Zeiss was one of the most famous camera makers and is still a well-known producer of lenses. The company started as Carl Zeiss Jena in Dresden and was renamed Zeiss Ikon in 1926 after merging with several other camera makers. After WW II the company was split in an East-Germany part in Dresden and a West-German part in Stuttgart. Name disputes led to the Dresden part to be renamed VEB Pentacon. Lens manufacturing still continued as Carl Zeiss Jena and the company even made a range of cameras: the Werra. Zeiss Ikon stopped making cameras in 1972.
Icarette I (496)
Zeiss Ikon was formed in 1926 from the merger of several different camera companies in Dresden, one of which was Ica. Most if not all cameras that were in production by the original companies were listed in the Zeiss Ikon catalogue more or less in unchanged form, including the Icarette. The Icarette came in different versions, including a 6x9 format vertical folder and a 6x6 horizontal folder. The horizontal model came in two versions, a rollfilm version (model 495) and a rollfilm version which could be used with glass plates also (model 496). Both used 120 rollfilm, so can still easily be used today.
The Icarette was equipped with a frame finder, consisting of an 'eye piece', which doubled a latch to close the camera front, and a large metal wire. The camera also had a brilliant finder mounted on the shutter, which gave a small but bright image of the scene, albeit it mirrored left to right. Upon opening of the front door, the shutter-lens assembly had to be pulled forward until it would click in position. There were different stops for the use of rollfilm or photographic plates, as the latter were mounted further back than the rollfilm position. Focussing was down by moving the lens-shutter assembly forwards and backwards by means of a small lever.
A 1926 Zeiss Ikon Icarette with Dominar Anastigmat 75mm f/4.5 lens in Compur dialset shutter. It was identical to its Ica predecessor, only the company name was changed.
Rear view of the Icarette B showing the removable film plate cover. The plates had a rectangular film frame size of about 47x62 mm compared to the 57x57 mm square rollfilm format. The metal framefinder is not quite sqaure so seems to have been designed to match the film plates.
Soon after its initiation, Zeiss Ikon started streamlining their catalogue by removing old models from its founding companies and designing new ones. The Icarette could be found in Zeiss Ikon catalogues until the early 1930s but was then replaced by the Ikonta/Nettar line. The horizontal model appears to be rather rare and is much more commonly found as its Ica incarnation.
Detail of the Compur dialset shutter. Unlike the later rimset Compur models, which had a speedring to set shutter speeds, the dialset had a small wheel to select shutter speedsor, as well as a sepearate dial to select T and B modes. The number on the front of the shutter plate (D.R.P. No 258646) was not the shutter serial (which was engraved on the side) or model number, but a German patent number.
Super Ikonta C (530/2)
The Super Ikonta range was introduced in the early 1930s in several models for different film frame sizes, including the Super Ikonta A, B and C for 4.5x6, 6x6 and 6x9cm, respectively. The Super Ikontas all had coupled rangefinders and generally high-quality Tessar lenses. The equivalent range without rangefinder were the Ikontas, whereas the Nettar range was a more affordable with cheaper lenses and shutters.
The first Super Ikonta C (6x9) model was the 530/2, which was introduced in 1933. Besides 6x9 frames the Super Ikonta could also be used in 4.5x6 mode for which there was an extra spy window at the back as well as a fold-away mask for the viewfinder. The coincidence rangefinder was separate from the viewfinder. It worked a little differently than the more common design type with a mirror with variable angle, instead it had a fixed mirror and used rotating glass wedges to move the rangefinder patch. Presumably this was to avoid infringing Leitz rangefinder design patents, although the basic design was not that different: on screwmount Leicas the infinity adjustment was done with a rotating glass wedge and focussing with a mirror, on the Super Ikonta it was the other way around.
A 1934 Super Ikonta C with uncoated Tessar 105mm f/4.5 in Compur-Rapid shutter.
