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.


Pentacon F (Contax F)

This is a ground breaking camera. This was the first modern 35 mm SLR camera (in the S version). SLR cameras have been around for a very long time and there were many SLR cameras that used glass plates rather than film. There were also earlier 35 mm SLR cameras – the Kine Exakta is generally accepted as being the first – but these earlier designs did not lead on to the ubiquitous 35 mm SLR of the 1950s and beyond.

Pentacon F

lens: n/a
focal length: n/a
apertures: n/a
focus range: n/a
lens fitting: M42
shutter: cloth focal plane
speeds: 1 second to 1/1/1000
flash: PC connector
film size: 35 mm

The name ‘Pentacon’ was only used for cameras sold in Western Europe and North America. Elsewhere, it was the Contax F. This other name tells us a great deal about the design of this camera. It is a development of the pre WWII Zeiss Ikon Contax rangefinder. The main changes made are that the brass shutter is replaced with a cloth one, the shutter moves side to side rather than up and down and the rangefinder is replaced with a mirror and pentaprism. This last give rise to the name Pentacon which is a contraction of PENTAprism CONtax. There are also other changes – the Contax bayonet lens mount is replaced by the M42 thread lens mount. It was necessary to change the lens mount to increase the film to lens flange distance – the mirror needs the additional room to move – the diameter of the M42 lens mount (at 42 mm!) is also significantly larger than the diameter of the Contax bayonet mount (35 mm) allowing longer focal lengths to be used.

Pentacon F rear

The camera measures 145 by 80 by 50 mm and weighs 850 g. It is an all metal construction and the exposed metal is chrome plated with a matt finish. The rest of the body is covered with a fine grained black leatherette. The controls are bright chrome plated.

Pentacon F top plate

The top plate is not what later became ‘standard’, but is not far off. On the right is the film advance. This is still a knob at this age. This knob rotates clockwise which in turn turns the take-up spool clockwise so that the film is wound with the emulsion side outward. To the left of the film advance is the shutter speed selector. This is v very different to the speed selectors that became normal in the 1950s and 1960s. The selector wheel turns clockwise and must be depressed teen-age the mechanism beneath. In front of the speed selector wheel is a window. This gives onto a disc with two speed scales – one black and one red. The black scale is the fast speeds and offers speeds of 1/50, 1/100, 1/200, 1/500 and 11/1000. The red scale is the slow speeds and offers 1, 1/2, 1/5, and 1/20 and B. To choose which scale to use, there is a slide on the back of the top plate. When this is slid to the left a red arrow appears on the left of the selector window and the red range is selected. Moving the slide to the right changes the red arrow to a black arrow on the right and the black range is selected.

The idea is that you only select a red speed while the red arrow is present and only select a black speed while the black arrow is present. However, there is nothing to stop you choosing a black speed with the red range selected – and vice versa. If you do this, the shutter fires just fine but there is no telling as to which shutter speed you will actually get. Shutter speeds can be changed either before or after the film is advanced. Before the film is advanced, the selector knob will only turn anti-clockwise (actually, it will turn both ways but will not select a new shutter speed if turned clockwise) but after advancing the film it will turn in either direction.

When you press the shutter release button, the disc in the selector window will rotate clockwise – part of one revolution while the release is depressed and the remainder of the revolution once the release button is raised again.

Left of centre is the pentaprism hump. This is a normal pentaprism and there is not a lot I can say about it. It turns the image on the focus screen so that it is the right way around in the viewfinder. The eye-piece is nice and large and the focus screen is plain ground glass – no focus aids here.

Film reminder – B&W at 100 ASA

Left of the pentaprism hump is the rewind knob. On this camera, the rewind knob does not double as a catch for the back – that is a slide on the right-hand end of the camera – nor does it pull up to ease the insertion of film cassettes. Beneath the rewind knob is a film memo. This consists of a ring with three icons on it. One icon is a black circle next to a white circle – this represents black and white film. The second icon is a sun and this represents colour film balanced for daylight. The third icon is a light bulb and represents colour film balanced for artificial (specifically tungsten bulb) light. To remind yourself as to what film is loaded, you rotate this ring anticlockwise until your chosen icon is against the film speed (which is ASA only. I assume that cameras intended for the home German market will have had this film speed reminder scale in DIN).

Between the pentaprism hump and the rewind knob is a PC connector for flash. There is no accessory shoe on this camera so the flash gun would need to be fitted to a bracket or separate stand. There is no indication given on the shutter speed disc as to what speed is required for flash but the manual states that it is 1/10 seconds.

The shutter release button is on the front of the camera to the right of the lens mount. Its is angled and falls nicely to my fore-finger when holding the camera. The button is threaded for a standard cable release. Below the release b button is a delay action lever. To use this, you move the lever anti-clockwise as far as it will go. To set it off, you give a slight turn to the knurled knob holding the lever in place. This takes eight seconds (on my camera) to fire the shutter. It is not possible to move the lever part way to give a shorter delay. If you try this, the shutter will not fire.

The lens mount is an M42 (42 mm by 1 mm thread) mount and so will take a very large number of lenses from many makers. This is the automatic version of the M42 mount which means that just inside the mount at the bottom is a plate that a moves forward as the shutter release button is pressed. This plate presses on a pin on the back of the lens and closes the diaphragm to the set aperture. Just beneath the lens mount there is a folding foot. Folding this out will allow the camera to stand level on a suitable surface to let you take selfies in conjunction with the delay action lever.

back and half base removed

As mentioned above, the back is opened by a slide catch. The Contax that this camera was based on and all West German Contax derivatives have the back and base come away from the body in one piece. With this camera, the back is hinged but still takes a significant portion of the base with not. This is to facilitate the insertion and removal of the film cassettes. As was common with German cameras, the take-up spool is removable and can be replaced with an empty cassette. This avoids the need to rewind the film at the end and supposedly makes changing films faster and easier. The downside is that it is easy to drop the loose take-up spool when fitting a new film.

back and other half base

As was the German practice, the flanges around the edges of the back are designed to be light tight and so this camera has no foam light seals to go bad. There are two light seals – velvet, not foam – by the hinge and by the slide catch. Apart from these velvet light seals, this camera has no need of seals. A boon for collectors of old cameras!

back inside view

The one weakness of using flanges to keep out light is where the sprocket shaft attaches at the top. This shaft is connected to the film advance mechanism to control the length of film advanced each time. This locally reduces the depth of the flange. To keep the camera light tight, there is a secondary flange at the top of the back just where the sprocket shaft is.

