One of the best Contax rangefinder cameras ever made came out in 1932. Back in the 1930s and 40s the company, Zeiss Ikon was looking to go head-to-head with Leica in terms of quality and style. The Contax I rangefinder camera was engineered to be more technologically advanced than the current Leica model. They came out with the bayonet mount for a more precise connection to the camera body. They were also fanatical in their goal for sharper lens.
The Zeiss engineers looked to improve on every aspect of the Leica brand. From the removable metal back to the vertical metal shutter, their intent was obvious; they wanted it faster, they wanted it better. Unfortunately the product lacked the style and grace of the Leica. Later models continued to improve and upgrade the technology throughout the 1950s.
Zeiss pioneered a lot of advanced features that we take for granted in the modern camera today. It was clearly competition between the two companies as well as their supporters. In the 50s, the Contax II and III came out with a complete line of lenses with an improved focusing system. The company wanted to once again be on par with the popular Leica, Nikon and Canon entries into the market.
Although the company held fast to its goal of technical advancement, by the 60s their competitors were moving ahead of them. Contact rangefinder cameras were no longer pulling ahead of the pack. The Nikon SP, the Canon 7 and the Leica M3 all pulled ahead. The development of the single lens reflex camera also began to eclipse the rangefinder in popularity.
The original Contax I and II had the larger body and boxier style. They were heavier and larger than the Leica back then. Later, the IIa and IIIa came out, with a smaller body weighing in at 18 ounces versus the original 21 ounces; but when placed side-by-side there was almost a 20% difference in size between the II and the IIa.
Improvements came with the Contax IIa and IIIa. The shutter mechanism was an improvement over the competition as well as the Contax I and II. They redesigned the cloth connecting straps of the shutter curtains. The engineers ended up with fewer parts and better reliability.
The viewfinder/rangefinder windows saw improvements as well. They managed to reduce the rangefinder length to 73 mm original 90 mm. Even so, it was still longer than the Leica rangefinder base length by 15%. The viewfinder was stretched a little longer and wider by 1 mm for more comfortable viewing.
Zeiss improved the Contax rangefinder cameras in the IIa and IIIa models. It definitely made for a better camera although I think they outdid themselves when it came to manufacturing the lenses. The Zeiss engineers were always known for their world-class precision when it came to optics. During the 40s and 50s the lenses had a nice chrome finish. The bayonet mounts finally provided a firm click that assured any photographer that they were locked and loaded.