Detail showing the lens focusing and rangefinder coupling mechanism. Whilst rotating the silver wheel the lens would change focus and at the same time a rotating wedge in the rangefinder lens would align the coincidence RF patch. Also note the 1/400s fastest shutter speed, typical of very early Compur-Rapid shutters.
The Super Ikonta was most commonly found with Tessar lens in Compur shutter, although cheaper Triotar lens and Klio shutter were also found. Early production had an Art Deco style shutter face, which was later (from around lens nr. 1,520,000) replaced with a black shutter face. From around lens nr. 1,550,000 the Compur shutters were upgraded to Compur-Rapids with a top speed of 1/400s instead of 1/250s. Although the shutter face still showed 'Compur', the speed ring was engraved with Compur-Rapid. The very latest production before model 531/2 was introduced had sliding covers for the red spy windows at the back as well as reflective frame lines in the viewfinder.
As a side note, the serial# of the Compur-Rapids on the Super Ikontas were in the 4,000,000 range and were as far as I am aware the first Compur-Rapids produced. On all other camera brands with early Compur-Rapid shutters the serial# were in the 5,000,000 range. Interestingly, after the Compur shutter reached the end of the 3,000,000 range, their numbering continued as A,000,000 (so A instead of 4), presumably because the 4,000,000 range had already been used for Compur-Rapids on the (Super) Ikontas.
Front view of the Super Ikonta showing the alignment of the rangefinder.
Rear view of a Ikon Super Ikonta 530/2 showing the red spy windows used for 6x9 (left) and 6x4.5 cm (both windows) formats. This early version did not yet have sliding covers for the windows.
The early 1930s were years of great innovation at Zeiss Ikon, giving birth to some of their most iconic cameras, probably spurred on by the success Leitz had with their Leica range and Franke & Heidecke with their Rolleiflex. The Super Nettel was introduced not long after the Contax I and around the same time as the Super Ikonta (see above), and it does have features from both. From the Contax it got the vertical focal plane shutter, whereas it received the rotating wedge rangefinder from the Super Ikonta. The shutters of the early Contax I were notoriously unreliable, so I can only assume that Zeiss put an improved version in the Super Nettel. For what its worth, the shutter of my example still works, in contrast to the one on most Contax I. Like the Contax I, the Super Nettel was finished in black enamel, whereas the Super Nettel II, introduced a few years later, was finished in chrome instead.
A 1934 Super Nettel with Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f/3.5 lens.
Rear view of the Super Nettel with its back removed, showing the vertical shutter build from metal strips (see also the Contax II below). While taking this photo I clearly failed to notice that the wind spool was sitting at the wrong side.
Detail of the Super Nettel's Art Deco-style front face showing aperture and focus dials.
The Nettar series was a range of folding cameras for 120 rollfilm first introduced in 1934. Most models were available as 6x9 cm, 6x6 cm and 6x4.5 cm versions. The 515/2 was a 6x9 cm version that would shoot eight exposures per film. It was released around 1937. My specimen has a Nettar-Anastigmat 110mm f/4.5 lens in a Klio shutter, the Zeiss version of a Prontor-S. It had a fold-up viewfinder and a wind key at the base of the camera. I particularly like the elegant lines of the chrome struts of the folding mechanism.
A Nettar 515/2 with Novar-Anastigmat 110 mm f/4.5 in Klio shutter.
The Nettar 517/16 was a bottom-folding 6x6 camera released in 1949. Upgrades with each model number were incremental, the 517 series was the first with fixed viewfinder integrated in a top housing. A rather unexciting and boxy but well-constructed camera that would get the job done. There were two variants of this camera with different top housings, the first being curved, the second more angular.
A Nettar 517/16 with Novar-Anastigmat 75mm f/4.5. See here for some sample photos taken with this camera. This is the later version with rectangular viewfinder housing.
The earlier version of the Nettar with curved viewfinder housing. Like the later version above it sports a Novar-Anastigmat 75mm f/4.5 lens, although on this one the lens ring is silver.
How bellows fold so neatly never fails to amaze me.
