The clip in viewfinders were dropped in favor of slide in viewfinders for instance. Wirgin attempted to introduce a proprietary bayonet mount, but that failed commercially. In 1966 they began to produced cameras with TTL metering, three years after Topcon introduced the concept commercially, and even after Pentax and Praktica began making TTL cameras. And even then, Edixa's implementation of TTL metering was backwards and old fashion -the meter did read through the lens, but the meter read out was on the top plate - not in the viewfinder!
    1967 marked the last major update to the original line. The Prismat TTL was introduced. The meter needle was moved to inside of the viewfinder like one would have expected, and was triggered by holding down a lever on the front of the camera body. Pretty typical stuff. In 1968 the TTL was replaced by the LTL which introduced a more ergonomic meter switch, but otherwise is essentially the same camera. The LTL was the last Edixa model in production until 1971. It was replaced by the short lived Edixa Electronica TTL, a completely new camera - which though perfectly up to date for the time, cost too much to produce and sold poorly. Then that was it.
  2. The initial series of cameras was rather ambitious. The design team was lead by Heinz Waaske and included people who had experience in working on designs for Praktica and Exakta. Not surprisingly the camera has some mechanical similarities to those cameras.
    The Reflex has right handed lever advance, interchangeable viewfinders, shutter speeds from 1 sec. to 1/1000. It was about as much as you could want in a 35mm SLR during this era.
    There is a rather obvious resemblance between the early Edixas and the early Topcons, so it seems other designers must have held the camera in high esteem at the time.
  3. Edixa as symptomatic of the decline of the German camera industry.?​
    I would not use Edixa as a representative example; Edixa never had the capital to compete with the better-known competitors. More to the point, the (West) German camera industry was torpedoed by the rising value of the duetsche mark. The mark was revalued (upward) by about 40 per cent between 1968 and 1971. When President Richard Nixon unilaterally abrogated the Bretton Woods agreement on 15 August 1971 the value of the mark would only continue to rise. It's not surprising that Carl Zeiss pulled the plug on Zeiss Ikon shortly thereafter.
  4. In 1965 Wirgin released the Edixa Prismaflex and Prismat models. These cameras featured fixed prisms, as this had come to be accepted as the norm by now. The Edixa-Flex series retained interchangeable viewfinders until the end of production.
    By this point, the Edixa Reflex series was already past its zenith. This was also the year that Heinz Waaske left Wirgin in search of greener pastures.
    Although cosmetically and mechanically updated, the Prismats and Prismaflex cameras retained outdated features - a lift and set revolving shutter dial, a manually set exposure counter, and knob rewind. Although they were outclassed by Japanese cameras in the same market segment, they did still go head to head with the then new Praktica Nova - although the Edixas were arguably better finished and constructed.
    At the time Praktica and Exakta retained similar features. Praktica had only just adopted a non-revolving shutter dial for the Prakticamat, and Exakta would keep one as well as a manually set exposure counter up until the end of VX1000 production.
  5. Interesting history. Aside from Leica and Contax, I don't know all that much about German cameras aside from specific models that I happen to have come across (such as the late 1930s Weltur 6x6 that I have).
  6. Towards the end, the future of the Edixa line was complicated by a number of factors beyond simply failing to keep up with competition from Japan.
    In 1968 Henry Wirgin retired. The factory was purchased by employees and the company reorganized. The Wirgin name was dropped completely and the company itself began to go by the Edixa name.
    During this period Germany began to experience rapid inflation which was to cause major headaches for all of the German camera companies.
    In the middle of all of this Zeiss introduced the Icarex SLR... it was domestic competition, as though the Japanese were not enough to contend with, Edixa finally had a real West German competitor, something they hadn't had to worry about for over a decade. (The truth is the Contaflex and other leaf shutter SLRs were never direct competition to the focal plane shuttered Edixa line, which featured an M42 mount, interchangeable viewfinders, and a 1/1000 top shutter speed)
    In the meantime though they got around to rolling out a camera with TTL metering. The Japanese had already been offering it for years at this point, and even Praktica had joined in with the Prakticamat in 1965.
    The Edixa Prismat's implementation of TTL metering was a bit odd, but rather clever given the mechanical limitations of the camera. I'll describe its operation in the next post.
  7. The meter was activated by the lever on the side of the lens throat.
    The film speed was set by a dial around the film rewind (by the way at this point Edixa finally adopted a rapid rewind crank, rather strange considering how simple it would have been to implement and also that the company must have spent a considerable sum reworking the internal mechanicals of the camera between 1965 and 1967).
    This dial is surrounded by an oversized thumb wheel that indicates but is not linked to the shutter speed. This thumb wheel overhangs the corner of the camera body (a bit like the Leica M5 shutter dial - perhaps the Edixa inspired Leica on this point? Perish the thought!) so that it can be operated by the thumb while the index finger holds down the meter lever.
