Since I work on quite a few Ikoflex cameras I thought I would put together a simple guide, with information for the potential buyer/user of the Ikoflex cameras. This is not intended to be history, but my observations about the different models and their usefulness to photographers today. Also, in this introduction it bears mention that other than the Coffee Can, and the III, Zeiss Ikon was not making a camera to compete with the Rolleiflex, but with the Rolleicord. So, I often see things on the internet that disparage the Ikoflex as less camera than a Rolleiflex; yes, it is, much less camera than a Rolleiflex, but it is a very sound alterative to a Rolleicord. In fact, I will go out on a limb and say it is a better made camera than a Rolleicord, and at less money. Further if you want a Rolleicord with a Tessar lens you are simply out of luck, but you can get an Ikoflex with a Tessar!
Zeiss Ikon introduced the Ikoflex in 1934 to compete with Franke and Heidecke’s Rolleiflex Original and Standard Models, and the model they came up with was the 850/16 “The Coffee Can”. This model was as different as any TLR you will find. Horizontal film transport exposure number for both 120 and 620, with what I believe was the first Helicoidal focus on any TLR, and a rotating focus distance wheel above the viewing lens. It is a truly weird camera for sure.
The Ikoflex line continued on until the year 1960 When Zeiss Ikon ended production, with the last model being made, the Favorit. Ikoflex cameras were made in large numbers and are not particularly rare. If you are a collector there are many variants to keep you interested, but let’s face it, I am here to see that you can use your cameras.
So let’s first discuss the two models that should be avoided:
Ikoflex III. This as a camera was a dead end for Zeiss Ikon, and it was first made before WWII starting in 1939 and continuing through 1940. So, it was made for two years and dropped. One has to wonder why so much design effort was expended on a camera that only was in production for two years; the reason is that it is overly complex, and not a good reliable camera. To remove the hood the focus side has to come off! The film transport is four separate units that have to coordinate, and work in harmony, while the screws to adjust them are buried under those very same parts. I owned one that worked and it took me about four weekends to get it up and running! It is well known that I prefer slow lenses, and I don’t have the highest opinion of the 8cm 2.8 Tessar lens design. So suffice to say, you have a camera that is almost impossible to service, that needs lots of service, that has a lens I don’t think is very good, and so what you have left is a real Turkey. By the way, I don’t work on this monstrosity.
Ikoflex Favorit. Here again, this model is too complex, and is really not a good serviceable camera. Zeiss Ikon was getting some flack about the non-automatic nature of the film transport on their TLR cameras, so they set about making a film sensor version like the Rolleiflex Automatic Film Transport. Well in keeping with the overly complex nature of the line, they put a screw that you need to adjust, to make the film sensor work, under a part, that you need to have in, to test the film sensors. Yuck! Put it together, test it, spend 20 minutes taking it apart, adjust it, repeat… The meters are set to the sunny f:11 rule, you need to fiddle with the focus knob mounter exposure calculator to figure out what to set the camera at, and the needle for the meter is in the view finder, blocking part of the ground glass. What a pile of crap this camera is. Oh, I don’t work on this make either.
Now that I have vented good an proper, lets take a quick look at the rest of the Ikoflex line, which I do work on.
Note: On the Prewar models of Ikoflex, the waist level view finder is equipped with a frosted plano-convex lens. This is the same sort of affair that was used on Early Mamiya TLR, Kallowflex TLR, and on all post war Gray Baby Rolleiflex cameras. It is simply the best bright screen you can get. Bright all the way to the image edge, and no funny lines from the Fresnel lens, or distortion of any kind. Post war Ikoflex cameras, went to a hybrid system where there was a Fresnel lens under a frosted glass, and as Fresnel screens go, it is the absolute best, but still not as good as the plano-convex lens.
