Contaflex (TLR)

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The original Contaflex is a 24×36 TLR introduced in September 1935 by Zeiss Ikon, preceding the Contax II and III models, with production ceasing in 1940.[1] The camera was designed by the design department at Zeiss Ikon Dresden, then under leadership of Hubert Nerwin,[2] with the purpose of finding a different avenue for developing the 35mm format, outside the Leica and Contax type rangfinders.[3] Oskar Bergen was responsible for the design and development of the Contaflex.[4] The name was reused from the 1950s for a range of 35mm SLRs with leaf shutters, see Contaflex (SLR).

The original Contaflex has the same type of metal curtains as the Contax I, Contax II and Contax III, as with the Nettax and Super Nettel. The shutter mechanisms were different however, except for the Contax II and III, due to the different design of the camera bodies.[5] According to Hubert Nerwin, then leader of the design departement at Zeiss Ikon, the shutter mechanism of the Contaflex was "delicate and unreliable, because of its complicated mechanism".[6] The Contaflex also has a built-in but uncoupled selenium exposure meter under its name plate. It was the first camera in the world with a built-in light meter. Dr. Küppenbender at Zeiss Ikon actually had patented a coupled exposure meter, but "it was apparently felt that this was impractical at the time (1935)".[7]

The viewer lens is a Sucher-Objektiv 8cm f:2.8 giving a magnified image for the angle of view of the 50mm standard lens. Two lines are drawn on the viewing screen to indicate the 85mm and 135mm frame. The focusing is done by a lever around the viewing lens. The finder incorporates an automatic parallax compensation with focusing. A big button on the right side is used both to wind the shutter and to set the shutter speed. The rewind button is on the left side.

The Contaflex was one of the most expensive cameras of its time. It introduced features that paved the way for the Contax II and Contax III rangefinder models. But it did not really indicate the way forward, and was more an experimental model. According to a summary of the numbers given in Thiele (2015), in total 7000 viewing-lenses were ordered from Carl Zeiss Jena, which might give an indication on the number of cameras produced. This is also similar to a total production estimate of 7510 cameras given by Simon Worsley.[8] According to the numbers given in Thielel, the taking lenses were mostly produced in batches together with the equivalent lenses for the Contax rangefinder. It is therefore difficult to acertain the exact number of lenses produced for the Contaflex, however the numbers summarised from Thiele below seem to indicate that the Orthometar 3.5cm f:4.5 and Triotar 8.5cm f:4 are the rarest lenses.




The Contaflex has a special lens mount, incompatible with the rangefinder Contax models. The range of lenses includes:

  • Biogon 3.5cm f:2.8, with a special right angle finder (part of total 2300 lenses ordered in 4 batches for Contaflex and Contax mounts)
  • Orthometar 3.5cm f:4.5 (part of total 300 lenses ordered in 1 batch for Contaflex and Contax mounts)
  • Sonnar 5cm f:1.5 (part of total ordered 16 500 in 11 batches for Contaflex and Contax mounts, additionally exactly 1300 for Contaflex mount in 2 batches)
  • Sonnar 5cm f:2 (part of total 16 000 lenses ordered in 11 batches for Contaflex and Contax mounts)
  • Tessar 5cm f:2.8 (part of total 4699 lenses ordered in 4 batches for Contaflex and Contax mounts)
  • Sonnar 8.5cm f:2 (part of total 2905 lenses ordered in 8 batches for Contaflex and Contax mounts)
  • Triotar 8.5cm f:4 (part of total 200 lenses ordered in 2 batches for Contaflex and Contax mounts, additionally exactly 150 for Contaflex in 2 batches)
  • Sonnar 13.5cm f:4 (part of total 3140 lenses ordered in 5 batches for Contaflex and Contax mounts, additionally exactly 150 for Contaflex in 2 batches)


Notes

  1. Journal of the Zeiss Historica Society, vol. 3 No. 1 (1981), p. 6
  2. Ibid. p. 3
  3. Ibid. p. 6
  4. Journal of the Zeiss Historica Society, vol. 16 No. 2 (1994), p. 6
  5. Journal of the Zeiss Historica Society, vol. 3 No. 1 (1981), p. 4
  6. Journal of the Zeiss Historica Society, vol. 3 No. 1 (1981), p. 3
  7. Ibid, p. 6
  8. Journal of the Zeiss Historica Society, vol 15 No. 2 (1993), p. 11

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