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I picked this up a while ago and only recently got around to trying it. Originally I got this as a body only and subsequently bought a Kiev lens just to be able to use it; if I liked it I would think about something more original.  I also bought a spool as they are loose on these and the original one was lost (or at least didn’t come with it).

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You apparently can make a spool out of the middle of a 35mm canister but my attempt was poor and didn’t quite fit; I think the film manufacturer is important in choosing your donor.

This is a Contax from 1936 which was a time when Contax was in competition with the likes of Leica, and from many peoples point of view, it competed very well some may say the Contax was better.

Make Model Film/format Year Lens Shutter Aperture
Contax III 35mm Rangefinder c1936 Kiev 50mm 1:2 B, 4, 2, 1, ½, 1/5, 1/10, 1/25, 1/50, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500 and 1/1250 F2 -22

This was the last of the rangefinder series they made before the war, after which the Contax brand was broken up; which is probably why Leica are still here and slightly Contax less so.  After the war the manufacturing was split with some being made in Russia as effectively a copy under the Kiev name and Contax lost many of their designs and staff.

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The Contax III is the same as the II but it has a selenium exposure meter added (one of the earliest cameras to have a built in meter).  In my opinion the meter looks like an add on and the previous model is aesthetically better looking and particularly as it doesn’t actually work any more on this one is not a worthy addition.

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As I mentioned in a previous post, with this being a high end camera with a collectible following and a large number of later ‘copies’ available from Russia there are a lots of fakes on the market usually Kiev ‘s dressed as Contax’s.  I’m no expert but my research leads me to believe this is a genuine Contax though not the best example maybe.

It has issues apart from the general wear and tear; firstly the exposure meter as I have already mentioned sometimes looks like it is doing something but I have not been able to successfully use.  Second there is a crack in the glass on the viewfinder; this has no effect on operation but it is a fault, the self timer does not work at all, and lastly there is a small missing piece of leather on one edge which has allowed a little surface rust.  None of these really affect the use of the camera and most can be resolved fairly easily I expect.  Though it has to be said that these cameras are known to be difficult to work on.

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Finally I took this out for a spin.

To be honest I didn’t really get on with it.  Part of me wanted this to be the camera I never knew was my dream camera but alas, no.  Mostly due to the functions not being where I expect them to be and also some of them were a little stiff.  I’m sure that if I used it regularly it would become second nature but I’m not sure I want to put in the effort.

Focusing is via a small wheel on the top where you right hand index finger rests which seems perfect but for me I just didn’t take to it and I found that as the rangefinder is also just there my other finger tended to block the view.  You can press a small button next to the wheel which releases the lens for focusing  in the traditional way but that seemed to be contrary to the point.  The rangefinder itself shows as a small gold rectangle in the viewfinder, I found it too small and difficult to focus on (that may be just my aging eyes though).  Exposure felt awkward to me too, aperture was fine on the lens but the shutter speed on the top right didn’t feel right.  I expect this is all about what you are used to but either way the experience for me was fiddly and far from instinctive and as a result this won’t be a keeper.

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I used a roll of expired Kodakcolor 200 and based upon the results all seems to work fine. The film had slight issues as the blacks had quite a green tinge to them which I have tried to correct in the images below (there are a couple of nice ones in there).