Contax 139 Quartz – Camera Review

Contax 139 Quartz – Camera Review

1280 720 James Tocchio

I recently found myself the reluctant owner of a Contax 139 Quartz 35mm SLR, a camera about which I knew little and for which I cared even less. After all, if this rebranded, electronic Yashica were anything worthwhile I’d have heard about it from my friends at the camera shop, or spied one scrolling by in my Instagram feed. Yes, surely if the 139Q mattered I’d have known about it. Still, it was being sold with a fairly legendary Zeiss lens attached, so I bought the whole kit and awaited its arrival. Getting hands on this beautiful glass would be a big win for anyone, no matter what substandard camera so lecherously clung to it.

Luckily, this uncharacteristic bout of arrogant self-assurance was not much more than a 24-hour bug. When the camera arrived and I pulled it from its packaging my pompous windbaggery was justifiably and firmly checked. I held the Contax, flicked its controls, squeezed off a few shutter releases, and decided my next action should be to insert into my gaping opinion hole the proverbial sock.

Just over a month later the Contax has become a constant companion. While it’s not a perfect camera, it’s surely one of the best I’ve ever shot. With objectivity (and humility) happily renewed, here’s the great, the good, and the bad about Contax’s electric wonder.

Contax 139 Quartz Review (6 of 11)

I hinted that this camera is what pedantic photo geeks would describe as being “not really a Contax.” Why would they say this? Because they’re annoying, for sure, but also because it’s technically true.

But before we get too far here, we should clear up some history and set the record for readers who may not be up to speed on their Contax. Here, then, is our (outrageously) condensed Contax timeline.

Many eons ago, when Dinosaurs stalked minor mammals through the ferny underbrush and Contax was a new company, Leica was the most lauded camera maker in the world. Their rangefinder system was top shelf stuff. Dresden-based optics maker Zeiss wanted a piece of the pie, so they created a camera to best Leica’s model in every way. This machine was to be known as the Contax, and it was in many ways superior to Leica’s rangefinder.

Less than a decade later, someone in Europe started a little war. This turned into a larger war, and then a really big, globe-sized war. Things were pretty ugly for a while, and eventually the guy that started the war died. As a result of their nation’s loss, many German companies were forced to surrender patents, dissolve entirely, or split into smaller companies. This included Zeiss.

Some other things happened in Europe that made everyone suspicious of everyone else. People built a wall between two Zeiss plants, and Zeiss split into multiple diminished entities. Economic and political pressures from home and abroad further stressed the camera maker on both sides of the wall, with the Zeiss on the western side concluding that a partnership was needed if the company was to survive these pressures, and the increasing dominance of Japanese camera makers.

Unable to work with the jerks on the eastern side of the wall because some people across the Atlantic Ocean didn’t like that idea, they partnered with a Japanese optics company called Yashica, who were well-respected in the field of lens-making. This partnership quickly bore fruit; a camera born from a top secret project. Internal documents referenced the charmingly quaint nomenclature “Top Secret Project 130.” So sneaky, it hurts. As a result, 1975 saw release of the now-legendary Contax RTS SLR camera.

Following the success of the professional-level RTS, Yashica and Zeiss were eager to introduce a camera more suited to the burgeoning advanced amateur photographer market. Smaller, lighter, and yet nearly as capable as the RTS that preceded it, 1979’s Contax 139 Quartz would be a camera that many photographers found to be nearly perfect. All later Contax cameras would be developed by Yashica, which was later bought by Kyocera, which stopped camera production in 2005 and subsequently sold the Yashica brand to a Hong Kong-based marketing group whose portfolio of businesses includes commercial distributors of fancy cars and beer.

So you see, the Contax 139Q is really a Yashica. Simple stuff, really.

But Yashica made really great cameras, as it turns out. So none of that matters, right? Right! So let’s not worry about the last five-hundred words and instead get to the good stuff. What’s the Contax 139 Quartz all about, how does it handle, and where does it stumble?

Contax 139 Quartz Review (9 of 11)

Aesthetically, the 139Q is a thing of absolute beauty. It’s streamlined in a way that many cameras with a comparable feature set are not. There are no bulbous grips protruding, no new-fangled ergonomics, and no superfluous stylistic flourishes. Controls are spread intelligently over the entirety of the frame, and many are combined with one another in order that they remain usable without overcrowding any one area of the body.

In many ways, it’s a camera that looks both modern and classic at the same time. This is most exemplified in its perfectly vertical lens mount surround, which carries upward in an unbroken plane directly to the pentaprism housing above. There is a frugality of style here that is uncommonly and deceptively simple. The 139Q presents a pure and succinct design, and while not everyone will appreciate, I certainly do. This camera is, to my eye, perfect.

Specifications of the 139Q are impressive in any light. This camera is an electronic wonder, with some rather incredible technology tightly wadded into a tiny package. Indeed, as we look at the spec sheet we start to realize that this is a camera that seems to draw on the strengths of countless cameras before it, and one that combines many often exclusive features into one inclusive machine. This 35mm film SLR offers essentially everything any photographer could ask for. The short list? We’ve got dual exposure modes (aperture priority auto-exposure plus meter-assisted full manual modes), an incredibly advanced shutter, through-the-lens wide-open metering, exposure compensation dial, auto-exposure lock, TTL flash capability, depth-of-field preview button, a massive selection of superlative lenses, and countless incidental features.

When the camera was first released, the centerpiece of its technical achievements was certainly the much-lauded “quartz crystal heart.” This crystal, paired with the camera’s electronic shutter, was quite loudly predicted to revolutionize photography in the same way that quartz had revolutionized modern timekeeping. Rather than relying on gears and springs the way other mechanical cameras of its day did, the 139Q uses electricity and a quartz crystal. The uniform high-frequency pulses of quartz help to control all time-related functions within the camera to an incredible accuracy.

Contax 139 Quartz Review (1 of 2)-2

But what did this mean for the camera’s contemporary photographers? And what does it mean today? Well, it’s tough to say, but I suspect it meant little back then and means even less today. The implementation of such a method of time-keeping for shutter-speeds is worthy of applause, in that it shows a level of thought existed within the design team that’s truly commendable. But practically speaking, even in 1975 there existed a good number of electronically-controlled shutters inside many cameras that operated very well. The heavy promotion of the camera’s quartz system seems, then, to be more of a marketing attempt toward differentiating the Contax from its competitors’ systems (which is natural, and perfectly acceptable).

There are certainly people out there who will love the idea of their camera containing a quartz crystal, and these folk are likely to be eager to talk about it to anyone who will listen. That’s also fine! Whatever makes your heart sing. But for those of us who aren’t so easily wooed by technical factoids, the only takeaway is that the shutter works well.

