Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE
 
Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE
Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE
 

This is a fairly simple compact camera along the lines of Zeiss Ikon’s other Ikonta derivatives, the Contina family.  It is small enough to fit comfortably in one hand – 115mm wide by 85mm tall by 35 mm thick (75 mm thick including the lens).  It takes 35 mm film in standard cassettes.  The Contessa range was made from 1960 until 1971 and the Contessa LKE was made from 1963 to 1965.  The name “Contessa” is a look-back to the companies that made up Zeiss Ikon in 1926 – one of which was Contessa Nettel.  This camera owes nothing to that make of camera and nothing to Contessa Nettel’s designer, Dr Nagel. The price of this camera was £53-16-9 in old British money or £53.83 in modern British money. This equates to around £1,738 in 2020 values.

This camera has a coupled light meter and a coupled rangefinder.  Both of these are visible in the viewfinder which makes using the camera easy.  The rangefinder if the usual double image in an orange spot in the middle of the field of view.  Turning the focussing ring on the end of the lens moves one image – focus is achieved when the two images are superimposed.  A nice touch is the addition of two prominent plastic lugs on the side of the focussing ring which makes it easy to find it by feel while looking through the viewfinder.   The light meter in the viewfinder is not so easy to see.  It is at the top of the viewfinder in the middle and if this part of the viewfinder is against a bright sky, it disappears completely.  Originally, I found it much easier to use the other light meter view on the top of the camera but with practice the display in the viewfinder is easier to use.  When setting the exposure, it is possible to set either the shutter speed or the aperture and then adjust the other until the meter needle centres in the window.  It is much easier to preset the shutter speed as this is merely a knurled ring – the aperture ring has two plastic lugs much as the focussing ring has and it is so much easier to find the aperture ring by feel than it is the shutter speed ring.  Both the aperture value and the shutter speed are visible at the bottom of the viewfinder – this time much more clearly than the light meter is.

The lens is about as good as they come – a Carl Zeiss Tessar.  Because of the age of this camera (1960s) it is not a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar but a West German Carl Zeiss Opton Tessar.  Still a very good lens, though.  The serial number of the lens indicates it was made between 1965 and 1969.  As this camera was only in production until 1965, my specimen must be one of the last to be built in 1965.  The focal length is 50mm with a maximum aperture of f2.8 – so this is a vary fast lens – stopped down to f8, it is going to be superb.  The shutter is a Gautier Prontor 500 LK leaf shutter which is a meter-coupled Prontor with a maximum speed of 1/500 (about as fast as any leaf shutter ever will be).  The one thing that I miss on most modern lenses is the depth of field scale that was ubiquitous on lenses of this era and is present here.

 
Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE
 

The accessory shoe is a hot shoe for flash connection and there is no PC connector for cold shoe flashes (an adapter was available as an added extra to allow cold shoe flashes to be connected).  These is a frame counter around the shutter release and a window that can be moved to indicate the type of film being used.  The options are Black and white, Neg, Flash, Sun, Artificial light.

The viewfinder is central and large enough even for spectacle wearers.  There are bright-lines in the file of view with parallax marks for framing close-ups.  The film advance is a lever of the top right as was now usual for 35mm cameras.  The film rewind, however, is underneath – a lever that pops out when the rewind button is pressed.  There are no strap lugs on this camera which means it is sensible to use the every-ready case but I like to carry cameras in my pocket, so I will end up one day dropping this one.  The only other thing of note is the presence of a tripod bush in the centre of the bottom plate.

After running one roll of film through this camera, I was very pleased with this camera.  It is easy to use, fits in my jacket pocket and is a suitable camera to use as a walk-around camera (i.e. one I take with me when I am not particularly wanting to take photographs but prefer to have a camera to hand just in case).  It is not obtrusive and I have found it to be excellent for street photography.

18 September 2012:  

In the five months that I have owned this camera, this camera has grown on me.  My hands have now learnt where the controls are so I no longer have to look and think.  This probably happens quite quickly if you only use one camera but I have several that I use frequently. 

The exposure indicator is clear in the viewfinder – the arrow for the shutter speed less so.  The exposure indicator is repeated on the top plate but this is not really useful.

I have a tendency to carry cameras in my pocket and that generates two problems with this camera.  Firstly, the shutter release gets accidentally pressed.  This is easily cured by not winding the film on until immediately before pressing the shutter release.  The second problem is that the delayed action lever gets moved which means that it takes a while to take the next picture.  This is made worse by the fact that the delayed action mechanism does not work very well any more.  It grinds its way through the nominal eight seconds with numerous pauses that necessitate manual assistance.   

