After World War II, Hubert Nerwin of Zeiss Ikon in West Germany created a line of folding cameras to help rebuild the company after the war. He relocated to the United States in 1948 through the government program Operation Paperclip, according to sources. Project Paperclip was an interesting program, but that’s a topic for another post.
The 533/24, Contessa 24, is futuristic in its design and function. It’s a true conversation starter. I recently took it out for a film test to write this article and was bombarded with questions about it. People asked me what type of camera it was. One person even thought it was some kind of Geiger counter. Considering its background, that’s not too far off.
As cool and unique as it is, the camera is not the easiest to use. As is expected with folding cameras, you have to cock the shutter on the lens. There’s no way to do that on the camera body. Personally, I’m used to shooting with folding medium format cameras, so this wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. However, for most people, the placement of the shutter button right above the lens will be a challenge. I tried reading the manual again to hold the camera as depicted, but it still feels awkward.
Depressing the shutter button can be difficult, resulting in some blurring at slower shutter speeds. Anything under 1/100th of a second tends to be blurred. The only way to alleviate this is to mount the camera on a tripod and use a remote release. It’s an amazing camera that looks magnificent from afar or up close and it’s definitely interesting to carry around.
I’ve owned this camera for a year and a half and have only used it two or three times during that period. Normally, I rotate my cameras and they get more use, but due to the awkward shutter button, this one has been neglected. It’s a shining example of engineering from the early 50s, although perhaps a bit over-engineered. The lens is incredibly sharp and the shutter never misses a beat or feels sluggish. It’s absolutely superb.
I am selling my early model 533/24 on Ebay. The price is right!