The Zeiss Ikon Contessa – A Unique 1950s Foldable Camera

1955 Zeiss Ikon Contessa
1955 Zeiss Ikon Contessa

 

A Nashville-based photographer, Benjamin Perlin has a passion for traditional film cameras and enjoys exploring darkroom techniques in creating images. Among the traditional cameras Benjamin (“Ben”) Perlin owns is a 1955 Zeiss Ikon Contessa that he purchased at a bookseller’s stand.

One of the more unconventional cameras of its era, the Contessa has a folding design that makes it eminently portable. Folding offers the additional advantage of creating a rigid case that protects delicate components such as the shutter and lens.

The folding design necessitated several innovations, including a rangefinder with contra rotating prism optical technologies. Housed above the lens, the prisms linked to the rotating lens allowed clear focus to be achieved at distance, despite a compact lens. Another unusual element is a large-sized shutter release knob right of the lens that is not pressed inward, as is standard, but sideways.

The Zeiss lens action was controlled by an advanced-for-its-era Synchro Compur shutter and MX sync. The sturdy construction features chrome and brass, making it a long-lasting model that easily outlasts many of its modern plastic-molded digital counterparts. The Zeiss Ikon Contessa stands as a classic model that is still treasured by classic camera enthusiasts.

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