Zeiss Contaflex Super BC
5 frames with...

5 Frames with a Zeiss Contaflex Super BC & XP2 in ID-11 – By Peter Kay

January 7, 2023

The Zeiss Ikon Contaflex is an over engineered and overly complicated leaf shutter SLR. They were manufactured from 1953 to 1974 and went through several iterations, each more complicated than the last. Most used synchro compur shutters and tessar lenses (bar a couple of cheaper models) so they were decent performers. Max shutter speed was 1/500 and maximum aperture was f2.8. The Contaflex iii brought swappable front elements, these included a 35mm, an 85mm and a 115mm. These were beautifully sharp but prone to delamination, especially in the Pro Tessar 35mm f4.

Cost wise, these were an expensive camera, retailing at the equivalent of an eye watering £2500. They were a beautifully made item but their complexity made them difficult to repair. Most engineers won’t touch them and those who do tend to make the tooth sucking noise associated with it costing, a lot! This is why you can pick them up for next to nothing.

Mine is a 1973ish Contaflex Super BC with the battery powered light meter. Build quality is wonderful. The action of the cocking lever is as precise as a swiss watch and the shutter noise is beautiful. Operation is, as you would expect, somewhat quirky. You can only see through the viewfinder when the shutter is cocked as the mirror has no auto return. The light meter is visible through the viewfinder but it only works when the aperture dial is on auto and you can only change it to and from auto when the shutter is cocked. Leaving the shutter cocked is a bad idea so you need to make sure the aperture is off auto when you shoot the last shot of the set otherwise your battery will drain but once you remember all that, its a beautiful thing. I have run a couple of films through it but none in shutter priority. I loaded up a roll of XP2 and headed out into town.

XP2 as we all probably know is a film made to be developed in C41, but what people may not realise is it also works supremely well with B&W chemicals, especially when shot at 200. There are a couple of articles on the Ilford website regarding this, also Roger (sflab on YouTube) has a wonderful video on the subject (he gets lost in a wood, again). I have developed XP2 in HC110 (nice), Rodinal (very nice) and ID-11. It also works very well with 510 Pyro. The timings on Chris’s article on the Ilford website (link below) work very well indeed but my clear favourite is stock ID-11 (iso100, 8:30, iso200, 10:30, iso400, 13:30 all at 20°). When I got home I couldn’t wait to get the film in the tank. I certainly wasn’t disappointed by the results. The Contaflex is nicely sharp and the metering is bang on. As for the XP2, none of the images below have been processed beyond the basic flip, it really is that good.

Here is a link to an excellent article on developing XP2 in mono chemicals: https://www.ilfordphoto.com/ilford-xp2-super-in-black-and-white-chemistry/

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11 Comments

  • Reply
    John Collins
    January 7, 2023 at 11:43 am

    Got two of these beasts in my collection, picked up in antique shops. One works fine, the other has a sticky shutter at the slower speeds. Using Ilford HP5, image quality from the working model is fine. Plenty of detail and good contrast.

  • Reply
    John Tarrant
    January 7, 2023 at 1:00 pm

    A long time ago I owned a Contaflex and it was a beautiful machine.Indeed the British Journal of Photography” once described it as “a jewel of a camera” A sentiment with which I heartily agree! sadly my Contaflex was stolen and I have never been able to replace it. I hesitate to buy one today because they can be had fairly cheaply but the worry is simply their complexity and age. I have also had very positive experiences of developing XP2 in Ilford ID11. Indeed at one point it was my preferred combination of film and developer. I rated the film ay 400asa, but I can no longer recall the development time that I used. My archived negatives look pretty good even today.

    • Reply
      Peter Kay
      January 7, 2023 at 2:24 pm

      I just took a quick look at my book,
      100 – 8:30
      200 – 10:30
      400 – 13:30
      All at 20°C in ID-11

    • Reply
      Thomas Cervenak
      January 8, 2023 at 12:42 pm

      Contaflex cameras are incredibly beautiful cameras. The Zeiss Ikon Tessar is tack sharp. I think that the Pro Tessar front element wide angle and telephoto are a real interesting alternative to changing the entire lens. However, I own 4 Contaflexes but only one works (a Super) and that one has a bad selenium meter. My models range from the Contaflex II to the Super B. That Synchro Compur shutter simply does not stand the test of time. I jokingly maintain that that Zeiss Ikon used Siberian musk ox oil as a lubricant. I have other cameras every bit as old or older that work perfectly whereas the prestigious Zeiss Ikon cameras are hit and miss, and mostly miss at that. Unfortunately, no repairman I know wants to touch them. The last one who tried worked really hard on my Contaflex IV, twice, but couldn’t get it working on all speeds. Well, I do have the Super.

      • Reply
        Kodachromeguy
        January 9, 2023 at 4:03 pm

        The Kodas Retina IIIc and IIIC also let you change the front elements with wide and short Tele units. The first version of the Retina Reflex may also accept these front elements. I have read that the Retina Reflexes are also almost unrepairable today. In contrast, many a Pentax Spotmatic from the 1970s is fine other than the foam at the back door channels.

  • Reply
    Ted Ayre
    January 7, 2023 at 2:07 pm

    Thanks for the article Peter, really interesting little camera – I particularly like the results you’ve got with Ilford XP2, which is a film stock I’ve only recently discovered myself. Thanks for the inspiration dude!

    • Reply
      Peter Kay
      January 7, 2023 at 2:26 pm

      Timings for ID-11 are above. You need to try it. I bought a bulk roll of mildly expired and wish I had bought more as I have ripped through my 100ft in no time 🙂

  • Reply
    Steve Fretz
    January 7, 2023 at 2:33 pm

    I love the pictures.

    It’s a sweet machine, but the repair issue is real, which leaves me admiring it from a distance, like Kodak Retinas.

    What’s the point of developing XP2 like a conventional film? It makes your scanner’s ICE function unusable.

    • Reply
      Peter Kay
      January 7, 2023 at 3:11 pm

      Funnily enough, I have a folding retina iia at the repairer and I am awaiting a prognosis. Regarding scanning, I use a DSLR and pixl-latr so ICE, for me, is something you put in drinks 🙂 my reasons for using xp2 with mono chem are 1) I got a roll nice and cheap, 2) I don’t currently use c41 3) the smooth grain and contrast are gorgeous

  • Reply
    Don McClure
    January 7, 2023 at 5:01 pm

    Fifteen years ago Contaflice were everywhere in thrift and antique stores in my area (eastern Pennsylvania). I acquired about ten of them at that time in the $25 range, including a late model Super like in this article. It operates beautifully still, but I exercise the shutter regularly. All these cameras especially need to be cycled often if they live on a shelf much.

    I like the smaller original versions of Contaflex best, but have had a couple fail on me.

    • Reply
      Jens
      January 14, 2023 at 9:27 pm

      Habe auch drei oder vier Contaflexe, von denen nur eine Contaflex Super Mk.1 funktioniert.
      Aber die eine ist schon eine tolle Kamera ! Sogar der Selenbelichtungsmesser läuft noch sehr gut.
      Das Tessar 50mm ist natürlich Klasse. Auch das 35mm und 115mm Protessar sind gute Objektive. Sehr gerne arbeite ich auch mit den Proxar-Nahvorsatzlinsen .
      Es war damals halt eine der ersten Spiegelreflexkameras, dazu mit einem sehr guten Viewfinder.
      Und die Verarbeitung ist unglaublich.

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