Easy handling and high precision  – the analog Zeiss Ikon rangefinder camera is a collector’s item. In 2004, as digital cameras were just starting to conquer the market, we unveiled a completely new analog camera for fans of traditional photography, and revived the iconic brand name Zeiss Ikon. Since then, thousands of these cameras have found their way to discerning photographers. Customers around the world value the Zeiss Ikon for its usability and high precision, and in particular for its top-quality rangefinder.

ZEISS has now decided to focus in the future more on the development, production and distribution of high-performance lenses for photography, cinematography and industrial applications. So, the production of the Zeiss Ikon has been discontinued end of 2012.

If you would still like to purchase a Zeiss Ikon camera, you better hurry. There are still a few available on the market. Acquire this unique camera and for years to come you can enjoy its high quality and durability, and especially its ZM lenses. We will continue to produce these popular lenses with M bayonet, and expand the ZM portfolio. ZM lenses can be used on many analog and digital cameras. In combination with adapters they can also be used on mirrorless system cameras (DSLM or CSC).

This article recounts the story of the development of the Zeiss Ikon, from the original idea, to the planning and design, to its introduction on the market. A look back at the birth of an extraordinary product.

Zeiss Ikon
Zeiss Ikon

How the idea came about

High-performance lenses have made ZEISS famous. But in order to transfer the potential of such lenses reliably to film, a camera has to be very precise.

Some designs for high-performance optics are not suited for reflex camera systems because there would not be enough room between the back lens and the film for a reflex finder. A rangefinder camera, preferably with manual focusing, is far better suited for this.

Zeiss Ikon in detail

Zeiss Ikon in detail
Zeiss Ikon in detail

So far, so good. Now we just needed to find the right partner for our camera.

At photokina 2002, our Senior Vice President and General Manager Dr. Winfried Scherle met Hirofumi Kobayashi, president of the Japanese company Cosina, which mainly manufactures lenses for digital projection. Scherle was able to convince Kobayashi of our ideas, and the two agreed that Cosina would build the new camera.

Hirofumi Kobayashi, President of Cosina, and Dr. Winfried Scherle, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Carl Zeiss Camera Lens Division
Hirofumi Kobayashi, President of Cosina, and Dr. Winfried Scherle, Senior Vice President and General Manager of the ZEISS Camera Lens Division

Within ZEISS there was agreement that the special quality that comes from combining a newly developed rangefinder camera with our latest lenses with M bayonet needed to be clearly expressed in the camera’s name. The new camera should therefore be called “Zeiss Ikon” to continue a rich tradition and revive the name of the legendary fine-mechanical premium cameras whose production was discontinued by Zeiss Ikon AG in 1972.

The pre-condition for giving this proud name to the camera was that the Zeiss Ikon cameras and their built-in ZM lenses must be able to create outstanding imaging results. Not only that. They should also stand out optically, and be popular and easy to handle. It was an exciting task for the design pros.

How we gave the idea form

Obviously the Zeiss Ikon cameras should fit easily in one’s hand and look similar to the cameras that made the Zeiss Ikon name famous for so many decades around the globe. The cameras should also look like a full-frame rangefinder camera, yet at the same time be different from similar cameras already on the market at the time.

From various design options, we selected three and turned them into three-dimensional models. They were produced in different styles, for example in different leather and metal finishes. We studied their ergonomics and visual appearance in combination with a variety of the latest M bayonet lenses. We also studied different color combinations for the ZEISS logo on the camera and ultimately decided on the “subdued“ version in silver.

Development of the Zeiss Ikon
Development of the Zeiss Ikon

To validate our internal choices, we formed focus groups made up of  both professional and amateur photographers. To our surprise, they favored our most conservative designs. They also wanted a black version of the camera alongside the black-silver version.

Symbiosis of European and Asian culture

The geometry and haptics of the camera body played an important role. We analyzed successful models from the history of camera design that lay easily in one’s hand and were highly regarded for their quality. In addition, we selected external characteristics that would blend ideas that resonate with users in both Asian and Western cultures.

Elements of the Zeiss Ikon

Zeiss Ikon camera on a vibrating table testing the camera’s mechanical load
Zeiss Ikon camera on a vibrating table testing the camera’s
mechanical load
This Zeiss Ikon camera has just spent 12 hours in a cold room at -20° C (-4° F)
This Zeiss Ikon camera has just spent 12 hours in a cold room at -20° C (-4° F)

During the prototype test phase, we subjected the Zeiss Ikon camera to the toughest conditions, including salt-water slip, bumps, falls, shaking, vibrations, tropical rain, desert heat, Arctic cold, and even the extremely cold temperatures found in outer space. These tests took place in a high vacuum in our environmental simulation laboratory.

