Topic – A Two-Stage Process

How fun is this?

Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 19.01.48

The Contaflex in dis-order as shipped to me. (Photo: Tage Bäck)

Well I just had to find out. And it was actually quite “fun” (not to mention cheap). If fun entails spending one entire day crouched over small screws, gears and a constant flow of conundrums… Everyone to his own taste of course but I grew quite fond and impressed of what I saw.

The Contaflex is from the 1950-s when cameras left the folder-era and was heading towards the SLR-era  with exchangeable lenses. Akin to the Aires Penta this Contaflex’ finder goes black when the shutter is released. A re-cock is needed to see anything. It has a very stable and precise gear train  for “winding it up” for the next shot. Overall I really enjoyed the mechanics in it. The feel and sound of it is impressive!

After removing the top cover where usually all gears and stuff are visible this one has a “middle deck” where the gears are concealed. The “lower deck” is the film compartment as usual. All this is hidden for the user but an interesting approach for the rest of us. To access this middle deck extra screws must be removed and the decks then separate.

The first conundrum was how to open the thing. Loading film is unusual in that one removes the entire back to access the film compartment:

The ringlets should be lifted as in the picture then the right one turned clockwise and the left one counter clockwise. With the camera upside down and using both thumbs the cover can be slid off. Once open one can see the take-up spool which looks like it comes from a common 135-film cartridge. I bet it does but this has actually “Contax” imprinted on it.

Now how on earth could the shutter assembly simply fall off?  Enter conundrum two. Unfortunately (or perhaps we are lucky?) there are no photos of this but in short a pin should stop the distance scale from moving out of the “0.7 – \inf” sector. This pin was recessed somehow and the distance scale would unscrew freely. Bummer! With a pincer I managed to turn the pin and it would move into place more or less: Clearly it was a screw of some sort. But how to reach it from behind? … Yes, a complete disassembly was the only way. Working my way through the day and the camera at some point my little work bench was this mess:

Contaflex 2

With the top off not everything is revealed. The film compartment (black chunk in picture top) is removable and its top is the middle deck. Most of the stuff in this middle deck is above it, in the roof of it so to say, connected to the upper deck. A clever design and also mechanically very stable.

Apart from the usual problems there was really only one major set back. The light meter’s plastic cover is part of a multipurpose PLASTIC assembly. This assembly not only governs the position of the light meter ring it also serves as container for the rewind gear train. Unfortunately this plastic was broken in pieces! With the help of cyanoacrylatic glue and several small building steps spread out over man hours I managed to rebuild some of the shattered parts and hopefully the assembly will not experience abuse and hence break once again, in the future. It works for now and careful use but I really have some not-so-nice words to tell the designer of this. Why in God’s name involve plastic? It WILL deteriorate and a brass design would work just as well. In fact a brass replica could be one way to approach a future failure. A 3D-printed design does not have the precision needed unfortunately.

The aforementioned pin was only accessible from the inside and there it became obvious that someone at the factory had not followed the instructions. There are three screws holding the lens assembly. The “north” one doubles as the distance scale stop pin and this had unscrewed. That was the only problem. The other two had not moved a bit – since they were glued in place! Of course the “north” one should also have had a tiny drop of glue onto it… But hadn’t. So it unscrewed!

Having found the troubling pin the lens assembly was screwed back into place and the entire camera reassembled. Well, no. The reassembly also had a number of conundrums in it. But by lots and lots of dry-firing of the mechanism the exact position of the gears was found and slowly, through a time-consuming iterative process with much testing  at every stage, it came together again.

At the end of the day (literally) everything looked in place and fired as it should. There are however two things left 1) the light meter ring has not connected to a cam disk in the correct way (the cam works and the ring lever works so this is only a question of matching them) and 2) where the hell did this one come from???

Contaflex 1

The above little blighter must have fallen out from below the top plate, but where? And is it necessary? I’ll keep it inside the film compartment for next time.

Ah, and yes, of course the Compur shutter still needs an overhaul. But it works at 1/60th and faster now so that is good enough for now.


Light meter

The light meter is located behind a metal door, and lo and behold, it actually still works. These old light meters have normally lost all of their former glory and are either completely dead or work only very faintly, to the point that they are not useful at all. But this one actually responds to different lights! The light meter needle is shown in a window between the left knob and the pentaprism. As might be gathered from the picture below once the ASA of the film is set the left knob should be rotated until the ring is above the meter needle. Then the exposure is read off the scale at the red triangle and, finally, this exposure value is set onto the shutter. Once the shutter is set to this value one can select an appropriate aperture and the shutter time automatically follows! Apparently this was a novelty back in the 1950-s as quite a few camera’s of the time sport this feature.

img_5092.jpg IMG_5093

First align the circle to the needle, then read a value off the red outer scale. Finally rotate the red scale on the shutter to this value, this sets a shutter time/aperture ratio. The ration is kept constant when selecting a final aperture.

Last words

In fact I lied above. I started by trying to get the jammed shutter working. So my first step was to remove the front lens and work my way towards the innards of the Compur shutter. This is where conundrum one really occurred and the solution was the smallest f*ng screw I have ever seen on a camera that locked a lens element in place. Once that was found disassembly went according to plan. Compurs are common so unless some part was bent, broken or quite simply missing I assumed the shutter would not be an issue. The shutter still needs a run through but looked OK and worked on some faster speeds so I reassembled it for the time being.

Case closed for now. I need another day..



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