Folding camera expectations
I really like carrying a MF and 35mm camera around together. Both serve different purposes for me and work nicely together. My main kit has been a compact fixed lens rangefinder an a beat up Rolleicord.
Long story short, I'd like something even more compact to pair with other 35mm cameras. After briefly playing with a Wirgin Auto, I'm on the fence about adding a folding camera.
The thing is, I'm really happy with the shots I get out of the Rolleicord. Part of that is its ability to resolve detail and be consistently sharp edge to edge (compared to the Auta).
I'm thinking about a Zenobia primarily due to price. Coming from the Rollei, would I be disappointed about the shots like I have been with the Auta? Granted, one is 6x4.5 and the other 6x9 so hopefully the Zenobia will be better, but want to be sure my expectations aren't totally in the weeds before looking around for one.
The lens on the Zenobia is a Tessar type, right?---which should buy you a lot of improvement over the Auta (I'm assuming it has a triplet). The smaller negative will also make a real difference, I think; a lot of 6x9 folders are really pushing the coverage limits of their lenses, although my Wirgin Auta (with a Rodenstock Trinar) seems to be pretty reasonable in that respect.
Really, no folder is going to have the rigidity of a TLR, and you'll always pay *some* price for that in sharpness. But a smaller negative and better lens should bring the results closer to what you're used to, and ultimately only your eye can decide whether they're close enough.
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I have a Ensign selfix 12/20 with an ross express lens,which Is in regular use, and I also have a rolleiflef automat 4 with a tessar lens, and to be honest you would be very hardpressed to tell the differance betweeRichardn the two, if the Zenobia has a tessar type lens then it should work, but if, as I suspect, a triplet then you would be able to see a differance,If you want a folder get one with a tessar or tessar type lens and the differance between the rollei and the folder would be minimal,you would, in my experience with both tlr's and folders, find it very hard to see a difference providing the folder is in reasonable condition,
I have a Voigtländer Perkeo II, a 6x6 with an 80mm f3.5 Color Skopar (a 4-element Tessar type) that is pretty impressive, but it lacks the ability of close-in focus (without diopter lens assistance) and accuracy of aim compared with a MF SLR like my Bronica SQ-A. That said, I find I use it more in casual shooting because of its compact size. In general, a folder is more fiddly to use than more recent cameras, but probably no worse than TLRs of similar vintage (except for folding/unfolding). I've used it quite a bit and enjoy having it.
I have occasionally wondered if a lot of opening and closing of a folder may noticeably hasten the failure of the bellows. I do have a "never ready" leather case for mine that does permit carrying it around open when desired.
One thing to understand about the Zenobia, and it may well make no difference, is that the shutter release is on the left side. That felt rather strange to me.
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Folding cameras are great. They need some time to get used to, especially if it's one without a rangefinder (I forgot to focus at all a few times in the beginning), but once you got the right workflow and a good feeling for distances, the quality's great for such a little package.
I currently have a Weltax (6x6 and 4,5x6) with a Tessar 75/3,5 and it's sharp enough for 40x40cm (16x16") prints, probably even bigger, though I didn't try yet. I don't know, if it is available in the US, but I can really recommend it, if you happen to find one. I really love the bright (once it's cleaned) viewfinder for both formats with a little switch for parallax correction. It also comes with a very well-built compur shutter with integrated self timer and electronic flash-synch.
Thank you all for the feedback, I really appreciate it. I'm definitely fine with the slower pace and style of shooting. It sounds like there are options out there that are likely to meet my goals. I need to spend some time researching lenses in general to build a better intuition about this sort of thing. A rangefinder camera would be awesome but are well out of my price range. The Moskva-5 is a possibility but I haven't heard great things about it.
I am leaning towards the Zenobia primarily due to price and availability. I've seen unknown condition ones go for $15 and tested cameras for closer to $50. I don't mind experimenting at all when I can get cameras in that price range. Once it hits $100 or so, it isn't really a casual purchase for me any more. I'll probably take my time and either see if something shows up here or at RFF.
I was actually watching for Weltas but they seem to command a higher premium. I'm still trying to sort out which folders I should look for as I am not terribly familiar with models. I'm sure there are other cameras similar to the Zenobia - small, decent lens, cheap. The Ikonta A seems like an option but seems to go for a bit more. I'm okay paying a bit more as long I am buying more than prestige/brand.
I just acquired a Kodak Tourist II, and though its on the heavy side, its fun to lug around. I just shot a roll of Adox CHS 25 in it, and the negs look super. I'll be printing later this evenng. I also have an Ansco Speedex Jr B2, but I have a bit of rehab before I can use it. I like the size and weight of the Ansco, I only wish it was 6x9 like the Kodak, and had a better lens/shutter as well.
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As I thought, the Weltas are probably a little more expensive in the US... here, where they were originally made, they're really common and around 20€, or 50€ if it's tested and in very good condition with the factory seal for exceptional quality.
The folders are all very similar and there's a giant selection of different brands. If you're not in a hurry, just look around at flea markets and garage sales and see if there's one you like. Tessar type lens, working shutter, easy focusing and light tightness are basically everything you need to look for. I found a few nice cameras that way, because people didn't know how precious they were ("old camera? Oh well, I'm happy when someone takes it, no matter how cheap...")
Ikontas are not bad either. They often have problems with broken bellows, but are somewhat common and pretty good quality when you find one that works.
I picked up an old 6x9 format folder a while ago. The lens is completely unspectacular but, certainly good enough. The beauty of this thing is that it folds up to such a compact and light weight package...and makes these big beautiful negatives (or slides).
There are compromises. If you need perfect focus with narrow DOF and quick handling....I think you should look elsewhere. A folder will only frustrate. But, if you want a really compact, light weight camera that makes big negatives (that are easier to print)....a folder is definitely the way to go.