Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2006/05/30

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Subject: [Leica] Re: Contax use
From: lrzeitlin at (Lawrence Zeitlin)
Date: Tue May 30 08:35:10 2006
References: <>

On May 30, 2006, at 10:44 AM, Don wrote:

> For the past year or so I have been trying to get a couple of  
> Contax cameras
> up and running so that I can use two of the lenses that made the Zeiss
> system desireable; the 50 1.5 Sonnar and the 35 f2.8 Biogon.  I  
> guess I just
> did not apprediate the difference of design philosophy between  
> Leica and
> Zeiss-Ikon.  The Leica cameras of the day, predominately the III  
> were pretty
> simple cameras with optional slow speeds.  Rangefinder base lengths  
> were
> adequate for the lenses of the day and the shutters were very durable
> especialy if used.
> Problems would be loading which is a learned task, and the ability  
> to burn
> holes in the shutter if you focused unwisely toward the sun.   
> Rangefinders
> could be knocked out of whack but the adjustments were pretty easy  
> to do if
> you knew which screws did what.
> The Zeiss offerings were much larger, heavier, with a very long  
> rangefinder
> base almost suitable to focus a 180.  Advantages would be  
> removeable back to
> ease loading, slow speeds on the base model, a faster  
> (theoretically faster
> top speed) top shutter speed, and a rangefinder that was very robust.


I feel your pain. I struggled with Contaxi for years.

The Contax shutter featured in the earliest boxlike Contax I and the  
Contax II is a vertical focal plane shutter which uses thin metal  
slats to get flexibility. Sort of like a venetian blind or roll up  
bamboo blind. The slats are kept in line and driven by two fabric  
tapes threaded through holes on the ends of the slat. Unlike the  
Leica shutter which only varies the slot between the first and second  
blinds to set higher shutter speeds, the Contax varies both the  
spacing and the rate that the shutter moves by means of a gear train.  
When the Contax was introduced in the 30s, Leica already had patents  
on the easy way to do things so Zeiss was forced to adopt a more  
complicated and costly mechanism. The shutter cannot be replaced as a  
unit since so much of the mechanism is integrated into the body of  
the camera.

Typically what goes wrong on a Contax shutter is that one of the  
shutter tapes wears or breaks. The camera must be opened and a new  
set of tapes threaded through the slats and anchored to the driving  
spools. In an emergency, you can use nylon dental floss tapes. The  
complex gear drive should be cleaned and oiled at the same time.  
Parts for these early cameras are unavailable so if anything breaks  
except the tapes, parts must be taken from junker cameras. Some of  
the Russian Kiev parts may fit since they were made on the same  
machinery. Instruction manuals for Contax camera repair are available  
on the internet.

The Contax IIa of the 50s uses a redesigned and simplfied shutter  
mechanism that is much more reliable than the shutter used in the  
older cameras. Most good repair shops will still fix this camera.

The Contax II of 1936 was the first truly modern 35mm RF camera.  
Leica did not duplicate its features until the M3 of 1954. When  
introduced, the Contax theoretically had shutter speeds to 1/1250  
second, the Leica peaked at 1/500 second. The Contax had a wide base  
rangefinder using the swinging prism system, integated into the  
viewfinder. The Leica had a less precise moving mirror rangefinder  
viewed through a tiny peephole and a mediocre adjacent reverse  
Gallilean telescope viewfinder. Speeds were set on the Contax by  
lifting and turning the winding knob. The Leica had a seperate knob  
for setting speeds and an auxiliary dial for slow speeds. The Contax  
could be loaded by opening the back. The Leica had needle threading  
bottom loading. The Contax had a bayonet lens mount. The Leica had a  
screw in mount. Finally the Contax had excellent Zeiss Sonnar lenses  
with apertures up to f1.5. The Leica had the f2.0 Summar.

I don't mean to bash Leica. I'm a Leica fan myself. But in its day,  
the Contax was regarded as a superior photographic instrument. When  
Nikon copied the German cameras after WW2 they used the Contax as the  
model for the S series, substituting only the more reliable Leica  
shutter mechanism for the complex Contax shutter. This was the camera  
that established the reputation for Japanese quality during the  
Korean War.

My suggestions for using the excellent Contax lenses, either scrap  
the old Contax cameras, sell them to some sucker on eBay,  or give  
them to a collector. Get yourself a late model Contax IIa. These are  
available for far less than the price of having the lenses adapted to  
Leica mounts. The camera is smaller, lighter, and much more reliable.  
It will fit all the older lenses as well as many Kiev lenses.

Larry Z

Replies: Reply from don.dory at (Don Dory) ([Leica] Re: Contax use)
Reply from msmall at (Marc James Small) ([Leica] Re: Contax use)