The Plaubel Makina II

…is wonderful but also probably the least ergonomic camera ever built.

the latest fashion in 1935

The base camera is already heavy and really difficult to hold. All the controls, focusing, and the shutter button are on the front plate. So the way to hold it is to have one hand on each side of the front plate, and then you can stabilize the back part of the camera with your remaining …uhm feet?

it’s a handful

It’s not too bad with plate holders, because then the whole contraption is front-heavy. But I’ve also got the original 6×9 rollfilm holder for it – it weights about twelve tons, and brings the whole thing out of balance.

The film holder is nice in that it’s actually indexing the frames (so no looking at numbers through a red window). But it’s also kind of difficult to use, as the knob to wind on the film is on the bottom of the camera. It has to be at the bottom – at the top it would be in front of the viewfinder and rangefinder.

However, it still manages to impair usage of the rangefinder, since – unbeknownst to Plaubel – humans have noses. And with the film holder in place, you can’t put your eye up to the rangefinder anymore. At least not straight-on. Depending on nose size, I guess.

The one practical aspect about this hand torture device is that it does fold down to a pretty compact …sort of brick shape (and weight).

in its folded state, it does fit into any mid-sized car trunk

Other usability issues: Focusing is slow because the knob has an extremely low gear ratio. I guess one could also say that “focusing is very very precise”. Needlessly precise. The viewfinder is simplistic, even for the time. The only way to see the current aperture and shutter speed is to turn the camera around and look at the front plate. The tripod mounts are off-center (on every axis). I’ve also managed to engage the self-timer by accident while cocking the shutter.

(on Fomapan 400, at circa f4.8 or so)

That being said the lens is just stunning, and it makes the whole thing worthwhile. It’s a 100mm f2.9 – i.e. super fast. And it renders things just so nicely. It’s not super sharp wide open, but that’s also not really necessary with 6x9cm negatives. I haven’t tried color film in it yet, but with black and white I just like what it does.

not a great picture but the out-focus rendering is just so pleasant

So I’ll certainly cramp my hands a bit more around that weird little device.

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