Not to be confused with the pre-war 35mm Nettax. The Nettar 513/16 was essentially a Nettar 517/16 (see above) but with lightmeter as well as a double exposure prevention mechanism. The latter worked by displaying a red bar in the viewfinder when the film had not been wound. Very useful for people like me that always forget if they wound the film or not. I prefer to wind on just before an exposure to make sure there is no slack in the film, but if you forget to wind on you waste two exposures. Can't happen on this one!
The lightmeter is a bit of an enigma. It is of the match needle type, so you turn the lightmeter dial until the two needles match up. This is useful when the dial is coupled to shutter or aperture, but on the Nettax it isn't! You still need to transfer the settings to the shutter manually. Having a simple lightmeter that indicated a shutter-aperture combination directly would have seemed a more simple solution. But it looked sophisticated and maybe that's what Zeiss Ikon was going for.
A Nettax 513/16 with, again, a Novar-Anastigmat 75mm f/4.5. I am pleased to say the lightmeter on this example was still working.
Top view of the Nettax 513/16 showing the uncoupled match needle lightmeter.
The Ikonta series was an upgraded range of the Nettar folding cameras, with more chrome parts and often better lenses or shutters. The Ikonta 521 was launched around 1940, although most of the production occurred after WWII. It used the 6x4.5 format for 16 negatives on one 120 roll film. My model has the same lens as the Nettar 517/16 above, but a Prontor-SV shutter. Despite the higher model number, it is an earlier model than the Nettar 517 and had a fold-up viewfinder. It is in fact most similar to the Nettar 516 with top-mounted wind knob and double-exposure prevention mechanism.
An Ikonta 521. See here for some sample photos.
Contina I / Ikonta 35
In addition to the medium-format folding cameras presented above, Zeiss Ikon also produced a small range of 35mm folding cameras. The Ikonta 35, model number 522/24, had started production shortly after WWII and was a viewfinder camera with a front-cell focussing lens. It was a well-build camera with film advance and rewind knobs located at the bottom of the camera. The Ikonta 35 can also be found as its name variant Contina, which was introduced in 1952 and intended for export. There was also a Contina II, which had an uncoupled rangefinder and a separate viewfinder. The top model of the range was the Contessa 35 (see below).
A Zeiss Ikon Contina I with Pronto shutter and Novar-Anastigmat 45mm f/3.5 lens.
The Contessa 35 may well have been called the Contina III, as it was a better specified version of the Contina II, but Zeiss Ikon chose to market it as the Contessa. It had the same lens baseboard and film advance mechanism as the Ikonta 35/Contina I and Contina II, but was equipped with a coupled rangefinder and an uncoupled lightmeter. The rangefinder used a rotating wedge mechanism, as found in many other Zeiss Ikon cameras such as the Super Ikontas, the Super Nettel, the Nettax and the Tenax II. On the Contessa 35 the wedge was mounted centrally on top of the shutter, giving the camera its characteristic look.
A Zeiss Ikon Contessa 35 with Opton-Tessar 45mm f/2.8 lens in Compur-Rapid shutter. Move your mouse pointer over the image to show the camera with the lensboard closed.
On many Contessas the lightmeter reportedly no longer works and it was the same on this example. However, the lack of lighmeter response was simply due to poor contact between a copper strip with the front of the selenium cell, so I imagine many lightmeters might be brought back to life simply by fixing this contact.
Detail of Zeiss Ikon Contessa 35 showing the distance between the wedge prism mounted on top of the lens and the rangefinder window in the top housing. This example suffered from a degraded semi-transparent mirror, even though this mirror consists of a gold layer in-between two prisms, which meant to avoid such degradation. I had to separate the two prisms, recoat one of the surfaces and glue them back together to restore the rangefinder. The vertical alignment of the rangefinder is adjusted by rotating the two prisms ever so slightly relative to each other when glueing them together.
