In shooting vintage cameras there exists something of a “sweet spot”; a kind of “Goldilocks zone” that only a certain number of cameras occupy. For many shooters, a camera needs to be old enough to have the vintage appeal we’re pining for, yet not be so old that it’s prohibitively slow and archaic in its operation.
We’ve seen it before. If a camera’s too old it puts people off. Because of this, many excellent cameras go unappreciated and unused. Think of the folding cameras of the 1950s or even TLR (twin lens reflex) cameras like the Minolta Autocord. These are exceptional machines capable of taking amazing pictures, and they’re pretty easy to use once you’ve done a bit of reading.
But these cameras look simply ancient, and it’s this old-fashioned aesthetic that causes many people to shy away. The result? They may never experience the joy of ground glass viewfinders, the calm of shooting a fully manual camera, or the exceptional image quality of larger format machines. It’s a shame, really. But just because a camera’s very old, doesn’t mean it can’t be a fun, everyday shooter.
Take the Zeiss Ikon Contina II that we’ve been using for the past few weeks. It’s more than six decades old, smells like a dusty old goat, and looks like it belongs in a museum. But guess what? It takes great pictures! Sure, it’s not as quick or as sexy as your Sony A7R, but you still love your grandma even though she’s no Hannah Davis. So cut the Zeiss some slack.
If you’re looking for a beautiful, antique, 35mm folding camera that’s actually usable, the Contina II may be it. There are some issues, but they won’t be a deal breaker for most. If you’re ready to find out what Germany had to offer photographers of the 1950s, read on.