Toronto. The Contarex was Zeiss-Ikon’s SLR flagship. With some 1,100 plus precision measured components, it was an engineer’s dream – and a repairman’s nightmare. The $500 US “Bulls-eye” Contarex was announced at the 1958 Photokina but didn’t hit the shelves until 1960 – a year after the vastly less expensive and famously popular Nikon F.
The Contarex, built like a tank, was very complex by design. It was heavy, fragile, expensive and had to be used following a specific sequence of actions – not simple to use by any means! The camera and lenses were far better than those of any competitor, but took a very competent and skilled repairman to accomplish even the simplest task. It was designed for professionals with very deep pockets to buy extra bodies to use when the inevitable trip to the repair shop occurred and repairs took so long. In contrast, other professional 35mm cameras were smaller, lighter, cheaper and faster to repair when necessary.
In Larry Gubas’s massive 2015 book on “Zeiss and Photography”, 36 pages are devoted to the Contarex family of cameras (check out Petra Kellers and the Camerabooks website when the COVID-19 pandemic is over). The camera design was externally very rugged. Even when the internal mechanism was badly worn by heavy use, the exterior often looked as if the camera had been barely used. Sadly, the Contarex was thought to be one of the reasons for the demise of Zeiss-Ikon as a camera manufacturing innovator and power house. Contarex was a retail failure, far too complex and expensive to make and repair compared to the competition.