It all started a year or so ago now. I am a newcomer to the art of photography and I have now collected quite a few pieces of digital kit. I particularly enjoy sea and landscape photography, especially at dawn when there are very few people about. I am also lucky in that I live around 15 clicks from the beach. The closest is a place called West Mersea on the South East coast of the UK.

I don’t really know how or why it started but I decided to try film photography. I wanted to see what the capabilities of older cameras were and work without any digital help. I started looking around, reading stuff, like you do. A nice OM-1 arrived, then a Nikon FM2N, then another OM-1 in black, obviously, plus a few lenses and I had a great first few rolls. Maybe a tale for another time. Then I got obsessed by 120 format and older cameras. It had to be a Zeiss and it had to be cheap. So I found a Zeiss Ikon Nettar and bought it knowing absolutely nothing about how it worked or indeed whether it did at all.

It turned out to be love at first sight.

The model number is 517/16, I think it dates from around 1958, made by Zeiss-Ikon A.G. of Stuttgart, Germany. Now I had yet another dilemma. What film to use. I went for colour because I was thinking landscapes and the obvious choice was Portra 400 or Fuji Pro 400H. I have never shot either before as my 35mm shooting has all been on B&W (HP5 or Tri-X). Eventually, I decided on Fuji, mainly because I thought the slighter brighter colours would suit the UK climate better. We need all the help we can get in the UK.

I managed to figure out what lever did what and loaded some film successfully. The camera’s shutter speed run from 1/8 sec to 1/200 sec and aperture on the 75mm Novar-Anastigmat runs from f/6.3 to f22. Certainly a workable range and I have now realised film is, luckily, quite forgiving. Digital for me seems to be the constant pursuit of the unobtainable whereas film is just photography. It lets you breathe.

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I took the camera out for the first time on a stunning Spring morning, early, alongside my digital stuff. Nothing really in mind other than to capture the sunrise and anything else that I fancied, maybe some architecture. I knew the location had a Pier (yes, with Dodgems and Slot machines) and I thought that might feature when the light was right.

The first thing I found interesting was that I had to do things to get a photo, I had to cock the shutter and I had to manually wind the film on. I did get this right eventually but I also did the right things but not necessarily in the right order. The camera uses scale focus, meaning you guess — or otherwise measure how far away the subject is — and try and it to match it to the distance scale on the lens. Of course, there is no light meter so you either, guess, use Sunny 16, a handheld meter or an app. I have an app now but then I was using a handheld light meter for the first time. Another interesting experience.

So these are my 5 frames, 3 are from my first attempt and 2 are from the second and third times I used the camera. I was really pleased with the results and I was amazed that such a simple little camera could produce such good quality images. I don’t think the limitations really matter that much, the film seems quite forgiving, the camera is light and simple. Yes, you don’t always get it right but that is part of the fun. And you have that delicious excitement waiting for the results.

~ Keith

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Keith Mead

I am relatively new to photography having only started with proper cameras around 5 years ago. I started with a Nikon D5600 and now I have graduated to a D750. I love light and the patterns it makes. A couple of years ago I started with the lovely mechanical...


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  1. Good for you Keith, not afraid to get out there and capture with something so truly “old school.” I think I have the same Zeiss camera and love the photos it takes. I am still struggling with the idea of bringing it along when I am out and about vs. just snapping phone photos. I am glad when I do though, even if I look like I’m in a 50 year old time warp. Thanks for the five frames.

    1. Thanks for the kind comments. I can thoroughly recommend using the little Nettar. It will never match the ease and quality of a phone but mobiles weren’t around then😉

  2. Ah the slippery slope of M/F folders… aren’t they nice! Next you must get a Tessar type like a Xenar or Skopar, though lots of triplets are good stopped down a fair bit. Then there are some lovely little 645 cameras, and the big negs of 6×9…
    Happy hunting!

    1. Hi Steve, I have caught the disease you mention badly. I have a ikoflex TLR now with a Tessar lens from 1930’s plus an Ikonta 6×9 (waiting for the scans from first couple of rolls) and a contaflex with a tessar f2.8, 45 mm on its way. O and a voigtlander Vito b. I must stop soon…….