Film Medium format folder discovery

DeeJayK

All-Pro
Location
Seattle, WA, USA
Name
Keith
Sorry for the long disquisition here, TL/DR: share your experience to help me choose a medium format folding camera.

Voigtlander_Perkeo_II.jpeg
Join to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


A random encounter in a camera shop recently with a Voigtländer Perkeo II, a 6x6 format, fixed lens, all manual, collapsing camera that takes 120 film, has sparked a minor obsession with this type of camera for me. While I was previously aware of the existence of 120 folders, I had overlooked these cameras as not much more than museum pieces. After doing some research on that Perkeo (which I didn't end up choosing to purchase) my eyes have been opened to the potential of this format.

What is the appeal of these cameras for me?

To answer that, let me give some background into my experience. I've been what might be considered a "photo enthusiast" for only about the past dozen years when I picked up a :mu43: Olympus E-PL1 as my first "serious" camera. Prior to that, the only cameras I'd owned or used going back to my childhood in the 70s fell into the "point and shoot" category, including (moving backward) a number of small digital cams, a small Leica APS camera, some very basic 35mms, and a selection of cheap cartridge film (110, 126, maybe Kodak Disc) cameras. My current main cameras are a Fuji X-H1 and an Olympus E-M1.3

I've never really used a fully manual camera that forced me to make every decision. With my current cameras I shoot primary in aperture priority. As a result I feel I've become somewhat of a "lazy" photographer who focuses primarily on framing the shot and lets the camera take care of everything else. While there's nothing inherently wrong with this mode of shooting, I feel like to push my skills (such as they are) further I need to challenge myself to step outside this comfort zone — I need to stop playing the game in "easy mode". While I could do that with my existing digital equipment by turning off some or all of the automation, I feel like having a new camera that forces me to do these things would make the process more engaging.

Why a medium format folder?

Obviously there are a number of cameras that would fit the bill of being fully manual and shooting film, so why would I want to choose this particular niche, why not go with an old 35mm camera? There may be several reasons for that: I've never shot medium format so this will give me a chance to scratch that itch (at an initial price point much lower than a Fuji GFX), I want something with a different form factor from my current detachable-lens digital cameras to jog myself out of my existing patterns of shooting, I don't want to lug around a bulky monstrosity like a TLR or something of that ilk, and finally I appreciate the simplicity of these 120 folders.

Which camera to choose?

Now that I've justified this irrational itch (to myself, anyway), the question becomes which one to choose. While I'm obviously going "retro" here, I'm not sure I want to go fully retro; that is, I think I want one of the later models of folders produced in the mid-1950s just as the rise in popularity of the 35mm format caused manufacturers to pivot away from this style. Ideally, I'd like to get one that:
  • has a good quality, relatively bright lens
  • shoots 6x6 (rather than 6x9)
  • offers a decent range of shutter speeds (ideally up to 1/500s)
  • has a built-in, uncoupled rangefinder (alternatively I could use a accessory cold-shoe rangefinder)
  • offers some sort of double-exposure prevention
  • is available in decent, usable condition for roughly US$250 (or less)
The Perkeo that kicked off this little adventure ticks most of these boxes, but what other choices are there? After spending some time poking about the Interwebs I've come up with a short list which might satisfy most or all of these requirements:
This list reflects my (irrational?) bias toward Japanese products. I'm not averse to a European camera, it's just that the Zeiss Ikon and Agfa Isolette options are unlikely to fit within my self-imposed budget.

What else should I know?

I'd love to hear from others with direct experience with this type of camera. What am I overlooking? What should I look out for? Should I give up this folly? Please share your thoughts.

- K
 
Super Ikonta 531

The Voigtlander's struts are fragile, it's good you didn't get it. The Zeiss cameras are bricks & tanks. This model is in 6x4.5 which gives 16 supersized (compared to 35mm) images to a roll of 120 film. Mine is post war and has a coated 50/3.5 Tessar in a Synchro-Compur shutter.

6x6 is nice and I love my Rolleicord III but the additional flexibility and much more compact size of the 6x4.5 format is a big plus. I considered all of the cameras on your list and chose this one instead.

This one has a red window advance. DON'T get a Zeiss folder with autoadvance. They tend to give up one image per roll because of how they chose to space the images and they are just that little bit more fragile after X years.

Compact

IMG_20221004_133940244.jpg


But fully functioning and robust:

IMG_20221004_134025114.jpg


But if you do your part... :)

000307760011.jpg


I love Ilford XP-2 in it.

