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Fast aperture lenses for Contax II/III series rangefinder
Old 03-27-2018   #1
RJ-
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Fast aperture lenses for Contax II/III series rangefinder

Hi,

My Leica IIIf has finally packed up leading me to revert back to the Contax II which has been neglected for some time.

The only lenses I've ever used with this pre-war rangefinder are the Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar f1.5 5cm and the Biogon f2.8 3.5cm. The Jupiter 35mm f2.8 is fine albeit multi-coated.

I wonder if anyone can recommend any fast lens (>f2.8) with this rangefinder? Apart from the 50mm focal length, which other focal lengths are you using?

Kind regards,
RJ
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Old 03-27-2018   #2
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These cameras are made for the 5cm/1.5 Sonnar.
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Old 03-27-2018   #3
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Look for a Jupiter-9 (85mm f2) or the CZ original. You'll need an accessory finder, of course.
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Old 03-28-2018   #4
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For 35 mm, you could look at a 35 mm Nikkor, either the f/2.5 or f/1.8. The f/2.5 in heavy brass/chrome is quite sharp and not horribly expensive. The f/1.8 is much rarer and much more expensive. For 85 mm, the Jupiter 9 can be good and is pretty cheap if you look around enough.
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Old 03-28-2018   #5
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Many thanks for your thoughts. I'll start researching these lenses.

Cascadilla - I relinquished a Nikon Nikkor 5cm f1.4 (multi-coated) lens after failing to selectively focus on anything due to the mechanical differences. The Nikkor lens also doesn't have what Raid describes as that unique Sonnar signature and I relinquished it. I'm a little terrified of making a similar mistake with any Nikkor fit lens on the Contax rangefinder.

Of the Jupiter-9 f2 types, are there any particular production era of the lens favoured by you (e.g. uncoated, early or late).

Which other fast lenses are you shooting with your Contax rangefinder?

I see Voigtlander (Japan) discontinued their offerings. Is there any will to consider kickstart/requesting Voigtlander to consider bringing their prototype 35mm f1.2 for the Contax rangefinder as a Robert Capa 65 year commemorative edition 35mm f1.2 Contax II rangefinder bayonet fit Nokton?


Kind regards,
RJ
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Old 03-29-2018   #6
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I have a brass/chrome 35 mm f/2.5 Nikkor, that I have shot quite a bit with. Focus has been fine, both close up and infinity. Since it is a wide angle, and a smaller aperture than the 5 cm f/1.4 that you had, focus error is a lot less of a problem. I also have a 35 mm post war Biogon that I like a little better, but the differences are slight. I agree with you that the Sonnar and the Nikkor have a different look to them. People have strong preferences and you should obviously use the lens that makes the images that you like. As for the Jupiter 9 85 mm f/2, I also have one of those and a post war Jena 85 f/2. The Jupiter I have is quite good, but the Jena Sonnar is better in the corners. Both lenses are coated, and as far as I know, all of the Russian lenses are coated. Mine was made in 1959 and has a shiny aluminum barrel. The focus is a little rough, but it works. Internet wisdom is that earlier versions are better than later ones, but I only have had the one sample so I don't know. The earlier "chrome" versions definitely look more period correct with a Contax. My only other "fast" lens is a 105 f/2.5 Nikkor that was made for the Contax mount--look for a "C" marked on the focusing ring. It is also a good performer and focuses accurately wide open on a Henry Scherer overhauled Contax IIIa. I probably wouldn't be interested in the 35 f/1.2--I'm sure it would have to cost a fortune to make the small run that you could actually sell. Good luck on your search for lenses.
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Old 03-30-2018   #7
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Thanks for sharing your experience.

I see there are modern Voigtlander 35mm f2.5 Contax rangefinder lenses which are very modern lenses and work well. The Sonnar 85mm f2 differences are very helpful! I've found a 30 year old one which I'll try.

Kind regards,
RJ
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Old 04-01-2018   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by raid View Post
These cameras are made for the 5cm/1.5 Sonnar.
This is at least a strange statement, Raid. These cameras were made for interchangeable lenses even if their viewfinders were for standard lenses only - hence very good external viewfinders for other focal lengths made by Zeiss Ikon as soon as the cameras were marketed.
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Old 04-01-2018   #9
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A lot do not understand that the Contax was the first Systemcamera with Lenses from 28 mm up to 180 mm. And with Flectoscope 300 and 500 mm.
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Old 04-02-2018   #10
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RJ--You asked about fast lenses, so I didn't mention a Voigtlander 21 f/4 in NikonS/Contax mount that I have also had good luck with. I like the original Zeiss 21 f/4.5 Biogon slightly better, but the Voigtlander is certainly an excellent lens if you are looking for that focal length. The Voigtlander is very light and compact, lighter than the Zeiss equivalent. I haven't used the 35 mm f/2.5, but these lenses generally get good reviews.

johank--One of the first interchangeable lenses for the Contax was the 2.8 cm f/8 Tessar, along with its auxiliary finder, so even wider than 35 mm.
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Old 04-03-2018   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Highway 61 View Post
This is at least a strange statement, Raid. These cameras were made for interchangeable lenses even if their viewfinders were for standard lenses only - hence very good external viewfinders for other focal lengths made by Zeiss Ikon as soon as the cameras were marketed.
Hi

I didn't read the comment by Raid so literally. I assumed his reference alluded to the legendary Sonnar 5cm f1.5 being all the lens which a rangefinder needs: anything else is excess.

