The Whole Roll

34 Frames / A Whole Roll of Ilford HP5, Contax 139Q C/Y & Sonnar 85mm – #FullRollFriday – By Victor Doroshenko

June 19, 2020

Two years ago I snapped-up a beaten-up CY Sonnar 85 2.8 for nothing. With a whole box of other junk attached, of course. I got rid of the junk, kept the Sonnar, but never used it. That’s because this was at about the same time my transition to a Leica M4-P as the main camera happened, and that could not mount it. So, I used my beloved tele-elmarit 90 instead. Both on Leica and Sony A7. But, I never dared to get rid of the sonnar though: the pictures which made me chase it in a first place were still in my memory! Despite being made for an SLR it’s also a small lens, and that hits another soft spot of me.

So, feeling ashamed, I finally got a Contax 139Q last week. An aperture-priority camera (with meter-assisted manual mode) introduced by Contax/Yashica in 1979, the first one for C/Y mount if I’m correct. Both the camera and the lens are sleek and light (at 500g and 230g respectively), and feature this famous “Contax” feel to it: quality materials, low tolerances, you know it.

The lens is also very small, more similar to 50 than to 85 by all accounts. The 139Q is simple camera by any standards, but execution is simply brilliant! The first roll with this combo went to junk though, because the light seals needed to be replaced. Today I went, however, for another one, and the results are the hero of today’s post.

So, the pictures below are essentially from a test roll to test the new diy light seals, the lens and the camera all together. A first date, so to say. Fresh from the development tank filled with HC110 (dilution B, 5 min at 20C, if you care), and scanned with a dia-duplicator attached to A7 (which is quite similar in size/feel to 139, btw). The film is somewhat expired HP5, exposed as 200 and developed normally, i.e. the way I prefer to shoot it.

Besides the focal length, another important limitation for this roll was that I also had to accompany kids. Today, playgrounds were re-opened in Germany, so we had to visit all of them! This means, of course, that more often than not one of my hands was busy carrying something, and large fraction of the frames are shot on the run with one hand holding the camera and another one focussing with one free finger. On a plus side, I had nice subject to shoot.

The weather also collaborated. ‘Sonnar’ is from ‘Sonne’ (Sun in German), and it was sunny. As a consequence, most of the shots are at f/5.6 or f/8 (with the exception of close-ups where f/2.8 or f/4 was used to test bokeh).

Enough said, the 34 promised frames (self-loaded, and I’m not precise enough with my cutting) are below!

Considering the circumstances, I’m very pleased with the results even if the last frame almost killed the camera. The long story short, be careful advancing last frames if you self-load film, and don’t apply excessive force to advance lever.

Luckily I was able to repair the camera with the help of Peter Robinson from who spent half of his weekend watching poor-quality videos of my disassembly attempts and was able to spot a bent and displaced cock-lever inside the camera. Peter is a very knowledgable and kind person who also keeps up the most useful 139 resource on the net.  I heartily recommend his service and website to anyone who has problems with his beloved 139 or just wants to learn more about the camera. Beloved, because the Contax 139Q really is a wonderful camera, and now a new official best SLR of all time for me.

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  • Reply
    Michael Jardine
    June 19, 2020 at 6:07 pm

    Lovely pics, and a yarn involving taking a camera to bits at the end makes it a thriller of a post! I recently acquired an ’80s Pentax 85mm/f2 and it’s a lovely focal length for 35mm- it seems to make me want to be more personable when taking photos of people, which can’t be a bad thing.

  • Reply
    June 19, 2020 at 7:36 pm

    Oh wow, high proportion of keepers on this roll! The very first image is my favourite, but I like the close-up portraits too.

    • Reply
      June 19, 2020 at 8:14 pm

      Thanks! Surprisingly I typically get more keepers on film, even if I can not say I’m more focused or anything…

  • Reply
    June 19, 2020 at 7:58 pm

    Fantastic fotographs! Your sights seemed so familiar to me. Suddenly I realized they must have been shot in Tübingen (Rimpo has been my favorite record store in the 80s). 😎 I love C/Y cameras and own some of them 139, RTS, RTS II, ST, Aria, S2B and a set of C/Y lenses, very close to Tübingen (Gomaringen). Best wishes

    • Reply
      June 19, 2020 at 8:06 pm

      Thanks! Which of the contaxes and lenses is your favorite? I were hunting aria for quite some time, but they are getting more and more expensive 😉

  • Reply
    Barry Reid
    June 19, 2020 at 10:58 pm

    Super lens, Super camera. The 85 works great on a Sony A7 too.

    • Reply
      Victor Doroshenko
      June 20, 2020 at 8:10 am

      Indeed 😉 Although I prefer my Tele elmarit 90 on it (just because I mostly have m-glass, so no additional adapter needed, both are superb lenses though)

  • Reply
    June 19, 2020 at 11:19 pm

    This post reminds me that I wish I had never sold my 139!!!!

  • Reply
    June 20, 2020 at 1:29 am

    Hiii Great images. Lovely happy beautiful kids.
    Contax 139Q is a great camera, Zeiss for Contax, simply the best.
    Just care of it like your kids 😉
    This camera does not handle dust, wet, cold, water, ….. you have to protect it well : put off the dust, keep in a bag at normal temperature with special things to protect from wet/humidity, put off battery when you do not use it for long time, …. and this is a winner. Mines, and other electronic Contax failed in cold and hard tropical weater, where Nikon’s are really better.
    But this a very well ergonomic camera : with the Planar 50/1’7 (a must), the distagon 25mm, the famous Makro-planar’s, and the famous Vario-Sonnar 100-300 (if no problem with rear lens, …very rare). And work greatly with all digital cameras as Sony. Nice kids.

  • Reply
    Tom Young
    June 20, 2020 at 4:37 am


    Nice photos! This roll is great because you were able to get so many good shots out of one roll of film.

    Yes, I have rewind problems on old cameras too. It seems that the most challenging moments are when you load the film and try to unload. Perhaps that is the joy of old cameras……to coax out the performance of an old friend by trouble shooting and gentle handling.

  • Reply
    Steve Mitchell
    June 20, 2020 at 9:00 am

    My favourite camera. I bought new in 1984, used for twenty years and then fell for the convenience of digital, even though the cameras I could afford cannot touch the Contax and Zeiss lenses for quality. Rediscovered it two years ago, I now have three of the and a 167MT, along with a small collection of Zeiss lenses that I could not even hope to afford when I was young and married with children! I have had the rewind problem as well, but there is a great technician here in New Zealand who fixed it in no time. While I still use my Canon DSLR from time to time (the Zeiss lenses have transformed it) I have discovered that this camera is still may favourite 35mm camera after nearly forty years!

    • Reply
      June 20, 2020 at 10:25 am

      The funny thing is that people like me, who were not even envisioned 40 years ago, still find it slick 😉 Says something about camera, people, and epoch that shaped it

  • Reply
    Arthur Gottschalk
    October 9, 2020 at 6:48 pm

    Wow! Love that lens.

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