The Zeiss Ikon Contina IIa

When I first stumbled across this camera, it was part of a group of items strewn across several tables in a collector’s garage.  I left with this camera and a Canon FD mirror lens which was my first experience with fungus.  It took me a little while to figure out exactly what this camera was, but it took me almost two years to actually shoot a roll of film through it.

It was manufactured in West Germany around 1958, and this was not a cheap camera.  John Margetts’ Blog has a lot of detail on the camera, including a note that it would have cost the equivalent of over $3,200 in today’s money!  Considering that many of the best digital cameras cost that much today, maybe that wasn’t out of line for the Contina IIa.  It’s nearly 60 years old, and it still works. Will we be able to say that about the Nikon D3S in the year 2075?

I honestly didn’t expect it to work, which is probably part of why i delayed.  While I’m still impressed by the fact that the built in meter appeared to work, I just didn’t have a lot of faith that the images would be worthwhile.  Then there’s the whole idea of focusing by distance – it’s not an SLR.  So you have to think just a little more.  “Hmmm…that looks like about 6 feet, so I’ll turn the front dial to 6.  At least the shutter speed and f-stop are right here too on their own ring around the lens, so i can see it all while I’m fiddling around….”


A few of the images were exactly what I expected:

But in all honesty, the rest of the photos were the final straw in my decision to sell all my Canon FD equipment.  When I saw pictures like this:

Zeiss Ikon-6

and this one:

Zeiss Ikon-11

I figured why in the world do I need to keep my other old cameras?  I just don’t love the way pictures looked with the Canon FD’s.  The great shots were great.  The others just had what I consider “the 70’s look” to them.  And I’m really starting to understand that many people must make a connection to the aesthetic a particular camera and system produces. And it makes sense.  The easiest way to get a vintage look and feel?  Shoot on vintage gear.

One of the justifications I had been using to keep at least one or two Canon FD bodies and some lenses was “what if I shoot infra-red film?  My Maxxum won’t do that; the LED sensor for the film will fog the infra-red film.”   First of all, who am I kidding?  While it’s possible, it’s hardly a good reason.  And this camera can do it if I want.  So all the FD bodies have found new homes, except the FTb – which found a home and the guy decided it just wasn’t for him, so we’ll try again.

Ultimately, it came down to the feeling of shooting this camera.  Part of it may be the fact that I no longer feel like every shot is costing me $1 or more, so i can just relax and have fun.  Some might call it a waste of film, but just being able to shoot and not worry about the cost of developing has been liberating in a way.  I’m willing to try crazy angles, over and under exposing, and just take pictures a little more often.  Most of them have been around the house, but my dog’s are semi-willing subjects.  So this will be another post of flowers and dogs, but that’s my life when it’s 90 degrees and humid….

There’s also the conversational aspect.   People ask me about the Contina.  My neighbor even asked to give it a try.  It looks old, but it feels great.  It’s solid, but it fits the hand well.  It doesn’t look like a modern camera at all, but it gives pretty good results.  The film was Fuji Superia 200.  I bought it in 2014, and it’s been in my “film closet” where I store my gear for most of the time.  The camera sat on my desk beside a wall of glass for quite a while too in late 2014 and early 2015, which might explain the light leaks on early shots.  I wonder what Portra or HP5+ would look like in this camera?

Will i shoot with the camera all the time?  No.  I’m so enamored with the new Maxxum 7’s I acquired that I expect I’ll use them most often.  But as a camera to take snap shots, or to take “just in case”?   When I want a camera that is as much about fun, conversations, and interacting with others?  Absolutely.   The photos are very nice, and more pleasing to my eye on average than the results from the FD lenses.

If you would have told me the act of eventually buying my AE-1 Program that I had fantasized about as a child would lead me to shooting cameras from the 1950’s and earlier, owning multiple medium format cameras (I didn’t even know what medium format was!), and also owning a couple of arguably the most advanced consumer SLR’s made, I wouldn’t have believed you.  If you add to that the idea that I would have amassed a large collection of lenses for the AE-1 and then decided to sell them all because I liked other cameras better, I would have thought you were crazy.  Especially after I had been using it a few months.

But tastes change.   As we learn more, we have a different decision-making paradigm.  Most of those cameras were not going to get any use, so they were just adding to the clutter.  Selling them has funded my Maxxum 7’s, lenses, and some developing chemicals, and also created more space.  It’s also been somewhat freeing.  My wife no longer suspects i have a camera addiction, and I feel like I’m growing, or at least learning to look at my photography differently.  I wish the old gear would have had significant value, but they don’t.  I didn’t pay a lot for any of them, but that’s part of why I shoot film.  The gear is inexpensive.   But the memories and the feelings the pictures evoke are priceless.







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