Contessa 35

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Contessa was the name given to a family of 35mm film cameras produced by Zeiss Ikon in Stuttgart between 1950-1955 (folding) and 1960-1971 (non-folding), the name is a reference to the Contessa-Nettel factory. These were mid to high-end rangefinder/viewfinder cameras with fixed lens. The lens was a Tessar 45/2.8 or 50/2.8 lens which produced very good pictures for the time.

The original name for the Contessa's camera design was 522/24 Ikonta 35 which was then changed to 533/24, with the old designation going to the Contina for the lower-end cameras in 1954.

Folding Contessa

The Contessa 35 was the 3rd camera designed by Hubert Nerwin, as part of the effort to rebuild the Zeiss Ikon name after WWII. The Contessa was produced between 1950-1955 and it was a high end 35mm folding rangefinder camera with catalog number 533/24, with the Ikonta 35 and Contina as lower end cameras. All these models followed Nerwins' simmetrical camera design and the Contessa added elements from the Super Ikonta's design with the characteristic extra lens for the coupled rangefinder.

Zeiss Ikon took every detail into account for design and built, highly over-engineered by today's standard, inside and outside of the camera. It is not only the outside appearance, with lots of chrome used, hidden tripod bushing in the front door, a small foot that keeps the camera leveled when placed on a table, and a solid feel, but also the image quality, and the balance of the camera in the hands.

The Contessas were fitted with the 45mm/2.8 Zeiss-OptonTessar, with a 9 blade diaphragm closing to f/22. The choice of 45mm over 50mm was a move by Zeiss to provide the user with extra depth of field. Tessar lenses are great performers even by today's standards, especially those marked Opton T* lenses which were coated, while uncoated lenses work best with a lens shade. These lenses are marked Zeiss-Opton because the West German part of the business couldn't use the name Carl Zeiss. This camera takes 28.5mm push filters and lens-shade (Zeiss Ikon 20.0700 / 1110 A) or 27mm (S27) filters mounted on the female side.[1]

Rangefinder is coupled and has a base of 42mm, giving good precision for shooting at f/2.8 but better at f/8. Zeiss used a prism instead of a mirror, which has made them very long lasting. For today's standards the viewfinder is small but the RF patch is bright and easy to use.

Lightmeter is an uncoupled selenium meter placed on the corner of the camera, which has a dual range, depending if it is used with the gate opened (black scale) or closed (green scale). The Selenium cell covered a relatively wide range of EVs (Bright EV 10-17, Dim EV 3-10 @ISO 100). These lightmeters are simple, and rarely fail.

Shutters were either a Compur Rapid or a Synchro Compur, depending on the year of production. The shutter release is on the front and the shutter must be cocked manually, which is a solution that was phased out shortly after the launch of these cameras. A double exposure prevention is present, driven by the film sprocket cogs inside the camera. Film wind and rewind is done via wheels at the bottom of the camera, the film counter must be set manually to S when loading. There is a cable release, which is located at the bottom left of the shutter (7 o'clock) in the Compur-Rapid, and top-right (1 o'clock positon) in the Synchro-Compur camera, this change of location was made to give space to the M-X switch in the Synchro-Compur.

There were 2 iterations of this camera with several submodels. The Serial number database published by Zeiss Historica shown that about 185,000 cameras were made.[2]

Folding Contessa cameras
Zeiss Nbr Model Years Lens Shutter Notes
533/24 35 1949-1953 f2.8 45mm Tessar Compur Rapid
X synch
cable release at bottom left corner (7 o'clock)
533/24 35 1951-1955 f2.8 45mm Tessar Synchro Compur
MX synch,(some models have selftimer V) at botton left corner
cable release top right corner (1 o'clock)
1st version Contessa 35 (533/24)
Compur Rapid shutter; Cable release in the 7 o'clock position
Pablo Coronel (Image rights)
2nd version Contessa 35 (533/24)
Synchro Compur shutter with M-X settings; Cable release in the 1 o'clock position
Süleyman Demir (Image rights)

The non-folding Contessas

Between 1960-1970 the name Contessa was used again for a family of fixed lens non-folding cameras that included Contessa, Contessamatic and Contessamat. Initially the same name and catalog number as the folding camera was used, but later it was changed to a new catalog number.

The models showed the evolution in design, internal and external, with the letter E (entfernungsmesser) added to the name of the cameras to indicate the presence of a rangefinder. The Contessamatic E uses whole unit focusing and the LKE/LBE uses front focusing. These cameras are of a modern design, with rapid film advance, coupled lightmeter and very informative viewfinders. Initially, they came with a Tessar 50/2.8 lens and lightmeter coupled with the shutter which is of the Prontor family.

In the mid-60s the Contessamat line came in production, these cameras had a speed priority system that allowed for an AUTO operation. The viewfinder showed the aperture and red marks for over/under exposure. The lens was a Color-Pantar 45/2.8 or a Tessar 50/2.8

These cameras take 27mm screw on filters and and 28.5 push on filters. A rubber collapsible lens shade was available (Zeiss Ikon 1109)

List of Non-Folding Contessa cameras
Zeiss Nbr Model Years Lens Shutter Notes
533/24 35 1960-1961 f2.8 50mm Tessar Prontor rangefinder
10.0632 Contessa 1960-1961 f2.8 50mm Tessar Pronto viewfinder, low budget model[3]
10.0637 LK 1963-1965 f2.8 50mm Tessar Prontor 500 LK (B,15-500) viewfinder
late models have hot shoe[4]
10.0638 LKE 1963-1965 f2.8 50mm Tessar Prontor 500 LK (B,15-500) similar to LK but with rangefinder
late models have shot shoe
10.0639 LBE 1965-1967 f2.8 50mm Tessar Prontor 500 LK range finder and flash aperture settings
hot shoe for flash
10.0634 Contessamatic 1960-1961 f2.8 50mm Tessar Prontor SLK (B,15-500) or Pr SLK Spezial (B,1-500) viewfinder
lightmeter reading in viewfinder
10.0645 Contessamatic E 1960-1963 f2.8 50mm Tessar Pr SLK Spezial (B,1-500) range finder
whole unit focusing
lightmeter reading in viewfinder
Contessamat 1964-1965 f2.8 45mm Color Pantar Prontormatic viewfinder
10.0652 Contessamat SBE 1963-1967 f2.8 50mm Tessar Prontormatic 500SL (B,15-500) rangefinder
10.0654 Contessamat SE 1963-1965 f2.8 45mm Color Pantar Prontormatic 500 rangefinder
10.0656 Contessamat STE 1965 f2.8 50mm Tessar Prontormatic 500SL rangefinder
10.0351 S-310 1971 f2.8 40mm Tessar Prontor 500 S viewfinder
10.0354 S-312 1971 f2.8 40mm Tessar Prontor 500 S similar to S-310 but with rangefinder

At the end of the life of the West German Zeiss Ikon company, two very innovative cameras branding the name Contessa came to life, S310 and S312. These cameras were developed by Voigtländer and after the merger of the two companies came to the market under the Contessa S-31x and the Voigtländer VF 101 name simultaneously. Auto exposure control made them ideal for the new point-and-shoot market in the 1970s.




at by Sylvain Halgand (in French)