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Nick's Classic Corner - No 53 - Pentacon FM

Discussion in 'Classic Models & Marques' started by Benchista, Mar 16, 2016.

  1. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    This is pretty much the last version of one of the most important cameras of the 20th century, the Contax S.
    After the second world war, the Zeiss company was split in twain, and the tooling for the Contax was carted off to the Soviet Union where it went on to make Kiev rangefinders. Many East German engineers went with them, but that's the Werra story really. In the West, Carl Zeiss went about recreating the Contax from scratch, and came up with much-improved models. Back in East Germany, though, R&D went into creating something new - a 35mm SLR, with built-in pentaprism and a new lens mount - M42 screw. The Contax S appeared in 1949, and was pretty revolutionary - and it more or less founded the style of SLRs that remained pretty much unchanged until the advent of autofocus.

    Originally, Zeiss tried to operate as if it was one company, but that soon became impossible and relations worsened - to the point where it became difficult for Carl Zeiss Jena to use any of the Zeiss brands internationally, particularly Contax and many of the lens brands. Thus a new brand was created for SLRs - Pentacon, being a contraction of PENTAprism CONtax. Many of these early models - and there really were a lot - can be found with either branding, including the FM. Lenses tended to just have "Aus Jena" on them - from Jena - which didn't exactly disguise their origin.

    The FM is pretty much the last model before Pentacon and KW (Praktica) merged, and looks very much like the original Contax S - it has some refinements such as fully auto diaphragm and improved wind knobs, and a split image focusing screen.

    It's a very attractive camera in my opinion, with a low-profile prism and a very obvious mirror box, underneath which is a fold-out foot to keep the camera stable on a flat surface. Simple, but effective. The shutter release is on the front and angled, to reduce camera shake. Underneath is the self timer lever, with one of the best start/stop mechanisms I've seen - a rotary switch.
    The top plate has the rewind knob on the left, above a film speed/type reminder. Next is the flash synch socket, in a very unusual place. To the right of the part-leatherette clad prism is a delightful window showing shutter speed set, a setting wheel that has to be depressed and turned, and the wind-on knob with frame counter. There's a switch on the back of the camera to select high or low shutter speed range.The back and base are pretty conventional.
    This camera might have auto diaphagm control, but it doesn't have an instant return mirror, so you have to wind on before viewing.Having done so, the view is a bit dim, but there's a big split image focusing aid to help you.
    And that's about it - it's not full of gadgets, bells or whistles, but there's all you need and it's really quite a nice camera. Mine came with a Primotar with a dodgy aperture, but I've had a semi-auto 58mm f2 Biotar waiting around for just this eventuality, so I'm happy. Overall, I can't get over just how usable this camera is even now.
  2. Andrew Flannigan

    Andrew Flannigan Well-Known Member

    I've owned a FM and a Contax D. The weakness was the shutter which had a tendemcy to jam, both of mine went that way. Next to my Canon FT they looked and felt really crude. The shutter speed change was ingenious and the angled release button worked well. The mirror blackout was horrible but Zeiss were inventing this stuff and others got to stand on their shoulders. I think youre right about how important they were.
  3. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    Well the FT is really a very much later design - mid 60s rather than late 40s. I think it stands up pretty well to most 50s designs in terms of looks and engineering, but yes, it would've been showing its age by the end of its sales life, no question.
    John Farrell likes this.
  4. Ascu75 AKA Don Wood

    Ascu75 AKA Don Wood Well-Known Member

    Thanks a Lot I started Reading Nicks Classic Corner last night in Bed and guess what I am still at it 14 hours later (I have had some sleep) I only got back on amateur photography yesterday and I am obsessing over vintage cameras. I must go and lay down in a darkened room for a while be back later
  5. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    Sorry! ;)

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