The Lesser German 35mm Cameras —Leidolf by Tom Parkinson
etzlar, Hesse land, is a small town in central Germany most noted as the original home of Leitz. From the local iron mines an industrial base developed in the 19th Century, including several optical companies. The Rudolf Leidorf company was established in 1921 as a manufacturer of lenses for microscopes. The company embarked on camera manufacture in 1948 to meet the growing demand after the war.
The first cameras were compact scale focusing 127 4 x 4 format cameras, the Leidox I, IA, and II from 1949 to 1952 and the Lordox from 1952 to 1953. These were nearly identical — equipped with a Leidolf Triplet f3,8/50mm and either a Vario, Pronto or Prontor S shutter. The lenses were computed in-house or by by EMO Optics of Wetzlar purportedly by an optical designer hired away from Leitz, and were manufactured by Enna Optical Works of Munich. These were simple amateur cameras with a basic viewfinder attached to the flat top plate.
Figure 1 (from top) Optina, Lordette, Lordox
As the popularity of 35mm increased, the design was converted to 35mm in 1952. The viewfinder was now integrated into a neatly designed top with wind, rewind and frame counter. The cast body with stamped metal back was unchanged resulting in a waste 6mm at the bottom – the difference between 127 and 35 film width. The Lordette camera came with the f3.8 triplet, later f3.5, and with a Vero or the cheaper Vario three speed shutter. Higher end versions were the 1952 Lordox and 1953-1954 Leidolf IIS with f2.8 Triplon or Lordon with Prontor S or SV shutters. All shutters required rim cocking. A unique feature of all the above cameras were the back fasteners, which required turning both strap lugs 90 degrees forward to open. A common variant is the Optina labeled Lordette, imported by the now-defunct T.Eaton Canadian department store.
In 1953 a new cast body was produced with more advanced features. The Lordomat combined a coupled rangefinder, breech mount interchangeable lenses and reverse lever wind. The removable back was now held with a rotating latch on the bottom plate. This solid body was the basis for various models over the next ten years until the company went out of business in 1962. It retained the particularly compact top plate and now, inexplicitly, had a “waste” 10mm at the bottom. Although not matching its competitor across the street the cameras were precision manufactured to high standards, particularly the coincidence type rangefinder, integral with the viewfinder, using a long 65mm base.
Figure 2 Lordomat with 35, 50 and 135mm lenses
The helical focusing standard lens for the Lordomat was either a coated four-element 50mm f/2.8 Lordonar similar to the Tessar design or a f/1.9 six element design. The interchangable lenses were a 35mm f/3.5 Travenor, 90mm f/4 Travenor (also f/4.5 and f/5.6 versions) and 135mm f/4 Travenor supplied by the Schacht company of Ulm. The Prontor SVS leaf shutter is mounted behind the lens, tensioned by the double-action film transport lever with double exposure interlock. Montgomery Ward sold a version with a Pronto shutter as the Adams 352. Fixed lens versions, with and without the rangefinder were sold as the Lordox, one rare version with a black nameplate.
In 1956 the Lordomat C35 added an uncoupled selenium meter and additional viewfinder with a manual parallax dial and frames for 35, 90 and 135mm lenses – the latter a small rectangle in the centre. The resultant additions to the top plate looked like a dog’s breakfast. It took three years before the Lordomat SLE came out with an integrated top and the rangefinder window neatly incorporated into the selenium cell. An Albada style viewfinder produced reflected frames — hard to see in low light. A later model moved to a single stroke wind lever and a version without meter was sold as the SE. All were marketed in the USA under the Unimark label. Fixed lens versions followed with the Lordomatic II of 1958, (Automatic Unimark II)—and related models with and without meters and rangefinders.
Figure 3 Lordomat C35 of 1956 Figure 4 Automatic Unimark II (Lordomatic II) 1958
Two cameras marked the final effort of Leidolf. The Lordox Super Automat (Unimatic 707 and Auto Malik Super) added trapped needle automatic exposure with the Prontor-Matic shutter. The speed was set on the lens and the selected aperture appeared in the viewfinder’s reflected needle. The final product in 1961, the Lordox blitz, added an unusual AG-1 flash reflector within the top plate with the battery behind a door immediately over the Triplon lens and Pronto shutter.
Figure 5 (left) Lordox Super Automat (1960)
Figure 6 (right) Lordox blitz (1961)
The Leidolf cameras have a quality feel and, with good optics, make interesting users – once you get used to the reverse double-stroke wind. The selenium cells are no longer reliable, long speeds can be slow but the leatherette rarely peels.
The most collectable are the interchangeable lens series. The Lordomat, Lordomat C35 and Lordomat SLE. These can be found listed on eBay as high as $300 — typically German institutional sellers with yesterday’s price fantasies. With patience they can generally be bought in the $50-$80 range. Most of the fixed lens models are $10 – $30.
Figure 7 The Leidolf Family (1949-1961)
© Tom Parkinson 2006 Vancouver BC Canada