Short History Contax and Carl Zeiss


Hence this page is focused on Contax cameras since production date 1974, I will not go into detail with the older models. I guess there are enough books out there for those, who are interested in the history of Contax and Zeiss.

But a quick overview about the past helps to understand some situations better. First of all, it is for a Contax-beginner strange, that the lens maker and body-manufacturer is not the same company. The reason for this can be found in the past - so here we are:

1926 - four well-known companies in the photo industry (Ika, Ernemann, Goertz and Contessa Nettel) merge to one company called “Carl Zeiss Ikon AG”. The idea behind this merger came from “Carl Zeiss Jena”, which stayed independent from Zeiss Ikon, but was responsible for the operative business.

The merger was necessary because of the recession in Germany after the first world war. R&D costs could be shared and increasing costs of production could be easier handled.

Very often people mix the companies „Zeiss Ikon“ und „Carl Zeiss“. Basically the design und production of the Zeiss lenses was always separated from the production of the Contax bodies.

The lenses for Contax cameras were always designed from Carl Zeiss Jena (East Germany, close to Dresden), but the bodies for the Contax system were always made by Zeiss Ikon in Dresden (East Germany), which was a total different company.

They just cooperated with each other.
So even today, although Carl Zeiss Oberkochen (former Carl Zeiss Jena), has all rights on the name “Contax”, it is only developing and partly producing the lenses, but never the bodies for the system. You can see a similar cooperation of Carl Zeiss Oberkochen with Rolleiflex and Hasselblad.

But back again to the older times....

1932 - Contax I. The first 35mm system from Zeiss Ikon. Bajonett, metal-shutter with 1/1000 s.

1936 - Contax II with rangefinder. Viewer and range meter in one. 1/1250s. shutter speed.

1936 - Contax III additional with built in light meter.

1948 - Contax S. First single reflex with pentaprism. The S2/S2b from 1992 is the modern version of this body.

Milestone in lens design has been the „Olympia-Sonnar“ 2,8/18cm. There have been already 6 different interchangeable lenses for the Contax I. Until 1940 this number increased to 17.

Because of the second world war Zeiss Ikon stopped the production (early 40s). After the war, Zeiss Ikon has been divided.

Zeiss Ikon started from scratch in Stuttgart (West Germany). „Carl Zeiss Jena“ started also new in Oberkochen (West Germany, close to Stuttgart).

From now on, Zeiss Ikon brought some nice cameras on the market, but went out of business because of the strong competition from Japan in the late 60s. The last Contax was produced in the sixties, the Contaflex a couple of years longer.

1950 - Contax II a with flash synchronisation. One year after the founding of the “Bundesrepublik Deutschland”.

1951 - Contax IIIa with flash synchronisation and internal light meter.

1974 After the closing of Zeiss Ikon Stuttgart, Carl Zeiss Oberkochen decided to make a new joint venture with the Japanese company Yashica Co., Ltd - now Kyocera Corporation, similar to the cooperation with Zeiss Ikon. Carl Zeiss Oberkochen owns still the rights on the brand name “Contax”.

1975 RTS I is introduced on the photokina. Carl Zeiss in Oberkochen is developing the lenses for the new C/Y mount.

Because of lower production costs, they are mostly assembled in Japan from Kyocera, but under the strict control of Carl Zeiss Oberkochen. Actually, Carl Zeiss has its own people over there, who are checking the Zeiss quality in the normal production.

Even today, every single lens has its own certificate, that this specific lens was checked to meet the Carl Zeiss quality-criteria. As far as I know, Zeiss is the only company worldwide who publishes the MTF-curves of their lenses out of the normal production (no prototype or just computer model!).

1975 - RTS I. RTS = Real Time System. Extremely fast light meter and shutter. Design from F.A. Porsche. Electromagnetic release, 1/2000 s., Av, focal plane shutter mirror lock, 92% viewfinder.

1979 - Contax 139 Quartz. One of the bestsellers. Quartz controlled electronic for higher precision. 1/100 flash sync.

1980 - Contax 137 MD with internal winder. TTL flash metering

1982 - Contax 137 MA. (improved MD)

1982 - Contax RTS II. electronically operated horizontal-travel titanium shutter, TTL-flash metering, 1/2000 to 16 sec., mechanical shutter time of 1/50, HP (97%).

