Zeiss Contarex Bullseye

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by tjaded, Mar 7, 2009.

  1. tjaded

    tjaded Subscriber

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    Ok...I admit, about 50% of the cameras I buy are bought because they look so damn cool (don't worry, I shoot with them too!) Anyway, that hasn't been a problem for the most part because I've gotten them pretty cheap (usually under $100) but now I've been bitten by the bug to get my hands on a Contarex bullseye. If I was honest with myself, I would forget about it because I don't shoot 35mm all that often. Luckily, I'm a damn good liar when it comes to me! Anyway, does anyone here have/shoot one regularly? Are they really worth all the money they go for? Talk me into it, talk me out of it...
    Adios,
    Matt
     
  2. Rol_Lei Nut

    Rol_Lei Nut Member

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    Just to give you at least one answer...

    I haven't ever used a Contarex myself, but I have used several of the lenses made for it in other mounts, several other Zeiss-Ikon cameras and heard several accounts on using the Contarex:

    Pros: The lenses and the general feel/weirdness/quirkyness of the beast

    Cons: Weight and Zeiss-Ikon ergonomics
     
  3. budrichard

    budrichard Member

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    My first 35mm was a Contaflex purchased used in 1958 as a boy for $80. An M was too expensive for me. The Zeiss Tessar lens f2.8 lens was very good for the time and the camera worked flawlessly until the late 1960's when the shutter needed a cleaning. The Contarex was the more expensive Model and was considered an excellent camera of the day. The Nikon F killed off all the early SLR's as no other manufacturere could match the needs of the photojournalist as Nikon could.
    As with any old camera, investigate all aspects before purchase.-Dick
     
  4. elekm

    elekm Member

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    The Contarex Bullseye is a larger camera -- larger than a Nikon F, just to give you an idea of its size.

    Like all nearly Zeiss Ikon cameras, it's massively built. Attention to detail is impeccable, as the Contarex was sold as a top of the line camera. It's mechanically more complex than most of Zeiss Ikon's other cameras.

    The Carl Zeiss lenses by and large are excellent. I've read that the f/1.4 50mm Planar wasn't as good as the f/2.0 version, but I don't have the f/1.4 lens to further comment on this.

    I use mine several times a year, generally taking the Planar, the 35mm Distagon and the 135mm Sonnar for an outing. The lenses have two lobes on the focusing ring, which help to focus the lens. Note that the current crop of Carl Zeiss lenses for its Zeiss Ikon rangefinder have a single lobe -- a nice design throwback.

    The Contarex controls are straightforward: Film advance, shutter speed dial, shutter release. The only oddball thing is the aperture dial.

    Like most German cameras from that era, you removed the back to change the film. The locking keys work identically to those on the Contax.

    This was a system camera, so there were scores of accessories available. It had either a standard back or you could use interchangeable backs, which allows the photographer to preload several backs and then switch quickly as needed. It also allows the photographer to switch film types mid-roll.

    The Contarex viewfinder is a fresnel screen with a split-image in the middle surrounded by a ground-glass collar. Use either the ground-glass collar or split image to focus and the fresnel screen for composing. The screens are interchangeable.

    Aside from the mirror cushion, the camera doesn't use any foam elsewhere (nor did most German cameras), as backs were properly designed to block light.

    The sound of the cloth Contarex shutter is unlike any shutter before or since.

    In general, Zeiss Ikon camera ergonomics were very good. For the most part, form followed function. Controls are where you expect them, except for the aperture wheel, which falls under the index or middle finger. It's in the same location as the Contax focusing dial, so it's an easy transition for Contax users.

    The camera, despite its large size, is very easy to use. The weight helps to provide a stable shooting platform. The Planar lens focuses down to less than 0.3 meters (11 inches). The lenses have good but not overpowering contrast. That's important when you want to take a photo with good shadow detail. Many lenses today are too high in contrast, which is only exacerbated by the limited dynamic range of digital technology.

    There were very few third-party lenses for the Contarex. One of the reasons was the aperture control. Possibly, another reason was the intended buyer.

    If you could afford a Contarex, there should have been no reason to settle for a lesser third-party lens. Carl Zeiss was (and continues to be) a maker of premium lenses.

    It's a bit like buying a Porsche Boxter and then fitting it with retreads.

    Today, the Contarex is a niche product, sought mostly by collectors, some die-hard Zeiss Ikon users and others. Prices remain high for the bodies, certain lenses, the film backs and some accessories.
     
  5. cmo

    cmo Member

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    The Contarex system... oh, yes, I know it. It was one of the last chapters in the long history of wrong decisions that killed the german camera industry... an overpriced, overengineered beast. It looks like a Ford Edsel and weighs more than such a car. It's easy to use, and for a camera of that age it is very modern.

    But before you buy one, understand the rules:

    - The lenses are great, the camera bodies you can buy today are defective in most cases.
    - Absolutely no spare parts are available, nowhere.
    - Repairing it is a nightmare, and most repairmen that tell you that they can do the job will kill your camera. A good repairman will tell you he can't repair it for a reasonable price, and that the success of the job is disputable because there are no spare parts. The actual reason is that after one "Bullseye" overhaul he will spend many hours with his psychotherapist...

