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A 1943 Ikonta 6 x 9 cm camera goes to the Western Isles..........Part 1

The camera as seen in the charity shop window.


I was fortunate a few weeks ago when a couple of friends of mine spotted an old camera in a charity shop and thought I might be interested. Whilst trying to ascertain the nature of the object a conversation ensued and to protect the innocent only the answers to my initial queries are provided below....

"it's black with shiny bits, and might be 35mm"

"a zeiss I think it says, but also says Prontor"

"it's got a lens yes"

"she wouldn't let us touch it ....."

"older than you I reckon.......but not much more.........the camera I mean"

After a couple of attempts to see the camera I eventually found the shop open and called in. On picking the camera up, and having done research after seeing it in the window, I quickly established it was a 6 x 9 cm Ikonta 521/2 and was interested. However, in the shop the camera would not fold down, the shutter wouldn't fire and there was a spider in there that used to live in there but was long dead. There was also the remnants of the backing paper from a roll of FP4+ in the film chamber.

When I got the camera home I cleaned and polished it, got the folding mechanism working again and eventually got the shutter to fire (more on that later*). I removed an accumulation of debris and sundry spider bits from the insides, took both the front and rear elements from the lens and cleaned as many lens surfaces as I could and was pleased there was no haze, fungus or significant dust within it.

So is it possible I had a camera that would produce images ? Or was it a shelf camera ? It was a close run thing !


Roll 1

The first roll was a disappointment to say the least. I put a roll of Fomapan 100 through he camera and wandered around the town and snapped. After developing the roll I found that all but one of the shots was out of focus.

The camera uses a "zone focus" method where you focus the lens according to a scale on the front element essentially estimating the correct distance to focus at and then expose the film and wind on. The one shot that was in focus was the one where I had forgotten to focus (forgetting to focus would turn out to be a recurring theme!). The previous shot I had estimated 8m as the focus point (correctly) and gotten an out of focus shot. The next shot the subject was at 2 or 3 metres from the lens but........ I had left the focus at 8m and gotten a nicely focused image. So although I had problems with the camera, I also had some clues.


After a conversation with the super-influencer, Dave Whenham, who....... if I recall correctly,....... said he had over a thousand Ikontas of various models, we established it was likely I had remounted the front element incorrectly during my "servicing" and this amounted, as it turned out to be, a 90 degree offset of the front element. This accorded with focused at 8m , but focusing at 3m. After remounting the lens, I decided to test the focus and wracked my brains for a way to do this and then came up with the method of using the back of a negative bag, held along the film plane while opening the shutter to see what part was in focus.

The lens remounted and focused on the window frame (2m) by holding the sheet taut I was able to use a magnifying loupe to establish focus was now correct !


Roll 2

Another roll of Fomapan 100 and this time I only had 4 shots out of focus because I forgot to focus the camera before taking the shot ! One shot was good enough to make my twitter feed. I had another image that I went back for with roll 3 it was one of the ones where I forgot to focus ! I came up with a mnemonic in order to help future rolls. (I guess this is similar to "the dance" used with Large Format exposures but is only a few maybe just a few seconds of boogie)




F number

Exposure time


Using this and a better knowledge of the shutter responses I had a bit more success with roll 2.

Roll 2, Frame 6 - F11 at 13 seconds with an orange filter. This is pretty much what I was aiming for and the first smile from this camera !



* The shutter - Once I had cleaned and readied the camera after I bought it I got talking to Twitter legend @Balzac's Dad who had acquired by chance a similar camera in a 6 x 4.5cm format. Facing similar shutter issues to my camera we spent an evening conversing and repeatedly firing the shutters of our cameras in an attempt to grease parts , free up mechanisms and fool the cameras into being in constant use during their wartime employments. Oh such fun we had ! The upshot of all this was that I had, and refined during rolls 1 and 2, a knowledge of what worked consistently, what worked intermittently and what did not work and a summary of mine is set out below.

Shutter - Both the shutter button and the cable release work consistently and fire the shutter smoothly.

Timings - Bulb - works but very occasionally sticks open. Using the cable release seems to reduce this probability acceptably so declared Serviceable

1 sec - gives exposures ranging from 2 seconds to 28 seconds under testing - Un-serviceable

1/2 sec - gives exposures ranging from 2 seconds to 24 seconds under testing - Un-serviceable

1/5 sec - gives exposures from 2 seconds to 10 seconds under testing - Un-serviceable

1/10 sec - gives 1/8 sec 2 times out of 5 and and sticks open the other 3 of 5 - Un-serviceable

1/25sec - gives a fairly consistent 1/15 , only stuck once during many firings - Serviceable

1/50,1/100,1/250 - all give consistent quick snappy exposures estimated to be about half a stop apart but of unknown timing. Given my preference for slow film and small apertures......of limited use but -


Lens - Clean and dust free, focuses correctly now, sharpness isn't magnificent but with a contrast filter (yellow, orange, red) can give the occasional surprisingly good exposure. Note - filters currently need to be blutac'd on as no way of attaching them any other way......

The prototype filter holding system - found to only be usable in wind speeds of less than 1 knot and now abandoned as a project. (Other sparkling waters are available.)


Roll 3

Still very much a test roll but armed with the information gained so far I was now aiming to get the best image quality I could from the camera. For this reason I loaded with Ilford Pan F+ (ISO 50) and set off around the town once more. I was now determining whether I could take this camera to the Western Isles on a work trip where I would have a weekend to use it in beautiful late autumn conditions.

I was imagining fog banks drifting across majestic glass-still lochs like smoke over a magician's mirror.

The camera would need to hold up to the challenge!


So it passed the test and I committed to take it , with 9 rolls of film, to the Hebrides. I knew realistically, 2 days off was all I was likely to get so was very keen to make it work and come away with some images that would make the time spent working out how to make it work for me worth the while.

Revisiting the weir and nailing the focus this time.

F16 @ 1/2 second, with a Yellow filter.


Thank you for reading Part 1 of this blog. As you read this I am working on Part 2 so should only be a matter of a day or 2 (3, let' s say Thursday.....maybe Friday then?) before I show you images from the Western Isles.

But as a taster in part 2 :

  • A new mechanical failure adds to the difficulty

  • The shipping forecast is not at all good for Saturday and Sunday (the days off)

  • Tripod quick release plate difficulties and a novel solution

  • Northern lights are visible ...from above the 6 day solid overcast

  • Is it me or has it got windy?

  • that squeaking noise ....when I wind the film on ?


Take care and great exposures

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