Zeiss Ikon Contameter

I love using rangefinders. But I sometimes like taking close-up photos, and rangefinders aren't the best camera. There's nothing like a great SLR for accurate framing and focusing.

Zeiss Ikon always provided its customers with a range of accessories. For the Contax, there was the Contax Contameter, which included the rangefinder and three Carl Zeiss Proxars. Zeiss Ikon didn't neglect the lower-priced market segment, and that's the Contameter that I'll cover here.

I believe this was made in the 1960s, because this item is co-branded as Zeiss Ikon/Voigtlander. According to the Zeiss Compendium (Charles M. Barringer and Marc James Small, Hove Collectors Book, 1995), Carl Zeiss merged Voigtlander into Zeiss Ikon between 1965 and 1968.

The Contameter can also double as a regular rangefinder in the event that you have a zone-focus camera. It's a nice all-purpose accessory for the amateur photographer.

The Van Albada viewfinder displays frame lines, while the entire unit pivots up and down when the focusing dial is turned. That helps to compensate for parallax errors.

The Contameter slides into the camera's accessory shoe. If your camera doesn't have an accessory shoe, then you can use it handheld as a regular rangefinder but probably not for close-up photos. You can use it with lenses from 40mm to 50mm, which covers all of the postwar 35mm cameras and a number of prewar cameras too, including the Tenax II.

The Contameter is very simple to use. The actual instructions of the manual consume just 1 1/2 pages. The rest is a photo of the Contameter and two large depth-of-field tables for 40mm and 50mm lenses.

To use it as a rangefinder, you simply hold the device to your eye while turning the dial on top until the two images align in the diamond-shaped rangefinder patch. Read the distance from the Contameter's dial and then set the camera lens to that distance.

The Contameter's dial has four sections and has distance indicators for feet and meters. The black section is to be used when the Contameter is used as a standard rangefinder. The white part of the dial is divided into three sections -- one for each diopter or Proxar: 1 meter, 0.5 meter and 0.33 meter.

When used in conjunction with the appropriate Proxar, you then move closer to your subject and focus, again using the dial on top. You must stay within the range of your Proxar. Again, read the distance from the dial and set the lens to that distance. Now, without moving either the dial or the lens setting, frame your shot using the Contameter viewfinder and move to and fro until the subject is in focus.

In practice, this is easier than it sounds. It's an effective system for capturing those close-up shots without surrendering the versatility of a rangefinder.

At these distances, depth of field is limited, and the instruction manual suggests using an aperture of f/8 or smaller. I think this makes good sense.

I've used this with a nonfolding Contessa, as well as the Ikonette. It worked very well in both situations. The only difficulty that I encountered was forgetting to remove the Proxar.

There are several shots taken using the Contameter and a 1-meter Proxar in a slideshow for the nonfolding Contessa.