    As the best of the Contarex system is the lenses, many people considered adapting those to modern SLR systems. To put it in a nutshell, there are some adapters for digital "Four Thirds" cameras, but nothing for analog 35mm SLR cameras. I was VERY lucky and found a costly adapter to use the phenomenal 21mm Biogon on Leica M cameras - this is the only lens that can be adapted, and only if there is no mirror, only if your Leica is not an M5 because the rear element of the lens comes very close to the shutter curtain.

    This is probably the best site about this system that you can find on the web:
    http://www.photomoritz.com/contarex/

    Somewhere on Henry Scherer's site I saw a note that he does not service Contarex cameras any more.
     
  6. tjaded

    tjaded Subscriber

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    CMO--
    For what it's worth, I own and drive Edsels...I have two of them!
     
  7. cmo

    cmo Member

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    In that case, here is your next money pit :D
     
  8. Mark Layne

    Mark Layne Member

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    There are three items one must own before leaving for the happy hunting ground.
    Contarex bullseye preferably 2nd edition
    Leicaflex SL2
    Lexus RX 350

    If you can afford it ask Henry Scherer to help you get one. On no account must the top cover be removed in the uncocked state. You are better off with a camera that no 2bit technician has ever been near.
    Mark
     
  9. cmo

    cmo Member

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    My list looks different:

    Leica M6
    Reliable bicycle
    Meditation course
     
  10. Rol_Lei Nut

    Rol_Lei Nut Member

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    What's so difficult about finding a reliable bicycle? Haven't had a flat in about a decade, thanks to kevlar...

    (Have the SL2 & M6 :smile: At this point I'm just missing a 6-month trek through the Himalayas)
     
  11. cmo

    cmo Member

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    I did not say I don't have one. I said it's one thing you really need. Good tires that can not be punctured are a godsend... :smile:
     
  12. Rol_Lei Nut

    Rol_Lei Nut Member

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    I'll toast to that!

    Bicycles (and nice cameras) should be the main factors taken into consideration when quality-of-life indexes are calculated...
    :smile:
     
  13. dynachrome

    dynachrome Member

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    Getting a Contarex working and getting the lenses for it serviced may be more trouble than it's worth. I suggest that you instead get a Canon F-1 or F-1n along with some nice Canon FD lenses. You can get them all overhauled by Essex Camera Service in Carlsadt, NJ and you will have a flexible system which will work nicely for years. Then you can get a copy of the Zeiss Compendium and a copy of Ivor Matanle's Collecting and Using Classic SLRs. The Canon equipment will allow you to take some nice pictures without too much aggravation and the books will allow you to enjoy reading about the Contarex cameras and to see nice photos of them. If you need some extra nostalgia you can look for the early Canon FD lenses which have the chrome front design.
     
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  15. Rol_Lei Nut

    Rol_Lei Nut Member

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    Paraphrasing a recent post:

    "The camera you are interested in isn't worth thinking about. I suggest that you instead get [The camera I have] along with some nice [Lenses I have]. You can get them all overhauled by [Some Guy] in [Somewhere close to where I live] and you will have a flexible system which will work nicely for years. You should only buy a book about and dream of the system you are interested in, since [The camera I have] is the only one worth using."

    And they say Leica users are abnoxious...
    ;-)
     
  16. Mark Layne

    Mark Layne Member

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    I have all of the above and the Leicas too. The Leica R3 is erratic on automatic, one Canon F1 has bouncing curtain from bad brakes, and one camera serviced by (some guy) is now unrepairable.
    The only problem I have had with a Contarex was a mirror problem which Henry Scherer rectified and lubed the camera. That being said I would not subject one to pro use but an Edsel owner would want one.
    But then again I have and drive an 18 year old Toyota Previa.
    And the 85mm lens shown in the Zeiss Compendium is mine.
     
  17. Robert Budding

    Robert Budding Member

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    Good luck - Henry's waiting list now spans two years. I hope you're not in a hurry!
     
  18. dynachrome

    dynachrome Member

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    I didn't mean to insult anyone who is interested in a Contarex. Do I have a Canon F-1 and Canon FD lenses? I have several Canon F-1s and many Canon FD lenses. My point was not that only Canon equipment is suitable. I also have Nikon and Minolta and Pentax and Olympus and Konica cameras as well as many others. One of my F-1 bodies needed service for the shutter brake about a year after it was overhauled. That body will turn 40 in about two years and I use it regularly. A Nikkormat with some Nikkor lenses or an SRT-101 with some Rokkor lenses would also be nice. Why? Because they are easier to get serviced, capable of good results and easier to find reasonably priced lenses for. Essex Cameraa Service is not "some guy." It is a well known camera repair service with many years of experience. I am just lucky enough to live close enough to drive to them. Over the years they have brought many cameras and lenses back to life for me.

    If I had the patience I might like a Contarex SE with the bellows and the 115mm bellows macro lens. I don't know whether this lens would be any sharper than the 100/4 Canon New FD or 90/2.5 Vivitar Series 1 or 100/4 Minolta Bellows Rokkor-X lenses I have but it would be fun to use.
     
