After the Second World War Contax started to make SLR cameras in the VEB Zeiss Ikon factories in Dresden in the Sovjet occupied zone in Eastern Germany. That series consisted of several models as the S, SD, D, E, F, FB, FM and FBM. There were patent problems. The West German company Carl Zeiss AG moved into the old Contessa-Nettel factory in Stuttgart and built cameras there (including the Contax IIa and IIIa) between 1950 and 1961.
In 1948 the two branches of Zeiss Ikon, East and West, were separated. The Eastern branch would lose the right to use the Contax name. They continued to use the Contax name in the Eastern block market, but used the namePentaconfor the export to other countries.There is still a remnant of the name Contax in Pentacon. Pentaconis a contraction of Pentaprism and Contax.
Thefirst model was the Contax S introduced by the East Germanin 1949. In the late 30s there had already been plans to make a camera with an eye level viewfinder using a pentaprism. After the war the Contax S was developed under the direction of Wilhelm Winzenburg. [beeld van Contax D]
The Contax S was It was an innovative camera, because of the fixed eyelevelpentaprismthe image was shown correctly and not and not upside down or mirrored. The new Contax was equipped with a cloth focal plane shutter, and with the 42mm screw lens mount that was just introduced on thePraktiflex. This mount would be for at least 15 years the industry standard. Together with thebranches like the Rectaflexand theAlpa Prisma Reflex, the Contax was among the earliest pentaprism SLRs.
The shape of the Contax S SLR camera define the shape of the SLRs for the decennia to come, and even in the mirrorless era cameras are built according to this concept. [beeld van Fuji XT1]
The camera was sold with a Biotar 2/5,8 T Carl Zeiss Jena lens. The Contax S was not a very sturdy camera. The internal gears were too fragile and broke to easely.
In 1952, the camera was replaced by the Contax D although the two models only differed in minor points. [beeld van Contax D]
The Contax D has been sold under a whole range of names:Hexacon,Super D,Astraflex 35orCal-flex.Some bodies were sold with no name at all. The same had happened with the Kiev/Contax rangefinders, some bodies of which came on the market without a name. These copies are quite interesting for collectors. They are rare and therefore expensive
In 1956, quite some time after the release of the Contax D thesuccessor, the Contax/Pentacon F was released. These F cameras had been improved in important respects: an automatic diaphragm release, so thediaphragmcloses when the shutter release is pressed, a bigger mirror
and bigger winding and rewind buttons.
In 1958 came the Contax/Pentacon FM with a very useful split image focusing aid in the viewfinder. TheContax/Pentacon FBand FBM were equipped with a non coupled exposure meter on top of the camera. A bit like the light meter on the pre-war Contax III.
In my opinion the Contax SLR’s were beautiful designs. It's not for nothing that the basic design.
In 1956 a Contax D with a Tessar 2.8 50 mm lens cost in the US $ 92,00. According to the website http://www.historicalstatistics.org/Currencyconverter.html that would amount to € 638,00 in 2015. Not a cheap camera, especially if a Leica M3 with lens and light meter had to cost $ 117.00 (in 2015 € 869,00) in that same year. Interestingly, the last two Pentacon F/Contax S sold on Ebay fetched €34 and €119 respectively. The last sold Leica M3, on the other hand, without lens or light meter, was sold on Ebay for € 1410,00. Including inflation, that is 66 years of photographic pleasure and a profit of €541.