Franka Solida III camera

The first Vintage camera that I bought was a Franka Solida II.  The Solida III is basically the same camera, as you would expect, with a different lens and the addition of a non-coupled rangefinder.

Franka Solida III camera

The Solida III takes 120 film and produces a 6 cm by 6 cm negative – twelve frames to a roll of film.

lens: Schneider-Kreuznach Radionar
focal length:  80 mm
apertures: f/2.9 to f/22
focus range: 3 ft to infinity
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: Prontor S
speeds: 1 second to 1/250 + B
flash:  PC socket, no X/M switch
film size: 120

The lens is a Schneider-Kreuznach Radionar 80 mm, f/2.9 lens.  This is a bit unusual as the aperture sequence usually goes to f/2.8 rather than f/2.9.  The minimum aperture is f/22 which is more than small enough coupled with the 1/250 shutter speed.  It is probably worth noting that the physical size of the aperture at f/22 on a medium format camera is much larger than f/22 on a 35 mm camera and so diffraction effects are negligible and so give sharper images than an equivalent lens/aperture would with 35mm.  With an APS C format digital camera, the difference will be even sharper.  The test film showed this lens to be better than adequate, at the least.

Franka Solida III camera
The shutter is a Prontor S leaf shutter by Gauthier, offering shutter speeds from 1 second to 1/250 plus B.

Happy Snapper settings are indicated in red and are around f/9 and twenty five feet, giving a depth of field from twelve feet to infinity.  There is also a secondary Happy Snapper setting of f/9 and eight feet which gives you a depth of field from six feet to twelve feet – presumably for portraits.

There is the usual delayed action lever giving  a delay of around eight to ten seconds.  A PC socket is provided but no synchronisation lever so the flash synch could be either for bulb or electronic flash. Given the camera’s age, I suspect it is synced for bulbs but whether for M or F bulbs I do not know.

The rangefinder works well and the two images are nice and clear.  There is enough separation between the two rangefinder windows (43 mm) and there is enough movement on the adjusting wheel to make the device effective.  Unfortunately, as a non-coupled rangefinder, it is necessary to read the distance off the rangefinder and set it on the lens focussing scale.  I find guessing the distance and using a smallish aperture to be fine and I don’t think I would use this rangefinder very much.

The other niggle with the rangefinder is that it uses a separate eyepiece to the viewfinder making focussing and composing totally separate activities and further reduces the utility of the rangefinder.

There is a safety interlock between the film winder and the shutter release meaning it is impossible to make a double exposure.  There is a (very) small window beside the film winder which shows red when the film has been wound on.  In fact, it is only necessary to turn the film winder 3/4 of a turn to reset the shutter which is not enough to wind on to the next frame.  Not having a manual for the camera, I had thought the shutter faulty before I finally twigged the purpose of the small window.

The red window on the back which allows you to read the frame numbers has a sliding cover to prevent the fogging of panchromatic film.  Loading is easy.  Both the film spool and the take up spool are contained in hinged housings which hold the film securely until the back is closed.

The pressure plate is significantly larger than the frame size (80 mm wide) which means that the film is kept nicely flat – not always the case with medium format cameras.  The lens standard pops out nicely when the button on the base is pressed – this camera is fully self-erecting.

In use, this is not anywhere as easy as the Franka Solida II.  That camera opens vertically with the baseboard at the bottom under the lens. This Solida III opens sideways so that the baseboard is to the right of the lens when you are using the camera.  This leaves very little camera for the right hand to hold on to which is rather awkward. With the fingers of the right hand curled, it is quite usable and the forefinger drops quite nicely onto the shutter release.

Small items – there is an accessory shoe – cold shoe in flash terms – and a single tripod socket on the base which is to UK/USA standard.  Lastly, the film winder has a film speed reminder on its top, with DIN/ASA numbers from DIN 12/ASA 12 to DIN 24/ASA 200.  On a camera of this age, it is worth noting that the ASA numbers are the “new” ASA scale

Franka Solida III camera
Medieval troubadours, Stonebow, Lincoln
Franka Solida III camera
Medieval guildhall, Lincoln

Agfa Billy Record

Agfa Billy Record
Agfa Billy-Record
Agfa Billy Record
Agfa Billy-Record landscape format

This is a fairly standard full frame 120 film camera from the mid 1930s.  I think this camera is a grey import – no “made in Germany”, distance scale in metres and the tripod socket is continental rather than UK or USA. The 1937 Photographic Almanac refers to this camera as the Speedex Record but it is clearly the same camera. The suggested price is £5-5-0. As the average working wage in the UK in 1937 was around £1-10-0, this was around a month’s wages so really a middle class camera.

