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The Twin Lens Contaflex

The meter cell hidden under a flap above the lens

1935: Twin Lens Contaflex

Originally known simply as The Contaflex, this twin lens reflex later acquired its ‘twin lens’ tag to distinguish it from a range of single lens reflexes with the same name made in the 1950s. Unusual for a TLR, it takes 35mm film.


The Contaflex was the first camera equipped with a built-in photoelectric exposure meter, whose Selenium cell is found under a flap above the viewing lens. This drives a needle in a window beside the viewfinder that is linked to a lever that moves shutter speeds against an aperture scale. Adjusting the lever until the needle matches a central symbol indicates correct exposure on the two scales. This is then set manually.


The shooting lens has a 50mm focal length, which is fine for 35mm photography, but impractical for its small image size on a focusing screen. To combat that, the viewing lens focal length is 80mm, which doubles the size of the viewfinder image. The two lenses are geared to move independently to ensure matched focusing. The focusing screen is a glass lens, which gives a brilliant image.


Focal plane shutter speeds run 1/2-1/1000 second and there is a choice of three standard lenses: 50mm f/2.8 Tessar, f/2 Sonnar or f/1.5 Sonnar. Lenses are interchangeable: 35mm, 85mm and 135mm are available with their fields of view etched onto the focusing screen. Contrary to popular belief, the camera does not accept Contax lenses.


The Contaflex is a superb piece of mechanical and optical engineering for users and collectors alike.

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