The End of the Line

The Contax IIa represented the last of the breed for Zeiss Ikon.

Contax IIa with Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 SonnarMassive Allied bombing of Germany devastated numerous German cities, including Dresden -- where Zeiss Ikon made many of its cameras, including the Contax rangefinder camera. The firebombing of that city leveled not just the factory but also destroyed the plans for the Contax.a

Starting with a blank sheet of paper, Zeiss Ikon penned a new camera that advanced the previous design while maintaining backward compatibility with nearly all prewar lenses.

The small, two-piece body that rolled off the line at Stuttgart feels wonderfully solid. Images easily snap in and out of focus, and the shutter operates unobtrusively and without the aid of batteries.

It's you, your Contax and the world that's in front of the lens.

The Great Wall of ChinaProduction of the Contax cameras lasted nearly three decades. In many ways, the Contax IIa was Zeiss Ikon's crowning achievement as it struggled to right itself after the end of the war. It proved to the world that it could return to the forefront of camera-making. It reflected Germany's continuous pursuit of precision -- something still embodied in the Leica and German automobiles and appliances.

When production of the Contax IIa ended in the early 1960s, one had to wonder whether Zeiss Ikon would survive as a maker of high-quality cameras. It wouldn't.

Zeiss Ikon's final shot at glory would be the Contarex, a camera that represented the best of Carl Zeiss optical technology combined with the ruggedness of a Zeiss Ikon body. It's an excellent camera that remains a highly capable single-lens reflex camera system.

Like most German cameras, the Contax IIa was manufactured to precise tolerances that are still impressive today. Lens designs and calculations were performed by hand and brain, rather than computers.

Each lens and body was assembled and checked. If you disassemble a Carl Zeiss lens or body, you can see the technician's pencil and tool mark -- a nice touch in today's world of mass production.

a -- Charles Barringer and Mark Small cover this in their book, "Zeiss Compendium," Hove Collectors Books. I highly recommend it for Zeiss Ikon or Contax users.