May 232014
 

Testing the real Zeiss Ikon, part two

By Huss Hardan

Hey Brandon and Steve, thanks for posting my Zeiss Ikon Contessa review a short while back.
I had been receiving messages from readers asking me to post some more pics, to show what a compact camera from 1953 can do. So here goes, with a second Contessa that I bought for myself. This one works perfectly at all speeds, does not scratch the negatives, and has a clearer viewfinder.

Film used was Fuji Pro 160S, metering by Sunny F16 rule, 1 hour scan & dev by Costco.
The first shots were taken in Venice and Santa Monica, on the way up to Paramount Ranch in the Santa Monica mountains. This is a movie/tv set where Little House on the Prairie, Dr.Quinn and other shows were filmed. It is open to the public and well worth the visit for some fun location shooting.
The second to last shot got hit by some lens flare. I have a lens shade on order to prevent that in the future!

Best regards
Huss

husshardan.com

Contessa 1

Contessa 2

Contessa 3

Contessa 4

Contessa 5

Contessa 6

Contessa 7

May 022014
 

Testing the real Zeiss Ikon

By Huss Hardan

Leica and Zeiss-1

Many people lust over the Zeiss Ikon ZM – the sadly recently discontinued 35mm rangefinder made by Cosina. This camera always piqued my curiosity but things went the way they did, and I ended up with a brace of Leica M3s.
Of course, I am always on the look out for a bargain, but my searches always turned up another Zeiss Ikon. The Zeiss Ikon Contessa 35.

This was a ‘real’ Zeiss Ikon rangefinder, in as much as it was built-in Stuttgart, Germany in the early 1950s. An incredibly well made camera, really over-built for its use, with a Zeiss Tessar 45mm f 2.8 lens. The lens hid behind a draw bridge style panel, which allowed it to collapse into the body. A nifty design that is all metal, without rubber or fabric bellows that can be quite delicate.

As luck would have it, my girlfriend’s sister came across one and asked me to test it. I first checked it empty with the back open to see if it worked at all. This is when I discovered that the only shutter speeds that functioned were B and anything higher than 1/50. Which would be fine as I would be using it in daylight. To be fair, every old camera that I have bought has needed a clean/lube/adjust before it worked properly. It is just a matter of age and dried out lubricants. But I digress… I loaded the Zeiss with some expired (but refrigerated) Fuji Pro 160S and gave it a shot…

It took a little getting used to, as advancing the film was performed by a dial on the base. Once that was done you had to cock the shutter with a lever that was separate from the shooting lever/button that is next to the lens. Shutter speeds (B-1/500), aperture settings (2.8-22) and focus (linked rangefinder) are all adjusted using dials on the lens. The camera has a built-in light meter, but it has long since expired so I just estimated based on experience.

The upside to the Zeiss Ikon Contessa – it is nice and compact, really fun to use, and people go nuts when you pull it out. They cannot believe that you are using such an antique! The down side is that I compared it to my Leica M3. I picked the dual stroke version as it was built at about the same time. The M3 really has a ‘modern’ film camera lay out, if you know how to use pretty much any modern 35mm camera, you’ll know how to use an M3. But the most glaring difference is the viewfinder. It is tiny and dark on the Zeiss, with no frame lines. So the composition of many of my shots were a bit off.

The M3 has, still, the best viewfinder I have ever used. If you ever get the chance, you really need to take a peak through one.

Back to the Contessa. I shot the test roll in a day down at the beach, dropped it off at Costco for their one hour develop and scan ($4.86!), loaded the jpegs into Lightroom and what you see is what I got. I adjusted a bit for contrast and exposure but nothing major. The camera did do one bad thing, it apparently scratched a bunch of horizontal lines across the negatives. This is what happens when someone hands you a camera from the 1950s and asks you to check it out!

As always, all comments are welcome as long as they are complimentary..
;)

Best regards
Huss
husshardan.com

Pic 1, local VW Bug with a bit of lens flare at the top

Zeiss Ikon Contessa-1
Pic 2, back side of a performing arts building

Zeiss Ikon Contessa-2
Pic 3, beach scene in Santa Monica, CA

Zeiss Ikon Contessa-3
Pic 4, stairs and sandals, Annenberg Beach House, Santa Monica, CA.

