Meet the Cameras: Certo Super Dollina II and King Regula IIb, Part I

Each of these cameras perhaps deserves its own introduction, but I’ve chosen to do a combined piece in two parts instead. The reasons are simple: I received the cameras at the same time, both gifts from relatives in Europe, and I tested both cameras at the same time and can thus compare the results in as close to an apples-to-apples way as possible. So rather than two separate intros, I will talk about the cameras themselves here in Part I, while Part II will concentrate on the photos that they produced.

First up is the Certo Super Dollina II rangefinder, an East German product that manages to combine some modern, quality, and even innovative features with some that are obviously outdated in a package that is one of the most ergonomically challenged cameras I’ve ever encountered.

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Let’s start with the less-than-perfect. The viewfinder/rangefinder arrangement is archaic, using a two-window setup (one for the RF, one for the VF). “Window” is perhaps too generous a term for the minuscule rectangular openings – the slots through which the photographer must look are 3×1.5mm. The view through the RF window is 1:1 and the base is fairly long, which is nice for focusing, but it uses a horizontally split image rather than the more common tinted patch, and if the angle of your eye is off-center even slightly, good luck.

Next is the shutter. My example is equipped with a Cludor, which appears to be an East German copy of some older Compur variant. Speeds range from 1/200 down to 1 sec., plus B, while stepless apertures are 2.8 to 22. All well and good, but the mounting of this shutter is such that the aperture adjustment is obstructed by the door, while the cocking lever (yes, you must manually cock the shutter after using a knob to advance the film) is so tight against the mounting plate that it is almost impossible to find and engage with the camera in shooting position. This means that you will have to tip the camera back to look at the shutter to make any adjustments and cock the shutter before each shot.

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But it’s not all bad. The high point is the lens, a very nice coated Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50/2.8. It’s everything a Zeiss lens should be, and my example is nearly pristine. The focusing mechanism for the lens is a very solid scissor arrangement, with the lens and shutter assembly sliding smoothly in guides built into the folding door. Oddly, focusing is accomplished by turning the small wheel projecting out from the right side of the top plate. This works pretty well in practice, with the knob falling easily to hand. Distance is read through a window on the top plate; there is no DOF scale on the camera, though one was included on the back of the everready case.

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The camera is pretty well built and nicely finished, and feels like a solid piece of equipment. Being relatively new (they were built into the 1970s, though I believe mine is older), they don’t suffer as badly from the ravages of age as many folders. I just wish it were easier to use.

*****

We now turn our attention to the King Regula IIb. Already an uncommon camera, this particular Regula is a true oddball. It seems to have been the product of an early Cold War trade deal between West Germany and Yugoslavia, with the former responsible for the body and the latter the lens, which was manufactured by Ghetaldus.

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The Regula is a fairly lightweight scale-focus camera which, despite being older than the Super Dollina II, has a more modern lever wind that also cocks the shutter. The Pronto shutter offers limited options – speeds from 1/200 to 1/25, plus B, and apertures from 3.5 to 16 – but is arranged so as to make the settings more easily accessible to the user. The Ghetaldus 45/3.5 lens seems to be coated, and is likely either a triplet or a four element Tessar-type with front-cell focusing (there is very little information out there on this, so I’m going by my own observations here). Mine is in pretty good shape, though it does show some signs of age and use.

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The rest of the camera is fairly conventional, with a few minor deviations from the modern norm. The viewfinder is big and bright, though it does not accurately depict the field-of-view of the lens; some older cameras seem to have been set up this way intentionally to ensure that amateur photographers got their subjects well within the frame. The frame counter counts down instead of up. But aside from those minor quirks, it’s a basic camera intended for consumers in post-war Europe. It’s not as heavily built as the Certo, and the use of aluminum in the lens assembly and the body casting make it quite light for its size, but it’s not cheaply made by any stretch of the imagination. A simple, honest camera of somewhat limited capabilities that does what it’s supposed to, nothing more.

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So there we are: two new acquisitions with very different characters. Part II of this introduction will show just how different they are in terms of the photos they produce as well.


12 thoughts on “Meet the Cameras: Certo Super Dollina II and King Regula IIb, Part I

    1. Depends how you define fun. It requires a methodical approach to get the most out of it; if you try to shoot it quickly, frustration seems more likely than fun.

      I’d say they both have character, but they are very different.

        1. I think anyone who shoots with old cameras must be willing to accept considerably more frustration than most; that we consider it fun (and clearly we do) is just part of the sickness. 🙂

  1. I love the looks of the Super Dollina. I’m a big fan of the looks of folding cameras in general. Unfortunately I don’t like shooting with them 🙂 I own a Kodak Retina IIc and a Zeiss Ikon Contessa. And as much as I love the looks and playing around with them they just sit on the shelf, because they are so cumbersome to use. So with much reluctance I’ve now decided to sell them both. Maybe one day I’ll find a useable folding camera …

    1. Folders can be a lot nicer to look at than to use, so sitting on a shelf isn’t a bad alternative. That said, I really don’t mind using my other folders (Kodak Retina I and Voigtländer Vito) that much – I find that you sort of get into a rhythm with them after the first few shots. Of course, trying to alternate with another camera pretty well destroys that, so they are best used alone. The portability is a really nice feature, especially when the camera is clearly designed to be easily carried in a pocket (thank you, Voigtländer). I also think they work better as simple viewfinder/scale-focus cameras rather than adding the extra bulk and weight of a rangefinder.

      I think the issues with the Super Dollina have less to do with the folding arrangement and more with simply odd design choices. The tiny viewfinder and inaccessible or awkward controls would be just as much issues on a non-folding camera.

      A usable folder is going to be tricky if you find a lever-wind Retina too fussy. A small collapsible lens camera might work better for you, though it won’t be as aesthetically pleasing as a pretty folder.

        1. That might not be an option. The P has a light baffle that often interferes with collapsible lenses.

          I don’t know how you feel about Soviet cameras, but a FED-2 or similar with a collapsible lens will be smaller and lighter than the P, and of course the lens will be fully collapsible without a problem.

    1. Very nicely done write-up on servicing the shutter. I had mine apart as well, though I didn’t document it as you did.

      You are probably correct that the lens is a triplet. It does not exhibit the typical sharpness of a Tessar-type, and a triplet would be more consistent with the target market segment of the camera. Nonetheless, it does produce pleasantly soft, low-contrast photos which I rather like.

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