Ziess Ikon 250/7 Ideal -- working at last!

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by silent1, Aug 22, 2004.

  1. Several months ago, I bought a Ziess-Ikon 250/7 Ideal. It was listed as "for parts only" condition, and I purchased it for the f/4.5 13.5 cm Tessar lens; for the $12.50 I paid, even if the rest of the camera was completely trashed, the lens would have been a bargain. Unfortunately, on receiving the camera, I was disappointed to discover that the dial-set Compur in which the lens was mounted had a significantly smaller thread than the rim-set Compur on my Kawee Camera, where I had hoped to mount the Tessar as a replacement for the Radionar I received with that camera. On examining the Ideal, however, I realized that it probably wasn't beyond repair. The leather was coming off the body in great swatches where the seller had used actual duct tape to attach a posterboard cover where there was no ground glass; the bellows was detached from the body at the back, and shutter only partially worked -- but there was still fluid in the spirit level, the sports finder was intact, the rise and shift worked, the latches on the bellows to prevent vignetting at short extensions were present and functional; in short, it wasn't nearly as bad as it looked. So, the quest for a lens became a search for parts and accessories. A few weeks later, I paid $50 for a "working" Ica Ideal 225, the same 9x12 cm format, which included a ground glass back and a few plate holders. This one was cosmetically much nicer than the Zeiss, but the sports finder wire frame was missing, and the shutter didn't work at all. Still, it had another Tessar, and it was complete enough I thought I could get it working with less effort than the Zeiss -- and besides, it was at least a year older, possibly several years. Well, with one thing and another, it was just a few weeks ago that I finally got far enough in working on the Ica Ideal to test it -- the Tessar was everything I'd hoped, but the frames were marred by ghostly fog, in stripes and curtains, as well as vignetted all around, as those from my Kawee Camera are if I forget to pull the bellows toward the lens on opening the camera. I bought some fabric paint and used it to patch the holes in the (cloth) bellows, but every time I patched one set, another would crop up; it quickly became obvious that the material grew a new set of cracks every time I closed and opened the camera. The bellows was completely shot. In addition, the shutter speeds were a little off; the 1/10 was shorter than the 1/25, which I eventually decided was because a previous owner had attempted to repair the shutter by filing the speed selection cam, with the result that the pallet engaged when it shouldn't. I managed to adjust things and get those speeds within a half stop of correct (though I'm still not sure the 1/25 was actually faster than the 1/10, they were at least both close enough to correct for negative film). The final straw was realizing that the vignetting was because someone (probably the same person who "repaired" the shutter with a coarse file) had ripped out the original bellows and replaced it with one from a smaller camera, probably a 3x4 format; not only was the bellows too small, it was glued to the attachment plate at the front standard, instead of screwed on through its own front stiffener as it should have been. With the combination of shutter and bellows problems, obviously, there was no way the Ica was going to be ready to use for portraits of my 99 year old grandmother when I pass through Idaho on my way to North Carolina (a trip, by that time, less than a month away). What to do? Sure, I could take pictures with the Kawee Camera, but between bellows vignetting, minor light leaks in the plate holders, and the inability to get it to sit steady on a tripod (because of the curve of the bed/door), it didn't look like the best choice for that shoot. Well, there was the Zeiss Ideal. I had all those film holders (by this time, I had a full dozen, ten usable, and more than enough film sheaths), two shutters, two lenses, and it shouldn't be impossible to glue the bellows back into the body. So I did. Clean up the shutter, and it runs like a champ, even the 1 second buzzes right along; closing in T setting makes a distinct "clack" as the mechanism releases. Rubber cement served to stick down the ragged edges of the leather where the duct tape had torn it. A few small patches of black leather covered the five pinholes I was able to find in the bellows (and this leather bellows seems less prone to develop more every time it's opened and closed). Today, it was time to test; pull out two plate holders, put the Ideal on my tripod, install cable release, grab my old Sixtomat, and out the door. A few hours later, the negatives are dry. No foggy ghosts, correct exposures at both 1/10 and 1/25 (f/22 and f/16, respectively, on Fomapan 100 at EI 160 in Diafine), the lens is incredibly sharp (in the original 2400 ppi scans, I can see details of the moss and tiny fungi growing on the stump in the attached frame). Seventy-seven years after it was made, it's ready to use again.
  2. Of course, one of the wonderful things about large format is the endless detail in the negatives. Here's a 1:1 crop, 2400 ppi, of part of the stump in the image above.
  3. Great story, Donald, and a good illustration of what it takes to get one of these old cameras back into shooting condition. Once you do get to the point of seeing the results that this old technology can produce, you really have to question the "progress" that has been made in camera design over the last century. It seems like a awfully lot of it has had much more to do with convenience and cosmetics than actual image making capability. I poked around a bit to find a picture of the Ideal and located one at this "Something Zeiss to Say" site.
  4. Thanks, Mike. Mine actually looks (from the front) more like the Donata listed on that same page; the f/4.5 13.5 cm Tessar and its shutter are significantly larger than the f/8 lens and corresponding shutter shown on that Ideal; in addition, mine has the bellows extension latches on top and bottom, instead of on the sides. I'll see if I can't grab a couple shots with my webcam/DSC to add to this thread; considering how it looked when I received it, this 250/7 doesn't look all that bad now that it's back in working trim.

