Medium Format

Slow it down – working with the Ikonta 524/2 – By Oliver Clarke

I recently discovered this beautiful Ikonta 524/2 in a box at my parents’ house. At first I dismissed it, as I thought it would be too much hassle finding /re-spooling the right film. However, at a second glance, I was delighted to see that this 524/2 model takes 120 film, which is of course easily available. I decided to challenge myself to use the camera and find out if and how it worked. My expectations were not particularly high and I expected at least something to be broken or faulty. Turns out I was very wrong.

Greenwich University – Ilford FP4 developed in Paranol S

The Ikonta 524/2 was made in the early 1950s. It’s a folding, medium format camera that shoots a 6×9 negative. This means you get a whole 8 photos per 120 film. When collapsed, the camera is surprisingly portable and will even fit into a (large) pocket so I guess it definitely qualifies as compact, at least by medium format camera standards.

This Ikonta 524/2 has a 105 f3.5 Novar lens (apparently slightly inferior to the Telar lenses used on the same camera) with a maximum shutter speed of 1/250. The viewfinder is not exactly large and you do get quite a bit of the extended bellows in your field of view.  There are also no parallax correction indications or other guides, which needs to be considered when framing close subjects.

There is an uncoupled split screen rangefinder which uses a second, tiny finder to the main viewfinder. It’s quite small and takes a bit of practice to get the hang of. Also, in low light it becomes very hard to use. The fact that the rangefinder is not coupled means that you need to set the distance in the finder, then read the value off the dial on the top and set the same value on the lens itself. This is obviously very important and something I did not realise until after the first few shots. Needless to say those were not exactly in focus. Despite its limitations, I find having any rangefinder makes using the Ikonta 524/2 much more practical than measuring/guessing distances.

The camera also has a very fancy, cutting edge, double exposure protection – a little field turns red after the film has been wound on a bit (not however the full amount necessary for a frame). There are 2 shutter releases, one on the body, and one at the front of the lens. The one on the body will not fire unless the film has been wound on – if using the release on the lens itself it doesn’t make a difference.

Winding on the film does require some care and attention and on the first roll of film I did end up with some overlapping edges and accidental double exposures. After becoming more aware of this and giving it the necessary attention, I have not had any more problems.

Barbican Centre – Ilford HP5 developed in Ilfosol 3

This is hardly a point & shoot camera. The process for taking a photo looks something like this:

  • Roughly frame image
  • Measure light with external meter
  • Set aperture and exposure to your liking
  • Frame image through main viewfinder
  • Use rangefinder to measure distance of subject and read the value off the dial– again, the rangefinder is not coupled to the lens.
  • Set the focus on the lens using the number indicated on the range dial e.g. 1.5m
  • Cock the shutter release
  • Frame again
  • Release the shutter to take the picture
  • Wind on the film using the red window on the back to see when the next number appears on the film.

Though this process seems fairly arduous, it’s surprising how quickly you get used to it, and if you pre-set your focus, aperture and shutter speed, I’ve found it can even be used for street shots, though it would not be my first choice.

Don’t drop me! – Ilford FP4 developed in Paranol S

Where I think this camera really shines is in the way it forces you to make some serious decisions about which pictures to take and allowing the time to make sure they are set up correctly. Remember, you only get 8 shots per roll.

I tested the camera with a roll to make sure it still worked and the bellows didn’t leak any light (a common problem with these cameras) and was delighted to see the first film come out with no issues. In fact the test shots looked so nice, that I decided to actually put the camera to work. I took it with me to a photo shoot I did with a singer songwriter from London called Jaya (I’ve written more about that here). She loved the idea of incorporating an “ancient” camera into the photoshoot and the results were great.

Jaya – Ilford FP4 developed in Kodak HC-110

I love the look and feel of the images. I also think that introducing an interesting camera like this really helped to change up the shoot and make it more unique. Using the Ikonta 524/2 requires a bit more care in setting up the shot, and providing more guidance on posing than when using digital or even 35mm. Again, I think this helps to create a different look and the possibility of some quite unique shots. The closest focus distance is also 1.5 meters for the Ikonta. This forces you to think about ways of incorporating more of the subjects body and surroundings, instead of just getting close, framing head and shoulders, and blowing out the background with a fast lens.