On the base is a standard 1/4 inch Whitworth tripod boss. It looks to me that this has been fitted into a 3/8 inch Whitworth boss. Also on the base is the button to release the advance mechanism for rewinding the film. The only other thing to note is the presence of a strap lug on either front corner.

Ica Icarette 1 (A)

This is an Icarette camera made by Ica in Dresden, Germany. It is a model 1 which was introduced in 1912 but I cannot tell if it is a type 495 (the original, model A in the USA) or type 496 (later version that can also take glass plates, model B in the USA).

Ica was a camera manufacturer based in Dresden and owned by the Carl Zeiss Stiftung.  Ica is an acronym for Internationale Camera Aktien Gesellschaft (the Aktien Gesellschaft part is the German equivalent of the British ‘PLC’ or USian ‘Inc’).  Ica is one of the companies that merged to form Zeiss Ikon in 1926.  After 1926, Zeiss Ikon continued to make Icarette cameras but this one is clearly marked ‘ICA Akl Ges’ (the usual abbreviation is AG rather than Akl Ges). This means it was made prior to 1926. I can date it more accurately (but not very accurately) by the Body Number (E42012). In 1926 when the merger to form Zeiss Ikon occurred, Ica were up to the letter ‘L’. For each letter, Ica made 100,000 cameras so the seven letter difference indicates 700,000 cameras.  After the merger into Zeiss Ikon, production by the much larger business only used two letters of the alphabet each year. The smaller Ica, which was also trading during a much tougher time, is unlikely to have used more than one letter each year which pushes the date of this camera back to 1919 at a best guess. I can also date the lens which was made in 1918. Lenses were made in batches and one batch could last serveral months and it is not unusual for manufacturers to use a lens in the year following the manufacture. The Icarette model was introduced in 1912 so a date of early 1919 (or perhaps late 1918) is more than reasonable.

Further research leads me to believe that the ‘E’ serial number is likely to be 1915 rather than 1919. My dating for the lens was based on my assumption that a Novar  lens with a serial number would have been made by Carl Zeiss and so that I could date this lens by the serial number. I no longer think that this is so. Other owners of Ica cameras have better dating due to their cameras having Tessar lenses and equating the Tessar serial number with well established dates with the Ica body number gives me a much earlier date for this camera. 2022: my most recent opinion on dating this camera is that it was made during WWI and probably nearer to 1918 than 1914.

I also have a later Icarette made in about 1930 by Zeiss Ikon.

Ica Icarette A (or B?)
Ica Icarette A (or B?)

lens: Novar
focal length:  75mm
apertures: f/6.8 – f/36
focus range: ? to infinity
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: Derval(?)
speeds: 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, B, T
flash: No facility
film size: 117

My particular camera has been ‘well loved’. Although it has the signs of having been used well, it is in quite good condition for a camera that is 100-odd years old. The main defects are: someone has attempted to remove the rear element of the lens. The metal of the securing ring has gouge marks and there are significant scratches to the matt black paint in the area around the lens. The front two elements of the lens are also loose-ish – loose enough to remove by hand. The inside of the back has been repainted in places by hand and someone has added a home-made catch for the lens board.

Ica Icarette A (or B?)
Left-hand side view.
Wear and tear includes the leather (not leatherette) covering starting to peel and fray at the edges in places. The steel parts have some surface rusting. Someone has removed the wire frame from the viewfinder. The only other significant defect I can find is the locating pin for the lens standard. On opening the camera, it is necessary to pull the lens forward by squeezing the two plated lugs below the lens. The lens then pulls forward on plated rails until it locates on the pin mentioned above. This pin is visibly worn and no longer locates the lens standard properly.
Ica Icarette A (or B?)
Rear view of the inside.
I shall now give a general description of the camera.
It measures 125 mm by 80 mm by 30 mm when closed (by 90 mm when open). It weighs 370g. The lens board is central on the front and opens downwards. The outside of the camera is very plain. It is entirely covered in black leather which is minimally decorated with straight line tooling.
Blog (c) John Margetts
The top of the camera has the film advance knob on the left. While the back is on the camera, this is securely held in place. Once the back is removed, the advance knob pulls upwards to release the take-up spool. On my camera, the advance knob becomes completely detached but I am not sure this is as it should be. The knob locates with two pins – one short and one long (6 mm and 33 mm, respectively). The long pin has a flattened part half way along. Inside the camera, besides where the spool goes, is a small hole that aligns with the flattened part of the long pin. I suspect that this hole once contained a screw that allowed the long pin to move the length of the flattened part and no further – about 5 mm. The knob itself contains a ratchet so that the knob cannot turn the wrong way and loosen the film on the spool.
Ica Icarette A (or B?)
Front and right-hand view.
The back of the camera has a red window placed centrally. The camera takes 6 x 6 cm photographs and so uses the middle row of numbers on the film’s backing paper.  The film size is 117 (now obsolete) which is the same size film as 120 but on a smaller spool – a bit like 620 film. 117 has essentially the same size spool as 620 but uses the 120 size key-hole on the end of the spool, rather than the smaller 620 key-hole. I could (but won’t) rewind some 120 film onto the spool that came with this camera and use it. As this camera has a focussing issue, I shall not bother.
Ica Icarette A (or B?)
Camera closed
Ica Icarette A (or B?)
ready for winding on.
Ica Icarette A (or B?)
Ready to use.