A good description of the “environmental simulation laboratory” can be found in the following blog post:

In line with the ZEISS philosophy, we did (and still do) everything possible to bring products to market that meet our high standards of excellence. The Zeiss Ikon has created many satisfied customers in the past and continues to be popular.

At photokina 2004, we presented our new rangefinder system camera with M bayonet for the first time under the name “Zeiss Ikon”. Since then, this 35-mm full-frame camera has been sold to numerous photographers around the globe.

Zeiss Ikon in silver and black and ZM lenses
Zeiss Ikon in silver and black and ZM lenses

The Zeiss Ikon is especially popular with landscape photographers and photojournalists. Its reliable exposure metering and perfect finish also make this 35-mm-full-format camera the first choice for rangefinder photographers who like shooting on film.

Shot with the Zeiss Ikon and the Biogon T* 2,8/35.
Shot with the Zeiss Ikon and the Biogon T* 2,8/35.

“Almost all of my photographs are created in spontaneous situations, where the light can change quickly,” says photojournalist Edward Linsmier, explaining why he uses the Zeiss Ikon (Camera Lens Newsletter). “It’s important that my equipment can keep in pace with that.”

Haiti is one of his favorite travel destinations. One highly regarded image by Linsmier shows agricultural workers in Cap-Haïtien. “I don’t like taking pictures of landscapes with a small depth of field,” he says. “When I discovered this motif at dusk, I knew immediately that the Zeiss Ikon camera was ideal for such a situation. It allowed me to set a longer exposure time and lower aperture, and as a result achieve a greater depth of field without having to worry about blur from camera shake — which would have been the case had I used a single-lens reflex camera.”

A picture by Edward Linsmier - shot with the Zeiss Ikon.
A picture by Edward Linsmier - shot with the Zeiss Ikon.

The high quality and durability of both the camera and especially the ZM lenses mean photographers will continue to be able to create fantastic images with the Zeiss Ikon for years to come. The production of the Zeiss Ikon has been discontinued end of 2012 but we will continue to be open to new ideas and follow both the needs of sophisticated photographers as well as the latest market developments.

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    1. ZEISS Camera Lenses

      Dear Darren, Jorand, Alex, Froyd, Kenneth, Alain and Rinat:
      Thank you very much for expressing your interest in a digital Ikon. Please understand that there will be no digital Zeiss Ikon cameras in the near future. As mentioned in the article we want to focus on producing high-end camera lenses. We are a lens company and would have to cooperate with a camera manufacturer for developing a digital Ikon. Currently we do not have plans for such a joint development.
      Best regards,
      ZEISS lenses team

      1. Matt Brady

        I realize that lenses are your core business, yet you diverted the resources to develop a film camera in 2004.

        You would achieve tremendous success with a new full frame digital M mount camera.

        Perhaps you could talk to Epson about reviving the Epson R-D1 as a newer model.

        It would just be a basic camera, full frame, manual advance, high quality, with the Zeiss Ikon name.

        Epson did a miserable job of marketing the R-D1 and they failed to service the camera properly.

        With the Zeiss name and distribution network, you could successfully launch such a project, and position the price far below that of the equivalent Leica models.

        With a $3000 - $4000 price point, you would have a runaway hit on your hands and you would preserve your presence and prestige in the market.

        It is something to think about. Or maybe even license the Zeiss name to an ambitious Chinese manufacturer, if you cannot come to terms with Epson.

        Epson would be your best bet. The people who developed the Epson R-D1, like Idao Edatsune, are in better positions at Epson to shepherd along this project.

        The Ediart chip in the Epson R-D1 was a masterpiece, the images from that camera (I have had 4) beat anything I have seen, except from the early Kodak DSLR like the SLR/n.

        Don't be timid, develop a full frame digital M-mount camera.

        Look at what they did with the Contax in the 1930's all the way to the 1960's.

  1. Max


    for a digital Zeiss Ikon

    Zeiss lens owners live on compromises, we dearly wish to get the Zeiss camera for our Zeiss lenses, thanks so much!

  2. sunghei

    Dear Zeiss,
    Thank you for producing such a wonderful camera. Thank you to your engineers and every one at Zeiss. The Ikon will be missed.