The rangefinder is reasonably clear in use but as I take mainly landscapes, I keep the camera focussed on the hyper-focal distance (which at f8 is twenty feet).

I really like the recessed rewind lever on the base.  This is a good two centimetres long – much longer than the rewind lever on most 35 mm cameras.  It is easy to use and fairly fast.

The only really awkward part of using this camera is setting the film speed.  As I only set this rarely (I generally use APX100 film so I only reset the film speed when I use a different film) it is not a problem.

Sample pictures:

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE
Spurn ex-lighthouse now water tower

 

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE
Staithes harbour
 

Dacora Digna

Dacora Digna
Dacora Digna
This is a very cheap camera from the mid 1950s.  It takes 120 film (12 negatives to a roll) which was more-or-less standard for amateur photographers at the time.  The Digna came in several versions and my example is, apparently, close to the top of the range.  The camera is fairly small for a medium format camera – 130mm wide, 90 mm tall and 70mm thick when closed – and also relatively light.
The camera has to be opened before use, but not by extending bellows.  You turn the lens very slightly clockwise and the lens pops out on a spring.  The shutter on my example is a Gauthier Vario leaf shutter – 1/25, 1/75 and 1/200 seconds and B.  As I say, this is the upmarket version so I dread to think what the lower end of the range had for a shutter.  The lens is a Subito f4.5 75mm lens – a make I have never heard of before.  As I have no intention of putting a roll of film through this camera, I shall never know how good the lens is (or not).  The lens focusses from 3.5 to infinity (I assume that is in feet as 3.5 meters would not be very usable as a near focus.  There are two Happy Snapper settings both at f10 – nine feet and around thirty feet.  At the nine feet setting, the depth of field is from seven feet to fifteen feet, and and the thirty feet setting the depth of field is fifteen feet to infinity.  Those two happy snapper settings are going to be quite useful.  The snap-shotter can keep the focus at the near Happy Snapper setting continually if he usually takes shots of people and at the far setting if he usually takes shots of landscapes.
To open the camera, the back comes away completely – no expensive hinge on the side away from the catch!  There seems to be very little holding the back in place, but it is quite secure.  The spool carrier for the new film hinges out for ease of loading, and the take-up spool carrier is partially hinged.  For a cheap camera, this is very good and easy to use.  When the back is removed, the mechanism for the pop-out lens is exposed – it is not at all sophisticated or complex so no worries about damaging it.  In fact, I was easily able to apply a few drops of clock oil to the moving parts and thus allowed the mechanism to work as if new
The finish is very poor.  It would seem to be nickel plated mild steel and aluminium. The main body seems to be die-cast aluminium with just the top plate and back being mild steel.  There is rust coming through the nickel plated portions and there is no evidence of anodising on the aluminium and it was rather corroded on my example.  There is the normal red window on the back to view the frame numbers and there is no blanking mechanism so the film could become fogged eventually if the camera is left in the light.
I am unable to say how the camera feels in use as I am not going to actually use it.   However, it fits in the hand very well and is ergonomically designed – the viewfinder and shutter release are both where you would want them to be.  In fact, the basic design is fine, it is just the poor standard of manufacture that lets this camera down.

Franka Solida III camera

The first Vintage camera that I bought was a Franka Solida II.  The Solida III is basically the same camera, as you would expect, with a different lens and the addition of a non-coupled rangefinder.

Franka Solida III camera

The Solida III takes 120 film and produces a 6 cm by 6 cm negative – twelve frames to a roll of film.

lens: Schneider-Kreuznach Radionar
focal length:  80 mm
apertures: f/2.9 to f/22
focus range: 3 ft to infinity
lens fitting: fixed
shutter: Prontor S
speeds: 1 second to 1/250 + B
flash:  PC socket, no X/M switch
film size: 120

The lens is a Schneider-Kreuznach Radionar 80 mm, f/2.9 lens.  This is a bit unusual as the aperture sequence usually goes to f/2.8 rather than f/2.9.  The minimum aperture is f/22 which is more than small enough coupled with the 1/250 shutter speed.  It is probably worth noting that the physical size of the aperture at f/22 on a medium format camera is much larger than f/22 on a 35 mm camera and so diffraction effects are negligible and so give sharper images than an equivalent lens/aperture would with 35mm.  With an APS C format digital camera, the difference will be even sharper.  The test film showed this lens to be better than adequate, at the least.

Franka Solida III camera
The shutter is a Prontor S leaf shutter by Gauthier, offering shutter speeds from 1 second to 1/250 plus B.

Happy Snapper settings are indicated in red and are around f/9 and twenty five feet, giving a depth of field from twelve feet to infinity.  There is also a secondary Happy Snapper setting of f/9 and eight feet which gives you a depth of field from six feet to twelve feet – presumably for portraits.

