Contax IIIa question

Discussion in 'Rangefinder Forum' started by Steve Mack, Dec 13, 2012.

  1. Steve Mack

    Steve Mack Member

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    Has anyone used this camera as a regular user, and not merely as a curio? What is your opinion of it? I am thinking of buying an outfit.

    Thanks to all who reply.

    With best regards,

    Steve
     
  2. summicron1

    summicron1 Subscriber

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    they are spoken of very highly from a mechanical perspective but every time I try to use my IIa on a regular basis I find myself reverting to the Leica.

    -- focusing is weird, with that little thingy you have to push to release the lens lock.

    -- viewfinder lack bright frames and was made before someone figured out that big bright viewfinders are nice.

    --take-up spool falls out as yu are loading.

    -- no parallax adjustment.

    -- external viewfinders for all but the 50. On the other hand, the Zeiss external finder is really cool.

    lenses are beyond first rate, however.

    So, as a funky camera to play with it's great, but as a regular user I wonder. It's kind of a 50s experience...and my admiration for war photographers who used these things while dodging american/german bullets is extreme.

    A IIIa also has a selinium cell meter that, lo these many years, is probably dead or at least inaccurate.

    Having said all that, they fun to play with, If you can get a good deal, take it or live a life of regret.:wink:
     
  3. Paul Goutiere

    Paul Goutiere Subscriber

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    Nice to look at, great lenses, excellent images, poor ergonomics.
     
  4. lxdude

    lxdude Member

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    I expect British, Italian, Japanese, etc. bullets were sometimes a problem, too.:wink:
     
  5. jon koss

    jon koss Subscriber

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    Relatively few IIIA's saw service on the battlefields of WW2. Just sayin'. :wink:


     
  6. Pioneer

    Pioneer Subscriber

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    I enjoy using Leica cameras as well but I sense that some find their Leica cameras easier to work with because they are more comfortable with them. This is certainly understandable as there are a lot more Leica cameras out there to work with than Contax cameras. However, my experience with these cameras is a bit different.

    My Contax II is a wonderful daily user and I have been shooting it almost continuously since I got the first one. I own a Leica IIIc, a Tower Type 3, and an M6 but IMHO, my Contax II is easier to work with than all of the Leicas I own. Rather than finding my Contax to be an interesting, but quirky, camera that is fun to play around with every now and then, it is actually more of a day-to-day user for me, and my Leicas are the interesting, but quirky, little cameras that are fun to play with now and then.

    Leica LTM cameras are lighter, smaller, and less bulky than Contax cameras. There is not enough difference between the M style and the Contax as far as weight and size to comment on. It is easier to slide an LTM camera with the Elmar 50/3.5 in your pocket, or purse, than the Contax. However, I personally find the Contax easier to grasp and handle than the smaller Leicas. I think that is more a reflection on my long experience with Minolta SRT and Pentax K cameras than any superiority between Leica or Zeiss Ikon design.

    I much prefer the single viewfinder/rangefinder combination of the Contax is easier to work with than the LTM camera separate viewfinder/rangefinder arrangement and about the same as the M. Interestingly I do not find the combined film advance/shutter speed dial a great advantage for the Contax, mostly because with my model it is harder to see the actual shutter speed numbers in real life use.

    Film loading is WAYY easier with the Contax. I hear a lot of people complain that the take up spool falls out. My experience is totally the opposite. I actually pull the take up spool out to load film. I push the tongue of the film into the slot in the take up spool with both the spool and the cassette right out where I can see both. Once the film perforation has been hooked on the spool, I twist the take up spool about a half a wind or a little more and then pull the film tongue out as I am inserting the film cassette and take up spool into the camera. Once they each are in their respective locations, I lay the film back in place, slide it up, and lock it down. I then wind the film on one frame, snap the shutter, wind it forward once more, and I am ready to take pictures. It has never failed. I suppose that if I were under enemy fire on the front line like Robert Capa then I might miss once in a while, but I'm not. I can load film faster in my LX with the magic fingers, but not by much. I don't even want to discuss the fiddly little Leica!! :D

    I could go on, but the truth is that anyone can get used to, and like, the camera they use the most. For example, I really like my Minolta SRT 102...and I use it a lot. Likewise I really like my Contax II...and I use it a lot. Now, which came first, the chicken or the egg. Did I like these cameras first, and therefore I began to use them a lot? Or do I like them because I use them a lot? It is probably a bit of both but familiarity born of regular use does count for a lot.