The camera takes eight pictures on 120 film which makes it an expensive camera to use.  There are two finders: a brilliant finder and a two frame Galilean finder.  I can never get on with brilliant finders – too small mostly.  The shutter is a Prontor II leaf shutter from Gauthier and the lens is Agfa’s Apotar 10.5 cm focal length and f/4.5 maximum aperture.  This lens performs very well – with colour as well as monochrome.  Lenses from the 1930s were usually colour corrected even though colour film was unusual.  This is because the new (for the time) panchromatic films were sensitive to all colours and non-colour corrected lenses would produce a very soft image.
Shutter speeds on the Prontor II are 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/150 as well as B and T.  1/25 and 1/50 seem very slow by modern standards. but the 6cm by 9cm negatives would be unlikely to be enlarged.  For most people, contact prints would be normal.  The lack of flash synchronisation and the 1/150 maximum shutter speed date this to the first Prontor II design and so dates the camera to between 1934 and 1938.
The lens focusses down to less than one metre to infinity.  On my camera, the lens will not focus to infinity – either because the grease on the focussing thread has solidified (something Agfas are notorious for) or because someone has attempted a repair (also common on old cameras).

As was normal until the mid 1950s, the shutter release lever is on the shutter housing.  As was also normal from 1930ish, Agfa provide a secondary shutter release on the camera body which is connected to the lever on the shutter housing by an articulated link.  This is a seriously weak link and barely works on my camera.  When opening the camera, there is a significant danger of the release link missing the lever on the shutter housing.  Agfa actually stress the importance of this in the manual for the camera.  The long term effect of this link missing its proper location is that the link has bent and frequently dis-articulates itself.

There are the two tripod bushes we would expect on a camera of this format and date.  One is on the base board – centrally placed which makes fitting a tripod easier than on some cameras – and one near the centre of the base.  Both are 3/8 Whitworth which is larger than most tripods use.  My other cameras from this era have a 1/4 Whitworth insert and these may well have been present at some time.

Sample pictures:

Agfa Billy Record
Stamp End, Lincoln
Agfa Billy Record
Lincoln Cathedral

Voigtlander Vito II

Voigtlander Vito II

Voigtlander Vito II

Voigtlander’s Vito range of cameras are 35mm cameras aimed at serious amateurs.  They date from the 1940s to the 1960s and pre-date the SLR concept.  As was normal for the time, they come with several options of lenses and shutters.

Voigtlander Vito II

Initially, the Vito range were folding cameras that were small enough when closed to easily fit into a pocket.  My example is a mid-dated Vito II – the Vito II model went through a number of revisions with minor details being changed with each revision.  There was one major revision which gave rise to the Vito IIa.  I also have an original Vito I.  A comparison of my Vito cameras can be seen here.

The sequence of changes in the Vito II were:

  • 1949 Introduced
  • 1950 Shutter release bar became shutter release button, holder for an accessory shoe added
  • 1951 Film take-up spool is fixed and rewind knob is telescopic
  • 1954 Accessory shoe fitted (rather than provision for one) Compur shutter available
  • 1955 Film advance now a lever, larger viewfinder (Vito IIa)

So my Vito II is a 1954 version although the lens serial number shows the lens was made in 1953.

So, a basic description.  The camera easily fits in a hand (my hand at any road), being 125mm long, 75mm high and 40mm thick when closed.  The lens standard is opened by a recessed button on the base – the cover is hinged on the side and the lens comes forward and locks in position.  This action is spring loaded but on my camera the spring is not strong enough to fully open the camera.  When new, it may well have been fully automatic opening.  To close the camera again, two buttons have to be pressed simultaneously and the cover pushed into place.

