Near mint, 1941 Zeiss Ikon Contax III, CLA'd, Freshly Serviced!
35mm Coupled rangefinder, Cleaned, Lubricated & Adjusted. Ready for immediate use!
This is a beautiful example the world famous Zeiss-Ikon Contax rangefinder camera, produced in Germany during 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 M34815 indicates that it was built in Germany in circa 1941 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 more than 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 84 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 designed to be used that long.) So just as with any other prewar & wartime cameras, we recommend a modern handheld meter or one of the many light-meter apps available for your smartphone. The shutter speed and aperture settings on this camera are easy to set.
It comes complete with a custom body cap and film take up spool
So there you have it, an exceptionally fine classic Contax camera, all ready to be used. Just add your favorite lens & film and you’ll be good to go... Don’t have a Contax rangefinder lens in your collection yet? Don’t despair, Contax rangefinder lenses are easy to find on eBay. A quick search will reveal a huge number of lenses in a variety of focal lengths. This camera is compatible with Contax rangefinder mount lenses produced by Zeiss, Voigtlander (Japan) and of course those produced in the former Eastern Bloc.
A user’s perspective
These classic, top of the line 1930’s 35mm 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.