Capable of speeds from 1/1000th of a second down to 1 second in manual mode, and with continuously variable speeds from 1/1000th of a second down to 11 seconds in automatic mode, the shutter can handle nearly any exposure situation. Bulb mode is also included, and the flash sync speed is 1/100th of a second. Naturally, we photo geeks always want more and better, so an improved top end speed of, say, 1/2000th of a second and a faster flash sync speed would have been nice. But in frankness, the available speeds will handle all but the most demanding applications.

The construction of the shutter is exceptional. The vertical-travel, metal-bladed mechanism is bearing-mounted, and this fact is immediately felt when we advance the film. Operation of the film advance lever is smooth, and quiet, and the shutter release button actuates with a feather-light touch. This is made possible through the use of an incredibly advanced electromagnetic shutter release button (the same used in the RTS). The result is a satisfying and subtle mechanical action every time the shutter is advanced and released.

The next most important aspect of the camera must certainly be its metering system. Through-the-lens, wide-open aperture metering is implemented via a silicon photo diode cell that uses a center-weighted metering pattern. The system works extremely well, even in complicated lighting situations. Shooting in aperture-priority mode yields consistently superb exposures. An AE lock button and an exposure compensation dial capable of +/-2 EV help the shooter immediately adjust for tricky lighting.


Ergonomically the camera has very few failings, though there are some uncommon controls that may cause issue for some shooters. For the most part, buttons, knobs, switches, and levers are all positioned intelligently in locations that photo geeks will expect. The shutter release button is very comfortable, being large and recessed in the center of the combined ASA adjuster and exposure compensation dial. The self-timer activation switch is where one would expect it to be, on the front of the camera, and just above this is a very well-placed and intelligently contoured button that combines AE exposure preview, meter activation, and AE lock. On the same side of the camera and below these two mentioned controls we find the depth-of-field preview selector.

It’s interesting that so many controls would be positioned where one’s right hand would fall, and this feels completely natural to seasoned shooters. It’s strange, then, that we would find the shutter speed selector where we do. In most cases, this selector is near or surrounding the shutter release button. This is a natural fit. On the Contax, however, it is positioned on the left hand side of the top plate. This is strange, as when shooting in manual mode we’re forced to use the same hand to alternately focus and change shutter speeds. It feels odd, though not criminally so, and when shooting in aperture-priority mode (in which this knob remains locked in the “Auto” setting) it becomes a non-issue.

Similarly unusual is the fact that the shutter release button forgoes the typical half-press used by nearly every camera to activate the metering system and corresponding viewfinder display. Typically we would press the shutter release halfway and expect the LEDs inside the viewfinder to illuminate, showing us what our scene’s light reading would be. Here, we have to use the AE preview button mentioned earlier. Again, this isn’t a deal-breaking design choice, it’s just something different to get used to.

Contax 139 Quartz Review (1 of 1)

As for secondary and tertiary controls, things are a mixed bag. While the most commonly-used controls are very well-implemented, some of the less often used ones are finicky. Specifically irksome is the exposure compensation dial lock, which is slightly annoying for two reasons. The first is that I detest dial locks. They get in the way, slow down the process, and assume in the photographer a certain level of incognizance that most photo geeks never display.

The second annoyance perpetrated by this little lever is a result of it also acting as the camera’s multiple exposure lever. By nudging this lever upwards (the same motion used to set exposure compensation) and advancing the film lever at the same time, the film take-up spool is disengaged while the shutter is cocked. This makes double exposures very easy, but also makes accidental double exposures quite common, as to push the locking lever upward to adjust exposure compensation one has to nudge the film advance lever out of the way, which can often disengage the take up spool.

Aside from these mentioned peculiarities, the Contax is a joy to use. It’s astoundingly small; at 135 x 85.5 x 50 mm, it’s two millimeters smaller than Olympus’ OM1, a camera which built its reputation on compactness. It’s also ten grams lighter than that machine, a fact that’s simply incredible. But in contrast to this diminutive frame, the camera is exceedingly robust. Made of an advanced, machined aluminum chassis, it’s an amazingly strong machine. There’s no flex, squeaks, or rattles, and the whole thing just screams quality.

Contax 139 Quartz Review (11 of 11)

Contax 139Q • Zeiss Planar 50mm F/1.4 • Ilford HP5 Plus • Double Exposure

Contax 139 Quartz Review (3 of 11)

Contax 139 Quartz Review (4 of 11)

A few reliability issues do plague the camera. The most obvious is the tendency for the camera’s leatherette covering to deteriorate. This soft-touch material just doesn’t display the durability found in other cameras, the result being that many 139Qs require replacement of the covering. Luckily, this is an incredibly easy fix. Choosing leather or synthetic leather replacement from a vendor, such as Aki-Asahi, allows us to not only replace the worn out stuff, but even customize the camera for a cost of less than $30.00. One of my examples was reskinned in blue leather, and it’s simply stunning.

Other more serious issues can sometimes come up, such as the complicated electromagnetic shutter release failing. This is caused by dirty or corroded contacts, often the product of long periods of disuse. Cameras suffering from this can be easily fixed if one has the bravery to try, or sent to one of a number of reasonably-priced service techs.

The viewfinder is among the more informative examples from the era. It is a large, fixed prism finder with a horizontal split-image and micro-prism focusing screen showing 95% of the actual picture area at .86X magnification. This combination makes for a bright VF that facilitates effortless focusing. Information comes via both analog displays and LEDs. An aperture readout window appears in the upper portion of the viewfinder, showing the selected lens aperture. A big, bright LED array on the right of the frame indicates exposure settings in both automatic and manual modes. Flash indicators, over- and under-exposure warning lights, AE lock indicator, and a low battery warning light round out the list of available information.

The comprehensive inclusion of all pertinent details within the viewfinder helps the photographer focus on the task at hand. There’s never a need to pull ones eye away from the scene. This is something sorely lacking in numerous cameras of the era, and something I appreciate greatly in the Contax.

Contax 139 Quartz Review (2 of 2)

Contax 139 Quartz Review (10 of 11)

Contax 139 Quartz Review (5 of 11)

And of course, when we talk about a Zeiss camera system we can’t ignore the lenses. The Contax SLR system offers some of the best optics in the world. This camera naturally utilized the earlier RTS’s C/Y lens mount, meaning all Contax and Yashica mount lenses will natively mount to this machine. This includes a truly world-class and full-fledged range of Zeiss T-star lenses. For those not in the know, T-star lenses feature Zeiss’ top shelf optical coatings. We won’t get into the marketing speeches or pretend we know the importance of “ultra-flat transmission of light,” or say that we’ve bothered to waste our time staring at MTF inspection charts. But we will tell you that the eye test shows nearly unbeatable image quality and an almost complete mitigation of optical aberrations.