It is the only lens which I'm currently using with the Contax II rangefinder, although it's been a long time since I disassembled one and really found little pleasure in repairing the aged yet wonderful tool.

Are you using any other interchangeable lenses with yours? I wonder which ones are accessible and as characteristic as the Sonnar 5cm f1.5.

Cascadilla -

Thanks for the reminder about the Voigtlander f4 series of wide-angle lenses. I think I've used all of them from 12mm upwards for the Leica LTM/M mount. The body-lens relationship for the IIIf is challenged with most (although perfect with the pancake 35mm f2.5 Skopar. I've never bonded with the Leica M6TTL or later cameras although put up with it ito use the Zeiss 50mm f1.5 modern Sonnar and the 21mm f2.8 Biogon.

With the Contax II, I've been hesitant at duplicating the 35mm f2.5 lens, since the Contax II rangefinder has a more solid heft and seems to proportion well with a lens longer than a pancake lens cap!

It does seem like there are substantially more lenses for the Leica M system than the vintage Contax rangefinder. Thanks for sharing about the more obscure Contax rangefinder wide-angles too.

Kind regards,

RJ
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Old 04-04-2018   #12
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If you want heft to go with your Contax II, the Nikkor 35 f/2.5 in the early chrome/brass mount will certainly do the trick. It is only an 1/8" shorter and about 1/2 oz. lighter than a pre war uncoated 3.5 cm f/2.8 Biogon. I just weighed my examples, and the heaviest of them all is a Zeiss-Opton 35 f/2.8 Biogon at 10 ounces. The Jupiter (my sample is from 1960, in silver aluminum mount) weighs 5, and doesn't focus as smoothly as either Zeiss lens.
As for the lens selection, it isn't surprising that there are a lot more choices for Leica M. Zeiss pretty much abandoned further development of the Contax RF after the IIIa and IIa color dial cameras came out, and they didn't develop any new lenses after the 21 mm f/4.5 Biogon and 35 mm f/3.5 Planar. They put their energy into SLRs instead, and stuck with leaf shutter SLRs for far too long, in my opinion. Whether they could have competed in the long run with the Japanese onslaught is another question, given the differential in labor costs. But Leica managed it, so maybe Zeiss could have done it too if management had made different design decisions. We'll never know.
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Old 04-04-2018   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RJ- View Post
Are you using any other interchangeable lenses with yours? I wonder which ones are accessible and as characteristic as the Sonnar 5cm f1.5.
Yes : Biogon 35/2.8 and Biogon 21/4.5. None of them are "fast" but they match the RF technology quite fine and it's sometimes good to change lenses and to leave the Sonnar 5cm behind (take it this way : don't keep changing lenses, but keep your lenses interchangeable).
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Old 04-04-2018   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cascadilla View Post
If you want heft to go with your Contax II, the Nikkor 35 f/2.5 in the early chrome/brass mount will certainly do the trick. It is only an 1/8" shorter and about 1/2 oz. lighter than a pre war uncoated 3.5 cm f/2.8 Biogon. I just weighed my examples, and the heaviest of them all is a Zeiss-Opton 35 f/2.8 Biogon at 10 ounces. The Jupiter (my sample is from 1960, in silver aluminum mount) weighs 5, and doesn't focus as smoothly as either Zeiss lens.
As for the lens selection, it isn't surprising that there are a lot more choices for Leica M. Zeiss pretty much abandoned further development of the Contax RF after the IIIa and IIa color dial cameras came out, and they didn't develop any new lenses after the 21 mm f/4.5 Biogon and 35 mm f/3.5 Planar. They put their energy into SLRs instead, and stuck with leaf shutter SLRs for far too long, in my opinion. Whether they could have competed in the long run with the Japanese onslaught is another question, given the differential in labor costs. But Leica managed it, so maybe Zeiss could have done it too if management had made different design decisions. We'll never know.
It’s not really that simple. Zeiss Ikon did introduce a single lens reflex with a focal plane shutter, and one of exceptional quality—the Contarex—it was expensive compared to offerings from Japan such as the Nikon F.

In the meantime the company sold nearly a million Contaflexes. They may well have had lens shutters, but they also helped keep the company going as long as it did. If ZI had dropped the Contaflex and concentrated solely on their expensive Contarex line, I believe they would have ceased manufacturing cameras years sooner. So it’s not just as simple as which shutter type a camera used—regardless of that, they needed models which the public wanted to buy, and the market spoke clearly—the Contaflex was a good seller for a long time, and there were also some sound reasons for that.

This is not to say earlier introduction of an affordable SLR of more conventional design would not have been a wise move—but they did invest heavily in a fp SLR and for all the glory of its lenses, the Contarex arguably did ZI more harm than good.
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Old 04-04-2018   #15
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The Contaflex also came with some amazingly good lenses. I'm not sure that Zeiss knew how to make a bad lens.