Kat- Ilford FP4 developed in Kodak HC-110

The results look very clean and sharp, with a lovely background blur when the aperture is wide open. People talk about the “medium format look” sometimes, and I’m never quite sure what they mean. However, these images do certainly have their own distinct “vibe”. The 6×9 negatives also have a huge amount of detail in them, so much so that I have not yet been able to fully reflect this in the digitalisation process. I have, however made some 12×16 prints of these in the darkroom and  I am extremely happy with the results. The prints are crisp and full of detail but still have a certain vintage, dreamy feel to them.

Fresh out of the lab – 2 prints on Ilford Multigrade IV Pearl 12×16

Using this camera also inspired me to get back to developing my own film, in homage to the great pioneers of photography. To be honest it was probably more the realisation that by the time I had paid for someone else to develop and scan the film, the cost per photo would be about £2.50.

To sum up, using this camera has been a highly rewarding process, with quite a steep learning curve (you learn best from your mistakes) but also some very quick and satisfying results.

I have gone from just hoping that the camera still works and using it as a learning opportunity, to actively thinking about ways to use it more deliberately going forward.

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30 Comments

  • Reply
    Michael Kay
    June 30, 2018 at 10:11 am

    I completely agree with that you’ve said here. I have one too and they are very capable of excellent quality images if used correctly and when correctly set up and collimated. Getting only 8 images on a film is also good as you spend more time thinking and planning your shots, all of which improves your abilities as a photographer and you can transfer those skills to shooting with your other cameras.

    I also have a Super Ikonta 531A which gets 16 images on a role and has the Tessar lens. Both these camera will produce high quality images which can be printed to 12″ x 18″ (12″ x 16″ for the 6/4.5) at exhibition quality. The fact that my 531A is 80 years old and still works perfectly, as does my 524/2, just shows how things were made back then!

    Good luck with your Zeiss!

    • Reply
      Oliver
      July 2, 2018 at 11:45 am

      Hi Michael,
      Thank you for the comments and thoughts. I was incredibly impressed by the quality of the darkroom prints I got out of this camera. Though mine is only about 60+ years old, that is testimony to the quality of these cameras.

      The Super Ikonta’s sound very tempting. A think a coupled rangefinder would be the one thing I would really like to have. Getting 16 shots would also be nice and make the camera a bit more economical. Then again, these added luxuries might change the dynamics of taking the photos.

      Somebody did tell me that it was possible to get dark screens /special backs for the Ikonta that will allow me to shoot 6x.4.5 but I have been unable to verify this or find any examples, any ideas if this is possible?

      • Reply
        Michael Kay
        July 2, 2018 at 6:27 pm

        Hi Oliver,
        Coupled rangefinders are nice and save time. The Zeiss 524/2 doesn’t have a mask to reduce the size but some cameras do. You can tell when you look at them because the ones that accept (and were originally supplied with masks) have 2 red windows on the back as does my 531A, though many times the mask converts the camera to take 12 square photographs. There are some that convert to 6 x 4.5cm images to get 16 on each film.

        I have both first and second versions of the Adox Sport, a Voigtlander Bessa RF, a 1945 Bessa with no rangefinder and a Franka Rolfix in addition to 3 Zeiss 6x9s – all of these came with masks (except the Zeiss ones) but convert to 12 square images. In my case all came with the usually long since lost mask except the Bessa RF, though I have many folders which shoot 12 square images by default which I prefer because they are smaller and have better handling than the 6 x 9 ones and you never need to turn them sideways in use! The Zeiss cameras with coupled rangefinders are any of the Super Ikontas (the ‘Super’ denotes that the rangefinders were coupled). You can of course buy a separate rangefinder which goes on the accessory shoe providing the camera has one, which you can transfer from camera to camera. The Voigtlander one is easily the best and they typically cost around £30.

        I have abound 25 folders and as a hobby I like to dismantle them, clean them and collimate the lenses and rangefinders then put them to use. In truth there is almost no difference in images quality between them, if they have been correctly serviced thus. So choosing them becomes a matter of deciding which handle best and there are very definite good ones and bad ones on that!

        I accept that 4 element lenses will be better than 3 element ones all else being equal but that is only usually noticeable at the widest apertures and most of the time you wouldn’t use a wide aperture and expect or need the edges of the images to be very sharp anyway, so it can be overrated as a buying point.

