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Zeiss Ikon Contina II 524/24 - Part I History & Description

Discussion in 'Classic Models & Marques' started by AlexMonro, Feb 6, 2014.

  1. AlexMonro

    AlexMonro Old Grand Part Deux

    Zeiss Ikon Contina II 524/24
    (owing to the forum's 10240 character post size limit, this is in 2 parts. Part II, Using the Contina II, will follow up in this thread and be linked if I can do the edit in time!)

    [​IMG]

    History

    After the Second World War, Zeiss Ikon were struggling to get back on their
    feet. Their rivals Kodak AG (Formerly Nagel)had managed to get their very
    successful Retina folding 35mm camera range back into production remarkably
    quickly, and Zeiss felt that they needed to compete in this market sector as
    well as all the other main types of cameras. So Hubert Nerwin, the designer of
    many of the great Zeiss Ikon cameras, created the Ikonta 35, which was
    launched in 1948. This was a basic folding 35mm camera, and if it looked
    reminiscent of the medium format Ikontas and Nettars, that was perhaps in part
    because it was designed to be built on the same manufacturing equipment.

    Initially in two versions, with either a 45mm f/4.5 (later f/3.5) Rodenstock
    made Novar lens in a 4 speed flash synchronised Pronto Shutter, or an up market
    version with the Schneider Kreuznach Xenar 45mm f/2.8 (later replaced with Zeiss's own
    Tessar when that became available from the new Zeiss lens factory at Oberkochen)
    in a 9 speed (1s - 1/500s) Compur Rapid shutter, it was a fairly basic folding
    viewfinder camera, with a depth of field scale on the front focussing element of
    the lens as the only aid to focussing. At least double exposure prevention and
    blank exposure prevention interlocks were provided (you couldn't fire the
    shutter if you hadn't wound on from the previous frame, and you couldn't wind on
    again until the shutter had been fired), but the shutter still had to be
    tensioned separately to winding on by means of a small lever on top of the
    shutter housing, which you had to avoid catching your fingers on when it flew
    back as the shutter was released.

    Following their success with the Ikonta 35 (renamed Contina for some export
    markets), Zeiss Ikon felt that they needed to broaden their range of 35mm
    folding cameras, to better compete with the prodigious range of Retina models
    from Kodak. So in 1950 they introduced the Contessa, which used the basic body
    design of the Ikonta 35, but added various features, such as a built in selenium
    exposure meter (not seen in a Kodak Retina until the Retina IIIc four years
    later), and a coupled rangefinder (see my review of the Contessa).

    However, the Contessa, though an excellent and very usable camera, was a bit on
    the pricy side for many people, so in 1952, Zeiss decided to fill out the
    range, with a model in between the basic Ikonta 35 / Contina and the high end
    Contessa. This was the Contina II, model no. 524/24, and anyone with a passing
    familiarity with the model numbers of the Zeiss medium format cameras would
    recognise the connection with the uncoupled rangefinder Mess Ikonta models
    524/2 (8 6x9 cm frames on a 120 film) and 524/16 (12 6x6 cm frames on 120).
    (Mess being the German abbreviation for the German word entfernungsmesser,
    literally "distance meter", or rangefinder.) Indeed, a first glance would show
    that the resemblance was not just in the numbers - the Contina II (never
    officially called Mess Ikonta 35) does indeed feature a rangefinder mounted in
    a rectangular housing in the top plate, like a scaled down medium format Mess
    Ikonta.

    [​IMG]

    The Novar 45mm f/3.5 in Prontor SV shutter version

    First impressions

    Even before unfolding the camera, the most striking feature is the raised
    box-like centre part of the top plate, with three rectangular windows at the
    front, a large one (for the viewfinder) in the centre, and two smaller ones (for
    the rangefinder) either side. Since the rangefinder is not hidden behind the
    front door, like on the Contessa, it's possible to start preparing to take your
    picture even before you've unfolded the camera (probably just as well, given
    the additional time consuming operations required in using an uncoupled
    rangefinder). The rangefinder hump is flanked by two circular knobs - the
    rangefinder reading knob on the right and a film reminder dial on the left.

