Photography with a 6x9 Folder Camera

Veijo Vilva

My Zeiss Ikon Nettar 515/2 (1937)
Tessar 10.5cm 1:4.5 in Compur

Going Another Way

After starting pinhole photography, I also got interested in LF and MF photography. LF would be nice, but I don't have a darkroom so MF is presently the only viable alternative available for me. I have got a Rolleiflex 2.8E Planar, but for landscape photography I wanted something larger than a 6x6, preferably a 6x9. Folding 6x9's do have their problems, and the better ones, especially Zeiss Super Ikontas, can be quite expensive even at eBay, but I found a 1937 Zeiss Ikon Nettar model with the most expensive lens-shutter combination, a Tessar 1:4.5 in Compur. I was lucky at the auction and got the Nettar for 30 euros, which really is nothing at all. I don't yet know how well the camera works, but the lens at least is clear and the shutter seems to be OK. Cosmetically, the camera is just fine, especially considering its age of 68 years, something of an eye-catcher.

The size of a folded Nettar 515/2 is only 160mm x 85mm x 43mm and it weighs about 720g so it is quite possible to carry it in a pocket, even in a trouser pocket -- not bad for a 6x9, not bad at all.

The camera is fully manual with front cell focusing, and there is no range finder. Focusing is critical due to the very limited depth of field of the 105mm lens, especially at wider apertures, and the focusing problems may be further accentuated by film flatness problems. When using this camera, I'll miss the ease of pinhole photography, which would have none of these problems.

This type of camera is difficult to use for casual photography except under very ideal conditions as one must tread carefully between the Scylla of really miserable DOF at large apertures and the Charybdis of camera shake at low shutter speeds. A further problem is the suction caused by the opening of the bellows which almost certainly negatively affects film flatness. For optimal results, a lot of care and premeditation is necessary. However, the proportion of good shots might be quite high.

The Rules of the Game

A MF folder camera isn't the most convenient of cameras, and the cost per frame is rather high compared with 35mm and digital cameras. The large negative is an advantage, but certain rules must be observed in order to maximize the obtained image quality:

  • advance the film only after opening the camera for a shot - and don't close the camera before taking the shot. This will maximize the film flatness during the shot.
  • use a smallish aperture except when a very shallow DOF is desired.
  • don't, however, use the two smallest apertures except when the deepest possible DOF is desired as the optical resolution will be adversely affected by diffraction
  • avoid the highest shutter speed as it might cause some camera shake due to the rather strong extra spring in the Compur shutter even though the lens mount of the Nettar feels quite stable
  • to avoid damaging the shutter mechanism, cock the shutter only after selecting the shutter speed


A Couple of Shots with Fuji Provia 100F


About Nettar 515/2 and Folder Cameras in General

NB. the DOF tables in the manuals are highly optimistic as they seem
to be based on a COC which is something like D/930 instead of D/1730.
COC = D/930 is good enough for reasonable contact prints but not for
anything else. I have calculated more reasonable DOF tables for Nettar 515/2.

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