Regardless of quality, I love 6×6 folders like the Welmy VI, Ikonta, Agfa Speedex, etc., primarily due to the configuration of the camera itself. I like the 6×6 square format, and the fact that these cameras are relatively compact (for medium format) and can be closed up and put in a jacket pocket or laptop case. Even the basic triplet like the 75mm Terionar on this Welmy Six W produces acceptable results. Throw in some ISO 400 120 roll film and you’ve got a decent EV range even if the top shutter speed is only 1/250, as with this camera. In regard to the lower end of the scale, most of these 6×6 folders have no flash functionality, usually just include a basic glass viewfinder for framing, a triplet lens (non-coated depending on year of manufacture) and can be picked up for 10 to 20 bucks on EBay. Some Welmy models do have cold shoes and flash bulb terminals. They are a bare-bones, inexpensive introduction to medium format. There are many Japanese-made 6×6 folders like the Welmy including similar models by Daitoh, Poppy, Gotex, of the Frank Six. German versions came from Agfa/Ansco in the form of the Speedex and Isolette, and higher end models from Zeiss Ikon like the Ikonta and Super Ikonta or Voightlander Perkeo and Bessa. There are too many to mention here.
In 1951 the Welmy Six line was produced in Japan by Taisei Kouki (Koki). Most models have the f3.5 75mm triplet under some moniker and basic, limited range, non-self cocking shutters. These budget models don’t generally get faster than 1/400. It can be confusing to keep track of the history of the Welmy. You’ll find models marked Welmy, Welmy 6, Welmy Six, Welmy VI including E, L and W versions. There are models made under the manufacturer Taisei Kouki, Taisei Koki, or Nariko like the one I have. This Nariko version simply has the word ‘Welmy’ in a script font etched into the top of the viewfinder housing and a Nariko name plate on the front. The original leatherette had ‘Welmy Six’ embossed on the back of the camera. I have since removed all original covering and replaced it with thin black and red suede.
This Welmy Six W includes two viewfinders a standard glass eye level, and an alternate ‘right angle’ viewfinder that is all but useless. I just don’t understand the rational behind the addition of a ‘right angle’ viewfinder on this camera. First of all it has a slight green hue to the glass, some are yellow or orange. The image is upside down and reversed due to the mirror, and the viewfinder is so small that the photographer is required to put his/her eye up to the eye piece to even make out the image, so it really isn’t at waist level. It is impossible to hold this thing at your waist and see any kind of image in this tiny little viewfinder. There is no rangefinder or depth-of-field scale. The distance marking around the lens start at one meter, although the lens can be turned clockwise (if looking down at the lens from behind the eye piece) to what I would guess is around .5 meters. The shutter must be engaged prior to pushing the shutter release button which is located on the right side of the viewfinder housing on the top of the camera. The shutter cocking lever is located on the top of the lens housing, as is the aperture selection slider. The aperture range is adequate enough at f3.5 to 32 (stepless.) Shutter speeds range from one second to 1/250 with both Bulb and Time settings for long exposure and can be selected by turning the knurled ring around the lens barrel to the appropriate speed mark.
CLEANING AND REPAIR
This camera was in pretty bad shape when I found it. The shutter was sticky and barely fired, the speed selector ring was stiff, and it was hard to retract the lens. The ‘waist level’ viewfinder had no image and the eye level viewfinder was cloudy. Finally the original leatherette was either missing in places or ready to fall off. Overall this was going to be a fixer-upper. Actually it turned out to be a nice little project camera considering I only paid ten bucks for it.
The lens was slightly hazy but free of scratches and fungus. Remove the front element by turning the lens counter-clockwise (if looking directly at it) to the position then remove the small pin that stops the lens from spinning all the way around. Continue to turn the lens counter-clockwise until it comes off. This allows access to the middle element. The rear element can be removed from the inside of the camera body. Removing the front lens element housing also allows for the removal of the face plate and access to the shutter. Light fluid can loosen up a sticky shutter. Pour very little in the mechanism and work the shutter by repeated firing at all speeds. Even after initial cleaning the slow speeds like one second to 1/5 are questionable. This is quite common for these old shutters. The shutter speed ring is stepless and if sticky put a few drops of lighter fluid around the ring and turn it gently. It should eventually loosen up as the residue dissolves.
The viewfinder windows can be unscrewed from the front of the housing and the small glass plates removed for cleaning with glass cleaner. A 50/50 mixture of ammonia and hydrogen peroxide removes most haze and fungus. This can be used on the lens elements as well. The ‘waist level’ viewfinder has a small mirror in the housing. As with many of these types of configurations the glue used to keep the lens in place had dried up over the years and the mirror was no longer positioned correctly. To remove the viewfinder housing, remove the small flathead screw above the film loading side (right side if looking at the back of the camera, and remove the flathead screw in the film advance knob. Remove the advance knob and be careful not to loose the small button that releases the lens board. This will come off when you raise the viewfinder housing from the camera body. By the way, the back of the camera opens by pushing down the flatted lip of the release slider on the left side of the camera, if looking at it from the back. There is a sliding cover for the rear red frame window to prevent clouding of the film. Once the viewfinder housing has been removed, the ‘waist level’ finder mirror can be glued back into place. I did this more for aesthetic reasons since I find this window is less than useful.
If the bellows are torn or have pin holes I suggest using liquid electrical tape to seal them. This stuff smells awful but does the trick. Apply a thin coat and let sit in the extended position for at least 48 hours. When the material dries it is pliable and won’t tear or break when the bellows are folded. Finally, just make sure the lens board is flat when extended. Many of these old folders get bent and if the lens is not parallel with the film plane don’t expect a sharp image from corner to corner, or at least as sharp as these triplets can produce. Generally f11 or f16 will give you the best results. I also suggest working the shutter on these old folders prior to loading them with film. This model loads from right to left. It is not a good idea to load the film, take a few frames then set it aside for several days or weeks. Best practice is to work the shutter, load the film and fire off all twelve frames in a single day.
Availability of these folders seems to come in waves on the ‘bay. Some months there are several auctions other months not one. They can usually be found for 20-40 dollars depending on condition and features. Look for a top speed of at least 1/250, Bulb and Time settings, some just come with Bulb. The flash sync is usually for bulbs, I don’t think any Welmy came with a pc terminal for X-sync, and I don’t think any of them featured a rangefinder. Most if not all models had an f3.5 triplet so bid accordingly. Some will have a single viewfinder and others two windows, but remember the second window is a ‘right-angle’ finder not a rangefinder. Although not that common on EBay they are not worth spending a lot of money on…in my opinion.