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I recently got two really old cameras, and I'm lost.
The cameras are an Agfa Silette, and a Welta Weltax.

I expected the cameras to have a focusing mechanism similar to rangefinger cameras, or split-prism or the like, but nothing.

It seems like both cameras' viewfinder is just glass or plastic and nothing else. In addition: The viewfinder of the Welta is terribly small, it physically hurts to look through. Am I missing something here too?

Is there some kind of trick or do you really need to bring your ruler and carefully look at the focus distance scale on the lens? I'm really lost on how to focus these, and all I can find is information about those split-prism or microprism and the like, which I don't see present on these cameras.

Here is a picture of the Agfa camera: (source wikimedia) agfa

Here is a picture of the Welta camera: (source collectiblend) welta

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None of these cameras is an SLR, nor is there an integrated rangefinder (some Silette models had a rangefinder, this one has not).

These cameras are indeed intended to be focused by using a well calibrated guess, a measuring tape, or an attached rangefinder accessory.

The manuals included depth of field tables.

Mind that the lenses are not very fast, and that these cameras were intended more for small casual prints than professional usage, so guesswork would often have yielded sufficiently accurate focus.

Also keep in mind that a lot of casual architecture or landscape shots could reasonably be taken by just using infinity focus (which could be reasonably well calibrated on a non-interchangeable-lens camera).

PS, if you want to experiment: The whole lens+shutter group can sometimes (do not force it if it is glued!) be easily dismounted from folding cameras without damaging anything, and can be adapted via a drilled-through M42 body cap + M42 helicoid to a modern DSLM. This often needs a lens disassembly tool (around 20 to 40 quid) - you want to get one anyway when tinkering with folding cameras, given the lenses tend to have haze issues and need cleaning inside-out. Also, if you ever happen upon a fitting lens hood, get it.

  • "small casual prints" - with a medium format camera... – xiota Oct 1 at 22:51
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    Given how many cameras with very simple lenses, no rangefinders and no exposure meters and using 120 film were marketed into the 1950s, there might be some truth to the rumours that much 35mm film wasn't even good for small casual prints back then :) I doubt someone well-off and serious and/or professional didn't either get an attachment rangefinder and exposure meter, or go straight for a TLR. – rackandboneman Oct 1 at 22:58
  • And as for the Silette: There was the Ambi-Silette model, with a rangefinder and and some seriously good interchangeable lenses. – rackandboneman Oct 1 at 23:04
  • Thank you very much for this information. I'm just starting to get into the pre-digital film photography world and your answer and tips really help me out! – confetti Oct 3 at 13:54
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The two major options are:

  • Zone focusing. Set an aperture and distance so that the subject will fall within the depth of field. You can try hyperfocal distance"F8 and be there."

  • Use a rangefinder accessory. Search for "Ideal rangefinder", "pocket rangefinder", and "Lomo rangefinder" for some options. These work like rangefinder cameras, but you read distances, instead of taking pictures. Golf, hunting, or laser rangefinders may also work.

    Ideal Rangefinder

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