Zeiss Ikon Kolibri 523/18
The 1930 Zeiss Ikon Kolibri was quite a unique camera, and certainly unusual for its time, when amateur photography was still dominated by box and vest pocket cameras (see my non-Retina Kodak page for examples). This camera belongs to the latter category, but instead of a folding mechanism it has a pull-out lens tube. This was one of the first cameras to do so, and it was likely inspired by collapsible lenses as found on the early Leicas.
It was also a camera of very high specification. It had a fast f/3.5 Tessar (a slower f/4.5 Novar version was available for nearly half the price) lens and a Compur shutter which only recently had been introduced. In addition, the camera had a lever-operated helical focus system, whilst extending and retracting the lens tube was helped by a set of springs, making operation of the camera very smooth. It used 127 rollfilm with a 3x4cm fill frame. This all came in a convenient small package.
A 1930 Zeiss Ikon Kolibri with Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm f/3.5 lens in Compur shutter. The accessory shoe is not original, but it is screwed in very neatly into tripod mount. An accessory rangefinder would have been beneficial considering the excellent sharpness of the Tessar lens and the accurate focus one could achieve with the helical focus lever.
One remarkable feature of the Kolibri is how large a diameter of the lens tube is. In principle, this would allow for much faster lenses than the f/3.5 Tessar, and indeed f/2 Xenon and f/2 Biotar version have been seen. I suspect these were probably special (after-market?) orders, as I have never seen these so-called 'Night Kolibri' models in any Zeiss Ikon brochures. Prices for these are astronomical these days, as they would have been at the time.
The Zeiss Ikon Kolibri came with a support stand that needed to be screwed into the bottom of the lens tube, which allowed the camera to stand in vertical position (for long exposures). Although the lens tube could be retracted with the stand in place, this was awkward and therefore there was a dedicated slot for storing the stand in the camera case. This cumbersome design is the reason that nowadays the stand is often missing (like here), especially when there's no case with the camera.
The Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex was Zeiss' answer to the success of the Rolleiflex, which had been introduced a few years earlier and had rapidly gained a great reputation, with sales to match. Zeiss would not be Zeiss if it did not try to improve on the competition: this was the whole idea behind the Contax (competing with Leica). So Zeiss designed an advanced TLR with lever wind mechanism and automatic frame counter, and a lever-operated focus mechanism. It was nicknamed the 'coffee can' due to its shape, which was apparently reminiscent of German WWI coffee cans. It was the first in a long line of Ikoflex that lasted until the late 1950s, and although subsequent models were more traditional and did not reach the fame of the Rolleiflex, they were close in terms of quality, and are still a great investment when looking for a reliable medium-format TLR.
Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex 'coffee can' with its Art Deco faceplate and Novar Anastigmat 80mm f/4.5 lens in Klio shutter. This is the second version of this first model, the original version had a different cap.
Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex with its film holder removed. Note that the film travel is horizontal, which is rather unusual for TLR cameras, although it was the same for the Voigtlander Superb (which mechanics, however, worked very differently). At the bottom of the film holder one can see the film transport lever. Film transport was automatic; no red window was needed (other than to load film and forward to the first frame) and the camera had a frame counter instead. In fact, it had two, one for 120 film and one for 620 film, as it could handle both formats.
The Contax range of cameras was Zeiss Ikon's top of the line and was developed in response to the Leica 35mm cameras, which had reached great reputation and popularity soon after their introduction. The Contax I was first produced in 1932, but was plagued by shutter problems. An improved version, the Contax II, began production in 1936. A version with lightmeter on top, the Contax III, was introduced the same year. After WWII both models were updated to the Contax IIa and IIIa, respectively.
It had an interchangeable bayonet mount and a vertically travelling focal plane shutter with metal curtains.
An unusual feature of the Contax cameras was the focus wheel in front of the wind knob. It rotated the lens helicoid, thus focusing the lens, and actuated the rangefinder. This rangefinder was very accurate due to its extremely wide base (ca. 90 mm!), in fact it took me a little getting used to as the two images are distorted for anything which isn't exactly aligned horizontally or vertically relative to the camera.
