I've had very good luck with the folders off eBay. Of the ones that I've bought, about seven or eight have been dogs. All of them have had to be serviced. The one in the worst condition -- literally falling apart -- was from Russia. Only one has had leaks in the bellows.
But I agree with Chris' suggestion that you get a guarantee from the seller. A sticky shutter can be serviced. Physical damage isn't worth fixing, and patching bellows is an exercise in frustration.
I own three 6x9 folders and my experience has been similar to Mike's. Most are by this day in age are fixer uppers. Both bringing them up to speed and shooting with them are a labor of love, which if you are in the proper frame of mind should be rewarding.
Originally Posted by elekm
Both the Zeiss Ikon 531/2 and Bessa II are investment grade cameras. The Bessa II with a Heliar is even more so, but ohhhh what an excellent lens.
Of my three 6x9 folders, an Agfa Record III, Agfa Billy Record II and Voigtlander Bessa I, the Bessa I needed the least amount of work, while the Billy Record II has been the camera I use most. The Record III by the way needed a total urban renewal and after the purchase of a new set of bellows from camerabellows.com is my most expensive camera in my collection of vintage 35mm and medium format cameras.
Oddly, the Billy Record II is the least equipped of the three, but with a set of bellows carefully removed from a Franka Rolfix, a lens/shutter combo carefully removed from a later Agfa Record II and an accessory Voigtlander rangefinder, it gets the job done. I get nice constrasty images from the 3 element Apotar and really don't miss the top shutter speed of 1/500 of the Bessa I and Record III.
Moral of the story is an Ikonta 523/2 or an East German Ercona II will yield truly satisfying photos for hundreds of $ less than a super rare top of the line 6x9 camera that's priced to match their collectability. Accessory range finders aren't as ideal a built-in coupled RF, but they do get you there.
Except for the Albada viewfinder on the 531/2, expect a smallish viewfinder. My Bessa I has the smallest viewfinder of any camera I own. One reason that I use my Billy Record II the most is that it has largest viewfinder of my three 6x9 cameras, in addition to its being the smallest camera of the group. An external viewfinder, with real framelines, usually sells for nearly what you will pay for non-RF 6x9 folder in good condition.
Andrew in Austin, TX
I have two late Super Ikonta 111's with coated Novars.
Initially I wished they had Tessars but to my surprise both these Novars are tack sharp once stopped down some, easily as good as a Tessar.
The Novars are triplet lenses, mostly made by Rodenstock with a few by Hendsolt.
I cant vouch for the older uncoated ones, but Ivor Matanle has some photos in his book taken with Novars
You can repair pinhole light leaks in the bellows with either flat black textile paint or a mixture of Elmer's glue and lamp black. If using glue, leave the bellows open until it dries.
To test for leaks, I wired a lamp cord to a surface mount light socket and inserted a low wattage bulb. Turn out the lights, open the back of the camera, and place it
on top of the bulb. The pinholes will be obvious.
Thanks everyone - i am encouraged and now armed with a lot of great information!
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Bostick and Sullivan sell a bellows patch kit that I've heard good reports about.
It doesn't look pretty, but I have successfully patched swiss cheese bellows with black silicon and black nail polish.
Originally Posted by elekm
We have a collection of around 40 folders including the cameras you are interested in. A lot of the collection has been bought from e-bay and some from camera fairs; in both cases we have had some terrific cameras and some that require work to restore them.
Some of our collection can be seen on our website along with photographs taken with the cameras, if you take a look please remember that the photos have been reduced in quality to keep the file size down.
The Voightlander Bessa II can be rather pricy but the Bessa I, Zeiss Ikonta C and the Zeiss Ercona can be picked up for the sort of money in your budget and all give good results in both black and white and colour.
You can view our website at
You can get to the old cameras from the index page.
Jenny and Ernie.
Now that I have put a dozen rolls through the Iconta - I like the camera but am unhappy with the lens - the Novar is nice and sharp in the center but even stopped all the way down is only marginal at the edges. I think one day I will sell it and replace it with a 6x9 folder with good edge to edge sharpness. Which one is that ... is it only the Heliar version of the Bessa?
try a Fuji GS645 - newer, cheaper and a killer lens