    As one looks below the top plate, the word "unconventional" comes to mind,
    especially to people who may be more familiar with the SLRs and compact
    cameras of the last 50 odd years. Being a folding camera, the lens is
    completely hidden at first, and as it has a leaf shutter in which the lens is
    mounted, all shutter controls are also not immediately apparent. What is
    visible is the front door, with a small catch at the top, and a tripod bush,
    sealed with a capping screw (actually present on my example! :) ) at the
    bottom. However, unlike the Contessa, the tripod bush is not in line
    with the entry pupil of the lens, so parallax would be an issue when taking
    panoramas, unless you used a special panoramic tripod head. Being set further
    back towards the centre of gravity of the camera, balance is a bit better.

    The way that the case is secured to the camera body is distinctly unusual. At
    first glance, there appears to be a large tripod bush / case securing screw on
    the bottom at the left side. However, closer inspection reveals that there is
    no tripod thread, and it's marked with an anticlockwise pointing arrow. This is
    in fact the film advance (wind on) knob, which couples to the knob on the base
    of the camera body via two small prongs which engage in corresponding holes -
    care needs to be taken when fitting the camera into its case to ensure that
    these align. At least this means it's possible to wind the film on without
    having to remove the camera from the case!


    [​IMG]

    Top view of the Novar 45mm f/3.5 in Prontor SV shutter version


    In use

    Still, the case really only needs to be removed for changing film - or if you
    want to sit the camera level on a flat surface. Undoing the flap at the back
    allows you to let the top of the case dangle, and then dropping the front door
    gives access to the lens and shutter controls. The rangefinder can be used
    without even opening the door, though the separate eyepieces for the
    rangefinder and viewfinder are slightly less convenient than those rangefinders
    that are fully integrated into the viewfinder. However, it does enable the
    rangefinder to have a slightly greater magnification (approx 1:1, compared to
    the approx 0.6x for the viewfinder). The rangefinder view does only cover less
    than a quarter of the image area, though.

    The front door (lensboard) is opened by sliding down the small catch in the
    centre of the top edge of the door, and then pushing the door downwards until
    it locks firmly in place with a click. This is one of the areas that the
    engineering quality of Zeiss Ikon cameras is apparent - with the lensboard
    locked in place, the whole lens and shutter housing is very rigidly fixed to
    the body of the camera, essential for high quality results - you can't get good
    sharp pictures if the lens is wobbling about relative to the film, as
    unfortunately sometimes tends to happen with some folding cameras, particularly
    after more than half a century of wear and tear! To fold the camera up again,
    simply squeeze together both side panels at the body end of the door and fold
    the door upward until it clicks into place.

    Model Variations

    [​IMG]
    The Opton-Tessar 45mm f/2.8 in Synchro Compur shutter version

    It's only with the front door open that the differences between the models
    becomes apparent. The high end version is fitted with a 4-element Zeiss-Opton
    Tessar 45mm f/2.8 lens in a Synchro Compur shutter, with speeds 1s to 1/500s,
    and full MX flash synchronisation, but no delayed action (self timer). The lower
    spec version has a 3 element Rodenstock made Novar 45mm f/3.5 optic in a Prontor
    SV shutter, speeds 1s to only 1/300s, but still with full XM sync, and also with
    delayed action (though only X sync can be used with D/A - not likely to be much
    of an issue these days!)