Using the rear viewfinder window. When the viewfinder window is all the way down (in the closed position) it covers the red window and prevents any light getting into the camera and fogging the film.  To wind-on the film, you raise the viewfinder part-way to expose the red window.  When taking a photograph, you raise the viewfinder all the way, covering the red window again.  Ingenious!

In order to load the camera with film, the back must be completely removed. This is done by depressing two plated studs on the right-hand end of the camera.

The front of the camera opens downwards and fits into place with a definite click. In the face of the lens board is a tripod boss.  As I mentioned, the lens must be pulled forwards until it locates on a pin to keep it in the correct position. The lens is attached to the body with leatherette bellows. These seem to be in good condition with no visible holes or splits. Focussing is achieved by moving a lever on the lens board which moves the shutter/lens forwards and backwards. Focussing with this camera is not critical – the distance on the scale between infinity and one metre is about one cm.

The lens is a 75 mm Novar lens (inscribed as being 7.5 cm, as was the fashion pre-WWII). It has a maximum aperture of f/6.8 and a minimum aperture of f/36.  The sequence of apertures is not the modern one. It goes: 6.8, 9, 12.5, 18, 25, 36. These numbers are very hard to read as they are behind the mount for the Iconometer viewfinder.

The shutter has no name or other identifying marks but it is either a Gauthier Derval shutter or an Ica Automat X shutter I think it is probably an Ica Automat X Shutter. It has two blades only and offers 1/25, 1/50 and 1/100 speeds as well as B and Z. Z (marked as T on export models) opens the shutter which then stays open until the release lever is pressed a second time. There is a threaded socket for a standard cable release.

On the left side of the shutter housing is a Brilliant viewfinder. It was normal at this time to offer two finders – a brilliant and a frame finder. This Brilliant finder is in remarkable condition. the mirror in brilliant finders seem to be plated straight onto steel and in old cameras is usually corroded enough to make using the finder very hard to use. This one is quite usable.

The top of the shutter housing is supposed to mount the wire frame part of the other viewfinder (called an Iconometer by Ica). The mounting is still there but the frame is missing.

The shutter is made with a sideways movement of 8 mm either side of central – a total movement of 16 mm. I think that this is for when you use the camera in portrait format to photograph buildings. The vertical shifts of lenses reduces/removes perspective problems in architectural photography.

Contina IIa

Zeiss Ikon’s Contina camera was a long lived and varied series of cameras.  The series started as the Ikonta 35 which was a post-war version of the 120 format Ikonta adapted to take 35 mm film.  This camera became two series of cameras – the Contessa and the Contina; the first Contessas and Continas were folding cameras. The Contessa version was more up-market than the Contina version. I have already written about one of the Contessa line – the Contessa LKE. The Contessa line have better lenses (Tessars) and coupled light meters and rangefinders. The Contina range have cheaper lenses (Novar, Novicar and Pantar) and the light meters, where present, are uncoupled. I have also written about the Contina line elsewhere – the Contina Ic.

lens: Novicar
focal length:  45mm
apertures: f2.8 to f22
focus range: 1m to infinity
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: Prontor-SVS
speeds: 1 second to 1/300 seconds
flash: PC connector
film size: 35mm

Contina IIa
Contina IIa – front view, meter window closed
To make identifying and placing Contina cameras as difficult as possible, the Contina series split into two lines of cameras simultaneously.  The original Contina folding camera  became the Contina II folding camera with a light meter and then a series of derivatives. That original Contina folding camera, at the same time, became the Contina I rigid camera – no light meter or rangefinder – and then a series of derivatives.
Contina IIa
Front view – meter window open


So, at any one time after 1953 there were two different Continas available, both just designated Contina. I have been referring to Contina I, Contina II, Contina Ic, Contina IIa but I don’t think those were names offered by Zeiss Ikon, rather us collectors use them to make sense of the mish-mash of models.

Daniel Jiménez has produced a ‘family tree’ of the Contina series which he has given me permission to use here:

Copyright Daniel Jiménez

Daniel has a useful camera blog which can be found in an English version here. He also has a much larger Spanish version here.

This camera – is a Contina IIa. It is derived from the Contina II which was a folding camera but this version does not fold – that is, it is rigid. It is a compact and solid camera measuring 120 x 65 x 85 mm and weighs 567g. It offers a built-in but uncoupled light meter and an EV enabled shutter. It was not a cheap camera – it cost £43/15/1 in 1957 (in old money, or £43.76 in new money) which, given the average male wage in 1957 was £9.00 means this camera cost the equivalent of £2,500 in 2013 values. The version with a Novar lens only cost £36/12/7.