There is the usual delayed action lever giving  a delay of around eight to ten seconds.  A PC socket is provided but no synchronisation lever so the flash synch could be either for bulb or electronic flash. Given the camera’s age, I suspect it is synced for bulbs but whether for M or F bulbs I do not know.

The rangefinder works well and the two images are nice and clear.  There is enough separation between the two rangefinder windows (43 mm) and there is enough movement on the adjusting wheel to make the device effective.  Unfortunately, as a non-coupled rangefinder, it is necessary to read the distance off the rangefinder and set it on the lens focussing scale.  I find guessing the distance and using a smallish aperture to be fine and I don’t think I would use this rangefinder very much.

The other niggle with the rangefinder is that it uses a separate eyepiece to the viewfinder making focussing and composing totally separate activities and further reduces the utility of the rangefinder.

There is a safety interlock between the film winder and the shutter release meaning it is impossible to make a double exposure.  There is a (very) small window beside the film winder which shows red when the film has been wound on.  In fact, it is only necessary to turn the film winder 3/4 of a turn to reset the shutter which is not enough to wind on to the next frame.  Not having a manual for the camera, I had thought the shutter faulty before I finally twigged the purpose of the small window.

The red window on the back which allows you to read the frame numbers has a sliding cover to prevent the fogging of panchromatic film.  Loading is easy.  Both the film spool and the take up spool are contained in hinged housings which hold the film securely until the back is closed.

The pressure plate is significantly larger than the frame size (80 mm wide) which means that the film is kept nicely flat – not always the case with medium format cameras.  The lens standard pops out nicely when the button on the base is pressed – this camera is fully self-erecting.

In use, this is not anywhere as easy as the Franka Solida II.  That camera opens vertically with the baseboard at the bottom under the lens. This Solida III opens sideways so that the baseboard is to the right of the lens when you are using the camera.  This leaves very little camera for the right hand to hold on to which is rather awkward. With the fingers of the right hand curled, it is quite usable and the forefinger drops quite nicely onto the shutter release.

Small items – there is an accessory shoe – cold shoe in flash terms – and a single tripod socket on the base which is to UK/USA standard.  Lastly, the film winder has a film speed reminder on its top, with DIN/ASA numbers from DIN 12/ASA 12 to DIN 24/ASA 200.  On a camera of this age, it is worth noting that the ASA numbers are the “new” ASA scale

Franka Solida III camera
Medieval troubadours, Stonebow, Lincoln
Franka Solida III camera
Medieval guildhall, Lincoln

Agfa Billy Record

Agfa Billy Record
Agfa Billy-Record
Agfa Billy Record
Agfa Billy-Record landscape format

This is a fairly standard full frame 120 film camera from the mid 1930s.  I think this camera is a grey import – no “made in Germany”, distance scale in metres and the tripod socket is continental rather than UK or USA. The 1937 Photographic Almanac refers to this camera as the Speedex Record but it is clearly the same camera. The suggested price is £5-5-0. As the average working wage in the UK in 1937 was around £1-10-0, this was around a month’s wages so really a middle class camera.

 
The camera takes eight pictures on 120 film which makes it an expensive camera to use.  There are two finders: a brilliant finder and a two frame Galilean finder.  I can never get on with brilliant finders – too small mostly.  The shutter is a Prontor II leaf shutter from Gauthier and the lens is Agfa’s Apotar 10.5 cm focal length and f/4.5 maximum aperture.  This lens performs very well – with colour as well as monochrome.  Lenses from the 1930s were usually colour corrected even though colour film was unusual.  This is because the new (for the time) panchromatic films were sensitive to all colours and non-colour corrected lenses would produce a very soft image.
 
Shutter speeds on the Prontor II are 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/150 as well as B and T.  1/25 and 1/50 seem very slow by modern standards. but the 6cm by 9cm negatives would be unlikely to be enlarged.  For most people, contact prints would be normal.  The lack of flash synchronisation and the 1/150 maximum shutter speed date this to the first Prontor II design and so dates the camera to between 1934 and 1938.
 
The lens focusses down to less than one metre to infinity.  On my camera, the lens will not focus to infinity – either because the grease on the focussing thread has solidified (something Agfas are notorious for) or because someone has attempted a repair (also common on old cameras).
 

As was normal until the mid 1950s, the shutter release lever is on the shutter housing.  As was also normal from 1930ish, Agfa provide a secondary shutter release on the camera body which is connected to the lever on the shutter housing by an articulated link.  This is a seriously weak link and barely works on my camera.  When opening the camera, there is a significant danger of the release link missing the lever on the shutter housing.  Agfa actually stress the importance of this in the manual for the camera.  The long term effect of this link missing its proper location is that the link has bent and frequently dis-articulates itself.