    In the view finder is a meter needle that when centered indicates proper exposure. Once you have it, you transfer the indicated shutter setting from the thumb wheel to the shutter dial. Since the shutter dial is of the revolving lift and set type, coupling it to the meter would have been problematic, if not impossible.
  8. I love photo history.
    Kent in SD
  9. Not quite as straight forward as a Spotmatic in operation. However, retaining the revolving shutter dial enables the photographer to easily make double exposures by re-tensioning the shutter without having to advance the film. And in any event, if Exakta was still doing it this way, then what was the problem? (praktica however ditched revolving shutter dials for the Prakticamat, and elimated it from the Nova series as well before introducing the Super TL)
    I have to admit, that it's still a very handsome and well finished camera, even if it's a bit "manual" for the era.
  10. I'll respond to Professor K at this point: I think Wirgin is a fair example, being neither a huge industrial giant like Zeiss Ikon, nor a tiny company like say Finetta. Considering that German camera manufacturers ran the gamut from some of the smallest operations, to the largest and most prestigious in the world - Wirgin is a pretty good median.
    There were problems that were internal, such as Henry Wirgin retiring, and Heinz Waaske leaving, and there were problems that were external such as German inflation in the late 60s, and increasing foreign competition and innovation.
    However I find it interesting that there was enough faith in the future of the company in 1968 (when many companies had already folded or were in serious trouble) that production continued even after Wirgin left. The LTL was produced into the early 70s, and lots of time and money was pumped into producing an up to date successor which ultimately turned out to be Electronica TTL.
    Part of it was a gamble for sure, but part of it was symptomatic of the challenges to and decline of the German camera makers in general.
  11. Aaaah, memories..... The Edixa Reflex was the first SLR my late father bought, and the first one I used.
  12. Great information that you have provided, this is what makes this forum a must go to! You are spot on with your observations about the German camera industry, even the Leicaflex suffered from too little, too late.
    However the Edixas also suffered from quality issues, if you can find one thyat works properly you are doing well!
  13. Excellent research and presentation, Dave; you've fleshed out my "Edixa" folder in fine fashion. I'd agree with the conclusions you draw about the decline of the industry in Germany, and the inevitable decline in the face of Japanese prowess in development and marketing. Thanks for a really worthwhile post.
  14. In 1968, Henry Wirgin did not just retire, he had to leave the board of Wirgin and the Wirgin company went bancrupt. A new company under the Edixa name was established and this company continued the Wirgin business.
    I think the major fault of the Edixa SLRs was that they kept the original shutter design (with a rotating dial) far too long. All japanese manufacturers had switched to escapement-regulated shutters long before. And Wirgin was close to that - the models with the additional slow-speed dial had a mechanical escapement, and probably it would have been not too difficult to change the design such that all speeds were escapement-controlled. The slow-speed dial was NOT rotatiing, and expanding its range to faster speeds would have yielded into a non-rotating shutter speed dial for all speeds. And this way they would have been able to integrate a truly speed-dial coupled TTL meter.
    I think the fate of the Edixa SLRs resembles the fate of the Volkswagen Beetle. Both were innovative designs when production was started, were slightly redesigned over the decades and finally were completely outdated. Volkswagen was big enough to make completely new car designs. Wirgin/Edixa tried similar with the Edixa Electronica, but obviously their design and production staff was overstressed and so this design failed (as did some of the past-Beetle Volkswagen cars, such as the K70 and the prototype EA266 - they wasted millions of Deutsche Mark on the last one and just manufactured a few pre-series items).
  15. For several years in th 70's, VW marketed cars in the US called the Fastback and the Squareback (with 1500cc and 1600cc engines, as I remember). I think there was a notchback and a Karmann Ghia model also in Europe. And also a WWII lookalike called "The Thing". When they started making Rabbits in Pennsylvania, (in 1975?) these models disappeared.
  16. What Tony said! This is a great look at a median player and I think your analysis is right on. When you look at their attempts to stay competitive and their belief that their product was still something to be reckoned with? Some say Hubris, others say "blind to the facts" others might consider stupidity. The assesment of too little too late though is apt and realistic! Like Rocky said It ain't ovah till it's ovah! In any case the Edixa was a contender!
  17. @Charles: I think you are referring to the so-called Volkswagen Typ 3 series, they came in the configurations you mentioned and there was indeed a notchback version in Europe. There was even a successor of the squareback Typ 3, the 411 AKA Typ 4. The squarebacks were advertised as "station wagons" but really weren't since the trunk compartment was not very high due to the underfloor engine. All these models were discontinued when the Rabbit (Golf in Europe) was released and when the sales numbers of this new model virtually exploded. The successors of the Golf/Rabbit have been the best selling cars in Germany for decades now.
