Welta Penti 0, a Pocketable Half-Frame Camera Review
Plus a Brief History and a Practical Camera Use Guide12 min read by
Welta Penti Type 0 is a tiny, all-mechanical half-frame camera with a unique film advance lever, a Meyer-Optic Trioplan 𝒇3.5-22 30mm (42mm full-frame equiv.) lens, and a simple 30-125 +B shutter and a flash port.
Its tiny size (216g, 10cm × 4cm × 7cm/7.6oz, 4” × 1.6” × 2.8”) is owed to the special film canister — Agfa Rapid/SL — that fits about 24 half-frames on a 35mm film strip and Penti’s minimal mechanical complexity in a cast aluminum/pressed steel body.
A brief history of Welta Penti.
Welta’s story starts with Walter Waurich and Theodor Weber, who founded the Weeka camera factory in 1914, later renamed into Welta-Kamera-Werk (Welta camera factory) in 1919.
Their growing Hainsberg-native business was soon transformed by the German war effort during WWII when they began producing for the military almost exclusively. And then transformed into a camera manufacturer in 1946 following the fall of Nazi Germany. Plus, a few more times later, including the merger with Reflekta in 1950 and up to absorption by VEB Pentacon in 1964.
Walter Henning created the first version of the Penti camera in 1956 while at Zeiss Icon. Two years later, Walter’s camera began production at the Welta factory under the name Orix. The camera was renamed to Penti in 1959 and remained so until its discontinuation in 1977.
Throughout its nineteen years in production, 800,000 units were made. During that time, Penti saw three design updates:
Welta Penti 0, which is essentially the same camera as Welta Orix, was made until 1961. There are certainly fewer early Penti models made and sold, which results in a higher price on a used market today. These cameras came in gold with white, red, black, or blue trim and had matching lens hoods.
Welta Penti I came with a Meyer-Optic Domiplan lens instead of the Penti 0/Oryx’ Trioplan. It is also slightly less compact than the 0, with bright lines in the viewfinder but no light meter (despite appearing as if it does have a light meter).
Welta Penti II looks almost identical to Penti I, with the exception of a working coupled selenium light meter.
Welta Penti design and ergonomics.
Welta Penti 0 is the prettiest film camera I’ve ever owned. It has a bit of a cartoon look with its bubbly shape; made with quality, expertly-finished metals, Penti feels like a piece of jewelry.
Predictably, this camera was marketed for a 1960s woman, as one blogger recalls:
The camera was designed specifically for the female consumer in a male dominated market. The advertising leaflet for the camera shows what a charming lady should take when leaving home. As well as her normal accessories of a necklace, earrings and ring, the Penti II was shown as an essential addition to give that finishing touch to her lifestyle.
But we don’t have to conform to this eighty-year-old gender stereotype in 2023. Welta Penti is a camera for anyone who can appreciate its beauty and mechanical simplicity.
In use, Penti 0 appears to have a decent grip, thanks to its textured metal sides that give plenty of space for the fingers.
The shutter and the film advance rod are comfortably large and easy to operate. However, the shutter button action can cause some resistance and shake at higher speeds, which is why I’ve added an orange screw-on shutter button for additional leverage. Shooting this camera and advancing the film feels identical to another incredible German camera series, the Vitessas: press the shutter, then push the “plunger” rod that pops out on the side to advance the film.
Penti’s shutter mechanism is delightfully simple: it works by converting the work done on the shutter button directly into various speeds at which the two leaf shutter blades open and close. This is in contrast to most mechanical shutters that work by storing the potential energy after being wound and releasing it at once. The advantage of such a design is easy repairs and maintenance (I managed to fix mine in 15 minutes — here’s how I disassembled the lens to get to the shutter), whereas the disadvantage is the additional force you’ll need to exert on higher shutter speeds which can contribute to camera shake.
I love the film counter design on Penti 0. It looks like a watch face. However, it will need to be reset by hand to 0 each time you insert your film. Also, there’s no easy way to tell if the camera has run out of frames, as you may easily skip past 24 without ever feeling the resistance. You have to either trust that you’ve got an exact number of frames or feel for the friction during fim advance: if there are no frames, it’s slightly easier to push in the “plunger.”
The viewfinder is tiny and uncomfortable, with no bright lines. It’s difficult to use with glasses on.
The exposure and the focus controls are all located on the lens barrel. I found them fidgety, likely difficult to operate for someone with large hands. The markings are printed in black on gold, which may be a challenge to read for some users.
All Penti cameras have shutter speeds of 30, 50, 125, and Bulb. You may set your shutter anywhere in between these values, but don’t expect exceptionally precise timings: the mechanism is quite simple and not particularly reliable.
The distance scale will need to be set via guesswork, i.e., this camera uses zone focusing. There’s no DOF scale calculator on this camera.
The back cover of Penti is fastened using two springs; there are no light seals, which is great for the camera’s longevity and (surprisingly) there are no light leaks in any of the test pictures I took. I will talk about the special film that this camera use below.
The camera also comes with a single strap lug, a remote shutter port, a cold accessory shoe, a tripod hole, and a flash sync port. Note that the flash sync on this camera only works with bulb flashes; the modern xenon lights are too quick. Penti I and II, however, can work with a typical flash.
Agfa Rapid/SL film cartridges.
Welta/Pentacon Penti cameras use Agfa Rapid/SL film cartridges that hold 12 full frames of 35mm film and work in pairs. The full cartridge is typically placed on the left, with the film leader inserted partially in an empty cartridge on the right. Advancing the film moves it into the second, empty cartridge.
