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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.