    Obviously the Contax IIIa you are considering came with a meter and neither of my Contax II cameras have that feature. The camera light meter may or may not work, and if it does work it may not be reliable. Actually, the Zeiss Ikon meter cells have a pretty good track record for holding up, and the one you are looking at may work. However, I would recommend that you consider a separate meter and not try to use the built in meter, even if it does work. Now days hand-held light meters are very reliable, usually quite a bit more reliable than any of the older light meters found in used cameras. But, if all you shoot is negative film, and your camera's light meter is fairly linear, even if it is off a bit it won't matter too much as long as it is off equally from one setting to the next.

    And yes, the Zeiss Ikon lenses are truly stunning. I first started shooting these cameras in order to get my hands on those Carl Zeiss Sonnar and Planar lenses, and I do not regret it one bit. In fact, you could say I am really hooked. As a matter of fact I think that my 50/1.5 Sonnar and 85/2 Planar are just about perfect. If I could locate a 180/2.8 telephoto I would be content...I think! :whistling:

    Anyway, buy the camera and enjoy it. You may not use it like I do my own, but you will still get a great education in a wonderful camera from our past.
     
  7. agfarapid

    agfarapid Subscriber

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    I have a FSU (Former Soviet Union) Kiev III which is similar to the prewar Contax III. My Kiev was made in the Soviet Union from tools and dies taken from the German factories after WWI as reparations and is solidly built. What I enjoy about this camera is 1) the extremely quiet shutter and 2) it's Sonnar clone Jupiter 8 lens. What I don't like is the squinty and dim viewfinder. When compared to my Leica IIIc and M3, it comes up short in that aspect. My IIIc is smaller and lighter than the Kiev and the viewfinder (though not combined as in the Contax or Kiev) is somewhat larger and brighter. The Kiev is a fun camera to use but is not without it's peculiarities. If you get the opportunity, buy that Contax IIIa provided it's in good condition, otherwise, pay a lot less and buy the Kiev (I bought mine for $50 or so). After using it for a while, and if you still enjoy it, spring for the big bucks and get that Contax.
     
  8. tony lockerbie

    tony lockerbie Subscriber

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    Summicron sums it up well, but with a name like that he may be biased :smile: The Sonnars are truly excellent, better than anything Leitz had until the Summicron and Summilux. Having said that, my M2 is a much better user but I still regularly use the Contax (I have a 11A and 111A) to punish myself ergonomically! I only have a F2 Sonnar and the uncoated pre-war 1.5 Sonnar and also an 85mm F2 Nikkor.
    If you can find a 11A instead they look prettier and the meter on the 111A rarely works anyway. I have two shots in the gallery that I posted a couple of days ago, one is Holly, with the 1.5 wide open and the other of the lone tree is with the F2 (coated) Sonnar.
     
  9. MDR

    MDR Member

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    Pros: RF hard to get out of alignment
    Biggest Rangefinder Base of any 35mm RF camera
    Super Silent Shutter (when well maintained it's quieter than a Leica Shutter of the same vintage)
    Superb lenses
    Combined RF/VF
    Rollerblind shutter won't burn trough when leaving the camera uncaped in the sun , unlike some clothshutters
    Better overall construction than any other RF camera of the same period even Leica


    Cons: The Contax Grip you have to get used to
    No brightline Viewfinder
    50mm only Viewfinder (the Russian Tourette Finder for the Kiev is a cheap option)
    Shutter ribbons are prone to wear trough.
    Less lens choice than LTM

    I love my Contax and think that it is overall a better choice than a Leica Ltm. If you need to get used to the Contax Grip buy a Kiev as trainer, the lenses for the Contax and Kiev are fully compatible.

    Dominik
     
  10. 250swb

    250swb Member

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    Compared to a contemporary Leica I'm sure the Contax was a fine camera and a genuine alternative. But nowadays as a camera to consider using on a regular basis they aren't so good. I didn't like the ergonomic's on mine, but then I didn't use it much so never got into the swing of it. But what put me off more than anything was, wait for it...............the smell. I'd finish using it and I was left with a metallic smell on my hands, and it wouldn't wash off very easily. I've come across it before on cheap plated goods, and I work with metals everyday, but this was weird, especially for a higher end camera.

    Steve
     
  11. Pioneer

    Pioneer Subscriber

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    I strongly suspect there was something else going on with that camera. I have 3 Zeiss Ikon Contax cameras, two Contaflex's and a Contarex. None of them smell any different than any of the rest of my MMM cameras. If you still own the camera you may want to have it cleaned and lubed.
     
  12. elekm

    elekm Member

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    I feel the selenium meter adds a noticeable amount of weight, and so I leave my IIIA on the shelf while I use the IIA and a handheld meter.

