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Film Camera Review, Contax 137 MA 35mm MF SLR Film Camera

Contax 137 MA 35mm MF SLR Film Camera

An enhanced version of the Contax 137 MD, with full manual shutter speed control and a 3 frames-per-second power drive.

The Contax 137 MA, introduced in 1981, a year after the Contax 137 MD (1980), is an enhanced version of the prior and came with a full shutter speed manual control, a motor drive that has been upgraded from 2 to 3 frames per second, and a removable back that can be replaced with the and can be replaced with a Contax Quartz D-5 Data Back.

The enhancement now gives the 137 MA the ability to be used in full manual mode (not available on the 137 MD) with the shutter speed selection displayed as a blinking light in the viewfinder display. In normal auto aperture priority exposure mode, with the shutter speed ring set to 'Auto', the camera functions just like the 137 MD with the shutter speed selection a steady (non-blinking) red.

Contax 137 MA, Yashica ML 50mm F1.7

The 137 MA is equally fitted with a motor drive system integrated within the camera body, powered by 4 AA-sized batteries located within a compartment horizontally within the bottom plate of the camera body. The camera can be set to shoot with a self-timer setting, at 3 frames per second, or just a simple film wind on after each exposure. Film rewind is still entirely manual.

While the size and weight of the two models are identical at 143mm wide, 92.5mm high, 51mm deep, and weighing 655 grams with batteries, the 147 MA is visually bigger as it has a deeper top plate. The 'Quartz' designation refers to the shutter curtain release travel, which is quartz timed, designed to be more reliable than pure mechanical systems, especially in very cold weather.

Basic Camera Features

Technically, the 137 MA is an auto-exposure 35mm SLR film camera with an integrated motor drive fitted with a quartz-timed electronically controlled horizontal travel type cloth focal-plane shutter with a speed range from 11 seconds to 1/1000th second, plus X (1/60th) and B. Metering is TTL (Through-the-Lens) center-weighted or spot. The camera is usable with film speed rated at ISO 12 to 5320, with exposure compensation adjustable from -2 to +2 EV in 1/3 steps.

The 137 MA is also fitted with a 10-second delay Quartz-timed electronic self-timer with front-facing body LED flashes to indicate operation, accelerating 2 seconds before the shutter is released.

Contax 137 MA, Front

A simple front, with only the LED display for the self-timer located towards the top of the right, and the synch terminal socket on the top left corner of the front plane. On the vertical of the housing mount, the Depth-of-Field preview button is in the lower-left corner, the lens release button is on the top left, and the release socket is in the lower-right corner.

Contax 137 MA, Top

A stylized film rewind crank, sitting on the left most of the top plane, is integrated with the button-release exposure compensation dial and a push-to-turn shutter speed selector dial, and a rather difficult to (on my review unit) pull-up and turn ISO speed dial, with the release button for the exposure compensation dial next to it. The apex of the pentaprism houses the accessory shoe and auto-flash contacts.

On the cluster to the right of the pentaprism, where most of the controls for the camera are, is the shutter button encircled by the main Power On/Off, LED indicator, AE lock selector, and on the opposite side of the dial, the battery check switch. On the lower part of the ensemble is the exposure counter, film rewind button cover, and the rewind button, and on the lower-left end of the top plate, the exposure mode selector.

Contax 137 MA, Back

On the backplane, just the viewfinder eyepiece is located at the back of the pentaprism hump, and the hinged interchangeable film back is fitted with a film feed indicator and film tab holder.

Contax 137 MA, Bottom
>p>On the bottom plane, a tripod socket is integrated into the lower part of the lens mount housing, and the battery compartment cover fits right across the bottom plane of the camera. The cover plate is held in place with a half-turn to loosen the fastening knob.
Contax 137 MA, Film box

The film box is a standard configuration as seen on most SLR film cameras of that era with the film canister chamber on the left end of the body, followed by the shutter window and sprocket gear assembly, and a multi-pin take-up spool on the opposite end of the film box.

Film Loading and Rewind

Contax 137 MA, Film loading

To load film, first set the camera main switch set to 'On' and the mode selector switch set to 'S'. Open the film back and insert the film canister into the left cartridge chamber, pull the film tab across and over the shutter frame window, insert the film tab end into one of the slots in the inner side of the take-up spool, and the film properly tensioned across the back. The film is wound emulsion side up.

Release the shutter once (with the shutter speed setting set to 'X' or with the lens open) to take up any film slack and to ensure that the film perforation is properly aligned to the sprocket gear. Close the film back and do an additional two blank shots to bring the film frame counter to '1' and you are all set and ready to go.

Film rewind on the 137 MA is a fully manual affair, done with the power switched 'Off'. Swing the film rewind release button out and press the stay down film rewind release button, and use the film rewind crank to rewind the film roll clockwise back into the film canister until the film is completely wound before opening the back to take the exposed film roll out for processing.

Viewfinder Readout

Contax 137 MA, Viewfinder readout

The viewfinder readout on the 137 MA is a comprehensive display of lens aperture settings, through a direct aperture readout window located on the upper part of the viewfinder screen, a frame counter window on the left peripheral, and a red LED to indicate exposure compensation located below the frame counter, and a battery of 16 vertically mounted multi-colored LED and numeral shutter speed display on the right of the screen, which includes displays for over-and under-, LT (Long time) and B (Bulb) exposure indicators.

The screen is matt-field with a horizontal split spot surrounded by a micro-prism collar, the display is 0.86 magnification at 95% of the picture area.

Power On, AE Lock, and Battery Check

Contax 137 MA, Power ON, AE Lock, Battery Check

When the 137 MA is powered up or switched on, the LED indicator on the selector dial will display a red light, as an indicator that the camera is switched on, turns itself off after a short duration of non-activity, and is re-activated at the slightest touch of the shutter button.

The AE lock freezes the camera to a specific shutter speed it was set when the shutter button was touched after the switch was set. The camera will continue shooting at this speed until the setting is disabled.

Battery check will display a continuous green display on the LED to indicate that the camera has enough battery power for its operation. The light, however, will start to dim (and film-winding becomes slower) when the battery voltage has dropped to the level where it needs to be replaced.

Manual Shutter Control

Contax 137 MA, Manual shutter dial

For manual shutter control, turn the shutter speed dial, which incidentally is located at the base of the rewind knob, away from the 'A' setting to the desired shutter speed setting.

The selected shutter speed will be displayed as a blinking LED in the viewfinder display, while a second LED with a continuous display will also be lighted to indicate the aperture status of the lens.

For the correct exposure setting, turn the aperture ring on the lens until the LED lights merge.

Shooting Modes

The shooting mode dials on the 137 MA permit the choice of setting the camera for single ('S') shot mode, continuous ('C') shot at up to 3-frames per second, and self-timer ('S-T') mode with a 10-second delay, which is activated when you press the shutter release button.

Camera Body Weight and Batteries

The camera body weight is 665 grams with batteries, which are four 1.5 Volts AA dry batteries or four 1.2 Volts AA Nickel-Cadium batteries. Alkaline Manganese batteries will power the camera for up to 50 36-exposure film rolls, while Manganese dry batteries and Nickel-Cadium batteries will power the camera for up to 20 and 30 36-exposure film rolls respectively.

Contax/Yashica Lenses

A historical overview and full listing of Contax/Yashica lenses, which are compatible and can be used on the 137 MA is available on Wikipedia @

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