With the collapse of Germany in 1945 and occupation by the allies, the once dominant German Photo industry lay in the same ruins as the rest of the country. In addition, the photo industry was one of those of significant interest to the occupying powers. Without making this too much of a history lesson, as Germany was split up among the victorious allies, so too was the photo industry.
This was most obvious in the Zeiss Ikon conglomerate. Most of its factories were in the Eastern Zone – under control of the Soviet Union. Gradually as the split between a communist-led Eastern Germany and a Western Germany became increasingly solidified, so too did the split in Zeiss Ikon follow suit. By 1950 there were two Zeiss Ikon Corporations, each claiming to be the successor to the prewar giant.
One, Zeiss Ikon A.G. was located in Stuttgart, West Germany The other, VEB Zeiss Ikon, would be in its ancestral home in Dresden, East Germany. The Western Zeiss Ikon would continue to build many models from before the war – but in most cases, made various improvements in design, and even developed new models. VEB Zeiss Ikon in the east pretty much continued to make the models they were “familiar with” from before the war!
Both East and West continued to manufacture the basic folders that were familiar fare before 1945. Here I speak specifically of the Zeiss Ikonta folders, particularly the 6×9. Zeiss Ikon Stuttgart was allowed to continue to use the name Ikonta for their folders, but VEB Zeiss Ikon had to use the name ERCONA for the very same camera they produced in Dresden. There is a whole fascinating story behind the legal wrangling over rights to names between these “Two Zeisses!”
The Ercona I was the first issue of the East German VEB Zeiss Ikon 6×9 folder… As you can readily tell, there isn’t a smidgen of difference between it and this Stuttgart version, the 521/2 Ikonta.
Both cameras are eminently excellent 6×9 picture takers. One advantage that the Ercona had over the basic Ikonta, was that all Erconas are fitted to be dual format cameras… i.e., 6×9 AND 6×6. Also, both Ikonta and Ercona were offered with either a 3 element Novar lens ( called Novenar in Dresden due to legalities and Novar in Stuttgart). It’s like the difference between a brown and a white egg!!
Both cameras were also offered with the top-of-the-line, T-coated, four-element f3.5/105mm TESSAR. In fact, the Ercona is far more often seen with the Tessar while the Ikonta is more often seen with the Novar.
Around 1954, VEB Zeiss Ikon brought out the an improved Ercona II. Well, While I really like the looks of the “new” Ercona, it was basically just the Ercona I with a new chrome top. Gone was the large flip-up viewfinder from the Ercona I, replaced by a somewhat smaller viewfinder, but still a cosmetic and practical improvement.
Strange, but while prior to WWII, about 85% or more of the camera manufacture was in the eastern regions of Germany, the shutter manufacturers were in the West. Therefore VEB Zeiss Ikon had to basically develop a shutter industry in the east as the commercial doors between East and West Germany closed for a while. Therefore, as the West Germany Ikontas would carry mostly Prontor (and very occasionally Even Synchro-Compur) shutters, 99% of the VEB Zeiss Ikon Erconas would carry VEB TEMPOR shutters. Internally they are akin to early Compur shutters, but really simpler made. They have speeds of 1 > 1/250 plus “B” and are flash synched. They come either with a black-face (see photos) or as an all-chrome affair. On very very rare occasions you will see an Ercona with a Prontor shutter.
In the main, a well serviced Tempor shutter is a sturdy and reliable shutter. Its manufacture is not as sophisticated as the western made shutters…. But it is accurate and reliable…. And easy to repair.