The top plate of the camera has a number of  items on it. On the left is a small rewind knob. I prefer these to the small folding cranks that became ubiquitous in the 1960s. When you first turn the rewind knob, it raises itself by one cm. This is above the height of the centre of the top plate and makes it easier to hold and turn.
Contina IIa
rear and top view
Next to the rewind knob is an accessory shoe. At the time that this camera was made (1956/58) this was more likely to be used for a separate rangefinder than a flashgun. There are no electrical contacts in the accessory shoe so it is a cold shoe.
Next to the accessory shoe is the light meter window and the light meter control knob. Visible in the window is a needle connected to the light meter. The brighter the light, the more this needle moves towards the rear of the camera. Also in this window is a white circle which moves in response to the user moving the control knob. When the white circle is over the needle, the correct exposure can be read off the scale around the control knob. This is mostly in EV values – more later. In the centre of the control knob is the setting for the film speed. This camera was made in 1956/8 and uses the film speed standards in place at that time. A few years later (1960), the American Standards Association (ASA) revisited their film speed standard to produce the later ASA standard now known as ISO. The German DIN system remained unchanged so on this camera 21 DIN = 40 ASA rather than the later standard of 21 DIN = 100 ASA (ISO) – I always use the DIN standard with old cameras to make sure I do not get it wrong.
On the far right of the top plate is the film advance lever. This moves through about 200 degrees to advance the film and cock the shutter. The lever is all metal and only curves a very slight amount which I find makes it uncomfortable to use. In the centre of the film advance lever should be the frame counter. I can make no comment about this as a prior owner has removed it. Looking at the state of the metal that is left, I suspect a very amateurish attempt at a repair.
The front of the camera has four items – meter window, viewfinder window, shutter housing and flash PC connector. The meter window contains a two cm by one cm lens covering a selenium photoelectric cell.  This does not need any batteries, which I always reckon to be a good thing.  Most camera electrics from the 1960s to 1980s use mercury cells which are now illegal in just about every country there is. This window has a hinged cover – to open it, you lightly press the right-hand end (as the camera is to your eye). Selenium meters get a poor press as the photoelectric cell will deteriorate with time. However, if the cell is kept in the dark it only deteriorates very slowly, so this cell being covered, it has not yet (in 57 years) deteriorated enough to worry about. This is a single scale meter – an earlier version of the Contina IIa had a dual scale meter with a small window in the hinged cover.
Next to the meter window is the viewfinder window. This has quite a small eyepiece and a plain view with no bright lines. I find I cannot use it while wearing my glasses.  The Contina Ic, which I also own, has a much larger eyepiece – this was made just a few years later in the early 1960s.
In the centre of the front is a square chrome bezel containing the shutter.  This is a Prontor-SVS from Gauthier. This works on the EV system.  The light meter gives you an EV value from between  three and eighteen and you transfer this number to the shutter – you have to press a small tab on the shutter housing to get the EV ring to turn. Each EV number gives you a small range of shutter speed and aperture settings.  If you turn the EV setting ring without pressing the small tab, different speed/aperture combinations will present themselves to the mark at the top of the housing. For very low light levels, the shutter speeds are in green – you cannot set these, but you can read them.  To use them, turn the control ring on the shutter housing to B and read off a speed next to the aperture you want to use.  You then need to time the exposure yourself – the speeds are from four seconds to sixty seconds and you can count this quite accurately without a watch.
The lens is a Novicar lens (a Novar lens was also available) which I have found to be excellent if stopped down to f5.6 or f8. It is threaded for 27mm filters.  Maximum aperture is f2.8 and its focal length is 45 mm. Focusing is from about three feet to infinity (one metre to infinity). The throw of the focusing is only about 120 degrees, so very accurate focusing is not possible, but with no rangefinder, this camera was always going to rely on depth of field.
On the lower right of the shutter bezel (looking at the camera) is the flash PC (Prontor-Compur) connector.  This is the only means of connecting a flashgun. On the side of the shutter housing there is a selector for M or X – Magnesium or Xenon  – flash. M is for flash bulbs and X for electronic flash. With M, the flash is fired slightly before the shutter opens to allow the burning of the flash bulb to reach its maximum while the shutter is fully open. With X, the flash is fired as the shutter blades are fully open as electronic flash does not require time to reach its maximum intensity. This selector also has a V setting. This means Vorlaufwerk and is German for self timer. Moving the selector to this position causes an eight second delay between pressing the shutter release and the shutter firing. It is never a good idea to try this facility on an old camera as it might well cause the shutter to stop working permanently.
Contina IIa
Rear/internal view

The back opens by pulling down a small catch on the lower right-hand edge. The back is hinged and there is a single light seal – a piece of velvet right by the hinge. The back itself has the pressure plate and a tensioning roller that goes by the take-up spool. Around the film mask are two machined film guides – showing as bright lines in the photograph above. The pawl for the rewind mechanism can be raised to enable fitting a film cassette and then lowered to secure the cassette.

24-December 2013

I have now finished my test roll of film – Agfa Vista+ 200 ISO from Poundland (yes, £1.00 per roll!). As expected, the camera works well. The only awkward thing was setting the EV values on the shutter as the mechanism is rather stiff.  I definitely would not want it too loose but it would be nice for it to be a bit easier to alter. The frame counter is missing on this camera – I assume due to a botched repair by the previous owner. It does not affect the camera’s functionality at all and got me the camera at a bargain price. Below are a selection of pictures from the test film.

Contina IIa
Pottergate Arch, Lincoln


Contina IIa
Fountain in Lincoln Arboretum


Contina IIa
Rockabilly Buskers, Lincoln


Contina IIa
Lincoln Shoppers getting ready for Xmas


Contina IIa
Foreign Buskers, Lincoln

Ikonta 520

This is a medium format camera (i.e. takes 120 film) from Zeiss Ikon.  It is a half-frame camera – 6 x 4.5 cm negative – which is half of a standard 120 frame of 6 x 9 cm. The body serial  number tells me it was made in 1932.
Ikonta 520
Ikonta 520, front view
lens: Novar
focal length:  75mm
apertures: f/6.3 to f/32
focus range: 4’6″ to infinity (that is the scale, actually about 4 feet)
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: Derval
speeds: 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, B, T
flash: n/a
film size: 120
The body is made from cast aluminium.  This body casting is shared between the Ikonta 520, Bob 510 and Nettar 515. It is quite hard to understand why Zeiss Ikon shared the body between three different camera lines instead of calling them all Ikonta (the oldest name) seeing as Bob, Ikonta and Nettar all come with a range of lenses and shutters and can be considered to be one range in effect if not in name.

So, this Ikonta.  It is an Ikonta 520 – more specifically, a 520E. The other variants are

520IT with a f4.5 Novar and a Telma shutter,

520F with a F3.5 Novar and a Compur Rapid shutter and

520L with a f3.5 Tessar and Compur Rapid shutter.

