Zeiss Contarex Bullseye Focusing Frustration

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by jtayloreckstein, Feb 4, 2008.

  1. My father has gotten into the habit of giving me old Zeiss cameras over the
    years, and I have managed to accumulate quite a few lenses, accessories, etc.
    Most of the cameras have been serviced.

    I was given a Zeiss Contarex Bullseye for Christmas. I had read many great
    things about the camera that now in hindsight seems to be heavily influenced by

    I must admit, this camera has an amazing amount of potential. I don't mind the
    fact that there is no aperture ring on the lens or the lack of information
    displayed in the screen. Or the fact that the camera prevents you from using
    certain shutter speeds (can't use a shutter slower than 1/125 on ISO 1300,
    defeating the purpose of low light photography).

    I can look past all of this and just deal. For a vintage camera, I have found
    that in all it's crazy gears and magic calculations, the meter is reasonable for
    C-41 film, and for B&W, is more than adequate. I enjoy a camera with good glass
    where I can shoot in daylight without a handheld meter. I use older emulsion
    films to get that gritty dreamy look.

    However, I have heard similar complaints about focusing. The screen is almost
    too clear. The screen is bright, much brighter than my Contax (of course) and
    better than my Contaflex (screen is slightly larger... brighter).

    I am blind in one eye but I have good days and bad days in the other. I find my
    Contax rangefinder to be a breeze for focusing, my Contaflex SLR even (as the
    screen is somewhat different). Focusing on still objects is easy enough, but
    anything moving (my wife or my St. Bernard Charlemagne) to be difficult to do
    quickly. Leaves or branches can be dizzying. I find myself wanting to stop up to
    f/11 and just guess the distance sometimes.

    I have other manual focus cameras that have not presented this level of
    difficulty. Anyone familiar with the Contaflex will know what I mean.

    Any suggestions? I want to make sure I'm not missing out on sharpness or the
    legendary Planar.

    Bonifaz Eckstein
  2. "I have other manual focus cameras that have not presented this level of difficulty. Anyone familiar with the Contaflex will know what I mean."
    Correction: Contarex
  3. I's not a bug, it's a feature. In the beginning, there were no high speed lenses for the Contarex (the first 35mm wideangle and 135 mm telephoto lenses were no faster than f4,0), so they used a clear screen to get a very bright image in the finder with these lenses, the downside being that you could only use the split-image prism and the prism-ring in the middle of the screen for focusing. DSLR manufacturers still do it today - just try to manually focus a Digital Rebel using the screen. Later Contarexes had interchangeable screens so you could also have a full focusing screen at the price of a much darker finder image.

    Zeiss wanted to sell Contarexes to those who had originally bougtht Contax RF cameras; those users were used to using only the middle of the finder image for focusing. Zeiss severely underestimated the importance of being able to use all of the screen. Same problem with the fist Leicaflex.
  4. Peter has it spot on, you have to use the split image to focus. Just slow it down and enjoy the engineering of the C-Rex.

    I might get your father to adopt me so I can enjoy all those Zeiss cameras coming to me as well!

  5. It's like the original Leicaflex, you have to use the center. Green with envy--
  6. Its not hard to use the center ring to focus, if theres a better 35mm slr around i havent seen it, never had an alpa but have had most of the other high quality ones, you cant beat the C-rex, and thats why they cost as much as they do, especially the lenses.
  7. You have to get used to the microprism ring focusing (or the divided image), which is actually very accurate.

    My old father also gave me his Contarex a few years ago; I was used to Pentax SLRs and it is a completely different beast.

    I fully agree that having speed limited by ISO is a most foolish idea. So I just have ISO permanently set to 5 and work the beast on manual.

    Those lenses are worth all the trouble. Which lenses do you have?
  8. I just mentioned my father because he considers the cameras heirlooms. It is very special, I am very appreciative.

    However, when he gave me the first one, he shattered my world. I had a Nikon N90s and a few nice prosumer lenses. I had never known the abilities of the rangefinder or glass that has what seems like, a personality of its own. That's my main frustration, I could have been happy just snapping away on an auto focus system with matrix metering and electronic shutters and TTL fill flash. But no, now I know the difference. I have to worry about separation and lens formulas, handheld meters, selenium cells, shutter accuracy...

