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120 film RF Folders 120/220 Format Folding Rangefinders, including the various classic Zeiss Ikontas, Voigtlander Bessas, and their Ruskie copies.

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are folders really that bad?
Old 05-29-2016   #1
aizan
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are folders really that bad?

in regards to lenses not being parallel to the film plane, and the bellows being expensive to replace?

i'm thinking about getting a zeiss ikon super ikonta 532/16 or something similar, but the reputation of folders for being unreliable and delicate is putting me off. can the lens standards and struts be repaired, and are they reliable afterwards? how much does it cost to replace the bellows, and who does it the best?
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Old 05-29-2016   #2
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I haven't really had any problems other than pinholes in bellows. I'm sure if one was used up or abused you might have problems with lens standard etc. getting out of whack. But I've only seen this happen a few times.

I would not however use one as my main camera, even if it were in great shape. Most of these are fiddly, cumbersome, cameras.
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Old 05-29-2016   #3
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The best $56 I ever spent on a camera was for a 1937 Ikonta 520/16 from KEH. Yes, it was returnable, so a very modest gamble for my first folder. But it was structurally sound, bellows tight, lens clear, nothing stiff. And the images are as fresh as, well, 1937--it has been a complete joy. I do have a modern folder (GF 670) that is just as reliable if the battery is fresh ;-)

If you can't handle an older folder before buying, preferably from a friendly folder expert, buy where you can return/receive credit.
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Old 05-29-2016   #4
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If it's in good working condition then you should have no problem, going from my experience. I second Robert's advice to buy from a reputable source who will refund if you're not happy.

If you treat them gently, there's no reason to worry. Some minor bellows light leaks can be fixed with careful application of liquid electrical tape. I haven't attempted a replacement bellows on one of my cheaper folders (a $10 Isolette I) which has a light leak, as it would be cheaper to just buy another.

The Ikontas are very solid cameras. I have a Bessa II which is almost as sturdy and it's a joy to use. Having a coupled RF is very useful.
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Old 05-30-2016   #5
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No direct experience with folding Zeiss Ikons, though I'd happily have an Ikonta. But the Voigtländer folders I have handled/owned have all had bellows in excellent condition. Struts can depend on model, some are known to be better than others. Alignment is easy enough to check with a surface plate and dial gauge. Ikonta struts are probably better for the most part, as I understand it, although certain Voigtländers (Eg. their Perkeos) aren't considered to be too bad at all and my experience with one bears this out.
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Old 05-30-2016   #6
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If they're in first class condition and fully working, they can be (and generally are) excellent, but inevitably, ever fewer are in first class condition and fully working.

Also, remember that few were designed for very big enlargements. This doesn't necessarily matter -- after all, 3x is still a good-sized print, and even the worst are normally good for at least 3x -- but it's worth bearing in mind, the more so as front-cell focusing does nothing for image quality.

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Old 05-30-2016   #7
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I have had a few with pinholes and tears in the bellows from age. But never had problems with the struts or lensboards being out of position unless the camera had clearly been dropped or mistreated.
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Old 05-30-2016   #8
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You could make your own bellows if you have time to kill. Online instructions are available. You could order new MiC bellows and it doesn't cost much.

I went through dozen of folders between 645 and 6x9 formats, 1933 and 1962 made. One pinhole, no problems with film plane. Many of them needed lens and shutter to be cleaned. But it is relatively easy DiY.
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Old 05-30-2016   #9
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Folders are as bad as other vintage cameras. They accumulate fast if not watched out carefully
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Old 05-30-2016   #10
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Over a number of years I'd owned 3 Mockva 5's and an Iskra 1. They were far from delicate in my experience and the Iskra produced the technically best pictures. No enlarged scans showed evidence of "let's call it focuse shift from the top to the bottom" of the image. Having said that, I may very well have been lucky. Because another Iskra,which was the most satisfying camera to actually hold and carry around suffered a shutter malfunction. And you can try the Mockva-5 for a pittance compared to the German cameras ( which I doubt would do better than the coated Mockva lens )

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Old 05-30-2016   #11
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I've had quite a few Zeiss Super Ikontas (now down to just a Super Ikonta IV), a Voigtlander Bessa RF, and an Agfa Super Isolette.
The Super Isolette had the best images, due to the unit focusing lens.

The Bessa RF (and its far more expensive successor the Bessa II) are also unit focus. The Bessar RF offers 6 x 9 frame size, as well as 6 x 4.5 cm framing with a mask (which is often lost).

All have required service for sticky shutters.

