Pre WWII Zeiss Contax Rangefinders vs Leica Barnack Screw Mounts

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Today Barnack Leicas are often revered, collected and romanticized about by Leica collectors. Zeiss Contax II / III cameras are mostly forgotten about and little appreciated.

Yet Pre WWII, Contax had by far the best 35mm rangefinder camera and camera system. period.

Leica was not even remotely close to the Contax II as a PICTURE TAKING machine. Barnacks had great looks and marketing, but that was pretty much it.

The Contax II and III advantages were

1) better and faster optics 35/2.8 Biogon, 40/2 Biogon, 50/1.5 Sonnar, 85/2 Sonnar
2) much better RF / VF
3) much much much better film loading and unloading.

The Barnack cameras are cute adorable works of art, but poor picture taking machines. Not that you can't take great pics with them, but the gyrations photogs have to go thru to get those pictures are awfully inconvenient.

Have you ever noticed that near mint Barnacks are not that hard to find? That is because so many new Barnack owners gave up on trying to load film into the damn thing and just put it on a shelf.

Have you ever noticed it is VERY difficult to find a near mint Contax II ? That is because pre war Contax II owners were out taking loads of photos with their easy to use camera with GREAT FAST optics.

Capa was shooting a Contax IIA and a Nikon S when he was killed in action. Not Barnacks. I don't wonder why.

Post war with the M cameras was when Leicas became picture taking machines. But that day never really existed with a Barnack camera. The myth of Barnack camera greatness as picture takers is mostly the result of repeated hype by collectors who never really shot with them that much, or Barnack photogs who never shot a Barnack system and a Contax II system side by side.

Stephen

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a similar post from October 2023.
Even so, I have to agree Barnack Leicas are much more loved and popular than their more useful Contax competitors - figure hat one out!


Having owned loads of Barnacks and Contax II / III's I never found Barnacks even remotely close to convenient to use. Sure, users can get used to Barnacks and proficient with them, but saying they are convenient is like getting hit on the head and calling the headache a "feature."

Until you learn how to use them,
Barnacks are among the worst 35mm interchangeable rangefinder cameras
to load properly,
to loose shots because they were misloaded,
to advance film quickly,
and to rewind film quickly.

Ever wonder why beautiful almost unused Barnacks are plentiful almost 100 years later,
while Contax II / III's are typically worn out?
Because Barnack owners gave up on their beloved cameras and packed them away because they were so wonderful!

Yes Barnacks have a jewel like beauty about them, but beauty and convenience are unfortunately different subjects.

Stephen
 
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There was a young French photographer in the early 1930s who made very successful pictures with a Barnack. Still world famous.

Erik.

True indeed, however being a great photographer and being a great picture taking machine are two separate subjects.

That world famous photog replaced his Leicas with paint brushes.

Had he been shooting Contax pre war, would he have stayed with photography? Probably not, but its a funny thought.
 
True indeed, however being a great photographer and being a great picture taking machine are two separate subjects.

That world famous photog replaced his Leicas with paint brushes.

Had he been shooting Contax pre war, would he have stayed with photography? Probably not, but its a funny thought.

As far as I know he was as an old man still shooting. He made in the 1990's some wonderful portraits. His favorite camera was a black IIIg - but he also had M3's.

After the war Contax fans had to buy a Russian camera, the Kiev. The Contax IIa and IIIa were notorious unreliable.

Erik.
 
If he had started off with a Contax I he would have given up.

OK so a certain Mr A Adams is said to have used one but I suspect it was a PR exercise by Zeiss USA.
 
I think both LTM Leicas and the RF Contax cameras were great and fine machines for photo taking use...that both still give fantastic photo image results to this day is a testament to their timeless engineering and high quality....these machines cost a small fortune in their day and many amatuer photographers could only dream of owning a Leica or Contax camera.
 
If he had started off with a Contax I he would have given up.

In fact he started miniature photography with a Krauss Eka that he bought in Africa (Ivory Coast) from a fellow Frenchman in 1931. The Krauss Eka was a French camera with a German Zeiss Tessar lens. The negatives were about 4x3cm.

When there was film for it, I would buy such a camera immediately.

Erik.
 
OK so a certain Mr A Adams is said to have used one but I suspect it was a PR exercise by Zeiss USA.

I have a good working Contax I that I bought from Yves Maxence. Yves Maxence was director of Leica France in the 1980's.

