When the Rollei 35 was introduced to photographers and trade journals, only a few insiders knew about the history of this tiny precision camera invented by the designer Heinz Waaske. There was no marketing department to help develop the design until it was ready for production – everything was left to the initiative of a dedicated designer.
Again and again, ambitious engineers had developed new cameras with a multitude of novel features that literally buried the innovations under their ever-increasing volume. Heinz Waaske used the opposite approach. Reducing functions, moving drive mechanisms to new locations, using the darkroom area to park the lens and creating new types of controls, he made a first prototype that offered all the functions of what was to become the Rollei 35 and hardly differed in its overall appearance. This masterpiece of a fully self-contained camera simply required the decision either to be built as designed – or shelved. Its concept allowed for only minimal changes that would have to restrict themselves to improvements of existing functions.
We cannot duly appreciate Heinz Waaske’s achievement without looking at his background. The story began in 1949 when he found himself back in his hometown Berlin after being released from a POW camp. A job, however, was nowhere in sight. Pastures seemed greener in “West Germany”, and he finally found a job at Gebrüder Wirgin, camera makers of Wiesbaden. At the time, these were still making the rather clumsy 6x9 folding cameras for size 120 roll film that were quite costly to produce. Very soon, Heinz Waaske found that there were too many components making matters too expensive. Heinrich Wirgin asked him to improve design in order to save costs. New design followed, and before long Heinz Waaske was chief design engineer.
Italian catalog of Gebr. Wirgin from 1949, the year in which Heinz Waaske took up his work.
With his decision to design a reflex camera, Heinz Waaske revolutionized the sales program of the Wirgin company. The Edixa Reflex was created for 35mm photography. Very soon it was a kind of “work horse” and made Heinrich Wirgin a renowned manufacturer of SLRs. It was followed by the Edixamat Reflex and the Edixa Electronica. In addition, Heinz Waaske designed the Edixa 16 which used Goldammer film cartridges (DIN 19022) like the Rollei 16. This subminiature camera for the negative size 10x15mm was very small, handy and cheaper than the Rollei 16. Like all cameras of its kind, however, it never really sold.
Heinz Waaske pondered the conclusions and reduced the customers’ wishes to a common denominator: The buyers of viewfinder cameras wanted a small camera instead of a small negative size! So he got to work with the tenacity so typical in him. In 1962 he started making the first drawings at home, in the seclusion of his living room. Outside of his daily routine, he wanted to advance the design sufficiently to entrust the making of the first components to his company’s prototype shop. The camera was to be another milestone, and of course it was to be called Edixa.
When Heinz Waaske presented his “baby”, Heinrich Wirgin remarked: “You have wasted the time of my prototype shop”. Much to his regret, Waaske learned that Heinrich Wirgin was planning to discontinue the production of photographic equipment and close down the company. Even Waaske’s new design couldn’t change Wirgin’s decision. And so he found himself once more looking for a job. At the time, all German camera manufacturers were looking for good design engineers. So he took his small prototype to Leitz, applying for a job. In vain Heinz Waaske showed and explained his camera to Dr. Ludwig Leitz. I can well imagine that Dr. Ludwig Leitz used technical reasons as a pretext in order not to create any inhouse competition for his Leica M modes.
With the “Eljy”, Lumiere developed an unperforated roll film 30mm wide with a diameter of 15mm for 24x36mm negatives, which has long been discontinued. Film advance was controlled through a red window. Heinz Waaske designed his camera around the popular 35mm film cartridge and avoided the external shutter that was “parked” in front of the camera when the lens was retracted.
To reduce the dimensions of the camera, a novel sprocket shaft (6) with only five teeth was used in the Rollei 35. Previous designs used eight or more teeth. As the film is wound onto spool (7), the film perforation turns the sprocket shaft (6) by means of tooth flank (12), while during rewinding of the slack film, a tooth flank (14) of involute shape, as shown by the dashed line, would cause jamming. The main feature of this patent therefore is the hypocycloid of the rear of tooth (13) and roller (9) designed to prevent the film from jumping the radius r.
The two drawings of the patent do not agree with the prototype finished by Heinz Waaske before he joined Rollei. He improved rewinding at Rollei, enlarging the curve of the rear of the sprocket for winding the film with its emulsion on the outside so that roller (9) could be committed.
Photographic roll-film camera in which perforated roll film is rewound tangentially from the camera aperture across a sprocket shaft, characterized in that the involute gearing (6) is rounded off to the hypocycloid with its flanks facing the take-up spool (7), the hypocycloid resulting from the radius R, the film loop formed between sprocket shaft (6) and spool (7), and the sprocket radius r.
Photographic roll-film camera as per claim 1, characterized by a guide roller (9) limiting the curvature of the film loop to the largest dimension on which the hypocycloid is based.
Patented on Jun 16, 1965.
Comparison of prototype PR 458 and a production Rollei 35, both with their top plates removed. Shutter speed and aperture are set by moving the housing of the Metrawatt exposure meter (left) and the follow pointer. In the Gossen meter, the follow pointer is set by a lever differential at the front.
During his interview at Rollei, Waaske did not mention his small 35mm camera; he was primarily interested in a new job. He joined the Brunswick company in January of 1965. Design chief Richard Weiß entrusted him with the design of a new SLR for 28x28mm cartridge film, the later Rolleiflex SL 26. When Heinz Waaske finally disclosed the prototype of his small viewfinder camera in March of 1965, he had to stop work on the SLR and take care of his own “baby” once more. CEO Dr. Heinrich Peesel was enthusiastic about the idea presented to him in the form of a handy, fully functioning sample. He immediately recognized the potential of the patentable ideas involved and instructed Heinz Waaske to complete the camera as a “Rollei”. Dr. Peesel, who had been using several Leica cameras even before he joined Rollei, realized the unique chance of opening up an entirely new market.
Although three years had already passed from the first pen stroke to Rollei’s approval, no other manufacturer of 35mm cameras had yet presented a similar concept. On the contrary, the cameras were overloaded with functions and had put on weight and volume. Waaske’s concept thus was red-hot. Dr. Peesel did not allow much time for development – the camera was to be introduced at the 1966 Photokina. Not all of the discussions in the technical departments of the company were positive. Some coworkers thought the camera was simply small, but did not offer any features that would sell. The phrase “It’s just a small camera” was correct, but it would soon turn out that it was precisely this smallness that became the camera’s main sales point.
Heinz Waaske had to fight against prejudice. He frequently demonstrated the manufacturing techniques that would be required. Long-time Rollei subcontractors were to supply essential components. Provision was made for an exposure meter by Gossen, a lens by Zeiss and a shutter by Compur. Rollei had no contact with Metrawatt and Steinheil, Wirgin’s subcontractors. Moreover, the use of a four-element Tessar lens instead of a three-element Cassar ensured much better optical quality.
I'm working. to be continued.