The lens is a Novar which is a triplet and performs surprisingly well once stopped down to f/8 or smaller.  Ikontas were also available with Tessars at a higher price and wider aperture Novars.  The Novar on this camera is quite a slow lens with a maximum aperture of f/6.3.  The focussing is front cell only, rather than the whole lens moving (giving not quite so good image quality) and the focussing scale is in feet indicating that the camera is an official import into the UK.

The shutter is an everset Derval (everset means it does not need cocking before firing as a Klio or Compur would).  This is a fairly crude (and so cheap) shutter with two blades only and only offers three speeds: 1/25, 1/50 and 1/100.  With a slow lens like this camera has, faster shutter speeds would have been superfluous, particularly with the slow, by modern standards, films available in the 1930s.
Ikonta 520
Detail of rim-set shutter adjuster on Derval shutter
The shutter is a dial set shutter which means that the speed adjustment is by a dial set above the shutter housing.  More modern shutters have a rim set adjuster which is a ring around the shutter housing.  This shutter does not have a V (=Vorlaufwerk) setting for delayed action and as is usual with cameras made before the late 1940s, there is no flash connection or synchronisation.
Ikonta 520
Ikonta 520, side view
As I mentioned, the maximum aperture is rather small at f/6.3 but the minimum aperture is surprisingly small – f/32 – so the range of exposures possible is still respectably large.
A standard photograph with this camera (as with the Bob 510 and Nettar 515) is in portrait format and in this orientation the shutter release is underneath the camera and is uncomfortable to use.  To take landscape pictures, the camera must be used on its side and the shutter release is on the side and easy to use.
The viewfinder is the cheap two frame style of viewfinder – a Newtonian finder.
This was an expensive camera in its day – according to Tubbs (Zeiss Ikon Cameras 1926 -39, published by Hove Camera Foto Books), it cost £4/10/0 new in the early 1930s and advertised by Zeiss Ikon in the British Journal Almanac for 1936 at £4/17/6.  That is £4.50 in new money but a week’s wages for a working man would have been around £1/10/0 or £1.50. So this camera cost around a months income for a working man which is around £1,000 in today’s money.
The following is an advert for the Ikonta 520 from the British journal of Photography Almanac 0f 1936:
1936 003
19/07/2013:  I have now finished my test film for this camera and the results are not good.  The lens is susceptible to flare (as I would expect on a lens from 1930 – coating of lenses had not been invented yet) and some of the flare is very strange, suggesting something other than ordinary flare – a glass defect, perhaps.
Ikonta 520
Blues festival in Lincoln Arboretum
Ikonta 520
One of our many buskers in Lincoln – very young but quite accomplished
Ikonta 520
Lincoln Corn Exchange in the Cornhill
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
All three together, oldest on the left, newest on the right.

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE
Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE
Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE

This is a fairly simple compact camera along the lines of Zeiss Ikon’s other Ikonta derivatives, the Contina family.  It is small enough to fit comfortably in one hand – 115mm wide by 85mm tall by 35 mm thick (75 mm thick including the lens).  It takes 35 mm film in standard cassettes.  The Contessa range was made from 1960 until 1971 and the Contessa LKE was made from 1963 to 1965.  The name “Contessa” is a look-back to the companies that made up Zeiss Ikon in 1926 – one of which was Contessa Nettel.  This camera owes nothing to that make of camera and nothing to Contessa Nettel’s designer, Dr Nagel. The price of this camera was £53-16-9 in old British money or £53.83 in modern British money. This equates to around £1,738 in 2020 values.

This camera has a coupled light meter and a coupled rangefinder.  Both of these are visible in the viewfinder which makes using the camera easy.  The rangefinder if the usual double image in an orange spot in the middle of the field of view.  Turning the focussing ring on the end of the lens moves one image – focus is achieved when the two images are superimposed.  A nice touch is the addition of two prominent plastic lugs on the side of the focussing ring which makes it easy to find it by feel while looking through the viewfinder.   The light meter in the viewfinder is not so easy to see.  It is at the top of the viewfinder in the middle and if this part of the viewfinder is against a bright sky, it disappears completely.  Originally, I found it much easier to use the other light meter view on the top of the camera but with practice the display in the viewfinder is easier to use.  When setting the exposure, it is possible to set either the shutter speed or the aperture and then adjust the other until the meter needle centres in the window.  It is much easier to preset the shutter speed as this is merely a knurled ring – the aperture ring has two plastic lugs much as the focussing ring has and it is so much easier to find the aperture ring by feel than it is the shutter speed ring.  Both the aperture value and the shutter speed are visible at the bottom of the viewfinder – this time much more clearly than the light meter is.

The lens is about as good as they come – a Carl Zeiss Tessar.  Because of the age of this camera (1960s) it is not a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar but a West German Carl Zeiss Opton Tessar.  Still a very good lens, though.  The serial number of the lens indicates it was made between 1965 and 1969.  As this camera was only in production until 1965, my specimen must be one of the last to be built in 1965.  The focal length is 50mm with a maximum aperture of f2.8 – so this is a vary fast lens – stopped down to f8, it is going to be superb.  The shutter is a Gautier Prontor 500 LK leaf shutter which is a meter-coupled Prontor with a maximum speed of 1/500 (about as fast as any leaf shutter ever will be).  The one thing that I miss on most modern lenses is the depth of field scale that was ubiquitous on lenses of this era and is present here.

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE

The accessory shoe is a hot shoe for flash connection and there is no PC connector for cold shoe flashes (an adapter was available as an added extra to allow cold shoe flashes to be connected).  These is a frame counter around the shutter release and a window that can be moved to indicate the type of film being used.  The options are Black and white, Neg, Flash, Sun, Artificial light.

