Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Classic Experience

I get out with my Contaflex I several times a year.  The camera always produces some nice pictures for me, but it also provides a hands-on opportunity to experience the culmination of a half-century of small camera design and production by Zeiss Ikon.  High precision craftsmanship combined with the finest available materials permitted the implementation in 1953 of a single lens reflex camera with a uniquely compact form that would not be surpassed for another decade by Japanese camera makers..

The Contaflex I did not have the interchangeable lenses and light meters of later models, but Zeiss did offer a large selection of accessories for the camera including microscope and stereo adapters, and most importantly perhaps, the add-on telephoto lens known as the Teleskop 1.7x.  The telephoto and several of the other accessories were attached to the camera in front of the fixed 45mm lens with a slide-on bracket.

The bottom 4 elements are the fixed 45mm camera lens
The Teleskop 1.7x produced the equivalent focal length of about 75mm which could be focused as close as four feet and which was likely intended primarily as a portrait lens.  As shown in the lens diagram the Teleskop 1.7x was a massive six-element design which could only be expected from Zeiss.  I think I have only once used the telephoto on my camera, and I would be hard put to find the photos now.  I'll try to remember next time I get out with the Contaflex to make a few shots that show the capabilities of the lens.

The Contaflex I can frequently be found offered on ebay in the $25 to $45 range, which seems extraordinary for such a finely made instrument.  The reason for that is that any Contaflex which has not been recently serviced is not likely to be ready to make pictures.  Nearly all of them will require cleaning of the shutter and the aperture stop-down mechanism.  This basic servicing of the camera is not really very difficult, but it is a great help to have some idea of the camera's unique construction features, including the three tiny screws holding the front lens element in place which are hidden under the distance scale of the front-focusing lens.

Here are some recently made pictures from the Contaflex I made during a walk along the Rio Grande:


JR Smith said...

I always thought this was a very good looking camera. Is it fiddly to use?

Mike said...

The Contaflex I is very smooth in its operation and the controls are well placed. If you are used to more modern slr cameras, the fact that the mirror is not instantly returning can be disconcerting at first. That means that when you press the shutter release, the view through the finder goes black. This is a common feature of early leaf shutter slr cameras. On the up side, the aperture does stop down automatically, so no fiddling with presets as is the case with the early Soviet cameras. I always carry along a push-on close-up lens to provide a bit more versatility. When I first got an earlier Contaflex I many years ago I was especially taken with the idea of being able to view through its Tessar lens directly as I had used it so often before with rangefinder and viewfinder models.

Jim Grey said...

Oh now isn't that a delightful little bit of gear. And that lens really delivers!

Mike said...

I believe it is identical to the lenses on the Ikonta 35 and the Contessa 35. All of them make very good pictures.