[Zeiss Ikon / Voigtlander] History of Zeiss Ikon in 1960






Earlier ICAREX 35 has Zeiss Ikon logo engraved at the right front side.

Later ICAREX 35S has Zeiss Ikon / Voigtlander name plate as above.






History of Zeiss Ikon in 1960 & strange stories from distance view


In 1960s, the Japanese cameras aggressively marketed to worldwide and even turn Germany inland into battlefield. Germany had several

major prodcution plants but was not exception in flooding Japanese camera. ZEISS IKON in Stuttgart fallen into deep trench and struggle with

sales figure which was continuous in the bottom. Zeiss Ikon, German’s mega factory, then published ‘Contarex’ and ‘Icarex’ in big hope of regaining

initiative with proud of ‘German engineering quality’.  But as we know now, it was the last battle of them.


The problem is not simply Japanese cameras are cheaper than German but they are equally good or in some respects even better. German companies,

however, stick with old history and design concept, try to explain to customers they know better how cameras should work, and modify products unwillingly

and slow. They also said ‘listening from customers’ in words but in fact, what they did was making what they like to make. ‘Customer should want this kind

of camera’ or ‘There’s no reason customers need this kind of functions’….


This is a critical mistake often found in marketing department in monopoly status. But it would become quickly obsolete as soon as monopoly weaken.

In 1960, German’s monopoly in camera industry was weaken a lot but they did not recognize (or not accept the situation). What they should do if their

competitor makes as good product as them, in lower failure rate, and with much cheaper price?

And what actually Zeiss Ikon did at that time?







Ultron 50mm f1.8 attached to digital camera, Kodak DCS 560

There is plenty of adapters for Canon body including Icarex BM.




The trap of Success


Wise man said ‘failure is mother of success’. And reverse phrase is also true, ‘Success is mother of Failure’ which did not told by.

German optics and cameras industry were so successful since 19C and to the first half of 20C dominating worldwide market, obtaining wealth and fame.

They were intoxicated deeply in such a hugh success, so could not see new tide coming toward them and could not hear customer’s voice which sounded

loud and clear.


Biggest problem: why Icarex and Contarex have completely different lens mount?


It is hard to understand why Zeiss Ikon maintains so many different lens mount in their product line unlike most of others keep 1 or 2 to keep compatibility

within their bodies and lenses. Zeiss Ikon uses 5 different lens mount in their SLR line as below;


* Contarex bayonet mount – only for Contarex series
* Icarex bayonet (spigot) mount – only for Icarex series
* Bessamatic DKL mount – for Bessamatic and Ultramatic series
* Contaflex mount – for some of Contaflex models


Throughout whole period, there was no effort to combine and unify lens mounts to appeal superior Carl Zeiss lens pool recognized by customers.

Hence there was no effort to offer system camera in family, like Contarex as high-end, Icarex and Bessamatic as mid-range and Contaflex as low-end…etc.

Those 4 series have their own lens mounts and compete each other like products from different company. So Zeiss Ikon was not only fighting with

Japanese invaders but also compete for itself. Icarex sales were poor, Contarex even worse! 


To make things worse, Zeiss Ikon decided to offer another lens mount, M42. So ICAREX 35 TM (thread mount M42) born to make original bayonet mount

ICAREX to ICAREX 35 BM. ICAREX finally comprised four models:


* Icarex 35 (BM)
* Icarex 35 (TM)
* Icarex 35S (BM)
* Icarex 35S (TM)


On top of them, if metered prism added to ICAREX 35, it became ICAREX 35 CS. Apparently all four were sold in chrome or black. Some black bodies

had an additional ‘PRO’ badge which makes it as ICAREX 35 PRO (BM). But it added nothing than that badge, so not categorized as another model.


1963 Opportunity was there!

Three years earlier than Icarex, Voigtlander had already developed a prototype, the Bessaflex. Designed by the young designer Walter Swarovsky

who designed multi-million seller later, Rollei-35. It was pretty SLR with focal plane shutter which should replace outdated leaf shutter Bessamatic,

interchangeable viewfinder and quick return mirror which was important design feature (& selling points) in early 1960s.


