Contax I - Antique and Vintage Cameras

Contax I

1932

Early model

Zeiss-Ikon A. G.

Dresden

Germany

Image of Contax I

Lens:
f3.5, 5 cm Zeiss Tessar, iris diaphragm to f22. Depth-of-field scale. Bayonet mount. Serial no. 1294445 (1931).

Shutter:
Metal vertically running focal-plane, speeds 1/25 - 1/1000, B.

Construction:
Leather covered metal body.

Format:
36, 24 x 36 mm exposures on 35 mm cine film held in special cassettes. Two cassettes can be used or one with the film being re-wound. Could also be used with Contax Day Light loading spools having paper leaders.

Focusing:
Helical to 3 feet.

Attributes:
Long base swing mirror coupled rangefinder, central double image. One mirror is gilded to give colour difference. Direct-vision (lens/lens) view-finder with sliding mask for 8.5 cm lenses.
Film advance by sprocket wheel. Auto-stop on film advance coupled to shutter. Film advance tensions shutter. When re-winding the film is lifted clear of the sprockets.
Exposure counter.

Identification:
Black focusing scale. Kuc type 3.

Serial Number:
AU21435 (1931) .

With:
Lens cap.

Contax I

1932

Early model

Zeiss-Ikon A. G.

Dresden

Germany

Image of Contax I

Lens:
f2.8, 5 cm Zeiss Tessar, iris diaphragm to f22. Depth-of-field scale. Bayonet mount. Serial no. 1515258 (1934).

Shutter:
Metal vertically running focal-plane, speeds 1/25 - 1/1000, B.

Construction:
Leather covered metal body.

Format:
36, 24 x 36 mm exposures on 35 mm cine film held in special cassettes. Two cassettes can be used or one with the film being re-wound. Could also be used with Contax Day Light loading spools having paper leaders.

Focusing:
Helical to 0.9 metre.

Attributes:
Long base swing mirror coupled rangefinder, central double image. One mirror is gilded to give colour difference. Direct-vision (lens/lens) view-finder with sliding mask for 13.5 cm lenses.
Film advance by sprocket wheel. Auto-stop on film advance coupled to shutter. Film advance tensions shutter. When re-winding the film is lifted clear of the sprockets.
Exposure counter.

Serial Number:
V31399 (c. 1932) .

With:

  • f4, 13.5 cm Sonnar, iris diaphragm to f16. Helical focusing to 1.5 m. Depth-of-field scale. Rear cap. Serial no. 1455546.
  • Albada view-finder for 5 cm and 13.5 cm lenses.
  • Cassette. GR10, Green filter, 42 mm push-on mount, in brown case.
  • Outfit case.
  • "The New Universal Camera", pamphlet d. March 1935.

Code Names:
540/24P - Camera. 433/26 - Finder. 976/4 - Filter. 1777/3 - Case.

Contax I

Improved model

1933

Zeiss-Ikon A. G.

Dresden

Germany

Image of Contax I

Lens:
f2, 5 cm Zeiss Sonnar, iris diaphragm to f22. Bayonet mount. Serial no. 1605600 (1934).

Shutter:
Metal vertically running focal-plane, speeds 1/2 - 1/1000, B.

Construction:
Leather covered metal body.

Format:
36, 24 x 36 mm exposures on 35 mm cine film held in special cassettes. Two cassettes can be used or one with the film being re-wound. Could also be used with Contax Day Light loading spools having paper leaders.

Focusing:
Helical to 0.9 metre.

Attributes:
Long base rotating wedge coupled rangefinder, central double image. Direct-vision (lens/lens) view-finder. Sliding mask for 8.5 cm lens.
Film advance by sprocket wheel. Auto-stop on film advance coupled to shutter. Film advance tensions shutter. When re-winding the film is lifted clear of the sprockets.

Identification:
This is a late example of the Contax I. Kuc type 7.

Serial Number:
Y96909 (c. 1934) .

With:

  • Extensible lens hood. Zeiss-Ikon cable release. Ever-ready case. Small Zeiss-Ikon tripod in leather case.
  • Albada view-finder for 5 cm and 8.5 cm lenses.
  • Proxar 2x 42 in black plastic case. In cardboard box, instructions. Serial no. 492672.
  • Contameter. Comprises: rangefinder; 3 close-up prisms for finder; 3 close-up lenses, 20, 30, 50. In box.
  • Plate back adapter, 4 plate holders for 3 cm x 4.5 cm plates. Focusing screen to fit film plane aperture.
  • Reproduction stand. Copying stand with 4 pre-set positions, reproduction ratios of 1:1.5, 1:2, 1:3, 1:4. Comprises: stand with column to hold camera, 4 extension tubes, 4 subject masks giving field of view. Instructions (French). In wooden box. Focusing screen adapter for use with Reproduction stand.
  • Miflex Microscope adapter. c. 1934. Comprises: fixed ground glass viewing screen; Klio shutter, speeds 1 - 1/100, B, T; Clamp for microscope tube; Removable adapter to attach a Contax camera; Swing prism; Box. Serial no. 11826, shutter no. 384114.
  • Camera instruction book. "The Connoisseur and the Contax", booklet on the Contax listing the accessories available, c. 1933. "Accessories for Contax Photography", booklet on accessories, 1935.

The Contax was Zeiss-Ikon's first 35 mm camera. It was brought out after the popularity of the format had been established by the Leica introduced seven years previously. Compared to the Leica the Contax was difficult and cumbersome to use. Operability was improved by the introduction of the Contax II in 1936. The price was £27.0.0.