Zeiss Ikon Contessa-4

Apr 252014
 

Friday Film with the Zeiss Ikon and some Kodak By Marco Grottolo

By Marco Grottolo

First a little bit about what you can find in Sicily (all pictures are from the same trip):

1. Cities like nowhere else (here the city of Ragusa):

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

2. Fantastic beaches (here the Zingaro Natural Reserve):

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

3. Excellent food and wine (here drinking some Marsala wine in the city of Marsala):

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

4. …and of course much more…

Now going back to the gear: for this trip I chose one camera and one lens:

  • Zeiss Ikon ZM
  • Zeiss Planar T* 2.0/50 mm
  • A few rolls of Kodak Ektar 100

The Ikon

I recently bought it used but in perfect conditions. I also own a Leica M6. I’d like to share a few thoughts about the Ikon (of course these are just my impressions – I am not a professional reviewer/photographer and I don’t want to offend anybody with the following statements):

  1. The Ikon is almost 100g lighter and you feel it when carrying it around. On the other hand the Ikon does not feel like a undestroyable German panzer as the M6 does… but it does not feel cheap either
  2.  The Ikon has a brighter and bigger viewfinder, superior to the M6, no questions here
  3.  The film advance lever of the Ikon feels really nice, I would say superior to the M6
  4.  The Ikon has aperture priority mode. I know the M7 has it too, but I don’t have an M7…
  5.  In the Ikon viewfinder you see the chosen shutter speed; the M6 does not show any information other than if the picture is under/over-exposed
  6.  1/2000 vs 1/1000. But in order to shot f/2 on a sunny day, you need an ND filter anyway…

Does the Ikon have room for improvement? A few ideas:

  1. The rangefinder patch tends to disappear if your eye is not perfectly aligned. I find the M6 more convenient here
  2. The shutter speed info may be difficult to read on a sunny day. Sometimes I had to move my left hand in front of the viewfinder, obscuring the left-hand side of the finder, in order to read the shutter speed.
  3.  If it had a digital full frame sensor, Zeiss (maybe in partnership with a good digital company) would address a market segment which is currently served by a monopolist. I see some clear business opportunities here… what are they waiting for?

I can see people using the Ikon for street photography, with some speed advantage compared to the M6 due to the aperture priority mode.

City of Marsala

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Can the Ikon be used for action and sport? Of course not, unless you are lucky and can predict the movements of your subject:

On the beach

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

The Planar

Fantastic lens period. Steve has reviewed it a couple of times. Nothing to add. Most of the pictures in this essay are taken at f/2.8.

Fauna and flora on the Island of Favignana

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

The Ektar

This film works quite well for landscapes, but I had issues with people. I found myself de-saturating red and orange in post processing on every portrait. As far as sharpness is concerned, I have no complaint. Scanning might be tricky. All my scans (made by a professional lab) had some green cast that I had to remove adjusting the White Balance. All pictures here have been post processed playing with basic adjustments only: tones, brightness/contrast, saturation/vibrance (and White Balance).

Landscape near the town of Scopello (see the vignetting introduced by the Planar)

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Wedding in the city of Marsala (vignetting here is in post)

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Sunset, somewhere on the road

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Lab scans or home scans?

I sent my films for development to a lab here in Germany and asked to scan them as JPG, 3000×2000 (for an honest 4.29 EUR/roll). From the EXIF I see they are scanned with an Agfa d-lab.2/3. How does it compare to my small Plutek 7600i? The cathedral in the city of Modica will be my home-made resolution test-chart… ;-)

Autosave-File vom d-lab2/3 der AgfaPhoto GmbH

Here a100% crop of the frame above scanned by the lab (left, unprocessed) and scanned with my Plustek (right) at 3600 dpi (below max resolution), no sharpening, no noise reduction, standard negative profile, with only some minor contrast/tone adjustments and resized to 3000×2000 to make it comparable to the lab scan.
Do you see any difference? Maybe the lab scan is shaper, but the Plustek picture is basically raw data from the scanner…

Oct 252012
 

My Camera

by Ofri Wolfus

Hi Steve, I thought I’d share with you the story of my cameras. It turned out quite long, so feel free to post it if you like (I’ll be honored :). Also, English is not my mother language, so sorry for any mistakes.