But it never released to the market due to unknown reason. It had targeted low production cost, slick and simple design and a viewfinder prism

without TTL metering but was nowhere as standard. TTL metering was waiting for Pentax Spotmatic, only in 1964 available in the market.

Bessaflex could be big and loud answer toward Japanese competitors.






ICAREX 35S BM and Adapter to Canon EOS body



1966 – Icarex 35


Three years later, finally Zeiss Ikon / Voigtlander react to the market with ICAREX 35, but they did not revise technical spec from Bessaflex.

The camera market become fast moving now, the Pentax Spotmatic released 2 years ago is the standard in the SLR middle class.

Interchangeable viewfinder of Icarex without meter is not appreciated any longer. It might be OK in 1963 but not in 1966.

This was the competition hopelessly behind.


But strange enough, Zeiss Ikon made fully coupled TTL metering system already a year before for Contaflex Super BC and for Ultramatic.

Why they didn’t do the same job for Icarex which released 1 year later?

Customers have to wait until 1969 to see metered penta-prism, called Icarex 35 CS and then this was not coupled shutter speed or aperture at all,

so hopelessly awkward (again). It is not better than hand held exposure meter and make no sense why.


Also In 1969, upgraded model Icarex 35S released, here the viewfinder is built in and with the coupled TTL exposure meter. Finally they just offer

what a Pentax Spotmatic has had since 1964, but in closed aperture metering only, not open aperture metering. Photographers who admired and

waited long time reliable and affordable German SLR lost hope entirely.


In Icarex, there is one very important and useful feature missing which provided to Ultramatic and also to the Contarex.

That is aperture cam at the lens. With this cam, light meter recognize what value of aperture set from lens then calculate correct exposure value

despite of different maximum opening of the lenses. But how come this function missing? I can not believe if it is just forgtten by desinger,

and also not believe it is omitted to save production cost. It is (most likely) intentionally removed to make Icarex to be middle class body


comparing to Contarex bullseye, flagship. Even though we can not figure out what exactly happen, it is nonsense decision anyway.

This is the story what monopoly marketing & design team decided what customers (suppose to) want from their view instead of customer’s view.


In short, Icarex is nowhere positioned correctly. It was not high end, not adequate for middle class and not even positioned to low end in price.






4M2R5983 copy.jpg

Lens has single coating in amber. This is the generation before multi coating available

Left down side of picture, a square box is visible which is aux-prism to display aperture value inside finder.

This handy technology developed for Bessamatic and later applied to many other cameras


Icarex bayonet lenses


The range of lenses for the Icarex bayonet mount was small and apparently they were old Voigtlander designs. Voigtlander lenses perform well

then and now, but only the aperture is not wide enough to modern taste. The 25mm f4 Distagon from Carl Zeiss exists in the thread mount but

not confirmed in bayonet mount.


* 35/3.4 Skoparex
* 50/1.8 Ultron (concave front element)
* 50/2.8 Tessar (4 element, rename from color-skopar?)
* 50/2.8 Color-Pantar (3 element, OEM by Rodenstock?)
* 90/3.4 Dynarex
* 135/4 Super-Dynarex
* 200/4 Super-Dynarex
* 400/5 Telomar
* 36-82/2.8 Zoomar



All the ICAREX lenses as the camera manufactured in Voigtlander plant in Brauschweig but labelled as Carl Zeiss. Voigtlander became Zeiss Ikon’s

100% daughter company in 1956, and maintain independent marketing and design for a while, then gradually merged to Zeiss Ikon.

Only the 50mm f1.8 Ultron was newly developed for this series (by AW Tronnier Jr who originally designed rangefinder Ultron lens), optically highest

standards. According to Tronnier’s report, tested resolution was 380 lines per millimeter when typical film resolution was 110 lines per millimeter then.


One question though, I appreciate Ultron’s performance, but wonder why Septon 50mm f2.0 discontinued because it is excellent lens too.

Of course Ultron increased light gathering power from f2.0 to f1.8 (about half stop) but is it worth to invest for new design?

