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  1. #1
    tjaded's Avatar
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    Zeiss Contarex Bullseye

    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
    --------------------
    "Everytime I find a film or paper that I like, they discontinue it." -Paul Strand

    www.glasskeyphoto.com

  2. #2
    Rol_Lei Nut's Avatar
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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
    M6, SL, SL2, R5, P6x7, SL3003, SL35-E, F, F2, FM, FE-2, Varex IIa

  3. #3

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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. #4

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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. #5
    cmo
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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. #6
    tjaded's Avatar
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    CMO--
    For what it's worth, I own and drive Edsels...I have two of them!
    --------------------
    "Everytime I find a film or paper that I like, they discontinue it." -Paul Strand

    www.glasskeyphoto.com

  7. #7
    cmo
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    Quote Originally Posted by tjaded View Post
    CMO--
    For what it's worth, I own and drive Edsels...I have two of them!
    In that case, here is your next money pit

  8. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by tjaded View Post
    CMO--
    For what it's worth, I own and drive Edsels...I have two of them!
    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
    Mark Layne
    Nova Scotia
    and Barbados

  9. #9
    cmo
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Layne View Post
    There are three items one must own before leaving for the happy hunting ground.
    Contarex bullseye preferably 2nd edition
    Leicaflex SL2
    Lexus RX 350
    My list looks different:

    Leica M6
    Reliable bicycle
    Meditation course

  10. #10
    Rol_Lei Nut's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cmo View Post
    My list looks different:

    Leica M6
    Reliable bicycle
    Meditation course
    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 :-) At this point I'm just missing a 6-month trek through the Himalayas)
    M6, SL, SL2, R5, P6x7, SL3003, SL35-E, F, F2, FM, FE-2, Varex IIa

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