This Old Camera: The Beautiful Zeiss Ikon Contaflex II

This one is overdue. While I have written about the wonderfully oddball, intricate, and beautiful tele adapter that goes on the front of it I have yet to write about this beautiful camera itself. As always plenty of information can be found online with a quick Google search (here is a great one). I honestly never knew this camera existed until I perused KEH.com one day and it showed up. A few factors played a part in a quick and easy decision to purchase it.

  • Zeiss.
  • It was beautiful in the photos and bargain grade… I love KEH bargain grade. Basically means a great deal if you do not mind some scuffs. If you can find any scuffs.
  • It was $49.
  • And Zeiss. I am a sucker for anything Zeiss, especially when it has a built-in Zeiss Tessar 45mm f/2.8 lens for $49.

Then I received it. It looks even better in person. Spoiler alert. If you want a shelf trophy that actually takes pictures buy this camera. Here is where I gush a bit. This camera was made in 1954. 1954! It is not only good looking, but I cannot adequately describe the quality of its construction in word or even pictures. Its build quality is phenomenal.

This camera is a mash-up created when a post war Zeiss was looking to get back up and running. Technically an SLR, but with the soul of former rangefinders also.

SLR: It does have a mirror box

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so despite its small size you are actually seeing through the lens when focusing instead of matching focus patches. But once the shutter is depressed the mirror does not return

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until you cock the shutter again. I have read that it is better not to cock the shutter if you do not plan on using it a while. Internal wear due to prolonged tension on parts or the like as I understand it.

Rangefinder: The mirror black out is a side effect of the very rangefinder like leaf shutter, which also means that this camera can flash sync all the way up to its top shutter speed (1/500s) I understand. Neat trick for a 1954 SLR. Also, the whole back of this camera is straight rangefinder.

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Two dials on the bottom release the whole back. You load the spools directly. And the bottom looks just like the Kiev 4 I once owned, even down to the film rewind button, which itself is basically a Russian continuation of the German Contax rangefinder. The dials and controls and the film advance knob, not a lever, remind me of quite a few rangefinders I have owned.

But unlike most SLRs and rangefinders I have used the lens and control’s construction are worthy of a fine watch.

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Also that is not even taking into consideration the also affordable and quite fetching Teleskop 1.7x adapter I mentioned earlier.

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While we are at it I have no idea how they managed such a small lens. Also most controls are on the lens. Focus, aperture, and shutter speeds are all tightly clustered on this tiny lens.

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A bit fiddly at times, but effective. Because of this shallow lens (when the adapter is not on) and short height you get the most pocketable SLR I own this side of the half frame PEN FT (whose body is smaller, but whose 40mm lens sticks out quite a bit more). On the upper right shoulder you have the all business knob to cock the shutter and reset the mirror and pressing the shutter is a wonderfully stiff, mechanical experience.

There is the selenium meter that was added on the Contaflex II and it does seem to work, but since selenium meters usually last only a couple of decades I tend to use Sunny 16 or a light meter. There is a place to set ASA on the left shoulder, but that is mainly for use with the unlinked, press button to open flap, inbuilt match needle light meter. So I consider it to be one heck of a well built all manual camera that requires no batteries to operate.

Ok. I have covered build, feel, looks, and use. How about actually taking pictures? Image quality? Here is the thing. This is not just a pretty face. That Zeiss lens pays dividends. Sharp, great colors, and on and on are all there as one would expect from that name. Plus all those oddities described above come together in a cohesive way that does not get in the way of making use of the lens’ quality at all.

I need to shoot this camera more.

Anyhoo. Here is a link to the ongoing gallery and sample photos are below.

Happy shooting.

-ELW

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