I Bought a Zeiss Ikon Contina 1a

The moment I held this camera in my hands, I fell in love with it. Zeiss Ikon cameras were very well built. It feels great in the hands, and it fits in jacket pocket.

I had no interest in buying another 35mm film camera. Sometimes I just can’t say no to a classic camera. I found this Zeiss Ikon at a local thrift store for $37.00. I know that seems like a lot of money for a thrift store camera, but this camera is very clean. I brought it over to my local camera shop for Cody to take a look at. He happened to have a Zeiss Ikon leather case.

The Zeiss Ikon Contina 1a [model 526/24] was made between 1954—1958 in Germany.

The lens is a zone-focus Novar-Anastigmat 45mm 1:3.5 lens. I have had a hard time finding any details on this lens. It’s pretty sharp, not very contrasty. It doesn’t have a rangefinder, but it has a top mount viewfinder. There is also no meter in this model. The camera is not too heav, just over 1 pound (500g). The aperture and shutter speed are linked together on the lens barrel, and there are EV markings on the barrel as well. If your meter displays EV, then dialing in exposure is easy. The aperture ring is close to the body and to unlock that ring you have to push in the metal tab and the ring moves smoothly. Line up the EV number with and it’s pretty quick. Then you can adjust to the desired shutter speed on the outside ring and the aperture changes with the shutter speed. It works same way as the older silver Hasselbad lenses.

Who is this camera for?

I would say this camera is for someone that just loves simple, functional cameras, and doesn’t mind doing the thinking for the camera. This camera and others of its type, like the Rollei 35 are for people that don’t mind planning ahead when doing street photography and casual photo walks. These types cameras are fun, quirky, but they take a bit of work.

I think this a fine street camera, but the shutter speed tops out at 1/300. This is a consideration when choosing film stock. I know it’s a thing, some street photographers want to shoot HP5+ rated at ei 1600. That could be an issue when going out on sunny day with this camera. On a bright and sunny day your exposure could be 1/1500 sec and f16 aperture. That wouldn’t work with these old Zeiss Ikons, or even the Rollei 35. Leaf shutters on 35mm cameras typically top out at 1/500 and these older cameras 1/200 is quite common.

Final thoughts

I think the key to being successful with these cameras, be patient and plan ahead. This is a fine machine, but you have to remember these are old cameras and they will eventually need servicing. My camera drags on the slow shutter speeds, but the faster ones work just fine. These old gems are fine street cameras because no one gives them a second look. So you’ll usually not get any dirty looks when shooting on the streets, but be prepared to have people ask you about it. If you’re like me, you won’t mind too much.

I found another great blog post by kevinallan about this camera when I was doing research. https://filmphotography.blog/2013/01/20/camera-zeiss-ikon-contina-1a/

Tom Chamberlain

Photographer, videographer, and lover of all things analog.

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