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Zeiss Ikon

Zeiss Ikon was founded in 1926 by the merger of Contessa-Nettel, Goerz, Ernemann and Ica, which itself was the product of a merger of Huttig, Krugener, Wunsche, Zulauf and Carl Zeiss Palmos factory. Quite a bit of history is wrapped up into this company. One disgruntled employee, Dr. August Nagel, left to form his own company, the Nagel Camera Works. It was later purchased by Eastman Kodak, and became Kodak A.G., the source of all of the Retinas, and many other high quality Kodak cameras.

Zeiss Ikon built cameras at all levels of price and features, from the fabled Contax, Contarex and Twin Lens Contaflex cameras that many photographers dreamed of owning, but many could afford, to the simplest box cameras and folding cameras. All were Zeiss top quality construction, some just had more features than others.

But as good as they were at designing cameras, they seemed equally unable to efficiently manage their business affairs. All of the parties of the merger brought camera lines with them, and it was difficult to kill off lines that competed with each other. They made too many models, each available with too many lens and shutter combinations. In one year, they had 104 different models in their catalog, with a choice of nearly 1000 combinations of model, format, lens and shutter!

The war changed everything. The plant at Dresden was destroyed in the fire bombing, and with it the plans for their flagship camera, the Contax, and the tooling was carted of to Kiev. The glassworks at Jena was under Russian occupation. Most of the key design personnel were on the capitalist side of the Iron Curtain. Jena went back into production, producing the Contax SLR line. Many legal battles were fought, with the eventual victory of the "western" Zeiss over the Jena Zeiss. Eventually, the Jena plant relinquished the Zeiss trademarks.

Times were hard, but from the remaining assets Zeiss Ikon was reborn. In spite of the success of the Contax, Contaflex and the prestige of the Contarex, Zeiss Ikon never really became profitable again. They acquired Voigtlander in 1956, having owned 20% of it since the late 1940's. Yet it took ten years before they began to combine the companies and consolidate the product line. And the merger wasn't complete until 1969. The problems with competing camera lines within Zeiss, and between Zeiss and Voigtlander, plus of course, the Japanese domination of the market, caused production to end in 1971, A limited number of cameras were assembled from parts on hand in 1972. 

Virtually everything Zeiss ever sold was assigned a catalog number. They were usually expressed like a fraction, the top part being the model number, the bottom part showing the format. So for example, the Icarette line of folding cameras had four models of body, catalog numbers 509, 500, 512 and 551. They were available in 5 different sizes (plus one model that was dual format for rollfilm and plates). The 6 x 9 format is cataloged as 2. So 509/2 is the model designated 509, in 6 x 9. That same model might also be available in 6.5 x 11, 4.5 x 6, 6 x 6 and 8 x 10.5 as 509/15, 509, 509/16 and 509/17. No, I didn't forget a number on the 4.5 x 6 model. They didn't assign a number to that size, and they just call it the first number. I guess they figured it wasn't confusing enough.

Well, if THAT wasn't confusing enough, in 1958 they decided to change their catalog system to a decimal system. By that time, models that were available in different formats were gone.

Beginning to see the miracle that they stayed in business as long as they did? The sad thing is that the cause of failure was not the product. It was usually of superior, if not exemplary design and impeccable execution. Rather it was a failure in management and marketing, trying to cover too much of the market with too little capital, and no rational organization in the product line. I can't help but wonder what could have been if things had been different.

This list is not complete, nor probably ever will be.

A few words about this section (which applies more or less to all of these pages). I write these pages using published references, mostly from books. I don't do much original research. Zeiss catalogs for different countries contained different products, and the whole Zeiss line can be quite confusing. Much of the reference material I have has discrepancies. I have tried to reconcile them in a way that makes sense, at least to me. But of course, I could be wrong.

A quality folding plate camera

Baldur Box
A short lived line of inexpensive box cameras.

Strut folding plate cameras.

Two series of folding cameras.

Early miniature folding cameras.

Box Tengor
A series of Zeiss Ikon box cameras.

A stereo camera carried over from Contessa Nettel.

An early line of folding rollfilm cameras, including a luxus model.

Colora/Colora F
A line of inexpensive 35mm cameras.

Contaflex TLR
Zeiss Ikon's flagship, a 35mm TLR with interchangeable lenses and world's first built in exposure meter!

Contaflex SLR
A line of less expensive leaf shutter 35mm and 126 SLR cameras.

Zeiss' top of the line 35mm SLR cameras.

Contax rangefinder
35mm rangefinder cameras, with interchangeable lenses.

Contessa and related cameras
Fixed lens 35mm rangefinder cameras with built in exposure meters.

Contina and Continette
35mm viewfinder cameras

Deckrullo and Deckrullo-Nettel
A large format press camera, includes tropical models.

Intermediate folding plate cameras.

A small strut folding plate camera.

A small strut folding plate camera.

A mahogany field camera.

Another line of inexpensive box cameras.

A very rare detective camera.

Ermanox and Ermanox Reflex
High speed plate cameras.

Box style plate cameras.

Ernoflex and Stereo-Ernoflex
Focal plane shuttered folding SLR cameras.

Top quality plate cameras, including tropical models.

Large rolfilm folding camera.

The remainder of a larger line of Ernemann folding cameras.

Large format field cameras.

Another line of early folding cameras.

Mid-level 35mm SLR cameras.

Ideal and Stereo Ideal
A line of quality folding plate cameras.

Medium format TLR cameras.

An inexpensive vest pocket folding camera.

Ikonette 35
An interesting plastic design that was a debacle for Zeiss.

Ikomatic A and F
Simple 126 cameras.

Ikonta and Ikomat
A long lived series of better folding cameras.

The Queen Mother of folding plate cameras, used by Ansel Adams.

Movie cameras.

An unusual design in a vest pocket camera.

Early field camera.

Simple strut folding cameras.

Lloyd and Stereo Lloyd
Combination plate and rollfilm camera.

Quality folding plate cameras.

Minimum Palmos
Early folding plate cameras with focal plane shutter.

A folding large format SLR.

Movikon and Movinette
Movie cameras.

A less expensive series of folding cameras.

A Nettar with an exposure meter.

35mm rangefinder cameras with focal plane shutters.

A large format press camera, includes tropical and stereo models.

High quality large rollfilm cameras.

Basic folding plate cameras.

Uncommon box cameras.

Better folding plate cameras.

A name variant of the 4.5 x 6cm Minimum Palmos

Early view camera.

Vest pocket style folding cameras.

Less expensive rigid stereo cameras.

Better rigid stereo cameras.

A line of inexpensive folding cameras.

Simplex-Ernoflex and Simplex-Ernoflex Stereo
Focal plane shuttered box cameras.

Inexpensive folding plate cameras.

A 35mm SLR, the last of the Icarex line.

Small tropical folding cameras.

Strut folding stereo cameras with focal plane shutters.

Stereo Cupido and Stereolette Cupido
Folding stereo plate cameras.

A jumelle style stereo camera.

Inexpensive stereo cameras.

Simple folding plate cameras.

Super Ikonta
Folding rollfilm with coupled rangefinders.

Super Nettel
Folding 35mm rangefinders with focal plane shutters.

Simple folding plate cameras.

Tenax (35mm)
A name used on a series of square format 35mm cameras, and a full frame automatic 35mm camera.

A rare psuedo-TLR.

Medium level folding plate cameras.

Horizontally styled folding plate cameras.

Quality folding plate cameras.

Tropen Adoro
A tropical folding plate camera.

The queen mother of tropical folding plate cameras.

A small odd box camera.

A small folding plate camera.

Inexpensive folding plate cameras.

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