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Zeiss Ikon Contessa

Zeiss Ikon Contessa

Style, film format 35mm fixed-lens, nonfolding rangefinder

Lens, shutter Coated f/2.8 50mm Carl Zeiss Tessar, Prontor Spezial leaf shutter

Photo quality Excellent

Ergonomics Very easy camera to use

I've mentioned before that I think the folding Contessa represents the epitome of the Zeiss Ikon folding cameras. Hubert Nerwin's design is elegant and functional.

In the late 1950s, the era of the folding camera was near its end. The world was moving on, and the last thing that photographers wanted was a camera that looked like it fell out of the 1940s ... or even the 1930s.

Zeiss Ikon replaced that model with this rigid-lens model, which became the basis for future Contessas, as well as a number of other models.

Featuring a sharp f/2.8 Tessar, this particular model has a coupled rangefinder and a coupled selenium meter. The selenium cell was integrated quite nicely into the body and didn't hang out there for all of the world to see, as you generally have with most cameras with selenium meters.

The nonfolding Contessa, which I had initially dismissed as being too large and ugly, in fact is small and discreet in use. It has focusing tabs that sit at the base of the lens. The other black tabs are for changing the aperture, while the shutter speed selection ring sits at the front of the lens/shutter assembly.

In use, the camera is very simple to use. The Tessar, as always, performs best when stopped down and is very sharp.

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