If Ultron planked up to f1.4 for example, it would make much more sense, and pleasure for customers who have choices between high end f1.4 Ultron

and budget but excellent performing f2.0 Septon.

According to Voigtlanders naming policy, if f1.5 or f1.4 lens designed from old Ultron, it might change name as Nokton instead of Ulton, I think.



The last of last, SL706 developed and released to the market in 1972. Basically it is ICAREX 35S in M42 thread mount with slightly rounded shape and

with open aperture TTL metering. But it lasted on production briefly thus scarce today.


Nowhere driving marketing, wrong decisions repeated along 1960s, wasted resources and efforts could not be recovered with SL706. It is too late and outdated

to turn tide around. There’s no revolution, no breakthrough in technology. It continued red in balance sheets, and even there’s no hope with such an outdated

M42 camera, Carl Zeiss Stigfunt (sole owner) gave up Zeiss Ikon finally and decided termination. The decision was executed thoroughly and permanently.

Zeiss Ikon pinched to the wall, found nothing to say to bailiff.



If we look back the last scene of the tragic last scene closely, we can found Zeiss Ikon still had sufficient technology to deal with its life or dead situation.

They had vertically running focal plane shutter, TTL full aperture metering, bayonet lens mount with iris control. And most of all, they even had

auto-exposure (AE) system already. Contaflex 126 camera released by Zeiss Ikon with ‘126 film format’ which is 28mm X 28mm square with mechanically

controlled AE function. But why 126 format only? Ever since 35mm camera introduced in the world, it was always the mainstream of camera industry.

Why Zeiss Ikon did not apply the AE technology to 35mm camera market?


10 years later, Canon AE-1 launched with mechanical AE function in 35mm camera market and made great success in camera history, selling 5 million



Zeiss Ikon started in 1920s by merging 4 major German companies in that time, dominated more than 40 years in camera industry, finally disappeared

in the history. After World War 2, many industries reshaped rapidly and sometimes bluntly. In camera industry, there was fierce battle in between German

and Japanese. Race was over finally when Zeiss Ikon collapsed.










Lens barrel,

Zeiss Ikon and Voigtlander utilized bronze and chrome for their premium lenses

but for Icarex Ultron, anodized Aluminium used to reduce production cost.

It is not extreme beauty like old chrome lens but not so bad either if preserved in reasonable condition.


As seen, it does not have screw thread for filters, instead it has 2 prong bayonet

Any filter to fit in Icarex lens is scarce and hard to find. More importantly lens bood is the next to impossible to find







4M2R5980 copy.jpg


Behind scean.


Left side, film rewind and exposure meter needle are located. This needle also seen in view finder.


Right side, shutter speed, film wind and shutter release are located in co-axial dial.


Adjustment of exposure index is located inward from wind level. Before ISO established,


used to use ASA (American standard) and DIN (German standard) together.



Accessary shoe is cold shoe, not hot. Outdated feature already when released.



4M2R5982 copy.jpg

Bottom side.


Round wheel at left side is cover for exposure meter battery.(Shutter is mechanical)


Right side small button is clutch for film rewind.









There were 2 German companies survived even after Zeiss Ikon disappeared in Germany, Rollei and Leica.

But it is hard to say them represent German camera industry as before, even though they have their own market position and fame.


Zeiss Ikon in Germany was not a company. It was the Concern of some of major players and many of minor players in Germany since 1920,

thus it was multi & mega factories which representing German optics and camera industry.

Rollei keep their business in 1970s and 1980s under continues threating from Japanese cameras but could not avoid bankrupt at the end.

English firm Science Equipment saved them at first, and then many other owners including Samsung in Korea operate them. Eventually only the name

remains in the market now.


Leica is only survivor from Germany and continue works in digital imaging era. Voigtlander trade mark and design was sold to Rollei in 1972 and became

distance origin of Rolleiflex M series. After many other owners, now its name revived in manual lens line from Cosina, Japan.














Using Classic lens like Ultron to modern digital camera,

Kodak DSC 560 is one of way to enjoy classic optics in photography.


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