Sometimes vintage cameras can perform something that has not (yet) been enabled digitally. That is the case for this brilliant Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta C 531/2 from 1936. A vintage folder, but with superior image quality thanks to the super large 6×9 medium format. One of the very best pre-war cameras and still unrivaled today. And it’s pocket size!
Folders, bellows or “Klappkamera’s” as the Germans called them, are not the most popular. People always think of them as primitive, simple precursors of the ‘real’ cameras. But nothing is less true. They are ingeniously designed mechanical cameras. Most importantly, although they look fragile, these camera’s are built like a tank. The leather bellows can easily last a hundred years or more. Not every Ikonta survives such a time, but the vast majority are still in very usable condition today. This is also due to the very best shutter ever made: the compur rapid and the high quality lenses of Carl Zeiss.
The company was founded in 1926 through a merger of the companies Contessa-Nettel, which were mainly known for the later, luxurious Contax cameras. Later East German Dresden was home to the factories where the Ikontas were produced from 1929 onwards. All models (and there were many!) work with 120mm roll film. We focus on the most curious of all, the Super Ikonta. Super derived from the fact that these models (530 and 531) included a coupled rangefinder. The following medium frame sizes were offered for 120 films: 6×4.5, 6×6, 6×9 and even in the “D”-model: 6.5×11. Giant formats and almost panoramic. But like the Ikonta 531/2 it means the max number of exposures is limited to 8 on a roll (for 6×9). If a special rare mask is inserted in the back this Ikonta could also deliver 16 exposures in the rectangular size of 6×4.5.
The most used lenses were Novar and the Tessar. The focal length was 75mm for 6×6 format cameras and 105mm for 6×9 format. This Ikonta uses a 105 mm F4.5 Tessar (which means a reduction equivalent of 46 mm). Later postwar models were faster. The Compur shutters are among the very oldest, produced from 1912. Equipped with a large and clickfree ring for shutter speeds and (even) a self-timer, the high precision is striking. Fortunately, this camera had a CLA service, but even without it there is a good chance that the Compur will still function correctly after eighty years. Many do not find the self-timer, because it is somewhat hidden. When you cock the shutter on the Compur, there is one small knob that you push down so that the shutter can be pulled up a little further. When you now release the shutter, it now delays nicely for about 8-10 seconds.
The fastest shutter speed is 1 / 250s which is not very fast, but because the lens is also not very bright (F4.5 max aperture), that does not have to be a real problem. The camera is at its best at shutter speeds around 1 / 100s and a small aperture. The shortest setting distance is about 1 meter. Focusing is done by a coupled rangefinder. The lens can be focused with the small wheel next to the lens that is aligned to a focusing glass that automatically adjusts and can be observed through the rangefinder on the camera body. These are calibrated so that you can correctly focus by uniting the two overlapping images. Ingenious, we write 1936!
The viewfinder (invented by the Dutchman Albada) is anything but clear. To clearly contrast the drawing lines for both 6×9 and 6×4.5 picture format in the glass, a yellow coating has been applied that gets clearly blurred over the years. But it is sufficient in practice. Furthermore, the camera has a protection against double exposures and the numbering of the exposures can be read by the red filtered circled windows on the back of the camera, indicating as well the 8 numbers for 6×9 or 4.5×9 size (taking two consecutive shots from one window to the next). The right window has to be observed for the exposure numbers for 6×9, for 4.5×6 each number has also to be observed in the second (left) window for an additional exposure.
The Super Ikonta 531/2 is a pocket-sized camera that you can easily take with you on your photo adventures. The giant negatives guarantee the highest conceivable quality. But take your time, it’s not a camera for quick photo moments. First you have to unfold the camera, focus on a subject, choose aperture and shutter speed, cock the shutter, determine the final image composition, wind the film and click. Or in any other order. Only at 1/250th you better first set everything otherwise you cannot cock the shutter. What helps are the ‘red dots’ on the Compur that allows for rapid shots, meaning you already preset a small aperture, plausible shutter speed, cock the shutter and make sure your film is winded. That is also the charm of working with this “Rolls Royce” from a bygone era. Quality over speed.
Manual Super Ikonta 531/2:
360 degree photo: