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

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Subject: [Leica] Re: Contax use
From: rhc3vt at (Richard Coutant)
Date: Tue May 30 17:35:15 2006

Don - This is puzzling.  I have used a number of Contax II/III and early 
Kiev cameras and have never has a problem with film slippage.  I assume that 
your problem resulted in overlapping frames.  If the end of the film is 
sufficiently wound on, this should not be an issue.  It's a little hard to 
imagine how the wind-on spool could actually slip.  Can you describe the 
problem any more specifically?


>From: "Don Dory" <>
>Reply-To: Leica Users Group <>
>To: "Leica Users Group" <>
>Subject: Re: [Leica] Re: Contax use
>Date: Tue, 30 May 2006 20:22:14 -0400
>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 
>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.
>>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
>>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
>>to reliability problems with the Leica.  The IIa and IIIa never enjoyed
>>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.
>>Cha robh bàs fir gun ghràs fir!
>>Leica Users Group.
>>See for more information
>Leica Users Group.
>See for more information

In reply to: Message from don.dory at (Don Dory) ([Leica] Re: Contax use)