Couple the simply stunning image quality with the fact that Zeiss’ lenses just feel amazing and what we’re looking at is a camera system with zero optical compromises. Interestingly, Zeiss launched alongside the 139Q a new Tessar type 45mm F/2.8 pancake lens that’s noteworthy for it’s impeccable build and incredible compactness. The 139Q coupled with this 45mm lens creates one of the tiniest and most capable SLR and lens combinations I’ve ever used, and one I’ll likely use forever. It’s that good.

Beyond this standard focal length, we’ve got the ability to fit everything from a 15mm ultra-wide Distagon to the ridiculously tele 1000mm Mirotar. Macro lenses, macro extension tubes, portrait lenses, and a Vario zoom with a fixed maximum aperture complement the more typical lenses, and create an ecosystem that’s criminally overlooked by shooters today. This is especially true when one considers that all of these amazing lenses can be adapted to today’s mirror-less and digital cameras via a twenty-dollar adapter.

Oh, and I didn’t even mention the fact that Yashica’s respected ML lenses offer exceptional performance at a fractional cost.

Contax 139 Quartz Review (1 of 11)

The 139Q is capable of using dedicated and capable flashes in the form of the TLA20 and TLA 30 units, nearly every accessory made for the RTS, and its own range of unique accessories. These include the 139 Power Winder which offers burst shooting and a portrait orientation shutter release button, and the 139 Data Back. Yes, the 139Q is a fully equipped system camera, lacking in nothing. It’s the kind of camera that will handle anything thrown at it. Straight out of the box it’s ready to go, and as one’s needs and abilities increase, so too can the capabilities of the 139.

These cameras are inexpensive at the moment, but don’t expect them to remain so. As we’ve seen with numerous other lesser-known makes and models, forgotten quality eventually comes to be rediscovered. As more and more people realize the existence of amazing film cameras that aren’t named Leica and Rollei, the prices of these cameras will climb. If you like what you’ve heard about the Contax 139 Quartz, go buy two; one for today and one for the future. That’s what I did.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • Haha this is absolutely crazy. I read a few articles on this site a few months ago, caught a bad case of G.A.S. and then bought myself a 139Q with 50 1.7 and 85 2.8. I come back and bam! Review plus home developing guide :P.

    It is a fun little camera, though I may swap the 50 1.7 for the 45 pancake at some point to make it a even more compact. Great review!

    • Thanks pal! I appreciate the kind words and I’m happy you’ve scored another sweet machine!

      • I had my fixed up by the owner of; perfect condition and just love the crispness of the shutter compared to my Rolleiflex SL35E. Proof is in the pudding though so interested to see the results when I finish the first roll this weekend hopefully…

        • That’s beautiful. I love that there’s a site dedicated to that camera. Share your shots with me on IG or Facebook or wherever.

  • Randle P. McMurphy March 29, 2016 at 11:37 am

    The Carl Zeiss Planar 1,4/50 standard lens is on of the best lens ever build.
    Sharper than the Leica M lenses and belive me I tested them all in the “good old days” !

  • Wow! To think that only an hour ago I was THIS close to kicking our ~1980 Contax 139Q to the curb. I only recall never being as happy with our photos as we had expected (whatever that means!). I guess I need to take another look at it.

    Thank you for a very interesting article!

  • Hi, great review and site. Just one observation: T* is the multicoating technology propietary of Zeiss (like SMC for Pentax), not the designation of a top lens line. More info here:

    • Yes sir! I can see that I didn’t word that very well, so I’ve updated the article to be more clear. Thanks for keeping me on my toes, my friend! Happy shooting to you!

  • Flash metering off the film plane too with the (cheap) dedicated flashes and ttl cables.

  • I think this post cured my desire to pick up a Nikon F2! A few years ago I got the film bug and picked up a Contax 167MT and then the 139Q. Now I have both the Zeiss 1.4 and 1.7 50’s and a 28/2.8 Distagon. I’ve been trolling around thinking of picking up an F2 with a non-metering head because I had this camera as a kid. I pulled out my 139Q and marveled again at what a sweet little camera this is along with some nice Zeiss glass. I’m pledging to run a roll of film though it this month!

    If Aaron S sees my comment, do you have contact info for That site has gone 404.

    Thanks for the review!

    • I’m surprised is unresponsive. I’ll look into that and see what happened.

      I’m glad you’re liking the camera though! Happy shooting bud!

  • I enjoyed your article! I recently came upon my late dad’s old Contax 139s (he had 2) and his Rollei 35 LED. The better-kept 139 unit has the Carl Zeiss 50 f/1.7. The 139s are covered in leather from one of my dad’s old wallets — I remember him doing this after the very soft plastic coating rubbed off. It looks great, and actually has some sentimental value as well. I remember him down there in the basement cutting, gluing….he did a rather nice job.
    After a trip to the drug store, I was somewhat (but not overly) surprised that both cameras functioned perfectly, after being stored for decades. What lovely cameras. I learned photography in the digital age — sure I took pics with my old Yaschica camera when I was a teen( I think my mom sold that camera with a bunch of camera equipment when dad died), but I really had no idea what I was doing. I learned aperture, exposure, DOF in my middle age using a Canon DSLR. My teenage son wants to learn photography now, and what better way to teach this than with these “real” cameras. After all, the idea of stops becomes very obvious when shooting with these machines. In fact, I think that taking a good picture with the Rollei 35 LED is a final exam for Understanding Exposure (shout out to Bryon Peterson for his wonderful book).
    I have shot one roll with the Rollei and they came out great! Perfect exposure and great clarity. Funny story: the first picture I took with the Rollei was of the Raleigh bike my dad gave me when I was a student. I didn’t even think of the connection until I developed the film — dad’s Raleigh shot with dad’s Rollei. Today I am off to the zoo with the Contax 139 and the Rollei with my son for a lesson on exposure. I bet the pictures from the 139 look as great today as they did decades ago.
    Over the last 2 years I assembled an exceptional lens collection for a state of the art DSLR FF camera kit. And after finding these cameras, I think I am becoming an old SLR film camera buff. Bad timing indeed, but these cameras are truly intriguing. I’m going to take them with me to Spain on an upcoming trip, at least the tiny Rollei. And my son is as intrigued with them as I am. So they will get some good use. Dad would be happy I’m sure.

    • What a fantastic comment to read. Thanks for sharing that. I love hearing about family connections with cameras; that’s what it’s all about. Enjoy your new old cameras and let me know if we can see your travel shots anywhere. Happy shooting!

