Friday, March 10, 2017

Legends of photography -- The Contax II 35mm camera

The Contax II was manufactured from 1936-42 as a followup model to the Contax I. The Contax II and III -- the III had a light meter on top -- were the first cameras to combine the rangefinder and viewfinder into one unit.  This particular camera and its Zeiss Sonnar f/2 collapsible lens were both made in 1937, just before WWII.  The Contax II and III were introduced in response to the Leica rangefinder camera. Because Leica held many design patents, Contax had to re-invent many of its features. The vertically travelling shutter composed of metal one example of this. The advanced features and dependable design of the Contax II quickly made it one of the top choices of journalistic photographers, like Robert Capa.

Contax II with Contameter closeup kit. The closeup filter slips over the front of the lens and a corresponding lens is placed in the parallax correction apparatus that fits in the shoe on top of the camera. The down angle and off-center placement achieved the appropriate correction for parallax. It is show here set up for the closest focusing #20 filter. To use the other two 30 and 50 filters the apparatus was turned upside down to decrease the angle for the difference in parallax correction needed. 

Contax came up with an ingenious design for a close-up apparatus called the Contameter shown in the photos above and below. It allowed hand-held close-up photographs to be made at the set distances of 20” (1:10 magnification), 13” (1:6.5 magnification) and 8” (1:4 magnification). The device consists of a rangefinder with parallax adjustment to which one of three small prisms is attached and three close-up lenses that fit the standard 5 cm lens. With a prism and corresponding close-up lens in place the camera is moved backwards and forwards until the rangefinder image coincides. Measurement is done from the front of the mount of the supplementary. The lens is focused on infinity

Below are some sample photos taken with the Contax II, a collapsible f/2 Sonnar lens and the #20 closeup attachment on the Contameter. Photos were taken at f/5.6 on Kodax T-Max 400 film. 

The Contax had a great body of Carl Zeiss lenses designed for it. Below is the 5cm f/2 collapsible Sonnar. Collapsing the lens made the camera very compact.

Another ingenious design for the Contax II was the fold-out foot shown below. With the foot extended the camera would be balanced to stay straight. This allowed impromptu setup to steady the camera on a flat surface when a tripod was not available. 

The famous war photographer, Robert Capa with his Contax II camera. 

The lens shown below is the Zeiss Tele-Tessar 18cm  f/6.3 with matching viewfinder. This was quite a long lens for its day and added to the practical versatility of the Contax camera system. 

The photo below shows the vertically travelling focal plane shutter made up of metal slats. 

Some more samples below taken with the Contax II and the Contameter closeup attachment. They were taken hand-held and focused by moving the camera in and out on the subject. The system worked quite well to achieve the selective focus and tight crop I wanted. 

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