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Zeiss Ikon Box-Tengor 54/2

A review for Reddit's /r/analog Camera Review Wiki. Send questions or comments via the contact form at the bottom of this page.

The No. 2 Brownie is as basic as a box camera gets. Add in all the things that are missing and the result might be something like the Box Tengor. I found mine at a flea market, at a stall that always has some interesting camera gear.

Goerz made Box Tengors starting around 1924. By the late 20s Goerz and several other companies merged to form Zeiss Ikon. The Box Tengor line was continued under the Zeiss Ikon name. The model I have is a wartime 54/2 that probably dates to 1943 or 1944. Like Brownies, there were cameras made for different film sizes. Models 54/2, 55/2 and 56/2 take 120.

The larger metal tab on the top left is the shutter release, and the shorter one on the right is lifted for long exposures. Most other versions of this camera have the shutter release on the side near the lock button. At the top are two viewfinder windows. Above the lens is the focus control: Infinity - 8m, 8m-2m, 2m-1m. Next is the lens with its distinctive mirror shutter. At the bottom is the aperture selector.

Body and construction. It's smaller than the Brownie, built of metal and feels solid. The front has controls for focus (three ranges: 1-2m, 2-8m, 8m to infinity) and aperture (11, 16, 22). There are two tripod mounts (3/8", an adapter is required for modern 1/4" screws) and a cable release socket for time exposures. The shutter has one speed, about 1/50, and there's a tab that enables time exposures when lifted. There's a shutter release lock. The red film counter window has a sliding metal cover. For loading the camera comes apart into two pieces which are held together by the strap. Clever!

The lens is a two element Goerz Frontar achromat, an improvement on the single-element meniscus lenses found on most boxes. It has zone focus. Choosing a focus zone closer than infinity slides an auxiliary lens behind the main lens.

There's a mirror behind the taking lens which I guess makes this a prehistoric selfie camera when paired with a really long cable release.

The camera takes 120 film and makes 8 6x9 exposures. If you're using Kodak film be aware that the frame numbers will appear waaaay on the left edge of the window.

Viewfinders. There are two viewfinders, horizontal and vertical. They are bright and clear.

Through the viewfinder. The T tab, when lifted, enables long exposures.

Loading film. To open the camera, pull the small chrome loop on the right side away from the body, then pull the back straight off. The back and front are held together by the strap. Move the empty spool to the top side with the winding knob where it becomes the take-up spool Remove the paper band from the roll of film and place it in the bottom slot with the tapered part pointing up. Pull the paper backing up across the back and into the slot on the take-up spool. Wind on a bit until the paper catches. The black side of the paper should be facing inward, with the outside of the backing paper (usually white) with markings should be facing out. Place the back on and push down the chrome loop to lock the body shut.

Zeiss Ikon Box Tengor 54/2The camera opened. The 3/8" tripod socket is visible here. There's another on the bottom of the camera.

On the back of the camera, slide open the film counter window cover and continue to wind slowly until the number 1 appears in the window. Remember that on Kodak films this will appear at the very edge of the window - look for the word 'KODAK' in tiny letters that appears right before the frame number.

Back of the camera showing the film counter window with its sliding cover.

Shooting. The Box Tengor has focus ranges. Estimate the distance to the subject and choose the best range. The shutter speed is about 1/50 so choose the best aperture for the subject and the film's ISO. A meter is helpful, and generally it's better to overexpose than underexpose.

Hold the camera against your body to steady it, look into the viewfinder, and slowly press the shutter release. Wind to the next frame.

To do time exposures, lift up the T tab. The shutter will stay open as long as the release is held down, or as long as the cable release is pressed.

Conclusion. Most box cameras were cheaply made and were as basic as can be, opening photography to those without technical skills or a lot of money. The Box Tengor is a deluxe box that's well made and has everything that's missing from more basic models: better lens, tripod sockets, cable release, focus zones. The only thing missing is a PC connection for flash - the later model 56/2 has one. The pictures are much better than Kodak No. 2 Brownie. Still, expect soft corners and vignetting.

Close focus. Surprisingly sharp.