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Roger Hicks -- Author of The Rangefinder Book

Roger Hicks is a well known photographic writer, author of The Rangefinder Book, over three dozen other photographic books, and a frequent contributor to Shutterbug and Amateur Photographer. Unusually in today's photographic world, most of his camera reviews are film cameras, especially rangefinders. See www.rogerandfrances.com for further background (Frances is his wife Frances Schultz, acknowledged darkroom addict and fellow Shutterbug contributor) .

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Why SLRs will never catch on
Old 04-27-2016   #1
Roger Hicks
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Why SLRs will never catch on

Or at least, why this one didn't: the Contaflex Super BC Flashmatic. Classic Rolls Royces have been called "the triumph of engineering over design" but even Zeiss engineering couldn't triumph over this one...

There's a review at http://rogerandfrances.eu/photography/basics-1-camera. Well, most of a review, anyway. The truth is that I gave up in disgust before I could ever get the wretched thing to work.


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Old 04-27-2016   #2
Pan Giannakis
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Reading the part of the review about the film loading - I have a very similar reaction to yours when i try to load film to my IIc Barnack. After a few failed attempts i am usually able to put it correctly. Once i am out and about, i tend to forget the ergonomic hiccups...
I would like to shot a film with a Zeiss SLR and see the results. But it is more out of curiosity rather really liking the design...

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Old 04-27-2016   #3
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It might just be me but shouldn't the title be a more precise "Why GERMAN, especially ZEISS SLRs never caught on"?

Beautiful camera btw.
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Old 04-27-2016   #4
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Excellent review. My 89 year old dad had (and still has) one of these, a beautiful chrome version, which took very sharp and colorful pictures and has a fantastically solid build quality. I never realized how complicated it was to load, as my dad never seemed to have any trouble. (Maybe because of his being a retired surgeon, with the great manual dexterity that goes along with that profession). However, when he offered it give it to me a few years ago, I couldn't figure out how to load the thing and my dad had forgotten (since he hadn't used it for about 20 years at that point). Reading your instructions, I have decided not to bother as it is simply too much trouble to load the camera. I should point out that another weakness of the camera is the flimsy plastic battery cover, which is completely out of place given the outstanding build quality of the rest of this machine. The battery cover is a push down type, but breaks easily, necessitating the use of tape to keep it closed on the front panel of the camera. I am going to keep the camera as a shelf queen.
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Old 04-27-2016   #5
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I have a near perfect one with the regular back, but I still haven't used it yet. This gives me some impetus to run a roll through it.
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Old 04-27-2016   #6
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As far as SLRs go I've always stuck with film Nikons myself, easy to use and never gave me any problems. I like rangefinders better (especially Leicas!) but I use SLRs for close focusing and with telephoto lenses.
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Old 04-27-2016   #7
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I still have the BC and use it from time to time. All functions are working fine and it takes sharp and delivers image with lifelike color..

I learned to load it years ago so that part is not a problem for me..

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Old 04-27-2016   #8
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I've owned and used a Contaflex I and IV. Wonderful cameras, if a bit loud. Zeiss sold a lot of them in the 50's.
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Old 04-27-2016   #9
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Thanks for the information and link. They are intriguing cameras.
They used to have one in a showcase at B&H Photo in NY City.

Bring back the latent image!
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Old 04-27-2016   #10
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As a former Contaflex owner, I was always interested in the dark slide backs - and am now happy I didn't get one. And it's a bit weird having the shutter just go black when you take the picture!

The really good bits of a Contaflex are not mentioned - perhaps because you didn't GET that far ;-)

1) The linked film settings, on the front. Does take some getting used to, but you set the lens base up for the aperture and shutter speed, and that then holds so that you then move the aperture lever and change the shutter speed as well. Fiddly in the first step, but works really nicely.

2) Flash. This is where the leaf shutter eats everything else for breakfast. Every speed works - shutter from 1 second to 1/500 second. Lovely.

When you stop to think about it, it's two cameras built into one - an SLR (so behind the lens mirrors) and an in-lens leaf shutter. Fixed and interchangable lenses. The long ones work surprisingly well, given the odd approach. The only trouble is having to correct the linked aperture - it doesn't "get" the long lenses.

Get a regular back for it and enjoy.
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Old 04-27-2016   #11
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My read is that the engineers ran the company, probably thought Leica was the competition till it was too late.