Even more important, it could synch electronic and bulb flash at all shutter speeds, something that none of the cameras with focal plane shutters could do. For an amateur just trying to document his/her family growing up that ability to use flash whenever you needed was a god send, especially with the slow speed films commonly used back then.

They are also surprisingly small cameras and quite easy to carry and use. As Brett says, I think the Contaflex was a very important camera for Zeiss at the time.
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Old 04-04-2018   #16
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Zeiss did sell a lot of Contaflexes, but while flash sync with leaf shutters is much more versatile than with focal plane shutters, there are a lot of constraints on lens speed/close focusing distances that don't exist with a focal plane shutter design. Ultimately, I think the lens constraints mattered more to consumers than the benefits of better flash sync. As film speeds increased in the 1960's (e.g. Kodachrome 64 instead of original Kodachrome at ASA 10) the basic design of the Contaflex didn't change. And while the Contarex was certainly an extraordinary camera, the market didn't support its price/performance ratio. A more mid priced alternative, perhaps accepting the same lenses of the Contarex could have been more successful, but I sometimes wonder if Zeiss and other German camera manufacturers shared a similar mind set with American car manufacturers in the late 1960s and early 1970's: that they were the experts and no one else could compete with their knowledge and experience in building a specific kind of product. We all know how that turned out in the car business...
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Old 04-04-2018   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Highway 61 View Post
Yes : Biogon 35/2.8 and Biogon 21/4.5. None of them are "fast" but they match the RF technology quite fine and it's sometimes good to change lenses and to leave the Sonnar 5cm behind (take it this way : don't keep changing lenses, but keep your lenses interchangeable).
Thanks - since I parted with the Biogon 35mm f2.8 lens, it is now harder to find in the same condition.

I seem to have a collection of Zeiss Sonnar 5cm lenses; f1.5; f2 collapsibles and a f2 rigid (multi-coated). Perhaps this is still too limited an idea of interchangeable lenses.

RJ
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Old 04-04-2018   #18
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Originally Posted by Cascadilla View Post
If you want heft to go with your Contax II, the Nikkor 35 f/2.5 in the early chrome/brass mount will certainly do the trick. It is only an 1/8" shorter and about 1/2 oz. lighter than a pre war uncoated 3.5 cm f/2.8 Biogon. I just weighed my examples, and the heaviest of them all is a Zeiss-Opton 35 f/2.8 Biogon at 10 ounces. The Jupiter (my sample is from 1960, in silver aluminum mount) weighs 5, and doesn't focus as smoothly as either Zeiss lens.
As for the lens selection, it isn't surprising that there are a lot more choices for Leica M. Zeiss pretty much abandoned further development of the Contax RF after the IIIa and IIa color dial cameras came out, and they didn't develop any new lenses after the 21 mm f/4.5 Biogon and 35 mm f/3.5 Planar. They put their energy into SLRs instead, and stuck with leaf shutter SLRs for far too long, in my opinion. Whether they could have competed in the long run with the Japanese onslaught is another question, given the differential in labor costs. But Leica managed it, so maybe Zeiss could have done it too if management had made different design decisions. We'll never know.
...and the Jupiter 9 Sonnar 85mm f2 is indeed quite a weight.

The focussing helicoid is really hard to turn with one finger for this heavy lens. Are you focussing the barrel or via the right index finger? The version which I've just found is a black modern possibly single coated, circa 1990 with a bell shaped icon encasing the letter C engraved on the lens.

I'm finding that the helicoid focussing has a bump in the clockwise focussing turn from the minimum focus to infinity, however not from the anticlockwise focussing direction. With this large lens, the Contax II is now starting to feel more like a comfortable Contax SLR!

Kind regards,

RJ
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Old 04-04-2018   #19
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The focussing helicoid is really hard to turn with one finger for this heavy lens. Are you focussing the barrel or via the right index finger?
Barrel of course -- if you use the wheel with such a *heavy* lens, you'll sooner or later ruin the complicated -- and probably irreplaceable -- mechanism beneath the wheel.
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Old 04-04-2018   #20
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Thanks Sumarongi -

I was wondering how Contax rangefinder users had such dextrous fingers.


The helicoid focussing wheel of the Contax II seems very robust compared to the IIa - perhaps this is how I've ruined the IIa's rangefinder calibration and wheel system. Can you advise if it is safe to lubricate the focussing wheel with duck oil?

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RJ
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Old 04-08-2018   #21
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Contax II & Carl Zeiss Jena Sonnar 5cm f1.5 cross-processed Kodak Tungsten 100T film shot at f1.5. The dreamy artistic light drawing of this lens mesmerises.

Thank you for all your help - I've settled on a few Voigtlander Contax mount wide-angles going up to f2.5 and a Jupiter 85mm f2.0 lens.

Kind regards,

RJ

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Old 04-13-2018   #22
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In monologue mode, I hadn't anticipated this kind of fast. It arrived within a few days. Still only a f4.0 - I suppose it'll be curious to see what faster film looks like through its rendition.

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Old 04-23-2018   #23
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It's working.....not too rusty for a pre-war rangefinder...

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