Zeiss Ikon
Contax “Chrome Face” – 82/99
Few 100s produced

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Germany 1935 – Compact – 34 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.

The displayed version is a very rare “Chrome Face” where the usually lacquered black front plate was replaced by a chromed one, just as in the following Contax II models. It is not well documented why a very small batch of cameras underwent such a change. Some speculate they were in fact assembled out of spare parts right after the war, when Zeiss Ikon had to relocate in Stuttgart and black paint had become unavailable.

There seem to be very few (in the few hundreds) Chrome face Contax 1 circulating, making them exceptionally rare collectibles.