Germany 1932 – Compact – 35 mm – Very rare.
Produced from 1932, Zeiss Ikon’s Contax was designed to be the brand’s challenger to Leitz Leica.
Aware of the Leica’s growing success, Zeiss Ikon decided to produce a competitor designed to be superior in every way using the same perforated 35 mm film. The name Contax was chosen after a poll among Zeiss employees.
The Contax is an incredible machine by any standard, setting up its own track in the history of photography. Just like Leica, the Contax stimulated generations of lookalikes and inspirations and gave birth to the popular Kiev rangefinders when the Soviets took over Zeiss Ikon’s production factories in Dresden after the war. The first Kiev were actually produced directly on the machines used to produce the Contax II.
Far from being a Leica copy, the Contax innovated in a number of ways, and explored very challenging technical solutions like the distinctive vertically travelling metal shutter made out of blackened brass slats somewhat like roll-up garage doors (as opposed to horizontal Leicas rubberized fabric shutter curtains). The curtains having to travel a shorter distance, the Contax was able to provide top speed of 1/1000s, then increased to 1/1250s.
Other major innovations were the integrated rangefinder and the fact that Zeiss introduced the “Universalkamera”, the first camera system with all sorts of near-photo, wide-angle, mirror-house, long-focal-length lenses for specific situations.
It comes at no surprise that the Contax series has its own cult among photographers and collectors. Some documents describe the shock retailers had when it was removed from the company catalog in 1961, replaced by the Contarex SLR, an incredible camera in its own right but way more expensive and difficult to handle.