There are the two tripod bushes we would expect on a camera of this format and date.  One is on the base board – centrally placed which makes fitting a tripod easier than on some cameras – and one near the centre of the base.  Both are 3/8 Whitworth which is larger than most tripods use.  My other cameras from this era have a 1/4 Whitworth insert and these may well have been present at some time.

Sample pictures:

Agfa Billy Record
Stamp End, Lincoln
Agfa Billy Record
Lincoln Cathedral

Agfa Karat 6.3

Agfa Karat 6.3
1936 Art Deco Karat        –        1938 karat
 In many ways this is a very attractive camera.  It is small (22cm wide, 17cm tall and 14.5cm thick), not too heavy (for a metal camera) and simple.  It has two downsides – it uses a different cassette to other 35mm cameras and it is cheaply made.  The body is made from cast aluminium which is painted gloss black.  The controls all seem to grate a bit and although this camera is now around 70 years old, Zeiss Ikon and Voigtlander cameras of this age do not grate.  The Karat 6.3 was introduced in 1936.  Two years later Agfa introduced an improved version – still called the Karat 6.3

Aesthetically, the camera is attractive.  It has a rounded body and has an Art Deco front panel on the lens board. Focussing and aperture controls are on the lens panel.  While these work well, I find them difficult to use.  The focussing knob is below the lens and moves from about 4 o’clock (infinity) to 8 o’clock (3.5 feet).  The aperture control is a milled ring around the lens with apertures from f6.3 to f22.  One of the problems I have with this camera is that altering the aperture means my finger hits the focussing knob making it difficult to move the aperture ring.  By the by, the maximum aperture of the camera – f6.3 – gives the camera its name “Karat 6.3”, later models were Karat 3.5 and Karat 2.8.

The lens is a three element Igestar lens (Sometimes with a fancy “I” which makes the name look like Jgestar).  The view finder is a reverse Gallilean finder which gives a small image (the ‘reverse’ part of reverse Gallilean means it is like looking through a telescope the wrong way with a smallified image).  On the original Art Deco version, this viewfinder is not only rather small but is low down on the body, making it hard to use.

The camera is a folding camera – the lens pops out on a short bellows , it only moves two cm – released by a button on the top plate to the left of the viewfinder.  The lens panel simply pushes back in  when the camera is finished with.  The top plate of the camera is dominated by the film wind-on knob and the shutter release is very close to this.  Next to the shutter release is a sliding lever which can engage the shutter release when the B setting is used to hold the shutter open.  However, this is difficult to set while your finger is on the shutter release and almost certainly impossible to do without jarring the camera to some extent.  Also on the top plate is the frame counter.  This is quite small and recessed making it less than easy to see.  The frame number is rest by a small knurled knob next to the counter – the start of film is set to “A” and then the film wound on until frame “1” is reached.  There are also two strap lugs on the top plate – one of which is missing on my camera.
The back hinges open to allow the loading of film.  The film for this camera must be in one of Agfa’s Karat or Rapid cassettes.  The original format was the Karat cassette.  This was revived in the 1960s as the Rapid cassette.  There is only one difference between them – the later Rapid cassette has a film speed indicator on the cassette in the form of a metal “T”.
Agfa Karat 6.3
Karat cassette (left)        Rapid cassette (right)
Film loading is easy – insert the film in the left-hand chamber and fix the film leader under the two clips.  Close the back and wind the film on to frame 1.  Unloading the film is even easier – there is no need to rewind the film, you just take the cassette with the exposed film out of the camera.
The 1938 improved version is basically the same.  It has a raised viewfinder  – no bigger but easier to use.  It also has an external frame counter rather than a window to an internal counter.  The front fascia is plain and when extended has a lock to prevent the camera from being closed accidentally.  There is also an improved catch to the back and the strap lugs have been removed.  To off-set the lack of strap lugs, the case has been changed to an ever-ready type case where the camera can be used while in the leather case.  In the original Karat, the case was a drop-in case.
Agfa Karat 6.3
1936 original Art Deco case      –      1938 improved case

Zeiss Ikon Contina Ic

Zeiss Ikon Contina IcNot 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 leaf shutter 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).

