The following is a translated excerpt from the book,
“Cameras for Millions - Heinz Waaske, Inventor”, by
Joerg Eikmann and Ulrich Vogt - Wittig Fachbuch – 1997, originally
published in the German language. This excellent translation was
very generously done by Hugo Tomyska, and final editing was performed
by D. Scott Young.
The book is a fantastic look at one of Germany’s most talented
inventors, Heinz Waaske, and should be required reading for anyone
with an interest in fine cameras. In the Minox Historical Society’s
on-going efforts to document and preserve the history of Minox,
this excerpt is provided to offer the reader a fascinating look
at Heinz Waaske’s brief contract with Minox, GmbH and the
surprising results of it.
1981 - The Minox Project 351: Miniature-Compact camera with rangefinder
and interchangeable lens. On 1 Sept. 1981 Heinz Waaske meets with
leading men from Minox in Heuchelheim, in order to discuss with
them a new camera concept he had conceived. This conversation is
about his proposal to develop a compact viewfinder camera with interchangeable
lens. The Leica build model CL (from 1973 to 1976) would serve as
a model, which, like his Rollei 35, had the shutter speed dial on
the front side, as did the successor camera, the Minolta CLE.
The latter was presented by the Japanese at the 1980 Photokina
and delivered to German dealers starting in 1981. The Minolta CLE
was the first fully automatic viewfinder system camera in the world,
with exposure measuring through the lens and interchangeable lenses.
However it could not compete with the automatic reflex cameras because
of the limited choice of lenses offered by Minolta. The Minolta
CLE had TTL-metering at the film level for which Minolta owned the
patent since the mid-60's, which was also used by Olympus partially
in the OM 2.
The tiny electronic flash unit (auto-electro flash CLE) which had
only been conceived for this camera, worked automatically and directly
with the camera’s distinctive direct metering. The price for
the Minolta CLE (with Rokkor 2/40 mm) was then over 1,500 DM. Interchangeable
lenses were offerec apart from the standard lens Rokkor 2/40 mm:
an F/2.8, 28 mm wide-angle and a telephoto F/4, 90 mm focal length.
For Waaske it was quite a big task to counter this technical masterpiece
from the Far East with an equivalent camera. A still bigger impression
had been made on him, namely by the Leica CL, which was already
on the market by 1973 and at that time cost, with Summicron-C F/2,
40 mm lens, 1,395 DM. However, in his small, private camera collection,
the Leica CL, highly admired, was nevertheless not represented;
in its place stood the successor model Minolta CLE which - as he
always stressed - he used rarely and which he had bought "only
to study". His private photo cameras were in the last years
of his life two other Leicas, which more corresponded to Waaske's
construction principle of miniaturization and manageability, namely
the super compact Leica Mini of 1991 and the Leica Mini-Zoom built
However he did not photograph much with them - as with all the
other cameras he owned - and only seldom took pictures with them.
When he used a camera then it was - as can be seen from his rare
pictures - photographing was for him more or less to try out the
camera techniques or control the optical qualities. The photographing
of family celebrations or excursions with friends he mostly left
In this way it is not surprising that from the relatively long
life of Heinz Waaske, apart from a small folder with photos, only
six family albums exist. During his time as "pensioner"
he had taken his Leica Mini-Zoom from time to time to Berlin, his
hometown where to he often made a daytrip by train. There he liked
to sit specially in the Cafe Moehring on the Kurfuerstendamm and
observed for hours the lively and colourful activity of that large
city. Sometimes he also shot a few photos more or less "to
try" those two small Leicas, mostly of interesting architecture,
and then returned in the evening again to Braunschweig and his house
in the green.
But let us return to Waaske's idea to construct a compact camera
for Minox. Both cameras, especially the still on the market existing
Minolta CLE, appealed, argued Waaske, because of its relatively
high price only to a small circle of buyers. He believed that a
camera with similar properties, but with slightly less bright interchangeable
lenses and a simpler automatic exposure (automatically timed shutter
speed based on aperture selection) could be produced at considerably
more favourable costs and therefore final consumer prices. For his
idea of an inexpensive miniature compact camera with viewfinder,
automatic shutter speeds and three interchangeable lenses he saw
a genuine market niche and consequently an additional market chance
The most important technical components of this new camera should
be the following:
- Interchangeable lenses/bayonet mount at the camera body
- Normal lens F/2.8, 45 mm in push-in tubes
- Telephoe F/5.6, 85 mm
- Wide angle lens F/4, 30 mm
- Change of lens only available with cocked shutter
- Automatic exposure/light metering through the lens
Under number FE 1883 Waaske is given the task to develop such a
camera under a 3 year development period. Until October 1984 should
"the thing stand" so that after completion of all complete
production documents, it was anticipated that in 1986 production
could be started.