The lens on my Vito II is a Voigtlander Color-Skopar 50mm which is Voigtlander’s version of a Zeiss Ikon Tessar.  This lens has a very good reputation.   It focusses down to 3.5 feet – this camera uses front cell focussing which is not quite as good as moving the whole lens top focus but this only matters for close to work and for landscapes is fine.  The results are excellent.  The focussing scale has two Happy Snapper settings – “o” which is the hyperfocal setting for f5.6 and “V” which the hyperfocal setting at f16. When the focus is set to “o” and the aperture to f5.6, the depth of field extends from 15 feet to infinity and when set to “V” and the aperture to f16, the depth of field extends from 5.5 feet to infinity.  The lens serial number dates this lens to 1953 although the camera was made in 1954.

The lens has a slight but definite purple tinge to it which suggests that it is a coated lens but if it is, it is still, unfortunately, susceptible to flare. Using this camera, it is necessary to remember the advice my father gave me as a child – always keep the sun behind you.

The aperture range is f3.5 to f16. The shutter is the cheaper Pronto leaf shutter made by Gauthier and offers four speeds – 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/200 seconds as well a B. There is also a delay action timer which delays the shutter release by about ten seconds. This is very difficult to use as the setting lever is very close to the struts holding the lens in place.

Voigtlander Vito II

This camera is old enough to need manual cocking of the shutter. The actual shutter release is on the shutter housing but it is actuated by a button on top of the lens cover – there is also a cable release socket at this position. The camera has two safety devices – first, the shutter will not fire if the film has not been wound on so no double exposures and secondly, the winding knob will only move the film on one frame without the shutter being fired. This last can be over-ridden so a part-used film can be rewound into the cassette and then refitted and would on to the next unexposed frame at a later date. This allows the photographer to change between types of film while on a shoot without wasting film.

The last thing to mention regarding the shutter is the presence of a PC (Prontor Compur) flash connector. There is no selector to choose between bulb or electronic flash and on the model I have (Pronto shutter) it is for F synchronisation only – i.e. the flash will fire when the shutter is nearly fully open which is intended for fast flash bulbs.  With Synchro-Compur and Prontor SV shutters, you would have X and M synchronisation available. Both the film advance and film rewind are by way of a large milled knob – one on each end on the top plate. The back of the camera fastens with a not entirely satisfactory catch. When the camera is in the ever-ready case, this will not matter but I tend to carry this camera in my pocket and I have had the back unfasten itself.

The viewfinder is a Galilean type and is rather small. Wearing spectacles as I do, I find it very hard to use as I cannot get my eye near enough to the eyepiece. The only other thing worth noting is that this camera has feet. This is common on cameras of this era (40s and 50s) and the feet take the form of small metal projections on the base plate and the lens door. These enable the camera to be set down on a suitable surface so that self-portraits can be done using the delayed action timer.

Voigtlander Vito II


18 September 2012:

This is now a favourite camera with only a few niggles.  The first is its age – around sixty years old.  My concern for its age revolve around the bellows.  These are made from some sort of oiled/lacquered cloth and eventually they will start leaking light.  I am not sure if I should tackle this by leaving the lens extended all the time and so ensuring that any small leak there might be will leave a significant mark on the film, or whether I should leave the camera closed unless I am actually taking a picture and so hastening then point at which then light starts leaking in.

The other main niggle is the position of the shutter release button.  When holding the camera, my finger does not naturally fall on the release button and I find my finger searching for it – not exactly helping to ‘hit’ the decisive moment.

Voigtlander Vito II
Third niggle – the viewfinder.  It is small.  So small I can barely use it while wearing my spectacles.  This is a reverse Galilean finder – it produces a small image in the same way that a telescope does when you use it back to front.  having a built-in viewfinder in a consumer camera was a fairly new idea when the Vito II was designed – Zeiss Ikon were still using folding Newtonian finders on the equivalent (Nettar and Ikonta) cameras.  This viewfinder is much the same as the viewfinder in the later Vito B.  It was only when the Vito B had been in production for several years that larger comfortable to use finders were introduced (as they were on the new Vito C range that eventually replaced the Vito B range.

Apart from those three niggles, I like using this camera.  The rewind knob is better than a standard SLR mini lever for rewinding the film and I also like the film advance knob in place of a rapid wind lever.

