The Contax Story: From Leica Challenger to Iconic Camera Maker
Contax was founded in 1932 by the German company Zeiss Ikon with the goal of competing with Leica, which was the dominant player in the high-end camera market at the time. Contax aimed to provide a viable alternative to Leica with its own line of high-quality cameras that were favored by professionals and amateurs alike.
Zeiss Ikon had a long history of producing high-quality optics, and it used this expertise to create a range of lenses for the Contax cameras that were on par with those produced by Leica. The company also focused on innovation, regularly releasing new models and updates to its existing cameras in order to stay ahead of the competition.
In the end, Contax’s efforts paid off, as the brand was able to establish itself as a major player in the photography industry and gained a loyal following of photographers. Despite facing tough competition from Japanese camera companies in the 1970s and 80s, Contax was able to maintain its reputation for producing top-quality cameras until it was ultimately acquired by Kyocera in 2005.
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The Early Years (1932-1950)
Contax made its debut in the world of photography in 1932 with the release of its first camera, the Contax I. This rangefinder camera featured a 50mm f/3.5 lens and a top shutter speed of 1/1000 seconds, making it a highly advanced and capable camera for its time. The Contax I was well received by photographers and helped to establish the brand as a major player in the photography industry.
In the following years, Contax continued to innovate and release new models, such as the Contax II and III. The Contax II, released in 1936, was the first camera to feature a built-in exposure meter, which made it a pioneering device in the world of photography. The Contax III, released in 1948, was the first camera to feature a coupled rangefinder and a self-timer, further cementing the brand’s reputation for producing top-of-the-line cameras.
During this time, Contax also focused on building a strong network of dealers and distributors around the world, which helped to establish the brand as a global player in the photography industry. The company also worked to create a range of high-quality lenses that were on par with those produced by its main competitor, Leica.
Overall, the early years of Contax were marked by a focus on innovation and quality, which helped to establish the brand as a leader in the photography industry and set the stage for its future success.
The Golden Age (1950-1970)
The 1950s and 60s are often considered the “golden age” of Contax, as the brand released some of its most iconic cameras during this time. In 1950, the Contax S was introduced, featuring a built-in light meter and a sleek design that made it a popular choice for professionals. The Contax S was praised for its high-quality construction and excellent image quality, and it helped to further solidify the brand’s reputation as a leader in the photography industry.
But it was the release of the Contax RTS in 1975 that truly solidified Contax as a major player in the photography world. This camera was a game-changer, featuring a full-aperture metering system and a motor drive option, making it a favorite among sports and action photographers. The Contax RTS also introduced the world to the first interchangeable film backs, allowing photographers to quickly switch between rolls of film without having to change the entire film cassette.
During this time, Contax also continued to innovate and release new models, such as the Contax D, which was the first camera to feature a built-in motor drive, and the Contax 139, which was the first camera to feature a built-in flash.
Overall, the 1950s and 60s were a golden age for Contax, as the brand released a series of highly advanced and innovative cameras that were favored by photographers around the world.
The End of an Era (1970-2005)
The 1970s and 80s were a tumultuous time for Contax, as the brand struggled to keep up with the rapidly changing photography industry. In the face of fierce competition from Japanese camera companies, such as Canon and Nikon, Contax struggled to maintain its market share.
Despite this, Contax continued to release new cameras and updates to its existing models in an effort to stay relevant. In 1994, the brand released the Contax G1, which was a revolutionary camera that was the first to feature a built-in autofocus system. The Contax G1 was well received by photographers and helped to reignite interest in the brand.
However, in 2005, Contax was acquired by Kyocera, a Japanese company, and production of Contax cameras ceased. This was a major blow to the photography community, as Contax had long been a beloved and respected brand.
Despite the end of an era for Contax, the brand’s legacy lives on, with its vintage cameras highly sought after by collectors and photographers. The Contax name continues to be associated with high-quality cameras and excellent image quality, and it will always be remembered as a pioneering brand in the world of photography.
The Legendary Contax T Series
The Contax T series is a line of compact cameras, and was first introduced in 2002 with the Contax T. The T series is notable for its pocket size, high-quality construction, and advanced features.
The Contax T, the first camera in the T series, was released in 2002 and featured a titanium body and a 35mm f/2.8 Zeiss T* lens. It did not have autofocus, but it was well received by photographers for its compact size and excellent image quality.
In 2004, Kyocera released the Contax T2, an update to the T series that included autofocus and a more powerful flash. The T2 has gained a cult following in recent years for its compact size, advanced features, and excellent image quality. It is considered one of the best compact film cameras ever made and is highly sought after by collectors and photographers.
The Contax T3, released in 2006, also features autofocus and a wider range of shutter speeds. It has a more ergonomic design than the T2 and is also highly regarded by photographers.
The most recent camera in the T series is the Contax T3 Titanium, which was released in 2013 and features a titanium body and a 35mm f/2.8 Zeiss T* lens.
