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

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Subject: [Leica] Re: Contax use
From: don.dory at (Don Dory)
Date: Tue May 30 17:15:26 2006
References: <> <>

Ah, but the rub is in the lens.  That first generation 35 Biogon only works
on the older II, III or the Kiev's.  So, if I for some odd reason want to
use that lens, I have to use the older body.  Besides, the rangefinder is
more accurate. :)


On 5/30/06, Lawrence Zeitlin <> wrote:
> 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.
> Don,
> 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
> _______________________________________________
> Leica Users Group.
> See for more information

In reply to: Message from lrzeitlin at (Lawrence Zeitlin) ([Leica] Re: Contax use)