Contax I

Zeiss Ikon AG

Contax cameras were 35mm cameras manufactured by Zeiss Ikon AG. The Contax I was advertised as a versatile camera with interchangeable lens options as well as other camera accessories in order to appeal to professional and amateur photographers alike (Pritchard 2014). The Contax I camera was introduced in 1932 and its subsequent incarnations, the Contax II and III, in 1936 (“The History of Contax”).

Despite its tough construction, the Contax I’s back completely removed, allowing for easy film loading. The Contax I used interchangeable Zeiss lenses, designed by Ludwig Bertele. Bertele’s lenses reduced the number of air-to-glass surfaces, ensuring that light was brought through the lens to the film with fewer obstacles. This innovation allowed for fewer imperfections from lens to film, creating more realistic photographs. Further, the Zeiss lenses were coupled with a rangefinder with a 100mm base—the longest ever at the time—for accurate focus. By the end of the camera’s production, there were twelve Contax I lenses. The shutter of the Contax I was made of metal blinds, which moved vertically, rather than horizontally. Shutter speeds ranged from 1/25-1/1000 of a second and could be set by a dial, which advanced the capture of movement. However, despite its speed and durability, the Contax I became notorious for the shutter’s tendency to jam (“The History of Contax”; Pritchard 2014).

Contax cameras had a durable, all-metal construction and were heavier than competing Leica cameras. This durability allowed for photojournalists to go where they never had before, including Robert Capa’s presence on Omaha Beach on D-Day, which produced some of the most iconic photographs of World War II such as "The Face in the Surf" (Fig. 2)(Pritchard 2014; Manning and Wyatt 2011). Capa’s motto was, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough,” and cameras like the Contax I allowed for close proximity between action and photographers (Holsinger 1999).


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Pritchard, Michael. A History of Photography in 50 Cameras. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2014. Print.

War and American Popular Culture: A Historical Encyclopedia. Ed. M. Paul Holsinger. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1999.

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