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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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The 4-1-1 on Folders
Old 02-09-2017   #1
S R Massey
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The 4-1-1 on Folders

Please excuse the general cluelessness of this post, but I haven't researched too much about 120 folders. However, after looking into them a little bit and seeing a few for sale, I've kind of developed an appreciation for the unique look that the 'older folders' have. I imagine that if I could find one in good working condition, it could be a nice tool for taking seated portraits, as much for the interesting look of the camera potentially evoking positive responses from subjects as any particularities of the technical quality of the camera's output.

So my question is, simply, "what folder(s) should I look out for?"

Additional factors of my consideration are, in descending order of importance from "really need this" to "would be nice":

1.) Reliability (I know this is going to be an issue with any old camera, but which ones are most likely to last the longest between CLA's? Which have the most reliable shutters, the truest focusing, and most durable bellows?)
2.) Smoothness of out-of-focus areas... best bokeh, I guess
3.) Resistance to flare, ghosting, and field curvature distortion
4.) Format. 6x9 is much preferred, but I'd really consider anything as long at it was bigger than 645.
5.) Ease of use and ergonomics (I'm going to be using it on a tripod with cable release for 95% of the time, but it would be nice if loading film wasn't too fiddly)
6.) Flash sync with modern flashes
7.) Rangefinder coupled
8.) Made in Europe... just because it would be a curiosity. All the cameras I currently own were made in Japan.

The only 120 folders I really know about at all are the Bessas and the Ikontas. Are those generally the best, regarding the criteria I've listed? I know there were many iterations of both types, but I don't really know much about the differences between them. The early Bessas didn't have coupled RFs? That's about he extent of my knowledge.

I need someone to drop an info bomb on this thread. Think you've got what it takes?
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Old 02-09-2017   #2
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The Bessa II and Bessa RF with Skopar or Heliar probably match your list the best.
I have heard that the older 6x9 Ikontas are quite good too.
My friend has a Tessar equipped Zeiss Super Ikonta IV and it is a great camera, but they have a finicky film transport mechanism. I've heard you can have them converted to a simple red window system.
The Iskra 2 is supposedly a great camera, as are the Moskva 5 cameras.
As for bellows, I've read that Zeiss and Voigtlander are usually great and Agfa bellows usually need replacing.
While not really a folder, you should also check out the Kodak Medalist cameras.

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Old 02-10-2017   #3
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Not sure if my experience is any help, but...

I have a few folders.
A 645 Zeiss Ikon Nettar (zone focus, triplet lens) apx 1937
A 6x6 (or convertible to/from 645) Ensign Auto-Range 220 (RF, triplet lens, red window only 1st frame otherwise top plate rotating disc)
A 6x9 Kodak Folding Brownie - single shutter speed, single element lens, fixed focus
A 9x12cm (apx 4x5) 1929 - cut sheet ... or I often use a 6x9 roll film back. focus is on glass frame.
I also have a twin lens reflex - a Yashica 635 (triplet lens, auto film spacing)

Of these, with what you want to do, I would honestly be happy to use any of them - but would use the 645 for simplicity and the plate camera for style. For simplicity and confidence together I would use the TLR.

None of the lenses are stressed - but then none are fully corrected either. It doesn't seem to matter as much, as far as I can see. Back in the day the main difference seems to have been maximum aperture - with modern film slow apertures are no particular penalty. An ISO 100 film would have been regarded as hideously fast when my cameras were made.

Seated portraits, camera on a tripod? If so, you don't need a RF. A tape measure, used once, will give you your focus. Do it before anyone sits down. If no tripod, the Auto-Range is the best folder of my small group. But the TLRs are great esp since you plan for your subjects to be seated.

Film loading a 120 camera is straightforward. The wind on is the variable, but simple equipment works fine. Apart from some much later (and 645 if I recall) electronic cameras you do need to catch the start of the backing paper in a roll.

The OOF areas will be more of an issue given the simple lens designs. If you are prepared to sink money in, Rolleiflex would probably be your best bet.


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Old 02-10-2017   #4
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I have done a lot with medium format folders - my experience is they are rather fiddly for #5 and #6 on your list.

Let me add a #9 to the list, which is viewfinders. I wear glasses, so I use a Leitz 5cm 1:1 VF in the flash shoe to frame the photo.

Note, I'm prioritizing # 1 on your list - reliability - if this is your first folder. I'll recommend the 6x9 Zeiss Mess Ikonta - a.k.a. the 524/2 with an uncoupled rangefinder.

Shoot it at f/8 to f/11 and it will blow you away. Bokeh is not as creamy as a Heliar, but I find it pleasant. The 105mm Opton Tessar is worth the price of the camera by itself.

