There are far too many cameras made by Zeiss from the last century, which is to be expected with a history that goes back over 110 years. While they have recently released their first digital camera, the ZX1, this a little story about why Zeiss stopped producing film cameras.
First off, I myself, am not a collector of cameras, I much prefer to load them up and shoot film. So this is where my story begins. I’ll share some images taken along in Vienna the way with my Zeiss Ikon Contaflex camera.
I recently discovered a Zeiss Ikon Contaflex from my father-in-law. At first, I took no real notice of it. I thought it was another cheap Agfa or Voigtlander camera from a time ago. I guess about a year later while the camera hung by its leather “ever-ready” case in my make-shift cellar. Which I use as a weekend darkroom. I thought it might be interesting to look at it once again. On closer inspection, it wasn’t a bad camera at all.
Noticing the lens had an aperture of f/2.8, it was branded by Carl Zeiss. A name synonymous with making fine glass for cameras. The camera in question turn out to be no other than the Zeiss Ikon Contaflex – the Super edition. Top of the range. Admittedly I was impressed, this wasn’t a typical flee market type camera at all!
This is how and what got me started on this path. I was familiar with the former east block medium format beasts such as Pentacon Six and Kiev 60. Both these machines shared, Carl Zeiss Jena lenses using the same Pentacon 6 lens mount. But I was shooting mainly 35mm these days and not 120 medium format film.
I wanted to go wide
I was enjoying using my Olympus OM-1 immensely, I had started now shooting with the Zeiss Ikon Contaflex Super. I picked up an inexpensive lens adapter, a Carl Zeiss no less, which turned my 50mm Contaflex into 35mm field of view. Very familiar in fashion to the way the modern digital Fujifilm X100 series lens adapters works.
I like the 35mm focal length but I do prefer going wider. I went on a search for a 24mm option as I really enjoy shooting 24 for some reason, probably it’s how I see when combining both views from left and right eyes.
I found a 24mm Zeiss lens and a camera similar to the Contaflex called the Contarex. I bided on the auction from a private seller on Ebay. It was over a couple of days. I increased my bid now and then to keep ahead. Thinking maybe the camera and lens would go for a mere 400 euros. I bid up to 525 euros until I had to let go. Certainly, I was glad I hadn’t won as it was a bit too rich for me.
Back to the subject of this article and in regards to the new Zeiss ZX1, I asked myself why Zeiss stopped making cameras? I talked about the incredible Contarex and its failure and the Contaflex too. The video is a point-of-view-style story with film images taken while bike riding around Vienna between lockdowns here in Austria. Pictures are taken with the Zeiss Ikon Contaflex with the 35mm adapter on Kodak Ultramax ASA 400 35mm film and self-developed.
The Last Camera – Contarex
This got me thinking about why did this camera and lens reached over 1000 euros. In fact, the sold price of the auction seemed reasonable in comparison to other sales of the Contarex with or without the added 24mm Zeiss lens when I started researching into the matter.
It seems that Contarex models were the last real camera that Zeiss ever made.
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An incredible feat of engineering. A camera for professionals with supreme glass. A beautiful design and functioning camera. So why was it Zeiss’ biggest failure? Was its astronomical price that keep advanced users away? Was it the competition from the other side of the world, such as Nikon and Canon?
Actually, I figured it was a mixture of both — why Zeiss stopped making cameras. Unfortunately, I believe the main reason was professionals. They couldn’t afford to have their camera failing.
The Contarex is handmade with thousands of pieces. It is extraordinary in operation and extraordinary in construction. The difficulties in disassembling and assembling the camera lead to costly repairs and wait times. The world’s fine camera and lens suffered from uber-engineering. The end effect was to be the demise of Zeiss’ camera business in 1971.
The Contarex is an amazing instrument however it’s not something you would use on a daily basis or even on a weekly basis. It’s a collector’s piece unfortunately not a camera to shoot film. It’s simply too valuable and delicate to use.
By the way, if you are shooting with this camera regularly, I would love to know your experience and thoughts on it.
While the Contaflex was kind of the forerunner to the Contarex. The Contaflex might well be a better choice if you want a Zeiss Camera with Zeiss glass without the worries.
If you wish to avoid the high costs and heartbreak that could happen when the Contarex does fail. That being said a Contarex is an awesome camera as well as the Contaflex. I still don’t have a Contarex to review or more importantly to shoot film with it. At the end of the day – shoot film on whatever camera works that is the moral of the story here.
Mike Eckmann Contarex Bulleye
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