Already in May 1983 Waaske was able to submit to the Minox managment
a first design model, with which in the course of the development,
as compared to the original concept, some modifications have been
made. The shutter mechanism should no longer be installed in the
camera body, but in the interchangeable lenses themselves. Also
the light metering through the lens is dropped. According to the
wishes of Minox a flash equipment is included in the planning, which
stretches over the whole camera top.
The lens envisioned by Zeiss now foresees the following lens variations:
normal lens F/2.8, 40 mm, telephoto F/4, 85 mm and wide angle lens
F/4, 28 mm. Minox is basically in agreement with Waaske's work,
criticizing however, the present model because of its construction
volume, which is not yet sufficiently Minox-like. Here the miniaturist
Waaske is challenged to develop a still smaller camera. After all
he works for Minox!
In the midst of this, the idea of developing a stereoscopic system
enters into the discussions, but this is then not further pursued.
On 23 May 1985 takes place the decisive "development discussion
meeting 35 mm cameras" (quote from the meeting protocol) at
the Minox headquarters, attended apart from Minox engineers and
managers, by Heinz Waaske and the for the Minox active camera constructor
Karl-Heinz Lange. Lange had been for 26 years development head with
Balda In Buende/Westfahlen, after which he worked for two years
for Nimslo in Atlanta/USA, and owned - similar to Waaske - now his
proper small development firm for precision work and synthetic material
techniques in Buende. With the firm Minox he had already established
contacts during his time in the USA and had developed, parallel
to Waaske, a new camera concept, without either of the two inventors
knowing of the commissions delivered by Minox, to each of them.
Two concepts in competition
Thus two possible solutions faced each other in this meeting, about
which had to be voted. The result of this meeting: The market requirements
have changed, and also Minox can no longer avoid development of
AF (auto focus) cameras. For Waaske's "W.-O.-Camera" (interchangeable-lens)
- as the project is called inside the firm - this means that Minox,
aside with its W.-O.-Camera, from now on wants to go a second track
with a AF camera. Responsible constructor for this shall be Karl-Heinz
Lange from Buende who as Balda constructor had already once built
for Minox the Minox 110 S (market introduction 1976).
But let's return to the miniature camera. The Minox engineers want
to solve the AF problem themselves by means of repositioning the
film plane, which is considered by Waaske and Lange a technically
interesting solution. "Both are however of the opinion that
such a solution was comparatively expensive and that until the technically
completed realization, extensive trials were required. Whereas the
repositioning of the front lens is considered technically simpler
and from the point of view of the technical finishing safer. Therefore
the front lens repositioning is chosen for the AF project. The repositioning
of the film plane offers itself possibly for other camera concepts
at a later time as an interesting solution start, for instance for
The Contax AX reflex camera of 1996 offered then this film plane
repositioning which in principle had already been realized in the
venerable Pradovit Color Dia-projector of Leitz. (Mr.) Lange proposes
a basic new-construction which amongst others is based on the lens
and shutter of the also by Balda produced Vito C, his so successful
and technically interesting camera construction for Voigtlander.
At the end Waaske's W.-O.-project is “considered as so important
for Minox (market niche product) that it is not classified as lower
priority vis-à-vis the AF camera".
Both projects are being worked on in parallel after this decisive
session, whereby the Waaske project receives a bit more weight.
As such, the year 1988 is being envisaged as a target date for production.
Both constructors can already soon put forward at Minox one prototype
each of the 35 mm camera with interchangeable lenses. And they have
become - as the photographs show – beautiful cameras which
however both never went into production!
Let's make it short: The decision made here in favour of the Waaske
camera with interchangeable lenses, and the herewith related delay
for the development of a AF camera, was, from today's view, an entrepreneurial
mistake, one of many, which amongst others a few years later together
contributed to bring the already leaking Minox-ship still further
to roll. And thus also the second Waaske-Minox-camera disappeared
in the dark safes of Heuchelheim!
Work for the Minox 35.
