Clean and Lube - Zeiss Ikon Nettar 515/16

Guest Blog by Nick Waggy

Yesterday I picked up a Zeiss Ikon Nettar 515/16. I bought it off of a man named Hans who was very interested in learning more about it as cameras aren't something he's ever really taken an interest in. The camera belonged to his father, Manfred who, bought it while he was still living in Germany. Manfred served in WWII as a cadet in the Luftwaffe. He was captured, taken prisoner, and then immigrated to the US afterwards -- bringing the Nettar with him. The carrying case still has his name and old address written on it inside the lid.

When I met Hans and first got my hands on this beauty I was struck by how clean it was -- the case is another story. Manfred had obviously used this camera a lot but had always kept it in the case. Save half a handful of chips to the paint there is no cosmetic damage to this camera at all.

The only problems I was having with this camera was that the shutter would get stuck open when doing slow exposures (1s,1/2,1/5,1/10). I'm not wholly sure when this beauty was made, but it could have been as early as 1937, or 76 years ago. My experience with other old cameras (Though not nearly this old, a 1960 Argus Matchmatic and a 1953 Kodak Retina IIa) has taught me that the oils they were lubricated with tend to turn to wax over the years. This camera was no exception. I've included a video of the problem below

I thought it would be a simple matter to disassemble the shutter mechanism, which was really the only mechanical part of this particular camera. The film advance is manual, there's no rangefinder, no light meter, hardly any other moving parts. After getting the lens off and opening up the shutter mechanism I realized that this seemingly simple little foldy was a lot more complex than I'd anticipated. What I found was a beautiful... mess of clockwork springs and gears!

Lens with Front elements removed.

The three lens elements of the Zeiss Ikon Nettar 515/16

The inner workings of the shutter.

After breaking my old Zeiss all the way down I spent a few hours cleaning away the old waxy grease, and applying new lubricant... as well as trying to puzzle out how everything was supposed to go back together. The benefit of tearing down these old cameras is that you gain an intimate working knowledge of how your camera works. I feel this helps it become more than just a tool or a pretty film box. It's a great feeling when you can press the shutter and visualize exactly which parts are moving, which gears are spinning, which springs are... springing. And, honestly, every time I work on one of these old mechanical cameras I'm astounded by the engineering that had to go into designing and building them in the first place. These guys really knew what they were doing. Eventually, I was able to get this old man working again!

Then it just became a matter of reassembling the whole big puzzle!

Reassembling the Leaf Shutter

It took quite a few tries, but I managed to get all the springs to stay in place, all the bits to line up properly, and all of the screws found their way back into the camera. For once, no left over pieces! Now my old timer is working as good as it looks and I can go snag a roll of 120 to run through him. I'll post the results as soon as I have em!

I am a photographer from Dayton, Ohio. I've been shooting for for for about five years and professionally for the last two. After I began shooting for work using my large bulky DSLR began to feel like work even when I was out recreationally. It was at that point I decided to try my hand at film to switch things up a bit. I've also started to collect a few old cameras and have begun to tinker with them to get them back in working order. So far I've been able to fix a 1960 Argus Matchmatic and a late '30s Zeiss Nettar 515/16. I was also mostly successful in resurrecting a '53 Kodak Retina IIa but it was too damaged and I had to send it out to someone more skilled. Analog and antique cameras have become my stress relief and passion and I'm looking forward to experimenting with new formats and development processes.


ludwigvan66's picture

Great job Alex.

I look forward to seeing some images from this fine old camera.

shakmati's picture

Wow - good job Alex.  I have a Zeiss Ikon Nettar from 1933 - the one with the hexagon shutter plate - a 6x9.  Beautiful camera.



Jacobs camera closet's picture

good job. i have a Zeiss Ikon Bob 510/2. the camera is great, except that it sticks at 1/25 and sometimes B. do you recommend this same process to help it?




Nick Waggy's picture
Jacob, Figure out which shutter mechanism your camera uses and google around for repair information online. That's what I did. I couldn't find any info on my particular shutter but the other variants used on different Nettars were similar enough that I could figure it out. Most people recommend running these "dry" that is, without any lubricant - which is the way they were designed to work. But if yours is like mine after 64 years (I managed to get an accurate date on mine) it's starting to stick and you need to help it out a bit. As far as the dating thing I mentioned: I said in the write up that I wasn't positive when it was made, but I've got that pinned down now. The confusion came from the body and lens being from different years. Both pre war, but the lens is newer. What happened was after the war when camera demand skyrocketed the Soviets reopened the factory in Stuttgart. The problem was the factory was in no shape to manufacture new cameras. So the soviets had the workers assemble cameras from old stock that survived the war. So basically this one was made in 1948 out of NOS parts from various iterations of the 515/16. Which is confirmed by the star after the serial number.
Nick Waggy's picture
Quick amendment, I said the factory in Stuttgart was put back to work by the Soviets... Well, that doesn't make sense because the Soviets never controlled Stuttgart. They controlled the factory in Dresden. That said, the factories in Stuttgart, Berlin, and Dresden all did the same thing post war -- NOS franken cameras from available parts. I'm just not sure which factory this one came from.
Anonymous's picture

I have a similar model, it opens sideways, is it an older version?

Mike Wilde's picture
one trick with shutter disassembly repairs like you got into is when the aperture blades are screwy/stiff. Try to avoid this, but if you must, dissasemble, soak then in white gas, and then let them dry. To reassemble, tiny drop of sewing machine oil so the aperture blades stick to each other. manipualte with tooth pick tips to get all the pieces to sit together so they can go back together, then soak it in white gas rinses to get the light oil dissolved out. I too tackled an old ZI restore, this time of my next door neighbour, who was born in Germany in 1936.
Ashley Karyl's picture
I have a 6x9 Zeiss Ikon Nettar 515 that used to belong to my uncle. It has the same lens but other aspects look slightly different and I can't see anywhere that says when it was made. I am not sure when I would ever use it but I shall hold on to it and maybe do some research out of curiosity. The shutter appears to be good.
Sebastian's picture
I just recently received a 515/16 as a gift from my friend who actually used it. It's such a beautiful camera. So far it seems to work perfectly although I'm still on my first roll of film with it. I'm assuming the shutter times are in discrete steps but but I wonder what happens when you put the indicator in between two settings as is possible. Or is the shutter times actually stepless. Maybe you know after having taken one apart.
Alan B.'s picture
I just bought one of these on ebay and should receive it in a few days. Was it difficult to remove the front element to get to the lens for cleaning? Is there a certain way to remove/replace it? I'm no camera tech (attempting to clean a Kodak reflex taught me that), but I'd like to be able to clean the glass. Thanks!
Radiorich's picture
Hello Alex , I came across this site and looking forward to tear down my camera and get working again What kind grease did you use ? This my first time to tear a camera apart I worked on camcorders and other type But nothing like this Sincerely radiorich
Radiorich's picture
Hello Alex Well I really look forward to fixing my camera far grease what type also I really am looking forward to use this camera

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