It is too hot to go around taking pictures, I have some free time, and I'm curious about what lurks inside a Contax III... so why not buy one and see by myself?

I found one on eBay, more or less functional but not very pretty. It is an interesting find because it came with a T coated collapsible Sonnar 5cm from 1938. Pre WWII factory coated lenses are not common : almost all Zeiss lenses for the Contax line were coated after 1940, but in the thirties it was at first a military secret, then it was unofficially offered to regular customers, perhaps as test samples. Nothing shows up about the T coating in prewar Zeiss Jena leaflets. This specific lens (serial number 2271923) is part of a batch of 4000 Sonnar 5cm f2, completed May 5th, 1938. Who knows who bought it first... rich customer, professional photographer, government agency? The coating gives a blueish color to the lenses, typical of early Zeiss Jena coatings. It is still in good shape : no separation, haze or fungus, just some small scratches on the front element.

The Contax III body is also from 1938 : it matches the lens. When it came is was very dirty, the chome was worn off in some places, showing the brass underneath. The meter was unresponsive and someone tried to dismantle it ... unsuccessfully. The self timer lever turned freely. The rangefinder and the shutter worked (it is very hard to repair these, I do not even dream to attempt it). The back showed the typical "Zeiss bumps" : there is a chemical reaction between the brass (rivets), aluminium (back), the leather and the glue. It produces a green goo which accumulates beneath the leather near the rivets. The only way to properly remove these bumps is to remove the leather, clean the residue and glue it back... The same green residue can be seen at the edges of the front plate.

I'm not a trained repairman so obviously, I can't attempt to adjust shutter speeds, ... The goal is here to give this old beast a really good cleaning. I will have to remove some of the leather covering, and the front and top plates. I will try to get the selftimer and the lightmeter to work, but I will have to be lucky (it is often just some corrosion on the contacts).

There is a good basic reference about the Contax II / III : it is Maizenberg's book about repairing the cameras made in the former Soviet Union. It has a chapter about the Kiev II / III, and these cameras were the same as the german Contax : the Soviets got 3 Contax assembly lines as war reparations, and set them up at the Arsenal works in Kiev, Ukraine. It says about the Kiev : "Most of the camera devices (particularly the shutter) are so complex that they can only be disassembled and repaired by experienced specialists." No kidding...

I hope I will be able to give this prewar relic some of its good looks back.

Note :

Early Kiev look like carbon copies of the german Contax, there are only subtle differences. The earliest even have german parts, mine has a german lightmeter marked DIN instead of Gost (soviet sensitivity scale). The early lenses have german glass in them too: my 1950 5cm 1.5 Jupiter-3 is in fact a german Sonnar 5cm 1.5 made in december 1945...