a Johnny come lately

1936 ad for the Contax miniature camera first marketed 4 years earlier

Toronto. Introduced in 1924, the Leica by Leitz was a flat out success. Two years later, in 1926, its competitor, Zeiss formed the Zeiss-Ikon group to rationalize the German photographic Industry. By 1932, the first Zeiss Contax reached market – eight years after the Leica.

To compete, the Contax needed to be more precisely made, and better in every respect (camera, lenses, accessories) than the Leica. Unfortunately for Zeiss, Leitz had locked down all the easy miniature camera solutions via patents. As a result, the Contax was more expensive, more complex, more difficult to repair, etc. etc. See Lipinski’s 1955 book “Miniature and Precision Cameras” for a discussion of the Leica and Contax .

This ad in the first issue of LIFE (Nov 1936) promoted the then 4 year old Contax as the camera for ‘news photographers and amateurs’. My thanks to George Dunbar for his patience in discovering the early Contax ad and sharing it with us. Leica is still made today, but digital format. Its famous competitor, Contax, no longer exists.

The Leitz organization has become Leica; the Zeiss corporation continues as well but no longer offers any cameras. Both companies were and are German optical houses of renown. A huge Zeiss surgical microscope was paramount in my surgeon’s world about a decade ago while a friend of mine had similar surgery – but his doctor used a massive Leica surgical microscope. Still competitors.

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