  • Thanks for your site and your kind reply. I must share this funny story: our trip to the zoo the try out the new camera was less than optimal when I got a call from the drug store that the film had no pictures on it. Well, as it ends up, I was using BW “lomography” film that I bought on Amazon. That requires special processing. So just in case anybody reading this is a clueless as I was — DON’T buy BW lomography film unless you know how to develop it! Apparently color lomography film can be developed anywhere but the BW lomography film requires special processing.

  • The review is spot on , and I love it!
    I have a Contax 139 with the 50mm 1.4 Planar Lens! The leather outer skin has come off. Need to have it redone!
    I had also purchased a Vivitar 28mm 2.8 and 75-205 mm zoom and a Tamron 350mm Mirror Lens to work with my Contax! A beautiful piece!

  • Hugo Studio does top notch works. I have one of their covers on my 139. I always wanted to play with the Zeiss lenses and crossed that off my list when I got an 80mm Planar for my medium format folder. Then this offer came for a Planar 50mm 1.7 that came attached to a non-working 139. When I got it, the Contax worked just fine. I re-wrapped the leather and after a few rolls, started to get really stupid. I got the winder, then locally ran into a guy selling off all his C/Y Zeiss lenses. So I have the trifecta of a 28mm 2.8 Distagon, the 135mm 2.8 Sonnar to go with the Planar. Just to complete the collection I found the 2x Mutar which is surprisingly good. This is the golden time for film enthusiast to be acquiring stuff. I don’t think these low prices are going to hold for very ling.

  • Loved the review. I collect 35mm…I mean these days who wouldn’t? Cameras that we could not afford now going for nothing and new buisnesses offering custom developement. I pay £5 for a roll of 36 exposure slides in the UK…send them from france. Anyways…I bought a Contax 139 new in 1980. I was a student and it and lens (Zeiss) cost me an entire summers wages!! I could not afford more lenses and only used the camera sparingly. Fast foward to 2015…….pulled it out of a box, cleaned it up, had a problem with the shutter button not creating a contact……tiny bit of contact cleaner took care of that…..loaded slide film in it and off I went. FANTASTIC……….and ever since I use it regularly. Put a nice zoom by Kino 28 -100 on it and bought a Yashica 75-200 and results are TOP. I had forgotten how good this camera is. I own maybe 50 others and it is by far the best of all…..even like it better than my RTS or any of my Zeiss Ikons!! Thanks for the write up!!!

  • Comprehensive, detailed review. Thanx for sharing it.

  • Its always great to read reviews about Contax cameras. Love the review!

    Everytime I shoot with my C/Y gears be it on film or adapting the glasses to mirrorless, they never fail to impress. I have build up quite a collection of C/Y SLRs and glasses over the years and I’m sure I won’t be selling them!

  • Thank you for this article. I just bought my Contax 139Q with a Zeiss 50mm 1.7 lens from an older European fellow from Czech republic (I’m in Canada). Bought black leather from Hugo to replace the faded worn out material.
    Loaded it with Fujifilm Superia 200 ISO and man am I happy.

  • James,

    As a 139 user as well I can certainly understand your new-found enthusiam in the camera. However, the historical back-story in the article is not quite accurate.

    Zeiss was not one huge corporation. It started as Carl Zeiss Optical in Jena, the firm was inherited by the designer Ernst Abbe after Zeiss’s death. He set up Carl Zeiss Foundation to acquire and manage the firm, and the Foundation later acquired four camera manufacturers – two in Dresden, one in Berlin, and one in Stuttgart – and merged them as Zeiss-Ikon, based in Dresden. And it was in Dresden that the rangefinder Contax were built, along with most Zeiss-Ikon equipment, and of course using Jena-made lenses.

    The design, engineering and production skills of both Zeiss Optical and Zeiss-Ikon were highly respected. During the War the Americans wanted to acquire all that Zeiss had, but except the Stuttgart branch of Zeiss-Ikon, everything was located in the area to be allocated to Soviet-occupation. Operation Paperclip was put into action: just before handing Jena and Dresden to the Soviets, the Americans took as much assets as possible – including key staff members – and transported to what was to be the US Zone. There, the new Zeiss Foundation, Zeiss Optical were formed in Oberkochen, and the old Stuttgart works became the new HQ of the new Zeiss-Ikon.

    THe original firms in Jena and Dresden took little time to get back into production, so there existed a duplicate of all the Zeiss operations across the political railroad track.

    While Stuttgart produced a wide variety of cameras – including simplified versions of the Contax rangefinders – over the years, in the early 1970s they realized that without cooperation with a Japanese manufacturer they would not be competitive. Pentax was first contacted and they went as far as designing a common lens mount which became the K-mount, but things did not work out. Yashica was then approached, and we are all familiar with what followed.

    • James – Founder/Editor October 6, 2016 at 11:52 am

      Great info there. I had a difficult time distilling it down into an entertaining and quick format for the article. I’ll revisit it and see if there are egregious inaccuracies and correct them if so. Thanks Samuel!

    • Just an additional detail to what Samuel has written: War photographer Robert Capa used a Contax II rangefinder camera when he took his famous photos of the D-Day invasion in the Normandy on June 6th, 1944, right on the beach. It was the second model of the Contax, introduced in 1936.

      And on the last photo showing Robert Capa during the war in Laos in 1954, taken by Michel Descamps shortly before Capa’s death, Capa has put on a Contax IIa, the follow-up model of the Contax II, introduced by Zeiss Ikon Stuttgart in 1950.
      The shutter of the IIa is much softer and more quiet than the shutter of the II (I have both of them) and the camera is even a bit smaller than the 139 ;-).

      I suppose Capa knew very well why he used Contax RF cameras during those war situations…

      In the 30s Contax cameras were world-famous also for their high-speed Zeiss Sonnar lenses 50mm f/1.5 and 85mm f/2.0. But maybe Capa preferred the wide-angle Zeiss Biogon 1:2,8 / 35mm – the 1951 version of this lens was one of the best wide-angle lenses of the 50s.

      You may find pictures of those two cameras in the English wikipedia article. And there is a guy in California (I guess) named Henry Scherer who seems to be well-known expert in servicing old Contax RF cameras; he has set up a site named Zeiss Ikon Contax Camera Repair.

      Even today, after 70 or rather 86 years, it’s a pleasure to use these old ladies with their Zeiss lenses.

      As for the 139, I got one in last autumn, as an addition to my several RTS II bodies. I do prefer the RTS II because of its viewfinder displays and because its shutter release button is even more sensitive and fast than the 139’s – but I also like the 139 very much because its so small and handy. Just like you have written, James :-).

  • Jane F Christophersen December 21, 2016 at 6:53 pm

    Thank you for a great article AND the info on how to recover the body. I had no idea, but have been dismayed at the grunge look of my camera. Earlier today I read an article that said if you get rid of your first camera, you will regret it 100%. Well, my first SLR was a Contax 139 quartz. I took it out of its hiding place today, remembered the Zeiss lens and said, OMG, I must keep this! I do love this camera, which I probably purchased in 1982. A guy in my apartment building was into photography … so when (technically speaking) my very first camera, a Canon, was stolen shortly after I bought it, I got the Contax. In retrospect, I was fortunate that that the Canon was stolen. Thanks again for your great article. I had no idea what I had. But I have always loved this camera. Now I won’t part with it. And I’m ordering a new skin for it.

    • James – Founder/Editor December 21, 2016 at 8:07 pm

      Happy to have helped! Enjoy that beautiful machine.

    • As far as 35mm go nothing will beat the 139. Even the best items from Nikon Canon etc fall short. I have owned and used them all including later Contax but the 139 comes out top!

  • THANK YOU for this review! In the 90s I was working as a professional E-6 processing tech under Kodaks Q-LAB system. My bosses both shot with Leica M rangefinders and I got to see a lot of their incredible work. No way I could ever afford a Leica. So, I sold my Minolta X-700 gear and bought my 139Q w/50mm F1.7. Fantastic in every way for me. Fell in love with all things Contax (I wanted an RX and one more lens). I have a black Contax cap I bought from them…in mint shape! I still have my camera but it is suffering from the common problem of the cover going bad. Now, just waiting for the new Ektachrome to come out!

    • James – Founder/Editor January 25, 2017 at 9:14 pm

      Yeah! Can’t wait for the new Ektachrome as well. And try aki-asahi if you want to replace that covering.

      • Maison St Georges France January 26, 2017 at 7:31 am

        Got my hands on a Tokina ATX 28-105mm.for my 139Q…..paid around $50 used…..Cannot recommend highly enough…..Fantastic photos & sharp sharp sharp!!

  • @ Wes: Look on E Bay there are some excellent lazer cut leather covers for the 139. Mine went bad as they all do many years ago. A couple of years ago I replaced it , perfect fit, camera looks like new!! I bought mine from Millys Cameras in the UK: Contax 139Q best camera I have ever owned ……bar none!!

  • Still have my 139Q since new in 1984, I also have a 137 that is still going strong, that one has a built in winder.
    many others have come and gone through the years, yet my contaxes remain. Its the best there is , in my book anyway…Alternative to getting new covers, gently scrape away the leftover black covering from the felt like backing, apply some Fiebings black die ( dries fast ) and presto ! renewed and water resistant to boot.
    Easy job using a Q tip . 2 coats and she is black like new.

  • I bought my Contax 139/Planar 55/1.7 in March-1987 with my first salary. Then Came A Contax 167/28/2.8 and then a Contax RX/VarioSonnar 80-200/. All of them give me wonderful hours taking pictures. Now, from time to time, I take a couple of rolls and walk ( a “promenade”) in my city -Madrid- enjoyng the amazing of don´t have an infinite number of pictures (like a machine gun) ready to go to see to forget, only a few shots (like a sniper) to see a week later.
    For me one of the best things of the cameras (lenses apart) are the light-meter and his ergonomy.
    I dream an impossible dream, the return of Contax.

  • I apologice for my English

  • For anyone in England/Europe finding a quality development place may be a problem. I have been using one I found in Birmingham, England to develop my slides and can recommend them. I live in France and send them the rolls of film and they send them back as I choose, either just the developed film, or scanned, or mounted….or the lot.. Prices are very reasonable for professional lab work too. I had been using a lab here in france but to be honest they were appalling and left me wondering what was wrong with my camera!! AG Photolab is their name and their website….so you can order online etc is: Good luck!!

    • It took me 2 rolls of film to discover that the local drug storer has no idea how to develop B&W photos! Thank you for the link.

  • James mentioned the great looks of the Contax 139.
    “Aesthetically, the 139Q is a thing of absolute beauty. It’s streamlined in a way that many cameras with a comparable feature set are not.”

    I want to let it be known that the Contax 139 was “Designed by Porsche”, I read that in a Contax full page ad in a photography magazine in the 1980s.

    I appreciate hearing that the old lenses for it can be used with newer digital camera via the use of a $20 adapter.
    That will come in handy if I ever sell any of my Contax lenses.

    A reader’s comment above mentions a Tokina zoom lens.
    In the late 1980s I did buy a Tokina 28 – 85 zoom lens for only $165, it’s original MSRP was $650 and it was an amazing lens.
    I used the Contax with just the 28 – 85 almost all the time as an amazing match with just 1 lens.
    I did the weddings of a few of my friends with that set up and many other great events and still have my couple of thousands Contax photos.
    Since then I have 22,000 digital photos.

    I did a lot of research before buying new my Contax 139 with Carl Zeiss 50mm 1.7 lens and TLA flash and an official Contax brown leather carrying case with shoulder strap, only $399 a special offer in 1985.

    Still have all my old Contax 139 and gear although it has been in storage since I bought my 1st digital camera in 2006 a Canon S3 IS which I really loved. Bought 3 Panasonic Lumix compact cameras since then and a cheap Nikon and now selling all 5 digital cameras and will get 1 great used digital camera.
    One day I will pull out and use my Contax 139 again, never sold is as couldn’t part with it.
    This amazing article by James and the readers comments have educated how important and incredible the Contax 139 was and still is.

    May God bless all Contax owners and their photo results, which usually are excellent.

    I read some photography magazines in about 2006 that compared 35 mm to digital and said that 35 mm film quality would be about equivalent to 14 megapixels in digital photos.

    Thank you to James and those who commented.

    P.S. I especially like this comment below because the Contax 139 has had a place in my heart since I bought it new in 1985.

    December 22, 2016 at 3:49 am
    As far as 35mm goes nothing will beat the 139. Even the best items from Nikon, Canon etc. fall short. I have owned and used them all including later Contax but the 139 comes out top!”

  • Here is a cool story. At Expo 86 in Vancouver 1986 I had my Contax 139 with my black Tokina 28 – 85 big zoom lens with a big black shade hood screwed into the lens to reduce glare. The camera set up looked Professional.

    I saw the huge band on the side entrance of the stadium ready to march into the official closing ceremony.
    I didn’t have an ticket to the closing ceremony hot I had a wild idea how I would see it.

    I moved into the band as they started walking into the stadium and when they were in the center of the inside of the stadium I exited the band and sat down near some speaker and then had an incredible view of the whole event. I was about 200 feet closer than the official press photographers who were way back against the public seating area wall. When the event ended I got up and mingled and spoke with all the top officials like Jim Patterson the Expo 86 chairman and the Premier of B.C. and the famous musical guests.