Overall, the Contax T series is a highly respected line of rangefinder cameras known for their compact size, advanced features, and excellent image quality. The T2 and T3, in particular, have gained a cult following in recent years for their combination of compact size and advanced features. They are a favorite among photographers and collectors alike.
The Contax Innovations in Photography
Contax introduced several important innovations in the field of photography. Some of the most notable include:
- Contax I: This was the first model in the Contax range, released in 1932. It was a rangefinder camera with a coupled rangefinder and a focal plane shutter. It was known for its high quality and was popular with professional photographers.
- Contax II: This model, released in 1936, was an updated version of the Contax I with a revised rangefinder and shutter. It also had a new lens mount, which allowed for the use of interchangeable lenses.
- Contax III: This model, released in 1940, was an evolution of the Contax II with a new rangefinder and shutter, as well as a more compact design. It was popular with journalists and street photographers due to its compact size and high-quality optics.
- Contax S: This was a medium format camera released in 1959. It was a single-lens reflex camera with a pentaprism viewfinder and a leaf shutter. It was known for its high-quality images and was used by professional photographers for portrait and fashion photography.
- Contax RTS: This was a 35mm single-lens reflex camera released in 1975. It was known for its advanced features, including a through-the-lens light metering system and the ability to use interchangeable lenses. It was popular with professional photographers and became one of the most successful models in the Contax range.
Some other notable innovations and features of Contax cameras include:
- Zeiss T* lenses: Contax cameras were known for the high quality of their lenses, which were made by the German optics company Zeiss. The T* coating on these lenses helped to reduce lens flare and improve image quality.
- Electronic flash units: Contax produced a range of electronic flash units for use with their cameras. These were known for their reliability and were widely used by professional photographers.
- Motor drives: Some models of Contax cameras, such as the Contax RTS, were available with motor drives that allowed for rapid continuous shooting. This made them popular for sports and action photography.
- Quartz Date models: Some models of the Contax RTS, such as the RTS II, were available with a quartz date back that allowed the user to imprint the date and time on the film.
Overall, Contax cameras were known for their high quality, advanced features, and versatility, making them popular with professional photographers and enthusiasts alike.
Facts you didn’t know about Contax
The Contax brand name was chosen by Zeiss Ikon as a shortened version of “Continental Expert,” as the brand’s cameras were intended to be sold worldwide. The brand’s logo does include the letter “K” as a nod to the original name of the company, “Zeiss Ikon,” which was formed through the merger of several smaller German camera companies in 1926.
Another interesting fact about Contax is that the brand was once owned by Carl Zeiss, the founder of the Zeiss company, which is known for producing high-quality optics. Zeiss sold the Contax brand to the German company Zeiss Ikon in 1932, which then went on to produce the first Contax camera, the Contax I.
Finally, while Contax is primarily known for its cameras, the brand also produced other photography-related products, such as light meters and film developing equipment. These products were highly regarded for their quality and innovation, and helped to further solidify Contax as a respected player in the photography industry. So, these are some interesting facts about Contax that not many people may know.
Contax Cameras in the Hands of Iconic Photographers
There have been many famous photographers who have used Contax cameras throughout the years. Some notable examples include:
- Henri Cartier-Bresson: One of the most famous photographers of all time, Cartier-Bresson was known for his candid street photography and his use of the Leica camera. However, he also used Contax cameras, specifically the Contax II and III, which he favored for their compact size and excellent image quality.
- Helmut Newton: A pioneer of fashion photography, Newton was known for his controversial and provocative images. He used a variety of cameras throughout his career, including the Contax RTS, which he favored for its versatility and advanced features.
- Cindy Sherman: A renowned artist and photographer, Sherman is known for her conceptual self-portraits that explore issues of identity and gender. She has used a variety of cameras throughout her career, including the Contax G1, which she appreciated for its built-in autofocus system.
- David LaChapelle: A highly influential and sought-after fashion and portrait photographer, LaChapelle has used a variety of cameras throughout his career, including the Contax 645, which he used to shoot his iconic portrait of Amanda Lepore.
These are just a few examples of the many famous photographers who have used Contax cameras throughout the years.
In conclusion, Contax is a brand that has a long and storied history in the world of photography. From its early years as a challenger to Leica, to its golden age in the 1950s and 60s, to its eventual acquisition by Kyocera, Contax has left a lasting impact on the industry.
Throughout its history, Contax has released a range of highly innovative and advanced cameras that have been favored by photographers around the world. From the Contax I to the Contax G1, the brand has consistently pushed the boundaries of what was possible with camera technology, and it has helped to shape the way we think about photography.
Despite its discontinuation in 2005, the Contax brand remains highly respected and remembered for its dedication to quality and innovation. Its vintage cameras are highly sought after by collectors, and its legacy lives on through the photographers who continue to use and appreciate its cameras.
In the end, Contax’s place in the history of photography is secure, and it will always be remembered as a pioneering and influential brand that helped to shape the way we capture and remember the world around us.
Hi, I’m Vincent Moschetti! I love shooting film and talking about it 📸