My gut tells me that my Father-In-Law has one on a shelf somewhere, though not black.

B2 (;->
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Old 04-27-2016   #12
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I guess you didn't like it. There were lots of crazy ideas back then, even the Japanese had some. But put it down to an evolutionary dead end. The final surviving species have been great.

But I'm with you, rangefinders are so much easier to use, especially when your eyesight requires glasses.
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Old 04-27-2016   #13
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Last year at a photo show I bought a Sears KS 500 (Ricoh KR5) with a standard 50 f2 for the princely sum of $5, even had a working meter battery. Only used it once so far but it is quite a delightful and simple SLR and sounds like it is light years ahead of the Contaflex. In the 70's the Germans should have all partnered up with some Japanese company or the other. I always thought the Leica/Minolta partnership benefited both. The CL is a neat little camera and the XE7 wind on/shutter charge is pure silk. Too bad such a great old name had to die out.
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Old 04-27-2016   #14
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Hi Roger,
Firstly, welcome back, you've not posted here for ages and have been missed, I hope you and Frances are both well.

A kind soul linked to your new website so I had actually read your review of the Super BC. I'm sorry you had so many problems with it but also, I confess, rather surprised. I use one often with my three magazine backs (I actually finished a roll of Velvia in one magazine only yesterday). And I've had almost no trouble with them, and no problems at all loading them. The only thing that has been an issue for me are the drive sockets that mesh with the take up fork inside the camera body. They're made of fairly hard plastic, but it seems I'm one of the few people to have used my magazines enough to wear the plastic socket, as a few months ago I had some issues with the advance slipping, and not winding on a full frame. I've "fixed" it for now by shimming the socket with a small piece of black electrical tape (it was what I had on me at the time) and it's worked so well I may not bother curing this fault. I have read that there can be problems with light leaks through the dark slide seals. I believe a part of the reason for this may be because owners appear always to store them for extended periods with the slides installed. I've got around this quite easily by keeping a short piece of black electrical tape over the magazine slot whenever it's fitted to a camera, and generally keep mine in the lower half of its ever ready case which might help a bit too. In any event I've never had a light leak in any of mine.

I've managed to put a few dozen rolls of C-41, E-6 or B&W through my three magazines. I agree loading them can be a little fiddly. I feed the film leader most of the way along the pressure plate underneath the rails each side, before inserting the canister into the recess in the magazine (ensure it goes right into the socket at the top and that the cover "clicks" as you slide it on). Probably the single hardest part is feeding the end of the leader under the take up spool and around it before inserting it into the slot in the spool. Rotate the take up spool a tad as you slide the leader in, and it will slip underneath and around it.

I also think I may have a copy of the instructions (which cover both Contaflex and Contarex, they function exactly the same) which are in English. I can get a copy to you.

Now, I know you're not kindly disposed towards your Super BC, but they have a "re-computed" Tessar which is a superb performer--razor sharp and with wonderful contrast and colour rendition, and a viewfinder that's a joy to use. I'd really like you to have another go with your BC. You've used such a wide variety of film equipment in so many formats, many of which have their own idiosyncracies, to great effect. I know you're much more intelligent than me, so, if I can manage to operate three of these magazines as successfully (and as easily) as I have, I simply can't accept that they're beyond your capability. How about it, please?

FYI here are a few images I've made with various Contaflexes. There is the odd one in that lot from a pre-magazine I or II model, but I've used my magazines on Contaflex Rapid, Super, Super B, Super BC and S models without any problems, and actually have probably only ever shot three or four films through the later ones with their "standard" backs fitted. The magazines are also great for running just a few frames through a particular example in order to test its functionality.
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Old 04-27-2016   #15
PF McFarland
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If you think operating a Contaflex is a bear, Roger, try fixing one. But once fixed, they do work nicely. I never cared for the idea of an interchangeable back on the Contaflex, so never bothered to get one. They are clunky enough without it.

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Old 04-27-2016   #16
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One thing I can say about these Zeiss offerings is that I wish oh wish that Leica learned to make satin chrome the way Zeiss did. Every Zeiss camera I owned was complex as all hell to use but was bullet proof when it came to the solidity of their satin chrome. Leitz's on the other hand, you only had to look at for it to scuff and wear. Ahh those were the days.
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