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Zeiss Ikon Nettar 515 – Medium Format in the Palm of Your Hand

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Large Negatives, high resolution, the Zeiss name stamp, all in the palm of your hand. What more could you ask for? Considering todays growing desert that has become the Medium Format film camera market, these options sound like gold. While the Zeiss Ikon Nettar 515 might be just what you’re looking for, there are a couple of things you need to consider.

The Camera

Zeiss created the Nettar series of folding cameras in the 1930’s. They use medium format film and come fitted with a variety of lenses and shutter combinations. The Nettar 515 was 3rd in the line of Nettar cameras and was produced in 1937. This model shoots 16 frames on the 6×4.5cm format. Other models like the 515/2 shoots in the 6x9cm format or the 515/16 in 6x6cm.

1934 Italian Ad for the Zeiss Ikon Nettar

Often marketed as the amateur version of the Ikonta, it still shared some of the same parts. Despite having more affordable specs compared to the Ikonta, it was built just as well.

The lens/shutter combo on this Nettar is a 7.5cm f4.5 Novar Anastigmat and a Klio leaf shutter. It has speeds of 1 second through to 1/175th of a second with T and Bulb. The focus is scale focus from 1.2m – infinity.

Shutter Speeds


The view finder is just a pop up set of squares to look through and roughly compose. There is no rangefinder or focusing through the viewfinder. You have to guess the distance of your subject using the scale on the lens.

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On the back of the camera is the red window for keeping track of your frame number. It slides down to keep stray light from hitting the film.

A Small Disclaimer

Now, you should know that I have had a horrible relationship with scale focusing. Therefore, if you’re deciding if you want to buy one of these cameras, keep my slight bias in mind. Keep reading though because you’ll be surprised at my final thoughts.

Scale focusing can be frustrating because you have to guess the distance between the camera’s film plane and your subject. With portraits for example, this can be really tricky, especially if you want to shoot wide open for a blurred out background. You’ll have to be precise with your scale focus.

Aperture and Focus Scale

My very first experience with this type of focus was with a Kodak Pony and it was a really bad experience. I was just getting back into photography and it turned me off for a little while. (As you can see I got over that quickly lol) So when I realized the Nettar was a zone focus camera, I was pretty disappointed. I figured I would just waste film if I shot with it. I was right at first. My first test roll was trashed. Then I asked for some tips, and Mike and Alex let me know that I should shoot with it outdoors and use the red dots on the shutter and scale. As Mike said, if you want to shoot something up close, use another camera. That turned out to be great advice because I was so happy to have good results on my next roll.

My Experience

This is one of the cameras Mike Eckman lent me along with the Fed-2 and Kiev 4a. I had asked him if he had any of the small medium format cameras I could try out because I want one I can carry with me on walks. I specifically asked about the Nettar and he surprised me with a box of cameras that included this one.

Fomapan 400

On a walk with Kelsey, I took the Nettar to get some outside shots. I set the lens between 8 and 15 meters on the red dot and set the aperture’s red dot between f/8 and f/11. Although I wanted to use the sunny 16 rule, the shutter only goes up to 1/175th and my box speed was 400(that was all I had on hand). Therefore I just shot all of these photos at the fastest speed, adjusting the aperture between f/8-f/22 if the sun varied. Even with the 400 speed film, these photos didn’t come out over exposed.

The lens delivers. The photos are sharp and clear with a lot of detail. However, one side of the lens had fall off. You can see it at the bottom of the pic above and on the side of some of the others depending on the orientation of the photo.

Final Thoughts on the Nettar 515

While I really don’t like scale focusing for many situations, it isn’t a big deal on a walk when you’re not in a rush. I’m sure many photographers out there use scale focus and it just takes some getting used to, but it is something to keep in mind when buying this camera. Also, the maximum shutter speed of only 1/175th is something to consider depending on what you’d be shooting.

Otherwise, this camera takes nice photos and fits in the palm of your hand. It’s affordable for a medium format camera, especially with the rising prices right now. For around $100, having a medium format camera in your pocket may be worth really getting used to using scale focus. I’m not sure I would recommend it for beginners, but I think I would like to have one to carry with me on walks.

Let me know if you have any tips for using scale focus. Also, if you know of any small medium format folders that don’t use scale focus, let me know. I like hearing from you all.

Until next time, stay motivated and keep shooting.

Buy your own Zeiss Ikon Nettar 515.

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12 thoughts on “Zeiss Ikon Nettar 515 – Medium Format in the Palm of Your Hand

  1. The Pony was my first small-format camera- but in 828, not 35mm. Even then (prehistory)828 was no longer popular and I could buy recently expired film within the budget of a 10year old

  2. Peggy – United Kingdom – I am a teacher who loves taking photos to relax. I especially like trying new-to-me cameras.
    Peggy says:

    Mike’s tip of using angles is what I do for close up zone focusing. I also use a hot shoe rangefinder sometimes. They can often be found cheap and attached to cameras for sale so a double whammy buy. If you have the time to use one they are great, they don’t have to be attached to the hotshot either. Great review. I know they are great if I am tempted to buy one…and I am.

      1. Peggy – United Kingdom – I am a teacher who loves taking photos to relax. I especially like trying new-to-me cameras.
        Peggy says:

        No it is separate, you use it to take a range reading and then set the lens to the same distance.

  3. Folding cameras are really enjoyable. The 645 format is a it awkward, and the 6×9 is too. I like the 6×6 because they keep me from having to choose portrait or landscape! With everything set to a default that will keep things in focus these cameras actually can do some rather amazing work.

  4. In regards to the slight blur on one side of the image, the most likely explanation is the shutter is probably not 100% perfectly parallel to the film plane. This is a ~90 year old camera that I found at an estate sale so who knows how many people have dropped it or man handled it in the years since it was made. It’s actually really tough to find a folding camera where the film plane is 100% parallel as many have become distorted over the years. Still though, you got some really nice images!

    If you have any color 100 film or maybe Portra 160, it’s a PERFECT match for that camera and it’s limited shutter speeds.

  5. Great results Alyssa! I am glad you gave it another go! Shooting faraway objects is the easiest way to use a zone focus camera, but even groups of people 10-12 feet away are easy in good light.

    Another tip, if you really like closeups is to shoot close up things, but at an angle. So like take a fence, or a row of flowers or something, set the camera to minimum focus, and position yourself so that the closest flowers or part of the fence is way closer than minimum focus, but that the farthest are way farther away. Somewhere in the middle will be your sharp focus frame, and even though you don’t know exactly what that is, when you see the image, SOMETHING will be in focus and people will think you’re a genius! 🙂

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