Zeiss Ikon Icarette

 The Icarette (sometimes mistakenly called a Jcarette because of the fancy “I” used) is a very old line of cameras, first produced by ICA before the mergers that formed Zeiss Ikon in 1926.  ICA itself was formed in 1909 by an amalgamation of Carl Zeiss Jena and others.  My Icarette has a lens serial number of 1089397, a body number of Q***42 and a shutter serial number of 1065884.  This means the lens was made towards the beginning of 1930, the body in early 1929 and the shutter in mid 1929.  This suggests that this particular Icarette was made in 1930 – 1931 at the latest.  The design is fairly old-fashioned for this date – not self-erecting and the focussing is on the baseboard, not the shutter assembly.  It does, however, have a rim-set leaf shutter which was very much state of the art for 1930.

I also have an earlier Icarette, from around 1919, made by ICA and a further ICA Icarette from 1925/6.

Zeiss Ikon Icarette

The Icarette is a thin camera when closed (35mm), but measures 180 mm long by 85 mm wide.  This makes it far too big to be a pocket camera.  To open the camera, you must press a slight bulge in the leatherette close to the film winder.  When opened, the base board has to be brought down to its position by hand – no springs here.  Then the lens/shutter has to be pulled forward until it locates on the focussing control.  The focussing control is a lever on the side of the base board which moves the shutter a total of less than one cm giving a focussing range from infinity to somewhere around three feet (the nearest marked position is for seven feet but the lever moves beyond this).

This camera has two viewfinders – a small brilliant finder and a cruder Newtonian finder with the far frame attached to the lens so movements of the lens are accounted for.  I do not find brilliant finders very easy to use but they have the advantage of allowing the camera to be used at waist level – much more discrete for candid or street photography.

The lens has a rise and fall mechanism and if you use this, the Newtonian finder is essential.  The rise and fall mechanism is there to allow the photographer to photograph tall things like trees and buildings without tilting the camera.  This means that there will be less distortion in the final picture.  The fact that the camera has a rise and fall mechanism means that the image circle must be much larger than the negative, which in turns means that vignetting will be minimal.

As mentioned above, the lens is a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar lens made in 1930.  This is the classic Zeiss lens which is still in use today.  It has an aperture range from f/4.5 to f/32 and focusses from around three feet to infinity.  The shutter is a Deckel Compur rim-set shutter made in 1929 with speeds of 1 second, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/250 seconds as well as B and T (B keeps the shutter open while the shutter release is depressed, T keeps the shutter open until the shutter release is pressed again).  The shutter also has a self-timer but as the general advice is not to use these on old cameras, I do not know how long the delay is.  I would suspect around ten seconds.  This shutter is the crème de la crème of shutters and still works well over eighty years after it left the factory.

The camera is fitted with two tripod bosses – one the base board close to the hinge and one part way along one of the edges.  Both are 3/8 inch Whitworth threads with a 1/4 inch Whitworth insert – the insert being held securely in place by a grub screw.  With my sample of this camera, someone has tried to remove the 1/4 inch insert without removing the grub screw damaging both the insert and the grub screw – they did this to both tripod bosses.  However, both still fit my modern tripod and hold the camera securely.

This camera takes 120 size film (or BII as Zeiss call it).  The spool carriers are hinged which allows easier loading of new film (and removal of exposed film).

This camera after a quick clean:
Zeiss Ikon Icarette

Some sample pictures:

These are fairly soft.  This is partly because focussing is inaccurate – the entire lens standard moves on a track and the distance between one metre and infinity is very small.  Helical focussing which became the norm soon after this camera was made gives more control.  Partly it is soft because it did not matter.  Photographs were normally printed as contact prints so the picture would have been 6cm by 9cm (a bit smaller than I have them here).

Zeiss Ikon IcaretteZeiss Ikon IcaretteZeiss Ikon Icarette

Zeiss Ikon Nettar family

Zeiss Ikon produced quite a series of cameras called Nettar – both before and after WWII. These range from cameras producing 6cm by 9cm to 6cm by 4.5 cm negatives. Information on these is conflicting to say the least.
I have four Nettars – two are very early ones from 1934-ish (the year Nettars were first sold), from 1937 and the newest from the early 1950s. I shall describe them separately as they are totally different cameras. The four Nettars are 510 (Bob), 515/2 (the older ones), 515 (the newer one) and 517/16 (almost new one).

