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Zeiss Ikon Contarex


Style, film format   35mm single-lens reflex with interchangeable lenses, coupled selenium meter

Lens, shutter Coated 50mm f/2.0 Planar, horizontal cloth focal plane

Photo quality Excellent

Ergonomics Massively built but easy to handle

This is a later model of the original Zeiss Ikon Contarex. It was a camera system for which cost was no object, and I think contributed to Zeiss Ikon's demise as a camera maker.

It's a big and heavy camera. The Nikon F2A is almost diminutive in comparison. Although the cameras are nearly identical in total height, the body of the Contarex is huge.

In the photo below, shoulder-to-shoulder, you can see how much taller the Contarex is than the Nikon F2A -- which is no tiny camera.

This wasn't a camera to be taken lightly -- in any sense of the word. The lenses reputedly were among the best ever to have been produced for a 35mm camera, and at least one author said the Zeiss Ikon probably used a very methodical (and expensive) system for accepting or rejecting lenses.

This camera used a selenium-cell meter with the needle visible both on the camera deck and in the viewfinder. Because of the huge eye for the selenium cell, the camera gained the nickname of Bullseye and Cyclops.

The shutter-speed dial, in Contax tradition, was around the film advance. The lens aperture was set by rotating the milled wheel on the front of the camera. None of the lenses had traditional aperture rings. I can tell you from personal experience that you don't ever want to service this camera yourself. It takes mechanical complexity to a whole new level.

Contarex and Nikon F2A

Like most Zeiss Ikon cameras aimed at the upper tier of the market, this had a large number of accessories, including interchangeable magazine backs that allow the user to switch film in midroll. It works, although the magazines require you to do certain things in certain order.

That said, the photos are wonderful. While not as contrasty as a Japanese camera, photos are sharp and full of detail.

If you have the strength to hold and carry this camera, you won't be disappointed.

> Informal shootout: Contessa vs. Contarex