A Contax III with collapsible Carl Zeiss Sonnar 50mm f/2 lens. The body serial number indicates it was made in the first half of 1939, whereas the lens was made in spring 1939, so quite likely it is the original lens that came with the camera.
Top view of Contax III with the collapsible Sonnar 50mm f/2 lens extended. The most noticeable feature was the large uncoupled lightmeter. One could determine the correct exposure by turning the various dials of the knob on the left (exposure, film speed and aperture) until the lightmeter needle would point to the diamond-shaped mark.
The Kiev 4 was a Russian copy of the Zeiss Ikon Contax III. At the end of WWII, the Russians got hold of Zeiss machining equipment and Contax parts and started to build copies of the Contax II, it was named the Kiev and mass production started around 1950. The Kiev II and III were essentially identical to their Contax counterparts. Later IIa and IIIa models had flash sync connectors. The Kiev 4 (with lightmeter) and Kiev 4a (without) had some slight modifications to the wind knobs.
The Kievs were made for a much longer time than their German counterpart (until ca. 1980 vs. ca. 1960) and most likely in much larger numbers. They changed very little so that even the late 70s cameras were still very much like the pre-war Contax II and II. The lens designs were copied as well, for example, the Sonnar 50mm f/2 and f/1.5 were the Jupiter-8 and Jupiter-3, respectively.
A late version of Kiev 4 (from 1975) with Jupiter-8M 50mm f/2 lens.
Top view of a Kiev 4 showing the coupled lightmeter and the large shutter speed wheel beneath the tiny rewind knob.
Kiev 4 with lens dismounted. The helicoid for this lens is in the Kiev body. All other compatible lenses had their own focusing mechanism and would attach to the outer bayonet, thus covering the whole lens mount.
The unusual Kiev (and Contax) shutters consisted of metal rods held together by silk ribbons, they travelled vertically.
The Kiev 4AM was the last version of the Kiev copies of the Zeiss-Ikon Contax II, i.e., the Contax without lightmeter. It was produced as late as 1987, decades after the last of the original Contax came of the production line. The design of the Kiev 4AM was still very similar to its predecessors, the Kiev II, IIa, 4 and 4A, respectively, the main difference between all these being the wind/speed knobs. On the Kiev 4AM these were for the first time partially made of black plastic instead of all metal.
A Kiev 4AM with Helios-103 53mm f/1.8 lens. This six-element lens was introduced in 1978. Whereas the previous standard lens for the Kiev, the Jupiter-8, was a copy of the Zeiss Sonnar with its asymmetric design, the Helios had a double Gauss design like the Zeiss Biotar. By this time no longer a particular fast lens or modern design, but the Helios-103 did have a good reputation.
A Kiev 4AM outfit with three lenses, the aforementioned Helios-103, a Jupiter-12 35mm f/2.8 wide angle lens and a Jupiter-9 85mm f/2 fast portrait lens. Mounted on top of the Kiev body is a multi-viewfinder with rotating turret for 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm and 135mm focal lengths with parallax correction.
A Kiev 4AM with Jupiter-9 85mm f/2 lens. The lens mount of the Contax/Kiev had a particular feature: standard lenses as they were mounted on the focussing helicoid that was part of the lens mount, whereas other lenses were mounted on a bayonet surrounding it. Therefore, standard lenses had no focus system whereas other lenses did. Through a rather ingenious system, even for non-standard lenses rangefinder coupling was still maintained, as well as focussing with the focus wheel on top of the camera.
The Jupiter-9 85mm f/2 lens was a copy of the Zeiss Sonnar and had seven elements in three groups. It was produced in Contax, Leica screw and m42 mounts, and still has a great reputation for being very sharp except wide open and having great bokeh characteristics.
The Jupiter-12 was a copy of the pre-war Zeiss Biogon, a six-element lens with a very characteristic, far protruding rear element. On the Jupiter version the rear group did not even have a retaining ring, the whole lens base was simply a large chunk of glass! When mounted onto the camera, this rear element would sit very close to the film frame, as I have tried to show on the picture on the right with the shutter open.
