There are plenty of unique cameras that you can get your hands on, most of them come from the era of film. And one of the cameras in the group is the Contaflex 126. While you may recognize the Contaflex name, I have reviewed a pair of them (Contaflex Super and Super B) the Contaflex 126 is not a common camera and if you’ve got a keen eye you will have already guessed the reason. Yes, the Contaflex 126 takes the 126/Instamatic cartridge format introduced by Kodak in 1963. While Instamatic cameras are a dime a dozen, SLRs that take the format are rare, in fact, there were ever only three different models made. The obvious Kodak Instamatic Reflex, the Contaflex 126, and the Rollei SL26. There are two individuals I have to thank for this review, the first being Kevin Pashuk for the camera and Michael Raso and the Film Photography Project for supplying the reloaded 126 cartridge with TMax 100.
Make: Zeiss Ikon
Model: Contaflex 126
Type: Single Lens Reflex
Format: 126 (Instamatic), 24x24mm
Lens: Interchangeable, 126 Mount
Year of Manufacture: 1967
The design of the Contaflex 126 is perhaps one of my favourites, short squat profile, and easy to operate even for someone who has limited knowledge of Instamatic Cameras. The design reminds me of the new Reflex SLR system being produced this year. The film advance is a single stroke slide that if you used actual 126 film make it fairly quick to operate. Size and Weight make the camera easy to carry about without too much trouble and it fits easily in the hand. The camera has a shutter priority meter with a limited range of shutter speeds. But the best part of the camera is the lenses, they’re all Carl Zeiss and it shows in the images, most are Tessar or Distagon design, there was a cheap Plantar model but you do want to get the better Tessar model.
The most obvious downfall for the camera is the fact it takes 126 film, 126 hasn’t been made in a decade and while there is still plenty of expired stock left there are a couple of options that allow you to reload old cartridges and adapters (Fakmatic). But herein lies the problem, 126 film has single indexing sprockets which many cameras including the Contaflex 126, required to cock the shutter upon advance. While 126 is the same basic size as 135 (35mm), there are a lot more sprockets. I got past this by just putting the lens cap over and fire and advance to most it to the right spacing. And while I can speak to the reloads, I’m not sure how the camera will handle the Fakmatic, as the camera takes the film speed from the cartridge. The second issue with the camera is the placement of the light meter, it sits on top of the body so it gets the reading from any light source above the photographer, rather than reflecting off the subject in a thru-the-lens setup. While the images seemed to be alright, I did notice in some cases the images were either under or overexposed due to the light filtering in from above.
As a camera, the Contaflex 126 is a handsome unit and today would make a better shelf-queen than a daily user and there are a couple reasons for that. First is the struggle to use 35mm in the camera the second is the fact it needs a mercury cell. While you can get Wyne cells, they are pricey and hard to find outside of major centres with a speciality photography store. And then there’s the cost. While the camera bodies can be had cheap because they clearly show they’re 126 format, it’s the lenses. Many resellers feel they can take the Contaflex 126 lenses and use them on the other Contaflex bodies and combined with the Zeiss branding the prices skyrocket. The sad fact is that the Contaflex 126 lenses only work on the 126 camera.
All Photos Taken at Crawford Lake Conservation Area, Milton, Ontario
Zeiss Ikon Contaflex 126 – Carl Zeiss Tessar 2,8/45 – Kodak TMax 100 @ ASA-100
Ilford Microphen (Stock) 8:00 @ 20C