Zeiss Ikon Contina Ic
Mr Musicman High Bridge, Lincoln

Zeiss Ikon Contina Ic
Stonebow, Lincoln

Zeiss Ikon Contina Ic

Zeiss Ikon Tenax I

Zeiss Ikon Tenax I

This camera is unlike my other Zeiss Ikon cameras in that it was aimed at the middle of the amateur market – above the box Brownie brigade but below the Contaflex, Ikoflex, Ikonta market.  The Tenax I came out in 1938 (actually started retailing in early 1939) just after the Tenax II.  They are both named after the Goerz Tenaxes of 1909 and 1921 (Goerz being one of the camera companies that merged to form Zeiss Ikon in 1926).  You will frequently see these described as being made from 1930 to 1941, but that is due to a misprint in McKeowns and the correct dates are 1939 to 1941.  WWII meant that production was curtailed fairly soon after the launch and so these are fairly rare cameras.  My specimen is probably produced for the German home market rather than a British version as Zeiss Ikon usually produced British and American versions of their cameras with the distance scale marked in feet.  This camera has the distance scale in metres and, also, has the catch for the back marked Z and A (zu and auf – close and open) rather than in English.  Liberated by a British soldier in 1944/5, perhaps.

It is very small – just 110mm wide and 65mm tall and only 45mm thick.  This is not a folding camera but has a lens of 35mm focal length.  The camera uses such a short focal length lens because it produces a negative that is 24mm square – the ‘normal’ lens for any camera is the diagonal of the negative (or sensor for digital cameras).  For its size, it is remarkably heavy.  It is made of die cast aluminium and brass.  The brass is bright plated, but the way the plating has worn off the brass on the top plate and shutter fascia I suspect the plating is nickel.  My specimen is “well loved” – it has obviously been well used over a great deal of time.  Much of the textured leatherette on the front has worn smooth and significant plating has worn off .
It is an unusual camera in many ways.  There is no wind-on knob or lever on the top – the film is wound on using a combination film advance and shutter cocking lever that is pressed by the index finger of the left hand.  This film advance will move the film on one frame (24 mm) each time it is pressed and this is interlocked to the shutter release preventing wasted film.  The shutter release is on the front of the camera on the shutter as was becoming very unfashionable at the time this camera was designed.  It does, though, make the camera easy to use – if the shutter release was on the top plate as was becoming normal in the late 1930s, it would be hard to place the user’s finger on it with such a small camera.  The shutter contains a double exposure lock – you cannot take a picture without winding on nor wind on without taking a picture.
The controls on the front are hard to use.  Apart from the stiffening we might expect on a camera that is 72 years old, the parts are quite small and my fingers quite large.  The aperture adjuster is very stiff and, even when holding the lens, the focus changes more than the aperture does. This is probably telling me to open the front and get some clock oil in there.

To open the camera to load a film or removed an exposed film, the circular button on the base has to be turned a quarter turn and then slid to one side.  This allows the base and back to be removed in one piece.  This is supposed to make loading the camera easier, but I find the take-up spool is liable to drop out as is the cassette of film.  This operation is made much easier by using a table top, but in the field, table tops can be hard to find.  The take-up spool I have is a later Contax plastic spool.  The original Tenax I spool was die-cast metal.

Zeiss Ikon Tenax IZeiss Ikon Tenax I

The shutter is a Compur leaf shutter with speeds 1, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/256, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/300 seconds as well as B.  The aperture can range from f3.5 to f22 which is a good range for most photography.  There is a Happy Snapper setting of between f5.6 and f8 and a distance of 6 metres signified by red dots.
The lens is a Novar Anastigmat 35mm lens which is only 11mm across.  Focussing range is from 1 metre to infinity – at the Happy Snapper setting, from 3 metres to infinity should be in focus.
The mechanism was not particularly free running so I took the bull by the horns and took the top plate off.  Inside is fairly simple – not a lot for me to damage.  I have applied clock oil to all the pivots and linkages and the mechanism is working much better now.Zeiss Ikon Tenax I

28-9-2012:

