Contina IIa

Zeiss Ikon’s Contina camera was a long lived and varied series of cameras.  The series started as the Ikonta 35 which was a post-war version of the 120 format Ikonta adapted to take 35 mm film.  This camera became two series of cameras – the Contessa and the Contina; the first Contessas and Continas were folding cameras. The Contessa version was more up-market than the Contina version. I have already written about one of the Contessa line – the Contessa LKE. The Contessa line have better lenses (Tessars) and coupled light meters and rangefinders. The Contina range have cheaper lenses (Novar, Novicar and Pantar) and the light meters, where present, are uncoupled. I have also written about the Contina line elsewhere – the Contina Ic.

lens: Novicar
focal length:  45mm
apertures: f2.8 to f22
focus range: 1m to infinity
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: Prontor-SVS
speeds: 1 second to 1/300 seconds
flash: PC connector
film size: 35mm

Contina IIa
Contina IIa – front view, meter window closed
To make identifying and placing Contina cameras as difficult as possible, the Contina series split into two lines of cameras simultaneously.  The original Contina folding camera  became the Contina II folding camera with a light meter and then a series of derivatives. That original Contina folding camera, at the same time, became the Contina I rigid camera – no light meter or rangefinder – and then a series of derivatives.
Contina IIa
Front view – meter window open


So, at any one time after 1953 there were two different Continas available, both just designated Contina. I have been referring to Contina I, Contina II, Contina Ic, Contina IIa but I don’t think those were names offered by Zeiss Ikon, rather us collectors use them to make sense of the mish-mash of models.

Daniel Jiménez has produced a ‘family tree’ of the Contina series which he has given me permission to use here:

Copyright Daniel Jiménez

Daniel has a useful camera blog which can be found in an English version here. He also has a much larger Spanish version here.

This camera – is a Contina IIa. It is derived from the Contina II which was a folding camera but this version does not fold – that is, it is rigid. It is a compact and solid camera measuring 120 x 65 x 85 mm and weighs 567g. It offers a built-in but uncoupled light meter and an EV enabled shutter. It was not a cheap camera – it cost £43/15/1 in 1957 (in old money, or £43.76 in new money) which, given the average male wage in 1957 was £9.00 means this camera cost the equivalent of £2,500 in 2013 values. The version with a Novar lens only cost £36/12/7.

