This is a picture of the working area of a typical neighborhood 1950 camera store. You can see some very rare stereo goodies and cameras in the case if you download this picture and look close. Back then no one collected cameras. Just think of a visit to this little shop. A beautiful lady, wallets, cigars, cameras, film, processing chemicals and same day film developing: who could ask for anything more? These little stores are all now long gone and this little picture (about 1" x 2") is all that remains of those happy sweet days.
It was film processing that supported these stores and not camera sales. A single roll of film processed into 12 pictures had a nice fat 1200% profit margin. A camera store "gold mine" needed only about 50 rolls of film sent for processing a day to give the owner a very nice standard of living.
II remember well the old days of the late 1950's in a camera store. Back then it was normal to have a customer exchange a camera because it was defective. In those days there was absolutely no expectation that things would work well when they were brand new out of the box. Today we take the little gold inspection stamps that come on new Japanese made cameras for granted. But they were a fundamental part of the program that the Japanese used to destroy the German camera making industry. The Japanese were the first to implement a modern system of manufacturing quality control. The little gold stickers were invented to demonstrate that the camera had been through a rigorous inspection process to ensure that it would work. Prior to the invention of the gold stickers cameras in both Germany and Japan were assembled, put into the box and shipped to the customer without a single inspection of any kind. The Japanese did their homework and came to the conclusion that they could get increased market share if a high percentage of their cameras worked properly when they were new. We all know now that this strategy worked beyond their expectations and the German camera industry was destroyed by a system of quality control implemented by a group of Japanese competitors.
Many people who buy Contax cameras today did not live through those good old days and have grown up in a world that has embraced, improved and taken for granted the system of quality control the Japanese invented to take over the camera industry. Today we expect things to look good and work good right out of the box. The problem is that each and every Contax camera is a time capsule from those good old days before modern quality control. They are not going to change. If you are going to use a Contax you will have to change.
Zeiss made truly great lenses for the Contax line of cameras. The only way to use these lenses is to have a Zeiss camera to mount them on. This is where the problem comes. Even if a Contax camera could be made to be perfect it would still be 1950's technology in the case of the IIa or IIIa, or 1930's technology in the case of the I, II and III. This is another issue that clashes with modern expectations. Very few of us today have much practical experience with things from the 1950's much less things from before World War II. Back in those good old days every neighborhood had its local appliance repair, camera repair, automobile repair, shoe repair, and anything repair shops. These are all gone now. They have been undone by modern quality control producing products that work well for a long time.
So here's the long and the short of it. If you want to use Zeiss Contax lenses you will have to live with a Contax camera with all its wonderful peculiarities. If you have been using a Nikon F-5 and expect to compare the light meter readings it produces with the readings from your Contaflex TLR, III or IIIa light meter you are bound to be disappointed. If you intend to compare the performance of your highly refined tenth generation electronically controlled shutter performance with that of your Contax II, you are bound to be disappointed. There is nothing made today that when compared with a similar product from fifty years ago that will not demonstrate the many deficiencies of those things made in days long gone by.
The best thing to do if you intend to own a Contax and to use it is to accept and implement the standard advice that camera store salesmen in the 1950's used to give each person who bought a new camera. Here it is: take three exposures of each important subject and change the f stop setting 1/2 stop up and down from the meter recommended exposure for each exposure. This will produce photographic happiness.
If you like to use transparency film keep in mind that when the Contax I, II and III were designed there was no such thing. Be prepared to be happy with not every exposure being acceptable with narrow latitude film. At the time these cameras were designed there was actually no understanding on the part of film manufacturers as to how to control film speed. Film speed varied widely from batch to batch. Everyone then expected their negatives to show considerable variation in exposure quality. Development by inspection was a standard practice and anyone who was any good knew all about the chemical reduction and intensification of negatives. Today these things are mostly forgotten because camera shutters are electronically controlled and film speed is tightly controlled.
So if you want to use a Contax temper your expectations. Get ready to experience the good and the bad of the 1950's. Understand that the only reason to use a Contax is the greatness of the lenses Zeiss made then. These lenses are still great today and if you want to enjoy the pictures they produce you must take three exposures of each important subject, bracket your f stop settings, and be prepared for the occasional disappointment. This is what people who owned cameras in the 1950's and the 1930's did.
When I overhaul your Contax my goal is to do perfect work. And I take the time and care to ensure that each and every camera receives the same detailed attention and care. My goal is to ensure that your camera fulfills its full potential. But not all Contax cameras have the same potential. All of the holes in the Contax body and shutter were hand drilled by skilled artisans. Each is different. Some are better than others. All are hand made from top to bottom and inside to outside. They look like they are machine made and are all the same but this is not true. Each and every Contax camera is an individual that is different from each other. When you buy a Contax camera body you have to accept that even if everything is done right there will be no way to correct things if two critical holes happen to have been drilled a couple of a thousandths of an inch too far apart and the result of this is that 1/1000 speed is actually 1/2000 or 1/750.