Ikoflex Coffee Can 850/16:
As stated above this is a strang little camera with every system as different as it could be from an Rolleiflex. In a lot of ways it is like the Voigtlander Superb, in that it is so different. Most of these camera have a Klio shutter and a Novar lens, but on rare occasions, you will find one with a Compur shutter and a Tessar lens. With this latter combonation, it is a good user camera and worth the investment in having it serviced. One thing to note about this camera, there are two film exposure counters, one for 120 and one for 620. This is confusing for many people, but all you need to know is that the 620 film spool is smaller in diameter, so it advances the numbers in the window more slowly. So when in doubt, go with the highest number. Aside from being a very different camera, in design, I like this camera a lot. Removable film "Cassette" which comes out of the bottom, which makes it easy to load. Fast, robust helicoidal focus, with easy to see deph of field scale above the viewing lens, and a reasonably bright focus screen. All in all a good effort to circumvent the Rollei pattents.
Ikoflex I 1937 to 1951:
This model comes in two main variants. The prewar cameras use a red window film advance on the back of the camera, and the post war models use the Auto-Space film transport that you have to reset, after using the bottom mounted red window. The early variants come in two forms, one with a black and chrome name badge on the hood and later with a chrome badge, which is common the entire line from its introduction onward. This model can be distinguished by the fact that the shutter is covered in a circular housing, that sits entirely under the viewing lens. The Ikoflex I from the prewar era, comes with either a Novar or a Tessar lens in a Compur Rapid shutter. Post war models are pretty much all Prontor S shutters, with Novar lenses, but sometimes can be found with the more expensive Tessar lens. I like this model just fine. Easy to work on, good reliable cameras and with a Novar lens they are greatly undervalued. If you need flash and a coated lens go for the post war model. If you can put up with an uncoated lens and don’t need flash synch, get the pre-war model.
I finished this with an Ellipsis, because this will be confusing no matter how I go about it. Zeiss Ikon throughout the mid-1930 to the early 1950s used the name Ikoflex II on six different cameras, four of which are pretty similar but the rest are all different. I like to use, Type 1, A, B and such, but the only real way to keep them straight is by the catalog numbers.
Ikoflex II , 1936-1939 has an exposed shutter, typically a Compur Rapid, but sometimes a cheap shutter like Klio. Also, typically with an f:3.5 Tessar but sometimes a Novar (in a Klio) or a Compur with a Triotar can be found. The real distinguishing feature on this camera is the lack of a focus knob, and in its place, there is a lever! I have owned and used this model and I have to say the lever was a real innovation, fast to use and very ergonomic. This the first model of the Ikoflex II (851/16) comes in four variants—so we the public can be totally confused. First or “A” as like to call it, has a black front cover with a red window film advance, and the focus lever. “B” has the front cover in chrome and the focus lever. Type “C” has the chrome front and the red window film advance and a focus knob. The “D” has a focus knob and the auto-space film advance. McKeown’s only list this camera as three variants, but I have seen four versions, which just means the guy that wrote this section of the “guide” was just as confused as the rest of us.
Ikoflex II, Type II (852/16) 1938 to the mid-40s, sometimes called the Ikoflex III type II. This camera has the entire shutter and viewing lens enclosed in a large oblong housing with the shutter speed and diaphragm settings read from plastic tape, in two windows. This camera as far as I have seen is always a Compur Rapid shutter, with either an f:3.5 Tessar or Novar. This model also only came with the auto-space transport. Once again it may have no flash synch, but it has the best focus screen in the history of TLR cameras. With this model Zeiss Ikon moved through the war years and it brings us to the final Ikoflex II offering, the post war.
Ikoflex II, type III, Post War IIa (852/16) 1938 to 1940s:
Ikoflex II, type III was also called the IIa to unify the advertising with that of the all new Contax IIa, but in some markets they clung to the name Ikoflex II. This model is probably the best of the entire line. Compur-Rapid X shutter, with the 75mm f:3.5 Tessar, and rarely with a Novar lens, it is a very capable camera. Before I go further, I need to say that I work on many of the Synchro -Compur shutters both the MX-1 early type and the later Synchro-Compur proper. I get the Synchro models to work, but there is always a problem with them from a reliability standpoint; whether you use it or not the entire operation of the shutter is predicated on the flash delay. If the delay fails, you have no shutter release. I am not a “Russian Flashbulb” guy. When I shoot flash it is strobe. So this model of camera has the best shutter made with an X synch. Good old well tested Compur Rapid, with a simple X flash synch. This is why I like this model and I think it is the best of the entire line. Simple, robust, easy to work on, and with a great lens.