The top plate of the camera has a number of  items on it. On the left is a small rewind knob. I prefer these to the small folding cranks that became ubiquitous in the 1960s. When you first turn the rewind knob, it raises itself by one cm. This is above the height of the centre of the top plate and makes it easier to hold and turn.
Contina IIa
rear and top view
Next to the rewind knob is an accessory shoe. At the time that this camera was made (1956/58) this was more likely to be used for a separate rangefinder than a flashgun. There are no electrical contacts in the accessory shoe so it is a cold shoe.
Next to the accessory shoe is the light meter window and the light meter control knob. Visible in the window is a needle connected to the light meter. The brighter the light, the more this needle moves towards the rear of the camera. Also in this window is a white circle which moves in response to the user moving the control knob. When the white circle is over the needle, the correct exposure can be read off the scale around the control knob. This is mostly in EV values – more later. In the centre of the control knob is the setting for the film speed. This camera was made in 1956/8 and uses the film speed standards in place at that time. A few years later (1960), the American Standards Association (ASA) revisited their film speed standard to produce the later ASA standard now known as ISO. The German DIN system remained unchanged so on this camera 21 DIN = 40 ASA rather than the later standard of 21 DIN = 100 ASA (ISO) – I always use the DIN standard with old cameras to make sure I do not get it wrong.
On the far right of the top plate is the film advance lever. This moves through about 200 degrees to advance the film and cock the shutter. The lever is all metal and only curves a very slight amount which I find makes it uncomfortable to use. In the centre of the film advance lever should be the frame counter. I can make no comment about this as a prior owner has removed it. Looking at the state of the metal that is left, I suspect a very amateurish attempt at a repair.
The front of the camera has four items – meter window, viewfinder window, shutter housing and flash PC connector. The meter window contains a two cm by one cm lens covering a selenium photoelectric cell.  This does not need any batteries, which I always reckon to be a good thing.  Most camera electrics from the 1960s to 1980s use mercury cells which are now illegal in just about every country there is. This window has a hinged cover – to open it, you lightly press the right-hand end (as the camera is to your eye). Selenium meters get a poor press as the photoelectric cell will deteriorate with time. However, if the cell is kept in the dark it only deteriorates very slowly, so this cell being covered, it has not yet (in 57 years) deteriorated enough to worry about. This is a single scale meter – an earlier version of the Contina IIa had a dual scale meter with a small window in the hinged cover.
Next to the meter window is the viewfinder window. This has quite a small eyepiece and a plain view with no bright lines. I find I cannot use it while wearing my glasses.  The Contina Ic, which I also own, has a much larger eyepiece – this was made just a few years later in the early 1960s.
In the centre of the front is a square chrome bezel containing the shutter.  This is a Prontor-SVS from Gauthier. This works on the EV system.  The light meter gives you an EV value from between  three and eighteen and you transfer this number to the shutter – you have to press a small tab on the shutter housing to get the EV ring to turn. Each EV number gives you a small range of shutter speed and aperture settings.  If you turn the EV setting ring without pressing the small tab, different speed/aperture combinations will present themselves to the mark at the top of the housing. For very low light levels, the shutter speeds are in green – you cannot set these, but you can read them.  To use them, turn the control ring on the shutter housing to B and read off a speed next to the aperture you want to use.  You then need to time the exposure yourself – the speeds are from four seconds to sixty seconds and you can count this quite accurately without a watch.
The lens is a Novicar lens (a Novar lens was also available) which I have found to be excellent if stopped down to f5.6 or f8. It is threaded for 27mm filters.  Maximum aperture is f2.8 and its focal length is 45 mm. Focusing is from about three feet to infinity (one metre to infinity). The throw of the focusing is only about 120 degrees, so very accurate focusing is not possible, but with no rangefinder, this camera was always going to rely on depth of field.
On the lower right of the shutter bezel (looking at the camera) is the flash PC (Prontor-Compur) connector.  This is the only means of connecting a flashgun. On the side of the shutter housing there is a selector for M or X – Magnesium or Xenon  – flash. M is for flash bulbs and X for electronic flash. With M, the flash is fired slightly before the shutter opens to allow the burning of the flash bulb to reach its maximum while the shutter is fully open. With X, the flash is fired as the shutter blades are fully open as electronic flash does not require time to reach its maximum intensity. This selector also has a V setting. This means Vorlaufwerk and is German for self timer. Moving the selector to this position causes an eight second delay between pressing the shutter release and the shutter firing. It is never a good idea to try this facility on an old camera as it might well cause the shutter to stop working permanently.
Contina IIa
Rear/internal view

The back opens by pulling down a small catch on the lower right-hand edge. The back is hinged and there is a single light seal – a piece of velvet right by the hinge. The back itself has the pressure plate and a tensioning roller that goes by the take-up spool. Around the film mask are two machined film guides – showing as bright lines in the photograph above. The pawl for the rewind mechanism can be raised to enable fitting a film cassette and then lowered to secure the cassette.

24-December 2013

I have now finished my test roll of film – Agfa Vista+ 200 ISO from Poundland (yes, £1.00 per roll!). As expected, the camera works well. The only awkward thing was setting the EV values on the shutter as the mechanism is rather stiff.  I definitely would not want it too loose but it would be nice for it to be a bit easier to alter. The frame counter is missing on this camera – I assume due to a botched repair by the previous owner. It does not affect the camera’s functionality at all and got me the camera at a bargain price. Below are a selection of pictures from the test film.

Contina IIa
Pottergate Arch, Lincoln


Contina IIa
Fountain in Lincoln Arboretum


Contina IIa
Rockabilly Buskers, Lincoln


Contina IIa
Lincoln Shoppers getting ready for Xmas


Contina IIa
Foreign Buskers, Lincoln

Author: John Margetts

I am a keen photographer who also collects cameras. I am retired with about 50 years photography experience.

3 thoughts on “Contina IIa”

  1. Hi John I have a Ziss Ikon Contina 11 a camera owned since the 1960’s but not used for many years I have the original Ziess product manual and the name Contina A 11 a is shown in it—-so it is a genuine factory name It is in good condition I could be interested in selling


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