He was a good friend of Henri Cartier-Bresson, a painter who made from time to time photographs.

But that Contax I is a miracle. The only good working Contax I I've ever seen.

Erik.
 
Sometimes wish I kept the pair of pre-war Contax II I once owned; a '36 and '37. Even knew the provenance of one, purchased from the son of the original owner. Loved the sound of the slow speeds, and the garage door shutter is unique, but what I really liked about them was the long rangefinder base and that massive, contrasty rangefinder patch. The uncoated 50 Sonnars were/are very good, and you can see why the camera system was such a force in the late 30's. Truly, the first modern rangefinder. Stunning cameras, capable of great pictures; albeit a bit awkward by modern standards.
 
Contax pre-war is just clumsy Kiev II. And nothing else. Contax IIa is totally different camera, but with primitive VF and no frame lines. Clear looser to M3. With zinc pimples on the back. Yikes.

And last time I checked next to all of the greatest from this time were using Leica, not Contax.
Kolar, Maier, many Russians, like Rodchenko, HCB.
HCB went with LTM to China and marched with commies army.
Russians took LTM to Arctica and Tundra. Not to mention WWII.
Frank took it across USA for the Americans.
So they are pictures taking cameras. Not load of watch gears as Contax, with metal shades hold by trousers ribbon.
 
Down rapping the the Barnack is easy in the 21st century and I never used a Contax, but I like my Bessa R. What does the Bar Tender have to say about that camera: Contax vs Bessa R?
 
Pre-war Contax were excellent. They didn't survive WW II. They are close to 80 years old and extremely expensive to repair. Barnacks are pricey to repair but any competent repair person can do so at a reasonable cost. The lenses are (mostly?) uncoated and don't hold a candlestick to a lens produced after WW II.

I started on Leica in the early '70's. Later in life I tried Contax and Nikon. Esp. the Nikon. Even bought the VC body to use the lenses. Love all the Contax l & Nikon Lenses but never, even remotely, considered them easy to use. VF great, focusing dials idiotic. I think most people is the late '30's had the same idea.
 
This debate has been going on in one form or another since the 1930s. If make the effort it could last 100 years...
 
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Capa, Contax II - Rodger, Leica iii


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
 
This debate has been going on in one form or another since the 1930s. If make the effort it could last 100 years...

The frankly astonishing thing - in a mere 13 years my Leica III will be 100 years old. It's not such a difficult thing to use and works well enough, so it is entirely feasible that I'll continue using it til at least then.
 
https://www.flickr.com/photos/181737030@N04

I imagine this wonderful Flickr account has been shared on here before?

It is a very rich collection of photographs of great photographers and their cameras, along with some of their photos too.

No definitive answer there to the question posed by Stephen in this thread, though I think Barnacks are somewhat more in evidence.

Well worth a look.


Sent from my iPad using Tapatalk
 
A wonderful exchange of thoughts and ideals.. Myths..the "difficult" to load Leica Barnack and early M3 and M2.
I was 11 yrs top and shown how to use a M3, just then released...
I never found it difficult and it never failed unlike my M6 and Friend's M7..
Of course the thread written by an American , the folks that made meals,
on paper, paper cups for coffee and tea (simply undrinkable!). Kwik!
If Contax was a tiny bit reliable, I might have tried..
One not so pristine Contax cut my index finger trying that F* focus wheel..
Laugh but as a watchmaker, it meant days waiting for healing to work..
Maybe Barnack are primitive, but so are Rolleis yet with auto load...

When specialist service folk, charge massive fees (not labor) to look but not warranty or guarantee "work" done on a design and manufacture.,
time to move to the Leica line!

Nikon was very different from Contax in beginning, shutter based on Leica
Kept the viewfinder, the astonishing sliding open back and easy load?

My Nikon-F are simply from a cosmos far far away from either.
The Nikon-F was the Nemesis of German photographic industry.
that's another story..
 
I think a couple of the "issues" with each system are blown way out of proportion.


Bottom-loaders: Easy if you trim the leader. It helps to peek in there to be sure the sprocket holes engage the gears like they're supposed to. A flashlight helps with that. No need for an index card or to stick anything in through the lens mount.


Contax/Nikons: You don't really have to use the focus wheel if you don't want to. I might be spoiled since I don't shoot often with a 50, but even with a 50, it's usually easier to just focus it with the lens. You know, the old-fashioned way.
 
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