Kodak Nagel Vollenda, Type 48: Back to the Basics

When Kodak bought Nagel Camera Werks AG, they were getting one of the industry's most ingenious camera designers: Dr. August Nagel.

According to the Zeiss Historica Society, Dr. Nagel had once been a camera designer for Contessa-Nettel and then moved over to Zeiss Ikon in the 1920s merger. Dr. Nagel reportedly laid the groundwork for the Super Ikonta before leaving a couple of years later to form his own company, Nagel Camera Werks. Or I should say to again run his own company, as he was one half of Drexler-Nagel that later became part of the Contessa-Nettel camera company.

Before Dr. Nagel's popular Retina was released in 1934, he first made a quintet of cameras bearing the Kodak and Nagel names: the Pupille, Ranca, Vollenda, Duo-620 and Recomar. The Pupille, Ranca and Vollenda Type 48 used Kodak's VP-127 film, while the Duo-620 obviously took the 620 film. The Recomar, a plate camera, came in two versions: 6x9 and 9x12. You could either use film packs, single sheets or later a roll-film adapter, such as the Suydam.

The Vollenda was offered in several formats, including VP-127, 6x6 and 6x9. For now, I will focus on the VP-127 model. At some point, I'll do a comparison of the three cameras.

The diminutive Vollenda Type 48 is extremely compact. It stands 3 inches high, is 4 inches wide and when closed is just 1 1/4 inches deep. The camera is often found with a Schneider-Kreuznach Radionar (a triplet), but there also are examples with a Leitz Elmar and a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar. All are uncoated lenses.

These generally are mated to either a dial-set Compur or a rim-set Compur and sometimes a Pronto. What often is missing is the small plunger that threads into the side of the shutter and makes the camera a bit easier to use.

The pop-up Galilean finder gives an approximate view of what the camera will capture. The default orientation is a vertical shot -- or a portrait. To take a horizontal (or landscape) photo, you must rotate the camera 90 degrees, and here the small plunger really makes a big difference in ease of use. The camera gives you 16 (3cm x 4cm) shots on a roll of 127.

Loading the camera is a snap. Push down the small slide catch, and the back pops open. The film feeds from right to left, there are two small windows on the back. Wind so "1" appears in the right-side window. Take a photo, and then wind so that the "1" appears in the left-side window. Take a shot, and advance until "2" shows up in the right-side window, and on and on.

There are no provisions to prevent double exposure, so you'll want to come up with a method to know that you've advanced the film. With all of these types of cameras, I always wind on to the next frame.

Focus is by guessing, and the maximum aperture of the f/3.5 5cm Radionar helps to compensate for some focusing errors. But you should try to be in the neighborhood with your guesses. A small depth of field scale (which later appeared on the early Retinas) conveniently sits to the right of the viewfinder. I have to confess right here that I forgot about it until I wrote this, and so I never used it.

The camera is small, and I found the best way to grip it is to simply use both hands to grip it on either side of the lens bed. The middle finger can rest on the shutter release plunger. All in all, an easy camera to use.

Update (Sept. 2006): Recently, I picked up another Vollenda, this one with a Tessar lens. This camera isn't in as good physical condition as my other Vollenda, and it took a while to rectify its many problems. I've included some of the photos from the roll of Efke 100, which is very similar to Maco.


I set out with a roll of Maco 127 ISO 100 black and white film. I had no problems using the camera. The only thing I would note is that it's very easy to wind past the next frame. The numbers come up very quickly with the 16-shot cameras, and before you know it, you've wound too far. If that happens, just keep winding to the next frame. It's just one shot.

Despite its age, the camera is tight. I could find no evidence of light leaks either in the bellows or through the back seams. Well done for a 70-year-old camera. I also couldn't detect any evidence that light had leaked through the two small ruby windows.

I shot in a variety of conditions: bright sunlight, cloudy day, inside a somewhat dark restaurant and in a music hall ... and apparently through the windows of my car.

I processed the roll in my old GAF tank, using a small wooden stick for the washing machine-style agitation. Developer was Kodak D-76, 1:1 dilution, at 74 degrees for 8 1/2 minutes. I probably could have gone another minute and still gotten usable negatives. The developer was warmer than normal, so I made the downward adjustment from the recommended 10 minutes. In other words, I guessed.

(The roll of Efke 100 from the Tessar-equipped Vollenda was processed in Adox ATM 49 -- a revival of the old Agfa Atomal developer -- at 1+1 dilution for 16 minutes. I've taken to spooling some films backward on the reel to combat film curl. It seems to be working.)

Overall, I'm very pleased with how the camera performed. There is a definite look to the photos from this camera, and I think you might call it "old school." Even at the smaller apertures, the Radionar seems to vignette, and there is definite softness in many of the shots, regardless of aperture.

Interestingly enough, one of the sharpest photos was taken inside wide open at 1/10 of a second.

Restoration notes

Because the camera doesn't have an enclosed viewfinder, working on the Vollenda will prove to be very simple. There seems to be a tendency for past photographers to have pulled the pop-up viewfinder out of shape.

The age of these cameras also contributes to an overall large amount of dirt and grime, which should be carefully removed. With the leather, I usually will first remove the debris with a tissue dampened with lighter fluid. Then I work the leather with some saddle soap before final treatment using shoe polish. Sounds crazy, but it works very well.

The Compur shutter is very standard. Clean the lens elements carefully, and that's about all you can do.



One thing that emerges from the Radionar is that it vignettes. However, it's not as objectionable as I might have thought. Overall, it's a pleasant lens and performs adequately.

Downtown Pittsburgh ...
I didn't see the car that
is in the foreground

Duff's Business Institute ...
shot from a moving vehicle

Church on a hill ...
again, from my car. This place scares me!

Heinz Hall
"Lord of the Rings"
concert -- No still photography please.

Penn Avenue
"Christmas in July"

Three Gateway Center ... those bushes
are out of focus.

Traffic signs
near the office

Near sunset ...
as seen from
the driver's seat.


I was very interested in seeing how this lens would perform. It seems to give typical Tessar performance. At smaller apertures, it delivers very sharp results across the image field. The one thing that tripped me up wasn't the zone focus. The biggest problem I had was converting meters to feet, especially when it came to the odd distances: 1.2 meters, 1.8 meters, etc.

Balloons at the new Macy's.

A mix of modern and old.

The Fifth Wood Building needs some work.

Well, here's one where
I misjudged the distance.

A grassy plant. The Tessar was admirably sharp.

Another sharp photo
from the uncoated Tessar.

Roadkill -- missed on
the distance. Just as well.

I think the film got bent --
notice the vertical white bar.
At least the grass
is in focus!

Suburbia, USA.