An easy way to tell if the struts have been damaged is if the RF image is off vertically. You can see this very easily in the Zeiss Super Ikontas with the little flip up rangefinder near the shutter body.

The other cameras with the RF built into the body, you will have to have someone expert check the vertical alignment.

If you want something recent, there is the Fuji 670 folder which was recently discontinued. It has a very sharp modern lens.
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Old 05-30-2016   #12
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I've enjoyed a range of folders, starting with the modern Fuji 645, then a bunch of Zeiss Ikon Super Ikontas, then a Balda Baldix 6x6, a Voigtländer 667, and finally a Voigtländer Perkeo II. This last is the only one I have now and my favorite.

Both the Baldix and the Perkeo II needed an overhaul and cleaning, but otherwise no problems with any of them. The Perkeo II has an excellent lens (Color Skopar 80mm f/3.5, coated) and is very solidly made; it's not very fussy or fiddly to use either.

I wouldn't call any of them quick, but that's not something that I'm very sensitive to.

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Old 05-30-2016   #13
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Like others in this thread, I've had several different folders. The current crop of 120 cameras includes a Certo Super Sport Dolly, a Voigtländer Perkeo II, a Voigtländer Bessa II, and a Zeiss Super Ikonta C 530/2. The first was a basket case when I got it, and the Zeiss wasn't too much better (KEH Ugly), but both are working fine after shutter overhauls and various other repairs and adjustments. The Voigtländers were both in fine shape when they came to me, but still required minor fixes: the Perkeo II's frame counting mechanism was intermittent (just dirty), and the Bessa II needed the shutter serviced. Both Voigtländers also had their front standards out of square with the film plane - they use thinner sheet metal than the Zeiss or the Certo, and even though the cameras were in fine shape, there was clearly some deformation that needed to be addressed.

So are they "that bad"? Well, like any mechanical system, they are the sum of their parts. The folding mechanism adds a degree of complexity, but the design and execution thereof are also important factors. Some are better than others, but they're all old and many have been left unmaintained for decades.
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Old 05-30-2016   #14
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^ "but they're all old and left unmaintained" , I think that's what my wife says of me !
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Old 05-30-2016   #15
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The question should read, are they really that good? I've owned lots of folders from 6x4.5 to 6x9. None had any lens alignment issues, none had film plane issues, and all of them made beautiful images. Occasionally you will find models that have poorly made bellows like some of the Agfa Isolettes, but some of the Agfa models had excellent bellows. It's mostly the shiny bellows that are suspect. You have to deal w/ knob wind and, usually, small viewfinders, but it's worth it for their small size and great lenses. A 6x9 camera that you can slip into your back pocket is a good thing! Try that w/ your Fuji 690.
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Old 05-30-2016   #16
Brian Legge
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I have folders I love.

I've also had ones that were virtually unfixable. One had slightly bent struts and a uneven film plane. Another had been opened without cushioning and the spring had bent metal that moved the rangefinder; the rangefinder stopped at 15 feet. Another had seemingly unfixable problems with the focus not matching the lens (I got it close but could never get it right throughout the range).

Those are just the nearly unfixable ones that should have been considered parts cameras. I sold them as such at a loss each time.

Others had common issues like slow shutters, bellows with pinholes, broken film advance counters,etc. Those are expected and fixable issues with cameras this old.

In the end, folders have more that can go wrong/is more fragile, are older, etc. There are fantastic ones out there but finding them can be more of a challenge than with other camera types.
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Old 05-30-2016   #17
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Depends on what you photograph and what convenience you think you need.
I came from 70's SLRs, so I thought I needed focusing aids and in-camera meters. Shot a lot of photos in near and near-middle distances.
But I bought 6x9 Ikontas and Nettars (no RF) for middle far distant subjects and landscapes.
Quickly found I did not need RFs (hyper focal and zone focus did fine) and weaned myself from a meter during daylight hours (sunny 16). Nor did I experience fogging from the red window as some have reported. Get it with a simple shutter and even that should not present a problem. And all very inexpensive.
Start that way and you can decide for yourself.
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Old 06-07-2016   #18
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Just saw this thread. I think you can see that there can be problems with old folders. Also you can see that they can be really great and fun cameras to use. I'm not sure, but I think I have something like 10 or 12 folders in both 35mm and 120mm. I have 6x6/645, 6x6 only, and 6x9. Most are Welti, but I have a Mamiya Six, a Zeiss (6x9), and a Moskva 5. The Moskva has a lens plane alignment problem. Two Weltinis have a problem, but I knew it when I bought them.