        The important things that must be right to get good images from a folder are:
        – crystal clear, clean lens elements with no haze
        – the lens must be parallel to the film plane
        – the pressure plate must press the film flat all over
        – the bellows must be light tight
        – when open the opening parts must be held rigidly and have no free play for maximum results
        – the lens must be correctly collimated so that it is correctly focussed at the distances marked on the scale
        – the shutter speeds need to be more or less right but not in any absolute way
        – if there is a rangefinder ideally it should be collimated to perfectly match the lens’s collimation as this can and should be done at the same time

        I suspect that if you haven’t done any work on your Zeiss, you just got lucky. They are fairly simple to work on though. Zeiss camera seem to have the best bellows of the lot, Agfa definitely have the worst because all are made of vinyl except pre-war models and the Super Isolette. I personally really like Franka Solidas, though some people want too much for them on eBay. I paid £25 for each of mine.

        If I was recommending a 6×6 folder to someone who was new to folders, you could do a lot worse than buy a Zeiss Nettar as they are plentiful and £25 – £30 should get a decent one. The Zeiss design was good at keeping the thing rigid and parallel to the film and their bellows are good.

        Have a look on my Flickr, it might help you with options, though I am well behind with it and have many I haven’t but on yet! Also check out Certo6’s website for camera specific info (google Certo6 then look at the Camera Archives page). Hope this helps.

        Regards,

        Michael

        • Reply
          Oliver
          July 3, 2018 at 5:04 pm

          Hi Michael,

          That’s very useful information indeed you’ve got on your Flickr. You’re right, I did not do much to the camera other than a good clean and dust, so was lucky. I was worried about light leaks from the bellows particularly. I am generally not opposed to some light repair on (mechanical) cameras but that’s mainly limited to cleaning sticky apertures etc. I think the rangefinder and lens are correctly collimated as I haven’t seen any obvious shifts even when I’ve focused quite close with the aperture wide open. However, I am now tempted to use the techniques you describe to test them .

          • Michael Kay
            July 3, 2018 at 11:36 pm

            Hi Oliver,

            I wouldn’t worry if I were you as it seems to be correctly adjusted. All 3 of my Zeiss 6×9 folders needed no adjustment – they were right. Zeiss bellows are regarded by many as the best there are, it wasn’t just me saying that. The leather is thicker and better quality. I have one British Ensign, a 16/20, which also has first rate bellows. Just enjoy your camera and have faith in it is what I would say. I’ve added a link to photos from my Nettar, shot here with a Voigtlander rangefinder attached.

            Regards,

            Michael

  • Reply
    Terry B
    June 30, 2018 at 10:13 am

    Oliver, I was delighted to read of your experience with this Ikonta. Thanks for posting.
    With just 8 exposures per roll, It certainly forces you to really think about your subject before pressing the button! I wouldn’t be too concerned at the supposed inferiority of the 3 element Novar to the Tessar; by f8 you’d probably be hard pushed to notice the difference with b/w film, but the Tessar will be better with colour negative film as it has better colour correction.

    With a properly set up lens for accurate focusing and a correctly adjusted rangefinder I would expect you to be able to bag loads of detail. For best results, though, try a roll with a tripod as I believe you could be amazed. This will slow you down even more, but I don’t think it is really appreciated by many just how much of a difference it can make to getting the best out of any lens.

    You are probably aware that Zeiss’ top models were the Super Ikontas with coupled rangefinders. I don’t have one with 8-on (this role is delegated to an Ensign Selfix 820 Special) but the baby versions are more economical, taking 16 shots per roll, are real beauties and a delight to use. Their much smaller size makes them more comfortable to hold in either portrait or landscape mode, but with their double red windows you need your wits about you, none of the automatic functions of 35mm or digital. One needs to adopt a routine. Mine was to wind on immediately, but only cock the shutter just before taking the next picture.

    • Reply
      Oliver
      July 2, 2018 at 11:52 am

      Hi Terry,

      Thanks for the comment. Good to get an opinion on the Novar vs. Tessar lenses. I usually don’t pay to much attention to which lens is “better” as that is only one of many factors that makes the final picture. Interesting to hear about the difference in colour correction though. I haven’t used much colour film in this one yet, but was not particularly impressed by the results when I did. That is also partly why I’ve been sticking to B/ W.

      Definitely interested in the Super Ikonta’s though 2 red windows does sound like a bit of a nightmare… trying to fight GAS on this one for a bit longer.