  18. Going fully OT, but in line with the main topic of industrial hybris and stupidity...
    The original Golf/Rabbit was designed by the Giugiaro styling company in Italy. Mr Giugiaro at first offered the design to Italian automaker FIAT, that however sent him packing. FIAT's own Style Center was perfectly up to designing excellent cars, and the company had no use for outsiders, thank you. So VW grabbed a design that completely changed their fortunes and eventually the face of the entire European automotive industry, while FIAT introduced the truly horrendous Ritmo model in the totally failed attempt at competing with the Golf. And to close the cycle, Mr Giugiaro has now sold his company to, you guess it, VW.
    Back to the Edixa story: I don't think it is correct to talk of "inflation" in Germany in the late '60s/early 70s. What happened was, the DM gained in value vis-à-vis the main reference currencies and most particularly the US dollar (which had a disastrous impact on German export), but this is not an inflationary process. Prices in Germany did not grow to an excessive rate during that period.
  19. The VW Rabbit of course was following in the footsteps of FIAT's 128 - one of the most successful car designs of all time, and the one that eventually more or less set the pattern for all modern cars.
    A transverse engine (with single overhead cam), front wheel drive, strut suspension, three box design - five years ahead of the VW Golf. Zastava's licensed version of the 128 only went out of production in 2009. Essentially the 128 was the father of all modern economy sedans.
    I thank those of you who have clarified some of the foggier points of my recollections.
    I have shot a couple rolls through the Prismaflex and find it a charming, if rudimentary camera to use. I'm not particularly fond of SLRs with fixed prisms, but the simple focussing screen in this camera is a joy to view. The large split image is excellent - I'm particularly amazed by the lack of fresnel rings. I doesn't seem to have a fresnel screen at all! And yet the viewfinder is still brighter than that on my Prakticas which have noticeable rings when looking into the viewfinder. Not quite as bright as some of my other SLRs, particularly the Miranda which is exceptionally bright for the era.
    I noticed that the shutter has to be cocked before one can focus. Kind of like the early Pentax models, the mirror doesn't go fully into position until the shutter is cocked. A little odd. The shutter and mirror are also pretty loud. Shutter blackout is minimal, the mirror snaps back down faster than it seems it does some other older SLRs.
    One other point of interest. Some M42 lenses will not work on some Edixa SLRs. I tried all of my M42 lenses out on the Prismaflex. All of them worked. I tried them on the Prismat TTL. None of them worked completely. The lenses would not stop down all the way on the Prismat. I measured the throw of the diaphragm plunger on both, and the the plunger on the Prismat travels about 1mm less than the plunger on the Prismaflex. I checked my parts Prismaflex, and same deal. For some reason the Prismat has a shorter throw. It also mounts the lenses slightly off kilter... classic Edixa incompatibility with other's M42 lenses.
    For those who don't know, many west German companies made Edixa-specific M42 lenses that were guaranteed to couple to Edixas. When Edixa adopted the M42 mount they were the first non-east-German company to do so, and sort of adopted slightly different standards when they did so. Afterall this was in the era of preset lenses so it didn't really matter much if all lenses mounted exactly right side up.
    Strangely they seem to have made cameras that worked fine with the praktica/pentax et al. standard, while simultaneously making cameras to the Edixa M42 standard.
    I honestly have no idea what the point to this could have been. Perhaps they wanted to rope customers into sticking with Edixa lenses? Could it be maybe the German lens companies supported this as a way to help keep imported lenses out of the market? I honestly have no idea, I cannot find anything on the matter online, but I'd be interesting in hearing if there was more to it than Edixa simply not caring too much about certain aspects of the Prakticas M42 standard in 1954.
    I guess it may have been as simple as not wanting leave owners with earlier cameras out in the cold when the Pentax/Praktica interpretation of the M42 mount became the "universal" one. Wirgin could not have seen this coming in 1956 when they introduced automatic diaphragm operation.
  20. I think that the mirror is supposed to go down completely even if the shutter is not cocked. At least it does so on both of my Edixas, I never had any problems with focussing on both of them. I use a split-image screen on both (of course, on the one with fixed prism it is built in, the other one has an original Edixa split-image screen - you can still find many Edixa accessories in Germany).
  21. I checked all three (with instant return mirror) that I have, they all exhibit a slight shift in focus once the shutter is cocked.
  22. Aaaah, memories..... The Edixa Reflex was the first SLR my late father bought, and the first one I used.​
    Me too. My first SLR, my father bought it for me in 1980. I still have it and it still works.
  23. Edixa SLRs were designed by Heinz Waaske,he also designed the Edixa 16 series of 16mm subminiature cameras for
    Wirgin.He later went over to Rollei and designed the famous Rollei 35 and Rollei 35s

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