5 frames with...

An Ikon-ic Camera – 5 Frames with the Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta 533/16 – By Eric Norris

Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta 533/16

Prompted by a very good experience with a new-to-me Mamiya C Professional TLR, my internet searches recently turned toward medium format cameras. I hunted around for relatively affordable cameras eventually landing on the venerable Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta, a folding medium-format camera produced by Zeiss in the 1940s and 50s that seemed to be well-liked by those who used it. From there, I turned to eBay, where I found what looked to be a very nice example listed for sale from an estate liquidator. I hit the “Buy Now” button, and a few days later my Ikonta (the later 533/16 version) arrived in the mail.

Right off the bat, the Ikon Super Ikonta 533/16 looked great. The leather case had torn where it would normally bend (a common issue with very old leather, in my experience), but overall the camera showed very few signs of use. I checked shutter speeds, the rangefinder, the insides. Everything looked great.

So I loaded a roll of black-and-white film and shot what I thought were 12 photos… until I processed the film and discovered that I had overlooked a critical step or two when I loaded the film and shot the photos. However, a few frames turned out and there were no light leaks or other obvious problems (other than user error). After a quick trip back to the internet to learn about the camera I loaded a roll of Ektar and sent out on my bike to take some pictures in and around Sacramento. My ride ended at the local film lab (Mike’s Camera) where I dropped off the film and started waiting.

A day later, an email arrived letting me know that my digital scans were ready for downloading. I hit the download link, and… Wow. I was blown away.

Before getting into the pictures, I should disclose that my color film photography experiences thus far have been somewhat underwhelming. I’ve gotten acceptable results, but in general I prefer the results I get from black and white film.

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The images from the Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta 533/16, by comparison, were head-and-shoulders above any other color pictures I’ve taken. I’ve used Ektar in the past, but the colors from the Zeiss, the sharpness, the saturation were far better than anything else. Even the Contax T2, a camera that costs four times what I paid for the Zeiss, did not produced images this nice. The Zeiss lens (a Tessar design, 80mm f2.8) is very sharp, and creates some very interesting bokeh and background separation even at relatively small apertures. The rangefinder, which includes a small lens mounted out on the bellows, worked flawlessly and produced pin-sharp focusing.

The Images

So… on to the images.

The Guy West Bridge is a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge, but 1/10th the size. The bridge carries cyclists and pedestrians over the American River.

I love photographing palm trees. These are on the other side of the levee that holds in the American River.

Always a great spot to stop and take a photo on the American River.

The El Camino Plaza’s sign harkens back to an earlier era. My Zeiss would have been some 20 years old when this center was built.

My favorite shot from this roll is this 1940s Chevrolet. The luminousity and the vibrant colors just blew me away.

I set exposure using the Lux app on my iPhone. The Ikon Super Ikonta 533/16 has a built-in Selenium meter that works but provides inconsistent results. It’s the only non-mechanical aspect of the camera, and the only part that hasn’t passed the test of time.

Needless to say, I will shoot many more photos with this camera in the future. It’s lasted this many years in great condition. I hope to keep it as pristine as it was when it arrived at my door.

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12 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    James
    December 1, 2019 at 10:49 am

    Congrats on this great camera and more so on this awesome Chevrolet picture! It seems you catched one of these rare opportunities where everything falls into place at the right moment. You have to print it and hang it on a wall – this picture deserves more than some fast likes online!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Zvonimir
    December 1, 2019 at 11:12 am

    Hi Eric! It sounds as if you got lucky with the SI f2.8. Many of us felt that Zeiss overstretched the Tessar, i.e., that f3.5 would have given better results. I love my slightly later SI with the 3.5 Novar, a superb coated Cooke triplet. Granted, I have to stop down to f8 for really sharp negatives, but with Kodak Tri X at ASA 400 this causes no problems.

    Advantages of the SI: light, almost indestructible, fits into pocket or backpack, no commercial value, and…it is mirrorless!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Willy MAES
    December 1, 2019 at 6:38 pm

    I got the Super Ikonta 531/16 and the Super Ikonta 532/16
    The difference is that in the latest one you look through the rangefinder through 1 window and it is flash synchronized.
    Otherwise, lenses are identic Tessar 2.8 and they have no light meter so I use also a professional Minolta or Gossen meter.
    Image quality is superb. I still have 6×6 negatives from pictures my father took in the ealy ’40ies

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Magnus
    December 1, 2019 at 8:53 pm

    I have this same camera. I wonder, did you have any problems with overlapping frames? That seems to be a pretty consistent disappointment with this model, as the film advance was weird and makes assumptions about film base thickness to determine when you’ve advanced far enough (vs. distance of film that’s advanced).

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Eric Norris
      December 1, 2019 at 8:55 pm

      I did not. The frames were definitely close to each other, but not overlapping.

      Agreed that the film advance is a bit tricky–you have to remember to switch to the correct winding setting after putting the film in. Otherwise, it just winds without stopping.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Louis Sousa
    December 2, 2019 at 1:16 am

    Nice images. My focus ring is a bit stiff. Does yours focus smoothly?

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Daniel Fjäll
      December 2, 2019 at 1:45 pm

      Mine was stiff to but i removed the front of the lens mechanism and treated it with a drop of sewing machine oil. Did wonders.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Eric Norris
      December 2, 2019 at 1:56 pm

      No problems at all with the focusing on mine. I think I got lucky—the seller said it came from an estate sale, and the camera looks like it was hardly used even when new.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Simon Prettyjohn
      December 2, 2019 at 5:24 pm

      Louis Souza, I have a Super Ikonka that had a stiff focus ring. You should get it serviced. I did and now it’s all smooth and free. Careful not to force it when it’s stiff, you may caused damage.
      SimonPj

  • Avatar
    Reply
    James Evidon
    December 2, 2019 at 9:23 pm

    Sharp images, although I prefer a little more color saturation. By the way, it is a more likely a 1937 or 1938 Chevrolet business coupe. I know because a ’37 was my first car (terrible example) and the ’38 was a run-forever wonder. As for the Super Ikonta, I looked. for months for a good example and finally gave up and opted for a very clean Plaubel Makina 67 for a lot more money. It is chunky and heavy, but very compact for a 6×7 and produces wonderfully sharp and contrasty images.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      Eric Norris
      December 2, 2019 at 9:55 pm

      The scans in my post are direct from the lab (Mike’s Camera in Sacramento). I expect I could punch up the colors a bit in post, but I wanted to show what a non-modified scan looks like.

      Please stop recommending other cameras! My wife is starting to ask awkward questions like, “How many cameras do you have?”

  • Avatar
    Reply
    scottfotodotcom
    December 3, 2019 at 5:17 pm

    Great review and pics! It’s always a pleasure to find a well preserved folder and to be able to use it.

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