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SUPERB! 1937 Zeiss Ikon Contax, 35mm coupled rangefinder, with Sonnar lens, CLA'd, Freshly Serviced! - Zeiss-Ikon- Petrakla Classic Cameras


SUPERB! 1937 Zeiss Ikon Contax, 35mm coupled rangefinder, with Sonnar lens, CLA'd, Freshly Serviced!

$ 695.00 USD

Cleaned, Lubricated & Adjusted. Ready for immediate use!

Forget the socks… What he really wants for Christmas is a Contax!

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.

The camera in this listing an excellent example of the camera that started it all. This is the top of the line Contax III, the serial number E9728 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 meters. 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 80 year old selenium light meter, it still responds actively to light. However not surprisingly the readout is no longer accurate. 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.

The lens on this camera is the famous Carl Zeiss 2.0/50mm Sonnar. The serial number indicates that it was produced in 1938. The Sonnar lens is well known, well loved and is recognized as a master piece of design. It was one of the very best 50mm lens of its day. For decades it was the benchmark of sharpness. But its greatness is not simply defined by high resolution. What photographers and artists love about this lens is the beautiful rendition in the fore and back ground. It’s something the Japanese refer to as bokeh. Simply said, this lens has a gorgeous bokeh. Open up the lens or narrow the depth of field by getting closer and the focus rolls on and off silky smooth

This superb Sonnar lens is in exceptionally fine condition. There is no fungus, separated elements or other problems. There are no scratches, just a few light cleaning marks (but you’ll need a magnifier to see them.) As with all Contax lenses from this era, there a bit of  oil on the aperture blades  but this has no effect on performance (apertures on rangefinder don’t need to open and close rapidly like those of an SLR). It’s a lovely lens and it’s capable of producing very lovely photos with modern color & B&W film.


It comes complete with a film take up spool, lens and an original brown leather Zeiss-Ikon camera case.

All in all this is a well maintained, freshly serviced camera and a joy to photograph with if you are so inclined. If you’ve been looking for an exceptionally fine, useable Contax III, you’ve just found it…


 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.

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