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Zeiss Ikon Contaflex Beta with 45mm, 30mm and 75mm lenses
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PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2012 6:17 am    Post subject: Zeiss Ikon Contaflex Beta with 45mm, 30mm and 75mm lenses Reply with quote

This has been a remarkably cheap set to aquire -

I think I spent about $50 for the whole thing, over a few years -

The camera seems to date from 1957-59. The lenses may be somewhat earlier or later.
These are common cameras, and even the lenses are not hard to come by. The hardest thing to find was the odd-size lens hood, and that cost as much as the lenses.

The camera is of course a leaf-shutter SLR, much like the Kodak Retina Reflex and Voigtlander Bessamatic, etc. This also has a between-the-lens shutter, which means that part of the lens is fixed behind the shutter and aperture, and any accessory lenses have to take into account in their optical design the elements left in the camera. The entire Zeiss-Ikon Contaflex line was like that right up to the end of the company, though others like Kodak and Voigtlander switched to behind-the-lens shutters to permit them to use more conventional lenses.

The Contaflex Beta, though, has some interesting differences. The Contaflex Alpha, Beta and Prima line were the cheap products in the lineup. Instead of a Tessar as the "normal", these had triplet Pantars. The shutter was a Prontor with 1/300 top speed, not a Synchro-Compur, and oddest of all, the lenses were front-cell focusing, not unit focusing. But they still had interchangable lenses !

Though it may seem that these were undesirable, second rate items, there are hidden values here. The cameras are much less complicated than the standard Contaflex (and Retina, Bessamatic, etc.). There is no need for a helical with moving linkages for aperture, etc. The Prontor is fundamentally a simpler and more reliable shutter than the Compur. These differences add up to less mechanical complexity and, I believe, more of these are functional today than the standard Contaflex, which in addition are reputed to be extremely difficult to repair. In any case, mine works perfectly.

The standard lens is, as noted, a triplet. It seems to be the usual Cooke design. The front assembly can be removed from the camera. The front element unscrews as usual in a front-cell focus arrangement familiar with so many cheaper cameras.
The 30mm and 75mm though are not simple ! They are rather complex 5 or 6 element arrangements, in spite of also focusing with the front cell. The 30mm in particular may be unique, its the only front-cell focusing wide angle lens I have ever heard of.
These lenses were also intended for some of the Contina line, though they would have to be used with scale focusing only.
It is said that either the design or manufacture was by Rodenstock.

The add-on lenses also have a very odd filter thread - this is an external male 60mm thread that is disguised as knurling. Accessories have to be threaded 60mm female - Zeiss called this size "60S" - this was common to both the accessory Pantars and the Pro-Tessars used on the standard Contaflexes. It is not easy to find these cheap ! I did finally score a hood, and a curious Zeiss-made adapter that takes standard 67mm thread filters - backwards !

The standard lens takes tiny 27mm filters. These are not, by the way, the same as the Contina 27mm - that one is a female thread ! Buyer beware. The original Zeiss Ikon hoods are tiny, rubber, and the ones I have seen are disintegrating. What I did was to find a vintage 27mm-Series V adapter - yes, these aren't common. Series V accessories - filters, filter holders and hoods - are common.

The Contaflex Beta and Prima have a built-in uncoupled meter, the Alpha was meterless. The meter on mine is stiff working perfectly, probably because the little cover completely blocks light. It seems to have been preserved almost unused. The usual procedure was to take a reading, which would give an EV value.

The EV value has to be manually transferred to the shutter, a button is pressed to release the aperture ring, which also carried the EV markings. Once EV is set aperture and speed rings are geared together to automatically keep speed and aperture at the same exposure setting. This is of course a completely annoying system.

This was only a relatively cheap camera - in reality it seems to be superbly made. It has a deep chrome finish and feels like a top-quality piece in every way. The viewfinder is complex, for its day - the focusing screen has a split image, surrounded by a groundglass ring, surrounded by a fresnel. This is rather overdesigned ! As usual at the time the accessory shoe is an optional extra that attaches to the viewfinder.

The back is removable for film loading, which was getting a bit old-fashioned at the time, and the take-up spool was a separate piece - in fact one could use a separate film cartridge to take up exposed film. Some of the "real" Contaflex models even had interchangable film magazines.

Note the flap covering the film gate. This covers the film when the camera is uncocked and the mirror is up - this isn't an instant return mirror. As usual with this type of camera, the lenses are "automatic" - you are always looking through them at full aperture, because the aperture mechanism doesn't stop down until the shutter is released.

Performance and evaluation - This is just a very sweet camera to use. It is compact, reliable, the controls work smoothly and are intuitive - save for the *&_^_^(&*^&* EV system.

The 45mm seems like a perfectly fine lens, in no way inferior to a Tessar. I can't really do resolution tests, and my results are limited by my scanner, but it seems to be sharp to the corners.

The 30mm gives very reasonable results, considering it is probably the oddest such lens around. The center seems perfectly sharp, the corners, as expected, aren't really good at any aperture. I couldn't see any distortion, which must be an achievement for Zeiss Ikon. It does flare considerably and really needs that hard to get hood.

The 75mm is excellent as far as I can see. Sharp to the corners and sharp wide open.

Samples -

45mm -

75mm -

30mm -

Last edited by luisalegria on Mon May 14, 2012 10:06 pm; edited 1 time in total

PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2012 6:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Very interesting and loving review, with samples that proof your appreciation for this remarkable camera.
I never dared to bid on one, fearing the less reliable reputation of the other reflexes with leaf shutters.
Thanks for sharing!

PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2012 6:59 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Somehow I'd like to live a life that this was the only camera I had.

PostPosted: Mon May 14, 2012 7:05 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Some very good images you posted there!
I'm not familiar with the system though. The lenses look a bit odd to me Smile Camera appears a traditional 1950-60s tank design ready to fight the Cold War.
Happy shooting Wink

PostPosted: Sun Dec 06, 2015 12:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I'm just looking at one of these.

Thank Luis for your very complete and helpful review.
It seems to be a good camera and your results are great.

PostPosted: Mon Feb 15, 2016 8:01 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Great write-up which is fascinating. Thank you. K.

PostPosted: Fri Mar 11, 2016 12:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nifty Camera and Nice Lenses,.. However it was the CONTAREX that had Interchangeable Filmbacks.

PostPosted: Sat Mar 12, 2016 9:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

From Camera-wiki.org :

The Contaflex's exchangeable back

An alternate camera back was offered by Zeiss Ikon, a camera back that fit for some Rapid, early Super and Prima models. The 35mm film had to be loaded into the film back which held the film capsule itself light tight, as well as the take-up reel. Even the image plane could be covered light tight with a removable sliding door so that the whole film back could be removed mid-roll and exchanged by another loaded film back. This made the cameras attractive for ambitious tourists who wanted to use one fine camera for both slide films and negative films.

releasing the back by turning the counter-sunk release-knobswith the hinged bugle grips
pulling out the back
feeding in the film
the film is loaded
closing film roll chambers, and even the focal plane
light tight film back ready for usage
images by Uwe Kulick (Image rights)

From another site :