Clean and Lube - Zeiss Ikon Nettar 515/16

Posted: 02/25/2013
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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.

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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!

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Lens with Front elements removed.


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


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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!

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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.


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