The viewfinder is central and large enough even for spectacle wearers.  There are bright-lines in the file of view with parallax marks for framing close-ups.  The film advance is a lever of the top right as was now usual for 35mm cameras.  The film rewind, however, is underneath – a lever that pops out when the rewind button is pressed.  There are no strap lugs on this camera which means it is sensible to use the every-ready case but I like to carry cameras in my pocket, so I will end up one day dropping this one.  The only other thing of note is the presence of a tripod bush in the centre of the bottom plate.

After running one roll of film through this camera, I was very pleased with this camera.  It is easy to use, fits in my jacket pocket and is a suitable camera to use as a walk-around camera (i.e. one I take with me when I am not particularly wanting to take photographs but prefer to have a camera to hand just in case).  It is not obtrusive and I have found it to be excellent for street photography.

18 September 2012:  

In the five months that I have owned this camera, this camera has grown on me.  My hands have now learnt where the controls are so I no longer have to look and think.  This probably happens quite quickly if you only use one camera but I have several that I use frequently. 

The exposure indicator is clear in the viewfinder – the arrow for the shutter speed less so.  The exposure indicator is repeated on the top plate but this is not really useful.

I have a tendency to carry cameras in my pocket and that generates two problems with this camera.  Firstly, the shutter release gets accidentally pressed.  This is easily cured by not winding the film on until immediately before pressing the shutter release.  The second problem is that the delayed action lever gets moved which means that it takes a while to take the next picture.  This is made worse by the fact that the delayed action mechanism does not work very well any more.  It grinds its way through the nominal eight seconds with numerous pauses that necessitate manual assistance.   

The rangefinder is reasonably clear in use but as I take mainly landscapes, I keep the camera focussed on the hyper-focal distance (which at f8 is twenty feet).

I really like the recessed rewind lever on the base.  This is a good two centimetres long – much longer than the rewind lever on most 35 mm cameras.  It is easy to use and fairly fast.

The only really awkward part of using this camera is setting the film speed.  As I only set this rarely (I generally use APX100 film so I only reset the film speed when I use a different film) it is not a problem.

Sample pictures:

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE
Spurn ex-lighthouse now water tower


Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE
Staithes harbour

Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex

Zeiss Ikon IkoflexZeiss Ikon IkoflexZeiss Ikon Ikoflexes are close copies of Rolleiflexes.  For some reason, they do not have the good reputation of the Rolleiflexes even though they use the same lenses and shutters – both, incidentally, made by Zeiss subsidiaries.
 My specimen is an Ikoflex II and has a lens serial number that dates from mid 1936 and a shutter serial number that dates from late 1936.  The camera has a focussing lever rather than knob – this was changed to a knob in 1937.  Together, this suggest a date for my camera of late 1936 to early 1937.   My specimen has a serial number of B17187 – this is found on the base just under the tripod thread.  I am told by the Zeiss Ikon Collectors group that the B serial numbers date from 1936 so I am confident that this camera body was made in 1936 although it is possible that the body, lens and shutter were put together in 1937.
The 1937 Photographic Almanac has a description of this camera and suggests that my camera – Carl Zeiss Tessar lens and Compur Rapid shutter – cost £20-10-0 and a cheaper version – Carl Zeiss Triotar lens and normal Compur shutter – cost £14-15-0. Both versions required quite a good salary to being able to afford one.
The picture lens in my camera is a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar f3.5, 7.5cm focal length and the focussing lens a Terona Anastigmat also 7.5cm focal length (pre-WWII, Carl Zeiss lenses had their focal length stated in cm and after WWII in mm).  This picture lens is as good as pre-war lenses get and pretty much as good as lenses get altogether.  The shutter is a Compur-Rapid leaf shutter which has speeds down to 1/500 of a second.  That is as fast as we go with a leaf shutter – any faster and you need a focal plane shutter ( I am told by experts that the actual top speed reached by a Compur-Rapid was nearer to 1/300 than the nominal 1/500).  This shutter has neither flash synchronisation nor delayed action.
Focussing takes a bit of getting used to.  You look down onto a ground glass screen and the image is reversed left-to-right.  As you move the camera to refine the composition, the image moves in the opposite way to that of the camera and slight tilting of the camera will put all the verticals out of kilter.  On a more positive note, the viewing screen is large and there is a magnifier to magnify the central portion for critical focussing.  Focussing of the lens is carried out with a lever – this was replaced with a more conventional knob in 1937.  The focussing lever is actually quite easy to use and moves across a distance quadrant which allows you to read off the depth of field at any given aperture.
The aperture control is partially hidden by the focussing lens and the f16 and f22 settings are hard to see.  To offset this, the lens is a very fast lens for the time – f3.5 fully open.  With a range of speed of 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100, 1/250 and 1/500 seconds as well as B and T together with apertures from f3.5 to f22, this camera can cope with dull weather and bright sunshine with both slow (ISO 50) and fast (ISO 400) films.  The one big drawback here is if you hold the camera too firmly (i.e. holding the front plate as well as the body) it is not possible to focus as the front plate with both lenses moves to and fro to achieve focus.
This camera is easy to use two handed.  The left hand both focusses and cocks the shutter while the right hand releases the shutter release.  After the picture is taken, the film needs to be wound on before the shutter can be set again.  One draw back here is that the film can easily be wound on too far, there is no ‘stop’ as the film is wound on far enough – something we 35mm photographers take for granted.  As well as the waist-level finder, there is also a direct vision finder.  The centre of the front plate of the waist-level finder can be pushed out of the way, and the picture composed through a small hole in the rear plate.  As this is direct vision, there is no reversing of the image, but it is also not possible to use this finder to focus the image.
Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex
When loading the film, the film passes over a roller that “counts” the film.  When the first number appears in the red window, a small lever on the side resets the film counter to “1” and from then on, you must use the film counter and not the numbers in the red window.  If you forget and use the numbers in the red window, you will get eight negatives only with large gaps between them – the series of numbers used are for 6 x 9 cm negatives.  This camera takes twelve pictures on a roll of 120 film (or BII as Zeiss Ikon call it.) – each negative being 6 cm x 6 cm.
Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex
There in one tripod bush on the base (there would be no point in having two bushes on a square format camera).  It is a standard 1/4 Whitworth bush.  This is unusual in my 1930s Zeiss Ikon cameras which usually have a 3/8 Whitworth bush with a removable 1/4 Whitworth insert.
Really, there is no a lot more to say about this camera.  It is not sophisticated (as later models in the range were) but has a good lens and a good shutter and as a result it takes excellent pictures.  What more do you want from a camera?
The following is an advert from the Wallace Heaton Minitography and Cinematography catalogue from 1939 (this is a slightly updated version of the camera I have described – the focus lever has been replaced with a focus knob but otherwise the same camera):
Ikoflex1939 008