    It took me only a few minutes to get used to the Zeiss Ikon Contax, and I love the camera, love the lenses and love the results.

    I like the IIA better than the II, simply because it's a smaller camera.

    As for an odor, that sounds like some other issue. Zeiss Ikon cameras have no untoward odors, aside from what happens with leather.
     
  13. Someonenameddavid

    Someonenameddavid Member

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    another vote for the (ahem post-war) IIa and IIIa Contax
     
  14. Patrick Robert James

    Patrick Robert James Subscriber

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    A lot of people like old Leicas but I like old Contaxes. I used to use Contaxes quite a lot back in the 90's. I never had one break on me. At one point I had four bodies I think. I eventually stopped using them since I only used them as a carry around camera for citiscapes or when I was traveling. I still have one IIIa Black Dial body but I barely use it. I use Leicas now, but that doesn't mean I don't like Contaxes. The lenses were better than Leica back in the day. I still marvel at how good the lenses are still. I had a 35mm Biometar, 50 and 85 Sonnars. I still have both an uncoated pre-war Sonnar and a coated post-war Sonnar that I use occasionally on my Leicas with an adapter. They are amazing lenses. I would love to get a Contax I someday that worked. Not very practical, but just fun to use. The viewfinder is a bit of a bummer since it only gives you the field of view for the 50 but accessory finders aren't bad. I remember reading that Zeiss had a prototype with framelines but it never came out because of some shakeup or another. Too bad.

    Contaxes can be wound super fast if you do a twist with both wrists. Assuming you are holding the camera with your left hand under the camera, just pinch the wind knob between your right thumb and forefinger knuckle then twist your left wrist upwards towards your face and your right wrist away from your face. Takes less than a second.

    Here is a link to some images all shot with Contaxes back in the day. Sorry, no Flickr for me- http://www.patrickrobertjames.com/contax
     
  15. pentaxpete

    pentaxpete Subscriber

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    I bought a pre-war Contax III from a Camera dealer in Berlin in about 1956 when I was there in the British Army -- it was £38 with the 50mm f1.5 Un-Coated Sonnar and I paid it back monthly -- when I was sent to Iserlohn in the British Zone I got a NEW 85mm f4 Triotar from a Camera dealer -- then when I was out of the Army I had the chance for a mint IIIa with the 50mm f1.5 Coated Sonnar -- I had much trouble with flare on the un-coated Sonnar and when I got into local Press Photography I was often cutting off the head of VIP's such as the Mayor because of the small viewfinder -- well, one of the Partners I worked with had been in the RAF in Singapore and brought back these 'weird-sounding Asahi PENTAX' cameras with funny lenses called 'TAKUMARS' but the RESULTS were far better than the Contax and NO parallax problems !! One day a local Camera Dealer had an ASAHI PENTAX S3 appear in his window, attracting a small crowd of Camera - Starved Brits pressing their noses to the glass -- I rushed in and offered my Contax IIIa and got £35 for it paid the rest of the £85 and rushed out the proud owner of an ASAHI PENTAX -- and THAT ( so they say -- ) is where the story really begins ----
     
  16. georg16nik

    georg16nik Member

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    Contax is first class but inspect the post war examples with more care, those were tough years for Zeiss.

    Yeah, Zeiss lenses are bad, that's why ARRI is in bed with Zeiss for almost a century.
     
  17. Pioneer

    Pioneer Subscriber

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    Great story Pentax Pete. You are certainly an SLR man. I love my Pentax cameras as well. Shooting an SV now and having a ball with it. You are certainly right, don't have to worry about parallax error with an SLR. :laugh:

    But I still shoot my Contax II almost daily and I can't say that about the SV. I think it has something to do with the lenses.
     
  18. elekm

    elekm Member

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    I thought the story was interesting and tells what happened to the camera market in the 1960s as Japanese-made SLRs began to take over.

    The Japanese offerings were less expensive and of very good quality. It's been written that the Germans were too slow to market an affordable SLR with comparable features, notably a rapid-return mirror and TTL meter. They were right.
     
  19. IloveTLRs

    IloveTLRs Member

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    I had a Contax IIIa with a Sonnar 50/1.5 a few years ago. It gave me some trouble because of a weird light leak that eventually went away. Also lenses would rattle slightly in the mount, but I never found out what that was. I'm pretty sure it was isolated to mine, and it never affected pictures. Ergonomically it was okay - not wonderful - but it was fun to use. The viewfinder is very small by today's standards, but usable. Advance was done by a knob which took a little effort to turn, but was smooth. Rewind was annoying because my fingers would bump-up against the meter block. The meter in mine worked, but I believe most now are either inaccurate or dead (they can be fixed if you really want to.)

