Zeiss Ikon Contessa 35 533/24 1950-1955 To anyone familiar with cameras designed in the last 50 years or so, the word unconventional might well occur quite frequently on first sighting an example of this lovely little camera. However, most of the design decisions are pretty logical, and result in an instrument that is quite pleasant to use in practice, once you get used to the idea that things are different. Firstly, it's a folding camera, a design style that's gone distinctly out of fashion, despite the fact that it gives a very pocketable form. Also, when folded, the lens, shutter, and most of the more delicate components are fairly well protected, so a case might not strictly be necessary, and strap lugs are mounted on the top sides of the camera body, allowing a strap to be secured directly to the camera. Next, the contra rotating prism optical coupled rangefinder - a standard feature of all Zeiss folding rangefinders such as the medium format Super Ikontas - that elegantly solves the problem of how do you couple the focussing distance from the lens focus control to the rangefinder patch in the viewfinder, when the lens has to be able to fold up relative to the body - it's all done by prisms, directly linked to the rotating front (focussing) lens element. The prism housing above the lens does give an unusual Cyclopsian appearance to the opened camera. The large shutter release knob on the top (photographer's) right of the lens standard is also unusual, as is the fact that i's pressed sideways rather than inwards to fire the shutter. In his excellent book "Collecting and Using Classic Cameras", Ivor Matanle describes this location of the shutter release as a disadvantage for the user, but I find it very usable in practice, although it does prevent use of a cable release. The shutter needs to be cocked by a smaller lever just in front of the release, and a contemporary review in AP 26th July 1950 cautions that you need to be careful not to catch the tensioning lever when it returns as the shutter is released - something that I soon learned! Finally, the film advance is by knob rather than lever - common for the time - but less common, and distinctly odd for the last 30 years or so is that it, and the rewind knob, are on the bottom of the camera. The knobs on the top plate are the match needle readout for the uncoupled selenium exposure meter on the photographer's right, and a very basic film type reminder on the left. Moving on from the camera itself, the case is also slightly different to what you might expect. The large knob on the bottom, which you might think is the head of a screw that secures the case to the camera body, is in fact a film advance knob, coupled to the advance knob on the camera by two prongs inside the case which engage with two holes on the camera knob. The case is actually secured by two spring loaded sliding catches on the sides which have loops that hook over the camera body strap lugs, and also incorporate the case strap lugs. The light meter is a dual range type, with a perforated cover which cuts the light reaching the cell in bright conditions, where exposures are read from the green scale (there's a green marker on the top of the hinged cover which is only visible when the cover is closed, as a reminder). The meter is calibrated from 5 ASA to the dizzy heights (for 1950!) of 400 ASA, and mine still appears to be reasonably accurate, after allowing for the redefinition of exposure scales in the early 1960s, though sadly it seems to have an intermittent contact somewhere. The Tessar 45mm f/2.8 lens stops down to f/22, and focusses down to 3 feet, and AP's 1950 review described it as being "of first rate quality, giving high resolution even at full aperture", and my somewhat limited experience suggests that mine hasn't got much worse over the years. The shutter is an F Deckel Synchro Compur, with speeds from 1s to 1/500s and Brief Time (as "B" was understood to mean in the 1950s) It has flash synchronisation for M (slow bulbs) and X (fast bulbs and electronic) with a standard 3mm PC socket on the right side of the shutter housing - it seems to work very well with a modern Metz 36 C-2 electronic flash. Unfortunately, there is no delayed action (self timer) - and no tripod bush either, so definitely not a camera for self portraits! There is full interlocking to prevent double exposures and blank exposures - you can't fire the shutter if the film hasn't been wound on, and the wind knob is locked until the shutter has been released. This is controlled by two small sprockets inside the back below the film gate. Unfortunately there seems to be no way of deliberately creating double exposures should you wish to. Incidentally, anyone who says that you can't fire the shutter on a Contessa or similar vintage 35mm camera without a film loaded is ill informed - it's easy to fool the mechanism by advancing these sprockets with your fingers, Despite the film advance being by knob rather than lever, it's actually quite easy and quick. Film loading is also fairly easy, at least compared to some vintage cameras. There's a hinged fully opening back, with the cassette chamber on the right, and the (non-removable) take up spool on the left. The take up spool has a large spring clip that you slide the film leader under, and a small hook that engages with a perforation. You then lay the film over the gate, making sure the sprockets engage, drop the cassette in, tension the film by turning the rewind ("R") knob (to make sure it doesn't spring away from the sprockets), close the back, make sure the frame counter (in the middle of the baseplate) is set the the "diamond" loading mark, and turn the advance ("A") knob until it stops - the frame counter should read "1" When you see a subject, open the front by sliding the release catch at the top centre of the folded up baseboard downwards, then pull the baseboard down until it clicks firmly in place. A quick meter reading, set shutter speed and aperture (aperture is the rearmost serrated ring on the shutter housing, shutter speed on the front, with scales for both along the top of the shutter), then focus with the viewfinder to your eye and left fingertip on the focus ring at the front of the lens - only 90 degrees from infinity to 3'. There is a depth of field scale around the top of the lens. The rangefinder patch is a smallish circle, and has a slight pink tint, which the 1950 AP review says makes focussing very easy - I certainly find it so. Tension the shutter with your right forefinger, then move your fingertip up slightly to the release knob, When you've taken the shot, you can quickly wind on with your left hand, and close the camera by squeezing the side plates that link the baseboard to the lens standard, then press the baseboard up until it clicks home. There's no need to set focus to infinity, unlike some other 35mm f folders, so it's very convenient for zone focus street shooters, for example. Then just slip it in your pocket - a large trouser pocket will do! When you reach the end of the roll (I usually get 38 or 39 shots from a nominal 36 exposure roll - Fuji seems to be slightly longer than Kodak!) press and hold the rewind release button in the centre of the advance knob, and turn the rewind ("R") knob until you feel the leader pull through into the cassette. About 2/3rds the way through, you'll understand why folding rewind cranks were invented (I think by Voigtlander on the Vitessa of similar vintage, but that's another story). However, at least there aren't any sharp protrusions to catch your fingers on, unlike some other vintage 35mm cameras. Overall, a fun camera to use, especially if you appreciate quirkiness. It probably wouldn't be a bad choice for street photography, where its easy pocketability and ability to preset zone focus would be useful. Writing back in the 1980s, Ivor Matanle seemed to think that Cointessas were fairly pricy due to collector's interest, but these days, on Ebay, they seem to be broadly in line with prices of other similar specification cameras such as Kodak Retinas - around £60 - 70 for a usable one with dodgy meter, to a couple of hundred or more for mint condition.