The Nikon D90

I started being interested in photography about 5 years ago. Having no experience at all, I started doing my homework before deciding which camera to buy. At this time my only experience has been with phone cameras and P&S, and I didn’t even know what a DSLR was. Scanning the universe of the internet taught me about DSLRs, lenses and so on, but it was all theoretical. I never used one, and had to base my decisions about what other people say, having no self preference. Finally, after a lot of hours reading reviews, I got my very own, brand new, Nikon D90 with the a 18-105mm kit lens, a nikon tripod and a small camera bag that fitted the kit.

I remember taking my first shot with the D90 – I was absolutely blown away! I never experienced shallow DOF before, and the quality compared to my old P&S was simply stunning. Soon I started to learn anything I can about this camera. I learned what the Shutter, Aperture and ISO are. I learned about different lenses, RAW, JPEG, saturation, contrast, etc, and the more I learned, the more I wanted a wide-angle lens. It turned out that my favourite subjects are landscapes, and so I bought myself a Tokina 11-16mm. Other lenses came in as well, but this Tokina has been (and still is) my favourite by far. It is sharp, really fast for its focal length (f/2.8), takes regular screw in filters, and most importantly – ultra wide. It’s also worth to note that I quickly found the joy of using primes rather than zooms, and didn’t touch the 18-105 ever since.

I had a lot of my best shots taken with the D90 and the Tokina. They served me well in almost any situation, from long trips to late night shooting (it’s amazing what you can shoot handheld with an f/2.8 ultra wide). The problem for me was that the more I used this combination, the more I suffered. I really liked the shots that came out, but the actual picture taking experience has been a pain. The D90′s interface has tons of features that I don’t use and don’t care about, and together with the Tokina it’s a pig. It’s heavy, big, and doesn’t fit in my bags (I became a hater of dedicated camera bags, and use only “regular”, unpadded, bags). Also the fact that I always carried an extra normal fast lens (either the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 D or the Nikon 35mm f/1.8 DX) with me didn’t help. And so my search for alternatives has began.

The Zeiss Ikon

IIRC, this search is what had led me to your site, Steve, and your passion about Leica made me spend many hours reading about rangefinders. Unable to afford a digital Leica, I realized I’ll had to use a film camera if I wanted the best possible combination of price, quality and compactness. This was not an easy choice. I never shot film in my life before. At some point, I finally made my mind and decided to give it a shot. I bought a new silver Zeiss Ikon together with three lenses: Voigtlander 15mm, Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f/1.4 MC, and a Zeiss ZM Planar 50mm f/2 (the last two thanks to your reviews! :).

I started by getting a bunch of films like Tri-X, Velvia 50, Provia and more. It was such an alien feeling after the D90, but every time I held this Zeiss with any of these lenses I simply had a huge smile smeared on my face. I can’t explain it. It’s such a unique feeling shooting a film rangefinder.

This part of my story sadly has a sad ending. Before I got a chance at being any good, the only store in my area that developed slides stopped doing it. This was a major problem but I hadn’t given up yet. I bought myself a Plustek OpticFilm 7600i from B&H together with a bunch of tools for home development. I also went to a local store, and got myself a kit of E6 and BW chemicals. Now all I was missing is actually knowing how to develop… :)

The more I learned about E6 (which was my main interest), I realized I’ll have to somehow control the temperature of the development tank, but I couldn’t find a reasonably priced solution. That also didn’t stop me, and I sorta built my own. I took a big polystyrene box and filled it with a mix of hot/cool water until I reached the desired temperature. Now in order to maintain that temperature, I took a big resistor and connected it to a variable transformer. I then threw the resistor into the water and varied the voltage in order to control the heat produced by the resistor. This was mostly a trial and error, but after playing with it for a while I was able to keep the temperature constant enough for about an hour or so.