      • Reply
        Terry B
        July 2, 2018 at 5:20 pm

        Oliver, although I have heard of some 6×9 folders having framing masks, I’ve not personally seen anything from Zeiss offering this facility. This is not to say, of course, that something wasn’t provided by Zeiss. Instead, Zeiss seems to have gone down the route of providing purpose built cameras for the three main 120 film formats. Then of course, there would be the requirement to provide a separate camera back as it would need the second red window, and the effective Fov would become short telephoto with the 105mm lens, instead of the “normal” 75mm used in 16-on cameras. The big drawback is, once fitted, the masks can’t be changed until the roll has been shot.
        Having the two red windows isn’t necessarily a nightmare, especially when the camera is used frequently. It certainly isn’t on a par with my Baldalux 6×6 folder or Yashica 44LM (127 film) which require dusting off their user manuals just to remind me how load a practice film so I can play with them. I’d defy anyone without prior experience to load one properly! OK, the 44LM being a TLR with semi-auto loading and automatic frame counter once loaded, may be expected to have some foibles, but the Baldalux looks like an ordinary folding bellows camera, so should be easy, just like your Ikonta, you may think. Erm, no way.

        • Reply
          Oliver
          July 2, 2018 at 6:20 pm

          Hi Terry,

          Thanks that’s really useful.

          My Ikonta does allow the back to be removed which makes me think there might have been options but I haven’t seen any so far.

  • Reply
    Michael Kay
    June 30, 2018 at 10:14 am

    Great article & fantastic images!

  • Reply
    Dale Willetts
    June 30, 2018 at 11:09 am

    Nice review and great pictures. Using old medium format folders is always great fun. 6X9 negatives are huge and the even more limited number of shots than other 120 cameras really makes you think and work for every shot.

    • Reply
      Oliver
      July 2, 2018 at 11:55 am

      Thank you Dale.

      It has definitely been a very good learning experience as well as producing some great images along the way.

  • Reply
    Mauro Pastore
    June 30, 2018 at 11:19 am

    I really enjoyed reading your article. The photos speak themselves, this is definitely a great camera!
    Thanks Oliver.

    • Reply
      Oliver
      July 2, 2018 at 11:56 am

      Hi Mauro,

      Thank you very much for the kind comment.

  • Reply
    Reinhold Graf
    June 30, 2018 at 12:17 pm

    Thank you for providing this inspiring post. It drives me to take out my old Zeiss Ercona and go taking pictures 😉

    • Reply
      Oliver
      July 2, 2018 at 11:58 am

      Hi Reinhold.

      The Ercona looks like a nice camera – I see it has 2 red windows too – does it allow for both 6×9 and 6×4.5 shots or just one size?

      Hope you do get around to taking it out – I would love to see the results.

      • Reply
        Sergio
        July 2, 2018 at 3:35 pm

        Hi Oliver, Ercona was a replica of pre war Ikonta C, 521/2 (no rangefinder), or better it was the ORIGINAL still in production in DDR plants, after the Dresden ruins and at the beginning of the war on the marks ownership with BRD Zeiss. The first version had just a 6×9 window, but very soon they had the idea of the removable 6×6 mask and of the two-frames viewfinder, so most of the Erconas are two-window and two-formats (although maybe only 1 in 4 of existing Erconas still have the little precious mask).
        Their Tessars are… well, CZJ coated Tessars, period. But also Novars (then Novonars) are great lenses.

        An excellent camera, I often have one with me in support to my Canon FD’s, or even we’re just her and me alone, as a large pocket or a thin bag is enough.

        • Reply
          Terry B
          July 2, 2018 at 5:30 pm

          Sergio, I’d replied to Oliver before seeing your post. Thanks for putting me straight about the Ercona. Masking for 6×6 isn’t anywhere as drastic and does make sense.

          • Sergio
            July 2, 2018 at 6:39 pm

            With the 105/3.5 without mask you have a hyper-35 mm “normal” camera (1.5 size frame), and a lovely portrait 6×6 camera with the mask.
            In your pocket. On an Icelandic volcano or in the streets of Milan. And – for just a fistful of dollars.

      • Reply
        Reinhold Graf
        July 7, 2018 at 1:31 pm

        It allows 6×9 and 6×6 with a removable frame inside.

  • Reply
    Jim Grey
    June 30, 2018 at 1:28 pm

    Nice work! Both in the discovery and in the images.