 Because this camera is idiosyncratic it takes a bit of getting used to.  The viewfinder is a standard size for the time but almost impossible to use wearing my glasses.  This is a point I find with most pre-1960 cameras.  The shutter release is not quite where my finger expects it to be but once I have started taking pictures it is fine.
The film advance is taking more getting used to – it is on the ‘wrong’ side of the camera and is a plunger rather than a knob or lever. Again, once I am using the camera it is fine.  In fact, the combination of the two levers on either side of the lens means you can take a couple of pictures per second which is not bad on an entirely manual camera.  Zeiss Ikon claimed it was capable of four frames per second but that would require a camera in smoother condition than mine and more nimble fingers than I have available.
The hardest part to use is the diaphragm setting.  It involves turning the centre of the lens mount – I suspect that the designer had smaller fingers than I have.  I am quite enjoying using this camera – it is definitely a pocket camera – compact and reasonably light (not compared to digital point-and-shoot cameras, but compared to metal film cameras in general).  I suspect that if the second world war had not happened just after this camera was designed, the two lever system of shutter release and film winder would have become normal.
This particular camera is suffering from ‘Zeiss bumps’.  This is common on older Zeiss Ikon cameras and appears as small (two to four mm) bumps under the leatherette.  My Tenax has four large (four mm) bumps and two small (two mm) bumps.  These are caused by the rivets holding the components together reacting with the glue holding the leatherette on forming a local deposit of what I assume to be oxides.  They only occur on the back of my camera.
I could probably ‘cure’ this by removing the leatherette and cleaning the metal beneath and replacing the leatherette but I suspect I would do more harm than good.  The frame of the front element of the viewfinder is stamped ’24×24′ and ‘3.5 cm’ – the first indicating the image size and the second the film size.
The shutter is covered by Zeiss Ikon’s own fascia.  This hides the shutter serial number which would help to date this particular camera.  However, the body serial number is J78039.  This partly dates the camera as pre-1945 production was in three tranches each of 10,000 cameras.  The first tranche (1938-9) has serial number letters H, the second tranche J and the third tranche M.  So my camera dates from the second tranche which means it was made after 1938-9 and before 1945.  After 1945, eastern Zeiss Ikon continued with the production of the Tenax I, initially exactly the same as the wartime version and then with a Tessar lens.  However, this later production did not have serial numbers starting with a letter.
Some pictures taken with this Tenax I (not Photoshopped at all).  These pictures suffer from light bleed from the light areas into the darker areas.  It has been suggested to me that this is due to the poor quality glass that Zeiss Ikon had available during WWII.
Zeiss Ikon Tenax IZeiss Ikon Tenax IZeiss Ikon Tenax IZeiss Ikon Tenax IZeiss Ikon Tenax I

Voigtlander Vito II

Voigtlander Vito II

Voigtlander Vito II

Voigtlander’s Vito range of cameras are 35mm cameras aimed at serious amateurs.  They date from the 1940s to the 1960s and pre-date the SLR concept.  As was normal for the time, they come with several options of lenses and shutters.
  

Voigtlander Vito II

Initially, the Vito range were folding cameras that were small enough when closed to easily fit into a pocket.  My example is a mid-dated Vito II – the Vito II model went through a number of revisions with minor details being changed with each revision.  There was one major revision which gave rise to the Vito IIa.  I also have an original Vito I.  A comparison of my Vito cameras can be seen here.

The sequence of changes in the Vito II were:

  • 1949 Introduced
  • 1950 Shutter release bar became shutter release button, holder for an accessory shoe added
  • 1951 Film take-up spool is fixed and rewind knob is telescopic
  • 1954 Accessory shoe fitted (rather than provision for one) Compur shutter available
  • 1955 Film advance now a lever, larger viewfinder (Vito IIa)

So my Vito II is a 1954 version although the lens serial number shows the lens was made in 1953.

So, a basic description.  The camera easily fits in a hand (my hand at any road), being 125mm long, 75mm high and 40mm thick when closed.  The lens standard is opened by a recessed button on the base – the cover is hinged on the side and the lens comes forward and locks in position.  This action is spring loaded but on my camera the spring is not strong enough to fully open the camera.  When new, it may well have been fully automatic opening.  To close the camera again, two buttons have to be pressed simultaneously and the cover pushed into place.

The lens on my Vito II is a Voigtlander Color-Skopar 50mm which is Voigtlander’s version of a Zeiss Ikon Tessar.  This lens has a very good reputation.   It focusses down to 3.5 feet – this camera uses front cell focussing which is not quite as good as moving the whole lens top focus but this only matters for close to work and for landscapes is fine.  The results are excellent.  The focussing scale has two Happy Snapper settings – “o” which is the hyperfocal setting for f5.6 and “V” which the hyperfocal setting at f16. When the focus is set to “o” and the aperture to f5.6, the depth of field extends from 15 feet to infinity and when set to “V” and the aperture to f16, the depth of field extends from 5.5 feet to infinity.  The lens serial number dates this lens to 1953 although the camera was made in 1954.

The lens has a slight but definite purple tinge to it which suggests that it is a coated lens but if it is, it is still, unfortunately, susceptible to flare. Using this camera, it is necessary to remember the advice my father gave me as a child – always keep the sun behind you.

The aperture range is f3.5 to f16. The shutter is the cheaper Pronto leaf shutter made by Gauthier and offers four speeds – 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/200 seconds as well a B. There is also a delay action timer which delays the shutter release by about ten seconds. This is very difficult to use as the setting lever is very close to the struts holding the lens in place.

