When size does (not) matter: Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta D

Zeis Ikon’s most iconic camera series: the 10 models of the Super Ikonta, made between 1934 and 1959. Superior medium format rangefinders that still deliver fantastic results and at least one should belong in every vintage collection. I was able to get my hands on the rare 530/15 or the Super Ikomat D, a very special Super Ikonta that produces 6,5×11 cm negatives on an old 116 film roll that was ended in 1984. But there is hope.

In my earlier review of the Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta C 531/2 from 1936 I already praised the quality of this medium format, which is mainly due to the excellent Tessar lenses. The solid mechanism, the virtually indestructible bellows and the unsurpassed rangefinder from the 1930s. It makes the Ikonta series the glory symbol of the medium format cameras of the time. It is not exceptional that, when you buy an Ikonta after eighty years, it just works. They are that sturdy and good. With many other cameras, you have a greater chance of light leaks, misaligned rangefinders, stuck or hanging shutters. But with my Ikontas, or rather almost all Zeiss Ikon cameras, I have been lucky that major repairs turned out to be unnecessary and a single drop of lighter fluid and a few cotton swabs brought the camera back to life in no time. The 6×9 Super Ikonta C 531/2 already makes giant negatives as opposed to the more popular and common 6×6 format. Say the widescreen 16:9 of a ‘normal’ medium format. The 530/15 goes one step further, but to do so Zeiss Ikon had to switch to a different, wider film reel, that of Kodaks 116 (2½×4¼ inch/6,5×11 cm). The 116 film reel is mainly found on old Kodak cameras and has only appeared sporadically on other brands. The 116 film reel from 1898 (!) is mainly found on very old Kodak cameras and has only been sporadically used by other brands. It is also the only Super Ikonta to use this film. In 1932, the film was modernised and renamed 616 film with a thinner metal spool. 8 mega negatives fit on a 616 roll.

The Ikonta 530/15 was produced between 1934 and 1938. Mine is according to the 120 mm, F4.5 Tessar lens, from 1937. Yes, 120 mm, which with crop factor converted to 35 mm film is approximately equivalent to a standard 50 mm focal length. It is a two-format camera with an inlay mask (thankfully it was supplied with my copy) and two red windows in the back. With this mask it is possible to take 16 images size 5×6.5 cm. The lens is mounted in a compur (rapid) shutter with a maximum shutter speed of 1/400/s which goes all the way back to Bulb and Time recordings with many speeds in between. The rangefinder is similar to the other Super Ikon bags. A folding sight-glass is connected to the rangefinder mirror in the body. A rotary knob on the sight-glass makes it possible to focus by rotating the front lens. With the patch in the viewfinder window, you can follow the focus precisely. The Ikonta also has an Albada finder that indicates both sizes (5×6.5 and 6.5×11) as white lines in the viewfinder. It is also convenient that the shutter button is on the body and connected to the Compur with a lever. The shutter speeds and the aperture are manually controlled on the lens. By the way, the camera has respectable aperture values from 4.5 to 32! The camera has a tripod socket on the front cover and even a self-timer by moving the shutter release lever further up (after the little metal unlocking knob has been pushed).

But is it still worth buying such a camera when 116 rolls are no longer for sale? Fortunately, the answer is yes, although it requires some extra materials and patience. There are several, sometimes complicated solutions imaginable by respooling 120 film on to 616 spools, but we choose the simplest solution. First, we need a 616 to 120 Film Adapter, which is readily available on the Internet (e.g. https://www.camerhack.it/product/fak-616-film-adapter-from-120-to-616/). This extends the ends of a 120 spool and makes them fit the camera. It also provides a guide how to use the frame numbers on the 120 film in order to avoid overlapping frames (e.g. the ‘6×9’ numbers 3,6,9,12,15 to get 5 images). The ‘new’ format becomes 6×11,5! Next we have to reduce the film gate in order to be able to use smaller 120 film, otherwise it has no hold and will not in a straight way pass the film gate. For that some useful tips you can find here: http://www.artdecocameras.com/resources/616to120/ where you learn how to simply make a special panoramic mask that guides the film correctly. There are also suppliers of 3D printed rails that can be glued to the top and bottom of the film gate. That was my solution (see picture). You don’t have to go to all that trouble if you just want to shoot the smaller format. Then the film hole is small enough to transport the film tightly. But then you must have the original mask or make one yourself from cardboard or plastic.

all the modifications to use the Super Ikonta D with 120 film

Shooting with a Zeiss Super Ikonta D is a real adventure. Not only because it is a manual camera, but also because you have to wind the film very carefully. But the results are worth it. Here again, the Tessar lens shows its best side. The panoramic format really adds to your photo experience, ideal for buildings and landscapes. A panoramic camera from the 1930s – not everyone has one!

4 Replies to “When size does (not) matter: Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta D”

  1. There is also a way to cut 70 mm film to fit. Someone even sells a tool on eBay and there is at least one set of instructions online on how to cut and roll the film, either printed or on youtube.

  2. What a lovely camera!! Thank you for posting this. I recently found a reasonably-priced Super Ikonta 530/15 as well, which I am anxiously ready to start using. Mine is not in nearly as good condition as yours, and also has the lower-spec Triotar lens and Klio shutter, but I’m looking forward to shooting it none the less. The wacky rangefinder system with the remote rotating wedge prism is truly unique! Mine is a 1934 model (according to the lens serial number), and has a slightly different Albada viewfinder than yours–mine has a second flip-up masking screen inside that is used when shooting the half-frame image size. I am using a slightly different approach to film though…I will be shooting with actual vintage 616 film that expired in 1979.

  3. > There are also suppliers of 3D printed rails that can be glued to the top and bottom of the film gate.

    Can you share link please ?

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