Just me, I like the Welti 6x6s, and the Zeiss 6x9 most in the 120mm range. The Zeiss provides wonderful photos, all out of proportion to what I expected.

Point being, as has been said, get one and try it. Try more than one if you have to.
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Old 06-07-2016   #19
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I bought a Zeiss Ercona a few years ago to use as a backup camera on a long road trip. The few rolls that I ran through yielded sharp, contrasty negs - exactly what I wanted. I would use it more often except that it is a bit fiddly to use and rather heavy. If I am going to bring along a brick, in general I am going to bring a heavy weight modern camera, rather than the Ercona. But no complaints at all in terms of the results. We all do tend to forget that our forebears did get some great pictures when these cameras were new.
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Old 06-07-2016   #20
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First I would like to know what made you think that they were bad in the first place. I have several Zeiss Super Ikonta's that work beautifully. Very solid build quality. No problems and the Zeiss Tessar lenses are very very good. They are old cameras afterall so sometimes you can run into problems. Buy from someone that will accept a return if not satisfied. - jim
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Old 08-20-2016   #21
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Also, if someone does not get great photos, it is obviously the fault of the camera they have. Most cameras, in good repair, are better than most picture takers.
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Old 08-20-2016   #22
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get one from Certo6, he's the man.
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Old 08-20-2016   #23
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A year or so ago I decided to see what kind of folder I could buy for less than $25 US dollars. Between Ebay, Etsy and a few other sites I ended up with about 35 cameras.

One had aperture blades that didn't work. I think it was taken apart by a zealous but unskilled repair person because the blades were there, just hanging out of sorts.

Two had serious focus problems, usually a glued solid helical.

Six of them had leaky bellows that could not be repaired without replacement. One of those six had half the bellows missing altogether.

Fifteen had pinholes in their bellows that could be repaired.

Six had shutters that just didn't work at all.

Eight shutters were slow in one or all speeds. All but two of these smoothed out with exercise. None returned to shutter speeds as marked.

The number one problem affecting performance was dirty lenses.

Two camera worked perfectly with little or no adjustment needed. One was obviously used heavily during its life but was the smoothest of the bunch.

There were a couple that I cannot find roll film for any longer and one actually uses sheet film, not roll film.

But, out of all those $25 folders, only one was so bent up that it just could not be put back to use.
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Old 01-20-2017   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rhl-oregon View Post
The best $56 I ever spent on a camera was for a 1937 Ikonta 520/16 from KEH. Yes, it was returnable, so a very modest gamble for my first folder. But it was structurally sound, bellows tight, lens clear, nothing stiff. And the images are as fresh as, well, 1937--it has been a complete joy. I do have a modern folder (GF 670) that is just as reliable if the battery is fresh ;-)

If you can't handle an older folder before buying, preferably from a friendly folder expert, buy where you can return/receive credit.
The pre-war Zeiss MF really do make special B&W images. We just put a test roll through an Ikoflex with undated 3 element Triotar, and I was impressed.
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Old 01-20-2017   #25
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I have a number of old folders, and pinholes in the bellows are definitely a problem with some brands. An old Agfa I had was rendered useless by pinholes, but my Zeiss folders and Kodaks look great with few exceptions. So most likely it depends on the material, keeping conditions and age. I've found the folders I've used to be adequate at producing small enlargements 2x or 3x, but I mostly shoot 6x9. The cameras themselves I've used are the more basic models, triplet lenses without rangefinders or unit focusing. With an accessory rangefinder and f16, I can get consistently good but not great results.

The main appeal of folders are the amount of film real estate you can get in a small package (6x4.5 folders are tiny). Even with a basic folder, medium format offers a richness that's hard to replicate on 35mm.
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Old 01-20-2017   #26
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My Mamiya-Six is every bit the equal to my Rolleiflex. I can't believe how good that old Olympus lens is, and the camera can fit into a jacked pocket very easily. I love my Rolleiflex, but I take the Mamiya-Six with me when traveling.
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Old 01-20-2017   #27
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I have 4: 2 Isolettes II, 1 Balda Hapo 66e, and a Japanese folder called First Six Camera. The Isolettes are the most bullet proof, the Balda has a good lens, but some mechanical functions that make me nervous, the First Six is junk but the lens is so bad I love the effect that no one else can get. I few years ago it was about $136 for a new bellows.


They are the perfect travel if you want to take a 6x6 along.
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Old 01-20-2017   #28
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Some folks seem to forget that at one time most cameras were folders! Some were the go-to camera for years for new paper photographers.