  3. Laurence J. Segil

    A digital m mount rangefinder camera that most of us could afford would be a wonderful thing, as obtaining and processing film becomes more problematic, and digital offers low light capabilities that we just can't have with film. Might there be synergy with Nikon (of all companies!), as they have recently produced newly made versions of their classic rangefinder cameras, and of course are among the world leaders in digital cameras? Or closer to home, Rollei is trying to rise again, has some limited digital experience, has used your lenses for just about forever, and could benefit from a higher volume product than $5000 TLRs or the stillborn Hy6, and I don't think their 6008 series will be that product? Fuji produced a unique and wonderful rangefinder camera, the Xpan, in cooperation with Hasselblad, perhaps they might want another go with a European legend? Just thinking, that's all. I love my classic film Zeiss Ikon (Limited Edition 0651) as well as a marvelous ca. 1934 Super Ikonta C 530/2 with a 105/4.5 Tessar and nary a mark anywhere, functions perfectly, but the logistics of getting film developed these days had decreased my use of the ZI and its ZM lenses far below the amount that I would like to be taking advantage of their very special capabilities, and I find I compromise my image quality as a result.

  4. Robert Brockmann

    A digital Zeiss Ikon wouln't be a bad idea. Team up with Fuji. +1 vote for a digital Zeiss Ikon.

  5. Bruce Dickson

    I think the ZI ranks among the most wonderful cameras I have owned. It is minimalist and yet complete. It allows me to escape instantaneous gratification and return to the craft of photography.

    Like others, I would like to see a digital version but I am in no great hurry - if the market is viable, the product will be offered.

  6. Michael Kuredjian

    Since the Ikon is discontinued, but the ZM lenses will continue to be made, would Zeiss consider putting a soft detent at the 0.7m for lenses that focus closer than that? This would make the lenses far more useable on rangefinder cameras that only focus that close, like Leicas.

  7. Saviour S

    A digital Ikon would be astonishing.

    The Ikon did not "fail" (if you can call that a failure) because it was not liked, but because people were moving away from film.

    We would love to get our hands on a digital Ikon. The best viewfinder ever put on a rangefinder camera, no small feat.

  8. Rinat

    I do not want to regret about spent money after your announcement of the ZM lens. When you can say us what the new ZM lens will be?

  9. Pure love. Next to my old hasselblad the zi is the best thing i use.
    Thanks for developing and producing.
    No need for a digital one. Film has its own unique charm that deserves a ZI.

  10. Linden Wilkie

    Yes, you should be very proud of this camera. In my case, it is the most practical of my film rangefinders because it has aperture priority when I need it, and that unsurpassed bright viewfinder. I also love that with certain ZM lenses it focuses to 0.5m.

    I would love to see a digital ZIZM. Perhaps with Sony?

    But I also think you have the right strategy focusing on lenses - developments with Touit, Otus and so on make very good sense.

    With the Otus range coming in over the top of the ZF/ZE range, perhaps you might consider an Otus for the ZM range - something to challenge the Leica 2/50 APO, or 0.95/50? Currently you fill the 15mm gap at this level, but I wonder if there is an opportunity in the middle focal lengths?

  11. I own a Zeiss Ikon and it is truly a remarkable camera. The viewfinder is an absolute Gem. I wear glasses and I have no problems getting a full view of the 35mm frame. Handling of the camera is so intuitive. I do long for the digital version. Please Zeiss, make one in Digital.

  12. Dear Sirs
    I had the great pleasure to owe one with the 35/2 - At the time I had to decide if investing in another system (ZM) or remaining in my current (ZF2), thus the Ikon was then sold to acquire the ZF2 2/25, however I have to admit that it was a pleasure to use and as soon as I'll be able to get it again, I want to build a 21/4.5, 35/2, 85/4 travel kit. I really loved it and I'd have not parted with it if not for another Zeiss lens. The Kodak Portra 160 gave me excellent results, in combination with the 35/2.

  13. Bruce Dickson

    They've been out of production for about a year so you are unlikely to find a new one. They do appear on auction sites from time to time

  14. When the Ikon was announced in 2004, I dreamed of having one. And in 2008, that dream came true when it became my first rangefinder. The Ikon made me fall in love with rangefinder shooting after years with digital compacts and DSLR's. Over the years I acquired some of the excellent ZM lenses as well, and have been wonderfully pleased with their image quality, although some of their lens barrels have become loose over time.

    After a four year hiatus from film shooting, I'm shooting with the Ikon again. It's slimmer, lighter and smaller than the Leica M7, and has such huge, bright viewfinder and long RF baselength that it seems close to perfect. It is a shame that the Ikon has been discontinued, but I'll keep using mine for as long as it provides the great service and performance that made me love rangefinder shooting in the beginning.

  15. Paul

    Tremendous camera and a phenomenal viewfinder. +1 for a digital Ikon. Looking at the comments here there would seem to be a viable market.


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