    All for free with the best seat in the whole event thanks to a very official looking Contax 139 and a super zoom and massive hood shade. That had the look of PRESS all over it so security just let me alone. Even at other events many people including some beautiful women would ask me about the camera and often I would approach them and offer to take their photos. One younger pretty woman I know who was about 19, I took a particularly flattering photo of her and she asked me for a copy of it and I gave it to her and she sent it in to audition as a cheerleader for the B.C. Lions football team. She did become a cheerleader for them about 1990 thanks to a kind gentleman with a Legendary Contax 139, one of the best SLR film cameras of all time (in my mind and some others).

    I’m sure there are thousands of amazing stories from owners of the Legendary Contax 139. Long live Contax.

    • James – Founder/Editor March 18, 2017 at 6:31 pm

      I loved every word of this comment. Big smiles.

      • Thanks James and Big Smiles to you for your incredible article about the Contax 139 a camera professional enough to withstand the test of time from the pinnacle of 35 mm film up to today’s pinnacle of 35 mm digital camera technology.

        • I still have my Contax 139 and the 4 lenses and 20 filters I bought for it in 1981-82. I haven’t used them since 2005. Since then I bought 6 digital non-SLR cameras and sold them except for a compact 2011 Sony superzoom non-DSLR . Last week Oct 2019 I bought a Sony A7 full frame DSLR for $540 then also just bought an C/Y to Sony E-mount lens adapter for $50. Now I am cleaning up a little and using the four 35-40 year old film manual lenses that I had with my Contax 139 SLR which I still have and will keep. The moral is I’m glad I didn’t sell my old lenses and camera for a couple hundred dollars as it just saved me $2,500 off buying new equipment. I will also look for a used good Sony E-mount zoom so i also get the auto everything with the Sony A7. My Contax 139 was a dream of a camera and still is in film photography. I still enjoy all the photos I took with it.

  • If anyone’s interested in the exact setup mentioned in the article.

  • I grew up learning on my dad’s fx-d (poor man’s 139) – after finding that old 50 1.4 planar, and buying two defective late model contax cameras, I think I should get another one

  • DEFECTIVE SHUTTER BUTTON: A common enough fault on the 139Q: After owning my Contax since new and still using her the shutter button finally gave up. Mega frustrating. You would wind on the film and then press the shutter release and……nothing. You would press it once or twice more and it would fire….but by then….. Finally it gave up the ghost totally. I had read about this problem in the past. I thought about it from a logical point of view and decided to attempt a repair myself. I collect 35mm and often bring them back to life and in this case it was worth a go. If all else failed I could always buy a 139 at an auction site and strip the shutter from it for my old faithful. Before attempting anything radical, I decided to try something. Firstly I removed the batteries from the camera, I didn’t want any shorting out of my electrics if all went wrong. Then I took a toothpick and put a drop of straight alcohol, the kind you get at the pharmacy on it. I placed the alcohol directly into the shutter button….on top. I was careful not to use too much, I didn’t wat it getting inside and into the electrics of the camera. I added another drop and another and then slowly started gently pressing the button. I then let it sit for a few hours and came back and did the same. Turns out for my Contax what was stopping the shutter button firing was an accumulation of dirt and grease from my fingers on the button over the past nearly forty years. Some nasty residue started to come out from the shutter button….it smelt terrible (and I keep my Contax immaculate!). I repeated this procedure several times and finally when all the gunk had come out I let the camera sit upside down where anything left could drip out and it could dry out. Next day I replaced the batteries……and guess what? Shutter firing like the day I bought her!!! I have since run three or four rolls of film through her over the past 6 months and she has not missed a beat. Attempt this “repair” at your own risk!!

  • Thanks for this article about the Contax 139Q. I bought one of these, new, back in the early 1980s. I had goofed around with a Konica SLR prior to this, and I bought the 139Q with the idea of getting serious about photography. Eventually I started by own business doing graphic design and photography, and collected a large number of lenses and accessories for the Contax system.

    There’s actually a good reason for the shutter-speed dial being on the left side. Almost all of the Contax camera bodies had this arrangement. Since in manual mode you can see the shutter speed in the viewfinder, you can keep your eye at the eyepiece and your grip on the camera with your right hand, ready to shoot, while you change the speed with your left hand. The flashing LED in the viewfinder indicates the manually-set shutter speed and the continuously-lit LED indicates the speed suggested by the camera’s meter. You watch the LEDs in the viewfinder; there is no need to look at the dial.

    I never felt a great need for autofocus, and I was dissapointed when the autofocus Contax N1 came out, with its new lens mount, fearing that my collection of lenses was going to be orphaned, long-term. I also had little interest in early digital cameras. I got much better results shooting on film and using a film scanner. The 6MP Contax N Digital was the end-of-the-line for Contax SLRs.

    Reluctantly, as digital photography improved, I eventually went with Nikon.

    Probably my favorite Contax body is the RTS II. This is really a bigger, tougher 139Q with some pro features added. As a 139Q user, if you picked one up it would be completely familiar to you. The RTS II viewfinder was always a pleasure to use. I also loved the RTS III, but it didn’t have the luxurious viewfinder that the earlier models did.

    I always thought the 139Q and the RTS II were a great pair of cameras to use together. A lot of people today complain about heavy cameras, but I have always liked and prefered them. I shoot with available light as much as possible, so part of the appeal of the Contax system was the excellent fast lenses. For me, a heavy camera is easier to hold steady at slow shutter speeds. The RTS II is certainly heavier than a 139Q, but they handle similarly.

    I replaced the skin on my 139Q about 15 years ago. This company — — sells an exact cosmetic match to the original skin. My replacement still looks new. (I just looked at the website and they seem to be having problems; many internal links are broken).

    An interesting footnote about the old Contax rangefinder cameras: after WWII, the Russians packed up all the tooling from the Dresden Contax factory, loaded it on trains, and took it deep into the Ukraine. They set up a factory there and continued to manufacture the 1936 Contax camera models (under the name ‘Kiev’) up until sometime in the 1980s. Take a look at this wikipedia article:

    Also, many cameras produced by the Soviet Union had lenses that were optical copies of the 1930s/40s Zeiss designs. A number of years ago there was a significant anniversary of the Japanese camera industry, and there was an official presentation that included brief histories of the major players. Both Nikon and Canon stated that their first lenses were copies of the Zeiss Tessar.

    The 1936 Contax III was the first camera with a built-in light meter. The 1949 Contax S was the first SLR with a pentaprism viewfinder. There were previous SLRs, such as the Exacta, but you had to look down onto the viewfinder itself, not into an eyepiece, and the image was hard-to-see, very difficult to focus, and was a mirror-image.

    The professional line of SLR cameras prior to the RTS was the Contarex series from the 1950s and 60s. The Contarex I (nicknamed ‘bullseye’ or ‘cyclops’) was the first camera with a fully-coupled metering system. It’s a magnificent beast of a camera, a piece of fully-mechanical retro glory:

    The postwar Contax rangefinder cameras (the Contax IIa and IIIa) were made up until the early 1960s, so Zeiss used the Contarex name for SLRs. Because of that, the Contarex line isn’t usually included in the Contax story and makes it appear that there was a big gap between 1960 and the introduction of the RTS, when there was actually a whole line of pro SLR bodies in that period. The early Nikon and Canon SLRs, similar in quality but much cheaper, pretty throughly killed the German SLR market in the 1960s.

    Just an interesting factoid: development of what became the Contax S, the first pentaprism SLR, was started in the early 1940s, and Zeiss had trademarked the name Pentax for it (for ‘pentaprism Contax’). After WWII, many German trademarks and patents were invalidated, and the Japanese company took and trademarked the Pentax name. In eastern Europe, the succsssors to the Contax S were also marketed as ‘Pentacon’, again, derived from ‘pentaprism Contax.’

    • I would like to confirm what you have written about handling the shutter speed dial on the left side: as soon as one becomes used to it, it’s definitely a handy detail. Just as you have described it. Especially with a camera which has a winder/motor drive attached or integrated and a well-formed hand grip (RTS II with PMD W-6 especially, or with W-3).

  • I always wondered why they created a new mount instead of using the mount from the Contarex. The Contax system seemed to me kind of strange, with unconventional placement of controls, and no link to the Contarex at all. There were few long lenses, and some were very expensive. Leitz offered a far better selection of long lenses.

  • I had a 139Q system in the eighties and loved it. I remember having to replace the leatherette which had disintegrated. I eventually sold it and went exclusively digital for a while with Minolta/Sony. These days it’s a mix of both film/digital and after reading the article I’m tempted to buy another 139Q.

    p.s. the Contax 139 Resource site can be found at:

  • Great article. I bought mine new in about 1984, in Melbourne, Australia. I could only afford the Planar 1.7/50, and I used this camera for the next twenty years. By this time the leatherette had completely disintegrated, and the lens was getting quite stiff to focus.

    It was followed by a ghastly 1.3 MP fixed focus digital thing, and then a succession of other consumer grade digital cameras of increasing capability. Then last year I stumbled upon the Contax in a box of old stuff, and decided to get the film processed. For fifteen years in the camera, the film came out pretty well, so I bought some new batteries only to discover that the camera was no longer working.

    But, having also discovered that I could adapt the Zeiss lens to my Canon EOS 1100D, I decided to buy a replacement Contax 139 from eBay. The Zeiss glass has transformed the Canon, but the first roll of film through the Contax delighted me so much I have been shooting mostly film ever since.

    The vintage lenses are also within my budget now, so I am building up a system, with a couple of spare bodies as well.
    I think what film may lack in immediate gratification and convenience, it more than makes up for in satisfaction, I enjoy making the image in the camera and not needing to spend hours fixing the image in post.

    My original lens has had a CLA now as well, the original body is being kept for parts.

    • You may have tried this, but a lot of time when a camera has just been sitting all you really need to do to get it running again is to clean the battery contacts, and then work the ISO selector dial back and forth about twenty times. The electrical contacts just need to be fiddled with a bit. Hope this helps.

  • Great write up! I recently became interested in the Contax/Yashica system, particularly the Zeiss c/y lenses, because of how relatively affordable they are. I found a good deal on a 50mm 1.4 Planar and a 35mm f/2.8 Distagon, so I snapped them up. I used them initially on a Yashica FX-2 but then I got a very cheap deal on an RTS so I got that too. I then got a 139Q.

    It’s a toss up over which camera I like better. The RTS is so beautiful and solid, it also has a max shutter speed of 1/2000, which is nice for shooting wide open in bright light. The 139Q pretty much does everything the RTS does but with a max speed of 1/1000. It may not feel quite as nice as the RTS but its much lighter weight make it a more obvious choice for a walking around camera.

    • Martin South of France April 8, 2019 at 12:54 pm

      Agree with you on the RTS. A stunning capable performer…….I should be using my 139Q as a backup to the RTS but it is smaller, lighter and I love it!

  • Thank you for that review! This was my first SLR ever – I got it as a Christmas gift together with the Planar 1:1.7/50mm in 1985 from my parents.
    So I can say, that this camera is truly the foundation of my favourite hobby. I still keep it somewhere, but to be honest – I’m out with a Nikon DSLR in 99.9%.
    Years later I added a used RTS II – but the extra features of that “flagship” are minor compared to the 139Q.
    The brave Contac 139 Quartz is retired now. But after that review – why not putting in some fresh batteries and a film?

    • I had a mint RTS to which I added a planar 50mm f1.4 AEJ. It was a lovely combination. I concur with your review of the lens, where basically it’s a good 50mm lens so beautifully constructed that it’s a thing of beauty. The RTS died though and so I was looking for a C/Y body on which to continue use of said Planar. I bought a 139Q via and Peter Robinson (owner of this site). He rebuilt the 139 superbly and so I believed I had the ideal combination resurrected.

      However, there’s the rub. The 139 is a plastic, universal Japanese 1980s SLR. It’s just the same as a myriad of its contemporaries, but a little worse because the disparity between the construction of the simply gorgeous lens and the injection moulded lightweight 139 is brought into sharp relief.

      Whilst using it was functional, it was soulless and every other camera in my collection was better made. So I have just bought an RX in the hope that the body and lens will be more closely matched and give me that feeling of quality I had with the RTS. Also a top speed of 1/4000 is more useful than the universal Japanese SLR category mentioned above.

      When you feel less well made than a Canon of the era, you’re in trouble.

      And it’s not like Yashica couldn’t make quality items, I have an N1 and it’s a thing of beauty.

      • I find it strange that you find the 139 “plasticky”. over 40 now…I have owned both the RTS and the 139 since new and have probably run close to a thousand rolls through them over the years. I prefer the 139 any day and use the RTS as a backup. Both are kept in A1 condition….and unless you have a very strange 139 or they changed them later in the production run, mine has a brass top the same as the rts. There are even brassing marks on it from use. The 139 is quite simply the best 35mm camera I have ever owned and over the years as an avid collector and an avid user including one time pro….I have been through nearly every other camera ever made at some time or another.

        • Plastic top throughout production. Brass bottom. I have both the late serial number one and an early one (for parts) and the top is the thinnest plastic you could get away with. The shutter speed knob is also hollow plastic. I can send you photos of a dismantled 139 if you like ?

          • Could do the same here…..have a 139 for spares too….with a brass top……scraped away even more to check and it is brass…that nice shiny stuff………

          • I don’t have a dismantled 139, however it’s fairly easy to tell the top plate is metal. A quick tap test on the top plate comparing the 139 and the 167 will tell you the 139 is metal and a 167 is plastic. Agree that the 139 shutter speed knob is plastic though.

