The new beginning
It is 1950s in East Germany. A few years after the war people look forward to a new beginning. They want to enjoy themselves again, focus on the pleasurable things in life and so they get a nice, inexpensive present to help them express their creativity again. They get a Pouva Start.
This is probably the most iconic toy camera of that era. It has been known by young people of East Germany as a 'cult' camera. In the West it was the bakelite from behind the iron curtain. Today it is admired by collectors and amateurs around the world for the way it looks and works. It is still widely accessible in various options, very often in perfect working condition and producing really good quality photographs.
The Pouva Start is very simple to work with or, should we say, play with because even a child can use it. It was the beginner kit for many current professional photographers.
There were four models of this camera produced between 1951 and 1973 by a small factory in Freital near Dresden founded by Karl Pouva. An estimated 1.7 million were sold. West Germany, Poland and Hungary obtained a licence to produce similar models for their markets.
Made of bakelite it is very light and durable. At some point the model was produced in various colour combinations and with the stylish leather case they looked very attractive. It works with 120mm film, 6 x 6 cm. To insert the film, the entire back panel needs to be removed. The Pouva has a fixed-focus, screw-fix barrel lens mounting and a fixed top-mounted viewfinder. There are two shutter speeds, ‘moment’ and ‘bulb’, and two aperture settings, ‘cloudy’ and ‘sunny’. You don’t need any batteries.
It is very easy to take a photo. You simply unscrew the lens, decide the two settings and click. There is a red window on the back that shows you which frame you’re on. Film winding works from a knob on the left side. It is manual, so you can take multiple exposures with it.
The vignetting result on the photographs is reflective of the camera vintage spirit. The contrast is great. We have not observed any light leaks although you do need to keep an eye on the speed of the shutter. In the models that have not been looked after and/or the small elements got rusty it is possible that shutter works slower which means you do need a steady hand. Fortunately this camera is solid and well built and the vast majority of available models still work perfectly well. Even today the Pouva Start is a great option for those who want a simple introduction to film photography without a great deal of technical thinking. In fact it is a great beginning for those who don’t want to do technical at all.
If you enjoy this review, you will probably like others. Check out Camera Reviews.
Here is a selection of photographs taken by the expert on bakelite, Maren Winkler.