    Although the Tessar version is theoretically more capable, and indeed it does
    appear slightly sharper at wide to mid apertures, by the time you've stopped
    down to f/8 or smaller I can't see a lot in it - there's probably more in the
    sample variation between individual lenses. Certainly the Novar lens is
    perfectly adequate, and the top speed of the Synchro Compur is less than a stop
    faster (as the Tessar is less than a stop faster than the Novar), so while the
    Tessar / Synchro Compur combination is slightly better for getting shallow
    Depth of Field shots (both types have 10 bladed diaphragms, and seem to give
    reasonable bokeh), there isn't really that much in it. What is perhaps more
    significant is the usability - I find that the Synchro Compur, which is
    tensioned by pushing the lever up and towards the middle, is more awkward to
    use than the Prontor SVS , where the lever is pushed downwards, leaving the
    forefinger conveniently adjacent to the shutter release. Also, the focus
    throw of the Tessar is only 90 degrees, compared with the 160 degree movement
    of the Novar, making precise focus setting easier with the "cheaper" lens.

    Link to Part II - Using the Contina II: http://www.amateurphotographer.co.u...History-amp-Description&p=1234546#post1234546
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 6, 2014
  2. AlexMonro

    AlexMonro Old Grand Part Deux

    Re: Zeiss Ikon Contina II 524/24 - Part II Using the Contina II

    Zeiss ContinaII 524/24 Part II - Using

    Loading

    [​IMG]

    Loading is fairly straightforward, once the camera is removed from the case.
    The back door opens wide, giving good access, and the take-up spool secures the film leader via a spring clip and a small hook. This isn't quite as secure as
    some other vintage 35mm cameras, so it's advisable to pre-tension the cassette
    by means of the rewind knob before closing the back. With the frame counter
    set to the loading mark (diamond shaped marker), turning the advance (wind)
    knob until is stops ensures that the film is ready for frame 1, and by checking
    the rewind knob moves, you can be sure that the film hasn't detached from the
    take-up spool - if that happens, the advance knob would never stop, since the
    winding stop is controlled by the film position sense sprockets, which are only
    moved by the physical movement of the film. If the leader does become
    detached, it's a simple matter to reopen the back and reattach the leader.

    [​IMG]
    The frame counter setting when loading

    When the camera has been replaced in the case, you can't see the rewind knob
    moving any more, but in practice, once the initial wind on to frame 1 is
    complete, film transport is positive, and frame spacing is good. At the start
    of the roll, the advance knob needs to be turned a little further to get to the
    next frame than is comfortable with a single movement of the fingers, but
    as you get further through the roll, the increasing diameter on the take-up
    spool means you don't need to turn it through as great an angle, and it can be
    done in a single quick movement. This also gives a rough indication by feel as
    to how many frames are left on the roll, and for a precise check, the frame
    counter (numbered every 5 frames) is clearly visible though the cut-out in the
    base of the case. Unlike some types of 35mm cameras, such as the later Retinas,
    the camera doesn't lock up at 36 frames - you can just carry on to 37 or 38 if
    the roll is long enough - I find Fuji seem to be slightly longer than Kodak! :)

    Shooting

    Shooting with the Contina II is generally not a particularly rapid process.
    Using the uncouple rangefinder takes time, then the distance reading has to be
    transferred to the lens focus scale. After that, the exposure has to be set on
    both the aperture and shutter speed scales, and the shutter tensioned (with
    leaf shutters, although most of the time it doesn't matter if you tension the
    shutter before or after setting the speed, in some circumstances, e.g with the
    fastest speed on a Compur rapid, you can cause damage if you change the speed
    after the shutter is cocked. Note this is the other way round to some focal
    plane shutters).

    However, for a restricted range of situations, you can speed things up. You
    can use the depth of field scale to set a zone of focus to cover expected
    subjects, and preset the exposure if the light is fairly constant. And, unlike
    some other folding 35mm cameras, the Contina doesn't need the focus to be reset to infinity when the camera is closed, so you can save the zone focus set,
    fold the camera up, then quickly take it out and unfold it, cock the shutter
    and snap a quick shot. There's also the vaunted Zeiss "Red dot" guide for
    hyperfocal focussing - red dots on the focus and aperture scales (at around 17'
    and f/8) indicate the appropriate settings to get most medium distance shots
    (from about 8' to infinity) in focus.