Both the two "camera flops" with Minox have not "brought
down" Heinz Waaske; indeed, he hardly shed a tear about them
later on, because after all, during those years of collaboration
with Minox, generous payments in the 6 figure range continuously
flowed into his bank account, making life for him very comfortable
indeed. Also in the years thereafter he continued to be further
entrusted with commissions by Minox, because Minox had with the
different models of the Minox 35 starting 1974 earned so much money,
that one was in Wetzlar in a position to let bubble again happily
the money sources for giving commissions outside. Today these payments
to Waaske are considered "payments without real counter-performance”
by the firm's direction. Whether this is in fact correct, others
will have to decide.
It all had started at the Photokina 1974, where Rollei and Heinz
Waaske had to surrender to Minox the record of having built with
the Rollei 35, since 1965 the world's smallest miniature camera.
They (Minox) with the Minox 35 EL, brought on to the market a camera
that with a depth of 31 mm is exactly one millimeter thinner than
the product from Braunschweig (Rollei 35). From now on, the people
from Heuchelheim can start with these world-class measurements of
their small pocket camera a highly successful publicity campaign,
despite the fact that the Waaske-Rollei with 97 mm width and 60
mm height in comparison is still by 3mm and 1mm smaller respectively
(then the Minox 35 EL). Decisive for this inter-German victory was
however, the fact that with the Minox camera the lens disappeared
entirely behind the front flap, and that the camera can really be
placed in a vest-pocket like a sleek cigarette-case.
Furthermore weighs "the world's smallest 24x36 miniature camera"
- the Minox publicity spells the word "Kamera"(camera)
(international) with "C" - about 80 grams less than the
north-German competitor. Of the Minox 35 EL becomes starting 1979
with the small technical modification of a counter light switch
(GL="Gegen-Licht") the Minox 35 GL, which, starting spring
1981, after some further modifications comes on the market as Minox
35 GT. This 35 mm camera with automatic shutter speed and aperture
priority exposure control, is for years the unchallenged bestseller
of the Minox works.
The product choice of this successful viewfinder camera is enlarged
1982 with the Minox 35 PL - with programmed automatic with shutter
speed/aperture control a concession to the "snap shooter"
- and with the Minox 35 PE, a Minox PL extended through an integrated
computer flash. Both models were technically not yet fully matured
and caused Minox enormous problems, especially with necessary repairs.
There it was time that this Minox trio got beginning 1985 an attractive
sister, the Minox 35 ML which had the programmed automatic exposure
system of the Minox 35 PL, and the automatic electronic shutter
of the Minox 35 GT, and combined as well the exposure control via
aperture priority, adding the creative possibilities in the depth
of field range of those two single models. But this sister had initially
its technical "booboos" (maladies). The construction office
Waaske had already before the market introduction of the Minox ML,
which basically had been built by the house-intern Minox constructors
under the leadership of the development head Dr Fritz Belitz, been
involved in the technical constructive work of this camera. An important
part in the development of this camera had also the engineer Hans
Werner Johannsen, and the until 1984 technical manager Ernst Krull.
There was nothing more to fiddle with the outstanding design which
from the EL to the GT, and with the later ML and MB had been accomplished
by Prof. Richard Fischer of the University for Design in Offenbach,
because the models were well received by the customers.
Thus received Waaske, who with previous tasks had always been able
to combine form and function as a complete constructive entity,
beginning July 1984 only the mission for a "construction-revision
of the ML shutter 10740", because one wanted to exclude with
this new camera the relatively high number of shutter failures and
timing inaccuracies, which unfortunately occurred with the PL.
Of the original commission of "overworking", Heinz Waaske
is able after more than two years development time to present the
Minox management finally with a new shutter with a so-called anchor-escapement-movement.
The "Agreement for the proposed construction and testing of
a series of minimum 500 shutters"(minutes of 29.4.1986) however
is not given, because the learnt physician and electronics specialist
Dr Belitz believes it possible to correct those shutter failures
effectively through a marked improvement in the field of electronics.
The timing imprecision’s and shutter failures are in effect
being reduced to a defendable level, but all the same remains the
shutter of the ML a child of concern.
Still until the end of 1987 Waaske continues to work for the camera
works of Hesse, and despite the fact that with measurements taken
on 20 ML shutters carried out in November 1987 in collaboration
with Karl-Heinz Lange in the latter's measuring room he could prove
that his mechanically regulated shutters with anchor brake escapement
obtained excellent results, this is not built into the successor
models of the Minox 35. Dr Belitz still continues to count on electronics.
Again a failure for Waaske with Minox, which he later dismisses
with a shrug of the shoulder, and comments on, in his dry Berlinese:
"The Minox 35 ML - one whole electronic orgy".