  • Reply
    jeremy north
    June 30, 2018 at 3:46 pm

    Excellent article Oliver. Great images too. I love the Ikontas. Yours is more fiddly than mine as the rangefinder is uncoupled. Well done for sticking with and mastering this camera.
    I like your style of photography too with good simple composition. Superb.

    • Reply
      Oliver
      July 2, 2018 at 12:01 pm

      Hi Jeremy,

      Yes, I think a coupled rangefinder would be the one thing I might be tempted to change if I could – but again maybe that would slightly change the dynamic of taking my time and care with each shot?

  • Reply
    Robert_
    June 30, 2018 at 5:49 pm

    Oliver, this is so well written. Your really captured the feeling of creating art with the Ikonta. We all know about slowing down with analogue photography but with these cameras you have to really juggle a lot of inputs. I only put two rolls through mine before selling it on (easily the biggest mistake in my history of owning cameras) but I enjoyed using it. I forgave it it’s eccentricities because it was so beautiful to hold and behold and later I found that it takes amazing images. I love your photographs here, especially the shadows of the building in Greenwich. Unlike you though I found mine quite good in low light. I really opened it up though and went for it at 1/75th. I think I’m going to buy a couple before the hipster crowd get involved.

    • Reply
      Oliver
      July 2, 2018 at 12:06 pm

      Hi Robert,

      Thanks for the kind comments. I remember you telling me that you had sold your folder when I rocked up to the beers and camera at Barbican with mine. It’s definitely worth using just to appreciate the design and craftsmanship that went into it, but the pictures it produces are the real stars.

      In terms of low light, I just find that the range finder becomes very difficult to use, at least on my model, but in terms of image quality I agree the camera does very well (as long as you get the focus right).

      Definitely pick one up before this review makes the prices shoot up 🙂 Next week Brad Pitt will be seen holding one…

  • Reply
    Ken Hindle-May
    July 2, 2018 at 3:48 pm

    Well done, I consider myself fairly GAS-proof these days (it’s hard to find a new niche to fill when you’ve got 35 cameras already) but you’ve got me, here. I’d like to do more MF work but at the moment and I’d like something with better image quality than my Holga. I have a Seagull 4a and like the results a lot, but it’s so dreadfully temperamental that you’ve no guarantee of it working for an entire roll. I’m also a big fan of the 6×9 layout, so I’m going to look into an Ikon, but probably a 521/2 as they’re a bit cheaper and I can always use an accessory rangefinder.

    • Reply
      Oliver
      July 2, 2018 at 5:15 pm

      Hi Ken,

      Very sorry to have rekindled your GAS. I think the Ikonta’s are definitely a good way of getting into MF without breaking the bank though.

  • Reply
    Sergio
    July 2, 2018 at 6:47 pm

    With the 105/3.5 without mask you have a hyper-35 mm “normal” camera (1.5 size frame), and a lovely portrait 6×6 camera with the mask.
    In your pocket. On an Icelandic volcano or in the streets of Milan. And – for just a fistful of dollars.

  • Reply
    Nick Lyle
    July 7, 2018 at 6:31 pm

    A couple of years ago I stumbled into the world of old folding cameras and they have become among my very favorite cameras, for all of the reasons you mention, but most especially because of the way they get my head out of the camera and into the world I am trying to make photos from. Like many people I grew up with SLRs and became accustomed to peering through a lens into a world defined by the TTL viewfinder experience. Something about using simple folding cameras with small, crude viewfinders helped me break the spell of the ground glass and start looking directly at my subjects. It also helps that once you set the exposure and focus distance where you need it to be you can forget the camera completely and simply watch what your subject is doing.

    I use folders from Zeiss Ikon, Voigtlander, Franka, Ansco/Agfa, Photak and Graflex. The very best lenses are the Voigtlander Color Skopars from the 1950s. The Tessars and Tessar-copies are quite good, but don’t assume that the triplets, like the Zeiss Novars and Voigtlander Voigtars, are not as good. These old three-part lenses sometimes have a special quality of their own, which in some instances makes them equal to any lens. This is sometimes even true for color film. I have an Ikoflex TLR with a Novar that produces some of the most lovely color rendering of any lens I own. The Voigtar Triplet on my 1938 Voigtlander Bessa 66 is also superb. You can see examples if you look through the albums here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]

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