    [​IMG]
    Red dot focus on the Novar 45mm f/3.5 in Prontor SV shutter model

    [​IMG]
    Red dot focus on the Tessar 45mm f/2.8 in Synchro Compur shutter model

    Reaching the end of the roll is found by the advance knob not turning as far as
    you expect before coming to a stop - unfortunately there's no easy way of
    telling the difference between the auto frame spacing stop and the end of the
    film, so sometimes you can think you've got to another frame, only to find that
    the shutter won't release because it's inhibited by the double exposure
    interlock, because the film hasn't advanced quite far enough. This can be
    slightly annoying, but you get used to checking the frame counter carefully
    towards the end of the roll.

    Unloading

    Rewinding and unloading is straightforward. Remove the case, hold down the
    rewind release in the centre of the advance knob, and keep turning the rewind
    knob until the frame counter stops moving - curiously, it continues to count
    UP. The upside to the slightly uncertain attachment of the film leader to the
    take-up spool is that it will usually wind straight off the spool and back into
    the cassette, which can slightly speed up changing rolls. However, by the the
    time you've finished rewinding a 36 exposure roll, you'll realise why rewind
    cranks were invented! If you had re-cocked the shutter before you realised
    you'd reached the end of the roll, and you're not immediately going to reload
    and carry on shooting, it's a good idea to release the shutter before putting
    the camera away - rewinding will have reset the double exposure interlock, and
    it's best not to leave the shutter spring tensioned for long periods.

    Flash

    The Contina II can be used quite easily with many modern electronic flashguns,
    which will synchronise at all shutter speeds when set to "X" synchronisation.
    So called Auto type flashes are probably most convenient - the flashgun has a
    built in photocell which measures the light reflected from the subject, and
    cuts off the flash when correct exposure is achieved. You just have to set the
    film speed and aperture used on the scales on the flashgun. This makes fill
    flash very easy, and you can easily use wide apertures in bright light with fast
    shutter speeds, unlike with the focal plane shutters used in many modern
    cameras. The Metz Mecablitx 36 C-2 is one modern electronic flashgun that I've
    use very successfully with vintage cameras. Do note that some modern flash guns
    are designed to work in conjunction with the camera's built in TTL metering
    system, and these won't work so well unless you can switch them to a
    compatibility mode.

    Conclusion

    Overall, the Contina II is quite a pleasant little camera to use. It folds up
    into a conveniently pocket sized package, or can be carried in its case as a
    bundle only slightly larger - the case isn't strictly necessary, since the
    most fragile components are well protected when the camera is folded up,
    however, it's quickly unfolded ready for use. Presetting focus and exposure can
    make it fairly quick to use for many snap shot situations, but there's the
    convenience of the built in rangefinder when you have the time and need to set
    focus precisely. They seem to turn up on eBay 2 or 3 times a month, and
    typically go for £20-50, depending on condition. Fortunately Zeiss built to
    last, and problems such as pinholes; in the bellows and wobbly lens standards
    seem to be comparatively rare compared with some other makes of similar age.
    The main vintage camera dealers seem to have them in stock occasionally.
    Beware of the later non folding Zeiss Icon 35mm camera with selenium meter but
    no rangefinder also officially called Contina II, model 527/24, though often
    unofficially referred to as Contina IIa.

    Sample Photos

    Agfa Vista 200 Dev & scan by Boots Minor tweaking in Gimp

    [​IMG]
    The Novar 45mm f/3.5 shows good resistance to flare!

    [​IMG]
    Reasonable corner sharpness and depth of fiels at f/11 (Novar)

    [​IMG]
    Readers of the Trusted Reviews Digital camera reviews a few years ago may
    recognise this as one of Cliff Smith's standard test shots! :)
     
  3. LargeFormat

    LargeFormat Well-Known Member

    Schneider, Rodenstock and Zeiss in a single breath.
     