Quote:
Originally Posted by oldwino View Post
My Mamiya-Six is every bit the equal to my Rolleiflex. I can't believe how good that old Olympus lens is, and the camera can fit into a jacked pocket very easily. I love my Rolleiflex, but I take the Mamiya-Six with me when traveling.
Good to hear our thoughts on the Mamiya-Six. I've been debating about jumping into a MF carry camera. I really like the wideness of the GS645 (built in meter is handy too) but love the feel and look of older metal folders.

B2 (;->
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Old 01-20-2017   #29
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I've owned somewhere between 50-100 medium format folders in my life from 6 x 4.5 to 6 x 9, along w/ a slew of 35mm folders like Baldinettes and Retinas. Never once did I run into any lens alignment or film plane issues. I'm sure that happens if you abuse one or drop it while open, but if used properly it should never happen.

Bellows problems are specific to certain cameras. Voigtlanders usually are fine, as are the Zeiss folders. Agfa or Ansco folders will almost always have bad bellows if they're the shiny bellows, while the dull black bellows are usually fine.

All delivered wonderful images. The standouts were a small 1937 Zeiss 6 X 4.5 w/ an uncoated Tessar, and the Voigtlander cameras w/ Heliar lenses, which gave me wonderful enlargements that were sharp and 3-D like. There is absolutely no reason why a good folder cannot deliver large enlargements that are just as good as non folders.
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Old 01-20-2017   #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aizan View Post
in regards to lenses not being parallel to the film plane, and the bellows being expensive to replace?

i'm thinking about getting a zeiss ikon super ikonta 532/16 or something similar, but the reputation of folders for being unreliable and delicate is putting me off. can the lens standards and struts be repaired, and are they reliable afterwards? how much does it cost to replace the bellows, and who does it the best?
The 532/16 and likewise models are the least likely to suffer from any issues that generally are attributed to folder cameras. They are built tough as brick outhouses.

I have a pre-war Super Ikonta B with the uncoated Tessar lens and it doesn't look like it ever went in for service but it is a great camera and works like a charm.

Once I found a cheap Bessa II with the prized Heliar lens but when I sold it I had to take it back, the new owner claimed the struts were slightly bent and the lens never did deliver its superb image quality. It was fine when I had it... Sold it for parts in the end, yikes!
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Old 01-20-2017   #31
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I have a serious hankering for a folder! Definitely want 6x45; Fuji if I can get one cheap. Wouldn't mind a Konica Pearl for a vintage one.
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Old 01-21-2017   #32
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Quote:
Originally Posted by johannielscom View Post
The 532/16 and likewise models are the least likely to suffer from any issues that generally are attributed to folder cameras. They are built tough as brick outhouses.

I have a pre-war Super Ikonta B with the uncoated Tessar lens and it doesn't look like it ever went in for service but it is a great camera and works like a charm.

Once I found a cheap Bessa II with the prized Heliar lens but when I sold it I had to take it back, the new owner claimed the struts were slightly bent and the lens never did deliver its superb image quality. It was fine when I had it... Sold it for parts in the end, yikes!
He had probably folded it without pressing the release tab .
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Old 01-21-2017   #33
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Quote:
Originally Posted by aizan View Post
i'm thinking about getting a zeiss ikon super ikonta 532/16 or something similar, but the reputation of folders for being unreliable and delicate is putting me off. can the lens standards and struts be repaired, and are they reliable afterwards? how much does it cost to replace the bellows, and who does it the best?
Some time ago I picked up a cheap Zeiss Nettar 516/2 and tried to clean the lens. In short I made a mess of it and eventually sent it to Jurgen (Certo6) for a proper CLA. He did say he didn't like to fix other people's problems but...

I don't recall the exact amount -- probably 125-200 range -- but it works nicely.



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Old 01-24-2017   #34
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Quote:
Originally Posted by benlees View Post
I have a serious hankering for a folder! Definitely want 6x45; Fuji if I can get one cheap. Wouldn't mind a Konica Pearl for a vintage one.
As it turns out, one of the Fuji Six models also does 645. Masks are another problem. You need to know a good machinist, then it isn't so hard to make. I was lucky that mine came with the mask, as did one of my Welta 6x6/645 models.
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Old 02-06-2017   #35
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I have fallen pretty fast and deep into the 120 folder world. So far, all of them have been good performers, with only one functioning so poorly that it cannot be used. None have had bad bellows. In my experience, they are a good buy.