Zeiss Ikon Contina Ic

Zeiss Ikon Contina IcNot a lot I can say about this camera.  It is mid-range amateur – well above the Box Brownie and well below the likes of the Contaflex.  The standard of manufacture is what you would expect of Zeiss Ikon – solid, heavy, works well – perhaps a bit over-engineered. It was not cheap – the version with the Novar lens cost £29/7/- (in old money or £29.35 in new money). Given the average working man’s weekly wage was £9 in 1957, this equates to around £1,500 in 2013 values.

This particular Contina is a model Ic although that was never Zeiss Ikon’s designation.  It is distinguished from other Continas by 1) not being a folding camera and 2) not having a built-in exposure meter.  I also have an article on a Cortina IIa.

The viewfinder is a Galilean finder with bright-lines.  I find this awkward to use after using either an SLR or a camera with a crude frame finder as the finder shows much more than the image area.  It is necessary to remember to compose entirely within the bright-liners.  The finder is reasonably large and easy to use while wearing spectacles.

The top plate is uncluttered – the rewind knob, film type reminder, accessory shoe and combined film advance/frame counter/shutter release is all that is there.  The whole frame counter/shutter release assembly is depressed when the shutter is fired and it is possible to fire the shutter when setting the frame counter to zero (I did!).

On the front of the camera is a satin-chrome bezel with the lens sitting centrally.  The shutter is a Prontor SVS leaf shutter by Gauthier and uses exposure value settings.  With this system, you read an exposure value from a light meter (from 3 to 18) which sets a combination of shutter speed and aperture.  It is then possible to move the shutter speed ring to the desired shutter speed and the aperture will adjust itself to keep the exposure correct – or move the aperture ring and the shutter speed will adjust automatically.  It is not possible to move away from a “correct” speed/aperture combination without depressing the EV button.  This works in much the same way as the ‘program’ mode on a modern digital camera.  People either love or hate this system – I am the only person I know whom loves it – but it was in general use for many years so must have had general support.

There is what, at first sight, appears to be a second, useless range of shutter speeds.  These are in green and cannot be set.  “Then why have them?”, I hear you ask.  Well, there is a reason.  In the case that the EV value is low, the usable speed/aperture combinations allowed will be small.  For an EV of 3, the speed/aperture combination is 1 second at f2.8 – and that is it.  If you want a smaller aperture, say f8, you read the necessary shutter speed of the green range opposite f8 (in this case eight seconds).  Now adjust the EV setting so that f8 is against the B setting on the speed ring.  This sets the aperture to f8 and allows the photographer to keep the shutter depressed for eight seconds.  Clearly, a tripod and shutter release cable are required for this, and the shutter speed is only as good as the photographer times it, but when you realise that the shutter manufacturers worked to a 20% margin on shutter speeds, timing the exposure to between seven and nine seconds will be fine and we should all be able to time that accurately.

The lens is a Zeiss Ikon Pantar f2.8, 45mm lens.  This is a triplet (three pieces of glass) rather than the Tessar’s tetraplet structure, that focuses from about three feet  to infinity (the nearest marked distance  is four feet, but the lens moves well beyond that).

This lens has the usual Happy Snapper  settings – with this lens it is f8 and around twenty feet (both marked in red) which gives a depth of field of from nine feet to infinity.  If the lens is set to its smallest aperture (f22), the depth of field is from less than four feet to infinity.  As with all lenses, the largest and smallest apertures are best left alone and the lens will work best stopped down two or three stops – f5.6 and f8 in this case.

Film is rewound using a small knob on the left.  When this is turned to rewind then film, it automatically raises itself so it is above the level of the top plate.  When you have finished rewinding the film, you need to turn this knob one turm anti-clockwise to lower the knob again.  The only other thing to note is that this camera has a PC flash connector and can synchronise for bulb (M) or electronic (X) flash.  There is also a setting (V) for delayed action shutter release.

In use, the camera operates much as you might expect from Zeiss Ikon.  I have large hands and the camera is a bit small – the edge of the shutter housing is where I would like my fingers to be and the shutter release is a little too close to the right-hand edge of the camera.  I suppose this is unavoidable when making a small camera and it is far from the worst camera that I have, ergonomically speaking.

Some example pictures from this camera (note: these were scanned with my Canon flatbed film scanner – not the best scanner).

Zeiss Ikon Contina Ic
Mr Musicman High Bridge, Lincoln

Zeiss Ikon Contina Ic
Stonebow, Lincoln

Zeiss Ikon Contina Ic

Zeiss Ikon Tenax I

Zeiss Ikon Tenax I

This camera is unlike my other Zeiss Ikon cameras in that it was aimed at the middle of the amateur market – above the box Brownie brigade but below the Contaflex, Ikoflex, Ikonta market.  The Tenax I came out in 1938 (actually started retailing in early 1939) just after the Tenax II.  They are both named after the Goerz Tenaxes of 1909 and 1921 (Goerz being one of the camera companies that merged to form Zeiss Ikon in 1926).  You will frequently see these described as being made from 1930 to 1941, but that is due to a misprint in McKeowns and the correct dates are 1939 to 1941.  WWII meant that production was curtailed fairly soon after the launch and so these are fairly rare cameras.  My specimen is probably produced for the German home market rather than a British version as Zeiss Ikon usually produced British and American versions of their cameras with the distance scale marked in feet.  This camera has the distance scale in metres and, also, has the catch for the back marked Z and A (zu and auf – close and open) rather than in English.  Liberated by a British soldier in 1944/5, perhaps.

