Contax IIa -- in retrospective

Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by troll, May 6, 2016.

  1. I LOVE my Contax IIa -- IMO the most beautiful camera ever produced.
    But I wonder if, in retrospect, it should be considered the ultimate advancement of the Contax line, or was it really just a stripped-down and cheapened version of the glorious 1936 Contax II?
  2. Rangefinder optics-wise, I would agree. Shutter-wise, both have their issues.
  3. I do not own a Contax II, not least because of the notorious difficulty in making sure that the camera is one that has not been "reanimated" with Kiev parts.
    However, I do own a bunch of Kievs, which for practical purposes are "Zeiss Kiev" Contax IIs. The best of my Kievs has actually been 'restored' into a lovely black Contax II by Ukrainian craftsman. They all work well, but the latter especially so.
    I also have a nice Contax IIa from Zeiss Stuttgart ( ). It, not the prewar II, has been characterized by some as the best cameras ever. One site ( ) details the improvements made over the pre-war model. For example, I personally find the reduced span of the rangefinder on the IIa to be a small price for not having your pinkie over the rangefinder window all the time. My Kiev shutters work fine, but the reliability of the original Zeiss Ikon Contax II shutter has been 'discussed' frequently.
    In any case, describing the iia as "stripped down and cheapened" is not at all fair or true.
  4. AJG


    In my experience, the rangefinder in the IIa/IIIa is certainly adequate for focusing the 85 f/2 and the 135 f/4 Sonnars as well as a 105 f/2.5 RF Nikkor (made for Contax) wide open, and JDM's point about fingers over the rangefinder window on the II is well taken. I haven't tried either of the 180 mm lenses that Zeiss made for the II/III, so the longer base length might have been essential for those lenses. As for over all quality, the IIa/IIIa models certainly have better chrome plating than the II/III cameras and seem to be just as well made to my eye.
  5. So between yesterday and today- I've done some repair work on a Kiev III- the RF was WAY-WAY off, fixed by removing
    helical and resetting to correct the range-scale with the rangefinder; Contax III- very foggy VF/RF; Contax II- replaced the
    exposure counter which worked, but could not be manually set- with one from a Kiev 4 (The two parts are identical, later
    repaired the stuck original dial); Contax IIa- foggy viewfinder; and Contax IIIa- stuck shutter... How did I get eight Contax cameras??? Okay- Ebay BIN on "busted camera" with Sonnar at great prices, convert the Sonnar to Leica mount then get the camera reapired cause I cannot stand to see them busted.

    I do not think that the IIa/IIIa is a cheapened II/III. Same build quality, some factors of the IIa/IIIa make it easier to work
    on. BUT NOT easier to remove the front plate- can be done on the older cameras and Kiev without removing the top plate.
    On the newer ones- the top plate is easier t get off, but you HAVE to take it off to get at 2 of the screws holding the
    nameplate down. "what were they thinking...". Nikon Rangefinders are much easier to work on.
  6. The IIA is exquisite to just wind and fire, which I do at least a couple times a month for several minutes, along with the
    variable self-timer, to keep everything in good working shape.
  7. Interesting post. I just found some EK 800 Gold 24 exp hiding in the back of the freezer. It's been a year since I've run any film through my 1963 "No Name" Kiev so I loaded it up to shoot over the lunch hour. The rangefinder is just so easy to use with either the Zeiss f2.0 50 Sonnar or the 1.4 Nikkor S-C 50. Luckily I have small hands so I avoid "rangefinder window finger" without a problem. I'll be trying it both with and without the lens hood.
  8. I have two Contax IIa rangefinder cameras, both with clean Zeiss Sonnar F2 lens and smooth shutters. One with selenium exposure meter

    These more than seventy years old camera still works so well, amazing German engineering
  9. If you have one with a meter, then that one is a IIIa, not IIa...
  10. Thank you Greg, so I have a Contax IIIa, one Contax IIa

    When I bought these two cameras, they had no lens cap

    I tried my spare Leica 42mm lens caps on them, and fits perfectly
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2021
  11. I use my IIa quite a lot and love my 30s Sonnar 5cm/2. It originally had problems with the top 1/1250 shutter speed. The shutter was becoming apparent in the photos, with a look of someone peering through a gap in Venetian blinds. I had it fixed and it gave me trouble-free use for a couple more years. Unfortunately, the problem returned on my last outing with the camera. I believe it's a matter of adjusting the shutter tension, but perhaps I'll leave it as is and shoot not faster than 1/500. My Contax III on the other hand works fine at 1/1250, even the photometry is usable, but has a light leak....
  12. My thoughts are that the IIa was not further developed because the Zeiss Foundation decided to abandon consumer cameras and photography. Zeiss-Ikon was originally established to rescue the German camera industry during a period of inflation and economic depression. The foundation was established by Prof Abbe, descendants of Carl Zeiss, and Mr. Schott to advance the science of optics. Since German patents were no longer valid after WWII, and Japanese competition in cameras and lenses (many based on Zeiss patents) Zeiss decided to withdraw from the market. The last hurrah was the Contarex. Zeiss remains huge in optical research and digital microscopes, as well as medical technology. Because of our fondness for cameras we sometimes miss the big picture.
    While the Contax IIa retained a vertical slatted shutter, the design differed from the earlier II in operation and reliability.
    Keep in mind that Zeiss established the 8 hour working day, paid vacation, etc.
  13. There was the Icarex camera, developed from a Voigtlander design, produced from 1966. East German Zeiss also produced cameras until they were merged with KW, and their designs influenced the Prakticas produced by the various successor companies.
  14. AJG


    Let's not forget the many thousands of Contaflex cameras made and sold in the 1950's and 60's. I suspect that had Zeiss had more success selling rangefinder cameras in the 1950's there might have been an upgraded Contax, but by the end of that decade it was quite clear that the market had turned to SLRs from RFs.
  15. By the end of the Contax A series in the early 60's, Zeiss saw the writing on the wall for rangefinders and was full-on into the SLR/Contarex system just like Nikon was in dropping the SP line for the F. It was another decade before Zeiss completely exited the camera-making market. Zeiss even purchased Voigtlander later in the 60's but it did little to help their fortunes.

Share This Page