Last spring, overwhelmed with work, I’d take little breaks and venture off into cyberspace reading about music and photography. At some point I discovered Goodwill auctions, and decided I’d explore the listings for cameras. Maybe, I thought, I’d find a steal of a deal on a good lens.
When I saw the Zeiss Ikon Contina pictured above, I was immediately allured by the mechanics and glass of the storied German company (as it turns out, the lens was not produced by Zeiss). I couldn’t find out too much about the camera (other Continas I identified online looked different), but I put in a bid anyway. Then I won despite the absurdly low price, and immediately regretted the decision.
Why was I spending money on something I didn’t need? What if the camera was garbage, as many things on Goodwill auctions turn out to be?
When it arrived, I was surprised at how clean it appeared, packaged in a leather case inside another leather case, with all the original manuals included. I had read online that selenium meters (the bubbly thing on the left) burnt out over time due to light exposure, but when I tested the built-in meter against an iPhone app, it was spot on. All the more impressive as I finally identified this particular model as the Zeiss Ikon Contina III, which was manufactured between 1959-1960. Here was a camera pushing sixty and it looked and appeared to work like new?
Of course, I would have to take it out for a spin. So I popped in a roll of Fuji Superia 400, following carefully the included instructions.
The camera posed two challenges for me: 1. I had no experience zone focusing (focusing based on estimated distance rather than an image through a lens); 2. I had no experience operating a fully manual and mechanical camera.
Trusting that sixty year old selenium meter, though, I quickly adapted to the shutter/aperture dial around the lens. Focusing was at the same time more challenging because of what I couldn’t see, and more liberating because of, well, what I couldn’t see. I could either stress about focusing, or I could do my best to make images with the information available; I chose the latter.
I shot most of the roll down in Seattle’s Seward Park, and it sure was fun. In a lot of ways, I felt like a kid with a new toy.
When the roll was done, I wound it up with the camera’s knob and stored it away to develop later. Then our summer started, and we traveled to Iceland, journeyed across the United States by car, and prepared to go back to work. Finally this past month I sent the film off for processing and, only seven or so months later, finally have the images from that 1959/60 mechanical wonder.
They are sharp, the color rendering is pleasantly retro, and despite the information limitations I made more good shots with this camera than the rolls I just got back from my 1980s SLR. Consider me fully impressed.