Zeiss Ikon Contina II

This is a folding camera from Zeiss Ikon. This camera is a direct descendent of the Zeiss Ikon Ikonta 35. The Ikonta 35 was introduced shortly after WWII and the design bifurcated into the Contessa and Contina lines. The Contessa was an Ikonta 35 with a coupled rangefinder and a coupled light meter – and it was expensive. The basic Ikonta 35 was renamed the Contina with no modifications – the model number of the Contina was the same as the model number of the Ikonta 35 (522/24). As well as developing the Contessa variant – eventually into a rigid bodied camera (I have the Contessa LKE), the Contina variant was also developed, again eventually into a rigid bodied form (I have both the Contina Ic and Contina IIa). The camera I am writing about here is the second variant of the Ikonta 35 – the Contina II – model number 524/24 – (which is very different to the Contina IIa above). As with the Contessa, this camera has a rangefinder but it is not coupled to the lens. There is no light meter.

Although the Contina II is very like its parent, the Ikonta 35, which I already have an article on, I am going to write this article as if it were a completely different camera.

This camera measures 115 by 78 by 40 mm when closed and 115 by 78 by 80 mm when the lens is opened for use. The camera weighs xg. This is very much a pocket camera – it fits nicely in both my trouser pocket and my jacket pocket. The camera comes with a natty quick-release leather case for when you want the camera around your neck.

The top plate is made from satin finish chrome plated brass (as is the base plate). Strangely, none of the controls that you might expect on a 35mm camera are present here. On the right of the top plate is a 22 mm diameter knob which adjusts the rangefinder. On the top of this knob are the digits 3, 4, 6, 15 and ∞ and the legend ‘feet’. This rangefinder is adjusted by turning the outer ring of the knob whilst looking through the circular rangefinder eyepiece. There is an index mark on the outer ring which points to the distance recorded.

On the left of the top plate is a memo knob for the film type in use – this has no effect on the use of the camera. This knob is divided into three – ASA (for monochrome films), daylight colour and artificial light colour. The mono section has seven film speeds in ASA (16 to 200 ASA) and the two colour sections have seven film speeds each but this time in DIN (4 to 25 DIN). Raising the outer ring of the knob and turning it moves an index mark to the required film type. In the middle of the top plate is a Barnack type accessory shoe, i.e. a cold shoe.

The back of the top plate has two eyepieces. The central, rectangular, one is the viewfinder eyepiece. This is very small – 5 by 3 mm – and very hard to use while wearing glasses. The viewfinder is a reverse Galilean finder. This means that it is like a telescope used backwards – it makes things seen smaller. This is a direct vision finder so there is no focus screen in the viewfinder and at this age there are no bright lines for framing – all you see will be in the image.

On the left of the top plate is a circular eyepiece. This is the rangefinder eyepiece. This makes using the camera a bit awkward. First, you use the left-hand eyepiece to focus and then you move to the right-hand eyepiece for composition. When looking through the rangefinder eyepiece, the image has a greenish hue with the yellow square in the centre. When out of focus, the yellow square will show the same image as the greenish area but displaced to one side. Turning the knob on the top plate will move the yellow square. When you move the yellow square so the the two images coincide, the index on the knob will show the distance to the subject. you then manually transfer this distance to the focus scale on the lens.

The front of the top[ plate has three windows. The central, larger, window is the viewfinder. The two smaller windows are the rangefinder. Below these windows is the door for the lens. At the bottom of this door is a tripod socket. This is 1/4 inch Whitworth thread. This is blanked by a small threaded metal disc for when a tripod is not being used. Central on the door is the camera name “CONTINA”. At the top of the door is a small metal stud for opening the lens door.

The lens door is not sprung and must be opened by hand. When open fully, it clicks into place. As the door opens, the shutter/lens assembly comes forward and locks securely into place. This shutter/lens assembly is on a fabric bellows but these are hidden from sight.

The shutter is a prontor SV – the S signifies that the shutter is synchronised for flash and the V (Vorlaufwerk) signifies that there is a self-timer. Shutter speeds are from 1 second two 1/300 seconds plus B. Shutter speeds are selected by turning a serrated ring at the front of the shutter housing. The scale of shutter speeds is on the top of the housing.

Flash connection is by way of a PC connector. There is a selector switch on the left side of the shutter housing for either M (flash bulbs) or X (electronic flash). To use the M setting, you have also move the red self timer lever below the housing to the yellow dot. As this is a leaf shutter, flash is available at all shutter speeds. In order to use the self-timer, you need two set the flash synch to X and move the red lever at the bottom of the housing clockwise to the yellow dot. This will start timing once the shutter release is pressed. It is recommended to never use self-timers on old cameras as if they fail, the shutter will be wrecked. On my camera (yes, I have tried it but you should not) the self-timer will not operate without manual assistance and then takes over 30 seconds to fire the shutter.

