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 17:22:23 2006
References: <> <> <>

And for direct experience I have acquired two Contaces and three Kiev's,
none of which worked properly.  After a thorough overhaul of the III and
some coaching I finally got a roll of film through the III and a 47 Kiev.
The problem was that the back was relatively flimsy and the pressure plate
exerted too much pressure on the film causing the take up spool to slip.  I
gained an appreciation for the bottom loading Leica which has always been
easy for me as a cut leader does the trick every time for me.

So, I have the old Sonnar and Biogon out for CLA and will soon have a direct
comparison to a Leica III with the same standing; each set will have been
overhauled recently so the use will be a fair understanding of both series
of cameras in actual use.  I will stand by the quality of lenses available
in 1936.  The Zeiss offerings were superior.


On 5/30/06, Marc James Small <> wrote:
> At 11:34 AM 5/30/06 -0400, Lawrence Zeitlin wrote:
> >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
> For starters, the accepted plural for Contax is Contaces, to follow
> Ikoflices, Ikarices, Contaflices, and Contarices.  Straight Latin, it is.
> Second, the Prewar shutter is quite a bit tougher than the Postwar IIa and
> IIIa shutter, which was regarded as a disappointment by Zeiss Ikon and
> which never won the reputation for durability in the marketplace.  It is
> important to bear in mind that the Contax II was the accepted
> rough-country
> 35mm camera of the 1940's and 1950's and was by far the standard 35mm
> camera used by combat photographers in the Second World War  -- Capa, for
> instance, switched from Leica to Contax following the Spanish Civil War
> due
> to reliability problems with the Leica.  The IIa and IIIa never enjoyed
> the
> sort of reputation that the II and III enjoyed..
> The Prewar shutter is much better built from quality materials, while the
> Postwar shutter was built by a company without much access to quality
> materials by a company operating on an extremely thin shoestring.  The
> Prewar shutter was designed to accomodate 100,000 exposures between
> services, while the Postwar shutter was only designed to last for 10,000
> and rarely made that in practice.  The big killer for Contax shutters, as
> with Leica shutters, is lack of use.  A regularly used Contax II or III
> will outlast a Leica by a matter of years.  Yes, the tapes do break but
> this is much more common with a camera that has been sitting on a closet
> shelf for forty years than with a camera enjoying regular use.
> There are virtually no parts available for the Postwar shutter, production
> of such parts having ceased a third of a century back, while parts for the
> Prewar shutter abound -- the Arsenal plant in Kiev continued to produce
> repair parts well into the 1990's, and these are readily available today.
> One of the greatest myths of the camera world is the old chestnut about
> Leitz holding patents on its shutter.  This simply is not true, and Zeiss
> Ikon and its predecessors had been producing LF cameras with focal-plane
> shutters very much akin to the Leitz shutter for years by the time the
> Contax first appeared in 1930.  The design of the Contax was intended to
> trump the Leica by producing a more flexible, reliable, and rugged design
> and, by the time of the Contax II, they certainly had achieved their goal.
> All in all, a Contax II is the best of the breed and has the best VF/RF
> ever used in a RF camera.
> Marc
> Cha robh b?s fir gun ghr?s fir!
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Replies: Reply from red735i at (Frank Filippone) ([Leica] Re: Contax use)
Reply from rhc3vt at (Richard Coutant) ([Leica] Re: Contax use)
In reply to: Message from lrzeitlin at (Lawrence Zeitlin) ([Leica] Re: Contax use)
Message from msmall at (Marc James Small) ([Leica] Re: Contax use)