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  1. #1

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    Bit of GAS for a folding Contessa

    I've been out shooting with my little Ikonta 35, an incredibly compact little scale-focus camera with a Novar lens, and rediscovering two things. The first is that it's a really fun camera to use, in that "everything you need and nothing you don't" manner---typical Hubert Nerwin design.

    But the second thing is that scale focus is a pain! I end up relying on small apertures to shoot hyperfocally a lot, which means slow film is out of the question in anything but full sun, and anything close-up, even at portrait distance, is dicey.

    So naturally I'm experiencing some GAS for the Contessa, which is basically the same chassis with a meter, a rangefinder, and a Tessar. They don't seem much discussed here---does anyone have experiences of them that I should hear about? (I know the meter won't work; don't care.)

    Thanks

    -NT
    Nathan Tenny
    San Diego, CA, USA

    The lady of the house has to be a pretty swell sort of person to put up with the annoyance of a photographer.
    -The Little Technical Library, _Developing, Printing, And Enlarging_

  2. #2
    tony lockerbie's Avatar
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    Hi Nathan. I do have one and can vouch for it's quality. Really nicely built camera, and the Tessar on those is really top class...think "honey I shrunk the Super Ikonta". They don't seem to come up for sale that often, and are quite cheap when they do, and that is surprising for such a handy and classy little camera.
    When I bought mine the seller said that it didn't work at all, but of course they need a film inside before the shutter will cock.
    If you find a good one, go for it, you won't be sorry.

  3. #3

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    Don't own one, but have examined a few. They are very sweet looking cameras. They look to be more robust than Retinas, and I'd probably be more serious about buying one if I didn't already have a few Retinas.

  4. #4

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    Lovely cameras, though definitely not as fast in action as a Retina of the same vintage, since you have to cock the film manually. Also, the shutter release (mounted at the base of the lens) is not as easy to use as the body-mounted release of the Retinas. The Retina lenses focus as a unit while the Contessa lens is front-element focusing.

    As a piece of fine phtographic machinery it's a work of art, truly. And regarding the meter, there's a good chance it actually isn't dead, and if you search Mike Elek's website (he's a regular here) he will tell you how to get at it and see if indeed it can be rejuvenated.

  5. #5

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    I used to have the same problem, but no more. The solution is very simple and elegant. Buy yourself an inexpensive Federal rangefinder on the auction site.

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/VINTAGE-IDEA...item3cde5a117d

    Now go out and shoot the camera (with no film) by first guessing the distance, then checking it w/ the rangefinder. Pretty soon you'll see that 3' is quite a bit different than 6', 10' is different from 15', etc. In a short time you will be very proficient at this. Then, sell the rangefinder for what you paid for it, or keep it around in case you get rusty. Works a treat, and once you get the hang of it, it's as fast or faster than using a camera w/ an internal rangefinder. Also, f8 is your friend, especially w/ the Novar.

  6. #6

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    The shutter release is the same as the Ikonta 35/Contina, right? You cock the shutter independently, and fire with that kind of bulky lever on the upper right? I don't mind that; it's consistent with the MF folders I'm used to.

    If I stumble on a working meter, so much the better, but it's easy enough to live without it. That said, Zeiss does seem to have a better track record than others about meter survival. Does the Contessa's meter have a cover like the Contax RFs, or is that just the bright/dim mask?

    -NT
    Nathan Tenny
    San Diego, CA, USA

    The lady of the house has to be a pretty swell sort of person to put up with the annoyance of a photographer.
    -The Little Technical Library, _Developing, Printing, And Enlarging_

  7. #7

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    I have a Contessa and it's an excellent camera! It's Tessar is one of he sharpest lenses I've ever used.

    Have you looked at getting a Contaflex instead? It's uses a similar, if not the same, Tessar lens. It's an SLR, so you wouldn't have to fiddle with RF focusing and it has a bigger viewfinder. They come up for sale a lot more frequently, too.

  8. #8

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    I've owned maybe a dozen of these at one time or another.

    These use the rotating-wedge rangefinder, which is very accurate and shouldn't fall out of calibration unless the camera is damaged.

    The intermediate camera is the folding Contina II with the uncoupled rangefinder. This was my introduction to Zeiss Ikon. Mine had a Novar. I eventually bought one (and a number of others) with the Tessar, which is the same lens as on the folding Contessa and the Contaflex I and II.

    The folding Contessa always has a Tessar. The early version has a Compur Rapid shutter. The second version has a Synchro Compur. It never used the EV system.

    The folding Contessa is a well thought-out camera. It's very easy to use, which is typical of the Hubert Nerwin (the Zeiss Ikon camera designer) approach.

    There are many of these on the used market, and I wouldn't buy one that shows physical damage.

    I've shot with this quite a bit.

    Here's my mini-review of the folding Contessa.

    And here's a little shootout I did with the Contessa and the Contarex. The Contessa was no slouch.
    Last edited by elekm; 03-26-2014 at 03:59 PM. Click to view previous post history. Reason: My Web host seems to be OK now.

  9. #9
    Truzi's Avatar
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    I have a Contessa that used to belong to a distant cousin. It is a bit worse for wear, and has fungus, but I've still taken some good pictures with it. I like it very much, and have to try to clean the lens sometime.
    Truzi

  10. #10

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    Well, I went ahead and bought one---untested from eBay, but the price was right---and I've just finished developing my smoke-test roll. Based on eyeballing the negatives, things look good.

    What a fun little camera to use! It is quite a bit bulkier than the Ikonta 35, still pocketable but requiring a much larger pocket. The viewfinder is rather nice for the era, though I guess it would be considered squinty now. The little cyclopean rangefinder prism makes me giggle a bit every time I look at it, and the ergonomics of the body are really nice on the whole, especially considering the tight space into which they have to fit. The only thing I've had to get used to is the cocking lever, which is reversed from what I'm used to (push to the left to cock, rather than pull to the right) and kind of crammed up against the shutter release.

    I got lucky and even the slow shutter speeds work, although I don't know how often I'll really use them; if I'm carrying a tripod, I might as well be carrying a bigger camera, but it's nice to know that in a pinch I can rest the camera on a rock for a longer exposure.

    Suddenly I can see how people turn into photographic-history geeks. I can really see how this camera bridges some of the design space between the Ikonta 35 and the Contaxen, and it makes me want to run out and find a Tenax and a Super Nettel, not because I need them but to complete the evolutionary family. I suppose that would be a bad idea from a marital standpoint...?

    -NT
    Nathan Tenny
    San Diego, CA, USA

    The lady of the house has to be a pretty swell sort of person to put up with the annoyance of a photographer.
    -The Little Technical Library, _Developing, Printing, And Enlarging_



 

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