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Zeiss Ikon Contessa


Style, film format 35mm folding rangefinder, noncoupled dual-range selenium meter

Lens, shutter Coated 45mm f/2.8 Tessar, Synchro-Compur or Compur-Rapid

Photo quality Very good

Ergonomics Easy to use, uses a front-mounted shutter release

In many ways, the Contessa represents the pinnacle of Zeiss Ikon post-war design for folding 35mm cameras.

Simply put, these are exquisitely overengineered cameras. From the moment you pick them up, they scream quality from every angle.

This 35mm rangefinder is equipped with an excellent 45mm f/2.8 Tessar lens set in a Compur shutter. The lens door folds closed to protect both the lens and rotating wedge prisms that are used for the rangefinder.

When open, there is a small tab that pulls down from the back that allows the camera to sit up straight, rather than tilt backward.

The integrated rangefinder/viewfinder is tinted green -- it probably should be called Zeiss green. The assembly uses a series of complex (and likely expensive) prisms, including the aforementioned rotating wedge prisms that you can see sitting above the Tessar lens.

The two-range meter has a small metal flap that you flip up when using indoors or in dim light. In brighter situations, close the flap.

The film advance and rewind knobs are on the bottom, allowing for a relatively clean top deck. The shutter release is on the front of the camera, and it takes a steady, firm smooth motion to properly release it.

There were two versions of the folding Contessa. The early camer has a Compur-Rapid shutter, which was then replaced with a Synchro Compur. The Contessa always has a coated Tessar. You should never see a folding Contessa with any other lens.

Optically, the Tessar proves why it's survived all of these years. It gives crisp photos every time. You won't be disappointed.

> Informal shootout: Contessa vs. Contarex | See some photos