Zeiss-Ikon Contax II

Cameras of Ansel Adams

In an article which appeared in Popular Photography, August 1983, Ansel said, “I have worked with Contax I, II, III and the Contarex Professional…” I have not found any other references to the Contax II; however, I have seen a photo online of a display with a Contax III purported to be his camera.

The camera shown here is a late 1930s Contax II, with an early 1930s 135mm Zeiss Sonar lens, and an adjustable turret-finder set to the 135mm lens. This camera was upgraded with a flash contact, that was a typical aftermarket improvement.

The Contax II was a significant 1936 improvement over original Contax of 1932. The shutter was more reliable, the speed controls were all incorporated into one knob, and the rangefinder and viewfinder windows were combined. The film loading was also much simpler than on a Barnack Leica of that era.

Despite only being available in the US for 4 model years, 1936 – 1939, this became one of the most popular 35mm press and professional cameras of the era, and into WWII. It was very popular with the LIFE Magazine staff, including Margaret Bourke-White, Carl Mydans, and Robert Capa.