Watameter – What the?

Scale focus cameras can be fun.  There is no precise focusing, you pre-set focus points in advance, allowing a quick “draw” approach, and the viewfinder is very uncluttered.  They are also generally cheap, so a very easy way to get into film photography.  There is occasion though, where some precise focusing would be helpful, which is where accessories like the Watameter come in.

The Watameter is an accessory rangefinder giving you the ability to determine the distance to your subject, which you then apply to your scale focus camera and in theory gives you precise focusing ability.

I enjoy using old folding cameras (folders), like the great range of Agfa Isolettes or the Voigtländer Perkeo.   These can have a great lens, but are limited in the ability for the user to estimate the distance to the subject.  I wanted something that could help in those occasions where I wanted to use an open aperture, and for a few dollars found this Watameter which I had delivered from the Czech Republic.  Mine is metric as I think in metres.

History

Unlike when I research cameras or lenses, I could not find much on the Watameter, which is surprising as there are quite a few of them around.  I did find an article and some advertising from Popular Photography in the U.S. dated from December 1950, specifically for the Watameter II.   Mine is a Watameter I, which was released at the same time.

What I have deduced is that in that period of the late 40s and 50s, the Wata company was from Germany and produced several different accessories, including the Watapress, an accessory flash unit.

Specifics

The Watameter I is a rangefinder accessory which attaches to the accessory shoe of a camera.  There are two variants, one like mine in metric, and the other in imperial.

It works by superimposing two images, one in a yellow rectangle, in the viewfinder.  You adjust the wheel on the right side of the meter until the two images line up.  The distance is then taken from the wheel.  Of-course you then need to manually change the lens to match the same distance to ensure the right focus point.  It covers 55cm to infinity.

There are two adjustments on the meter.  The distance calibration can be adjusted with the smaller wheel inside the distance wheel on the right side.  This should be done every so often to ensure you are in fact getting the correct distance.

The other adjustment aligns the vertical part of the image.  That is adjusted with a small wheel on the left of the meter.  While this does not affect the distance measurements, it does make it easier to align the images.

The Experience

There is not much in terms of using this rangefinder.  Peering through the viewfinder I found it to be a bit small but very usable.  The yellow patch is very nice and clear, especially for its age.  The wheel moves around quite easily but is tight enough to zero in on the superimposed image to achieve alignment.  The numbers are printed nice and clear on the wheel so that you determine the distance.

I slotted it onto the top of a few cameras.  What I did find is that it was great on top of most of them, very easy to move up and down between the Watameter and the camera’s viewfinder.  There was one little complication though, as in the Agfa pictured in this article.  It got into the way of the button to release the lens from the folded position.  It also partly blocked the shutter button, but I could get to both buttons with a little effort.

Apart from the little niggle with the buttons, it worked very well and I found it quite useful.  It did help me determine the focus for the shallower apertures which are harder on a scale focus camera.  It also came with a nice leather pouch, perfect for storing it.  If you find that you can use some help determining distance on a viewfinder camera, and considering how cheap these can be found, it is definitely worth investing in a Watameter.

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