Perfection from the thirties: Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta

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!

Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta C 531/2
Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta C or 531/2 model.

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.

Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta C 531/2
The Compur Rapid shutter allows times to 1/250s and after the War even up to 1/500s.

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.

Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta C 531/2
Sturdy leather bellows, but be aware of light leaks!

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.

Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta C 531/2
The large 6×9 frame for 8 exposures on a single film. Take up spool to the left and insert the 120 mm in the right compartment. The film runs from right to left. Inserted with a special but rare 6×4.5 reduction mask, it allows for 16 exposures.

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!

Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta C 531/2
Medium format in pocket size, although the camera weights 820 grams.

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:

Useful links:

Camera Wiki

YouTube instructions

360 degree photo:

12 Replies to “Perfection from the thirties: Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta”

  1. Very nicely done! I have had the simple viewfinder version of this camera in B and C, and actually enjoyed using the C more than my Bessa II which I sold. The Voigtlander had a sexiness about it but in the fileld was just not as quick and agile to use. The Zeiss cameras are workhorses, built so solidly. I currently have two of the Ikonta A cameras, one is a “Super” with coupled rangefinder. They are of course more portable, fun to use and results also beautiful, if not the 6×9.

    I have a few pics of and from the folders on the web address below

  2. “Or in any other order. Only at 1/250th you better first cock the shutter before doing anything else.”
    Not !! At 1/250 you better set the speed before you cock the shutter.

  3. This is a camera I’ve always thought I could kill for!! Well, symbolically anyway. I’ve lusted (yes) for a 6×6 Zeiss Ikonta for many decades, but sadly in Australia the few models I’ve found for sale on Ebay (which I usually avoid as buying pigs in pokes isn’t really my way) or from private sellers or camera shops were either too badly worn or abused in their lifetimes to be good value for my needs and wants.

    For now I make do with a Voigtlander Perkeo I folder, which serves its intended purpose well but is not quite iconic or let’s be honest, as ‘sexy’ as an Ikonta.

    The 6×6 Ikontas are legendary but as I recall, produced only 11 negatives on a roll of 120 film. Someone once wrote about a technique that can be used to get that elusive 12th image on the film – if anyone reading this can point me in the direction of that prized article, I would be most grateful.

    Your reviews are excellent and as a newcomer to this site I greatly look forward to reading many more in the not-too-distant future. To the Ikonta reviewer, thanks!!

  4. A nicely written review, well done! I would point out, however, that the Super Ikonta B (aka 532/16) in 6×6 came almost universally equipped with an 80mm f2.8, not a 75mm.

    Also, as much as I love my Zeiss Ikon cameras, the top 6×9 120 folder of the 1930s was not the 531/2, but rather the Voigtländer Bessa RF. It didn’t use an albada finder, had a faster top shutter speed of 1/400, and could be had with the superior 105mm f3.5 Heliar. Even when equipped with the 105mm f3.5 Skopar (Voigtländer’s own Tessar design), it was still a slightly better camera overall.

    1. Currently I am testing the Voigtlander Bessa RF from the thirties and you are right, I must admit I am really impressed by the results.

  5. Very nice article. I have a Super Ikonta C that originally belonged to my late grand-uncle. Everything still works just fine. He owned just three cameras in his life – a 1920’s “Orionwerk” (from memory) that took glass plates, rather than roll film, the Super Ikonta, and then a Leica M3 (late 1950’s). The M3 didn’t have the accessory light meter, but in his camera bag he had a hand-held GE lightmeter that still works fine. It’s incredible to me that the mechanisms on all three cameras are still fully functional.

    1. Dear Juan,

      no, only the ones with the larger shutters, like the Compur or Compur Rapid 0 on a Tessar 105mm.
      A 3.5/75mm Tessar has the smaller 00 size without self timer.


  6. Thanks for the review. I recently decided to go back to analogue for non-work photography and picked up a Nikon F2 but missed the resolution of 120 film. I now have a 515/2 and a couple of other eBay gambles. Collectors don’t seem to like chipped paintwork so ridiculously cheap. Easy to use, though better on a tripod and a test roll to gauge the accuracy of the shutter was worth doing.
    One of them has a gummy shutter, I’ve bought a ‘parts only’ 515 to practice cleaning a shutter.
    You’re right, excellent cameras and you could probably hammer nails in with them- maybe that’s why some have chipped paint.

  7. Excellent review of a remarkable camera that produces the incredible 6X9 negative. Zeus’s quality is so evident when hold and operate the Super Ikonta 531/2 ! Thanks for the review, James

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