Zeiss Ikon Contessa S310 – heavy, metallic and toyish

One of the compact cameras I bought to see how they work and if I like them was a camera that I waited for a few weeks until finding one at a decent price on the german eBay: Zeiss Ikon Contessa S310 (you may find another opinion on this camera from Mike Elek’s page):

Contessa S310 – an aperture priority electronic shutter camera

I like compact cameras that are solidly built to last decades and I was hoping to be able to use this Voigtländer designed Zeiss Ikon camera for casual shooting. From the first moment I took it in my hands, I did not like it: there is something strange about its design and square geometry that just does not feel right.

I had to read the manual to be able to understand why the rewinding arm blocks when adding film. The back is difficult to take off and put on, the little lens’s controls are not very easy on the fingers. The viewfinder is indeed informative about the chosen aperture and very approximate shutter speed that the camera choses. Moreover, the approximate focusing distance is painted with symbols:

Full with information but somewhat “toyish” viewfinder of the S310

As you can see, when I say “approximate” speed, that really is approximate. Unfortunately, on my camera, even if the meter was working, for some unclear reasons, all the pictures of the first roll came out highly underexposed. Maybe the fact that I replaced the original batteries with a CR123a was not on the liking of the camera ?

Focusing is by guessing the distances and using smaller apertures for more depth of field. The S312 version of the same camera has a range finder.

Conclusion (influenced by the faulty camera I own): even if it would work, the ergonomics of this camera are pretty awful. For a compact one, it is pretty heavy. I much prefer the Olympus XA which, as long as it works, really fits much better its use of a compact film camera.

Kind of update: Agfa Selectronic or its rangefinder version Agfa Selectronic S are aperture priority cameras of the same era as the Zeiss Ikon. I grabbed a Selectronic to see how it works. The beast is very sensitive to the kind of batteries one puts inside. It would not work with zinc air replacements, only with LR44 equivalents (in the otherwise too large space provided for mercury 625 batteries). From time to time, the lamp that illuminates during shutter actuation would remain on forever, unless removing the batteries. I could not even test it and must conclude that there is a curse of old german compact cameras. Never had such problems with their old japanese cousins.


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