Zeiss Te­nax II A can­did cam­era

A gem from the 1930s, the Te­nax II was tech­no­log­i­cally ad­vanced for its time and sur­pris­ingly good for dis­creet shoot­ing

Amateur Photographer - - Tech Talk - Tony Kem­plen’s love of photography be­gan as a teenager and ever since he has been col­lect­ing cam­eras with a view to test­ing as many as he can. You can fol­low his progress on his 52 Cam­eras blog at 52cam­eras.blogspot.co.uk. More pho­tos from the Te­nax II: w

Of the hun­dreds of film cam­eras that I’ve used in my ‘52 cam­eras in 52 weeks’ projects, only a hand­ful have any sig­nif­i­cant mone­tary value. Some are sim­ply not of in­ter­est to col­lec­tors, and there­fore not highly priced; oth­ers, while po­ten­tially worth some­thing, are de­val­ued by their poor con­di­tion, though for me, so long as I can squeeze an im­age out of a cam­era, this is not a big deal.

The Te­nax II, from Zeiss Ikon, which dates back to the 1930s, is one of my more col­lectable cam­eras. It was given to me by my fa­ther when he found he was no longer able to use it. It may have been de­signed to com­pete with the Ro­bot, an­other Ger­man cam­era of the era. A key fea­ture of the Ro­bot was a clock­work mo­tor- drive which al­lowed shots to be taken in quick suc­ces­sion. Th­ese cam­eras made 24mm x 24mm square neg­a­tives on 35mm film, which meant that a stan­dard 36- ex­po­sure cartridge could yield 50 pho­tos. The Ro­bot, how­ever, didn’t use stan­dard car­tridges; you had to load one of their own pro­pri­etary cas­settes us­ing a ded­i­cated de­vice. With the Te­nax II, Zeiss of­fered a vi­able al­ter­na­tive; ad­mit­tedly it didn’t have a mo­tor- drive, but a clever lever sys­tem rapidly ad­vanced the film and set the shut­ter us­ing one fin­ger, mean­ing that with an­other fin­ger poised over the shut­ter re­lease, shots could be taken in quick suc­ces­sion.

Sur­pris­ingly this is an in­ter­change­able-lens cam­era. The stan­dard lens has a fo­cal length of 40mm; mine has the f/2 Son­nar. The cam­era body has a unique bay­o­net mount, and each lens has its own range-finder prism at­tached. Th­ese cam­eras were never cheap – an ad­vert from 1938 shows them priced at £31, which amounts to around £1,500 in to­day’s terms. The same ad­vert gives the price of the Le­ica IIIa as £34. In­ter­est­ingly, a quick search of sold list­ings on eBay shows that the Te­nax tends to go for a lit­tle more than the Le­ica – you would have to shell out in the re­gion of £200-£300 for ei­ther.

I en­joyed us­ing the Te­nax II. It’s quite heavy, but feels like a pre­ci­sion in­stru­ment, with all the me­chan­ics op­er­at­ing smoothly. At 80 years old, the Com­pur- Rapid shut­ter still fires ac­cu­rately on all speeds, which run from 1 sec­ond to 1/400th. The range-finder is easy to use, as is the rapid film ad­vance, but what struck me most is how quiet it is. I’m not one for draw­ing at­ten­tion to my­self, and tak­ing pic­tures of strangers in pub­lic is not some­thing I feel com­fort­able with, but in the dimly lit Ser­pen­tine Gallery last sum­mer, the silent shut­ter gave me the con­fi­dence to take some can­did shots without fear of be­ing caught.

The near-silent shut­ter is ideal for tak­ing covert peo­ple shots

The Zeiss Te­nax II feels like a pre­ci­sion in­stru­ment and runs very smoothly

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