Zeiss Ikon Universal Juwel

Ansel Adams with his Universal Juwel 275/11
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Universal Juwel was Zeiss’ most expensive and versatile view camera between the world wars.

There were two models, one in 9×12 cm and the other in 13×18 cm format, listed as model Nr.275 and Nr.440 in the advertisement below showing the different lens and body combinations available.

The manual instead refers to the 275/7 and the 275/11, which appear to be updated model numbers for the models in the above advertisement.

Image courtesy of buktus.us
Image courtesy of buktus.us


The Juwel was known as the “Queen of German plate cameras” because of its unrivalled features. During its lifetime it was the favourite camera of many great photographers, including Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange, due to its compact dimensions, relative light weight, and ultimate flexibility.

Dorothea Lange with her Juwel
Image courtesy Paul S. Taylor

A very similar camera named the Universal Palmos with model number 275 was initially manufactured around 1909 by Huttig, which soon thereafter merged with others to become Internataionale Camera AG. ICA at some point renamed the camera as the Universal Juwel and that model was eventually inherited by Zeiss Ikon in 1926 as the result of the merger of Zeiss with ICA.

After the second world war, Zeiss Ikon discontinued all large format cameras to focus on 35mm and medium format, and the Juwel was no longer.

The mantle of German large format cameras was passed to Linhof. The Technika line, manufactured from 1934 onwards, is claimed to be the world’s first all-metal field camera, though it owes an obvious debt to the Juwel, with many evolutionary improvements added over the decades to the present day.

Universal Juwel features

  • Durable, light alloy body
  • Interchangeable lens bayonet mount
  • Rotating back
  • Triple extension bellows
  • Drop bed
  • Brilliant finder
  • Sports finder
  • Scale focus
  • Ground glass focus
  • Sprit level
  • Forwards and backwards tilt
  • Movements:
    • Rising front
    • Cross front

This Particular Juwel

This Juwel is a 275/7 model with a Zeiss Tessar 4.5/150 in a Compur shutter. It was manufactured somewhere between 1930 and 1938.

It is designed for European 9×12 sheet film or glass plates fitted to Zeiss (ICA) 665/7 standard cut film holders.

Zeiss Ikon Universal Juwel 275/7 9×12 view camera c1930
Zeiss Tessar 4.5/150 • Forward tilt applied

This Juwel is interesting in that it has a custom-mounted coupled rangefinder made by Kalart, which seems to be quite similar to the one on my Graflex Speed Graphic (albeit in chrome finish). It is very professionally integrated to the camera and appears to be functioning, however the beam splitter has deteriorated to the point of failure.

A rangefinder is a useful addition, but the coupling to the front standard prevents the drop bed from functioning. The drop bed assists when using wide angle lenses, and given that I only have a normal lens, this is not such a drawback for me.

This Juwel has the serial number E22150 stamped into the focus scale. I can’t find a source online that might indicate what year it was manufactured. The Zeiss Tessar 4.5/150 serial number 1055743 is from 1930-31. The Compur shutter has the serial number 241091 from 1913, so I can only assume it’s a replacement.

This camera was finely engineered, and is fully functional almost 90 years after it was made. The Compur #2 is 116 years old and yet the shutter fires on all speeds and even sounds reasonably accurate. The uncoated Tessar is clean and clear without any fungus, separation or other issues save a few cleaning marks.

Given its age, my Juwel does of course have a few issues!


  • The front standard is quite stiff to pull out from the body. I have lubricated the tracks with helicoid grease and it’s a lot better, but still not smooth.
  • The bellows are slightly worn (unsurprisingly) and have a few light leaks. I have sealed most of them with black liquid electrical tape.
  • The Kalart rangefinder beam splitter has deteriorated.
  • 9×12 cm film is expensive and rare, and only available in a few stocks. Glass plates are even worse. If I want to shoot this camera, it would be good to convert it to 4×5″, which is slightly larger and much more common than 9×12 cm format.




2 thoughts on “Zeiss Ikon Universal Juwel

  1. Good article – I’m from a long time photography family and found you while looking for information on Universal Juwel. I have a 440 – one of hundreds of cameras I’ve collected over the years. I’m from the old school and used to shoot portraits on split back Ansco 5X7 cameras up through the 1970’s. I haven’t read all of your articles, but have a lot of miscellaneous items that are probably hard to find.

    1. Thanks for your comment Curt! I’m just getting started with large format, as you can probably tell. Enjoying the results so far.

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