The Evolution Of A New Rangefinder Camera
Is The New Zeiss Ikon Just Another Bessa Under A Different Brand Name? Page 2

It became imperative to find a niche market, where clients of their lenses like Kyocera (Contax), Rollei, Alpa, Hasselblad, Sony, Sinar, and ARRI were absent. Dr. Scherle was successful both in identifying the niche and in persuading Zeiss management. The camera for this niche market was defined as follows: "...a sophisticated rangefinder camera without autofocus, and with a full range of interchangeable lenses with top performance." Such a camera system would not compete with the cameras manufactured by Zeiss' clients, and would not, therefore, cannibalize its lens business.

It was not surprising that the camera envisioned by Dr. Scherle to achieve this strategy was different from that which Cosina envisioned, but there was one point on which Dr. Scherle and Mr. Kobayashi both agreed immediately: that the new camera must be superior to any existing rangefinder camera systems (including Leica, of course) with regard to the length of the baseline of the rangefinder, in which prewar Contax of Zeiss Ikon AG were always superior to Leica. Indeed, the Contax was known, thanks to its long rangefinder baseline, for the highest accuracy in measurement of object to camera distance for precise focusing.

The baseline of the new camera is 75mm x 0.74 magnification with an effective length of 55.5mm, and the finder has bright frames for 28, 35, 50, and 85mm lenses. The Leica M7, with the bright frame for a 28mm lens, has a baseline length of 69.25mm x 0.72 magnification, with an effective length of 49.9mm.

Carl Zeiss MTF Plotter K8 at Cosina's factory.

To close the gap between their respective visions, Dr. Scherle and Mr. Kobayashi exchanged many visits over an extended period. The more they talked, the more the differences between their divergent views began to narrow. Mr. Kobayashi and his staff at Cosina came to realize that this was literally a new product, and not another line extension of the existing rangefinder camera series that Cosina was manufacturing like Bessa. This meant to Cosina that thinking about almost every facet of the camera, such as the rangefinder system, film advance mechanism, and so on, should be started from scratch.

In fact, there are almost no parts of the Bessa-series cameras that can be used for this new camera. One thing that Cosina knew was that this development project would be worth all the time and effort that it would take. People say that Mr. Kobayashi always dreamed of making a camera like the Leica M3, but this project would give him a chance to produce something superior to that camera and its successors.

Another difficulty that Cosina encountered was the camera face design. When they received the mockups from Carl Zeiss in December 2003, they were almost appalled. There were several alternatives proposed, but what Carl Zeiss had recommended as the leading candidate had no hard edges, but instead was rounded everywhere: the edges were round, the apron was round. Shown is a picture of this candidate. Such a smoothed design might be acceptable or even good as a domestic electric appliance (remember the Sunbeam toaster), but it seemed totally out of context as a camera design, or so it seemed to the Cosina team.
In retrospect, it was the result of an attempt by the design boutique, Henssler & Schultheiss, to express a departure from the traditional Zeiss Ikon cameras, which were known by their peculiar dodecagonal body shape. Being edgy, rigid, sharp, and cold was synonymous with being "Zeissy," compared with Leica's round, soft, fuzzy, and warm atmosphere.

Another view of Carl Zeiss MTF Plotter K8 at Cosina's factory.

At any rate, Mr. Kobayashi and his staff were strongly opposed to the design recommended by Carl Zeiss. They believed that the sharp, edgy imagery of Zeiss Ikon cameras, which would be also typical of high-end audio equipment, was still alive in the consumer's mind, and it was a legacy on which to capitalize rather than be tossed away in the name of a "new departure." But at the same time, it was because they believed that this camera should be a professional machine, and its aesthetic manifestation should not be something round, fuzzy, and lukewarm.

A dispute ensued, and it took eight months before a conclusion was reached in favor of Cosina. Its present appearance, as shown is edgy, square, cold, and rigid, yet sufficiently sophisticated to conceal its high-technology innards.

Along with the new camera there will be seven lenses available, all in M mount, which allows the lenses to be used for other camera bodies. Two of the seven, namely the Distagon T* 15mm f/1.8 and Sonnar T* 85mm f/2, will be manufactured by Carl Zeiss Oberkochen, while the other five, the Biogon T* 21mm f/2.8, Biogon T* 25mm f/2.8, Biogon T* 28mm f/2.8, Biogon T* 35mm f/2, and Planar T* 50mm f/2, will be manufactured in Japan by Cosina from Carl Zeiss designs. In order to meet the demanding quality specifications defined by Carl Zeiss, an MTF Plotter K8 shown manufactured by Carl Zeiss has been installed in the QC section of Cosina's factory. Each lens should stand 100,000 focusing movements between infinity and the shortest distance.

One thing that impressed Cosina through this joint development effort was the attitude of Carl Zeiss, that is: "Quality first. No compromise in favor of manufacturing convenience or of cost." This may seem like a technical extravagance, but a camera that bears the Zeiss Ikon brand deserves it.

Technical Specifications
Shutter: Electronically controlled, vertically traveling metal curtain shutter; 1 (or 8 in Auto mode)-1/2000 sec; X synchronization 1/125 sec; shutter speed indicated in finder
Finder: Reverse Galilean, coincidence principle rangefinder with baseline of 75mm, 0.74x magnification, coupled with viewfinder, with automatically interchanged bright frames for 28, 35, 50, 85mm lenses, automatic parallax compensation
Exposure Control: Silicon Photo Diode receptor measures the reflection of the incident light from the auxiliary shutter curtain; center priority integral measurement, ISO 25-3200, aperture priority automatic control or manual

The new Zeiss Ikon camera will be distributed in the U.S.A. by Hasselblad. For more information, visit or