Zeiss Ikon Maximar


As mentioned in yesterday’s post, the camera used to capture the photo displayed therein is a Zeiss Ikon Maximar 207/3 (also known as a Maximar A). [1] The camera was originally designed to use 6 ½ cm x 9 cm (2 ¼” x 3 ¼”) negative plates (probably glass), [2] but with the correct adapter, one can also use 120 rollfilm, instead. See below for a photo of the camera itself, with the rollfilm adapter (on the left-hand side of the image):


These types of miniature plate cameras were common during the late 19C and early 20C, through the 1930s, at least; this one was made in the mid-1930s (probably). The term “miniature” is both a reference to the fact that the camera is a smaller version of standard plate (view) cameras, but more importantly, it refers to the fact that the plates used in this camera are smaller “cut” plates than those used in full-size plate cameras. These sizes refer back to the size of the plates originally used by Louis Daguerre in his Dagurreotype process. [3] This camera is formatted for quarter plates, which were one quarter the size of 6 ½” x 8 ½” full plates (i.e., half plate is 3 ¼” x 4 ¼”; half of a half plate is 2 ¼” x 3 ¼”, roughly). The rollfilm adapters are somewhat less common than these types of cameras; at least, I have not seen them as frequently as I have seen these types of cameras. The particular type of adapter I have here appears to be based on a film back used with the Plaubel Makina camera, but I also have not found any documentation regarding the history or design of the adapter. Nonetheless, it is a convenient accessory to have, particularly because it makes it possible to use these miniature plate cameras with modern films.

The design of this (and other) miniature plate camera is quite ingenious; when fully collapsed, the camera folds up into a relatively small box, roughly 3″ wide by 4″ high by 2″ deep. This, of course, means that the camera is highly portable (sadly, this is offset mightily by the fact that I usually carry a tripod along with it). The lens mount has both vertical rise and horizontal shift movements (though on mine, the shift mechanism is jammed), which one would not expect to be found on such a small camera. The bellows are a double-extension type that allows the camera to be used for macro photography (to a limited degree), though it is not advisable to do this, unless your camera’s bellows are in good condition; the double extension stretches out the bellows substantially, so is they’re worn out, they’re likely to tear, if you’re not careful. Focus can be achieved either by using the distance scale (just visible on the left-hand side of the folding bed in the photo above), or more accurately by using the ground glass viewscreen contained within the rear hood. This particular model has a Compur-Rapid shutter, with a maximum speed of 1/400th sec. The aperture has a maximum setting of f/4.5 and a minimum setting of f/32; in reality, the maximum aperture is probably closer to being f/4 or f/3.5, as it can be opened slightly wider than the f/4.5 setting indicates. For attaching plate holders or the rollfilm adapter, the entire back assembly (with the ground glass screen and viewing hood) can be removed, and the plate holders or rollfilm adapter slid into place on the same rails that hold the back assembly onto the camera body. Another advantage of these cameras is that the most mechanically complex component is the lens and shutter assembly; as such, if the shutter dies, you can replace it with a similar one from another similar camera (such as one that has a working shutter, but worn-out bellows).

As with all cameras, there are some disadvantages to using this one. Probably the most substantial disadvantage is the amount of time required to set up and take down the camera, particularly if you use it on a tripod. As mentioned yesterday, it takes up to five minutes to set up a tripod, mount the camera, and open it up (same for closing it and taking down the tripod); additional time is required for checking exposure, adjusting the shutter and aperture settings, closing the shutter, [4] detaching the ground glass screen, and attaching the rollfilm adapter. One can use this camera handheld, but it still takes time to focus the camera and adjust the shutter and aperture settings; when using the camera in this manner, it is difficult to use the ground glass viewscreen, though again, it is possible. Given the negative frame format, the camera only takes 8 exposures on a single 120 roll. This may, however, be a blessing in disguise; due to the limited number of exposures, I generally do not use this camera as a snapshot camera. Rather, I have been very deliberate about what shots I choose to take with it, and given that I prefer using the camera on a tripod, I can also take more time to compose the photo. Of course, if you’re hoping to use this camera for any kind of action shots, think again. Additionally, while the ability to replace lens and shutter assemblies is useful, be warned that if you exchange lenses along with the shutter, you might not be able to use the built-in distance scale, since it is calibrated to the specific lens with which the camera was originally equipped. On the other hand, since the lenses have the same barrel diameters, you can simply swap out the broken shutter for the working one, while transferring the old lens to the new shutter; this won’t work so well if your lens is damaged, however. Also, since the bellows are made of (relatively) fragile leather and fabric, they can be easily damaged if used too roughly, so you’ll need to be careful when using such cameras.

