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Photography Question 

Repair or Buy New Camera?

I plan to take intro to photography and am wondering if I should buy a new camera or try to work with what I have. My mom has a very old Carl Zeiss camera that seems to be in working condition except the metering system is broken. (Sorry to be vague - I don't have the model number, I think it's Contax and it's probably over 20 years old.) I took it to a repair shop and they said because they don't make those parts anymore, there's no way to fix it and suggested that I buy a light meter instead, which are pretty expensive by itself. Should I take his suggestion and purchase a light meter (if anyone has some good recommendations) or invest in a new camera? Or does anyone know of a good repair shop that specializes in Zeiss cameras?


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4/23/2003 12:15:45 PM

doug Nelson   If a 20-year old camera is very old, then so is every piece of photo equipment I own, as well as half the shirts in my closet. Meters aren't all that hard to fix, but you may have to get onto the 'net and look for a repair shop and send it off. Check out in Atlanta. Fixing it will be cheaper than a hand-held meter, and a lot cheaper than a new plastic box of transistors and little motors with a mediocre lens. A big reason to keep your Contax is that Carl Zeiss Contax lenses are second to NONE in sharpness and contrast. If you decide not to keep it, sell it on ebay.

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4/23/2003 12:43:16 PM

Stan    Great answer, Mr Nelson. I keep a lot of my old shirts, too. Heck, maybe my Neru jacket will make a comeback.

Jean could also consider a used handheld meter. I bought a little old Weston on ebay for less than $10, and even though it only goes up to 800 ASA, it gives me what I need.

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4/23/2003 9:03:48 PM

Jean    Oops - didn't mean to offend - I figured anything that predated me must be ancient - just kidding! Thanks so much for the advice - actually, I found out it's a Contaflex Automatic S, so I'm not sure if the quality is the same as the Contax lenses. is estimating $145 for the repairs, so is it worth it to send it off? I've never used a light meter before, so I hope it's not too difficult for a beginner to use.

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4/24/2003 7:47:10 AM

doug Nelson   See

Your camera predates the oldest of these. Being THAT old, it may have problems other than the meter. When my shirts get THAT old, I use 'em to wax the car. The gears and springs in cameras do get old and the lubricant dries out. It'll need a thorough overhaul.

You can 1. Try to find an inexpensive external meter as Stan did, and hope the shutter speeds are somewhat accurate.
2. Take a chance and get the meter fixed, not knowing what else needs to be fixed.
3. Spend the $145 at, or a local store on a good used 35 SLR with a 50-mm lens. Then sell the Contaflex and lens on ebay. The lens may be worth $145 if not more. Old camera nuts will buy anything.

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4/24/2003 11:44:24 AM

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  Actually, the camera is a Zeiss Ikon. I'd bet dollars to donuts the lens is Carl Zeiss though (two different firms in a "foundation" conglomerate of companies).

If the meter is the only problem and it's otherwise in good working condition
- clear/clean lens without blemishes
- controls work easily
- smooth winding mechanism
- working shutter with decent accuracy
then you have an excellent camera with an outstanding lens! My recommendation in that case? Get a hand-held meter and work a little at estimating exposures too. There are some small meters available that can mount in the camera's hot shoe (avoid the selenium ones though). Photographers from the era of your camera routinely estimated exposures for outdoor shooting.

I have, and routinely use, a 50 year old Contax IIIa rangefinder made by Zeiss Ikon with a Carl Zeiss lens. Had its shutter completely overhauled for slightly less than $200 several years ago . . . and that was well worth the cost . . . body and lens combo for my RF are valued at about $600-$800 depending on the market in which it would be bought/sold.

The IIIa RF has a selenium meter on top that works much like a hand held one. It still works, but is a little finicky due to its age. When using it I also estimate what I think the exposure should be as a sanity check and go from there. It's not that hard if you work at doing it for a while. Your photography ancestors managed to handle manually setting exposures quite sucessfully for decades . . . and many estimated outdoor daylight exposures quite successfully too, especially with B&W and color negative films.

Not surprised you got the response you did from a "generic" camera repair service. If you still need to find someone that specializes in working on older Zeiss Ikon cameras, let me know. There are several around the U.S. that do excellent work for reasonable rates and I can look up their names/addresses. They're all "one-man" shops and well known with good reputations among the Zeiss Ikon collectors; turnaround is typically two to three months.

-- John

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4/24/2003 10:42:15 PM

Jean    Hi John,

Sorry for responding back so late - but thanks so much for the great advice. You're right about the lenses - both are Carl Zeiss (50mm F2.8 Tessar and 115mm Pro tessar F4), so I gather from what everyone is saying, it's worth it to fix up the camera and use a light meter to estimate. I think I still need someone to do a general check on it - the shutter seems be a little stuck - it takes a second or two to fully close or on different settings will stay open. I would really appreciate any of your suggestions for repair shops.

Thanks again!

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5/13/2003 6:01:29 PM

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