Not a lot I can say about this camera. It is mid-range amateur – well above the Box Brownie and well below the likes of the Contaflex. The standard of manufacture is what you would expect of Zeiss Ikon – solid, heavy, works well – perhaps a bit over-engineered. It was not cheap – the version with the Novar lens cost £29/7/- (in old money or £29.35 in new money). Given the average working man’s weekly wage was £9 in 1957, this equates to around £1,500 in 2013 values.
This particular Contina is a model Ic although that was never Zeiss Ikon’s designation. It is distinguished from other Continas by 1) not being a folding camera and 2) not having a built-in exposure meter. I also have an article on a Cortina IIa.
The viewfinder is a Galilean finder with bright-lines. I find this awkward to use after using either an SLR or a camera with a crude frame finder as the finder shows much more than the image area. It is necessary to remember to compose entirely within the bright-liners. The finder is reasonably large and easy to use while wearing spectacles.
The top plate is uncluttered – the rewind knob, film type reminder, accessory shoe and combined film advance/frame counter/shutter release is all that is there. The whole frame counter/shutter release assembly is depressed when the shutter is fired and it is possible to fire the shutter when setting the frame counter to zero (I did!).
On the front of the camera is a satin-chrome bezel with the lens sitting centrally. The shutter is a Prontor SVS by Gauthier and uses exposure value settings. With this system, you read an exposure value from a light meter (from 3 to 18) which sets a combination of shutter speed and aperture. It is then possible to move the shutter speed ring to the desired shutter speed and the aperture will adjust itself to keep the exposure correct – or move the aperture ring and the shutter speed will adjust automatically. It is not possible to move away from a “correct” speed/aperture combination without depressing the EV button. This works in much the same way as the ‘program’ mode on a modern digital camera. People either love or hate this system – I am the only person I know whom loves it – but it was in general use for many years so must have had general support.
There is what, at first sight, appears to be a second, useless range of shutter speeds. These are in green and cannot be set. “Then why have them?”, I hear you ask. Well, there is a reason. In the case that the EV value is low, the usable speed/aperture combinations allowed will be small. For an EV of 3, the speed/aperture combination is 1 second at f2.8 – and that is it. If you want a smaller aperture, say f8, you read the necessary shutter speed of the green range opposite f8 (in this case eight seconds). Now adjust the EV setting so that f8 is against the B setting on the speed ring. This sets the aperture to f8 and allows the photographer to keep the shutter depressed for eight seconds. Clearly, a tripod and shutter release cable are required for this, and the shutter speed is only as good as the photographer times it, but when you realise that the shutter manufacturers worked to a 20% margin on shutter speeds, timing the exposure to between seven and nine seconds will be fine and we should all be able to time that accurately.
The lens is a Zeiss Ikon Pantar f2.8, 45mm lens. This is a triplet (three pieces of glass) rather than the Tessar’s tetraplet structure, that focuses from about three feet to infinity (the nearest marked distance is four feet, but the lens moves well beyond that).
This lens has the usual Happy Snapper settings – with this lens it is f8 and around twenty feet (both marked in red) which gives a depth of field of from nine feet to infinity. If the lens is set to its smallest aperture (f22), the depth of field is from less than four feet to infinity. As with all lenses, the largest and smallest apertures are best left alone and the lens will work best stopped down two or three stops – f5.6 and f8 in this case.
Film is rewound using a small knob on the left. When this is turned to rewind then film, it automatically raises itself so it is above the level of the top plate. When you have finished rewinding the film, you need to turn this knob one turm anti-clockwise to lower the knob again. The only other thing to note is that this camera has a PC flash connector and can synchronise for bulb (M) or electronic (X) flash. There is also a setting (V) for delayed action shutter release.
In use, the camera operates much as you might expect from Zeiss Ikon. I have large hands and the camera is a bit small – the edge of the shutter housing is where I would like my fingers to be and the shutter release is a little too close to the right-hand edge of the camera. I suppose this is unavoidable when making a small camera and it is far from the worst camera that I have, ergonomically speaking.
Some example pictures from this camera (note: these were scanned with my Canon flatbed film scanner – not the best scanner).