Monday, October 01, 2018

A Sentimental Favorite

My Contaflex I was an early acquisition and one of only two of my film cameras that I have sent away for repair.  The other was my Kiev IIa which was restored by Oleg Khalyavin.  As it turned out, the repair of the Contaflex did not work and I ended up tearing it down myself to fix the sticky aperture stop-down mechanism.  The repair was not terribly difficult, but it did take considerable research on the web to find the proper techniques for disassembly and adjustment of the leaf shutter slr.  My success with the camera likely included a good dose of luck; I think if I were to be faced with the same situation today I would likely send off the camera to someone with real expertise such as Chris Sherlock.

Zeiss Ikon pioneered the design of the leaf-shutter single lens reflex camera with the first Contaflex which came to the market in 1953.  The company brought some radically new thinking in camera construction to the task which seems likely to have been inspired by the work of Hubert Nerwin.  Although Nerwin was long gone to America by 1953, there are many aspects of the Contaflex design which echo his innovative thinking as it was manifested in the Contax II, the Contessa 35, and espcially in the little Ikonta 35.  As shown in the comparison below, the Contaflex was significantly smaller than the contemporary Kodak Retina Reflex or the much later focal plane shutter models like the Pentax K1000.

Aside from the appealing compactness of the Contaflex, the camera's real strength as a picture maker was the superlative f:2.8/45mm coated Tessar lens.  I had some familiarity with the lens design in earlier 35mm and medium format cameras and the prospect of actually viewing the world through a Tessar on an slr was compelling.  These many years later I don't have a camera which inspires more confidence in operation than the Contaflex. I proved that to myself again in the past week when I took the camera out on walks in the neighborhood and along the river.

Visiting the Past in the Plaza Vieja

Fairlane 500

In 1957 the Contaflex was still in production.

plastic and stucco

Proxar 0.5 accessory close-up lens

ocra at f:2.8

Roxie at the River
The Contaflex I Manual is at the Butkus site.


JR Smith said...


Mike said...

Thanks. The Contaflex does seem to always add something nice to whatever I point it at.

Jim Grey said...

Wooooow. This post might be the best advertisement for the Tessar yet.

What it it about this camera that inspires such confidence in you?

Mike said...

I take the Contaflex out for a spin once or twice a year and it always performs perfectly. That's pretty impressive I think in a leaf shutter slr in which there is a requirement for very precise timing in the sequence of events for each exposure. The Tessar also provides consistently nice results. I'm probably a bit prejudiced in favor of the camera because it is one on which I accomplished some restoration work. This first model of the Contaflex lacks a light meter, and that is a big advantage in regard to reliability because the light meter linkages in later models added a level of complexity which is often a source of problems.