Thursday, July 24, 2014

Old-school engineering - Zeiss Ikon Contaflex IV

The Zeiss Ikon Contaflex IV is a dinosaur, a member of the now extinct family of 35mm leaf-shuttered SLR cameras, that were fashionable in the 50s-60s but which eventually had to surrender to the superiority of the focal plane shutter SLR concept, the one that was to dominate the photographic scene for the following decades.

Having a leaf shutter between the lens elements makes everything difficult: shutter has to remain open at full aperture for the viewfinder to work, and an additional shutter curtain must block the light path on the film gate. When pressing the shutter button a complicated sequence of events must take place quite fast: shutter closes, aperture closes to the desired f-stop, mirror and rear shutter curtain go up, shutter opens and closes to expose the film. In this camera, this means the viewfinder goes black after taking the picture (no instant return mirror), so you have to operate the film advance for the remaining operations to take place: advance film, bring down shutter curtain and mirror, cock the shutter and open it again at full aperture for the viewfinder to be available again. And all this must happen, mind you, by purely mechanical means.

zeiss ikon contaflex iv

In addition, the shutter between the lens elements prevents the use of fully interchangeable optics. In this model (the Contaflex IV), the front element of the 50mm f/2.8 Tessar is removable and can be replaced by one of the pictured dedicated Pro-Tessar lens for focal lengths of 35mm and 85mm (there was a 115mm Pro-Tessar, too).

Zeiss engineers were not known for scaring away of almost unsolvable mechanical problems. They did it, yes, but this camera represents a Darwinian dead end in camera design evolution. But what a joy it is to use it, in spite of all its shortcomings. How surprisingly small and well balanced it feels in your hands. How precisely machined it is, jewel-like, how reassuringly easy it is to operate the film advance, considering all that is happening inside.

Zeiss Ikon Contaflex IV
My Contaflex IV flickr set

Maker Zeiss Ikon
Model Contaflex IV 864/24
Type single lens reflex camera
Lens Carl Zeiss Tessar 50mm f/2.8 (No. 1571850, 1953-1959)
Lens Carl Zeiss Pro-Tessar 35mm f/4.0 (No. 1627658, 1953-1959)
Lens Carl Zeiss Pro-Tessar 85mm f/4.0 (No. 1883566, 1953-1959)
Shutter Synchro-Compur MXV, 1 - 1/500 + B
Film type 35mm 24x36
Year 1957-1959
Country West Germany

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