✪ Note: These cartridges can be found under a few names: Agfa Rapid, Agfa Karat, Orwo Penti (Orwo-Penti-Patrone) film, SL System, Schnell-Lade-System/Fast Load System, or Schnelladekassette (Speed Loading Cassette).
The advantage of this system is that there’s no need for a film rewinder crank and double-exposure prevention mechanism. There are a lot fewer frames in such a film, although this works really well for half-frame cameras, which would otherwise hold 72+ frames of regular film (too many for my taste).
Welta Penti shoots 18mm × 24mm (half-frame) exposures which is another plus in today’s market when film prices are at their highest.
Unfortunately, this film is extinct, and thus you’d have to load it by hand into an empty canister that comes with your camera (or found separately online). My recommended method is to use a 60cm/2’ rod or tape to measure 12 frames of 35mm film in a dark bag or bathroom and squeeze it into the empty cassette. You’ll likely need gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints on the film.
The challenge with that method is the scratches and dust that form on the film, no thanks to the fiddly process. I had only one cartridge that came with my camera, and so I had my film collect in the right-hand chamber without a cartridge, likely accepting additional damage.
If you don’t mind spending some additional time removing dust and scratches from your film, you may place the measured strip of film inside your camera without the cartridges. Though I suspect that it would be a bit more challenging to feel with the lights off.
I was able to develop my first roll of Agfa Rapid film at The Lab. They use dip and dunk tanks, and thus I wouldn’t necessarily expect any lab to do — I suggest you call ahead or make plans to develop your film at home.
Meyer-Optik Trioplan 30mm F/3.5 lens’ image quality.
Welta Penti’s Meyer-Optik Trioplan 30mm (42mm full-frame equiv.) 𝒇3.5-22 lens can render sharp images, particularly at its widest apertures in the center of the frame. The challenge is guessing the focus distance correctly while reducing the camera shake and using a high-resolving scanner to get the maximum detail out of the half-frame film format.
The lens corrects chromatic aberrations reasonably well and shows no exaggerated distortions. Although on a larger screen, you’ll notice a loss of detail, swirls, and blurs in the corners. Its greatest downsides for me are the flaring and occasional lack of contrast.
My copy did not come with the lens hood, which I am now looking for to see if it helps with image contrast (which should be related to the flares).
The lack of contrast forced me to spend more time on colour correction than usual.
But the biggest time-waster in terms of the work required to get the best out of Welta Penti was cleaning up dust and scratches from the negatives. This is not the lens’ fault, of course, but rather the additional exposure during film loading.
Despite its tiny size and the 1-meter closest focusing distance, the 30mm Meyer-Optik Trioplan 𝒇3.5 eight-bladed aperture iris can produce noticeable, pleasing bokeh on half-frame film.
The bokeh is swirly and smooth; it’s visible on screens and paper of most sizes. I really enjoy the effect it creates.
However, it takes a significant amount of luck and practice to nail the precise focus at 1m away from the subject. Wide-open, this 30mm lens has a shallower depth of field than you’d expect. And without a DOF calculator, it’s hard to say what’ll look sharp in the final image.
The gentle DOF falloff of the 30mm 𝒇3.5 lens reminds me of the legendary 28mm 𝒇3.5 Rokkor lens on my Minolta TC-1 — but with a gentle swirl and additional softness specific to this camera.
But if you are looking for shallow depth of field/maximum bokeh on a half-frame film camera, the 42mm 𝒇1.2 H.Zuiko Auto-S lens with an Olympus PEN F SLR will get you there.
Welta Penti build quality.
Despite its toy-like appearance, Welta/Pentacon Penti cameras are exceptionally well-built. Their design and mechanics don’t require the precision of modern mechanical Leica machined parts, yet for what’s in the box; these tools feature fantastic finish and assembly.
Their entire 216g (just over seven-ounce) weight is supported by cast aluminum chassis and pressed steel plates with spray-on gold paint that can easily last a century. Many copies have dents and chips in the center paint strip. But for the most part, these cameras resist decay wonderfully and are easy to fix should there be any issues with the shutter assembly.
Can Welti Penti be used as an everyday camera?
The hassle of loading the film, extracting it, and finding a lab that’ll take (and return!) the canister or the time to do it at home can’t be ignored. Many bloggers reported having shot this camera twice, never touching it again.
Of course, the same bloggers found it impossible to sell their Pentis, despite the lack of use — they are irresistibly beautiful.
I think that given the quality of the lens — which I think is excellent for this camera’s age and size — this camera can still be a daily companion.
I certainly would not shoot as much film in my Penti as I do in my Olympus PEN F SLR or my point-and-shoots. But it’s a small camera that can fit in a pocket and complement almost any attire.
Penti is a made-to-impress conversation piece. With practice, it can be used indoors and outdoors; it can take portraits and nature/travel photos with reasonable allowances for resolution. And if you’ve managed to hoard enough Agfa Rapid/SL film cartridges, you’ll be able to reload it in daylight. The greatest annoyance with these cameras is their tiny viewfinder and the inability to tell whether they’re out of film.
How much does Welta Penti cost and where to find one.
There aren’t too many Penti cameras sold online, and thus their prices can fluctuate significantly. Being the finest cameras for the Agfa Rapid/SL film, they can fetch up to $600, though many can still be bought for under $50. The most valuable pieces are probably the original Orix versions in good condition. But a decent-looking Penti does not have to cost a lot if you’re looking for a user.
When looking for a copy, consider picking one that comes with Agfa Rapid/SL film cartridges or get them in advance. There are still some sold preloaded with film for your convenience.
❤ By the way: Please consider making your Welta/Pentacon Penti/Orix camera purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!