Probably the most well known name for optical quality, Carl Zeiss are back with the Zeiss Ikon rangefinder.
The name that seems to keep cropping up with rangefinders is Cosina. Like the Voigtlander Bessa series, the 35mm SLR company are behind the manufacturing of the Ikon body, but this time, they don't own the company.
Zeiss Ikon: Specification
- Camera type: Compact rangefinder system camera with focal plane shutter
- Film format: 24x36 mm on 35mm film
- Lenses: Carl Zeiss T* ZM-mount, can also use all other lens types with M bayonet
- Viewfinder: 0.74X magnification.Large base rangefinder: Coincident-image rangefinder in the center of the viewfinder image.
- Exposure metering: TTL center-weighted metering at working aperture.
- Film speed range: ISO 25-3200
- Exposure modes: AE with aperture priority or manual. AE lock option.
- Viewfinder display: LED symbols for selected shutter speed along left side of frame.
- Shutter: Vertically moving electronically controlled metal type.
- Shutter speed: speeds with 1/2 f-stop resolution between 1/2000s to 8s in AE mode, full f-stops between 1/2000s to 1s in manual mode, B
- Flash synch: Synchronization at 1/125 s and longer shutter speeds
- Film transport: Manual advance with quick lever. Rewinding with rewind lever
- Camera body: One piece aluminium base structure.
- Batteries: Two 1.5V cells type LR44 or SR44
- Dimensions138 x 78 x 32mm
- Weight: 500g
With my recent review of the Voigtlander Bessa R4a, it seems fair to compare them as a lot of the features are very similar. Both models are manufactured by Cosina, both have an aperture priority and are Leica M mount. The Zeiss Ikon I have for testing is fitted with the Carl Zeiss C Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens.
Zeiss Ikon: Modes and features
The design of the bodies are very different. The Zeiss is larger, squarer and more vintage in its appearance against the Voigtlander.
The small switch located on the opposite side to the lens release button is to change the viewfinder framelines from 50mm to 35mm when switched up and to 28mm or 85mm when switched down. The viewfinder automatically switches the frameline depending on the lens fitted which does make life easier. The lines are a nice idea to show you what you're missing out on without the other lenses.
The large viewfinder dominates the top left of the camera with the exposure window sat next to it and the small rangefinder window just underneath the shutter speed dial.
The top plate is host to the non-dedicated hotshoe, shutter speed dial with Aperture priority setting, exposure compensation setting, wind crank, shutter release and power switch which is wrapped around the shutter release. The power switch is little more than a inhibitor, preventing you from depressing the shutter release.
When the camera is set to Aperture priority, the exposure compensation can be manipulated by switching the A on the dial to the values set against the dial which is great for colour slide film.
The rewind crank is sat on the base plate of the camera which allows for a wider plate as it doesn't cram the viewfinder. It's raised slightly meaning the camera could list to one side, so Zeiss have placed the tripod bush to the opposite side of the camera and raised it slightly to prevent this from happening. The camera does list forward though, so the lens hood must be fixed on at all times to keep it steady.
Zeiss Ikon: Build and handling
Keeping in line with past production quality, the camera is built from metal. In fact it feels so solid, you might at first think it isn't hollowed out. This just fortifies the knowledge of the quality that has been poured into its creation.
The film advance is ratcheted but is easy and practically wants to move on its own. Opening the film door is operated by a small switch on the side which has to be pulled in an L shape. This obviates accidental opening.
The pressure plate is smooth which is only unusual in the fact that other plates are usually indented. Research into the reasoning behind a smooth plate over a dimpled plate points towards Infra red photography. The indents on a dimpled plate will begin to show on the film unless the plate is covered in a thin IR absorbing material.
Carl Zeiss have released a lens for use with Infra red photography which supports this theory, but it's only in ZF fit which is the Nikon F mount, so doesn't fit the Zeiss Ikon. When ePHOTOzine questioned Zeiss on this matter, Bertram Hönlinger, Customer support replied: "The reasons for the differences in the pressure plate are just in the manufacturing process. We found that a smooth pressure plate can be manufactured more precisely than a dimpled one. There are no differences noticeable in practical use." So it's all down to precision and nothing to do with the Infra red problems and it seems, that in the strive to get more precision engineering, the smooth plate will deter at least one Infra red problem.
The camera features an AE lock button on the back in the centre, but hasn't been allocated a designation, so you wouldn't know to look at it.
Zeiss Ikon: Performance
The images I shot were sent for processing and scanned in on an Epson Perfection 3200 flatbed scanner using the 35mm adapter.
I visited Monk Bretton Priory in Barnsley and shot a roll on the Zeiss using Fuji Provia ISO100.
The day was miserable and overcast leaving little or no detail in the sky. I got a nice shot of the foundations of the priory with a sparse row of trees in the background which broke up the sky nicely. The film has a slight magenta cast that the scanner has picked up. I would normally balance it out in photoshop afterwards, but I think, luckily in this case, it adds to the featureless sky.
I've not used a manual film camera in some time, such are these times, and the focusing system took some getting used to. The sharpness and clarity through the viewfinder is phenomenal.
One day on my way to work it was extremely foggy. As I passed a willow tree with a small gate below, the sun was so shrouded, I could look at it directly. I tested the metering in different areas of the scene including the dark bush on the right and the sky. The average reading taken when the shot was composed has come out the most balanced.
I got a detail of the tree branch because the sun was setting and the warm glow was falling on the branch bringing lovely detail out in the bark. For this shot, I metered from the branch just below the shot.
The sky was bleak, but the cast of the film and scan have saved it, giving interest. The neg shows nice detail and a richer grass.
A little tweaking to bring the grass back out was necessary, but that's the scan letting the image down.
It's shots like this that I don't think look as good from a DSLR.
The setting sun caught this branch bringing all the detail out in the bark.
Zeiss Ikon: Verdict
It's easy to fall into the glamour of owning a camera like the Ikon. Half the time I was running around giggling like a schoolchild.
It was great to get back to basics using a fully manual camera and the vintage styling really gives you the feeling you're one of the old pioneers of photography.
Carl Zeiss simply can't be beaten on optical quality, having invented most ways that lenses are built (the planar design is the most copied). The camera is great to hold and the quality oozes out as it's used.
If you've not used film in a while and fancy getting back to basics or you've never used film before and want to give it a go, then as long as you can justify the price tag, this is a camera to take a long hard look at.
Zeiss Ikon: Plus points
Excellent build body
World renowned optics
Zeiss Ikon: Minus points
Rewind crank on the bottom of the camera
Tripod bush is in an unusual place
The Zeiss Ikon with the Sonnar 50mm f/1.5 lens costs around 2448 euro which is about £1951 using the Reuters currency converter. Take a look at the Zeiss website here, for more information.