All of this being said, the results one can get with this kind of camera (old as it is) are quite impressive. See below for another example of a photo shot on this camera (yeah, yeah, I know…you’ve seen the subject before – well, get over it…its my blog post, after all):


Overall, I always enjoy getting usable results from a 70 year old camera, even if it takes quite a bit of patience to use said camera. If you’re interested in seeing additional photos shot with this camera, see the set on my Flickr site. [5] If you’re interested in using miniature plate camera such as this one, I also have a Flickr set devoted to the operation of such cameras; [6] please feel free to contact me if you have any additional questions regarding the operation guide. Enjoy.


[1]: The 207/3 is apparently the model number used by Zeiss Ikon; I have no idea of what it actually means (or if it means anything at all), but I’m sure someone, somewhere online does.

[2]: Prior to the advent of acetate sheet as a carrier for the light-sensitive emulsion, cameras typically used plates (either metal or glass) as negatives. It was not until George Eastman developed the acetate-backed dry emulsion films that the film we know today came into common use. See here for a brief timeline of photographic history, from the About.com: Inventors website.

[3]: See here for a brief description of 19C plate sizes, from the Christopher Wahren Fine Photographs website.

[4]: Like all view cameras, to use the ground glass viewscreen, you’ll need to set the aperture to its widest setting, and open the shutter blades using the “T” (timed) setting, so that it will remain open while you focus the image on the viewscreen. As such, you’ll have to close the shutter, and re-set the aperture and shutter settings before taking a picture. On top of that, you’ll have to re-set these settings again, after you’ve taken your picture, so that you can use the viewscreen again.

[5]: Flickr set with additional photos available here. Note, however, that there only two additional photos beyond the one I displayed yesterday and the one in today’s post. I’ve used three different cameras like this one, but I only shot one roll with the Maximar.

[6]: Flickr set with operation instructions available here. Note that this set shows a Nagel/Kodak Recomar 18, not the Maximar 207/3; the former is a very similar camera, and has the same operational parameters as the latter. The guide also shows where the alternate viewfinders are located, in case you’re interested using these (they can be faster than using the ground glass back, but only when you’re estimating focus distance).


5 Responses to “Zeiss Ikon Maximar”

  1. iheartfilm Says:

    Always nice to see someone else shooting film. 🙂

  2. Scott Winn Says:

    I just found this same camera in a drawer at the home that belonged to my grandparents. It is a Zeiss Icon Compur Maximar 207/3 camera. Seems to be in relatively good shape however once you open the back its hard to get it to close again; You really have to work with it to get it close….pushing in on the silver ‘hinges’ or whatever they are on the camera. I notice below the shutter there is a little black ‘slide’ thingy….with two knobs on it. It appears that you can slide the shutter forward thus opening up the bellows but I cannot get the camera to slide forward. Any suggestions. Do these knobs turn to the right or left to loosen them so i can slide it back and forth???? I dont want to damage it but if I can would like to use the camera. However it does NOT have the adapter to use the 120 roll film; any suggestions on how I can find one and what the expense would be? Also , was this camera made in the 1930’s? I’m trying to determine if if was my Grandfathers or Great Grandfathers. Would love to see what kind of pics it takes. I’m totally at a loss as to how to work it (im used to the newer camers – I have a Cannon EOS T3i). Im amused at these old ‘geezers’ and would love to get it working. Could I take it to a local camera shop and have it cleaned and working ready? Interested in knowing how the heck you see thru that ground glass filter too haha. I gently cleaned it with some lens cleaner. Is there a manual for these cameras still available anywhere??? And can you still use the old plates and if so how would a person go about developing the pics? I would rather find an adapter and use the 120 roll film. Or as grandpa used to say ‘filem” haha. He was a big camera or photog buff although his skills werent that great but he did enjoy it. I would appreciate any info anyone can tell me on this camera……to the questions I have asked and more. Oh …..the little wire frame thing..one side has came out of the little hole it goes in and I cant seem to get it back in there. Would a camera shop be able to do that OR is there a good place to send these precious old guys to be worked on? I’m impresse at the workmanship for that day. If you use the 120 film can it be developed at a local flim drop off or does it need to be developed at home? How many pics to a roll? I love B & W pics anyway so if I can get this old jewel going again and use it I will be really happy. Also….what are these old workhorses worth if anything. Its of sentimental value to me but would just like to know. I hope someone will read this and answer me. Please email me at swinn@hotmail.com . You can if need be call me but email me and ask me for my number first. Again I hope one of you on here more knowledgeable than I can help me. God bless
    Scott Winn / Herrin, IL

    • seeker312 Says:

      This is a bit much to answer in a comment, so I’ll try to shoot you an email later this week.

    • Scott Winn Says:

      Hey…….I wrote the above posting to you last week and at that time you advised me you needed some time to read it all again and then respond because in fact I did give you alot of info and asked several questions. Just wondering if you were going to be able to write me back and hopefully give me some answers ???? Otherwise I’m pretty well stuck here. Thanks swinn@;hotmail.com

      • seeker312 Says:

        Sorry about that…I’ve been quite busy the past couple weeks. I’ll try to get some additional information to you soon, but I’ll have to ask for your patience in this matter, as this week is looking rather busy, as well.

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