The secret of producing a successful 35mm cameras lies in making it complete enough to tackle any task, without making it too complicated for fast, easy operation. And though a camera must be built to function with the utmost precision, it should have the sturdiness to withstand many years of use. All these desirable qualities were perfectly embodied in the CONTAX.
The CONTAX was of small size and light weight and the proportions of the body were nicely designed for perfect balance and compactness. The CONTAX was remarkably sturdy, because the extreme accuracy demanded of a camera using 35mm film called for a type of construction that will always retain its precision qualities. Therefore, the entire CONTAX body was die-cast from light metal alloy and all the sensitive units, such as rangefinder, lens focusing and shutter mechanisms, etc., were completely inclosed in the strong metal housing. The body was handsomely covered with black Morocco leather and all exposed metal parts were chromium plated or enameled for utmost durability.
- 1932 Model - CONTAX I - first 35mm camera with built-in coupled rangefinder.
- 1936 Model - CONTAX II - successor to the Model I, added a combined view- and rangefinder, top shutter speed of 1/1250 second, and a self-timer.
- 1936 Model - CONTAX III - like CONTAX II, but with built-in photo-electric exposure meter.
- 1950/51 Models - CONTAX IIa and IIIa - reflect the optical and mechanical refinements of nearly a century of manufacturing skill. While many of the proven features of the former models were retained, important and valuable improvements were added.
For more detailed overview of CONTAX models, please refer to the History of Contax.
Carl Zeiss Jena lenses produced in 1932-1936 were made of brass and finished in black (for the CONTAX I), however, from 1936 and until the WWII they were produced in a chrome finish (for the CONTAX II and III). After the war, many lenses were made of aluminum alloy rather than brass. All pre-war lenses were uncoated, while all lenses made after the war were single-coated. The design of lens barrels undergone many small changes over time, so different copies of the same model may differ in appearance, weight, minimum aperture, number of aperture blades, closest focusing distance, filter size, and even focal length: in 1936, the Biotar 1:2 f=4cm was renamed to 1:2 f=4 1/4 cm without any optical changes.
Carl Zeiss / Zeiss-Opton Oberkochen lenses for the CONTAX represented the ultimate in fine photographic lenses. Bayonet mount ensured perfect fitting to post-war models and pre-war CONTAX II and III bodies. All lenses of 50mm focal length were to be fitted into the inner bayonet mounting of the camera and all the other lenses, in the outer mounting. All lenses except the Panflex Tessar coupled with the built-in rangefinder.
A wide range of accessories enabled the CONTAX owner to cover almost any field such as close-up work, photomicrography and telephotography, as well as reproduction and copying work.