Zeiss Ikon Contax Camera Repair

A home for your Zeiss Ikon Contax, Contarex or Super Ikonta camera!

The Zeiss Icon Black Hole Years 1945 -1950

The years starting right at the end of World War II up to the first postwar Berlin Photokina in 1950 are somewhat of a mystery. Germany was in chaos and people were starving right at the end of the war. The Zeiss Icon Dresden factory where the Contax II and III were made had been obliterated. The legal system was still being reestablished as late as 1951. It was a difficult time and there are no records which can paint the entire picture because the russians were busy also and they are a big part of the picture.

I have seen enough lenses and cameras from the 1946 to 1950 time period to be able today to piece together what I believe to be the actual picture of what was happening. There's no doubt that some will disagree with me. What is being expressed here is my opinion and not an invitation to an argument. I'm far too busy fixing these cameras to be able to afford to spend the time in debates so if you don't like what you are going to read here just keep it to yourself.

I have seen Zeiss made 50mm 1.5 Sonnar lenses in Contax rangefinder mount which were made in late 1945 and they are just dreadfully made. It is obvious the drills and other machine tools used to make the mechanical parts had not been sharpened in a long time. These lenses speak for themselves and say they were made under the most dreadful conditions. There is absolutely no way that a Contax II or III shutter that works could have been made under such circumstances, the parts surface finish requirements are just too high and parts to these specifications could not be made.

I have heard from people who were at the Zeiss factory in Jena at the end of the war that sometime in late 1946 the russians compelled the technicians there to make a complete set of dies, jigs and tools for the manufacturing of the Contax II and III camera bodies. The German Zeiss technicians were then required to use these to make a number of cameras to demonstrate that they worked. Then these, along with the entire stock of spare parts were taken to russia.

I believe the russians intended to take the Contax brand as a prize of war and to manufacture Contax cameras and sell them to the world. Before the war the Contax camera was a good source of hard currency to Germany and there is no doubt the russians believed it could do this for them after the war. I have seen Contax cameras which contain both russian and German parts. When the russians ran out of the original German vegetable tanned leather they switched to oil tanned leather. When they ran out of German shellac based glue they switched to russian made rubber cement. A Contax shutter has a leather strip on the lower film roller. If this strip is vegetable tanned, but glued in place with rubber cement, the shutter was made in russia after the shellac glue had run out.

My opinion is that being good smart people the Zeiss people at Jena had done like other good Germans were doing at the end of the war and were hiding valuable assets to be used in better time. I am certain that the Jena people had all the tools, jigs and dies necessary to quickly restart Contax II and III production well hidden where the russians could not find them. They also did another very clever thing. The tools, jigs and dies which were made for the russians to use to produce the Contax shutter were made to produce a shutter with a lot of problems and with a single design change which would allow it to be instantly identified.

The German made Contax shutter had a number of very important improvements incorporated into it during its production span. These changes were all made to prevent major problems. The early russian made Contax shutters all contain each and every design defect that had been corrected previously in the German made shutters.

We know that Zeiss Jena made a small production run of Contax II and III cameras to be shown at the 1950 Photokina. This means simply that both the russians and the Germans at Jena were making Contaxes at the same time. The trick is that both the Germans and the russians were using the same serial numbers. I have seen both russian and German Jena Contaxes with very close serial numbers. In the German made cameras the Germans very cleverly labeled their cameras to be German. This marking is located on the underside of the upper plate of the rangefinder module. You have to look for it to see it and you have to want to see it to find it. And it's a lot of work to get to it. It's hidden about as well as it can be hidden. It's a real simple mark and its, "GERMANY". So there are russian made Contax II's, secretly made Jena Contax II's and Photokina Contax II's circulating in the world and many of them have the same serial numbers.

I have just overhauled a beautiful Contax II from russia. It has a German body, German leather attached with German glue. From the outside it looks German. It contains a very early russian made shutter that is about the same quality as a German made shutter. It has all of the 1936 model German shutter problem characteristics except that it has two improvement modifications made by the russians which have been carried in the kiev shutter up until this time. It's lower shutter roller has german leather attached with German glue. The russians obviously wanted the Contax name badly and were willing and able to make German quality Contaxes when they wanted to. It's too bad they decided to trash the design when the name changed to kiev.

The jig was up for the russians in 1949, but it took a while for things to sink in. In 1949 the Zeiss Opton company was formed in the American Zone of Germany. Also, the 1950 announcement of the Contax IIa from Stuttgart killed the market value of the older Contax II and III. The last nail in the russian made Contax labeled coffin was Zeiss Opton obtaining the legal right of ownership to the Contax, Zeiss Icon and Carl Zeiss trademarks. This legal victory explains the so called "no name" Contax.

This is a copy of the earliest public American announcement of the Contax IIa camera. Read it carefully, examine it carefully and many questions will be answered.

IIa advertisement

Notice the camera is shown with the Jena Sonnar 50mm f1.5 lens. I've heard that only about 32 of these were made.


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