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  1. #1
    Steve Mack's Avatar
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    Contax IIIa question

    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. #2

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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.

  3. #3
    Paul Goutiere's Avatar
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    Nice to look at, great lenses, excellent images, poor ergonomics.

  4. #4
    lxdude's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by summicron1 View Post
    my admiration for war photographers who used these things while dodging american/german bullets is extreme.
    I expect British, Italian, Japanese, etc. bullets were sometimes a problem, too.
    I do use a digital device in my photographic pursuits when necessary.
    When someone rags on me for using film, I use a middle digit, upraised.

  5. #5

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


    Quote Originally Posted by summicron1 View Post
    ..and my admiration for war photographers who used these things while dodging american/german bullets is extreme.

  6. #6
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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!!

    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!

    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. #7
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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. #8
    tony lockerbie's Avatar
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    Summicron sums it up well, but with a name like that he may be biased 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. #9
    MDR
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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. #10

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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
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/steve_barnett/

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    landscape photographs in and around the Peak District National Park, UK.

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