Over the past two centuries, the film photography panorama has had plenty of cameras and other gear produced from hundreds of manufacturers. They evoke the beauty and the evolution that this artform (Photography) has been capable to reach!
Starting from very simple box cameras at the end of the 19th century and culminating in the latest electronic pro SLRs. However, according to the adage that says “less is better”, in my opinion very old cameras are the most intriguing of all, because they are able to reconnect you with the essence of photography, something I hope you’ll recognize at the end of this review.
Here’s what’s covered in this review:
Table of contents
Today I want to tell you about the two folding cameras in my collection. They are very simple pieces of mechanical and optical engineering but are so fun to use. They are:
- Left: Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520/2 (Ikonta C) with Novar-Anastigmat 105mm f/1:6.3 (~1928)
- Right: Zeiss Ikon Nettar 515/2 with Nettar-Anastigmat 110mm f/1:4.5 (~1931)
I bought them from eBay some time ago for a handful of Euros and, as soon as I’d tested them, I realized that they were a real bargain!
They both use 120 format roll film, and capture wonderfully large 6×9 negatives, resulting in 8 shots per roll of 120 and 16 for 220.
Using both of these cameras is very easy, but you need to pay attention to many things before shooting and must check them carefully…you’ll usually also forgot at least one of them!
The basic points are:
- Open the camera and unfold the lens (ok, this cannot be missed at all)
- Wind the film advance knob to the next frame, if not already done after previous shot (this can be done by checking the numbers on the backing paper through the little red window). Be sure that this one will cause you some headache! Moreover, you will notice that there is no wind-on lock mechanism, so you need to stop the spooling as soon as the number of the frame appears!
- Check the light with an external light meter (or with a specific smartphone app, or another camera), and adjust shutter speed and f/ value using the wheels and dials on the camera’s lens.
- Estimate the distance to focus and adjust the lens distance (you need to rely on the depth of field because you’ll often forget to do this from one shoot to the next).
- Cock the shutter (c’mon…..)
- Frame the scene and release the shutter
- Advance the film to the next frame (but remember that you’ve already done it! See second bullet point)
Well, all this seems nothing too different from any other camera, but I can tell you that none of these actions are similar to what you do with another type of cameras, for the following reasons:
- The camera, despite its weight, is very simple and comfortable to handle.
- Remembering if you have already advanced the film knob just after the shot or if you need to do it before the next one (it’s certain that you’ll be faced with some double exposures or missed frames, but it’s part of the game…)
- Adjusting the exposure parameters (shutter speed and f/ value) seems to be so empiric, as you will do it in a manner that you are not used to (the wheels and dials are in front of the camera, just around the lens, and there are no LED lights or needles that can help you), and you need to rely on your light meter or your experience.
- Framing with a fixed viewfinder – essentially a cube with two small pieces of glass and a little mirror at 45° – is another exercise in trusting the fact that you’re actually framing the subject properly…one which will fall into the film! (see below)
But finally, when you’ll see your developed negatives you’ll realize that all your efforts and thinking were correct and the “magic moment” happened again! (Yes…..you’re right….there are still some improvements to be done, such those involuntary double exposures…..).
To be honest, they are not the film cameras I use more frequently, but I must admit that they are two of the funniest to use! And with their very nice leather cases, it’s so nice to walk through a city road with one and then when you see a scene to be captured, open it and reveal the beauty of the camera.
You cannot imagine the faces of people that see me with these strange objects….they look at me as if I’m rather strange too, cradling weird objects in my hands……too funny!
On to the cameras, then.
Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520/2 (Ikonta C) with Novar-Anastigmat 105mm f/1:6.3 (~1928)
This is the most simple and older of the two. The camera opens by pushing a little button present in the bottom of the body, near the film knob. Magically the front cover will open and the bellow with the lens and shutter comes out! Push the cover gently until it locks and the camera is ready!
It has a Derval shutter with only three selectable times: 1/25” – 1/50” – 1/100”, plus the “B” and “T” modes. The shutter is activated by means of a little lever positioned at the side of the shutter speed dial. There is no need to cock the shutter in this model, each time you’ll push the shutter lever it shoots. From an aperture perspective, you have f/ values from 6,3 to 32.
You also have the opportunity to use a cable release, which is found near to the shutter lever. When you want to use the camera on a tripod, a UNC 3/8 tripod thread can be found on the camera cover for portraits and on the body side for landscapes.
The viewfinder is a fix one (basically a 45° little mirror), which can be rotated for landscapes (but remember to rotate it again to portrait before closing the camera or you’ll break it).
To close the camera, you need to push back the two guides (bars) that lock the main door when opened. This allows the bellows to be collapsed and the lens to be moved into the body.
Zeiss Ikon Nettar 515/2 with Nettar-Anastigmat 110mm f/1:4.5 (~1931)
This model is a little more “sophisticated” than the previous one, but don’t imagine any electronic stuff! From the standpoint of opening the camera for use, they are very similar. The only differences are related to the position of the opening button (in this case in the upper side of the body), and to sports viewfinder, which pops up when the camera is opened.
The shutter is a Compur with 8 times from 1” to 1/250”, plus the “B” and “T” modes. It’s nearly identical to shutters you’ll see on large format cameras and there is a dedicated lever to cock the shutter, which is positioned on the left side of the lens. Immediately next to this lever, there is also a little button that, if pushed, allows the shutter cocking lever to be pulled up a little bit more and activate a 10-second self-timer.
The shutter button is positioned in the camera body, on the left upper side. This button activates a lever that pushes a shutter trigger lever on the bottom left-hand side of the lens.
Compared to the previous model, the Compur shutter prevents some double exposures, because when cocking the shutter you are (probably) reminded that you need to advance also the film. Available apertures range from f/4,5 to F/32.
As per the previous model, the 515/2 has a cable release socket and a double tripod connection (still UNC 3/8).
The fixed viewfinder (that can be rotated for landscapes) is still present on the shutter assembly, even if is very little and smaller than the previous one! However, you have the sports viewfinder that helps a little bit more on framing.
As already described, the use of these type of cameras is very simple but (in my experience) a little tricky because things are completely “disconnected” from each other when compared to a standard “flow” on an SLR.
I mean, it’s frequent to step through the process I noted above and then realize after the shot that you forgot to focus, advance the film, or something else…this seems more difficult to happen when shooting with another type of camera that has, for example, a mechanism that avoids double exposures or advancing the film twice. At least these are my impressions comparing their use with other cameras.
Speaking of focusing, a distance scale is found in the form of a dial around the lens – don’t forget to set it for critical focus, or you can try a “set and forget” approach by using a smaller aperture and relying on depth of field.
Nevertheless, the results you are able to obtain from these two cameras are incredible! Despite the little and for sure, not so famous lenses and their incredible simplicity, you’ll see very clear and sharp negatives that are stunning! It’s incredibly funny and beautiful to look to 6×9 negatives, or slides, they are incredible bigger than the 35mm ones (something like about 6 times bigger).
But the most important thing that made me fall in love with these two ladies is the feeling that they give me.
Time for me to sign off, sample images follow below.
Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520/2 sample images
Zeiss Ikon Nettar 515/2 sample images
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