There are two up for grabs on ebay right now. Both were CLA'd. Good luck and happy shooting.
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35mm Gear Bessa R, Leica II, - IIIg, - M2
Just for fun 35mm Gear a Rollei 35 S, Oly 35RC, plus an XA
Modern Medium Format Fuji GW 690III
Vintage MF Folders a Voigtland Bessa II and Perkeo II - a ZI Mess Ikonta - 524/2, plus an Agfa Super Isolette & a Record III
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Old 02-10-2017   #5
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Most of your questions are basically unanswerable in a matter of fact way, because they rely on subjective interpretations and one's personal experiences with machines that will be five or six or more decades old.

But the general basics:
Reliability: depends more on how the camera has been treated over the past half century than anything else. Generally speaking though, the simpler the camera, the more likely everything still works. For bellows the only company I know to always avoid is anything Agfa (or Agfa/Ansco).

Smoothness of focus: The vast majority of these cameras are fitted with triplet lenses, which as a general rule tend to give very smooth OOF rendering at intermediate apertures. Given there were hundreds of companies supplying lenses, and a propensity for camera companies to apply their own labels to them - it's mostly futile to try and point out which is better/worse in this regard, unless you have a specific model camera or lens in mind.

Resistance to flare: None really. Almost none of these cameras have built in lens shading, and pre-war cameras will have uncoated lenses. As for the rest, I thought you wanted a camera that gave a vintage look? If so, don't worry about these other issues.

Format: if you want 6x9 buy 6x9. It was probably the most common 120 format for over half a century, and 6x9 cameras tend to go for lower prices than the other formats.

Ease of use: again, the simpler the camera, the better. Cameras with rangefinders and "auto-stop" features are generally more fiddly to use and less ergonomic than those with scale focus and red window. Nothing in photography is simpler than loading film into a folder.

Flash Sync: The vast majority of folders were made before this was a thing, and very few were available with X sync for strobes (X sync shutters appeared right around the same time most companies stopped making folders, so there is very little overlap between the folding camera era and the X sync era).

Rangefinder coupled: mostly an excessive complication. You're doing seated portraits? Get a tape measure.

Made in Europe: pretty much everything 6x9. Japanese 6x9 cameras are exceedingly rare, and American ones are mostly very primitive and pre-war.

Additional note: most 6x9 cameras were fitted with very slow lenses - we're talking about f/6.3 or f/5.6 max. aperture. Whereas with 6x6 and 645, f/3.5 is not uncommon. This may be a major consideration if you're shooting portraits.
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Old 02-10-2017   #6
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In terms of flash sync, later ones with Synchro Compur shutters offer the choice of M or X sync, but many older Compur Rapids, where they have a terminal, are X sync as this is easier to make than adding a timer mechanism for M or not having a self-timer. the only downside was when people were using magnesium bulbs, they had to use slower shutter speeds in order not to miss the flash.

To be honest if it's your first foray I'd see what is out there, look for something that appears to have been looked after, and give it a go. Think about 6x6 or 6x9 as one is square and one rectangular, which may see like a daft thing to say but you compose pictures differently - at least I do. In terms of lenses, uncoated optics will flare worse, to the point where a lens hood is pretty well mandatory, but there are many good lenses. A Novar works near as well as a Tessar, and the Skopar has many fans indeed.
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Old 02-10-2017   #7
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If you want a coupled rangefinder, but can live with a front focus lens, I would suggest thinking of a Super Ikonta C (6x9) or a FSU copy (Moskwa) if it is in good shape and the seller allow you to resend the camera just in case.

The folding mechanism is quit robust and the Tessar (and its russian copy) give very nice images.
Their rangefinder is quite bright and allow a precise focusing (more precise than the coupling of the rangefinder element to the lens). The downside is that it is not easy to get a grip to the focus ring (in this regard the Moskwa 5 is better than the original). You also have to adapt to a trigger on the left side of the camera and to a kind of hamburger grip for the lens door on the left sinde of the camera.

For me the Moskwa 5 is my favorite 6x9 folder for shooting. Its separate viewfinder and rangefinder are much brighter than the viewfinder with integrated rangefinder of a Bessa II. Also the separate viewfinder has a higher magnification.
(But I am still looking for a decent Welta Weltur with Tessar/Xenar in 6x9).
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Old 02-10-2017   #8
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The best fit for your list in my opinion is the Fujifilm 670 still available new at BH Photo. It is expensive but it is certainly the finest option out there. It shoots 120 film in 6x7 format or 6x6 depending on what you select when you load the film. Film flatness at exposure is far easier to maintain with 6x6 or 6x7 than with 6x9. The lens is absolutely amazing and it does come with its own lens shade which is definitely a plus. It is quite reliable and still has warranty service available should there be any problem. The only possible fault that I can find with this folder is that it requires batteries to operate its electronic shutter (very accurate and reliable) and the exposure meter. If I were intending to shoot portraits professionally with a folding medium format camera then this is the camera I would choose.

Next is the Voigtlander Bessa II with the Color Heliar lens. This camera uses 120 film and shoots a 6x9 format with coupled rangefinder and unit focus (the entire lens is moved back and forth while focusing.) The Color Heliar is very sharp with smooooth bokeh. A very high quality camera that was expensive to buy when new. It is still expensive when compared to others on the market though nowhere near as expensive as the Fujifilm 670. Since this is a much older camera it has no warranty but is still considered a reliable design if well cared for.

