|Contessa 35 533/24|
Second version of this classic folder
image by ja1vbn (Image rights)
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 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.
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.
|533/24||35||1949-1953||f2.8 45mm Tessar||Compur Rapid
|533/24||35||1951-1955||f2.8 45mm Tessar||Synchro Compur
Some models have selftimer (V)
|2nd version Contessa 35 (533/24) |
by Süleyman Demir
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.
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 collpasible lens shade was available (Zeiss Ikon 1109)
|533/24||35||1960-1961||f2.8 50mm Tessar||Prontor||range finder|
|10.0632||Contessa||1960-1961||f2.8 50mm Tessar||Pronto||view finder, low budget model|
|10.0637||LK||1963-1965||f2.8 50mm Tessar||Prontor 500 LK (B,15-500)||view finder |
late models have hot shoe
|10.0638||LKE||1963-1965||f2.8 50mm Tessar||Prontor 500 LK (B,15-500)||similar to LK but with range finder|
|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|
|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 range finder|
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.
- Model List of all Zeiss Ikon 35mm cameras by Clayton Rye (archived)
- Something Zeiss to say (archived) A website about classic Zeiss Cameras by Greg Bedore
- Stephen Gandy's Notes on the Contessa 35 at Cameraquest website
- Hubert Nerwin at the Zeiss Historical Society (archived)
- Contessa 35 by Mike Eckman
- Nerwin Cameras at Zeiss Historica Society in the Wayback machine
- Zeiss Ikon Contessa user manual at Butkus.org
- Zeiss Ikon Contessa LKE user manual at Butkus.org
- Zeiss Ikon Contessamatic user manual at Butkus.org
- Zeiss Ikon Contessamat user manual at Butkus.org
- Zeiss Ikon Contessamat SE user manual at Butkus.org
- folding Contessa at Mike Eleks Cameras & Stuff
- selenium meter repair at Mike Eleks Cameras & Stuff
- Zeiss Ikon Contessa Pages at Pacific Rim Camera
at www.collection-appareils.com by Sylvain Halgand (in French)