Germany 1960 – Compact – 35 mm – Rare.
The Contarex is an incredible machine.
Commercialized in 1960 by Zeiss Ikon, it is probably one of the most identifiable cameras ever.
It is popularly known as the Bullseye (or the Cyclops) for its oversized light captor above the objective. Some consider the design to be “overloaded, angular and baroque” making it a very singular design item.
The Contarex is a technical masterpiece in many respects.
The Bullseye itself is a selenium cell with an ultra-complex miniature diaphragm interlinked with the main objective diaphragm. An interchangeable back with an integrated frame counter was available and required a thin steel plate to be slid from below the camera to protect the film.
The camera body, weighing almost 1 Kg is utterly complex, comprising some 1100 parts. Inevitably requiring a specialist for any repair as 43 parts have to be dismantled just to remove the top plate for internal access.
The Contarex was an expensive, luxury camera, intended as Zeiss Ikon’s definitive contribution to the professional photographer. Unfortunately, complexity, price and more realistic competitors made it a commercial failure, contributing to the collapse of Zeiss Ikon. From 1960 to 1967 32 000 Contarex were sold 32 000 (compared to e.g. 225 000 Leica M3 sold).
A custom modified Contarex was used by astronaut Ed White during the first NASA’s extra vehicular activity on June 3, 1965, during the flight of Gemini 4.
Today the Contarex is an incredible collectible as it symbolizes at the same time the apex and the downfall one of the world’s most storied manufacturers of cameras.