Zeiss Ikon – Ikonta 521/16

Now this is a bit of style!

This is my very first medium format camera and was purchased during an early visit to the wonderful and very dangerous Clocktower Cameras in Brighton.  What a machine!  I think I fell in love straight away.  The Germans certainly know how to make a quality product and the Zeiss name is rightly famous.

I think this is my favourites of the Ikontas.  Not only because it was my first, but I think I love the light weight, the sparseness, the simplicity and the square format.  I only shoot black and white film in it – due to some strange idea that I’m staying true to its own heritage.  Whatever.  It just seems right.  Anyway, that’s why it has an orange filter on the front.

Using it is an exercise in basic photography.  You have to set the shutter speed and aperture on the dials with no meter, so you have to learn the ‘sunny 16’ rule pretty quickly.  The focus is set on the scale round the lens which means acquiring a skill in judging distances.  Then you compose with the finder, which is just a hole and a piece of glass popped up on top of the body.  Only my Holga is simpler.  Actually I tell a lie – my Vivitar UWS is the simplest camera in the world.  Anyway – I digress.

I think I like the completely manual setup.  It puts me in touch with the very core aspects of photography.  There are no batteries to run out.  No electronics telling me what to do or taking over the task of making a photograph.  Just me.  And a machine.  And the simplicity belies the sheer quality of the results that are possible.  That Zeiss glass is superb.  The Compur shutter goes to a mean 1/500th and the whole thing is just a marvel.  Plus it smells of leather and history – what could be better!

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2 Responses to Zeiss Ikon – Ikonta 521/16

  1. John says:

    Hi Mike – great shots. Really…

    I’ve jst aquiredone of these yesterday and wondered if you’re using a lightmeter or just guess work for your work?

    Would love to hear more and any tips you may have on using it.


    • Mike says:

      Thanks John!

      Yes, for exposure I just use guesswork based on the ‘sunny sixteen’ rule. This is the best sunny sixteen calculator I have found. And of course you should bear in mind that most film can be over-exposed by a stop or two without too much harm to the negative. So on a sunny day I pop some iso100 in it and set the aperture to f/16 and the shutter to 1/100 so it’s ready to go. 1/100th is fast enough to shoot handheld so I don’t need a tripod. Then if I’m shooting into shadows I open it up 2-4 stops and if it goes cloudy I open it up a bit too.

      For focusing I usually leave it on the red dot (around 10m) which should give you good focus from infinity back down to maybe 3-4m at f/16, so it’s sort of ready for quick shots! If I have time over the shot I can twiddle with all the settings to get the look I’m after, but my Tessar lens only goes to f/3.5 so you don’t get shallow depth of field unless you are shooting closeup and then you have to hope the focus is good. I tend to use my Super Ikonta 532/16 for those kind of shots as it goes to f/2.8 and has a rangefinder – all at the price of some serious additional weight!

      Also I’m learning the value of iso400 – shame the manufacturers seem to be curtailing production.

      Good luck with it and let me know if you get some good shots!


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