2012-10-18

Zeiss Ikon Contaflex II

Last Sunday I bought a second Contaflex II camera in a very nice and working condition. The first one I got over a year ago and it was broken. I took it to pieces and realized, what others were warning about: These Contaflexes are probably the most difficult to repair mechanical cameras ever. I was able to get it back together, but in no working condition. Now I'm glad to have one to shoot a film with, and I think the selenium meter is even working! Anyhow, I took the opportunity to post some new pictures here and translate parts of my older German text.

Zeiss Ikon Contaflex II

In 1953 Zeiss Ikon introduced the Contaflex I, a compact SLR with a fixed lens and a leaf shutter. It was the first of its kind ever shown and the decisive design feature was the then-new Compur Reflex Shutter around which the camera was literally built. The Contaflex II followed in 1954. It was basically the same camera with an additional built-in but uncoupled selenium light meter. The Contaflex SLR series was intended for the demanding amateur and was offered in various forms until 1970. When it was launched in Germany in 1954 it cost 498 DM (in today's money about 1200 € or US$ 1500 ). Despite of the high price it was a market success. This was mainly due to the big name, the solid workmanship and some for the time outstanding features (a bright focusing screen, the excellent Tessar, ...).
Zeiss Ikon found some imitators: Kodak Retina Reflex, Voigtlander Bessamatic, to only name the two main competitors. However, the concept of combining a leaf shutter with the single lens reflex system has some major disadvantages: Only set-lenses (a 1.7x telescope was available), limited light intensity, super complex triggering process, no-return mirror, and others. The repeatedly purported benefits (flash sync at all shutter speeds, and a more compact design) don't really make sense to me. If I take my Nikon F, which was built from 1959, then I know exactly why this camera was the archetype of the modern focal plane shutter SLR System (to enumerate the advantages, I can omit here). Due to marketing purposes Zeiss Ikon sticked far too long to the complicated Compur reflex shutter and with this put some nails in the coffin of the West German industrial camera production. Frank Mechelhoff  has described this in detail in an interesting article.
The Contaflex 126, which I was able to use as a child, by the way had a focal plane shutter. If Zeiss Ikon had brought that a few years earlier as a 135 camera, maybe the German camera industry could have stand a little longer against the Japanese competition. The Contaflex series has borrowed its name from a famous ancestor: The original Contaflex of 1935 was a twin-lens reflex ("TLR", with focal plane shutter!) and was the first camera ever with a built-in meter. At the time it was (even pricewise) virtually the Maybach of 135 cameras, has been sold in limited numbers and is now sought after as a rare collector's item. Not comparable to the $ 5 for a broken or $ 20 for a nice and working Contaflex II.
Photo Porst "Photohelfer" Catalogue 1956

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