5 Frames … On a Zeiss Ikon Nettar 517/16 and Fuji Pro 400H (Format 120 / EI 400)

It all started about a year ago now. I am a newcomer to the art of photography and have now collected quite a few digital kits. I particularly enjoy sea and landscape photography, especially at dawn when there are very few people. I am also fortunate to live about 15 clicks from the beach. The closest is a place called West Mersea on the south east coast of the UK.

I don’t really know how or why it started, but I decided to try film photography. I wanted to see what the capabilities of the old cameras were and work without any digital help. I started to search, to read stuff, like you. A nice OM-1 came along, then a Nikon FM2N, then another OM-1 in black obviously plus a few lenses and I made some really good first rolls. Maybe a tale for another time. Then I became obsessed with 120 and older format cameras. It had to be a Zeiss and it had to be cheap. So I found a Zeiss Ikon Nettar and bought it knowing absolutely nothing about how it works or how it works.

It turned out to be love at first sight.

The model number is 517/16, I believe it is from around 1958, made by Zeiss-Ikon AG from Stuttgart, Germany. Now I had yet another dilemma. Which film to use. I opted for color because I was thinking of landscapes and the obvious choice was Portra 400 or Fuji Pro 400H. I never shot either because my 35mm shots were all in B&W (HP5 or Tri-X). In the end, I went with Fuji, mainly because I thought the slightly brighter colors would suit the British climate better. We need all the help we can get in the UK.

I managed to figure out which lever did what and load a movie successfully. The shutter speed of the camera ranges from 1/8 s to 1/200 s and the aperture of the Novar-Anastigmat 75mm ranges from f / 6.3 to f22. Definitely a workable range and I have now realized that the film is thankfully quite forgiving. The digital seems to me to be the constant pursuit of the inaccessible while the cinema is only photography. It allows you to breathe.

I took the camera out for the first time on a beautiful, early spring morning with my digital gear. Nothing really on my mind other than capturing the sunrise and whatever I liked, maybe architecture. I knew the location had a jetty (yes, with dodgems and slots) and figured it might show up when the light was good.

The first thing I found interesting was that I had to do things to get a photo, I had to cock the shutter, and I had to rewind the film manually. I ended up being successful, but I also did the right things but not necessarily in the right order. The camera uses scale focus, which means you guess – or measure how far away the subject is – and try to match it to the distance scale on the lens. Of course, there is no light meter, so you have to guess whether you are using the Sunny 16, a portable light meter or an app. I now have an app, but I was using a portable light meter for the first time. Another interesting experience.

So here are my 5 images, 3 from my first attempt and 2 from the second and third time I used the camera. I was really happy with the results and was amazed that such a simple little camera could produce such good quality images. I don’t think the limitations really matter much, the film feels forgiving enough, the camera is light and simple. Yes, you don’t always get it right, but that’s part of the fun. And you have this delicious excitement while waiting for the results.

~ Keith

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