It is very small – just 110mm wide and 65mm tall and only 45mm thick.  This is not a folding camera but has a lens of 35mm focal length.  The camera uses such a short focal length lens because it produces a negative that is 24mm square – the ‘normal’ lens for any camera is the diagonal of the negative (or sensor for digital cameras).  For its size, it is remarkably heavy.  It is made of die cast aluminium and brass.  The brass is bright plated, but the way the plating has worn off the brass on the top plate and shutter fascia I suspect the plating is nickel.  My specimen is “well loved” – it has obviously been well used over a great deal of time.  Much of the textured leatherette on the front has worn smooth and significant plating has worn off .
It is an unusual camera in many ways.  There is no wind-on knob or lever on the top – the film is wound on using a combination film advance and shutter cocking lever that is pressed by the index finger of the left hand.  This film advance will move the film on one frame (24 mm) each time it is pressed and this is interlocked to the shutter release preventing wasted film.  The shutter release is on the front of the camera on the shutter as was becoming very unfashionable at the time this camera was designed.  It does, though, make the camera easy to use – if the shutter release was on the top plate as was becoming normal in the late 1930s, it would be hard to place the user’s finger on it with such a small camera.  The shutter contains a double exposure lock – you cannot take a picture without winding on nor wind on without taking a picture.
The controls on the front are hard to use.  Apart from the stiffening we might expect on a camera that is 72 years old, the parts are quite small and my fingers quite large.  The aperture adjuster is very stiff and, even when holding the lens, the focus changes more than the aperture does. This is probably telling me to open the front and get some clock oil in there.

To open the camera to load a film or removed an exposed film, the circular button on the base has to be turned a quarter turn and then slid to one side.  This allows the base and back to be removed in one piece.  This is supposed to make loading the camera easier, but I find the take-up spool is liable to drop out as is the cassette of film.  This operation is made much easier by using a table top, but in the field, table tops can be hard to find.  The take-up spool I have is a later Contax plastic spool.  The original Tenax I spool was die-cast metal.

Zeiss Ikon Tenax IZeiss Ikon Tenax I

The shutter is a Compur leaf shutter with speeds 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/256, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/300 seconds as well as B.  The aperture can range from f3.5 to f22 which is a good range for most photography.  There is a Happy Snapper setting of between f5.6 and f8 and a distance of 6 metres signified by red dots.
The lens is a Novar Anastigmat 35mm lens which is only 11mm across.  Focussing range is from 1 metre to infinity – at the Happy Snapper setting, from 3 metres to infinity should be in focus.
The mechanism was not particularly free running so I took the bull by the horns and took the top plate off.  Inside is fairly simple – not a lot for me to damage.  I have applied clock oil to all the pivots and linkages and the mechanism is working much better now.Zeiss Ikon Tenax I


 Because this camera is idiosyncratic it takes a bit of getting used to.  The viewfinder is a standard size for the time but almost impossible to use wearing my glasses.  This is a point I find with most pre-1960 cameras.  The shutter release is not quite where my finger expects it to be but once I have started taking pictures it is fine.
The film advance is taking more getting used to – it is on the ‘wrong’ side of the camera and is a plunger rather than a knob or lever. Again, once I am using the camera it is fine.  In fact, the combination of the two levers on either side of the lens means you can take a couple of pictures per second which is not bad on an entirely manual camera.  Zeiss Ikon claimed it was capable of four frames per second but that would require a camera in smoother condition than mine and more nimble fingers than I have available.
The hardest part to use is the diaphragm setting.  It involves turning the centre of the lens mount – I suspect that the designer had smaller fingers than I have.  I am quite enjoying using this camera – it is definitely a pocket camera – compact and reasonably light (not compared to digital point-and-shoot cameras, but compared to metal film cameras in general).  I suspect that if the second world war had not happened just after this camera was designed, the two lever system of shutter release and film winder would have become normal.
This particular camera is suffering from ‘Zeiss bumps’.  This is common on older Zeiss Ikon cameras and appears as small (two to four mm) bumps under the leatherette.  My Tenax has four large (four mm) bumps and two small (two mm) bumps.  These are caused by the rivets holding the components together reacting with the glue holding the leatherette on forming a local deposit of what I assume to be oxides.  They only occur on the back of my camera.
I could probably ‘cure’ this by removing the leatherette and cleaning the metal beneath and replacing the leatherette but I suspect I would do more harm than good.  The frame of the front element of the viewfinder is stamped ’24×24′ and ‘3.5 cm’ – the first indicating the image size and the second the film size.
The shutter is covered by Zeiss Ikon’s own fascia.  This hides the shutter serial number which would help to date this particular camera.  However, the body serial number is J78039.  This partly dates the camera as pre-1945 production was in three tranches each of 10,000 cameras.  The first tranche (1938-9) has serial number letters H, the second tranche J and the third tranche M.  So my camera dates from the second tranche which means it was made after 1938-9 and before 1945.  After 1945, eastern Zeiss Ikon continued with the production of the Tenax I, initially exactly the same as the wartime version and then with a Tessar lens.  However, this later production did not have serial numbers starting with a letter.
Some pictures taken with this Tenax I (not Photoshopped at all).  These pictures suffer from light bleed from the light areas into the darker areas.  It has been suggested to me that this is due to the poor quality glass that Zeiss Ikon had available during WWII.
Zeiss Ikon Tenax IZeiss Ikon Tenax IZeiss Ikon Tenax IZeiss Ikon Tenax IZeiss Ikon Tenax I

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

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