This model can be distinguished by the housing around the shutter, which only covers part of the viewing lens, and has the shutter speeds and diaphragm settings displayed in small windows on either side of the viewing lens.
Ikoflex Ia (854/16) 1952-1956:
This is my second favorite model and was in production for four years and they must have made a bunch, because it is one of the most common models. All have a Prontor S (sometimes called the SV, S for synchronized and V for delay timer) shutter, and either a coated Zeiss Opton Tessar or a Novar Anastigmat. At any given moment I may own 1-4 of these cameras and I like to work on them and re-sell them. I have shot both the Novar and Tessar models and I have been hard pressed to tell the difference in the photos. I harp about it a lot, but the Rodenstock made Novar lens is one of the most undervalued lenses in any classic camera. That said this camera comes like most Zeiss Ikon cameras in more than one variant, the early with a flat metal name badge and the later model with the cast aluminum name badge. Other than the cosmetic difference they are pretty much the same camera, with only minor internal differences that matter not one bit to the user.
So here is the drawback to this model—it has a Prontor S shutter. I for the most part like the Prontor S shutter. It is simple and not too hard to get running right. Prontors were shipped from the factory bone dry, and the repair manuals say to leave them dry. No that they are pushing 70 I have found small amounts of proper lubricants can after a good cleaning bring them back to life. Now for the huge drawback to the Prontor S, the delay action timer, or as I like to call it—The Self Timer. The low-speed escapement these shutters is well made and designed to last, this is not the case with the self-timer. I am just guessing but It appears that they spend much less money on making it, and now nearly 70 years later, they just don’t hold up. I can defeat the “timer” but then if you are a flash bulb guy, you will only be able to use strobe. I even pug up the whole where the old timer arm stuck out, so the camera still looks good, and you won’t be tempted to try and use the damn thing. The film transport is the now common auto-space type, and most of the steel parts are now Stainless and vastly over-engineered so they hold up to heavy use.
Ikoflex Ib, (856/16) 1956-1958:
Please note that with this model some sanity returned to the nomenclature of this line, following the 1a with the 1b; what a novel approach. This is a good user camera and is my third favorite of the line. With this model they moved the trigger lower down on the front edge and made the camera much more usable for the small handed photographer. The advantage to the location of the trigger on the body near the lens is that the lens board does not get presses or disturbed during the exposure like on all Rollei products, and those that copied them. The drawback is that it may not be that ergonomic, and with this model and the 1c the linkage sounds tinny, clanky and sort of cheap. The biggest drawback for his camera is that it uses exclusively the Prontor SVS shutter.
New on the Ib is a slightly redesigned auto-space film transport. The tiny numbers of the Ia are now bigger, and they are displaced above the reset button and have a real plastic window from which to view the exposures. The function is the same, it just looks a bit different.
As stated above the self-timers in the Prontor line, are sort of cheaply made, and so they don’t always stand the rest of time. Well, with the SVS the timer is tensioned and fired with every photo, so the shutter now relies on the timer to work properly every time, whether you are using flash or not, this is just not a good situation, if you need reliability.
Ikoflex Ic (886/16) 1956-1960:
This camera is the same as the 1b, but it has the addition of a finely made Zeiss Ikon selenium cell exposure meter. You simply flip up a cover, point the camera at an 18% gray card, and the meter gives you an exposure value number, which you then input into the exposure calculator in the middle of the focus knob, and this in turn gives you the exposure. Simple, Simple, Simple… The drawback to this is that there is a meter needle at the front of the view screen and some numbers painted on it, that detract from making a good composition. The meters almost never work any longer, and they are based on the sunny 11 rule that was common in Berlin (Berlin is at nearly the northern latitude as Calgary Canada) at the time. Also keep in mind that selenium meters are really only good in daylight, and that they are notoriously inaccurate under LED, and Fluorescent light, and even if working it is just about useless. The other drawback to this model is it has a Prontor SVS shutter too…
Ikoflex IIa type 2, (855/16) 1952-1956:
This is the camera with the shutter speeds and diaphragm controls similar to a Rolleiflex, they are read above the viewing lens, in little windows and set by rounded gears that protrude from the front cover. This camera is quite common with a Synchro-Compur MX-1 shutter or the later Synchro-Compur shutter and almost always has a Zeiss red T, or Opton f:3.5 Tessar lens. The advantages of this camera are that it has easy to read setting, and a good lens, and shutter and for the first time in a post war Ikoflex, advancing the film tensions the shutter. All other aspects of the camera are like the Ib and Ic, . The drawback to this camera is that the shutter is tensioned after the 12 image is made and the film is wound on, with no way to discharge it, until the film counter is re-set. So you have to re-set the counter and fire the shutter then store the camera away, or it sits for “who know how long” with the shutter under tension. Maybe this is not a big issue for you, but it is a huge issue for me, a camera repair guy.
