Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta

Zeiss Ikon was formed in 1926 by the amalgamation of Ica, Contessa-Nettal, Ernemann and C.P. Goerz. Initially, Zeiss Ikon caried on making all the cameras previously made by the constituent companies but in 1929, Zeiss Ikon rationalised production. Most of the old cameras were abandoned and a few new models introduced. Intitially, the flagship was the new Ikonta – named after the company. This small range of cameras, one 127 camera, three 120 cameras and a 116 camera, was very successful.

  • lens: Carl Zeiss Tessar
  • focal length: 10.5 cm
  • apertures: ƒ/4.5 to ƒ/32
  • focus range: 5 feet to infinity
  • lens fitting: fixed
  • shutter: Compur s
  • speeds: 1 s to 1/250 s
  • flash: no facility
  • film size: 120

In 1933, the Ikonta range was extended and improved by the introduction of the Super Ikonta range. The main change here was the addition of a very accurate coupled rangefinder. The first Super Ikonta was the model 530/2 which produced 6 by 9 cm negatives on 120 film. This is the camera that I have and the camera that this article is about.

This is a folding, medium format camera that, when folded, looks pretty much the same as any other folding camera but with the addition of the rangefinder on one long side. When closed, the camera measures 160 by 90 by 38 mm and when open, the lens door extends the camera to 130 mm. The camera weighs 796 g which is quite a weight to carry around. When new, this camera cost £17-0-0 which was a small fortune (taken from a Zeiss Ikon catalogue for 1934). Average income then was around £200 per year so this camera represented about a months average income which equates to about £2,500 in 2021 terms. Not a cheap camera!

The camera body is made from die-cast aluminium alloy with the lens door and film gate being made from pressed steel. The outside is covered with black leather (not leatherette) with the edges of the camera painted gloss black. There are a few “Zeiss bumps” under the leather. Zeiss Ikon cameras are famous for these (hence the name) but many folding cameras have the same. They are caused by corrosion between the aluminium body and rivets made from other metals.

The top of the camera is dominated by the rangefinder. This has one small eyepiece on the back and two windows on the front. The eyepiece measures 4 mm diameter which is quite small but it is still useable – it is what you would expect from 1933. The two windows on the front each measure 7 mm diameter. This rangefinder is coupled to the lens and uses a rotating wedge on an arm – more later.

On the top of the rangefinder is the folding viewfinder – these were usual on folding cameras and helped to kep the camera small enough for a large pocket. It is not possible to unfold the viewfinder without opening the camera for use – but why would you want to? To the right of the rangefinder and almost touching it is a small, bright plated, button. Pressing this releases the lens door and causes the folded viewfinder to pop up. The eyepiece part of the viewfinder is a metal plate measuring 30 mm square. This has a rectangular lens in it – the actual eyepiece – which measures 6 by 4 mm – again, rather small by modern standards but fine if you do not wear glasses. The other part of the viewfinder has a larger lens – 16 by 11 mm – and the two combined give a reduced size image – so a reverse Galilean finder.

The finder is designed for 6 by 9 cm photos. If you are using the film gate mask to take 4.5 by 6 cm photos, you also need a matching viewfinder mask. Fortunately, Zeiss Ikon provide one whichn is permanently fixed to the viewfinder on a hinge. Also on the top of the camera are two circular, bright plated, metal discs – one on either end. When the back of the camera is open, these are sprung and are connected to the studs that locate the film spools.

The bottom of the camera has two items on it. On the left is another circular disc. Inside the camera, this is connected to another stud for holding the film spool but not sprung this time. In the centre of this disc is a socket for a tripod. This is the 3/8 inch Whitworth standard which was the standard for large, heavy plate cameras. In this tripod socket is a slug threaded with the 1/4 inch Whitworth thread that was the (then) new standard for lighter roll film cameras. This threaded slug has a screwdriver slot to aid insertion and a very small grub screw to hold it securely in place.

On the other end of the base is the film advance key. This is bright plated metal and has a folding grip. Obviously, this also protrudes into the insides to fit into the take-up spool.

The back of the camera is hinged to give access to the inside to allow the film to be inserted and removed. On the right hand edge of the camera is a leather carrying handle. Beneath this is a nickel plated sliding catch – slide the button in the middle towards the top of the camera to open the back. On the left hand edge of then back is the hinge. Right by this hinge, embossed in the leather, is the camera’s model number – 530/2. The 530 refers to the Super Ikonta range (there were other, later, Super Ikontas with other model numbers). The /2 refers to the negative format which is 6 by 9 cm. There were also models 530 (no slash) which was 4.5 by 6 cm and 530/16 which was 6 by 6 cm.

At the top of the back are two red windows. If you are using the camera to take full frame, 6 by 9 cm, photographs you only use the left hand window to read the frame numbers off the backing paper and completely ignore the right hand window. If you have the 4.5 by 6 cm mask in place, you use each window in turn – “1” in the left hand window, “1” in the right hand window, “2” in the left hand window, “2” in the right hand window and so on until “8” has been in each window. By the right hand red window, the Zeiss Ikon logo is embossed in the leather.

Moving to the front of the camera, the body is dominated by the lens door. On the top right hand corner of the lens door is a second tripod socket. Again, this has the 3/8 inch Whitworth thread with a 1/4 inch Whitworth slug in it. On the left hand edge of the lens door is a nickel plated folding foot for when it is necessary to stand the camera on a table.

To the left of the lens door, the camera model name – Super Ikonta – is embossed in the leather. On the right of the lens door the legend “Made in Germany Industria Alemana” is embossed in then leather indicating that the camera is an export model. The focus scale is in feet not metres so this particular camera was not exported to Spain despite the legend in Spanish.

