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Heinz Waaske and Minox, GmbH - Part II


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.

The Challenge

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 in 1992.

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 to others.

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 for Minox.

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 zoom lenses".

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".



April 20, 2001

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