  19. elekm

    elekm Member

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    If you want the Zeiss/Zeiss Ikon SLR experience without the pain, you could try the Yashica/Kyocera Contax or a Rolleiflex SL 35. Oh wait -- I said without the pain. Better remove the Rolleiflex from that list ... at least the bodies made in Singapore.

    Some of the Carl Zeiss lenses were also available in the Rolleiflex QBM, and they tend to be slightly lower priced than their Contarex counterparts. Not all of the lenses are available in the QBM. You just have to find a working body. The SL 35 M seems to be semi-reliable, as well as the SL 35, which is a very basic body.

    The lenses for the Y/K Contax were expensive when new and are still expensive today. Many of the Contarex lenses were released in Y/K Contax mount, but I can't recall which ones.
     
  20. dynachrome

    dynachrome Member

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    I recently bought two Yashica FX3 cameras and two 50/2 Yashica ML lenses. I know that these are Cosina made cameras and in that sense not even real Yashicas. Last week I ordered new skin for one FX3. My goal is to recover one of the bodies and have it overhauled. After that I will look for a 50/1.7 or 50/1.4 Zeiss lens in Y/C mount. If I enjoy the Zeiss experience I may then find a suitable Contax SLR body. Somewhere in a box I think I have both a Vivitar TX adapter and a Tamron Adaptall II adapter for the Y/C mount. These will give me a selection of focal lengths and zooms to try while I look at Zeiss lenses.
     
  21. tjaded

    tjaded Subscriber

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    For what it's worth, I have and enjoy using all kinds of "klunky" systems...the Zeiss Contaflex being among them. If I was going strictly for ease of use I would stick with Nikon/Canon/Minolta/Pentax. I absolutely love shooting with the Contaflex, and this week I've been shooting with my Voigtlander Prominent (not the single most user friendly camera ever made.) I freely admit that visual aesthetics matter to me with regards to cameras--I mean, we are all trying for aesthetically pleasing results from the camera, why not the camera itself? It is all intertwined for me. The added bonus to the Bullseye is that the lenses are supposed to be pretty damn good. I appreciate all the responses, it will help me decide how to proceed.
    Matt
     
  22. Rol_Lei Nut

    Rol_Lei Nut Member

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    Sorry for getting way off-topic again, but since Rolleiflexes were brought up, then...

    Personally I don't like the Rolleiflex SL35: I find that the Pentax Spotmatic, which it more or less imitates, a far nicer camera. Also the SL35-M is pretty junky and plasticky. The Voigtländer-branded SL35-M (VSL1) is a bit better built and has more metal parts (notably the shutter speed dial and its bearings).. Still not a camera I like, though.

    My Rolleflex advice - however debatable - is the SL35-E (or Voigtländer VSL35-E). While wildly unreliable when it first came out, and today many are still affected by an electronic problem which manifests itself as a "lazy mirror", if you find one which works properly, it is likely to keep working.
    That said, a working SL35-E is actually a very sweet camera.

    The other alternative is the SL3003, aka the Motorized 35mm Hasselblad:
    Interchangeable backs, 2 viewfinders, Hasselblad shape.
    It is actually derived from a Zeiss-Ikon project for a futre Contarex, which Rollei bought & developed, so you "WOULD" be getting a Contarex after all.
    Caveats: Rather big, Accumulator management needs to be very careful, reliability so-so, being cynical one could say "The size, handling and cost of medium format with the quality of 35mm"
    On the plus side, a weird and wonderful beast which has the charm and quirks of the "Bullseye".

    If you were looking in general for a great classic camera with character which is also an excellent (exceptional) user, then "the camera I have" which I'd recommend is the Leicaflex SL or SL2
     
  23. Robert Budding

    Robert Budding Member

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    A Contarex would look nice on the front seat of an Edsel.
     
  24. tjaded

    tjaded Subscriber

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    Yep, that is true. I just drove the Edsel to the top of Market Street here in SF, it would have made sense to bring a camera. The view was UNREAL!
     
  25. tjaded

    tjaded Subscriber

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    I bit the bullet and picked up a Contarex. I got it for a lot less than I was expecting to pay. Unfortunately the 50mm that it came with has some element separation, but I'll see how well it does regardless. First impression: I LOVE IT. Man, you can tell right away that it was a well thought out camera. I have a contaflex system which looks somewhat similar, but does not function the same at all. The Contarex just feels great---nice size and has some heft to it (I can't stand really light cameras) so I think I will be a happy camper. If anyone is interested I will post some results after I fire off the first roll. One thing I cannot figure out is what the heck the round glass thing (no, not the lens...not the light meter...) near the Zeiss Ikon logo is---opposite the Contarex logo. Doesn't seem to be in the manual. Probably obvious and I'm just being stupid.
     
  26. dc1030

    dc1030 Member

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    the glass at the opposite side of the logo brings light to the small field in the finder that shows the exposure. just look through the finder and put a finger in front of the hole. sorry for my bad english...