Hope these thoughts help.
 
@DeeJayK Your feature list and budget open up quite a lot of options, though a good Certo 6 is probably not within reach, but who knows?

I'll echo the recommendation for Zeiss Ikon folders - not because I share the quality concerns about Voigtländer: I own a Perkeo I and a Perkeo II - both are mechanically okay, though I found the Vaskar lens on the Perkeo I to be a bit weak, softish with low contrast until stopped way down; I think some of the issues you reported were due to the really tricky handling and strange decisions on Voigtländer's part as to how things should work. But back to thinking about desirable models ...

I think you should be able to go for any Zeiss Ikon folder, including all Super Ikonta models, maybe except for the rare fully functional model 532/16 - in spite of everything it has to recommend it, I have to advise caution about that model: It's super-collectable, and though heavy and tough on the outside, there are some fickle mechanics inside that can cease to work without notice. In that sense, I have to concur with what William has said - the auto-advance models of the pre-war and war area are unfortunately a risky acquisition unless you can thoroughly check them (including sacrificing a complete roll of film!) before buying. But the post-war (early 50s) cameras like the 531/16 and 534/16 (the same camera, the latter model sports a selenium light meter that's quite often "depleted") are quite desirable. I own a 531/16 - it's my best performing 6x6 folder. Synchro-Compur (full set of modern shutter speeds), 75mm f/3.5 single-coated Tessar lens, coupled rangefinder with a nicely visible focusing patch - all you can ask for.

All that said, I have a true soft spot for the cheapest Zeiss Ikon folders, the Nettar series. You can get those simple folders (no rangefinder whatsoever) with Novar Anastigmat or even Tessar lenses (in early models - pre-war). The Novar Anastigmat models are extremely portable, small and light, and are so simple that they have only one real point of failure: the leaf shutter. However, as indicated, I quite like the common Prontor shutters many of the later Nettars share because they usually just work, whereas Compurs need more care and are much more difficult to CLA - though you'll find quite a few people still who know how to do this. Anyhow, post-war mid-range Nettars usually come with Prontor shutters and relatively fast 75mm f/4.5 or even f/3.5 Novar Anastigmat lenses - though actually, it's no mistake to reach for the f/4.5 lens since it's a bit sharper (not only wide open).

My own "frankencamera" is a Nettar 518/16 with a salvaged 517/16 back (its original back was slightly damaged); it has a Prontor SV shutter with a fastest shutter speed of 1/300s (though "old style" values: 1s, 1/2s, 1/5s, 1/10s, 1/25s, 1/50s, 1/100, 1/300s) and a f/3.5 lens; apertures go down to f/32 - you can even close it down further, though there's no exact value attached. It also has "red dot" double exposure prevention and "red window" winding. The only thing that doesn't work properly on mine is the self timer (the "V" in SV). The best thing about it though is the fact that I spent less than half the price of a Super Ikonta for both the camera and the donor body! Of course, the Tessar lens is clearly better, but the little inexpensive Nettar is a charming camera to shoot, especially in good light.

All that said, I'll confess that I still have an even deeper affection for my first folder: A lowly post-war 515/2 with 105mm f/6.3 lens and Vario shutter (1/25s, 1/75s, 1/200s). It doesn't get any simpler (or cheaper), but you can still get surprisingly nice images out of it.

This is from the 515/2:

33209112426_c89d2a9381_h.jpg

(untitled) on Flickr

(Yes, I know, mostly an awful sight - leftovers from a Berlin marathon ...)

M.
 
Matt's post made me remember one other suggestion: the Zeiss Mess-Ikonta 524/16. This is a 6x6 camera, red window advance and an _Uncoupled_ rangefinder. You can get the range then transfer it to the lens. It's even less complicated than that sounds but it's really robust and makes for a simpler & lighter camera. It's a great place in between the low end and the more expensive Super Ikontas.

8539332342_342c7df409.jpg


The Novar /3.5 is a good lens but if you look around you can find the Tessar 75/3.5 in a Compur shutter too.
 
I've really fallen down the rabbit hole with this newly acquired medium format mania. I've spent way too much time over the past week or so tramping through the interwebs, watching YouTube and trolling the sales sites trying to make sense of what's available and determine what I want to try.