Favorit (887/16) 1957-1960:
I mention this one above, suffice to say I hate it, and will not work on it, it is strictly a collectable. It has all the things wrong with the Ic’s meter, and the IIa type 2’s transport, while having a second layer of complexity with its film sensor, that is just ridiculous. This camera is strictly a collectable. They made it for only three years and my guess is that they all came back for warranty service.
Now that I have gone through the specific models lets look specific systems common to most and how they have held up over the vast amount of time since they were made, and how they will last into the future.
The Focus parts:
From the introduction of the first model II with the lever focus, the Ikoflex used a type of focus with only one Helicoid mounted on the lever side under the side panel with a very simple mount, which had a screw on the inside of the film chamber. Beneath the helicoid was the follower, which then connected to a walking beam which was mounted to a shaft, that ran though the mirror box, out to the transport side, where a second walking beam was attached. Move the lever and the waking beams swing back to front, and moves the focus arms out and in, and moves the lens board. This focus stayed unchanged from 1936 though to the end of production in 1960. I think this is simply the best focus put on any TLR. Today if in original condition, they are almost always frozen and forcing a frozen mechanism will cause real damage to the focus side walking beam, but when serviced it is free and easy to accurately focus, and it can be adjusted so there is virtually no play when going form near focus to infinity. No other RLR with an arm focus is as good as this, the engineers got it right from the start. When I service this mechanism, I remove the original leather focus pads and put in Teflon and this even improves it more. The Teflon has a lower friction on the helicoid and will not rot away like the leather did over time. Zeiss used a dark brownish/black grease at the factory and it was animal based and not pH neutral. I use only full synthetic grease and I use two types, one heavy and stiff, and one light and fluid. This means that the helicoid and walking beams stay “ahead” of the focus arms and this further eliminates play in the focus. I cannot sing the praises of this system enough; it is really a slick system.
Now that the mechanism for moving the lens board has been examined, lets talk about the focus lens, mirror, waist level finder and focus screen. From the model II on the viewing lens was three element Teronar Anastigmat. Three elements in three groups, and it for the entire line (except the III) was of 7.5cm focal length and f:3.5 aperture. This matched the taking lens for both angle of coverage and depth of field. It is mounted in a simple tube mount and can be easily taken apart and cleaned should it need it. An interesting note to his is that on the post war cameras there is often a pencil inscription on the outside of the viewing lens, indicating a tested focal length. Most I have seen are somewhere in the 72-53.5mm range. I for the longest time could not figure this out, why it was marked 75mm but was in fact not. Well one day I was cleaning the ground glass and Fresnel screen and noticed it was a bit smaller than the 2.25”x 2.25” (which on the film is actually 56mm x 56mm, 2.2” square) it was supposed to be. Zeiss had decided to not add the complexity of having a parallax correction apparatus, so they just made the viewing screen smaller and placed it in the middle of the focus range, while keeping it square, so as not to confuse the photographer. The actual size of the viewing area on an Ikoflex is 49.5mm x 49.5mm! Not 56mm x 56mm as the image on the film appears. So they needed to correct the focal length for the undersized view finder area, to keep the angel of coverage the same as the viewing lens. Very clever, and it had a secondary benefit, that of spreading the light out less, and having a brighter image in the view finder. Very clever indeed.
