An East German gem that shoots square negatives is a pocket wonder
The square format has always been popular with fine-art photographers and is typically associated with medium format cameras. But there are a handful of 35mm models that shoot square negatives, and the Zeiss Ikon Tenax I is one.
Camera collecting can be confusing, sometimes cameras with very similar names can be quite different. For example the Tenax II, which also shoots square negatives, is a superbly built, but much heavier and bulkier camera, complete with coupled rangefinder. To add to the confusion, the Tenax II was released a year earlier than the Tenax I.
Although it was first produced before the Second World War, mine is one of the post-war models made in East Germany by what was to become the Pentacon company, perhaps best known for its Praktica range of entry-level SLRs. My example is engraved with the inscription ‘In brüderliche Verbundenheit Neues Deutschland 30.4-15.5 1952', the first part translates as ‘In fraternal solidarity', and Neues Deutschland was the official newspaper of the communist government. But what happened in that fortnight in the spring of 1952 has so far eluded me, if any reader can enlighten me, I'd be very grateful.
More shots per roll
Aside from the potential aesthetic advantage of the square format, there is the benefit that you get 50% more shots per roll, so a 36-exposure fi lm gives 54 negatives. This may well have been a factor in the design of the camera, as fi lm was still relatively expensive after the war, one of the reasons for the boom in half-frame cameras during this era.
‘There is the benefit that you get 50% more shots per roll'
The Tenax I is a very neat, eminently pocketable camera. It uses a fold out frame viewfinder to compose the photo and has an unusual film wind system that comprises a prominent lever on the front of the camera. This is depressed using the left index finger, for both winding on the film and cocking the shutter, which is then fired using the right index finger. Once you get the hang of it, shots can be fired quite rapidly, the manufacturer claimed 4 frames per second, but I think this is a little optimistic!
Shutter speeds range from 1sec to 1/300sec, with the f/3.5 35mm Novar Anastigmat lens stopping down to f/22 if required, and focusing from 4ft to infinity. I found it rather fiddly to adjust the shutter speeds and aperture, as the numbers are small and quite hard to see at times.
Being so small, it's an ideal travel camera, especially if, like me, you take several cameras away on holiday. This pair of photos, above, shows the Torre Agbar, Barcelona's answer to London's Gherkin, sometimes known locally as el supositori! I scanned the negatives to include the sprocket holes and edge markings, as I felt they added to the overall effect, echoing the lines and tones of the tower. This kind of in-camera composition is by its nature a bit hit and miss, but with 54 shots to play with, I was happy to take my chances.