Whilst researching this camera, I found that there are so many variations of the Zeiss Ikon Contina, that it is not possible to guarantee exactly which version is being reviewed here. However, this appears to me to be a Zeiss Ikon Contina Ib (or 1b), from around 1956. Intriguingly, from what I can work out from some sources, the fact that it doesn’t display the model name ‘Ib’ anywhere on the body of the camera, is one of the identifying signs that this is what it is.
Like other 35mm compact film cameras of this era, such as the Voigtlander Vito B, the point and shoot camera definition is being applied to this vintage camera due to its simplicity (for the period) and non-professional target audience. Professional photographers would more likely have been using rangefinder cameras, from companies such as Leica (or perhaps early SLRs). Like the Voigtlander Vito B, this camera isn’t retro, it’s the real deal.
Technical specifications for the Zeiss Ikon Contina 1b
“The film winding lever and shutter release button mechanism on the Zeiss Ikon Contina 1b are a beautiful feat of design and engineering”.Unlike rangefinder, or SLR cameras, the Zeiss Ikon Contina Ib is a viewfinder camera, which means that it doesn’t have a focusing system and the viewfinder is used only to approximately frame the scene being photographed. The lack of built in focussing means that the distance to the subject needs to be guessed, or manually measured. Indeed, nearly every aspect of this camera requires manual setting and there is, unsurprisingly, no light meter.
This particular Zeiss Ikon Contina Ib has a ƒ2.8 45mm Novicar-Anastigmat lens, with the shutter speed going up to 300. There is also a hot shoe for an external flash attachment. The focussing dial is on the front of the lens and appears to be marked in meters, as well as feet and indicates that the focus ranges from around 1 meter, to 10 meters and then to infinity. The front of the lens has a filter thread (mine came with a yellow filter attached, itself containing a further filter thread).
Using the Zeiss Ikon Contina 1b
The Zeiss Ikon Contina Ib is a small camera, although probably not as compact as the Voigtländer Vito B, and it has more ‘corners’. The metal plate on the front of the camera makes it looks like it ought to be a folding camera, but it’s actually rigid-bodied.
The controls on the Zeiss Ikon Contina Ib are wonderful to use, in my opinion. Although, coming from a 21st century perspective, they are somewhat counter intuitive. For example, the shutter speed dial and the aperture dial move together, by default. Which, I suppose, is a form of ‘automation’ in the sense that increasing the shutter speed, automatically lowers the aperture setting and visa-versa. This can be overridden by pressing a small button, which allows the photographer to move the aperture dial independently. Once this is done, the dials move in unison again, using the new settings.
The film winding lever and shutter release button mechanism is my favourite, as they are actually built together into a mechanism which also includes the cable release socket and a film counter (which has to be set manually). A beautiful feat of design and engineering in my opinion. The film winder moves smoothly and the shutter button is large and just as silky smooth. The film rewind button is nice and large also, with a rewind release button on the bottom of the camera, which also features a tripod socket.