Icarette: the jewel of Dresden

A camera that appeals to the imagination is the charming and historically significant Icarette, the forerunner of the consumer camera in Germany. For that we have to go back all the way to the intriguing 1920s of the last century. And there is a lot to tell.

Zeiss Ikon Icarette A
Love at first sight. Nobody can resist the beauty of the Icarette A, first batch produced in 1912.

When you open the camera bag, you see how compact the Icarette actually is. Smaller than a modern APS system camera, a black rectangular housing and a beckoning button on top. Once pressed, a world of magic and ingenuity unfolds. The entire camera is ingeniously folded into the body. The lens and bellows must be pushed forward manually by unlocking the carriage.

Zeiss Ikon Icarette A
The Carl Zeiss Novar F 6.8 75 mm lens, engraved with golden letters. It was around 1924 the first time the Novar lenses were made and upgraded by Zeiss.

The carriage clicks into place at the ‘infinity’ position on the ivory (!) distance plate. The possibilities are limited from ‘infinite’ to 6, 3, 2 and the minimum distance of 1 meter. The Novar lens cannot be rotated, that’s why distance is set by moving the lens on the camera rails to the correct distance to the object. The beautiful CZ Novar-Anastigmat 75mm ƒ / 6.8 lens with a original Gauthier Derval shutter, has a lever for stepless apertures between ƒ 6.8-36 (!). Shuttertimes on this particular model range from 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 to B and the for those times typical T setting, meant for long exposures without the need to keep pressing the shutter button. You take the shot and after your exposure time you just ‘fire’ again to close the aperture. In combination with the slow lens of ƒ / 6.8, you can still use it although the limited shutter speeds. It is part of the charme.

Zeiss Ikon Icarette A
The Brilliant finder, a still odd way of ‘waistfinding’ your way into the composition of the image.

Focusing can be interpreted as very simple or very difficult. But focussing with a Newtonian finder or Iconometer is just easy and a special experience. You first slide up the tab on the back of the camera that holds a triple function: it covers or opens the red ‘viewing glass’ for the exposure number and controlling the film roll and serves finally as the finder to look through the iconometer, the square wire finder on top of the lens. This shows what the 6×6 format of the camera actually records.

Zeiss Ikon Icarette A
The brilliant finder can also be locked into vertical position.

The brilliant finder next to the lens also acts as a (second) viewfinder to compose the photo from the waist. The image is mirrored upwards. A piece of art! Once you have composed the photo, determined the shutter speed and aperture and also correctly estimated the distance, you only have to operate the shutter. What a beautiful precision sound! The shutter is not cocked, but works immediately due to the spring mechanism, it just nicely opens and closes the aperture blades. Don’t forget to wind the film first to avoid double recordings! And remember it yourself if a number is exposed already, so, always wind the roll after taking a shot. Just in case.

Zeiss Ikon Icarette A
The Iconometer or Newtonian finder. Simple, but exact!

The Icarettes work with the old 117 and later with 120 mm roll film format. Also the later Kodak 620 film fits. Fortunately, the wider spools of the 120 mm can also be used with 117 cameras with a simple trick. To do this, cut or trim the top edge of the plastic new 120 mm film spools. The 117 mm spools are narrower and the 120 mm spools are too wide for the camera, they do not fit without modifying them. Loading the film is easy because the metal spoolholders in the back can be turned all the way out. The film goes in on the right and is winded with the extendable handle up the left chamber. Remember that if you have the original 117 mm metal spool, to ask it back from the film developer! They have become very rare. There is a lot of misunderstanding about the mm designations in filmrolls. For example, the number 120 (mm), nor the common 135 for a film cannot be traced back to some magical size indication. It is a serial number from the manufacturing by Kodak. For example, 117 and 260 are also known films, according to only a standardization DIN and/or manufacturing number. So 117 is older than 120 and both use 6cm width.

Zeiss Ikon Icarette A
The Icarette still was loaded with an old Kodak 260 Verichrome PAN film, probably from the fifties. The back can be easily removed to easily (un)load films. Later models (Icarette B and onwards) were also equipped with cassettes for film sheets.

The Icarette was made by the international Camera A.-G, founded in Dresden in 1909. The first bellows cameras were already made, but were largely unbranded. At that time, the name of the shop that sold it was usually affixed to the camera. In 1912, production of the first Icarette began, which remained on the market for almost 25 years (with the exception of adding new lenses and the famous Compur shutter). In 1926 the merger with Zeiss-Ikon took place and the former ICA models were adopted and reintroduced with the new and soon to be famous company. The Icarette fits the pocket, it is really small but also especially sturdy and above all: it is a very nice lovable machinery, it is put together in a sense of art, with probably just as much love as the owner can take pictures with it.

Ica, Germany’s oldest camera factory. To date your ICA, you have to calculate the letter from the serial number. Each year ICA used a new letter, up till L and K that were the transition years to Zeiss-Ikon.

Update April, 26th, 2020: the Novar lens was made by ICA and some sources mention that after these Novar lenses got a serial number, it probably was made by Carl Zeiss. Therefore it could help to date these camera’s according the list of Zeiss manufacturing. Lenses in that time were also outsourced to Rodenstock and Bergheil. After the merger with Zeiss Ikon also Schneider-Kreuznach produced lenses for the many new series of camera models. Carl Zeiss of course, with it majority of shares, contributed with high quality glass. And while the Novar on the Icarette is good, the four element/four groups ICA Hekla or Litonar should be optically better, albeit with lower contrast. The CZJ Tessars are of course good, but very common. The top of the line would be the Icarettes with the six element/two groups ICA Doppel-Anastigmat Maximar or Zeiss Doppel-Amatar. Vintage camera users don’t pay much attention to the ICA Maximar lens because it’s an in-house ICA lens and thus it feels generic. But it is a copy of the famous Goerz Dagor. Source: JPD from Photrio.

Here some examples, taken on a 120 roll in the Icarette.

360 degree rotation picture:

One Reply to “Icarette: the jewel of Dresden”

  1. I’ve this camera. bellows original and appears lightproof, shutter and delay working.
    All in v nice condition with its original case.,

    No plate holder so as is roll film only.

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