I Am Simme

Random musings by a programmer and film photography geek.

The Zeiss Ikon Nettar 516/2

Posted in Film Photography.

Zeiss Ikon Nettar 516/2 For Christmas this year my fantastic girlfriend bought me a Zeiss Ikon Nettar 516/2. "What is this?", you might ask. And it's a good question indeed.

The Nettar 516/2 is, from what I've gathered, one of the rarest models in the Nettar series. A series of folding cameras produced by Zeiss Ikon during the 1930's and 1940's. It takes 120 film which is still wildly available today!

This particular model was produced around 1938 in Stuttgart, Germany. Actually I think all Zeiss Ikon cameras were produced there.

For me film photography is something I do to relax. Slow down, take in the moment, and then store it forever on film. With this camera you really have to slow down. It's all manual. Everything from cocking the shutter, winding the film and focusing is up to the photographer.

The Shutter

When Zeiss Ikon formed during 1926 part of the deal was that 80% of the cameras they produced needed to have the Compur shutter1. The fact that this camera uses a Telma shutter2 adds to my belief that this camera really is one of the more rare ones.

The Telma leaf shutter was produced by Gauthier GmbH a company that Carl Zeiss had a major stock holding in by 19313. Gauthier was the largest shutter factory in the world and produced a range of shutters, including Telma as well as Prontor which is a well known shutter.

The shutter on my camera has speeds from 1/25 to 1/125. Which is not super fast. It also has a Bulb mode.

The Lens

The lens on this thing is a 11cm, or 110mm as we would say today, Novar-Anastigmat three element lens. The limited research that I've made reveals that the Novar lens was usually a bit cheaper then the Tessar lens, which some other Zeiss Ikon cameras have.

I've only shot one roll of film so far and haven't scanned it yet. But the negatives seem fairly sharp.

Some dude on a forum had this to say about the lens:

The Novar it's one of those three component air-spaced Triplet type, the Tessar it's a four elements lens and it has been (I believe so), the most imitated formula lens in the photography history. The Novar was a cheap lens but it's very good if you don't work it at full aperture.

Zeiss Ikon Nettar 516/2 front

Generally people seem to agree that it's a good lens and the fact that Tessar has the better reputation makes cameras with a Novar lens cheaper, which is good if you want one! The biggest drawback seems to be the soft focus on bigger apertures.

Speaking of aperture, on this camera it goes from 4.5 to 32.

Focus

The focus is completely manual and since there's no coupled rangefinder or through the lens focusing this means you'll have to estimate the distance to your subject and make a rough approximation. The closest you can focus with the 516/2 is 1.5 meters according to the markings on the focus ring.

The Shooting Experience

So far I have only shot one roll with this camera. But I can honestly say that was a real treat. As I mentioned earlier the process is very manual.

Before winding the film, make sure the camera is open. Otherwise the opening of the below might cause suction inside the camera which in turn might cause the film to not sit straight. This could cause uneven focus or even scratches on the film itself.

Once the camera is open it's time to wind the film. On the back of the camera you'll find a small window. It's protected by a small door that can be moved to the side to expose the back of the film through a read piece of glass. As you probably know if you're reading this, all 120 films have markings on the back of the protective paper that shows you what exposure you're on. Wind the film until you see a 1, if it's the first shot your making, or the next number.

Zeiss Ikon Nettar 516/2

Measure the light and make your adjustments. Set the aperture to 11 or higher if you can. From what I've found during my research bigger apertures seem to cause softer focus. I have no experience of this on my own, yet, though.

On the side of the lens there's a small lever, that's for cocking the shutter. Winding the film won't cock the shutter for you. It's important to remember this or you might miss the shot (that has been sitting still, waiting for you during the previous parts of the process).

Flip the small "view finder" open and try to frame your picture. Again, I've not yet accumulated enough time with this camera to really know how good the view finder is and how much I can trust it. But for landscape photos and far off subjects it should be good enough.

Now on the left (I've yet to grow accustomed to this) you'll find the trigger. Push it and you'll have your picture taken. Easy, right?

Given the small apertures and limited range of shutter speeds on this camera I really recommend a tripod and motionless subjects if you want to photograph in anything but glorious sunlight. It's not a great camera for low light conditions.

The Format

The Nettar 516/2 shoots 6x9 photos. That is huge. From what I can tell it seems like the "/2" in the Nettar model names means that the camera shoots in this format.

6x9 means eight exposures on a normal 120 roll of film. In the digital age this might seem ridiculously little. Which is one of the things I actually like, you really have to make sure every shot counts. It also means that a well focused photo can be enlarged pretty much how big you want.

Being used to shoot mostly 35mm film it feels a bit weird framing my shots. But I'm probably just overthinking it.

In Conclusion

I really like this camera. Not only is it gorgeous to look at, it's also very fun to use. I'm really looking forward to shooting more with it. I already have it loaded with a roll of Ilford Delta 400. Which I intended to push to 800 just to squeeze a bit more utility out of the big apertures on this camera.

Zeiss Ikon Nettar 516/2

It's a bit bulky to carry around at ~700 grams, or a bit more then a pound for my friends stuck in the stonea.. I mean stuck with the imperial system. When folded, it does however fit nicely inside a large pocket. It also has a handle you can carry it with.

If I figure out a way to digitalize those enormous negatives I'll be sure to post a few pictures on this blog.

Now that you've reached the bottom of the page you might feel the itch to get one of those yourself. At the time of writing there is one up for sale on Ebay. And it goes for about $200. Hurry!


  1. Zeiss Ikon on Camerapedia
  2. The Telma shutter in action
  3. Up and Down with Compur

I'll try to be better with footnotes in the future — it's fun with some proper research.