Zeiss Ikon Contessa 35 – 1951

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This 64 year old Zeiss Ikon Contessa 35 takes styling directly from its bigger brother – the Super Ikonta B.

It’s a gem of folder – small and compact (120x80x48mm) but heavy at 600g – almost the weight of a late Super Ikonta 6×6.

The Zeiss Ikon Contessa 35 was one of the last 35mm folders made in Stuttgart – Germany between 1950 and 1955, while later versions dropped the bellows in favour of a fixed lens.

The build quality is “top shelf” Zeiss Ikon. Satin chrome over brass shells with black Moroccan leather trim. This highly over engineered camera with sublime attention to detail is probably better made than many cameras of today. It really does feel like a well balanced solid chunk of metal in your hands.

The lens is a T coated Zeiss Opton Tessar 45mm f/2.8 mounted in a Compur Rapid shutter.

This one arrived in fairly good condition. The shutter was sticking below 1/10s and the rangefinder was fogged. To my surprise the light meter still worked, albeit slightly adrift.

After an initial clean, I thought about leaving the shutter as-is, since it meant decoupling the rotating prism rangefinder and disassembling the lens, not a simple task!

I left it for a day or two and thought, no, I’m going to fix it.

The lens and rangefinder was dissected and the shutter removed and cleaned in Naptha.

The main problem with these early Compur shutters is lack of lubrication. The slow escapement dries out and all sub 1/10s speeds stick.

I sparingly lubricated the shutter’s pivots and bearing points with Meobius oil and it now fires like new!.

The rear lens element showed early signs of fungus and even after a very light and careful clean it revealed some peripheral coating loss.

The biggest challenge was re-assembly. One has to first align the rangefinder’s rotating prisms to infinity (and retain), then use a ground glass focus screen mounted on the film plane to set the front element helical to infinity, while recouping all components in sync – this is extremely fiddly.

After a few attempts, I decided to “bring infinity indoors” using a digital camera and telephoto lens to shoot straight down the Tessar lens, set to focus at infinity on the film plane. This not only allowed precise adjustment of the Tessar helical but enabled viewing (on the digital cameras screen) while fumbling with re-assembly.

I now feel a little more confident to tackle an old Super Ikonta B.

Operating the camera is relatively simple, the film loads right to left and winding is done on the bottom left. The cleverly designed ever-ready case also has a coupled winder.

The camera has a double exposure lock and the shutter won’t fire unless there’s a film running over two transport gears. Although this can be tricked by rotating them manually during wind on.

The only negative I have found is the view finder, it’s a little small and doesn’t work well for spectacle wearers.

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