  • Martin South of France September 23, 2019 at 10:22 am

    Camera Case for the 139Q.

    There were soft camera cases available for the 139. An awful lot of them were a nasty brown colour….very 70’s /80’s I would guess and most of them like mine have literally fallen to pieces… the case of mine (no pun intended) over the not so many years. It started falling apart back in 1979 when I purchased my 139Q. However……..I found that a case from a FXD fitted my 139 perfectly……..years later the case is still in one piece and looking like new……so if you need a soft case for your 139Q then think Yashica FXD……there are plenty out there and at a fraction of the cost of the ones for the 139!

  • I’m sat on a train having read the reviews with my late father’s 139Q with its crisp f1.7 Planar. Picked up a 135mm f2.8 Sonnar the other day for £50! Also picked a up a NOS Sigma 600mm C/Y for mirror lens for $50 on holiday!

    Off to London’s Tate Modern to take some photos around there as the winter sun starts to fade.

    Enjoyed the review and can testify that these are a great camera. Mine is now 40 years old and has never missed a beat. Dug it out of the attic a few months ago and all seems fine. Loaded up with Fuji Superia 400.

    I had the Yashica FX-D back in the day and they were virtually identical albeit the Contax was the Audi and the Yashica the VW equivalent. The last contributor was right though – the Yashica case fits the Contax perfectly. Picked up an old FX-D the other day in a charity shop for £3.00. Works perfectly.

    These are great cameras and much more reliable than the later Contax models. There’s nothing better at the price.

  • Those late ’70s – early ’80s Yashica and Contax cameras are underappreciated gems. A lot of people don’t realize just how good they are. Fortunately for lovers of old film cameras, that makes them quite affordable for the most part. The only downside is the electromagnetic shutter has proven itself to be more likely than more traditional designs to developing problems as the camera ages, but cleaning the magnets is usually all that’s required to get them working again.

    Well, there is that little problem with the vinyl covering as well…

    All in all, anyone looking for a really good SLR at a really good price could do much worse.

    • No offence to Canon as (I’ve used FD gear for 30 years), but it is absolutely ridiculous that you can easily pick up a 2-3 Contax 139 bodies for the price of a good clean Canon AE-1 on eBay.

      • Martin south of france January 20, 2021 at 7:16 am

        I too use Canon….I like my old Fb a lot…..and a lot of good glass availably really cheap. I really loved my F1n that I used for many years….Contax 139 prices are starting to go up. I have had mine since new….fixed it myself a couple of times….issue with the rts type button that would not fire the shutter….it was literally greased up over the years…a good clean and all working again. The wind on became stiff…..dismantled and lubed and finally that God awful covering was replaced about five years ago along with the light seals. Now all is 100% once again and a fantastic piece of kit….PRefer it to my RTS ii and to my Nikon FA

  • Nice review. This is the sister model to the Yashica FX-D Quartz. The Yashica is a bit less refined in that it feels slightly cheaper and the shutter is noisier.

    The covering on both probably will need to be replaced. I also used Aki-Asahi to re-cover the Contax 139 (black lizard) and Yashica FX-D (yellow lizard).

    Compared with some of the other models, this is probably the most user friendly, although it’s a doorstop when the battery dies.

    There is a winder available, and it probably will need to be re-covered as well.

    Being a Japanese product, both cameras will need to have new foam seals and new mirror bumpers installed.

    I see that someone in the comments mentioned the Rolleiflex SL 35 E. Great camera, if you can find one that works properly. It seems that only one in four works correctly. Sadly. Love the camera and Zeiss lenses (identical to those for the Contax/Yashica mount).

  • I have posted on here a few ties previously. I have owned my 139Q since new in 1980 when it cost me an arm and a leg. It came with standard with the 1.7 Carl Zeiss Planar which truly is a fantastic lens. I have also owned the Yashica FD. Build quality on the up market 139q far exceeds that of the FD. The problems I have encountered over the years with my 139 are actually few and far between. As John Baker mentions above, there is the problem with the electro magnetic shutter, easily enough resolved by either a DIY service / clean or send it off to a specialist. Not a difficult fix. Another problem I have encountered was with the actual shutter button. It is of the same design as its big brother the RTS in that it is touch sensative….Mine stopped working or would lag; I wold press the shutter and nothing would happen for a split second. I think what had happened was that sweat and grease had over the years dripped (for want of a better decription) into the mechanism, effectively stopping contact. I cleaned mine very carefully with alcohol on a cotton swab, the aount of dirt that came out was impressive. Once cleaned and dried the camera fired as it was designed too and has not missed a beat since. Obviously all foams have been replaced as was the exterior covering. Mine gave way after 18 months of use and has since been replaced twice in coming up for forty years….can’t complain. The camera has been pro serviced twice in its life. The biggest problem I had was not so much the camera but the Zeiss Planar. After many years it became “soft” and the photos it produced looked as if I had a soft filter fitted in front of the lens. It looked fine. Photos were passable but they were not Zeiss standard. The lens was serviced in the US by camera specialist Mark Hama Ltd and came back a gem, working as it should once again. Regarding the battery issue. Mine last a long time…..close to two years. Minolta used to make a plastic carrier that fitted to the camera strap designed to hold a couple of LR44 batteries. I have one and so am never caught out. Having said that, sure the camera does not work without batteries but it gives you plenty of warning in the viewfinder with short flashing leds.
    If you do not own a 139, I highly recommend picking one up. By far the best 35mm out there……and I own an RTSii and many Nikons but always come back to and prefer the 139.

  • I recently picked up two 139 Q’s, one in great condition (with the original slippery leatherette covering in uniquely good original condition), the other in absolutely impeccable condition, both from Japanese sellers at a great price-along with that sweet little 45mm Zeiss pancake lens. For endurance, roll after I roll shooting, I love my late father’s Nikon F2 and accompanying Nikkormat FT2 (he was a photojournalist in the 70’s) and they are virtually indestructible. The Contax certainly is not, but I kind of look at it like the namesake of its designer: Porsche. You don’t want to drive it everyday, but for the occasional weekend cruise when you pull it out of the garage, it’s nothing short of an absolutely brilliant performer. What a luxurious and pleasurable shooting experience that little Contax provides, I’m kind of amazed at how much I love shooting with it.

  • Just got my Contax 139Q out of the cupboard after being unused for 30 years. New batteries in but did not operate the shutter. Manually moved the mirror a few times and it works. It’s still a great looking thing and the 911 comment I wholeheartedly agree with. Used to own Morgan cars, similar experience I would imagine.


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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

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