The following advert from the 1939 Wallace Heaton minitography and cinematography catalogue show the models available in 1939 together with prices. There 517 and 518 were post-war models so are not mentioned in this advert:

Nettar 1939 009.jpg

Zeiss Ikon Nettar family
Left to right: Nettar 515, Nettar 515/2, Bob 510, Nettar 517/16
Bob 510

This camera is very very similar to the Nettar 515. Indeed, this camera (Bob 510) was sold in the UK as a Nettar 510 – the first of the Nettar line. The Nettar 515 is obviously an update of the Bob/Nettar 510. I am basing that on the dates for introduction I have found on the Internet: 1934 for the 510, 1937 for the 515 and the fact that the 510 is a much lower spec. than the 515. However, Tubbs has the dates of introduction as 1938 for the 510 and 1934 for the 515. This seems unlikely to me as the 510 has hinge on the baseboard that will not allow the fitting of a top-plate shutter release while the 515 hinge does. There would be no advantage in redesigning a perfectly good hinge in order to make a cheaper camera. Also, the lens standard on the 515 has provision to fit an optional brilliant finder while the 510 does not. Again, there would be no commercial point in redesigning the lens standard to prevent the attachment of the brilliant finder in the cheaper camera. The re-engineering would cost needless money and also prevent potential sales of optional auxiliaries. The serial number of the body tells me it was made in 1936

Apart from the lens/shutter options and the differences mentioned above, the 510 and 515 are identical.

The name “Bob” is an estimable one. It is an Ernemann name and dates from 1914. Ernemann was one of the four companies (Goertz, Contessa-Nettal, ICA and Ernemann) who combined under the aegis of the Carl Zeiss Foundation to form Zeiss Ikon in 1926. Zeiss Ikon continued to sell Bob III and Bob IV cameras but were using up stock from before the merger. These Ernemann Bobs bequeathed nothing but the name to the Bob 510.

As I said, the Bob 510 was marketed in the UK as the Nettar 510 but my specimen is clearly a Bob with the name “Bob” embossed in the leatherette and the distance scale is in metres. I am always a bit uneasy when I buy German versions of cameras from the 1930s – they were certainly not retailed here in the UK. I suspect many were taken as war booty by British soldiers or “bought” in exchange for unavailable items. However, that is now fairly distant past and is (always was) beyond my control.

This is a half-frame camera – full frame for 120 film is 6cm by 9cm. This camera produces 6cm by 4.5cm negatives – 16 to a roll of film. This is roughly four times as large as a 35mm negative and most of the defects of an old, cheap lens are off-set by the need to enlarge the pictures four times less.

The lens on this camera is a Nettar Anastigmat 1:6.3 with a focal length of 7.5 cm. This was below the standard for the time and marks the camera as a cheap version. F6.3 is very slow and faster lenses were available, in fact the 515 had a f4.5 lens just a couple of years later. Focussing is courtesy of the front cell only – usual on the lower end of the market, even with upmarket lenses such as Tessars. Focussing is from just short of 1.2 metres to infinity. This lens is fairly soft with a predisposition to flare as you can see from the photographs below.

The shutter is the fairly crude Derval leaf shutter by Gauthier – speeds are 1/25, 1/50 and 1/100 plus B and T. There is no delayed action lever. The fascia of the shutter, which was supplied by Zeiss Ikon rather than Gauthier, is a black and chrome Art Deco disc more reminiscent of Agfa of the time than nit is of Zeiss Ikon. The shutter is of the everset variety – there is no need to cock the shutter first as on a Klio or Prontor shutter. The shutter release lever has quite a lot of travel before it acts making firing the shutter a bit uncertain. This is much easier in landscape orientation but in portrait orientation one finger of the right hand has to move well under the lens while the rest of the hand has to hold the camera steady. As is usual, the lens/shutter combination has Happy Snapper settings signified by red dots. These are just larger than f11 and about seven metres. With the slow films of the 1930s, this would have required a slow shutter speed of 1/25 or 1/50 except in really bright light. The resulting pictures would not have stood any enlarging, but the customers for this camera would have been unlikely to have had anything other than contact prints from the 6cm by 4.5 cm negatives.

The viewfinder is a folding Galilean finder. The eye-piece is very small – 3mm by 5mm – and difficult to use while wearing spectacles. To add to this difficulty, the front part on my specimen is very worn and leans forward at an alarming angle. This means that precision of composition is not possible – but if I wanted precision I would not be using a seventy plus year old camera.