This shutter mechanism is (just) old enough to not be self-cocking. It is necessary to manually cock the shutter each time you take a photograph. To do this, there is a lever at the top of the shutter housing which you need to move anti-clockwise. Doing this raises a red flag which indicates that the shutter is cocked. To fire the shutter, there is a lever on the top right-hand side of the shutter housing with a large knob on top. Pressing this down fires the shutter. This mechanism is linked to the film advance and will not operate unless there is a film in the camera and it has been advanced since the last shot. Also, you cannot advance the film until the shutter has been fired.

There is a socket for a standard cable release – this is not integral to the shutter housing but is in a separate pillar by the top left of the shutter housing.

The apertures available on this camera are from ƒ/3.5 to ƒ/22 so not a very fast lens but quite useable. Apertures are set by a ring at the back of the shutter housing which is serrated on the right hand side only. The scale for the apertures is also on the top of the shutter housing, behind the shutter speed scale.

The lens is a Novar lens. Zeiss Ikon almost always used Carl Zeiss lenses – the Carl Zeiss Stiftung being the majority owner of Zeiss Ikon – but on cheaper cameras they used Novar lenses. These Novar lenses are made to a design owned by Zeiss Ikon rather than Carl Zeiss but the lenses were made by companies such as Rodenstock and Steinheil. The actual maker of the lens is never indicated and these Novar lenses rarely have serial numbers. The Novar is a three element lens. It is an anastigmat but by 1950 just about all camera lenses were. Although only a triplet, Novars perform very well once stopped down to around ƒ/8. This lens will focus from three feet to infinity – this is an export camera so distances are in feet rather than metres. As was common at the time this camera was made, there is a Happy Snapper setting denoted by red dots. So, set the focus to the red dot between 15 and 30 feet and set the aperture to the red dot between ƒ8 and ƒ/11. Do this and everything between nine feet and infinity will be in focus. Often, there a second red dot for when taking head and shoulder shots but not on this camera. I would think that the user is expected to rely on the rangefinder having paid out for one. The Happy Snapper setting that is provided gives the hyperfocal distance for the most effective aperture and, with landscapes, will give the best stretch of focus.

When you are finished for the day, and want to close the camera, you need to press-in the two triangular plates at the hinge between the lens door and camera body. The lens door will then fold up.

The base of the camera has the items that you would usually expect to find on the top plate. At either end are two large knobs, one for rewind and one for film advance. The rewind knob has beside it an engraved arrow and the letter R to indicate that it is the rewind knob and the direction that it turns in. The film advance knob is similar but with an A rather than an R. There are, however, two differences. In the centre of the advance knob is a button. Pressing this releases the advance system to allow the film to be rewound. This button needs to be held in all the while the film is being rewound. There are also two holes that at first glance have no function. These come into play when the camera is in its leather case. As the film advance is on the bottom of the camera, it would be impossible to use the camera in a conventional case. To overcome this, the leather cases has an integral film advance knob of its own which has two prongs which fit into the holes in the camera’s film advance knobs the user can advance the film while the camera is in its case.

Between the two knobs is the film counter. This counts up from zero. When loading a new film, you set the counter to the diamond mark and wind-on the film until advance knob stops turning – this will removed the film fogged by loading and takes the counter to 1. The counter goes up to 38.

The back of the camera is covered in black leatherette. This has various items embossed in it. There is the Zeiss Ikon logo prominently in the centre and below this is “MADE IN GERMANY” and then “STUTTGART”. On the left hand edge of the back is the model number: 524/24. At the other end of the back is the serial number. This is in the standard Zeiss Ikon (originally used by Ica) format of a letter followed by up to five digits. In the case of my camera, it is B14511

The back is opened by a sliding catch on the left hand edge. Inside, the film cassette goes on the right, the film gate is in the centre and the take-up spool is on the left. There is no sprocket shaft which allows the camera to be significantly smaller than camera that do have a sprocket shaft. The rôle of the sprocket shaft is taken by two small toothed wheels below the film gate. These work exactly in the same way as a sprocket shaft by counting the perforations in the film – seven holes equals one frame. When these seven holes have passed the sprocket wheels, the film advance is locked and the shutter release lever is freed for action.

As this is a German camera, there are no foam light seals to degrade so I can use this camera straight away. I shall have to take a hand-held light meter with me as the camera does not have one. In summer months I would happily use the Sunny 16 rule but at this time of year (February) in northern England that does not work too well. My test film will be Agfa Vista 200 ISO colour film and I shall post the results here as soon as they are available.

Test Film

I have run a roll of Agfa Vista film through this camera and have the results back from the lab. For this test roll, I used my Samsung mobile phone as a light meter, All frames on the test film are well exposed with the image density I would expect. This shows that the camera shutter timings are close to the intended times – not bad for a 70 year old camera! There is some flare when shooting into the light but not much – generally this is a usable camera, so long as you remember to keep the light behind you (as my father repeatedly used to remind me when I was a youngster). I tested the rangefinder on a number of shots and the calibration is very usable. Overall, I am very happy with this camera.

Flare at the top of the image.

Author: John Margetts

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

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