Camera Geekery: Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex IA
While it never reached the ikonic status of its arch-rivals from Rollei, the Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex IA has its own German engineering charm and comely design. How about that taking lens! Makers from the far east such as Yashica, Mamiya and Minolta also put their stamp on the twin lens reflex world. The Ikoflex remains a somewhat under the radar TLR and can still be had for relatively reasonable prices. According to Ivor Mantele in an article for Amateur Photography Magazine from 2005, “The Ikoflex range was arguably the only range of roll film TLRs engineered and manufactured to similarly high standards to those of Rollei.” Is it one of the few remaining gems left out there? Let’s take a closer look at this quirky time machine.
The Germans tend to have a knack for confusing numbering systems of their products but the history of the Ikoflex is perplexing due to a little event called World War II. Essentially, the Ikoflex line of cameras started from 1934 but was bisected by WWII and maintained the same numbers after so they must be separated by pre and post war models. Leave it to them to have something called a Ic to be 20 years newer than a III. So this Ikoflex IA is the 1952 update of the first post-war Ikoflex I. Confused? The chart below should help explain things.
It’s a fascinating history lesson which I won’t delve into deeply but if you want to learn more in detail about the history of the Ikoflex, check out Christopher Stoll’s article here.
Superficially the camera looks very similar to the post-war Ikoflex I except the nameplate was diecast and “Ikoflex” was engraved into it. The typeface also changed and a black-finished plate was attached on the camera front at the base of the two lenses. It was fitted with either a 75mm f/3.5 Novar Anastigmat or Opton Tessar with a MX synchronized Prontor SV. The Ikoflex IA we have is fitted with the more expensive Tessar lenses used by the Ikoflex’s competitors and is pretty much universally considered a superior lens to the Novar.
- Year c.1953
- Maker Zeiss Ikon
- Model Ikoflex Ia
- Type Twin Lens Reflex
- Film 120
- Lens Novar-Anastigmat 75mm ƒ/3.5 or Zeiss Opton-Tessar (taking), Teronar-Anastigmat ƒ/3.5 (viewing)
- Aperture ƒ/3.5 – ƒ/16
- Speeds 1/300 – 1s , Bulb
- Meter none
- Filter 35.5mm
- Battery none
- Size 14.5cm x 10cm x 9cm
- Weight 1020g
- MSRP $113 (equal to $1,096 in 2020)
The engineers from Zeiss Ikon wanted to give the Ikoflex new accessories which allowed for more functionality. One solution is the new Ikoprox close-ups lenses in a single mount that fit over the taking and viewing lenses. It’s even fully adjusted for parallax! They came in two varieties; one for distances of 40” to 20” and another for 20” to 12”. There were also Bernotar polarizing filters in a similar mount that are coupled so that when one is turned the other rotates the same distance.
Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex IA features, build quality and ergonomics
The prismatic viewfinder enables you to use the ground glass at eye-level. It’s not the brightest but does the job adequately in decent lighting. In trickier lighting situations, pin point focusing would benefit greatly from flipping out the magnifier.
To flip out the magnifier, you need to push down the right panel of the viewfinder to access the tab to flip it out. It is a bit cumbersome especially if you’re used to a simple spring loaded button to pop it out.
The Albada sports finder in the hood could also be incorporated I imagine, for sports. Being a shortish guy, I would probably use it more for taking portraits of tall people to get a better higher angle than looking down into the ground glass.
Loading film is an interesting new flow as you advance to number one using the red window method, which is then closed, and then the film counter needs to be set to “1”. Then the rest is automatic and the counter turns and you advance the film and clicks into place.
While loading film, the film counter needs to be set to “12” so that the top taking spool can roll freely. If for some reason it’s not, you’ll have to fire the shutter through to 12. It is a PITA in use but zooming out and looking at it from an engineering point of view it is fascinating.
The Ikoflex IA has fairly clunky shutter speed and aperture controls if you’re more used to the “Rolleiflex way”. While Rollei has two knurled wheels on either side of the front standard to control exposure, the Ikoflex IA has two smaller levers; the left for aperture and the right for shutter speeds. For both you push down to be “faster”, ie. increase aperture and shutter speed.
The middle lever you see there is for cocking the shutter. After advancing the film you need to cock the shutter before the shutter release can fire. It adds an additional step to the process but it is enjoyable in its own way and allows you to slow down.
The shutter release button is located on the top of the camera, next to the focusing screen. It’s not the most intuitive design choice I would say but once you get used to it it is a stable option. I hold the Ikoflex as following.
All the articles and manuals I have come across list a top speed of 1/300 but the sample we have tops out at 1/500. Not sure if this was a later addition but I could not find any information on it.
All the spools and take up gears are smooth and tight, very impressive for something pushing 75 years old. The film loading is a bit convoluted but once done right the film advanced surely and evenly.
The camera is built like a tank, as testimony to it still kicking away 75% of a century on and seems as robust of a Rolleicord of a similar vintage. The weak point would be the hinges of the pop out finder. It’s probably the only thing that doesn’t feel rock solid.
Zeiss Ikon Ikoflex IA Sample Pics
Now on to something I’m sure you’ve been waiting for. The following are samples from a couple rolls I put through the Ikoflex.
JCH Streetpan 400 developed in Cinestill Df96
Fomapan Retro 320 Soft in Cinestill DF96
Fujifilm 400H Pro in Cinestill Cs41
I’m a sucker for 50’s and 60’s era Zeiss lenses and the Tessar on the Ikoflex IA is no exception. In terms of usability, the extra steps in the work flow are definitely outdated and cumbersome but nevertheless I find mechanical joy in the process. 6×6 has never been about speed for me, I like the methodical slowness. If you like that tactile feel of old dials and levers it doesn’t disappoint.
I think for a few hundred bucks you get great IQ and fun for the money. The recommended entry level TLRs of yesteryear like the Yashica Mat 124G has seen prices go bonkers; personally I would rather have the Ikoflex even at the same price point. Internals feel superior, I don’t care for the unreliable meter of the Yashica, and I prefer the Tessar’s rendition. Is it better than the equivalent Rolleicord? I mean I love the Xenar lenses on the Rollei too but they are a significant amount of money more if you’re tight on a budget. For an excellent start into the world of TLRs I now vouch for the Ikoflex IA. What are your experiences with an Ikoflex? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below.
We have one for sale in the shop here
I used to have an Ikoflex Ib with the same tessar lens and it is a well build and reliable camera. It gave me plenty of good pics. Now I have a Rolleicord Ia with an uncoated Triotar f4.5 lens and I love it. Why? Size and weight. The Rolleicord is a tiny camera and eventually it won me over the heavier and bigger Ikoflex. There is no denying that the Ikoflex is great camera thought.
Thanks for the comment Pan, hard to argue with that reasoning. Those uncoated lenses are also something else. I do believe Rollei won the battle for good reason but the Ikoflex deserves more love than perhaps it gets.