My 3rd choice would be the Agfa Super Isolette. Though a number of Agfas are afflicted with deteriorating bellows by this time in their lifecycle this does not affect the Super Isolette. This camera uses unit focusing (see Bessa above) so it is not affected by dried out lubrication like many other Agfa cameras from this period. It shoot 120 film in a 6x6 format. The lens is a Solinar (another Tessar variant) and is very well known to be a sharp performer. These are quite a bit more expensive then most other folding cameras since it too was top of the line when it was produced. It is a very reliable design.

All folding cameras have certain weak points that should be considered. First and foremost in my opinion is abused struts that hold the lens in place when it has been deployed. If these have been bent or the attachment points and hinges are deteriorated then focusing accuracy and image sharpness are out the window. This is considered a non repairable fault.

Bellows is usually the next weak point since all folders use them. Some brands have a reputation for poor bellows, Agfa/Ansco is one of these brands. They sold cameras at a lower price point so their bellows were usually (not always) built from a plasticy material that has not held up well over time. But all folding cameras are susceptible to this problem. Fortunately this can usually be fixed. Replacement bellows are still available from 3rd party sellers and it is even possible to manufacture your own if you are handy.

The remaining problems are not unique to folders. Rust, busted parts, lens fungus, fogging or scratches and other issues. Some are repairable, some aren't. But, since most companies stopped building folding cameras in the 1950s, you can understand why condition of the camera is a very important factor.

Good luck with your search. Most of us who waded into the folding camera world have never gotten back out, mostly because they are so much fun to work with and are so portable. And of course we enjoy using them.
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Old 02-12-2017   #9
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The Fujifilm GF 670 would definitely address my beef with viewfinders on most 1950'ies era folders - but for that price one could buy a fully outfitted press camera with multiple lenses and a good sized camera bag to carry it all - and - save over a thousand bucks. Did mention the size of the camera bag?

With that said, what a nice camera. Unit focusing, a modern light meter and synch'ed flash shoe - it's all there.
- Andrew in Austin, Texas -

35mm Gear Bessa R, Leica II, - IIIg, - M2
Just for fun 35mm Gear a Rollei 35 S, Oly 35RC, plus an XA
Modern Medium Format Fuji GW 690III
Vintage MF Folders a Voigtland Bessa II and Perkeo II - a ZI Mess Ikonta - 524/2, plus an Agfa Super Isolette & a Record III
Digital a D300 and a D700 with some primes

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Old 02-12-2017   #10
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I had one of the GF670s (in Voigtländer trim). It was a brilliant performer but it always felt awkward and large to me.

I've had a sorted dozen different folders over the years. My favorite (the one I kept) is a Voigtländer Perkeo II with the Color Skopar f/3.5 lens. I had the shutter overhauled a few years ago as well as the film transport mechanism. It's a 6x6 format model: small, light, very handy. The lens is terrific: sharp and contrasty yet with a lovely 1950s feel to its rendering. I acquired a matching Voigtländer clip-on rangefinder for it to ease focusing accuracy.

The Perkeo II is jacket pocket-sized when folded and very portable. I think mine was made about 1952.
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Old 02-12-2017   #11
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Originally Posted by Godfrey View Post
My favorite (the one I kept) is a Voigtländer Perkeo II with the Color Skopar f/3.5 lens. I had the shutter overhauled a few years ago as well as the film transport mechanism.
I just finished a roll in my Perkeo.

I decided to give up on the auto stop/frame counter mechanism because it was giving me just 7 or 8 shots per roll. Then all of a sudden the next roll never did engage the roller for the frame counter so I kept advancing and advancing and it was already up to about Frame 5 before I came to my senses and checked the red window. This new roll I just finished I left the frame counter disengaged and advanced strictly by the red window... Fingers are crossed!
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Old 02-13-2017   #12
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I have a thing for Welta cameras, and have both 35mm and 120 folders. I find them to have held up fairly well over the years, except some, especially the 120s may have loose or missing leather. For something different, I have a Welta Perfekta, a folding 6x6.

I have a Zeiss 6x9, that is as bare bones as you can get. But so thin as to be almost a pocket camera except for its greater length. The camera is in good shape and gives surprisingly great photos.

Two of my 35mm kits, a Kiev 4am and a Contax 167, always have a Welta 6x6 or the Zeiss 6x9 in the front pocket.

Just know that unless a camera has been well taken care of, and/or recently CLA'd, you are taking a chance. Many haven't been well taken care of over the years. I have a Moskva 5 that is really no good, apparently strut damage. But my son-in-law has a Moskva 2 he is in love with.

Mostly you are on your own. I have been lucky. I know two of my Mamiya Six cameras were in need of repair, the Moskva I only found out about after I bought it, and a Novar I should have noted didn't have a wind knob. All others have been fun to use. Hope you are as lucky. They are fun and you will love the large negative.
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