PHOTOGRAPHY   © mike connealy
Zeiss Ikon Box-Tengor
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Zeiss Ikon started its line of Box-Tengor cameras in 1926. Many different models featuring a variety of film formats were offered. I have the last three models including the second version of the model 54/2 which was produced from 1934 to 1938, the 55/2 appearing in 1939, and the post-war 56/2 with a production run from 1948 to 1956. All of these used 120-size film and produced eight 6x9cm negatives per roll. All three models share the Goerz Frontar lens, a cemented doublet design that is supplemented by two accessory lenses on a rotating disk just behind the main lens which allow focusing for middle-distance and close-up. Another rotating disk, adjusted with the tab below the lens, allows a choice of three apertures.

The last two models of the Box-Tengor incorporated some feature enhancements including a large round film advance knob and double exposure prevention. While those changes were no doubt appealing to consumers, they may have had somewhat of a negative effect on durability and reliability. Though undeniably elegant and feature-laden, the Box-Tengors are still relatively inexpensive cameras, and the moving parts are made largely from soft sheetmetal held together by rivets. Complicating the basic design with additional user-friendly additions put a lot of strain on a delicately balanced mechanism which can lead ultimately to failure under heavy use. For those reasons, the oldest of the three in my possession, the 54/2 model, is a clear favorite due to its simpler and solid design integrity.

The 55/2 model was introduced in 1939, and produced only for a year before WWII buried it. While it incorporated the main design enhancements which would appear in the post-war model, the bent tab shutter release and the time/instant selector at the top of the camera seem entirely out of character, and may have been compromises forced by war-time industrial production priorities.

In the final 56/2 model, the f-stop range was changed to f/9, f/11 and f/16. A little sliding door was installed over the back panel ruby window to give greater light leak protection for the faster films available after the war. The shutter release became an elegant little knurled knob, again located on the front lower right of the camera body. When looking at the camera from the front, it appears that the lens has been coated, but it turns out that is just a reflection from a deceptively tinted shield which flips over the aperture during the return rotation of the shutter disk.

My 54/2 Box-Tengor came to me from the former British colony of Cyprus, and probably for that reason has a three section focal distance scale marked in feet rather than meters. The indicated focal ranges are 3-6 feet, 6-20 feet, and 20 feet to infinity. Examining the actual image projected to the film plane on a ground glass showed those setting to be only approximate, and they varied from one camera to the next. Even at the smallest f-stop, the depth of field is nowhere near three feet at the near setting, so the user is best advised to keep close-up subjects at a range of 4-5 feet. Focusing for subjects at greater distances is less critical, and using smaller f-stops further enhances the chances of keeping middle distance and scenic subjects in focus.

The Box-Tengor shutter can be held open with the Time setting for low light exposures, or it can be used in Instant mode which gives an exposure of about 1/30th of a second. I can get sharp pictures from some of my small cameras at that speed, but a bulky box camera with a side-mounted release is just not conducive to capturing sharp images at slow shutter speeds. Getting in the habit of using a cable release and a tripod with the Box-Tengor will go a long way toward realizing the true potential of this elegantly styled box camera.

The portrait below was made in open shade using the 54/2 loaded with TMAX 400 film which was then processed in TMAX developer at 1:9 dilution. The shots at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque were on TMAX 100 rated at 50 ISO and developed in Rodinal at 1:50 dilution.

more from the Box Tengor
Hispanic Cultural Center

Lewis Antique Auto & Toy Museum, Moriarty  
Links: User Manuals  *  FLICKR Tengor Group  *  56/2 Disassembly
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