    It took some fantastic pictures - the Sonnar 50/1.5 is a killer lens. Mine had severe balsam separation that had people running for the hills, but it worked great - even in direct sunlight, and produced nice color photos, too. Contax lenses are hard to come by, and of course on eBay many are extortionately priced. Voigtländer (Cosina) made some good lenses, and Russian KIEV mount lenses are good, too - especially the Jupiter-12 35/2.8. You could also try Nikon rangefinder mount (S-mount) lenses, as long as they're wider than 50mm.

    Check to make sure that Bulb works properly, and that 1/1250 actually opens - I believe those are the two speeds that can give trouble. Also see if you can run a test film through it, and check the fast speeds to make sure they're exposing the film properly.
     
  20. ntenny

    ntenny Member

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    I have a pair of IIIa bodies---both with accurate meters, incredibly---that have seen quite a bit of "regular camera" use. I haven't really had a problem with the ergonomics, though clearly some people do---OK, knob rewind is a pain in the butt, but otherwise, no issues. The fixed viewfinder means that with anything other than a 50mm lens, you effectively have a separate rangefinder and viewfinder, which is livable but intrinsically slower than a combined window. I mostly use 50mm anyway, so it hasn't been an enormous issue for me, but someone who favored other focal lengths would have more trouble.

    The meter adds bulk, but I suppose less than carrying a separate meter would. There aren't going to be a lot of working, accurate meters out there, though; unless you can confirm meter accuracy before buying, it probably makes more sense to go with the meterless IIa.

    The big thing is, OH MY GOD THE LENSES, especially the 50/1.5. There are technically better-performing lenses for 35mm, but to my taste that lens has the perfect balance of technical virtues and "character", especially in color. The 85/2 is also a real winner. I don't have any of the "native" wides, just an oddball third-party 28mm, but people say wonderful things about the 35/2.8 Biogon (however, the prewar version and the Soviet/fSU copies are reported NOT to fit on the postwar bodies).

    I'm moving away from 35mm a bit lately, but the Contaxen are on the short list of cameras I'm pretty confident I'll never unload. I'm actually rather tempted by the Voigtlaender R2C; it doesn't have the giant rangefinder base, but it has TTL metering and framelines and would provide a modern, less eccentric platform for the lenses.

    -NT
     
  21. Xmas

    Xmas Member

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    Hi

    The IIIa (or III) meters are ok if the electrical connections to the photocell are intact, some wont be and will need replacing by an expert. my IIIa is still ok.

    The knob wind on is slower then a Leica M lever but no worse than a Leica IIIg. There is not the rotating shutter speed dial like a IIIg or earlier, to snag and ruin a frame. The Contax shutter is however noisy and expensive to maintain... Neither camera is good for fast changing action i.e. you will only get one shot...

    The take up spool can fallout if you dont invert the camera on loading, but you can select a spool that is tight (on the centre) if this is annoying, I use one from a Kiev... It is easy to load upside down anyway, a IIIg is a challenge for some.

    Either sonnar f/2 or f/1.5 is superb, but a hood is desirable.

    A IIIa with a lens is going to be cheaper then a IIIg with a lens, collectors have inflated the Leica. The Lieca will be cheaper to maintain as a shooter, it is a simple camera. A IIIa in ex condition is peerless on a shelf...

    Noel
     
  22. elekm

    elekm Member

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    Classic camera author Ivor Mantanle says of the Contax rangefinder that regular use of the camera will keep the shutter running smoothly. I tend to agree with that statement.

    Generally, the post-war Contax is a simple camera to service - despite what others might say. The design is a solid one, from a mechanical standpoint.

    Personally, I think the meter of the IIIA adds a noticeable amount of weight, and I'd rather use a IIA and a handheld meter.
     
  23. Xmas

    Xmas Member

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    This is necessary with any mechanical camera, if you don't do it the camera will eventually need a service, i.e. sooner rather then later..
    The famous quote about the post war Contax rangefinder was 'masterpiece of misplaced ingenuity' and of the Leica almost nothing inside it...
    http://reocities.com/Eureka/park/3740/articles/contax.html
    you pay for the complexity difference on a CLA or if a part is worn, note the contax is nice to maintain, but you need to find some one good.
    I carry a Westom III (and invercone) as well as a IIIa, but still need to go to gym. The IIa are nicer cosmetically, the IIIa is an ugly sister, but there can be a large premium for a IIa.

    Noel