    Naturally, I'll want to replace the bellows at some point. In fact, I'll probably replace the bellows on the Ica eventually, as well; that camera has a couple nice features that aren't present on this Zeiss example, including a swinging distance scale and infinity stop to adjust for the slight difference in emulsion position for a plate vs. film in a sheath (the sheath puts the film's emulsion a little more than half a millimeter further from the lens than a plate's surface would be). Both, however, have front standard latches for 135mm, 150 mm, and (I think) 90 mm lenses. I might even find out whether there's a worker somewhere who can do a professional job of replaceing the leather covering the Zeiss camera, including tooling in the Zeiss model information under the handle; these are probably the only cameras I own that are worth putting that kind of effort and money into (with the possible exception of my Ricoh Singlex II bodies).

    As you say, most of what's gone into camera design in the past century has been for convenience. Of course, some of that convenience is worth more than other things -- fitting 36 exposures in a cassette half the size of a roll of quarters is certainly worth something, especially since film technology has advanced to the point of making large prints from a 24x36 mm frame routine. Many-element retrofocus lenses are completely unnecessary -- until you want to shoot with a focal length less than about 50 mm on a 35 mm SLR, or 80 mm on a 6x6 SLR, and then they're indispensible.

    Making film continually smaller hasn't gained much; I get some good pictures from my Minolta 16 cameras, and I can always carry one in a pocket, but my full frame 35 mm Jubilette, when folded, is only about twice the size of a Minolta 16 and there are a number of 6x4.5 folders that aren't much bigger than the Jubilette.

    The Tessar has seldom been greatly exceeded, and then only when the "normal" lens parameters are violated -- lenses faster than about f/3.5 or wider than 135 mm on 4x5 seem to be the only ones where the Tessar isn't at least in the leading part of the pack, which isn't bad for a lens design nearly a century old, hand calculated and originally hand ground and figured. Surely, it can be beaten, by adding 2-3 more elements and/or using exotic glasses -- but nothing close to the price does any better. And coatings are nice to have, but not necessary to making good pictures -- one need merely remember to think about flare and internal reflections when composing, if shooting with uncoated lenses.

    In fact, one could go back further -- the Rapid Rectilinear suffers against the Tessar mainly in terms of chromatic aberration and angle of view, and is a design that dates to the American Civil War era; they were still very popular when the Tessar was created, and are seen on cameras in competition with the Tessar into the 1920s.

