KW Pilot

In 1931 KW introduced the Pilot: the first TLR camera for film type 127 and negatives in size 3x4cm. This model was followed by the Pilot Box in 1932, a 6x9 SLR for 120 rollfilm. Soon the Pilot 6 was also introduced: this is a 6x6 SLR also for 120 film. The first version of this model had a fixed lens, but since 1938 it was improved with the capability to take interchangeable lenses.

This camera, indeed a landmark on the photo history, was made by Kamera-Werkstätten Ghute & Thorsch in Dresde. Body is roughly cubic, with a small "protuberance" at the back to accommodate the take-up spool. In the upper part we have a connector for a release cable, at a side of the waist level finder. Advance wheel, shutter speed dial and release button are all located at photographer's right hand.

The Pilot 6 ought to be quite an innovative design when it was presented in the 30s. It is a very compact medium format SLR, at 7x8,5x8,5cm, well thought IMHO. The first variant of the Pilot 6, from 1936, is black and has a fixed lens as mentioned, usually a triplet with maximum aperture of f/4.5, although the cheaper units had f/6.3 lenses; a few units have been seen with f/3.5 Laack Pololyt. All lenses were 75mm. This model has shutter speeds between 1/25 and 1/100 plus B and T, and around 1937 it was upgraded with an improved shutter providing speeds between 1/20 and 1/150, also with B and T modes.

From 1938, a new upgrade was introduced: the already mentioned capability to use interchangeable lenses. The body of the camera is redesigned, adding a few enhancements and modifications with the next model, the Pilot Super. In this version, shuter has speeds between 1/20 and 1/200 plus B and T. Shutter speed selector and shutter cocking are shared by the same dialing wheel: an engraved dot on the wheel and on the retaining screw should be aligned to select the shutter speed by slightly lifting the dial and rotating it; then turn the wheel counterclockwise to cock the shutter at the selected speed. The mirror is integral part of the shutter, a feature already present on the Reflex Box and that is also a clever double exposure prevention mechanism - unless the user forgots to advance the film ;-) This was an important detail that was kept in the design of cameras such as the Pentacon Six TL. The waist level finder has two tiny wheels, one at each side, to move a focusing loupe which is IMHO quite necessary for precise focus due to the dim mirror.

By about 1939, the Pilot 6 was replaced by the Pilot Super, which added dual format capabilities and now by using an accessory detachable mask the camera can take either 12 6x6 or 16 6x4.5 pictures per roll. The body is the same than that of the 1938 Pilot 6, and like in that model some units had an extinction meter attached to the hood of the waist level finder. The Pilot Super did not feature the "sports finder" that was present on the Pilot 6.

The most representative feature of these cameras is indeed the interchangeable lenses capability. Such lenses had a 32mm screw mount, and unfortunately there were just a handful of lenses made for this camera, 99% of them were the normal focal length for the format, between 75 and 80mm, some of them even with a maximum aperture of f/2.9. Contemporary ads mention a "long focus lens" with maximum aperture of f/4.5. There is only one know unit, with a focal length of 10,5cm. All lenses are triplets and, since we are speaking here of pre-WW2 lenses, uncoated.

It is at the same time a simple and very interesting camera, one of my favorites indeed, always taking into account its limitations, out of which I would say that the dim mirror is the most important one. It is the most compact SLR that I have handled, and was made for just a couple of years, between 1939 and 1941.

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