1984 - Contax 159 MM. MM = Multi Mode. First Contax camera with Av and program-mode. Because of the program mode-capability, all Zeiss lenses now produced with MM contacts (smallest aperture in green colour).

1984 - Contax T. Compact camera/point and shoot with 2.8/38 Carl Zeiss lens, Av, front panel, external flash.

1986 - Contax 167 MT. 1/4000 s., automatic bracketing (ABC-Bracketing), internal Motor, spot metering and centre weighted average metering, DX. Exposure counter etc. on the top in the viewfinder.

1990 - Contax RTS III. Current top of the line model for professionals. With RTV (real time vacuum mechanism), 1/8000 s., 1/250 flash sync., pre-flash-metering, second curtain, 5p/s., 100% HP, mirror lock, bracketing, self timer 2s. and 10s., etc.

1990 - Contax T2. Compact camera with 2.8/38 Carl Zeiss lens

1992 - Contax ST. Between 167 MT and RTS III. 1/6000 to 16 s., 1/200 s. flash sync.

1992 - Contax S2 (60years). purely mechanical, either with spot or cw-metering, mirror lock up with self timer.

1993 - Contax TVS I. Compact camera with Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 28-56 Zoom. Filters can be attached.

1994 - Contax RX. Similar to the ST, better handling, very quiet.

1995 - Contax G1. First Rangefinder with zooming viewfinder, auto focus, internal winder, bracketing etc., new Zeiss lenses for the G-line.

1996 - Contax AX. First Contax SLR with auto focus (automatic back focusing system) . 100% compatibility to all MF-MM lenses.

1997 - Contax Tix. APS camera with Zeiss lens.

1998 - Contax G2. Improved G1, faster winder etc.

1998 - Contax Aria, bestseller. small as a Leica M6, 480g, internal winder matrix, spot and cw-metering, bracketing etc.

1999 - Contax TVS II. Almost the same like TVS I (same lens), just a better (lighter) viewfinder, on/off switch different.

2000 - Contax 645 AF. Medium Format with auto focus. New Zeiss lenses for this system, which can also be used with the N-system via an adapter.

2000 - Contax N1. First Contax with “normal” auto focus (USM). New (bigger) N-mount for future full-size chips, new lens line just for the N-system (no compatibility with C/Y system), mirror lock up over selftimer, great matrix metering, great lenses. N-Lenses optimized with the newest know-how of the movie industry especially for reducing lens-flare and optimizing colour reproduction.

2000 - Contax TVS III. Compact Camera. Newly designed zoom 30mm-60mm.

2001 - Contax T3. Compact Camera. Newly designed 2,8/35 Zeiss lens.

2001 - Contax NX. Entry-level model for the N-system, smaller & lighter and less functions then the N1.

2002 – Contax N Digital. First full-size chip in 35mm, 6 million pixel, N- mount. Excellent handling, high battery consumption, Raw files with new Adobe Photoshop CS now easy to use.

2003 - Contax TVS Digital. 5MP P&S

2003 - Contax RX II (not in all countries available). Modified RX. No focus assist, 20% brighter viewfinder, different shutter (of the Aria?), therefore louder than the RX.

2004 - Contax SL 300R. 3.2 MP P&S. Zeiss zoom 5.8-17.4 (38.115mm in 35mm). Rtune Processor. Highest continuos fps in the digital P&S market.

2004 - Contax U4r. 4 MP P&S, Zeiss Zoom 5.8-17.4 (38.115mm in 35mm). Rtune Processor of the second generation. Highest continuous fps in the digital P&S market

2004 - Contax i4R 4MP P&S, with fixed Zeiss lens 6.5/2.8 (39mm in 35mm)

(last update: Oct. 2004)


New Member
Any new updates since 2004 please?

Just discovered this forum, and thought to ask about the more recent history of Zeiss/Contax/

Many thanks in advance.


Active Member
Contax History Update

In the spring of 2005 Kyocera decided to discontinue all Contax production due to the difficulties for a small size camera maker in keeping up to date in the rapidly changing digital world. Contax's production cycle for top of the line cameras was 10 years, while current digital cycles are 3-4 years.

Zeiss now has relationships with Sony in digital still and video cameras and Cosina in rangefinder film (Zeiss Ikon) cameras and with Cosina in manual focus lenses for Nikon, Canon etc, as well as makinglenses themselves.

The name Contax is a Carl Zeiss trademark and has now reverted to Carl Zeiss and is available for future use by them.