Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK

Dad and Sons

Margaret and I met my sons for dinner during their recent Spring Break. She photographed us with my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK, a viewfinder camera with a coupled selenium light meter. Before I handed it to her I matched the needle to set exposure, using an aperture narrow enough that it wouldn’t matter whether I guessed distance wrong.

Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK

It performed, of course, delivering good sharpness, contrast, and detail even on this overcast day. That’s the goodness inherent in a Tessar lens! This camera was my first experience with a Tessar. I first shot seven years ago when my sons and I spent our Spring Break in a cabin in the Tennessee woods. Here’s the fencepost in front of our cabin, on Fujicolor 200.

Fencepost

This time I spooled in some Ultrafine Extreme 100 and brought the Contessa along everywhere I went for a few weeks. That included my recent trip to Logansport for a Michigan Road board meeting. Margaret came along; here she is photographing the State Theater. I do love her long gray hair.

The State Theater

I’d never shot the Ultrafine film before and didn’t know what to expect. The seller is mum on who makes it, but Ilford is the most common guess I’ve found. Some even say it’s Kentmere 100. The last time I used this camera I shot the Kentmere in it (as you saw in yesterday’s post). The results look similar.

Welcome to Logansport

The Contessa was a lovely, willing companion when I took it for a walk along Meridian Street in Indianapolis. If you’ve never walked or driven our Meridian Street, put it on your list: it is lined with stunning homes. I’ll share more photos from that walk in an upcoming post.

Steps

I also took the Contessa to the places I usually go. I keep thinking I’m going to find a new, more interesting angle on my church, but I seem never to.

WPCC

Some views always work photographically, and I suppose it’s no sin to keep revisiting them.

WPCC

I’m not blown away by this film — it’s fine, but not fantastic. But the Contessa brought feelings of delight every time I composed, exposed, and pressed the shutter button. I even liked the winder’s long-travel action. Everything about this camera is light and easy, yet still solid and sure.

WPCC

I drive past a nearly derelict mall on the way home from church. This used to be its Sears Auto Center. I remember when Sears closed here. I bought a ton of stuff cheap at their closeout sale. I also remember when this mall was bustling and vital. When I started my career I drove to it all the way from Terre Haute to buy a young careerman’s wardrobe in one of its men’s stores. Harry Levinson’s, I think. But that was almost 30 years ago. Times change.

Dead Sears Auto

To see more photos from this camera, check out my Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK gallery.

Its taken me most of a decade to figure out I should use a camera for what it does best. The Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK is brilliant at medium-distance group shots and does pretty well for landscapes and, if you back up enough, architectural work. The lens just adores black-and-white film. Its only flaw is that whenever I load a 36-exposure roll of film, it tears during rewinding. That’s kind of a bummer. But I always have 24-exposure rolls of film in the fridge. And this camera is just a pleasure to carry and shoot. It’s hard to say goodbye to a camera like that.

Verdict: Keep

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20 thoughts on “Operation Thin the Herd: Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK

  1. Jim, it must be satisfying when a camera delivers so much evidence to justify you keeping it, and it becomes easy to make the decision.

    I know you say it loves b/w but the sharpness of that fence post in the colour shot is fantastic. There’s a reason the Tessar design has been used for decades and decades, and why Zeiss made so many of them on various cameras and mounts.

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  2. DougD says:

    It’s a keeper! Is it an uncommonly narrow camera or a tall camera, it’s hard to tell from the one shot because there’s no context.

    Derelict mall, we don’t have those here. Not much of a market for derelicts, although our Sears Home store is sitting empty it’s not boarded up and still says Sears..

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    • This camera is of a design typical of its era. It’s on the tall side.

      Oh, come to the States and you’ll see derelict malls aplenty. We built malls by the dozen in the 70s but their era has passed.

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  3. Ron says:

    I’ve got the previous model, an early ’50’s folding Contessa, with a meter. Great lens, beautiful build quality. Back when Germany built the best stuff and damn the price-point.

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    • I wouldn’t mind trying a folding Contessa one day. I think this Contessa series is related only in name. That’s not to say this Contessa isn’t well built. It’s a lovely camera, really. I guess there’s a rangefinder version of this camera, too.

      Like

    • Mainly that I enjoy myself every time I use it. And it has a lovely lens; you can’t go wrong with a Tessar. And its design is compact enough, and its specs good enough, that I could take it on a road trip as my only camera if I wanted.

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  4. The Tessar really was an amazing milestone in lens design. The last ones like yours had improved anti-reflective coatings and were a stop faster in the post-war years, but even the earliest ones provided wonderful edge-to-edge sharpness. The Tessar on my 1917 Kodak has made some of my best pictures.

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    • My experience with Tessar lenses is that they remain very good performers for general work today. I could do all of my road-trip and built-environment work with this camera, for example, for a year and except perhaps for occasionally wishing the lens were a little wider, I would never regret it.

      I wonder what allowed the later Tessars to gain that stop of exposure.

      Like

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