A pioneering half-frame folding camera that kick started the 645 format.

To say the start of the 30’s decade was economically tough is an understatement. Setting aside the rich, what money people had, either photography wasn’t a priority, or for those with some disposable income, they were looking to make it go further.

Why is the Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520 a Landmark Camera?

1: The first 16 on 120 folding camera.

New film, new formats

Encouraged by improvements in film stock (slightly faster films with finer grain were appearing), Zeiss Ikon responded to the new economic reality with the excellent idea to double the number of exposures on popular film formats. For 127 film, they introduced three brilliant little cameras; the Baby Box (Tengor), the Kolibri and the Baby Ikonta.

Each camera took 16 frames instead of the usual 8, utilising a double red window system where each number from 1-8 appeared once in each window, to make up the 16. Each of the three cameras satisfied a price point and personal preference for camera type. Lens and shutter options for the Kolibri and Baby Ikonta gave refinement of price and choice.

Enter 645

In 1932, the 16 on 120 format repeated the 16 on 127 idea when Zeiss Ikon gave us another Ikonta; the 520. This was the first camera for the format that is now known as 645. Slightly bigger than the Baby Ikonta, the 520 produced slightly larger and better proportioned negatives than 16 on 127.

Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520

My 520 has an everset Telma shutter with limited shutter speeds of 1/100th, 1/50th, /1/25th second, as well a B and T. The 7.5cm Novar Anastigmat has as a decent full aperture of f/4.5, steplessly narrowing down to f/32. Later versions of the camera feature Compur-Rapid shutters with a fuller range of speeds and a Tessar lens.

Light and quick to deploy

The camera is self-erecting, the bellows being released by a button on the top of the body. The whole shebang pops out and clicks into ready position very smoothly and quickly; quite cool.

The Ikonta is light, but does not feel cheap. It’s a lovely little portable pocket shooter with that distinctive Zeiss Ikon styling that sets their cameras apart from others.

Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520 on its side

Photographs taken with the Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 520

I took the Ikonta 520 to Durham loaded with Ilford HP5, with the results giving a bit of a gothic vibe. Zone focusing and pop-up frame finders are always a challenge. On this occasion, I was often further away from the subject than I thought I was. The shutter speeds proved to be accurate though.

Further Reading:

John’s Cameras
Mike Eckman