  4. Kamepa

    Kamepa Well-Known Member

    [​IMG]

    Got one of these somewhere gathering dust. Mine having that unreliable "now not then" Prontor shutter. Once they start to fail no chance of getting going, except a CLA will cure! Did the higher end versions have the more durable Compur shutter?
     
  5. Kamepa

    Kamepa Well-Known Member

    DOH! just answered my own question they have a Syncro-Compur with Tessar! Got one gathering dust sold the one in photo on ebay. :)
     
  6. AlexMonro

    AlexMonro Old Grand Part Deux

    For me, it's actually my Prontor SV / Novar 3.5 version that's working better. The Synchro Compur / Tessar 2.8 is the one with problems - though it's actually a wobbly lens panel (unusual for Zeiss!), rather than the shutter, which still runs sweet as a nut from 1s up to 1/500s!

    I've generally found Prontor shutters to be reasonably reliable, at least on the faster speeds - I do notice that 1/25 & slower often become sluggish. Compurs, particularly in the larger medium format size 0, do seem remarkable in their durability. I've an early 1930s Agfa Billy Compur 6x9cm that I acquired covered in a layer of crud, with the focus seized, but the shutter still ran smoothly on all speeds 1-1/250s.

    I must say that I do prefer using the Contessa to the Contina II, but I think that's mostly down to the coupled rangefinder, rather than the Synchro Compur or lightmeter (which is only working intermittently on mine anyway :( ).

    You'll have to dig your Contina out and give it an airing - I look forward to seeing the results, suitably distressed, of course! :)
     
  7. Kamepa

    Kamepa Well-Known Member

    Yeh! I have a Contessa as well. Sweet little camera to use but really my interest are the folding Kodak Retina and Retinettes. Also got one of those Voigtlander 35mm folders with the pole sticking out of the top and the barn doors. Had it CLA as it was a beautiful beast! The name escapes me for now :)
     
  8. PeteE

    PeteE Well-Known Member

    YAY ! - I was given one by a former Lady Mayor of Brentwood whose Deceased Husband was a member of Brentwood Photographic Club and it has the Synchro-Compur but NOT an 'Opton Tessar' just a ' Carl Zeiss' Tessar -- it came in a brown leather case and with an Instruction leaflet for Kodachrome 10 ASA !
    I have done some good B&W in the Philippines and got some 16x12" sharp B&W darkroom prints -- when I go to Cebu Images Camera Club all the members gather round to see my '1950's CONTINA' --- !!
    [​IMG]
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/25850987@N03/3344237864/
    Contina http://www.flickr.com/photos/25850987@N03/3344237864/ by pentaxpete http://www.flickr.com/people/25850987@N03/, on Flickr
    Cebu Images Camera Club taken on outdated FP4+ with my CONTINA

    [​IMG]
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/25850987@N03/6139486391/
    Images Club http://www.flickr.com/photos/25850987@N03/6139486391/ by pentaxpete http://www.flickr.com/people/25850987@N03/, on Flickr

    Nuat Thai Massage (?) taken from moving truck at 1/500th
    [​IMG]
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/25850987@N03/6139486397/
    Massage http://www.flickr.com/photos/25850987@N03/6139486397/ by pentaxpete http://www.flickr.com/people/25850987@N03/, on Flickr
     
  9. AlexMonro

    AlexMonro Old Grand Part Deux

    Sounds like you're thinking of the Vitessa? It was supposed to be fast to use with the plunger transport action, but I found it to be awkward compared with a lever wind. Possibly mine at 60 odd years old wasn't quite up to the original design spec. They came in several versions, with and without selenium exposure meters, and the non-folding but interchangeable lens Vitessa T. Another camera to which I could apply my favourite description "unconventional"... :)

    Curiously, I found it was the Contessa that got me in to other 35mm folders such as the Retinas, and then the non folding Retina & Retinettes - just got my first roll from the Retinette IB with the rather uncommon Xenar 45/2.8, which looks noticeably sharper than the Reomar, even on a 6x4" print! I must post some when time allows...
     
