Zeiss Ikon Ikonta review - Photo Jottings

Zeiss Ikon Ikonta review

Our review camera today is the Zeiss Ikon Ikonta with Novar 75mm F/4.5 lens and Prontor SV shutter.  It’s marked 523/16 on the backside, I think it’s a ‘B’ model.  It takes 12 2¼ x 2¼ (6×6) photos on a roll of 120 film.  My main purpose for reviewing this camera is not so much to show the quality as it is to have something to link to when I post some of the pictures from it in the future.

This very Zeiss Ikon Ikonta was purchased by my dad in the summer of 1953 while getting ready to head home from the Korean war.  He bought it at the Post exchange (see picture below) in what was then know as ‘Pusan’ but is now called ‘Busan’ on the maps.  It came with the case and manual as you see in the first photo.  The PX price was probably somewhere between $30-$50.  Note: his previous camera was a Canon IVSB, which is a 35mm rangefinder type.  It was sold so he’d have spending money while in Tokyo on leave, and after returning to Busan, he had some money left over, and bought the Ikonta.  Although the Canon camera was far more expensive and had a much better lens; this Ikonta produced more resolution as the 120 film negative has about 3.5 times the surface area as 35mm.  I noticed this right away as I started scanning the old film from both cameras; however it does depend on film type, meaning if you use Kodachrome with the 35mm, and the standard 120 print film of the day, the differences were not so noticeable.

This particular model was probably the least expensive Ikonta available at the time.  The single coated (slightly magenta) three element Novar lens and Prontor SV shutter (8 speed, 5 leafs) were cheap, the better models had Tessar 4 element lenses and Synchro-compur shutters.  I’m assuming the focusing front element is included in the lens’ 3 element count.

Camera features include; double exposure prevention, 8 sec self timer, a cold shoe on top that hold a flash, but the flash must be plugged in at the shutter, (that was common back then), a viewfinder, but with no guidelines, shutter speeds starting from bulb, 1 sec, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100,  and 1/300, also included, a ten blade aperture with a range of F/4.5 to F/22.  The are red marks on the shutter, focusing ring and aperture.  This is for making quick snaps off the fly.  It’s called the Zeiss Ikon red dot setting.  It comes out to be about F/10, 1/25 sec at 13′ focusing.  I would not use 1/25 hand held with this lens, you’ll wind up with blurry shots.  Originally, the recommended film was around ASA 50, that’s pretty slow and not readily available in print film now, so double your shutter speed to 1/50 for that red dot setting if using ASA 100 speed film.  Probably the best feature of all is the folding design.  It will easily fit in the back pocket of jeans, with the size being about the same as a medium to small 35mm film camera with no lens attached.

Focusing is of course manual.  You turn the front element to the required distance.  Marked around the focusing ring is 4, 5, 6, 7, 9, 12, 15, 24, 48, ∞, all based on Feet.  Focusing at long distances doesn’t seem to make a difference either by putting it directly in the middle of the infinity mark, or all the way over which is slightly past the infinity mark.  On modern lenses, that usually makes a huge difference.

Quirky things include; when the camera is folded, you can’t set it down in the upright position because of the pointed spool holder ends and case attachment socket, see third picture below.  You can’t put it on a tripod in the conventional way, (folded up) as it has protrusions at the bottom, so you  have to shim it up around the female 1/4-20.  A couple of broken off paint sticks works great; it’s ok though with the lens open.

My own approximate dimensions;  5-1/4″ (133mm) long,  3-5/8″ (92mm) tall,  1-3/4″ (45mm) deep closed, and 3-7/8 (97mm) open.  Weight is 21 oz (595g).  Add 5.7 oz  (162g) for the carrying case.

