‘Contax’ is undoubtably one of the most legendary names in photography. First used in 1932 for a groundbreaking 35 mm camera made by Zeiss Ikon, during the more recent decades, the name Contax has made several reappearances in photography hardware which (while certainly holding onto something of the original Contax legacy) have been both geographically and administratively quite far removed from the name’s origins. Since the 70’s, the name Contax was first used for SLR’s manufactured in a Zeiss-Yashica (Kyocera) co-operation, and later (1990’s) for the Kyocera-built Contax G autofocus, interchangeable lens rangefinders (as well as a range of compact cameras).
Basics of the Contax/Yashica mount:
The Contax/Yashica (commonly abbreviated C/Y) mount was co-designed by Zeiss and Yashica. Yashica wanted to up their game (against their Japanese rivals), while Zeiss needed an outlet for 35mm photographic lenses (beside medium format and cinema lenses). Zeiss also licensed the name Contax for use by Yashica for the flagship line of SLR cameras. Resultingly, both ‘Contax’ and ‘Yashica’ cameras for the C/Y mount were in fact manufactured by Yashica.
The mount (as well as the Contax RTS and Yashica FX-1 bodies) were introduced in 1975 and while one could say its mainstream development ceased in the late 80’s (with Yashica’s ill-fated introduction of its line of AF SLR’s and lenses), further development under the Contax brand continued until 1998 (the Contax Aria). By that time, however, the Contax line of cameras had quite clearly become a niche product (albeit a prominent niche).
While the C/Y mount is most well known for its impressive lineup of Carl Zeiss lenses, these were – by far – not the only lenses available for the mount. Firstly, also Yashica were renowned for their lens design and manufacturing, and Yashica themselves produced two lines of lenses for the Contax/Yashica system, named ‘ML’ and ‘DSB’. Of these, the ML line was the more prestigious (featuring multi-coating), whereas the DSB-lenses were more intended for the plebes.
Furthermore, a great number of third-party lens manufacturers offered their designs also in the C/Y mount, but (and, please, take a pinch of salt now) while a great many third-party lenses were offered for the C/Y mount, these are relatively rarely available on the secondhand market. My personal suspicion is, that those who photographers who opted for the Contax-Yashica system, with its ‘premium’ image, were less inclined to then tarnish their camera with off-brand optics.
Adapting C/Y -mount lenses:
As is typical for optics of this era, the lenses are fully manual, thus offering themselves for easy adaptation. Also, not uncommonly, adapting C/Y lenses for use on dSLR’s suffers the usual issues with regards to adapters and flange focal distances. That said, the C/Y mount has 1,5 mm of FFD leeway on the Canon EF mount, and that is enough for a dumb adapter to enable the combination without issue. Furthermore, there are specialist companies which have offered conversion kits for converting some of the most desired C/Y mount lenses to select other mounts (e.g. here).
With mILC’s, the use of C/Y lenses is a breeze. There are dumb adapters available which – for a pittance – allow you to mount all your C/Y -lenses on your mirrorless of choice. Again, if your mILC is of the full-frame variety, the C/Y -lenses will work exactly as designed, and if your mILC has a smaller-than full-frame sensor, you can choose to either use your C/Y lens with a crop factor, or invest in a focal reducer in order to partially address the crop factor.
One final note: Especially Zeiss lenses for the C/Y mount originally came in two varieties: AE and MM. While not meaningless (some internal changes to diaphragm and optics were made), the distinction is far from crucial when using the lenses with an adapter. More on this (and many other details) one day in that article which is yet to come.
Identifying the Contax/Yashica mount?
See more here.