Pressing the button on the top of the camera causes the viewfinder to snap open and the lens door to release. The blurb for the Super Ikonta in my Zeiss Ikon catalogue suggests that the shutter/lens assembly will spring out to its proper position but not on my camera. There are two springs attached to the struts supporting the lens door but these do not open the camera fully – perhaps when new, this worked better. Pulling the lens door out caused the shutter/lens assembly to come forward on their leather bellows. Zeiss Ikon bellows were very well made and the bellows on this camera are in very good condition and seem to be still light tight – the test film will show for sure. The shutter/lens assembly is held firmly in place by two chrome struts and one painted strut on each side.

The shutter on my camera is a Compur (size 0, if you are interested) with a self timer – two other shutters were offered for this model – and the shutter serial number tells me that this shutter was made in 1930. This seems to be a bit early for a camera made made in 1933, but perhaps the table of Compur serial numbers is not as accurate as I might hope. The shutter is a rim-set shutter, as you would expect for 1933, and offers speeds from 1 second to 1/250 seconds plus B and T.

Before the shutter can be fired, it needs to be cocked. This is done by a lever on the top of the shutter housing and needs to be moved upwards (to the left when using the camera). For the slow speeds, you can hear the internal mechanism being wound up and this requires significant effort to move the lever. If using either B or T, it is neither necessary nor possible to cock the shutter. At the top of the travel of the cocking lever, there is a metal button. If you pull this back, the cocking lever will move a bit further. This sets the self-timer which, on my camera, is about 8 seconds. This works with all shutter speeds except 1/250 seconds (or B or T).

Firing the shutter is by a shutter release lever on the lower right of the shutter housing. This is awkward to do and Zeiss Ikon have added an extension to this lever which sits to the right of the shutter housing with a useable button near the top of the shutter housing.

At the bottom of the shutter housing is the aperture scale. This runs from ƒ/4.5 to ƒ/32. The maximum aperture of ƒ/4.5 might not seem to be very fast but in 1933 only very expensive professional lenses would be much faster. There is a red dot on the aperture scale between ƒ/11 and ƒ/16. This is a Happy Snapper setting which is used in conjunction with a red dot on the focus scale. This second, focus, dot is positioned between 24 and 48 feet and fairly close to 48 feet. Setting the aperture and focus to these two red dots gives the hyperfocal distance for this lens so everything between 15 feet and infinity will be in acceptable focus.

The aperture is set by moving a fairly small pointer by the aperture scale at the bottom of the shutter housing. This is rather awkward to do but was quite usual for the day.

The lens is a Carl Zeiss Tessar. The serial number of the lens suggests that the lens was made in mid-1931 – this is two years before the camera body which seems to be a bit early for a camera made in 1933. So, shutter 1930, lens 1931, camera body 1933 – strange but I don’t suppose impossible. The focal length of the lens is 10.5 cm – before 1945, focal lengths were usually expressed in cm rather than mm. 10.5 cm is a ‘normal‘ focal length lens for a 6 by 9 cm negative.

Rangefinder arm parked

Focusing of the lens is by the built-in rangefinder. To use this, there is a lens on an arm that needs to be swung out to line up with one of the lenses on the rangefinder (see photos). While looking through the rangefinder eyepiece, you turn a milled wheel above the shutter housing. In the view through the rangefinder eyepiece is a central yellow disc. if you superimpose this disc on a vertical in the image, the vertical will be displaced, giving two images side by side. As you turn the milled wheel, one of the two images will move to one side. When the two images are precisely superimposed, the lens is in focus for your subject. My camera is 88 years old and the rangefinder calibration is spot on.

Rangefinder arm in use

Most rangefinders use a rotating mirror inside the rangefinder to produce the moving part of the image. Zeiss Ikon needed to go one better than their competition and used glass wedges which act as prisms rather than use mirrors. The glass wedge in the swinging arm rotates as you rotate the milled wheel.

To open the back of the camera, you slide a button beneath the small leather carry handle. The back swings open through 180º. On then inside of the back is the pressure plate which keeps the film flat against the film gate. Embossed on the pressure plate is an exhortation to use Zeiss Ikon film. It says to use either BII8 film or BMII8 film. BII is the German equivalent of Kodak’s 120 film. I have no idea as to what BMII8 film might be. There is also a colour sticker advertising Pernox film which was Zeiss Ikon’s upmarket, professional film – they made ‘ordinary’ BII film as well.

Inside the camera, the roll of film goes on the left, being held in place by the sprung stud mentioned earlier. The take-up spool goes on the right, again held in place by the sprung stud and also located on the film advance key. The film travels over a chrome roller, across the film gate, over another chrome roller and on to the take-up spool. For people who have never used a roll film camera before, the printing on the backing paper must be on the outside.

The film gate itself is made from pressed steel with embossed ribs along the two long sides. These exist to allow airflow across the film gate when the lens bellows are extended. With folding cameras where the lens door opens on a spring (as this one did when new), the rapid opening of the bellows acts as a vacuum pump and pulls the film into the film gate stopping it from being kept flat. These airflow parts prevents that from happening, maintaining maximum image quality.

In addition to the built-in 56 by 84 mm (60 by 90 nominal size) film gate, there is a removable 43 by 54 mm film gate to allow 45 by 60 mm (nominal size) negatives which gives 16 images on a roll of film. This insert is made from sprung steel and snaps into place quite easily.

4.5 by 6 removable film gate

The next thing to do is to load a roll of film and try out this excellent camera. With only eight frames to a roll, that should not take long.

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