I fear the relatively cheap prices, the ease of hitting the "bid" button, and a positive PayPal balance from some recent sales of non-camera gear may have caused me to overdo it. But I've got a package or two en route and I just ordered my first ever 120 film to get started. Maybe the stark reality of the challenges of shooting with some 70 year old gear will help break the fever.

I'll provide updates here once my new (to me) gear arrives.

- K
 
Last edited:
I always thought the Olympus Six was pretty cool. I just don’t want to learn how to develop film, and don’t like cameras just sitting around because they look cool…I want to use them. At least 120 is still pretty widely developed commercially.
 
I always thought the Olympus Six was pretty cool. I just don’t want to learn how to develop film, and don’t like cameras just sitting around because they look cool…I want to use them. At least 120 is still pretty widely developed commercially.
The Olympus fanboy in me from my :mu43: "roots" and that f/2.8 aperture has put the Six at the top of my list. I may be the first nerd ever who's bought a Six because of nostalgia of his old E-PL1. :p

And I hear you about the film thing. Thankfully, there are a couple of well regarded local shops that still process film. However, when I look at their prices, I wonder how long it will be before I start learning how to develop my own negatives.

Between this newfound obsession with ancient film cameras and a recently grown mustache I fear I may be slouching into hipsterdom in my old age. If my fingers start smelling like fixer, I think that might be the last straw.

- K
 
Last edited:
The Olympus fanboy in me from my :mu43: "roots" and that f/2.8 aperture has put the Six at the top of my list. I may be the first nerd ever who's bought a Six because of nostalgia of his old E-PL1. :p

And I hear you about the film thing. Thankfully, there are a couple of well regarded local shops that still process film. However, when I look at their prices, I wonder how long it will be before I start learning how to develop my own negatives.

Between this newfound obsession with ancient film cameras and a recently grown mustache I fear I may be slouching into hipsterdom in my old age. If my fingers start smelling like fixer, I think that might be the last straw.

- K
I’ve been rocking a sweet stache for almost a year now. Welcome to the elite club.
 
Well, a box or two have arrived after I put that PayPal balance to good use on some vintage 120 cameras. After researching the various models available and compiling a short list, I ended up grabbing several of them. My logic (such as it was) behind this splurge was that my confidence that the odds that any individual camera would be ready to shoot out of the box would be pretty low. Each of the cameras I bought is cheap enough that I figure the ones that aren't fully functioning will serve as guinea pigs while I attempt to teach myself vintage camera repair...and if my efforts aren't up to par, then it's no major loss.

The first one I've put a couple of rolls of film through is a Certo Six.

20230402-DSCF1050.jpg
Join to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


20230402-DSCF1053.jpg
Join to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


20230402-DSCF1054.jpg
Join to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


20230402-DSCF1058.jpg
Join to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


20230402-DSCF1062.jpg
Join to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


20230402-DSCF1063.jpg
Join to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


20230402-DSCF1059.jpg
Join to see EXIF info for this image (if available)


This camera isn't "mint", but it's certainly usable. It's missing the little knob that allows one to override the double-exposure prevention mechanism which should be in that upside-down "L"-shaped cutout on the last pic. Also, and more crucially, the rangefinder prism and mirror are in need of replacing (which is apparently very common with these).

Due to the missing rangefinder functionality, as well as the lack of any sort of built-in light meter, shooting involves a fair amount of guesswork. I used the "Sunny 16" rule to approximate the exposure with some success. I found it challenging to remember all the necessary steps that I have grown to take for granted with my modern equipment — wind the film, determine the correct aperture and shutter speed, frame the shot, take a guess at the subject distance and try to approximate focus based on the fairly cursory distance meter on the top of the camera, cock the shutter, hit the shutter release.

In my first attempt I found myself constantly forgetting one step or another or doing one step more than once (I lost a couple of frames due to winding the film a second time). I'm sure that with practice and experience that will improve. Despite these hiccups, I found the process to be illuminating. My hope is that by forcing myself to make essentially every decision myself I'll build a better understanding of what goes into making an image.

The results were better than I expected considering this is the first time I've attempted to shoot with a fully manual film camera. I've shared a few images here, here, here, and here.

- K
 

Attachments

  • 20230402-DSCF1050.jpg
    20230402-DSCF1050.jpg
    952.6 KB · Views: 58
  • 20230402-DSCF1053.jpg
    20230402-DSCF1053.jpg
    1 MB · Views: 53
  • 20230402-DSCF1054.jpg
    20230402-DSCF1054.jpg
    1.2 MB · Views: 56
Back
Top