1937 Zeiss Ikon Contax, 35mm coupled rangefinder, with Sonnar lens, CLA'd, Freshly Serviced!
Cleaned, Lubricated & Adjusted. Ready for immediate use!
This is the world famous Contax III produced in Germany prior to WWII. It was one of the cameras that truly demonstrated what a quality 35mm camera was capable of and helped launch the 35mm format to a preeminent role among serious photojournalists.
This is the top of the line Contax III, the serial number (F42752) indicates that it was originally built in Germany in 1937 when the world looked incredible different than it does today. It was a testament of genius, of pride and faith in precision mechanics. It was the cutting edge of photography at that time and it was very very expensive. The high purchase price reflected the time, money and effort that went into the design, production and patient hand assembly of each camera. And now holding this Contax 80 years after it was produced, I see that the effort did not fade into the darkness of all the passing years… it is still a thing of beauty.
The Contax III was the worlds best 35mm rangefinder camera at the time and the certainly the most expensive. Historically significant, it also featured one of the first, truly successful built in light meter. The Contax camera was so highly regarded that in the United States the Contax was specified for use by 35mm photographers working for the WPA (Works Progress Administration) in their vast program to document the effects of the Great Depression of the 1930’s in America. Many of the timeless photos taken in the 1930’s were shot with a Contax. On the other side of the Atlantic the Kriegsmarine, the navy of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945, equally impressed with the performance of the camera, issued the Contax III for use on ships and submarines as part of their standard gear.
Understandably an all original, functional Contax III is a desirable and significant camera. But what makes this camera extra desirable is the fact that it’s been carefully serviced and ready for use. This camera is in full working order and in case you wondered, it uses normal 35mm film. I should also mention that the serial number on the body matches the serial number on the removable back. This of course indicates that it still has its original back as delivered from the factory.
The camera has recently been carefully cleaned, lubricated and adjusted. Everything works. The original Zeiss shutter has received special attention and all speeds (B & 1/2 sec – 1/1250th) are appropriate. The self timer was cleaned as well and works correctly. The coupled rangefinder internal optical array has also been cleaned. It’s bright, accurate and smooth and a real pleasure to use. Even the 82 year old selenium light meter, it still responds actively to light. However not surprisingly the readout is no longer accurate. (The selenium solar cell was not intended to be used that long.) So just as with any other prewar camera, we recommend a modern handheld meter. The shutter speed and aperture settings on this camera are easy to set and operation is identical to the Contax II.
The lens is included. It’s a 2.0/50mm Carl Zeiss Sonnar which is recognized as one of the finest 50mm lenses of the prewar and wartime era. As usual for these lenses, there is a touch of oil on the aperture blades (but this is not a problem for rangefinder cameras because the aperture blades don’t need to move instantly as they do in an SLR.) The glass is clean and clear. There are cleaning marks but you’ll need a magnifier to see it. There is no crystallization, separated elements or other problems. and it’s capable of producing lovely photos with modern color and B&W films. (As with all prewar lenses, we recommend keeping the light behind you for optimal performance.) The lens serial number indicates that it was produced in 1937.
It comes complete with a custom film take up spool and an original brown leather case.
So there you have it, a very fine, freshly serviced classic Contax camera. Just add your favorite film and you’ll be good to go.
A user’s perspective
These classic, top of the line Contax cameras don’t really need an introduction. Most collectors are familiar with them and many modern photographers still enjoy their delightful characteristics, their relatively quiet shutters and their ability to capture striking images. Combine this camera with some wonderful Zeiss glass that may be lurking in your display case (or easily available on ebay) and you have a real winning combination. The Contax is top quality camera sporting a precision die cast chassis wrapped in fine Moroccan leather, topped with satin chrome covers, and equipped with the widest, most accurate, 90mm rangefinder to have ever been fitted to a 35mm camera. It was an expensive camera that only top photographers or affluent individuals could afford. It’s a classic combination of Zeiss lenses and a superb camera that works to delivers fine results even by today’s standards.
If you’ve ever collected or used screw mount Leica, then you’ll also appreciate the fact that the Contax uses a sophisticated arrangement of prisms rather than surface coated mirrors which tend to oxidize and degrade, so that are no problems with weak, faded, inaccurate or misaligned rangefinder images. Focusing is also noticeably more accurate when you’re in close for portraits or using longer lenses. There’s also no problem with pin-holed shutters since the Contax’s shutter curtains are made of metal rather than fabric.