The Ikoflex is the only true Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) made by Zeiss Ikon — the WWII Tengoflex is actually just a box-camera with a large, simple brilliant finder which does not aid focussing and is therefore considered to be a pseudo-TLR. The first Ikoflex was introduced in 1934 and had a striking “Art Deco” design. Due to its tapering sides it soon got the nickname “Coffee Can”.

In the early 1930s Kodak introduced its 620 roll film intended to be the successor of the by then 30 years old 120 roll film. In the end 120 outlived its competitor by decades, but there was a period in which camera producers had to decide for which film type their camera’s had to be designed. The Zeiss Ikon engineers in Dresden came up with a very elegant solution. The Ikoflex takes both 120 as well as 620 film. After all the film itself and the backing paper of 620 and 120 film is identical. The only difference is the dimensions of the spool.

The Ikoflex is equipped with two separate frame counters for the respective film types. After loading the camera with film, you advance it until the number [1] appears in the red window on the side of the camera. Then you close the red window with a slide and with a small lever you reset both frame counters to [1].

From this point on you do not use the red window, only the frame counters. The counter for 620 film is marked [Met], because in those day the narrower 620 spools were made of metal. Spools of 120 film were originally made of wood (later plastic and sometimes confusingly, also metal).

The system works very well. The pictures on the developed film were perfectly spaced. When the 120 film frame counter had reached number [12] the 620 film frame counter was near number [10]. It would be interesting to run a film on 620 spools through the camera to see if that would give as good a result.

Taking pictures with the Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex is great fun and is pretty straightforward, but you do attract some attention when using it in public spaces. You have a choice of three shutter speeds: 1/25, 1/50, and 1/100 of a second plus B and T. Combined with an aperture range from f/4.5 to f/22 you can deal with most outdoor daytime conditions. It was not until the 1956 Ikoflex Ic that the model was fitted with an internal light meter. Therefore, when using the older Ikoflexes, you have to use a handheld light meter. Because most of my light meters are at best “vintage”, I prefer to use a simple digital compact camera to take a test picture on which I base my exposure.

The next step of course is focussing.

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This I did using the viewfinder, rather than the distance scale. In hindsight that was probably the wrong choice. About half of the pictures were more or less out of focus.

The image in the viewfinder is not very bright due to the f/4.5 viewing lens, but fortunately, the hood is fitted with a small fold-out magnifying glass which makes focussing a lot easier.

My choice of subjects would preferably have been some nice contemporary Art Deco architecture, but this is hard to find near my house. Therefore, I decided to just take my bicycle, ride into town and see what subjects would present themselves to me. The weather conditions were good with bright sunshine, the occasional rain shower and even a rainbow just as I was photographing our famous leaning tower.

Only after I took the pictures did I check if the reading on the distance scale in any way corresponded to the focussed image on the ground glass. Unfortunately, this was nowhere near the case. At the minimum focusing distance of 1 metre the viewer was in focus at more than 2 meters. After some gentle manipulation, I soon realised that the viewing lens could easily be adjusted by rotating it out of the body of the camera. However, to achieve the correct focus corresponding to the distance scale it was necessary to screw the lens out to a point where it would almost dislodge from the camera.

As I don’t want to risk dropping the lens I have fixed it again in its original position. When I use the camera again I will simply use the viewfinder only to check my composition and use the distance scale to focus.

~ Jaap

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About the author

Jaap Schelvis

Photographer from the Netherlands who enjoys collecting classic camera's made in Dresden and using these to test them.

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  1. A cute camera, and the pictures do have a lot of charm, specially the first one, and the third, with the swans. If you are having troubles adjusting the lens focus, you might want to use a piece of ground class (tracing paper held flat on a piece of glass works too) in place of the film. Open door, shutter on B, then you see exactly what the film would see, and you’ll know whether the focus scale can be trusted or not. Maybe it is the scale that needs adjustment, not the lens itself. And then there is the question of whether the viewfinder looks focussed when the taking lens focusses correctly. If not, I guess you’d have to adjust the position of either the mirror or the viewfinder’s glass.

    1. Thanks Matthias, I have used ‘Scotch tape’ to check the focus the way you describe. However, that only works with cameras with removable backs like a SLR. The Ikoflex is loaded from the bottom so you cannot actually see the film in the position where it is when you take the pictures: https://pbase.com/jaapschelvis/image/171349606

  2. Thank you Rainer and Ian.
    @Ian: Thialf indeed used to be the place to go. However, since a couple of years Leeuwarden has its own new ice rink which is (nearly?) as good.

  3. I love Leeuwarden. My daughter lived there for a few years before moving to Heerenveen to be closer to Thialf (she’s a speed skater,) and it became a second home for me.