  • Camera, case and instruction manual
  • Side view wtih lens out
  • Front closed, makes it quite small
  • Back, small door opened to see red filter allowing you to advance the film properly
  • Inside bellows with lens out
  • Novar 75mm F/4.5 lens
  • Top with film winding knob, cold shoe and film selector
  • Parts of camera

Here are some test pictures that were scanned by the local camera shop years ago.  They didn’t do a very good job, but it’s good enough to see how the lens responds to aperture changes.  Since scanners with digital ICE can’t remove dust and scratches on B&W film, the images below are ‘as is’ and have not been ‘fixed up’ in photoshop.  These full images have not been cropped, and the first five were taken in 2010 on Kodak T-Max 100 film at infinity focus.  Here’s a summery of the image quality; F/4.5 is quite soft except for a small portion of the middle; that’s to be expected with a three element lens, however, that would make a nice portrait setting if your face is in the middle!  F/5.6 shows a little extra depth of field, but not much sharpening.  At F/8, the image starts to show some decent detail, this is probably the maximum aperture you should use if you can help it.  Moving on to F/11, again, more detail with the sides getting sharper.  F/16 is not show as it was taken at a shutter speed of 1/50 sec, and that speed is not working correctly and resulted in an over-exposed and blurry shot.  At the minimum aperture of F/22 the whole image looks quite sharp, even along the sides.  Check out a higher resolution scan of the F/22 image in the next gallery.

The next to last two shots are flare samples.  I don’t see much of a problem when the sun is low in the sky and the background is dark, but intense sun will cause much of  the image to be washed out, and that’s just when the sun is not directly inside the frame.  The last picture shows very minor barrel distortion, mostly at the ends of the corrugated metal hut.

  • F/4.5
  • F/5.6
  • F/8
  • F/11
  • F/22
  • Flare during intense sun
  • flare late afternoon
  • Distortion not really noticeable. Man is PVT G.M. Ballard, Pusan South Korea, 1953

F/4.5 F/5.6 F/8 F/11 F/22 Flare Setting Sun Distortion

Click buttons for full size images.

In the gallery below, you’ll find a few high quality film scans taken with this camera.  The first image was taken in the mid 1950s.  The second image was taken in Busan South Korea, probably early September of 1953.  A lot of GI’s are leaving Korea at this time.  The Post Exchange on the right in the second picture is where the camera was purchased just moments before!  The third image was taken in Rillito Park, Tucson AZ, February 1958, and shows the Catalina Mountains in the background.  This was the first picture taken after converting the camera to color in 1958.  No kidding?  People fall for that more than you think!!  The last image is the higher quality scan of the F/22 shot from the gallery above.

Use notes:  the Ikonta with Novar lens is best at F/22, the whole picture is sharp, however, that leaves you with a shutter speed of about 1/25 or 1/50 in good light with ISO 100 film.  For best results, use a tripod.  The Novar lens is good, but not great.  Print film shows about the same resolution as transparency, like Fuji Velvia, so don’t bother with the extra developing time and expense hoping for more resolution.  Cameras like my Zeiss Ikon Ikonta with a less expensive shutter may not work quite right after  half a century or more; print film is more forgiving of exposure misses, and offers more dynamic range, especially using modern print film.

Here in Tucson AZ, costs average about $5 for a roll of 120 film, and about $7 to develop print film, that’s about $1 a shot.   Getting basic scans (around 2350 x 2350 pixels) burned to a CD from you local camera shop will probably cost approximately $10 extra.  It does get even more expensive if you have high resolution scans made for each shot, so save that for only your best shots!  Better yet, get a decent film scanner and do it yourself.

The Zeiss Ikon Ikonta with Novar lens and 6×6 area of film are capable of producing very sharp digital scans of around 3500 x 3500, which equates to about 12 megapixels; not bad for a cheap early 1950s camera.

Unfortunately, due to sticky shutter issues, I couldn’t get any newer test shots that I wanted.  Someday I’ll get it fixed and put it back to use.  It’s a fun camera, fairly small and light weight, and of course has a history in our family.  I’ll be posting more old photos from the camera in the future, hope you enjoyed the review!

  • Mid 1950s
  • Sept 1953, Pusan South Korea
  • Rillito Racetrack, Tucson AZ Feb 1958
  • F/22 higher quality scan

Young Girl Pusan Racetrack high quality scan

Click buttons for full size images.

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