    All of which, of course, is why so many of us shoot with old manual SLRs and rangefinders, folders, and occasionally plate cameras. Also, of course, because it's fun to make good pictures with a camera that's older than your parents...
  5. When I read this story about restoring "old rubbish" into working cameras, I get truly inspired! Nice work and judging from the test picture it will make some real good photos in the future.
  6. Thanks -- I agree, this one is going to get used on a regular basis. It helps greatly to have a decent number of plate holders and the film sheaths to use them; with ten holders, I can actually come close to a decent large format shoot, and if I take along enough ABS pipe storage tubes, I can change in the field and get another ten shots (which would then take me several hours to develop, even if I can find just the right size tube to fit seven in my big Nikor tank, and don't need to do much with N+ and N- processing). The three holders I have for my Kawee Camera is rather limiting; I doubt I'll find that the case with ten. As a bonus, it's much easier to change the pop-off holders without disturbing the composition; once I get my better (surveyor's) tripod fully equipped to handle the camera, I should even be able to do things like use trimmed dark slides for old-style photo cloning (shoot same subject in both halves of the frame) -- which depends on a rock steady camera mounting if there's to be a seamless join between frame halves (also depends on an exact match in the dark slide cutouts, of course). I managed to get a few (cheap DSC) pictures of the Ideal. They're not great; my Creative Webcam Go has no display and uncalibrated scale focus (*real* "guess* focusing), plus a pretty slow "shutter" in light dimmer than full sun, but it has the advantage of producing instant results.
  7. Another shot of the Ideal.
  8. And another.
  9. More...
  10. Last one.
  11. Overall, this whole project was greatly simplified by the fact that I was looking for a working, user camera, not a collector's item. I can't stand the thought of dusting cameras; they should be in use, donating parts, or passed along to someone who just wants to look at them and tell stories of the company that made them. The stories I want to tell are of how I captured this or that wonderful image with a camera that was new when the world land speed record belonged to a Stanley Steamer, the fastest airplane on Earth had floats, and flash photography involved powder in a pan and the Bulb shutter setting.
  12. My current favorite among an embarrasingly large collection of old cameras is a folding Browine with a Rapid Rectilinear lens; it was built about 1922. I'm sure the Tessars did have some advantages, and I know from experience that they can produce very fine images if they are in good condition. However, my experience is that the Tessars are very likely to acquired some imperfections between lens components in the past half century or so, and the result of that can be considerable image degradation.<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; The cemented doublets on my Rapid Rectilinear show no signs of degradation, and I think that the limited number of air contact surfaces contributes considerably to compensating for the lack of lens coatings. The images that come out of the little folder are astounding in their sharpness. Of course, the largest marked aperture is f8, but that turns out to be of no consequence as I normally shoot the camera in the f32 to f64 range, which gives wonderful dof.<br>&nbsp; &nbsp; I have some 35mm cameras which I greatly value, but none produce sharper pictures than than old Brownie.
  13. Mike, I should have noted that the optical advantages of the Tessar over the Rapid Rectilinear are only notable when the lens is opened up a bit -- you'll seldom see RR lenses faster than f/8, and at f/8 there's not much difference between a Tessar and the RR, but the Tessar is still pretty good at f/5.6 and not horrible at f/4, at least if you have a newer one after they were recaculated for exotic glasses just before WWII; a Rapid Rectiliear is so hopeless at f/4 that I don't know of any being made that fast -- which is another reason they disappeared, when demand for faster lenses started really separating the men from the boys, as it were.

    I won't argue that RR lenses have often held up better than Tessars; of my two Tessars, one has visible separation between the cemented elements that would affect images when opened up past about f/5.6 (in an f/4.5 lens). OTOH, I'd expect two cemented doublets to have twice as many opportunities for this kind of problem as the four elements, three groups Tessar; if the RR have stood up better to time it's more likely because they were better matched for concentricity of the cemented surfaces, allowing thinner cement layers, or because the mountings do a better job of protecting the cement.

    When I'm shooting at f/16 on up to f/45, the differences between the two won't matter. It's only when it's getting dark and I'm opening up to f/5.6 just to try to keep the Moon from motion blurring that I'll be thankful to have the faster Tessar instead of the Rapid Rectilinear.

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