Every now and then you get a duff camera: one which has been sold with undisclosed or unrecognised faults, sufficient to exclude that camera from remaining as part of a collection. These are the ones that got away.


JapanContax 139 Quartz [1979 - 1988]



Contax 139 advertFollowing on from the 1974 Carl Zeiss/Yashica collaboration to rejuvenate the Contax name in the form of the professional use RTS, the 139 Quartz was introduced for the discerning amateur photographer. The Contax cameras benefit from the first use of a quartz-timed, electronically-controlled, vertical metal shutters; the point being that shutter speeds were (theoretically) extremely accurate.

The Yashica FX-D Quartz was a very similar camera, but lacked some of the 139's refinements. Details of the full differences can be found here.

The shutter release is electromagnetic, making the moment of exposure smooth, with stepless speeds from 11 seconds to 1/1000th (fixed 1 sec to 1/1000th in standard steps for manual exposure mode). Of course, the self-timer is quartz timed too. It has a centre-weighted TTL metering system using a silicon photo diode, manual or aperture-priority exposure controls, a DOF preview lever, an AE lock feature to retain metered shutter speeds and thus allow shots to be re-framed without changing the exposure values, an exposure compensation control, TTL synchronised flash with dedicated units (a second SPD cell measures the light reaching the film plane), and the option to attach a power winder and data back. The viewfinder has a matte field with a horizontal split-image central spot surrounded by a micro-prism collar. The lens aperture setting is shown in a window at the top of the viewfinder, and shutter speeds via a bank of LEDs.

The 139 was originally sold with a Zeiss Planar f/1.7 50mm lens for a mighty £248.50, making it about the same price as an Olympus OM1. That was more than twice the UK average weekly wage (£120.80). By 1981 the cost had fallen to £179.90, or as low as £136.90 for a body only, making the lens worth £43.00 (try buying one for that price today!).




Lens mount: Contax/Yashica bayonet.

Contax viewfinderFocus: Silver-coated prism with horizontal split-image spot, surrounded by a micro-prism collar. 0.86x magnification shows 95% of picture area. Auto/manual LED. Shutter speeds indicated by 14 LEDs where flickering indicates the user set speed, and continuous illumination indicates the camera's auto shutter speed. Exposure compensation indicator. LED flash indictor, with after flash subject within range indicator. Under and over exposure warnings. AE lock indicator. Aperture setting window. DOF preview.

Shutter: Quartz-timed electronically controlled vertical travel type metal focal plane shutter. Continuously variable on AUTO from 1/1000th to 11 seconds, plus X (1/100th) and B. Electromagnetic shutter release. Quartz-timed electronic self-timer with precise 10 sec delay. Front facing body LED flashes to indicate operation, accelerating 2 seconds before shutter is released.

Meter: TTL, centre-weighted averaging metering at full aperture using SPD (Silicon Photo Diode) cell.

Exposure: Aperture-preferred automatic exposure. +/-2 EV exposure compensation button, click stops at every half EV, and is maked 1/4, 1/2, 1, 2, 4. Setting AE lock lever locks in shutter speed in effect at time of setting.

Film Speed: 125 to 3200 ASA.

Flash: Standard X-synch hot shoe at 1/100th, and TTL flash metering with dedicated flash units.

Film Advance: Rapid advance lever with 135° advance and 30° rest position. Coupling for power winder.

Frame Counter: Automatic count-up and reset.

Rewind: Via crank and release button.

Size: 135 x 85.5 x 50mm (W x H x D).

Weight: 500g.

Battery: Two 1.5v Eveready S76 type.



Contax 139Q


My Camera

I paid £22.00 for my Contax 139 Quartz in February 2016 (body only). It didn't seem like a bad price for an example advertised as being in FWO. I intended to make it my main film camera, and planned to send it to Peter Robinson for a minor service.

The first thing I noticed, when the camera arrived, was that the mirror hung. Instead of returning the clearly not in FWO camera to the seller (Lemon-Limes), I thought ... ah, that'll not be a big problem to fix, and set it side.

Some months later, I made arrangements for the camera to be serviced, but noticed that the second shutter curtain was not closing properly, and came to rest with a small gap of light showing.

Sadly the prognosis was that a replacement shutter was the only sure fix, and the cost exceeded that of buying a fully serviced 139.

And so my Contax 139 quartz was consigned to the scrap heap. Sure, I could have tried to re-sell it, with full disclosure, but I didn't really want to put a pile of crap back into circulation, and leave another collector disappointed.

The 139 is a nice little camera, and one I would have been very happy to use. However, there are other's in my collection that are just as good (such as my humble Yashica FX-D). If another should come along, which does actually work, I'd go for it, but not at any cost; I think the price I paid was about right.

I know buying off eBay is a complete gamble, but it's always disappointing when a purchase proves to be total waste of money.