After WWII with the partition of Germany, Zeiss Ikon became two concerns. Both continued to use the Zeiss Ikon name and initially produced the same range of cameras. After litigation, East German Zeiss Ikon were not allowed to use the Zeiss Ikon name outside the Warsaw Pact countries – their products became Pentacon and Pentax. West German Zeiss ikon continued as much as before as they could. Both Zeiss Ikons developed Zeiss Ikon’s flagship camera – the Contax. This article is concerned with the West German Zeiss Ikon’s development of the Contax into, amongst others, the Contaflex.
The Contaflex is actually a completely new camera which owes little to the Contax. Zeiss Ikon continued to use elements of the Contax name – Contaflex, Contina. Zeiss Ikon needed to produce a camera to compete with East German Zeiss Ikon’s new range of SLRs – the Pentaprism Contax. They took a different route and used a between the lens leaf shutter rather than a focal plane shutter. This proved to be a developmental dead-end but continued in use for a decade or so. Initially, several manufacturers followed suit – Voigtlander, Kodak – but now just about all SLR’s follow East German Zeiss Ikon’s (Pentacon, Pentax) lead with a horizontally travelling focal plane shutter.
The Contaflex was aimed at the serious amateur market. It is very well made and very heavy. The quality of both design and build is evident in that they still work just fine fifty-plus years after they were made. The cameras were introduced in pairs – I & II, III & IV, Alpha & Beta and so on. The pairs either did not have a built-in exposure meter (I, III, Alpha) or did (II, IV, Beta). Up to and including the Beta, the meter was not coupled and offered nothing over a separate hand-held meter and had the disadvantage of being attached to a very heavy camera making it harder to use than a separate hand-held meter would be.
The main (only) drawback of having a leaf shutter is that the lens is difficult to replace. Zeiss Ikon overcame this by having the front element replaceable to give wide angle and telephoto versions. This was not as big a drawback as it might seem as in the 1950s and 60s it was rare for amateur photographers to use anything other than the standard lens that came with the camera. Collections of lenses had to wait for modern design and manufacturing systems and cheap lenses. The strangest part of Zeiss Ikon’s shutter design here is that the mirror does not return automatically after the shutter is fired. It is hard to understand why Zeiss Ikon did this as there is no great technical problem with having the mirror return automatically. In the Super, the action of the shutter has been improved by angling the secondary shutter to sit just behind the mirror so it has less far to move before the primary shutter can open.
In the Contaflex I, II III, IV and Super, the lens was the renown Carl Zeiss Tessar f2.8 lens. The Alpha and Beta models had the cheaper three element Pantar lens, with front element focussing. The filter size is 27 mm. In the Super, the Tessar lens focusses by moving the entire lens.
As I mentioned earlier, the lens in the Alpha and Beta focuses by turning the front element. With this camera, there are two drawbacks to this. The first is common to any camera and that is that the performance of the lens drops as the front element moves relative to the rest of the lens elements. It is much better to focus by moving the whole lens. This is difficult with the shutter in the middle of the lens so front element focussing was easy option in the lower priced models. The second drawback is that the front element can be removed to allow a replacement element to give either a wide angle or telephoto lens. There is a small lever below the lens that needs to be depressed to remove the front element and this lever gets in the way whilst focusing. Apart from that niggle, focusing is easy as the viewfinder has a split-image microprism circle in the centre. The viewfinder is certainly bright enough to see what you are doing.
With the Super, the whole lens moves and has two ‘knobs’ attached to the focussing ring which makes focussing much easier – in fact, only one finger is required for fine adjustment.
The following extract is from the 1957 copy of the British Journal of Photography Almanac. It is not the model described here but gives a flavour as to how this camera was presented to the public.
|Busker, Lincoln Stonebow|
8 thoughts on “Zeiss Ikon Contaflex”
“After litigation, East German Zeiss Ikon were not allowed to use the Zeiss Ikon name outside the Warsaw Pact countries – their products became Pentacon and Pentax.”
Not Pentax, that name was used by the Asahi Optical Company of Japan and is now owned by Ricoh. Perhaps you’re thinking of Pentaflex?
As I understand it, Asahi were paying Zeiss Ikon and Pentagon royalties for use of the name Pentax into the 1970s.
Interesting. According to the Wikipedia “Pentax” article (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pentax),
‘The name “Pentax” was originally a registered trademark of the East German VEB Zeiss Ikon (from “Pentaprism” and “Contax”) and acquired by the Asahi Optical company in 1957.’
There’s no citation but there is an accompanying photograph of a prototype Zeiss Ikon “Pentax” camera, with a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar lens.
So I was wrong and the situation was more complex than I thought.