    I posted a while ago about using a Contax and Contaflex on a photo outing and everyone freaked. Classic cameras tend to be viewed as unreliable and screwy. Sometimes I tend to agree.

    I've been working with the Contarex a little today. I have a bad tendency to assume that infinity is sharpest of the focal settings when I am focusing >10ft. I see it now that it's kind of an illusion that it's in focus. When the foreground is out of focus (focusing at infinity at an object 10 feet away), it appears different than when the background is out of focus (blurriness, focusing at 2 feet when the object is 10 feet away).

    So, practice... makes perfect.
  9. As for lenses, on the Contarex I only have the f/2.0 Planar.

    It's my Contax where I have some lenses that (I think) can really shine.
    50mm f/1.5 Sonnar (Post-war, coated)
    50mm Carl Zeiss Jena T Tessar (extremely sharp)
    35mm f/2.8 Biogon Opton T (amazingly sharp with beautiful colors)
    135mm f/4 Carl Zeiss Sonnar (Post-war)

    Maybe it's not as many as others, but to have these lenses on an older body always feels like a treat.
  10. Bonifaz Eckstein,

    Ignorance is bliss... just pointing and shooting in plastic Nikon heaven... Oh I'd just die (and go to heaven) for that Contax (IIa I assume..) with a complete assortment of lenses. A Biogon Opton musyt be the epitome of sharp-wide-classic 50's Zeiss!!
    I think your slip of Contaflex for Contarex is not really wrong. My 60's Contaflex (budget)Super B finder is the same! It ain't all that bright either or maybe it's just dirty!!
  11. Chuck,

    no reason to die. All the Contax (and Contarex) lenses mentioned were as good as it got the time they were made, but time hasn't stopped, neither has technology. The old lenses are nice shooters today, but none of them ist very sharp at the edges wide open; I know, I've tried them all. Your plastic Nikon will blow them away with ease. Yet, as a collector's prize, they are hardly surpassable, and it's fun to use them.

  12. I would have to agree about the older lenses and bodies. Modern cameras have brought the good (mostly) of the older lenses to the modern consumer. My time with my Nikon is well spent and often provides less frustration, more ease, and better shots.

    I'm still learning whether or not my older cameras have a permanent home in my shooting bullpen.

    Some of my best pictures were taken with a Quantaray 28-90 f/3.5-5.6. Vignetting, not always super sharp, but the contrast was spot on as were the subjects...
  13. I wish there was a more reliable/cheaper alternative to the Professional
  14. Bonifaz,
    First, please take good care of this camera. I have had mine for nearly 50 years. Works great!
    Do you have a copy of the owners booklet? You can find them on Ebay rather frequently; if you need my help, I will copy mine and mail it to you.
    I mention that because you should understand the linkage between the ASA setting and the light meter. I shoot mostly 100 speed film all the time at every aperature and speed. Check the manual if you have it, or I will send you the copy as offered.

    You may not have noticed, but the brightness of the viewfinder image is depedent on either the f/number setting or the status of the cocking mechanism. If the camera shutter is not cocked, and your f/ setting is smaller than f/2, the image will be much fainter. Cock the shutter, and the lens will remain at full aperture (f/2) until you take the picture.

    I don't have the best eyesight either, so I made a corrector lens that fits inside the rubber viewfinder eyepiece. That helped me a lot.

    I have copies of lens tests and statements by several people who test lenses; the one you have, some say, is the best regular lens ever made! (I don't want to get into a debate over this, but I sell lots of 24x36 landscape photos taken with the Contarex. When I tell people they were taken with a 35mm camera, they don't believe me.)

    FYI, I have several backs; so I can change from Velvia to Provia, Reala, to black & white. They are somewhat complicated, but for my purposes, I am glad to have them. I also have several lenses; the 85mm F/2 is incredibly sharp.

    Check out the things I have mentioned, and I think you won't have any more problems with the focusing/brightness issue, or the ISO and speed settings.

    I am one of those old timers; my kids will have to wait a while!!



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