Voigtlander Vito II

This camera is old enough to need manual cocking of the shutter. The actual shutter release is on the shutter housing but it is actuated by a button on top of the lens cover – there is also a cable release socket at this position. The camera has two safety devices – first, the shutter will not fire if the film has not been wound on so no double exposures and secondly, the winding knob will only move the film on one frame without the shutter being fired. This last can be over-ridden so a part-used film can be rewound into the cassette and then refitted and would on to the next unexposed frame at a later date. This allows the photographer to change between types of film while on a shoot without wasting film.

The last thing to mention regarding the shutter is the presence of a PC (Prontor Compur) flash connector. There is no selector to choose between bulb or electronic flash and on the model I have (Pronto shutter) it is for F synchronisation only – i.e. the flash will fire when the shutter is nearly fully open which is intended for fast flash bulbs.  With Synchro-Compur and Prontor SV shutters, you would have X and M synchronisation available. Both the film advance and film rewind are by way of a large milled knob – one on each end on the top plate. The back of the camera fastens with a not entirely satisfactory catch. When the camera is in the ever-ready case, this will not matter but I tend to carry this camera in my pocket and I have had the back unfasten itself.

The viewfinder is a Galilean type and is rather small. Wearing spectacles as I do, I find it very hard to use as I cannot get my eye near enough to the eyepiece. The only other thing worth noting is that this camera has feet. This is common on cameras of this era (40s and 50s) and the feet take the form of small metal projections on the base plate and the lens door. These enable the camera to be set down on a suitable surface so that self-portraits can be done using the delayed action timer.

Voigtlander Vito II

 

18 September 2012:

This is now a favourite camera with only a few niggles.  The first is its age – around sixty years old.  My concern for its age revolve around the bellows.  These are made from some sort of oiled/lacquered cloth and eventually they will start leaking light.  I am not sure if I should tackle this by leaving the lens extended all the time and so ensuring that any small leak there might be will leave a significant mark on the film, or whether I should leave the camera closed unless I am actually taking a picture and so hastening then point at which then light starts leaking in.

The other main niggle is the position of the shutter release button.  When holding the camera, my finger does not naturally fall on the release button and I find my finger searching for it – not exactly helping to ‘hit’ the decisive moment.

Voigtlander Vito II
Third niggle – the viewfinder.  It is small.  So small I can barely use it while wearing my spectacles.  This is a reverse Galilean finder – it produces a small image in the same way that a telescope does when you use it back to front.  having a built-in viewfinder in a consumer camera was a fairly new idea when the Vito II was designed – Zeiss Ikon were still using folding Newtonian finders on the equivalent (Nettar and Ikonta) cameras.  This viewfinder is much the same as the viewfinder in the later Vito B.  It was only when the Vito B had been in production for several years that larger comfortable to use finders were introduced (as they were on the new Vito C range that eventually replaced the Vito B range.

Apart from those three niggles, I like using this camera.  The rewind knob is better than a standard SLR mini lever for rewinding the film and I also like the film advance knob in place of a rapid wind lever.

Zeiss Ikon Icarette

 The Icarette (sometimes mistakenly called a Jcarette because of the fancy “I” used) is a very old line of cameras, first produced by ICA before the mergers that formed Zeiss Ikon in 1926.  ICA itself was formed in 1909 by an amalgamation of Carl Zeiss Jena and others.  My Icarette has a lens serial number of 1089397, a body number of Q***42 and a shutter serial number of 1065884.  This means the lens was made towards the beginning of 1930, the body in early 1929 and the shutter in mid 1929.  This suggests that this particular Icarette was made in 1930 – 1931 at the latest.  The design is fairly old-fashioned for this date – not self-erecting and the focussing is on the baseboard, not the shutter assembly.  It does, however, have a rim-set leaf shutter which was very much state of the art for 1930.

I also have an earlier Icarette, from around 1919, made by ICA and a further ICA Icarette from 1925/6.

Zeiss Ikon Icarette

The Icarette is a thin camera when closed (35mm), but measures 180 mm long by 85 mm wide.  This makes it far too big to be a pocket camera.  To open the camera, you must press a slight bulge in the leatherette close to the film winder.  When opened, the base board has to be brought down to its position by hand – no springs here.  Then the lens/shutter has to be pulled forward until it locates on the focussing control.  The focussing control is a lever on the side of the base board which moves the shutter a total of less than one cm giving a focussing range from infinity to somewhere around three feet (the nearest marked position is for seven feet but the lever moves beyond this).

This camera has two viewfinders – a small brilliant finder and a cruder Newtonian finder with the far frame attached to the lens so movements of the lens are accounted for.  I do not find brilliant finders very easy to use but they have the advantage of allowing the camera to be used at waist level – much more discrete for candid or street photography.