There is one tripod bush on the bottom at the end of the film holder. This protrudes from the casing and means that the tripod will not fit very securely. The main boss is 3/8 inch Whitworth but will take a 1/4 inch Whitworth insert – it probably had one to begin with.

Zeiss Ikon Nettar family
Views along the banks of the Sincil towards Lincoln cathedral.


This camera is a full frame 120 camera – that is it gives 8 off 6cm by 9cm negatives. This makes it an expensive camera to use but that is offset by the greater quality of the much larger negative. The body serial number tells me that it was made in 1932.
The lens is a Nettar anastigmat with a focal length of 11 cm (cm before 1945 and mm after 1945) which is “normal” for a 6cm x 9cm negative. This lens has an aperture range of f/4.5 to f/32 – quite a fast lens for its time.
The shutter is a Telma everset leaf shutter made by Gauthier – “everset” means the shutter does not need cocking – with a speed range of 1/25, 1/50 and 1/100 plus B and T. (B keeps the shutter open while the shutter release is pressed, T keeps then shutter open until the shutter release is pressed a second time). The shutter release is on the lens assembly and has two definite parts to its travel – tensioning the shutter and releasing the shutter. Although it requires a firmer touch than a Compur shutter which needs cocking, it is much faster in action. The shutter also has a delay action lever which delays the shutter by around ten seconds.
This was the fourth cheapest Nettar 520/2 – Zeiss Ikon advertised it at £5/10/0 in 1936. The bottom of the range (f6.3 Nettar lens and Derval shutter) sold for £3/15/0 and the top of the range (f4.5 Tessar and a normal Compur shutter) sold for £9/17/6 (all prices in ‘Old Money’). The lens has a focussing range of slightly less than 4’6″ to infinity. Both the focussing scale and the aperture scale have a Happy Snapper setting marked in red – about f13 and about 40 feet. Basically, this means that 40 feet is the lens’s hyperfocal distance at f13 and nearly everything will be in focus at these setting.
There are two viewfinders – a brilliant finder that can be turned for Portrait or Landscape formats and a direct vision finder that is simply two open frames. I find brilliant finders hard to use but I suspect that this is (at least partly) due to inexperience. I much prefer the direct vision finder.

The camera is self-erecting – that is, you press the button on the body, the baseboard opens and the lens lines up correctly. You still need to pull the base board into position as it is not spring loaded like the 515 is. The same body button also opens the direct vision finder. There are two tripod bushes – one on the base board near the hinge and one on the bottom in the end of the film holder. This means that this tripod bush will not hold the camera very securely. Both are 3/8 inch Whitworth threads, both with 1/4 inch Whitworth inserts held in place with a grub screw.

The camera is designed to use Orthochromatic film which is not sensitive to red light. The red view hole in the back for noting negative numbers has no cover and if the camera is used with modern Panchromatic film, a degree of fogging could occur through this hole. As you can see, there is a problem with the bellows on this old camera – there is a slight sag where the bellows join the camera body. I am not sure how easy this would be to fix. The many black dots are dirt that has been attracted to static on the film – a good but expensive way to clean the inside of the camera.

This following is adverts for this model from the British Journal of Photography Almanac of 1936:

1936 002

1936 004

Zeiss Ikon Nettar family
Cornhill, Lincoln, August 2011
Zeiss Ikon Nettar family
Silver Street, Lincoln, August 2011
Zeiss Ikon Nettar family
Stamp End, Lincoln – Fujifilm Provia
My Nettar 515 was made in 1937, judging by the body serial number. It is of the 6cm x 4.5 cm flavour and is small enough to be considered a pocket camera even if it is rather heavy for a jacket pocket.
The Nettar 515 takes 120 film (all of the range do) and produces 16 pictures on a roll of 120 film. It is essentially a half-frame camera – as it uses each negative number on the film twice – once in each of the two red windows.
The camera sports a Novar Anastigmat lens – 7.5 cm focal length and maximum aperture of f/4.5, minimum aperture of f/22. Actually, the aperture lever goes beyond the f/22 mark by as much as the distance between f/16 and f/22 so perhaps is closing down to as little as f/32 at its limit. The shutter is a Klio leaf shutter made by Gauthier (which was actually owned by Zeiss Ikon). As this is a rim set shutter, it is not of the everset variety that early Klios were and needs cocking before a picture can be taken. Shutter speeds on a Klio are 1, 2, 5, 10, 25, 50, 100, 175 – all fractions of a second. This is adequate but causes problems in very bright conditions. It is probably better to restrict this camera to ASA (sorry, ISO) 125 film or slower. The shutter has a Happy Snapper setting indicated by red dots. This is f/10 and focus at 24 feet. At this setting just about everything will be in focus. That is to say that 24 feet is the hyperfocal distance at f/10.
There is a delayed action lever which delays the shutter by about ten seconds which allows the photographer to get himself into the frame. On this camera this works but the usual advice for old cameras applies – don’t use it. This is because the spring that controls the delayed action is fairly weak and might break with age. As is normal with pre-WWII shutters, the release lever is on the shutter assembly. By the mid 30s, it was de rigeur to have the shutter release on the camera body, which is exactly where it is with this camera. It is linked to the lever on the shutter assembly by two inter-connected levers – a bit cumbersome but it works well enough. There is one tripod bush on the bottom at the end of the film holder. This protrudes from the casing and means that the tripod will not fit very securely. The main boss is 3/8 inch Whitworth but has a 1/4 inch Whitworth insert held in place by a small grub screw. There is also a tapered thread cable release socket but no flash connection – flash was unusual in the 1930s, particularly with amateurs.
The viewfinder is primitive – particularly by modern standards. It is a Galilean finder – two frames each with a lens which combine to give a viewfinder image slightly smaller than life size. Once a few pictures have been taken, it becomes second nature to use, although it can never be as accurate as a modern Galilean finder contained in one housing. There is provision for the attachment of a brilliant finder but my experience of these leaves me preferring the cruder Galilean finder.
In 1939, this model sold fo £5-12-6 with a Nettar lens rather than the Novar lens that my camera has. The Nettar 515 was available for as little as £3-7-6 with a Nettar ƒ/6.3 lens and a Derval shutter.

A scanned copy of the original Nettar manual for this camera is available as a download. Also available is Zeiss Ikon’s 1930s exposure guide.

