Camera: Zeiss Ikon Contina 1a


I was given this camera by my father about 18 months ago, among a batch of cameras, and I’ve finally got round to putting a roll of film through.

The Zeiss Ikon Contina 1a (model 526/24) was made in Germany between 1954 and 1958. In many ways it’s a simple camera – there’s no rangefinder or exposure meter and the maximum aperture of the fixed lens is only f3.5. But what amazes me about this camera, is how well made and solid it is. When you pick it up, it exudes confidence. When you fire the shutter, a gentle swish confirms the operation. Even the wind-on lever makes a great sound. Before I used it “for real” I would often pick up the camera when I passed it, and fire the shutter and wind on a few times, just to enjoy the feel of the camera.  Daft, I know !

If you want to check out the sounds, there’s a Youtube video of a slightly different model here.

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The lens is a Novar Anistagmat 45mm, f3.5, with a 27mm thread. It’s a three element design, hardly the most sophisticated, which reflects the position of this camera at the low end of the Zeiss range. As long as you’re realistic about the size of enlargements you can expect, it seems a good performer, from my limited experience.

I have a yellow filter, a green filter, and the push-on metal lens cap shown above. The lens cap looks good on the camera, but I can’t seem to lock it in place and it tends to fall off – on one occasion it rolled right across a busy city centre street and underneath two buses. No harm done though !

L1160545

 The shutter speeds range from 1s to 1/300s, plus B and a self-timer. I don’t think the self-timer works on mine, but I’m not worried as I mainly just use the self timer on cameras that don’t have a cable release, to avoid camera shake with long exposure tripod-assisted shots. However the Contina has a good old-fashioned thread for a manual cable release, in the middle of the shutter release, which is almost hidden in the middle of the film counter.
L1160546

Like many cameras of this period, the shutter speed and aperture dials are linked together, so when you shift one, the other setting automatically shifts to compensate and allow the same amount of light through the lens. To start the process, you set the exposure value on the right side of the lens (say typically EV 11 on a dull British day) and the camera will then give you one setting suitable for that amount of light – for example 1/15s at f11. If that isn’t suitable, say because you are not using a tripod and don’t want to use a shutter speed lower than 1/30s, then you turn the knurled dial to the left, which changes the shutter speed to 1/30s and the aperture to f8.

But what if you want to give a stop more exposure, say to allow for backlighting ? In that case you depress a little button above the Zeiss symbol and you can then shift the aperture and shutter settings independently, to any values you want within the cameras’ range.

Focussing is achieved by turning the front cell of the lens, on which are printed distance markings.  Just above them, is a depth-of-field scale – so sadly lacking on many modern lenses. This makes it easy to focus at the hyperfocal distance – just rotate the distance markings so that the infinity mark is adjacent to your chosen aperture. For example, with an aperture of f11, when the infinity mark is set opposite f11, the focus mark will be halfway between 9 feet and 15 feet. Anything between about 6 feet and infinity will then be “acceptably” in focus. Of course, your tolerance of “acceptably” may differ.

Usually, cameras with rangefinders cost more than those with scale or distance focussing. However, over time rangefinders can go out of adjustment, or may be difficult to see. For cameras this old – now in it’s mid-fifties – a simple distance focussing is likely to be more reliable.

Now for some photos taken with this camera. I loaded a roll of Kodak Gold 200 – not one of my usual films but I bought 4 packs containing three rolls each for just 49p at a supermarket. The films were in their last month before expiry date and were being sold off. So, I paid £1.96 for 12 rolls, or about 16p per roll – which makes Poundland look expensive at £1 per roll ! I developed the film at home using the Digibase C41 kit in a Jobo CPE2 processor.

I was fairly satisfied with the camera/film combination results – whilst Kodak Gold isn’t going to replace Portra as my favourite colour negative film, at 16pence per roll I’ll certainly find a use for the remaining 11 rolls.

The camera came out on Boxing Day on a trip to Blawearie, which I have previously written about here, as a second camera to a Baby Rolleiflex 4*4, a 127 film camera I’d got for Xmas. I’ll blog about the Rolleiflex when I’ve put a couple more rolls through.

Despite carrying a tripod, I forgot the quick release plate, so had to work at fairly wide apertures to allow hand-held images. Here’s a few results, which show that the camera functions well, and is worthy of having some  more use in the future:

C41-35-209, 2013-Jan, Kodak Gold 200, Zeiss Contina, Digibase, 010 800px C41-35-209, 2013-Jan, Kodak Gold 200, Zeiss Contina, Digibase, 018 600px C41-35-209, 2013-Jan, Kodak Gold 200, Zeiss Contina, Digibase, 019 600px

C41-35-209, 2013-Jan, Kodak Gold 200, Zeiss Contina, Digibase, 016

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5 comments

  1. Thanks for a great article. I’ve just purchased this camera and found your article via a google image search. I was just wondering if you have a manual for this camera and if so would it be possible to get a scan of it? Cheers Mark.

  2. Mark, thanks for visiting. I don’t have a manual for the model 1a, but Mike Butkus has an online manual for the Zeiss Ikon Contina 1, which looks almost identical – that should give you a good start. It’s located at http://www.butkus.org/chinon/zeiss_ikon/zeiss_ikon_contina_i/zeiss_ikon_contina_i.htm .

    Mr Butkus does a great job in making hundreds of manuals available, and visitors to his site can make a donation by Paypal to keep his site going.

  3. I have a slightly later model of this fine camera, with f2.8 Novicar lens, which I bought new from Wallace Heaton in London around 1958. In its early years it produced needle-sharp “en-prints” (about 5.5 x 3.5 inches) which were the standard at the time. I detect a slight softening of the focus now, which is probably due to some slight looseness in the lens mount; and it also has the sticking slow shutter speeds and self-timer which are common with this type of shutter after time. It has been an old and faithful friend, and I might get it overhauled – I think it would be worth it. As you say, the build quality (like all Zeiss-Ikon cameras of the period) is excellent. [I also have a folding Zeiss Nettar 12 on 120 film camera of similar vintage, which I still use from time to time].

  4. High, thank you for the article.
    I got one of these nice cameras very cheaply because the shutter stuck.
    I wanted to use the lens with a digital camera.
    But I could repair it today and so I will try.
    Your pictures are very nice.
    Thank you for sharing.

    Best regards
    Bernd

  5. Thanks for your well written and very informative article for this model. I think this is the first (1a) version with a fixed lens. The predecessor was a 35mm folder. This is the one I have. It is outfitted much like the lead product the Nerwin designed Contessa with Tessar and Compur shutter.
    This 1a looks very formidable. I also have, and liked the results from, was among the much later Contina budget models. This is the Contina J. As mentioned the build quality and feel is amazing. Thanks for infecting me !!

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