The lens has a rise and fall mechanism and if you use this, the Newtonian finder is essential.  The rise and fall mechanism is there to allow the photographer to photograph tall things like trees and buildings without tilting the camera.  This means that there will be less distortion in the final picture.  The fact that the camera has a rise and fall mechanism means that the image circle must be much larger than the negative, which in turns means that vignetting will be minimal.

As mentioned above, the lens is a Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar lens made in 1930.  This is the classic Zeiss lens which is still in use today.  It has an aperture range from f/4.5 to f/32 and focusses from around three feet to infinity.  The shutter is a Deckel Compur rim-set shutter made in 1929 with speeds of 1 second, 1/2, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/100 and 1/250 seconds as well as B and T (B keeps the shutter open while the shutter release is depressed, T keeps the shutter open until the shutter release is pressed again).  The shutter also has a self-timer but as the general advice is not to use these on old cameras, I do not know how long the delay is.  I would suspect around ten seconds.  This shutter is the crème de la crème of shutters and still works well over eighty years after it left the factory.

The camera is fitted with two tripod bosses – one the base board close to the hinge and one part way along one of the edges.  Both are 3/8 inch Whitworth threads with a 1/4 inch Whitworth insert – the insert being held securely in place by a grub screw.  With my sample of this camera, someone has tried to remove the 1/4 inch insert without removing the grub screw damaging both the insert and the grub screw – they did this to both tripod bosses.  However, both still fit my modern tripod and hold the camera securely.

This camera takes 120 size film (or BII as Zeiss call it).  The spool carriers are hinged which allows easier loading of new film (and removal of exposed film).

This camera after a quick clean:
Zeiss Ikon Icarette

Some sample pictures:

These are fairly soft.  This is partly because focussing is inaccurate – the entire lens standard moves on a track and the distance between one metre and infinity is very small.  Helical focussing which became the norm soon after this camera was made gives more control.  Partly it is soft because it did not matter.  Photographs were normally printed as contact prints so the picture would have been 6cm by 9cm (a bit smaller than I have them here).

Zeiss Ikon IcaretteZeiss Ikon IcaretteZeiss Ikon Icarette

Zeiss Ikon Contaflex

I have been after a Contaflex for while now. Zeiss Ikon put a lot of thought into the design of their cameras and all that I have come across have been a joy to hold. The Contaflex is no exception.

P1040144After 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.

P1040146The 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.

P1040148P1040149
The shutter is a between-the-lens leaf shutter rather than a focal-plane shutter. This is a superior design in several ways. Firstly, the shutter moves radially and so confers little in the way of vibration to the camera. This is, unfortunately, offset by the need to close the shutter, lift the mirror, open the secondary shutter and then open and close the main shutter again. The result is a very firm shutter release and a respectable “clunk” when the shutter is fired. Secondly, the shutter and flash can be synchronised at any shutter speed. Thirdly, the shutter does not distort moving objects in the way a focal plane shutter must.  Usually, the shutter was a reflex version of a Synchro-Compur shutter, but the Alpha and Beta models has a Prontor Reflex shutter (the Super has Synchro-Compur shutter). Similar cameras were produced by Voigtlander and Mamiya amongst others.

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.

P1040145In 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.

P1040147To load the film, the camera is opened by removing the base and the back as one. I was a little nervous of this technique initially as the only time I have come across this before was with my Ukrainian FED 5. With the FED 5 the fit is loose to say the least and it leaks light. The Zeiss Ikon version works well, fitting together reassuringly well.

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.

 P1040150
There is also an light meter which is not a TTL meter.  With the Beta, it is not coupled and gives you an exposure value which you set on the Prontor shutter.  The meter covers film speeds from 12 to 33 DIN and 5 to 650 ASA.  Unfortunately, this is old style ASA where 21 DIN equates to 40 ASA rather than to 100 ASA as the new style ASA standard would have it (new style ASA is the same as ISO).  The ASA range was adjusted in the late 1950s to be a more “sensible” range.  This makes using modern films with old exposure meters fraught.  Personally, I rely on using the DIN scale which has remained constant since its introduction.
With the Super, the exposure meter is still not TTL but is coupled.  It has an indicator in the viewfinder which makes using this version much easier.  It also uses the modern ASA range and so can be used with modern films easily.  This is a shutter priority system – you set the required shutter speed and then turn the front meter-setting knob until the meter needle in the viewfinder points at the central notch.  Turning this knob moves the aperture ring on the lens to an aperture that matches the shutter speed for the required exposure.  If your initial setting of the shutter speed was inappropriate, it will not be possible to set a suitable exposure and it will be necessary to change the shutter speed accordingly.

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.

1957 004

Zeiss Ikon Contaflex
Busker, Lincoln Stonebow
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