Earlier this week, I posted my take on the Zeiss-Ikon Contarex “Bullseye”. Feedback to that article has been very good with most people who’ve handled it before, agreed with my assessment that while it was a pretty camera with an amazing Rube-Goldberg-like complexity, it wasn’t a very good user.
Sometimes, when we have decades of experience to look back upon, our opinions of a device, whether it’s a camera or anything else, can change. So for this week’s Keppler’s Vault, I thought it would be interesting to immediately follow up my Contarex review from 2019 with two reviews written decades before.
The first is from the Dec/Jan 1962 issue of Camera 35, and came out barely two years after the Contarex first became available to photographers. By that time, the initial excitement over the camera was over and the people who were fortunate (maybe even crazy) enough to buy it, could reveal it’s strengths and weaknesses. It’s also worth noting that by 1962, the Nikon F had already been on the market for 2 years as well, competing for nearly the same market as the Contarex.
One thing in this article that I found incredibly fascinating which I hadn’t read about anywhere else, even the camera’s manual, is that the Contarex automatically compensates exposure at close focusing distances. This is only mentioned in one paragraph on the first page and does not explain exactly how this works, or what is even considered “close focusing distances”. Does it mean at the minimum 12 inch distance of the 50mm Planar, or with some optional macro attachment. I was not able to witness this feature myself, but I’ll have to do more exploration to determine if this is really true, or some critical error on the part of author Arthur Kramer.
Other compliments echoed mine with the action and location of the aperture wheel, the smoothness and precision of the lens mount, and the quality of the lenses available. Very little is said about the focusing screen which I am still on the fence about.
The rest of the article talks about a variety of lenses that the reviewer had access to and near the end mentions the optional magazine back and the availability of the meterless Contarex Special. I won’t ruin any surprises for you regarding what Kramer ultimately thinks of the camera, so you’ll just have to read it for yourself.
The second article is from the May 1979 issue of Modern Photography and is part of Jason Schneider’s “Camera Collector” column in which Schneider looks back at collectable cameras.
Having the benefit of time on his site, Schneider’s take on the Contarex is more in line with the opinions of collectors today, but at a time when the Conatrex wasn’t quite collectable.
He mentions at one part in the article that until recently, the Contarex was seen by photo dealers as unsaleable turkeys, suggesting these things sat languishing on store shelves with discount prices that would make today’s eBay prices seem ludicrous.
References in the article to the later Contarex Model D and even the Hologon Ultrawide suggest that he based his opinion on the entire family of Contarex cameras, and not just one single model.
I find it very interesting to see these kinds of retrospective articles reminiscing on old cameras that at the time were barely 20 years old, when here I am doing the same thing in 2019. Considering this article from 1979 is closer in time to when the Contarex was actually made than today, this is a retrospective look back at a retrospective look back!
All scans used with permission by Marc Bergman, 2019.