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Zeiss Ikon Nettax

This piece is taken from Classic Camera Magazine number 32, and is provided to try to demonstrate the style of the magazine. Note that the magazine article is illustrated, but in order to keep download times to a minimum, I have omitted the illustrations from this version.

All back issues of Classic Camera Magazine are available; see the main Classic Camera Magazine page for details.

The Nettax was introduced in 1936 and a contemporary test report describes it as a cross between the Super Nettel and the Contax. Zeiss Ikon called it their lowest-priced miniature camera with interchangeable lenses. They gave it many of the features of the Contax, but a different lens mount and some simplifications.

The Nettax has a die-cast body with leather trim and chromium-plated metal parts. It has the same focal plane shutter as the Contax and the Super Nettel, made of metal strips which Zeiss Ikon claimed would never corrode.The range of speeds (one-fifth of a second to one one-thousandth of a second) is smaller than that of the Contax. The coupled rangefinder is also similar to that of the Contax: a wide-base coincident image rangefinder which shares the viewfinder window. However, each Nettax lens carries its own rotating wedge system, thus producing cost savings over the rather neater, but more complex, Contax system. Many of the accessories made for the Contax, for example the wide range of viewfinders, would also fit the Nettax, but the Nettax never had the number of lenses that was offered for the Contax; for example, the fast Sonnar 50 mm. lenses were never an option.

The Nettax has a bayonet lens mount, but the lens has part of the rangefinder attached so Contax and Nettax lenses are not generally interchangeable. Two Tessar lenses were offered as standard; the 50 mm. f/3.5 and then 50 mm. f/2.8. In 1938 the camera with f/2.8 Tessar cost £32 and with f/3.5 Tessar £53. In modern terms the difference may not appear to be very great: a saving of £23 15s., but in 1938 this was enough to buy a telephoto lens, a reloadable cassette and some film.

By 1938 a 105 mm. f/5.6 Triotar telephoto lens was offered (cost £18). In addition, a conversion ring was made to permit the Contax 28 mm. f/8 Tessar lens to be used on the Nettax without any rangefinder capabilty (cost 2s. 6d.). Whether this range of lenses would have been increased had the war not intervened will never be known.

There were other accessoriesavailable for the Nettax. Proxars for between 30 and 20 inches and for between 20 and 12 inches were available (cost around 16s. each in 1938). For closer work and more precision, the Contameter could be used. This is a parallax-corrected rangefinder with interchangeable prisms. Three sets of prisms are provided, for 20 inches, 12 inches and 8 inches. A Proxar is fitted to the lens to match the prisms fitted to the Contameter. The two are not coupled, and Zeiss Ikon said the camera should be moved until the subject is in focus, shown by the coincident image rangefinder in the Contameter.

For people who wished to use plates, a plate back adapter could be fitted in place of the 35 mm. back. An adapter permitted the use of Contax copying stands, from the small table stand which allows reproduction ratios from about 1:1 to 1:4, to the larger copying stand with lights giving ratios between 1:2 and 1:12.

The Nettax did not sell in large numbers; this is usually attributed to the small difference in price between it and the Contax. This price difference however, was not small at the time, so there must be other reasons for the small sales. There were several excellent cameras on the market at the same time as the Nettax, and they were competitive in price, specification and quality. The most serious rival must be the Leica; the Model III cost £31 16s. with f/3.5 lens, but the Model II (which has a more restricted range of shutter speeds) was only £27 17s. - cheaper than the equivalent Nettax.

Whatever the reason, the Nettax did not sell well and this means that it is now fairly difficult to find, and expensive. The price premium which is brought about by the number of collectors seeking an example means that the camera cannot be recommended as a usable camera - it is too valuable to be risked in that way. The shutter blinds are especially delicate as although the metal does not corrode, the silk which is holding the slats together does suffer from age.

This is not, in design terms, an especially interesting camera. It has no features which cannot be found elsewhere, and often at a more reasonable price. This is one for the glass case of the rishest and most enthusiastic Zeiss Ikon collector; the rest of us can probably put the space (and the money) to better use.

Collectors' Checklist


  • Nettax f/3.5 538/24L IHNEH
  • Nettax f/2.8 538/24P IHNIJ
  • Both versions accept 25.5 mm. screw fitting filters, 27 mm. push-on filters or 42 mm. push-on filters.


  • Tessar f/8 28 mm. 40.5 mm. screw fitting or 42 mm. push-on filters. Does not couple to rangefinder.
  • Triotar f/5.6 105 mm. 40.5 mm. screw fitting or 42 mm. push-on filters. IHOWX


  • Adapting ring for using Contax 28 mm. Tessar on Nettax 538/39 IHVAN
  • Adapting ring to permit use to Contax Copying Stand or Contax Macro stand with Nettax 538/39 IHVAM


  • Soft leather purse, zip fastening 1777/10 IFBEM
  • Soft leather sling case, zip fastening 1745/6 IJEPS
  • Brown, stiff leather ever-ready case 1794/2 IJEJL
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