The best of the bunch has been a Zeiss Super Ikonta III. For about $150.00, I have discovered it to be a great performer; as far as convenience of use, it is second to none of my other medium format cameras: where the Hasselblad and Rolliechord are truly great cameras, neither can be folded up and carried in my coat pocket.
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Old 02-06-2017   #36
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I thought I'd put this up; taken by my Balda Hapo 66e.

TriX HC-110h by John Carter, on Flickr

I find it sharp enough for more than 8x10.
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Old 02-06-2017   #37
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^ There you go again John , posting those quite amazing examples from just about any camera you get in your hands , call me jealous ! Peter
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Old 02-06-2017   #38
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^ There you go again John , posting those quite amazing examples from just about any camera you get in your hands , call me jealous ! Peter
Ha Ha! I do like that camera though. Thanks.
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Old 02-06-2017   #39
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Even my budget folder; a Seagull 203, has been surprisingly trouble-free. And that's not even a very well made camera.

I have/have had a number of folders both in MF and 35mm and I've had no parallel alignment problems and only the occasional pinhole. They make great coat pocket cameras and produce great images (mine do, at least).

If you buy from a reputable dealer a Moskva or Iskra can be a good entree into folders and those cameras are built like tanks. Some have really good lenses, too.
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Old 02-06-2017   #40
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Some folders are good, others are not. I would say go for one, with a few cautions. My love affair with them goes back 20+ years, and my experiences may serve you well if you decide to go the folder way.

Over that period of two decades I've owned about 10 645 and 6x6 Zeiss Nettars. Most were so-so and needed repairs. Ebay purchases were expensive and, on the whole, disappointing. Beware (= avoid) sellers who preface their listings with "I don't know anything about..." as in my experience they are trying to flog off a clunker they bought cheaply and want a profit. Bellows and struts were the biggest problems, then wonky shutter speeds. As well, peeling black body paint is a common complaint with Zeiss folders.

I also owned an Agfa folder and a couple of made in Germany Agfa lookalikes. The Agfa was the only one of the lot with holes in the bellows.

A 1939 Zeiss 645 I acquired from a secondhand shop in Melbourne cost me $35 but I then threw away $80 for a complete CLA. The shutter speeds never did work right. I returned it to the repair shop and it came back sort of fixed but with a snarky note from the repair person reminding me I was dealing with a 70+ year old camera.

Most of my Zeiss cameras are now in collections,which says something.

One Melbourne camera shop in Melbourne (now not longer dealing in film cameras, alas) had a consignment lot of one 6x6 Nettar and a 6x9 Nettar, both at premium prices($50 and $80). I bought them and still have them. The 6x6 was superseded by a Voigtlander Perkeo I (more about this camera later) and is now largely a shelf queen. The 6x9 is in perfect condition,produces superb color images, and gets used two or three times a year.

Two years ago a private seller told me he had a Perkeo I for sale. It has the synchro-compur shutter with speeds 1 through 1/500 and the wonderful Color Skopar lens. I checked it out and decided to take the plunge. Paid $95 for it. This has been the very best folder I've ever bought, is almost as new (amazing, for a 1952 camera) and produces 6x6 engravings with astounding sharpness and definition. Small accessories for the Perkeo aren't plentiful but occasionally I find one I want. A lens hood in a leather case cost me $18.50 (Ebay), a yellow-green push on filter $10, and I've just this week bought two skylight push ons, a Voigtlander range finder and a push on viewfinder for $80 the lot. An old Zeiss leather case fits the camera perfectly. Other than an exposure meter (which I already own), I can't think of any other accessories I will need in future. Try this with a Rollei TLR!

My Perkeo negatives enlarge to 16x20 without flaws. I'm not a big user of slide films, so I cannot advise you about this, others will probably know.

My advice to you is yes, do buy a folder if you want a truly unique camera/film experience, but be cautious. Avoid Ebay auctions. Buy privately even if you pay more. Handle the camera and give it the flashlight test for bellows pinholes. Put it thru all its shutter speeds.

The Perkeo II is a more modern version and I will happily buy one if I find it in future. Remember it has double exposure prevention and film number locking, which may cause tech problems in future. There is also a third, more advanced model, but I've never seen one, and if I did I would likely pass on it unless it was being literally given away. (Google for more info.)

Folders take you back to a minimalist style of photography and with a little effort, you can get some superb images.

If you end up with a klunker, well, you can sell it on Ebay...

Whatever your decision, and whichever model of folder you buy, please enjoy.
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