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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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 responses to “Operation Thin the Herd: Zeiss Ikon Contessa LK”

  1. Dan James Avatar

    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.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The sharpness in the color shot was what made me realize this camera is a gem. I should try color in it again.

      1. Dan James Avatar

        Absolutely. Do you still have any Superia 100?

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I don’t think so. I think you gifted me just two rolls and I used them both. If there’s a third roll it’s in the bag with all that Agfa Vista 200 and it’s in the freezer. I’ll check.

          I’ve been shooting that Agfa Vista 200 at EI 100 lately and I like the look, btw. It tends toward the look of Fuji 100 at EI 100.

          1. Dan James Avatar

            How much Vista Plus 200 do you have left? Can you buy it in the US? It remains the film I’ve shot most with (in its three guises of APVP 200, Fuji C200 and TudorColor XLX200) and it could easily be the only colour film you ever need.

        2. Jim Grey Avatar

          I don’t know how much Vista Plus I have left offhand. Thing is, when it’s gone I can buy Fujicolor 200 at the big-box store across the street from my subdivision, so I’m good. Until, at least, Fujifilm at last gets out of the rollfilm business. Then, as I said in an earlier post, I’m switching to Kodak Gold 200. I wonder how it performs at EI 100.

          1. Dan James Avatar

            I’m pretty sure I read that the reason we can’t get AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 anymore over here in Poundland is because Fuji have stopped making the original emulsion, ie C200. So if you like it enough I would suggest stocking up while you can with the C200.

        3. Jim Grey Avatar

          AV200 is gone, not just at Poundland but everywhere.

          It’s just rumor at this point that C200 is gone too, that Fuji are just selling off stocks. But it’s a plausible rumor. When that happens, I’m switching to Kodak Gold 200. It’s a little more expensive within the same general price class, and it’s fine.

          1. Dan James Avatar

            Kodak Gold 200 I’ve tried a few times and not loved it. Color Plus 200 however, which is their cheapest colour film, I really do like! Might be worth trying a couple rolls (though I would imagine you’ve already tried it at some point).

        4. Jim Grey Avatar

          Color Plus is not readily available here. I can order it from B&H but I can’t buy it at the store, like I can Gold. I’ve read that Color Plus is aimed at European markets.

          1. Dan James Avatar

            Oh so is there a budget equivalent in the US? Or is Gold the cheapest? Do you have the ProImage / ProFoto 100 film there?

            1. Jim Grey Avatar

              Not on store shelves. Gold is the cheapest that is readily available.

  2. DougD Avatar

    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..

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      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.

  3. Ron Avatar

    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.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      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.

  4. bodegabayf2 Avatar

    There are always a few stand out features of a camera that make me want to hang on to it long term. Are there a stand outs on this camera for you?

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      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.

  5. Mike Connealy Avatar

    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.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      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.

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