Zeiss Ikon Nettar family
Lincoln Arboretum, 2011
Zeiss Ikon Nettar family
Drury lane, Lincoln – looking north
Nettar 517/16.
This is a post (WWII) war Nettar and has some improvements over the pre-war Nettars. There were two versions of post-war Nettars – 517/16 and 518/16 (the 16 in the designation means it takes twelve pictures on a roll of 120 (or BII) film. No, I’m afraid you will have to ask Zeiss Ikon why 16 and not 12). The only difference that I can see is that the 518 has a double exposure interlock and the 517 does not. This is a 517 and this comes in two versions. Mine has a square design top plate and later 517/16 cameras has a softer curved profile to the top plate.
Although these were not top-of-the-range cameras, they were not cheap either. I have a 1952 camera catalogue which prices the Nettar (not sure whether 517 or 518) at £16/13/3 (which is old money. It would be £16.66 in new money) for the basic model or £21/15/9 (£21.79 in new money). That is more than an average working man would earn in a week (£9 for a man, on average). In terms of an average man’s wage in 2013, it equates to over £1,000 for a Nettar in modern money.
The controls are pretty basic (and much the same as the Nettars described above). On the top plate is a lens release button, a shutter release button and a winding knob. All other controls are on the shutter housing. Here is the diaphragm (f6.3 to f22), shutter speed (1/25, 1/75 and 1/200) and focusing (marked as being 4.5 feet to infinity but it focusses much closer – I suspect to one metre or three feet).
The lens is a Novar ( the same as on my 515) which is a triplet. These produce good results (better than many people expect) but needs to be stopped down for the best results. This lens is only f/6.3 wide open so should always give good results.
The shutter is a Vario leaf shutter which is one of Gauthier’s cheaper shutters. It only really has one useable speed – 1/200. It does have 1/25 and 1/75 but while these would have been fine for contact prints that were usual in the 1950s the resulting pictures would not bear enlarging due to the camera shake.
As was normal (at least on Zeiss Ikon’s cheaper cameras) there are Happy Snapper settings marked with a red dot. These are focus at around 22 feet and slightly wider than f/11 aperture. Using this Happy Snapper setting should give you a depth of field from 11 feet to infinity. When stopped down to f/22, this lens should give you a depth of field from six feet to infinity.
The lens baseboard hinges down which I prefer as it leaves more room for your hands. It also provides a stable base for the camera which would be useful if the Vario shutter provided a Vorlaufwerk (or delay action) setting, which it does not. This camera also came with the more expensive Prontor S shutter which does have such a setting.
The release for the baseboard should allow the lens to spring into action just by the release being pressed. This is not so on my camera which is probably due to lack of use. I shall oil it directly and try the action a few times to see if it will free up. It is no big deal if it does not. The viewfinder on the 517/16 (and 518/16) has been modernised over the pre-war versions but not to provide an improvement. The viewfinder is now built-in to the top plate instead of being two folding frames; unfortunately, it is also much smaller. It is now too small for me to use with my glasses on which will make the camera harder to use. The image seen in the viewfinder is also much smaller, about a quarter of real life, and I need to get my really close to the viewfinder – this is why I cannot use it with my glasses on and when I try the metal surround scratches the plastic lenses on my glasses. On top of the viewfinder is an accessory shoe.
The film advance is on the left and on the top. This feels back-to-front to me but it is a perfectly acceptable system. There is one central red window on the back of the camera with a chrome slider to keep light out between shots. The spools are kept securely in place with spring loaded bosses. There is no provision for air flow around the film mask, so with this camera it might be a good idea to open the bellows before winding on the film. The reason for this is that the expanding bellows can act as a pump and suck the film into the space in the middle of the film mask giving a slightly curved piece of film in front of the lens. Conversely, wait a few seconds between opening the camera and taking the first picture.
The following is an advert from the 1952 Wallace Heaton catalogue:
Nettat 1952 003
Test pictures will be provided as soon as I have had the chance to try the camera out.
30-11-13: I now have my test roll developed – Fuji Provia reversal film. This camera has quite bad vignetting – it shows more on some pictures than others -I am assuming it has to do with the aperture used. The picture of Lincoln’s Exchequergate has hardly any visible vignetting.
Zeiss Ikon Nettar family
Lincoln’s Exchequergate
Zeiss Ikon Nettar family
Lindesfarne Castle
Zeiss Ikon Nettar family
Bamburgh Castle
Comparison between Ikonta 520, Bob 510 and Nettar 515:
These three cameras from Zeiss Ikon share the same aluminium casting for their bodies. This makes them very similar cameras. They all take 120 film and they all produce half-frame negatives of 6 x 4.5 cm. The details, however, are different. I shall give the differences between them one model at a time, starting with the oldest.
Ikonta 520
This camera was produced from 1931 and is using the old fashioned dial set shutter – the disc at the top with the word ‘Derval’ on it.. The adjuster for the aperture is at the bottom of the shutter housing and requires the user to turn the camera around so that the scale can be seen. The lens is a Novar triplet lens. There is also a leather hand strap on this camera and the catch to close the back is solid.
Bob 510
Next is the Bob 510 (sold in the UK as a Nettar 510). This is a slightly later camera first produced in 1934 and has a more modern rim set shutter – the dial is now replaced with a ring around the shutter housing. Shutter speeds and apertures are the same, but the aperture adjuster is now on top of the shutter housing, behind the speed selector. This means that the user can adjust the aperture with the camera pointing at the subject. Perhaps not a major advance but will have been less frustrating to use. The lens is now a Nettar rather than the Novar – still a triplet but a different design. There is no hand strap on this camera and the catch for the back is less secure than on the Ikonta.
Nettar 515
Last is the Nettar 515. This is later again, 1937, and also has the rim set shutter. The shutter is now a Klio (on non-Zeiss Ikon cameras known as Prontor) with more shutter speeds (up to 1/175 and a few slow speeds). The aperture adjuster is still on top, behind the speed adjuster, and there is now a delay setting lever below the shutter housing. As with the Ikonta, the lens is a Novar triplet. This shutter requires cocking before use and there is an ancillary shutter release button on the camera body. There is also provision to fit an optional brilliant finder on this camera although mine does not have this. This model also has no hand strap and it has the same catch as the Bob 510
Zeiss Ikon Nettar family
All three together, oldest on the left, newest on the right.
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