The mirror in an Ikoflex if not replaced at some time, will always be bad. They are actual top surfaced, silvered mirrors. They must have been really quite bright when new, but over the years I have not seen one that is still good. Expect to have it replaced when the camera is serviced. I charge 20 dollars for a new mirror, but when the camera is being completely serviced, I will typically throw the mirror in for free.
On the early Ikoflex models they were equipped with the Plano-Convex focus screen that was both bright and clear. After the war, Zeiss stopped using the heavy glass condenser lens, and went instead to a hybrid etched glass and plastic Fresnel lens, focus screen. I have said it before, so at the sake of being redundant: This is simply the best Fresnel screen put on any camera. Light, bright, clear, and without distortion. The engineers at Zeiss got it right, and it still is without match.
Last in the focus system is the waist level finder. On all models after the II, type 2 there is a fold up sports finder, and a critical focus magnifier. The models before the Ib, all have a four folding pieces that made up the square focus enclosure. Later modes have a hood that folds somewhat like a Rolle hood, with sides that protrude down into the mirror box. All Zeiss waist level finders have a critical focus magnifier. I really like the four folding piece hood. It is by far the easiest hood to work on of any TLR camera, and is good and strong while being light weight. Beyond the design, I really get a kick out of the exposure guide on the side. Good advice in such a general way, it would be surprising to get a decent picture!
The first Ikoflex, the Coffee Can had a unique system where the film was loaded into a whole unit that came out of the bottom of the camera, and had windows for both 120 and 620 film, with the 620 window being marked with an M for metal spool. The film was advanced with a lever at the front of the camera and you had to start the film with a red window, and then simply center the next number in the appropriate window on the camera body. This system was not carried on into the model II.
The Next transport that Zeiss came up with used the Red window with an indicator window for if the film had been advanced and double exposure protection. This advance carried on into the Model 1, while the next version of the II got the transport that would be in use for the remainder of the production run, and is what I call Auto-Space. The Auto-space transport works on the same principal as the advance in the Super Ikonta B line of cameras, which is you put the 6x9 number 1, on the paper backing, centered in the red window, and you then manually reset the counter. Sound simple right? I have purchased literally a dozen or more cameras that the seller stated—“trigger jammed, and transport is not stopping for the exposures, cranks right through.” Well, you have to reset the counter, to one, and it won’t do that! So, now almost a hundred years later, people don’t know the company philosophy, and they make mistakes like this. This film transport is simply the best put on a camera in the price range. Heavy brass parts, stainless steel, all put on a stainless-steel mounting place that is held in with three screws, and is simple to work on and use. There is a drawback to this, it does not have an adjustment for increasing the spacing of the exposures, when using modern thin emulsion film. Zeiss Ikon’s engineers knew film and backing was .381mm (.015”) thick and so they did the calculus and designed the exposure spacing cam accordingly. Now 75+ years later makes like Fuji or Illford make think emulsion films and they are much less than the .015” thick and the exposures sit right next to each other. There is a simple way around this… Go past the 1, to say between the 1 and 2, in the red window, and that will make the take up spool bigger and solve the problem. Myself, I don’t like thin emulsion films, I like thick emulsion films, so this is not a problem for me.
Camera Body, Back, and Covering:
The body of the Ikoflex is a heavy cast aluminum piece that starting with the II, which changed little throughout the entire line. There are ample recesses for the focus parts, the film transport the mirror box and the film chamber, it is thick enough that if you drop it, it will not distort the shape of the body. Don’t try it, I will charge you a bundle of money to fix it. The sides of the body are covered with chrome plated brass panels held in place with brass screws. The body is covered with a synthetic leather called imaginatively Pleather, and despite its name, it will not lead to the aptly named Zeiss Bumps, that plague Rollei’s TLRs to this day. Last feature of the Ikoflex, is the back. Heavy steel stamping, held fast with a spring loaded latch, and pivoting to the bottom from a front hinge line. This is a good feature of the Ikoflex and one that I rarely see issues with. Good solid well made back. All Rollei TLR backs are made of Aluminum and they are subject to damage quite easily.