The 1937 Tenax II was a camera of similar quality and style as the Contax and Super Nettel, but was quite different internally, as it was a square frame 24x24 camera with leaf shutter. It did feature a coupled rangefinder, using the same rotating wedge system as the Super Nettel. The Tenax II had an interchangeable lens mount, each of which had their own rotating wedge. Zeiss claimed this was one of the first leaf cameras with interchangeable lens mount. The camera also featured an ingeneous lever system that would cock the shutter and advance the film at the same time, adopted later in other cameras such as the Agilux Agimatic and the Konica III. The cameras was build for fast shooting, also helped by its combined viewfinder and rangefinder, when may cameras still had these separate. The non-standard lenses are extremely hard to find, being a 27mm f/4.5 Orthometar and a 75mm f/4 Sonnar, each with their own auxilliary finder. Production stopped in WWII and was never restarted as all equipment had been destroyed. The simpler Tenax I equipment did survive and this model was build for many years after WWII (see below).
A very poorly Tenax II with interchangeable Sonnar 40mm f/2 lens and Compur-Rapid shutter, but in need of a new coat. I am not sure how it happened, but the metal in some areas had turned into white powder, which had expanded and pushed apart other metal bits. It says something about the build quality of Zeiss Ikon cameras that I managed to remove screws without issues and was able to clean and revive the camera to some extent. Note the holes in the metal next to the lens base, which is were the metal has been eaten away. I plan to fill the gaps and apply some fresh new leather, so at least it will be a reasonable display item.
Tenax I / Taxona
The Tenax I started production in 1939, but was soon interrupted due to WWII. In 1948 production continued in East Germany. In 1953 a version with fixed viewfinder and larger top housing was produced. It was renamed Taxona due to a name dispute with the West German Zeiss Ikon company.
The shutter release lever also cocked the shutter.
A Tenax I with Compur shutter (name not visible in picture).
Shutter release and cocking mechanism of a Tenax.
A Taxona with Novonar Anastigmat 35mm f/3.5 in Tempor shutter.
Following the Contina range of folding cameras, which included the Contina I shown above, Zeiss produced a range of rigid-body cameras of the same name. The Contina II had a coupled light meter and viewfinder, the Contina I missed the light meter. The Contina III was essentially a Contina II with interchangeable lens mount, which used Pantar lenses that could also be used on some Contaflex models. Only the front-cell was exchanged, similar to the Kodak Retina 'c' lens system on the Retina IIIc and similar models.
Contina II with Novicar-Anastigmat 45mm f/2.8 lens and Prontor-SVS shutter.
Contina II showing the coupled light meter.
The name Tenax was recycled in 1960 for a completely different camera, but fairly impressive in its own right, for a point and shooter that is. As the name suggested, it had a fully automatic exposure mode driven by a large selenium cell. The light meter window at the top only served to indicate if the available light was enough for proper exposure. One could also set the camera to B or flash mode, in which case one could select the aperture setting. The shutter housing had zone focussing symbols as well as a distance scale. It was a stylish-looking and well-built camera with a good lens but limited options.
A Tenax Automatic with Tessar lens.
The Werra was an eye-catching futuristic-looking range of cameras produced from 1954 until about 1966 not by Zeiss Ikon but by Carl Zeiss Jena, which produced mainly Carl Zeiss lenses. A wide range of models was available with a basic model to which were added rangefinder, light meters and interchangeable lens mount. Most had Tessar lenses and were available in olive green or black.
A rather unique feature was that one could cock the shutter by turning the lens base, the ring around the lens barrel. The lens cover also served as a sun hood.
Werra I, the most basic model without rangefinder or light meter and a fixed lens.
Top view of the Werra, nothing here except the release button. Frame counter and rewind knob were located at the base of the camera.
Werra I with lens cover and cap.
The lens cover doubled as a sun shade.