Being good at guessing how far away things are is a mighty useful skill when you’re a camera collector and a cheapskate like me. A vintage camera with a rangefinder, which takes the guesswork out of focusing, always costs more than the same camera without a rangefinder. Sometimes a lot more. Not having to guess your subject’s distance is apparently worth a lot to collectors.
Zeiss Ikon is one of those names that makes camera collectors go weak in the knees and part with large sums of money. Those sums seem large to me, anyway, given that the most I will pay for a camera is $50. Zeiss Ikon’s optics are said to be worth tall stacks of bills, and so of course I have long been curious. Hoping to catch a price break, I started looking for rangefinderless Zeiss Ikons – and almost immediately stumbled across this one.
Unbelievably, I was the only bidder. I got it for $10. Woot!
Zeiss Ikon produced a series of 35mm cameras with this basic body in the 1960s. This one, the Contessa LK, was made from 1963 to 1965. It is packed with good stuff. It features a highly regarded Carl Zeiss lens, a 50mm f/2.8 Tessar with, naturally, four elements in three groups. Its mechanical Pronto LK shutter operates from 1/15 to 1/500 second. Film speed can be set up to 800 ASA. The lens focus scale is in meters, from 1 to infinity. On the back is a big, bright viewfinder and a sweet single-throw winding lever.
This camera also boasts an uncoupled selenium light meter, returning information about light you can use to set aperture and shutter speed for a good exposure. Selenium meters have the advantage of requiring no battery, but the disadvantage of wearing out. I hear that selenium meters last a lot longer if they stay covered when not in use. My experience bears that out – among my cameras equipped with selenium meters, those that arrived inside a case or a bag still responded to light, and those that didn’t, didn’t. My Contessa LK came in a case.
Even though the Contessa LK’s light meter is uncoupled, it’s easy to set aperture and shutter speed for proper exposures. At right is the view through the viewfinder. The photo’s a little crude, but it’s a testament to the viewfinder’s size and brightness that this photo was possible at all. At top center is an oval with a notch at the top. The light meter is connected to the needle within. For correct exposure, it’s a simple matter of twisting the aperture and shutter speed dials on the lens barrel until the needle is nestled in the notch.
Another exposure indicator sits on top of the camera, next to the accessory shoe. Exposure is right when the needle rests between the two red triangles. I suppose this is useful when you shoot from the hip, as you might in street photography. Maybe I need to find the guts to go downtown and try it out! I can’t figure out why you’d need this otherwise.
When my sons and I traveled to Tennessee a few weeks ago I packed my Contessa LK and a couple rolls of film – one color (workaday Kodak 200), and one black and white (Fujifilm Neopan 100 Acros). It didn’t take long for me to get the hang of this camera. Except for focusing, I was able to do everything with the camera at my face – set exposure, snap the shot (the shutter button has a nice short throw), and even wind to the next frame.
This lens has character. This is my favorite photo. I love how you can count the rings in that first post.
It’s interesting to compare this photo of the bridge over Byrd Creek with a similar photo (see it here) that I took a few minutes later with my Canon PowerShot S95. The S95 captured much more vivid blues, but the Contessa LK really brings out the texture of the bridge’s stone face.
The shadows were crisp one morning.
Cumberland Mountain State Park boasts a restaurant. When the weather’s warmer, you can dine on the terrace.
As I researched this camera, I read a couple comments praising this lens’s warmth. I think that comes through in this shot – well, except at the bottom where it’s washed out. I’m impressed with the detail captured in the stone wall and in the chair’s woven seating surface.
Are you wondering why I haven’t shown you any of the shots from my black-and-white roll? I shot a 36-exposure roll of the Neopan 100 Acros, but rewinding was labored and difficult. About halfway through, the film tore apart. I discovered it when I opened the camera and fogged the film still wound around the takeup spool. I was depressed for the rest of the day!
Otherwise, I had a great time with my Contessa LK, and I’ll use it again one day soon. I’ll just stick with 24-exposure rolls of film.
Do you like old cameras? Then check out my entire collection!