Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta III 531/16 (Tessar) – 1953

Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta III 531/16 (Tessar) - 1956After spending a weekend with my lad pitching the Novar version of this camera against the Mamiya 7II using T-Max 400 film, we came to the conclusion that paying 10x the price for the Mamiya 7II did not equate to 10x the image quality. Yeah I know, apples and oranges…but it was a wet weekend!

OK, It’s fair to say that the Novar Anastigmat is soft at wide apertures and remains a little smeared in the extreme corners when stopped down (see image). However, it’s not surprising given that the Novar lens is a basic triplet design from 1890.

Anyhow, after much deliberation my lad decided he wanted to try the 4 element Tessar version – assuming we could find one for the right price. These 1950’s folders have become quite fashionable and their ever increasing prices seem to reflect this trend.

We scoured the auction sites and found a 1953 model in Germany at £150 BIN with a “make offer” option, so my lad offered £110 and the guy countered with £120 inc P&P….Deal done!

Having only a few eBay pictures to go on, you never know what might turn up – condition-wise. I’ve seen some real dogs dressed up going for £300…so finger’s crossed!

Five days later Hermes dropped off a package and inside was a Super Ikonta in not bad condition – if a little musky. Opening the back revealed an old half used AgfaColor film.

Clearly this camera hadn’t been used for 15 years or more, so I decided to give it a CLA before posting on to my lad.

The highly regarded 4 element Tessar 75mm f/3.5 lens had fungus between all elements and a miniscule dot of coating loss behind the front element.

Lens Fungus

Nothing that would significantly impact image quality and so a disassemble and gentle clean brought it back to a very useable 8.5/10. Fortunately, the aperture blades and shutter were oil free and functioning.

Lens Cleaned

According to the Lens Collector’s Vade Mecum, cynics suggested that the Tessar was a development of the Cooke Triplet design, however this was heavily contested since Paul Rudolph had previously designed a 3 element Anastigmat (c1890) and 4 element Unar (c1899). The Tessar (c1902) was allegedly a development of the Unar with two elements reversed and a cemented rear doublet. In 1914, Zeiss further developed the design to achieve a f/3.5 aperture. The Tessar was then pushed to its limits in 1930 with a f/2.8 aperture which can be found on the Rolleiflex 2.8A and Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta B cameras.

I checked the shutter speeds and found they were all over the place. This is typical of a Compur shutter that hasn’t been used in a while.

Shutter test - pre-clean

A clean and careful re-lube brought all speeds bar 1/5s back to within 1/3rd stop….good enough for Jazz!

Shutter cleaned

I checked the bellows for light leaks and no pin holes or tears were found, so I gave them a light coat of Lexol to get some suppleness back into the 60 year old leather.

Lexol conditioner is only good for leather bellows found on Zeiss folders. Many other folders from the same era used vinyl covered bellows and Lexol won’t soak in leaving a sticky residual!

The rangefinder / viewfinder internals were a little dusty but cleaned up well showing a well defined bright patch for focussing.  I cleaned the leather trim (with Lexol) and body shell….with no rust to be found anywhere.

I then re-assembled the lens, collimated it with the XT-1 with 300mm manual lens and re-adjusted the rangefinder to infinity.

While collimating the lens, I noticed that the Tessar wide open had less glow when compared to the Novar. Clearly, the 4 element design is better corrected showing increased acuity at f/3.5.

Unfortunately I didn’t get enough time to run a film through it, as my lad was keen to get his hands on it, needless to say I expect a roll or two of Tri-X or T-Max will prove it to be an excellent compact medium format camera.

These 1950’s Super Ikontas were last in the product line of great Zeiss Ikon 6×6 folders, weighing in at only 660g, being 100% mechanical, rugged and barely larger than a modern mirrorless….a real classic camera coined by many as the the pocket Hasselblad!

This Tessar variant, now in almost perfect working order will continue to be a great photographic tool – with a sharp and contrasty lens in a very (coat) pocketable form….an ideal travel camera or every day shooter.

Now to find one as good for my collection!

Super Ikonta III - The pocket Hasselblad

Update: March 2016 

My lad sent me a HP5 scan off this camera…Handheld at 1/50s – f/8, shot at a distance of ~2m.

To my eyes, the overall sharpness is excellent and the corner definition is pretty damn good, considering its a front cell focussing folder at short distance. Check out the full res image and spot the Fly….top right!

Super Ikonta III - Tessar 75mm f/3.5