As you can probably imagine, this setup is far from ideal. I had to keep an eye for too much stuff simultaneously, and more often than not I’d ruin the films. I even got electrocuted at some point. Since the voltage was low no harm has been done, but it’s not something I’d like to do for fun :) That said, what finally made me give up on film was the scanning. It took forever and it wasn’t easy (at least for me) to get good colors out of the scanned files. At some point I found myself finishing a bunch of rolls and simply avoiding developing them knowing it’d take me a full day to get everything done. And that’s for 3 rolls at best.

The Ricoh GXR

At this point I was again looking for alternatives. Lucky for me, I found about the wonderful Ricoh GXR. At that time the M mount module was not yet available, but it has already been announced. Again, following your reviews I decided to get myself the 50mm module and wait for the M mount to arrive. Shortly after receiving the 50mm module I went on a two weeks trip, and took the D90, Tokina 11-16 and the Ricoh with me. During that trip I found myself using the Ricoh much more than the D90 for two main reasons – color and portability. The GXR produced so much better colors and was so much easier to carry. Even though I’m a landscape addict I kept using the Ricoh for these two reasons. Honestly, I had about zero keepers from the 50mm, but it was so much more fun.

Shortly after the GXR M Mount was available, and after seeing a bunch of reviews about it, I got myself one. It was probably the best camera purchase I’ve made. Using it is so much fun and the results are so rewarding that I always want to take it with me. I have three lens combinations that I use. My goto choice is only the 50mm Zeiss. Every time I use it I’m simply stunned by the IQ. However, 50mm f/2 on the crop sensor is sometimes too long for me. For these occasions, as well as when shooting at night or when feeling nostalgic, I pick the Voigtlander 35mm f/1.4. It’s qualities are nowhere near the Zeiss but it has its uses. It’s also the smallest of all my lenses and so if I’m not sure whether I’m going to use the camera or not it’s a nice fit. Finally, there’s my trip configuration. When going on a trip I take the Voigtlander 15mm together with the 50mm Zeiss, and leave the 35mm at home/the hotel. For me these are the ultimate combinations that fit everything I do.

Finally, I’d like to talk a bit about the GXR body. IMO it’s a spectacular camera. It’s incredibly compact and produces wonderful results. It’s by far, the most capable and fun camera I’ve ever seen. There are, however a few things I’d like Ricoh to fix:

1. Take away all the junk menus. When I first bought the GXR it had a few simple menus with all the needed functionality and then some. However it was still focused enough that I could take advantage of everything I needed. Sadly with every firmware update they’ve been cramming more and more stuff into the poor menus and now I can’t find anything. It takes forever to get to the right option.

2. Somewhat repeating the above, Ricoh please remember we really only need shutter, ISO, exposure control and color control. Actually even color control is usually done afterwards on the computer. Personally, I leave shutter and ISO on auto all the time and only touch the color presets. Fuji seems to get it with their X100 (so I heard), so why can’t you?

3. There are way too many buttons on the body that have useless functions. Really Ricoh, how often do you use the self timer that you need a dedicated button for it?

4. Why is magnification hard wired to a long press on the OK button? It drives me crazy if I do it by mistake and now have to circle through all magnification ratios in order to get back to the full frame.

5. Finally, please add a full frame sensor. It’s such a shame to waste half the area of the wonderful M lenses, but it’s also incredibly annoying to work with the crop factor. Want a fast 35mm equivalent? Have fun finding a 24mm with f/2 or faster. AFAIK the only option is the Leica SUMMILUX 24mm f/1.4 which is way above my budget.

To sum up, I think there are three groups of people: those that only care about the final photos, those that care only about their cameras and their technical abilities, and then there are people like me who care the most about the experience. I may not take the best photos or own the best cameras, but I try to have the best possible experience and simply have fun :)
Yours,
Ofri Wolfus

His Flickr is HERE and he has some gorgeous photos so check it out!

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