Zeiss Ikon Contessa (533/24) 1953-55

Tomei Collection




For those who simply admire fine instruments whether they be a high precision micrometer theodolite, an optical fiber faceplate coupled integrating sphere with radial LN2-cooled photomultiplier tubes, or a 35mm camera, the 35mm Contessa from Zeiss Ikon produced in the early 1950's is a basic pleasure.

This beautiful jewel of a camera had been purchased in early 1954 by a man of excellent taste who thoughtfully carved his name and address into the satin chrome top beside the fine built-in dual-range light meter. 

Naturally, this added feature severely reduces the value of the camera to the serious collector.  This is probably the reason I like it so much.   I suppose I'm just not that serious.

This camera's shutter will not fire unless film is loaded and advanced to the next frame.  There are a number of small, often overlooked features as well. The film advance is located on the bottom left and conveniently couples to another film advance knob fixed in the leather carrying case.  The frame counter is also located on the bottom as is the film rewind. The coupled rangefinder is based upon the rotating prism design used in other models like the Super Ikonta.  Its single combined view and rangefinder window is bright and the second central image is provided with a contrasting yellow filter to make framing and focusing especially easy.

Once I became accustomed to the ergonomics of this classic camera, it was a pleasure to use.   While walking about the Bronx arboretum several young people stopped me to ask about the camera.  Sort of like meeting new people while walking a puppy on the street.  ... and the meter looks good but doesn't work.  I have replaced it with my Voigtlander VC meter that conveniently mounts on the accessory shoe. 

Finally, this camera is often refered to as the "Contessa-35", a name that was not used by ZI in the contemporary literature provided with the camera.  It was simply called The Contessa. 



This example is referred to as the "second version" which was produced from 1953 to 1955. This version is marked by the Synchro Compur shutter and MX synch.  The lens is the coated T Zeiss-Opton 45mm f/2.8 Tessar.  The Synchro Compur shutter has speeds from 1 sec through 1/500th sec and a 5 second self-timer.

 The 533/24 Contessa went out of production in the Fall of 1955. Oddly, in 1960 ZI brought back the 533/24 Contessa model designation but in a very different camera.