  10. AlexMonro

    AlexMonro Old Grand Part Deux

    I believe the "Opton" name was used after the war by the West German Zeiss Ikon to distinguish their lenses made in Oberkochen from those produced in Jena by the East German Carl Zeiss. Then after a long drawn out international legal dispute, the East Germans were required to stop using all the Zeiss names and trademarks, so the West Germans dropped the Opton prefix. I've just tried looking up the details of this in Barringer & Small's "Zeiss Compendium", but details are a bit unclear, with a note inviting anyone who knows more to contact the authors!
     
  11. Kamepa

    Kamepa Well-Known Member

    Interesting post here that confirms your thinking. Also about possible quality problems?
    http://photo.net/classic-cameras-forum/00NPhF
     
  12. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    I have discussed this with Charlie Barringer and (mostly) Marc James Small in the past; it's not quite that simple, because the East Germans retained the right to the Carl Zeiss Jena brand in some markets, and not just behind the Iron Curtain - that's why some East German lenses has the full Carl Zeiss Jena brand, others are simply branded "Aus Jena".
    Stepping back a little, immediately post-war, Zeiss considered the company both sides of the border to still be effectively part of the Carl Zeiss Foundation, and originally orders might be filled from either Jena or Oberkochen - it was a gradual separation, finalised by the nationalisation of CZJ that started the battles.
     
  13. AlexMonro

    AlexMonro Old Grand Part Deux

    Thanks for the additional info, Nick. I knew the phrase "It's not quite that simple" would come in somewhere!

    Perhaps it's possible that PeteE's Contina II is fitted with a Jena made Tessar? Or had Zeiss Ikon Stuttgart ceased all use of Jena produced lenses by the time the Contina II appeared in 1952?

    Thanks for the link, Kamepa. Interesting. Of course, the relative merits of the Jena and Oberkochen Tessar designs really only apply to the Contax, where you have a choice, and ISTR that Jena used softer aluminium mounts, which are subject to wear, so a better optical design doesn't necessarily help if the mount is wobbly!
     
  14. PeteE

    PeteE Well-Known Member

    Then to add to the Story -- I bought a lens for £10-00 in a Car Boot Sale, 24mm f2.8 Pentax 'KA'fit marked : ' lens made in JAPAN under Licence from VEB Carl Zeiss Jena' -------
     
  15. AlexMonro

    AlexMonro Old Grand Part Deux

    I believe the Zeiss brand name has been licenced to several Japanese manufacturers since the demise of Zeiss Ikon. I think that currently Sony are using it on their top of the range lenses.

    There is also the current Zeiss Ikon 35mm rangefinder, I believe actually made by Cosina in Japan, who also make a slightly lower spec camera under the name Voigtlander Bessa.

    As well as the current top-notch Zeiss manual focus lenses in various SLR mounts. Not sure who actually makes them, but Nick or Roger probably know! :)
     
  16. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    Those Japanese lenses weren't really all that marvellous - mostly Cosina, I think one or two others as well, probably Sigma, all budget lenses anyway and not up to the standard of the East German ones.
     
  17. PeteE

    PeteE Well-Known Member

    here is a full aperture sample of my 24mm f2.8 Carl Zeiss Jena in Brentwood Town Hall, available light, on my Pentax K10D -- it resolves all the carpet details
    [​IMG]
    Mayor-Making Brentwood by pentaxpete, on Flickr
     
  18. Benchista

    Benchista Which Tyler

    Not bad. Perhaps I'm just too snotty about such things - many Cosina lenses were very good. And still are...
     

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