Versions
There were several changes made to the Contax I. The major being the introduction in 1933 of slow speeds (down to 1/2). In 1934 the body shape was changed and a little while after a rotating wedge rangefinder was used. Most likely the changes made in 1934 were seen as one design upgrade but with existing parts being used in a transitional model having the new body shape but mirror rangefinder. Non slow speed models continued to be available after the slow speed model was introduced. There were several other minor changes and differences in fittings, notably the tripod fitting.

  • 1932. Original semi-silvered mirrors replaced by gilt.
  • 1932. Examples have none, one or two pimples on the camera front near the focusing wheel.
  • 1933. After these very early models there was always no pimples, this corresponds with the rangefinder cover and the front plate carrying the Contax name being in one piece. Kuc type 3.
  • 1933. Slow speeds added. Foot added to camera base during this period. Kuc type 4.
  • 1934. The rear corners of the body are rounded (a new type of plate back was required). The rangefinder window near the shutter controls is larger. Button to release infinity lock when using long focus lenses added. Accessory shoe is more substantial and has bevelled rather than straight sides. Focusing scale changed to nickel rather than black. Kuc type 5.
  • 1934. Rotating wedge rangefinder replaced the previously used swing mirror. A solid glass block was used between the two ends of the rangefinder necessitating the view-finder window being moved to be outside the rangefinder. The sliding view-finder mask had also to change. The cover over the rangefinder near the shutter controls is deeper leaving a wide groove between it and the cover plate carrying the Contax name. Kuc type 6.
  • 1935. Marker for setting speeds changed to an arrow, previously it was a slotted screw. There are now four screws holding the accessory shoe. Kuc type 7.

Shutter
The design criteria for the Contax shutter was that it was to work across the short dimension of the film and not to be made of rubberised cloth. The short travel of the vertically running blind had many benefits, distortion due to subject movement was lessened and the effect of blind acceleration worked in its favour as, typically, the sky would receive less exposure. Cloth blinds were dismissed as it was thought that they were too sensitive to temperature changes and over time would not remain light-tight. The result was a blind consisting of thin metal strips each loosely connected to the other by overlapping curved edges, the strips were then strung together on two silk bands. Unfortunately the shutter proved much less robust and reliable than the much simpler cloth model. A shutter based around the Miroflex would have been a much better solution.

The timing of the improved 1933 shutter with slow speeds was by a combination of slit width, tension and mechanical delay. To set the shutter, the shutter group was first selected. There were four groups: Sports, 1/1000 - 1/100; Normal, 1/100 - 1/25; Night, 1/10 - 1/5; Time, 1/2 and Z. Once the Group had been chosen the individual speed could be set. Zeiss must have felt that this complexity was a benefit as it is emphasised in their advertisements.

Cassettes & Film
Contax cassettes were metal re-usable containers consisting of two thin cylinders one inside the other. They could be loaded into the camera in daylight, locking the back of the camera opened the cassette by rotating the inner cylinder. They could be used in a pair (no re-wind was required) or singularly (the film would be re-wound after the last exposure).

Film at this time was available as:

  • Contax spool - similar to roll-film with black paper leaders and trailers.
  • Agfa/Perutz cassette - light-tight cardboard cartridge for one-time use. The film is re-wound into the cassette.
  • Daylight Refills for Contax Cassettes - the film is protected by a paper leader which is drawn out before use. The film can be re-wound or wound to a second cassette.
  • Darkroom loaded film - for Contax cassettes, available in lengths from 5 feet.

Extensible lens hood
This fits the outer bayonet of the camera, with 5 cm Tessar lenses all three sections of the hood are used, with the 5 cm Sonnar only two sections. It's not clear why this item was produced, it has a square aperture and being fitted to the outer bayonet means that it does not rotate, however, once fitted the diaphragm cannot be altered. An adapter ring (1283/11) allows the hood to be used with 8.5, 13.5 and 18 cm lenses A similar hood (1283/6) was made for the Super Nettel.

Cases
Four stiff ever-ready cases were made as well as pouches and soft cases:

  • 1777/2 - For Tessar lenses.
  • 1777/8 - For Sonnar lenses.
  • 1777/22 - As /2 but with Albada finder fitted.
  • 1777/28 - As for /8 but with Albada finder fitted.

The last two were introduced after the others. The earliest cases had the catch at the rear, later two press studs on the front were used. The number 1777/4 was originally used for the Sonnar case.

Miflex
The Miflex was produced by Carl Zeiss rather than Zeiss-Ikon. The camera adapter could be replaced by other fittings including roll-holders. On this example the tube of the ground glass screen is fixed to the shutter assembly, on other examples it can be replaced by a telescope. A moveable prism diverts light to the camera or the viewing screen.

Code Names:
540/24N - Camera. 433/25 - Albada finder. C2447d - Instruction book. 1283/3 - Extendible lens hood. 1343 - Contameter. 540/13 - Plate back adapter. 540/14 - Plate holders. 540/11 - Focusing screen. 5520/1 - Reproduction stand. 5520/0 - Wooden box for Reproduction stand. 5520/6 - Focusing screen adapter. 1777/8 - Ever-ready case.

References & Notes:
BP 405208/1934 (Rotating wedge rangefinder). BP 414992/1934 (Miflex). BJA 1933, pp. 263, 539. BJA 1934, pp. 304, 552. BJA 1935, p. 548. BJA 1939, p. 266, Miflex. ZI Cat. 1936, pp. 31, 50. ZI Cat. 1937, p. 41. Goodyears Cat. (ZI) 1933, p. 5. Contax Photography (1938). Contax Photography (1939). Kuc, On the Trail of the Contax.

Further Information:
Lothrop, Century, p.142. Tubbs, ZI Cameras, p.87. Wright & Matanle, Contax Checklist Dechert, Contax S Family, p. 16.

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