Zeiss Ikon Box Tengor 56/2 “The King of Box Cameras”

We live in a world of choices.

There are so many variations available for almost everything one could need. Cars. Clothes. Even cameras. Fairly often we’ll just reach for the inexpensive option because ‘cheap’ will mostly get the job done.

However, sometimes going basic isn’t all that appealing- especially when you’re after an experience that’s above the norm. That’s exactly why some companies design and release premium products.

In 1948 the world was introduced to the Rolls Royce of cardboard. The apex of LoFi. What many refer to as the “King of Box Cameras”.

The Zeiss Ikon Box Tengor 56/2.

Design

On a shelf with other cameras, the Box Tengor might blend in as just another vintage tinker toy, but in the hand, it’s immediately apparent that this is a premium item. Constructed from a metal frame, there is a heft and robustness to it that other box cameras just don’t have.

The Tengor 56/2 gives you the option to select multiple apertures and focus distances to adjust for your shooting conditions. This is contrary to most box cameras, which usually only offer one fixed aperture with a minimum focus distance.

Where the King of box cameras really separates itself though, is in the lens. Most are constructed with a single plastic element meniscus design, but not the Tengor. Oh, no. True to the Zeiss legacy, you get a Goerz Frontar-Achromat lens which is fancy talk for “this thing is sharp”.

Constructed with a glass triplet design, the lens produces a sharp image in the center that falls away as you approach the edge of the frame (which adds to the charm in my opinion). Negatives produced with this camera have a decent amount of contrast as well.

Before using the 56/2, I never thought I would include the words “sharp” and “Box camera” together in a sentence.

Additional features

So you think that having selectable apertures and focus distances are neat tricks for a box camera?

But wait- there’s more!

The Tengor has a double exposure prevention system that locks out the advance knob to prevent taking accidental shots. You even get a visual cue via a small window that shows either a white or a red flag telling you what position the shutter lock is currently in.

Even something as simple as the frame counter had extra thought put in it. Most box cameras have just a red window on the back for viewing what frame you’re currently on, but true to the overbuilt nature of the 56/2, there is a nice sliding cover for added protection against light leaks on the Tengor’s viewing window.

Final thoughts

To summarize my experience shooting with the Zeiss Box Tengor could be done with one word: impressed.

The majority of my time with box cameras has been spent with models by Ansco and Kodak, which are always a blast to shoot with, albeit relatively simple and rudimentary.

This 56/2 is, however, is on another level. The unit that I had the chance to shoot was lent to me by a friend, and after my time with his copy, I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out to purchase my own.

With shooting so many cameras over the years, it’s rare that I come across one that immediately puts a smile on my face the first time I use it, or makes me think “just wow”.

That’s the Zeiss Tengor.

To repeat the wise words of Mel Brooks- “It’s good to be the King”

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