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Contax 137 MD 35mm MF SLR Film Camera Review

Contax 137 MD 35mm Manual Focus SLR Film Camera

Film Camera Review: The smallest auto-exposure 35mm SLR film camera with an integrated motor-drive and electromagnetic shutter release.

The collaboration between Contax and Yashica, between 1975 to 2005, which revived the use of the 'CONTAX' brand, saw the introduction of a range of 35mm SLR film cameras designed with very comprehensive use of electronics and a new lens mount system, the C/Y mount, that was used by both lines of Contax and Yashica SLR film cameras produced during the period.

First off the line was the Contax RTS, which was produced from 1975-82, and a series of alternative Yashica FX and FR models produced between 1978-87. The Contax 139 Quartz, produced between 1979-87, saw the use of TTL flash and quartz-timed shutter speeds, and later, the Contax 137MD Quartz, produced between 1980-82, was the first with an Integrated motor drive.

Contax 137 MD, Yashica ML 50mm F1.7

When introduced, the Contax 137 MD was the smallest 35mm SLR with an integrated motor drive. The drive system was well integrated within the camera body, powered by 4 AA-sized batteries located horizontally within the bottom plate of the camera body. The camera can be set to simply wind on the film after each exposure, or shoot continuously at 2 frames per second. Film rewind, however, is still entirely manual.

    CONTAX 137MD Quartz

    + Carl Zeiss Planar 1.7/50 T* The cheapest high quality SLR kit money can buy.

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 MD 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. Shutter speed range is 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 25 to 5000, with exposure compensation adjustable from -2 to +2 EV in 1/3 steps.

The 137 MD 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.

A simple front, with only the LED light 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 in the top-left corner, and the release socket is on the lower right.

The film rewind crank, on the leftmost of the top plane, is integrated with the click-stop shutter selector, click-stop exposure compensation dial, and the pull-up and turn ISO speed dial. On the apex of the pentaprism housing are the accessory shoe and auto-flash contacts, and on the right of the top plane, 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.

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

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 fastening knob.

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, sprocket gear, and multi-pin take-up spool on the opposite end of the film box.

Film Loading and Rewind

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 MD is also manual and is done with the power switch set to 'Off'. Swing the film rewind release button out and press the stay down film rewind release button. Use the film rewind crank to rewind the film roll back into the film canister (clockwise) until the film is completely wound before opening the back to take the exposed film roll out of the camera for processing.

Viewfinder Readout

The viewfinder readout on the 137 MD 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 an array 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.

Shutter Selector

The shutter selector dial, which is integrated with the film rewind crank, sets the choice for automatic or shooting with a dedicated flash unit ('Auto'), non-dedicated flash synchronization ('X'), or bulb ('B') shooting modes.

Power On, Battery Check

When the 137 MD is powered up or switched on, the LED indicator on the selector dial will display a continuous red light, as an indicator that the camera is switched on, and a reminder that the camera should be powered on when the camera is not in use.

When the battery check is deployed, the LED will display a continuous green 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.

AE Lock

The AE lock facility on the 137 MD is a feature that will lock the camera to a specific shutter speed which does not change even if you variate the aperture opening on the lens or reframes the image to one with a different lighting condition. You can continue shooting at this 'manual shutter speed' setting until the AE lock setting is released.

Shooting Modes

The shooting mode dials on the 137 MD permit the choice of setting the camera for single ('S') shot mode, continuous ('C') shot at up to 2-frames per second, and self-timer ('S-T') mode with a 10-second delay, activated when you press the shutter release button.

Camera Body Weight

The Contax 137 MD camera's body weight is 665 grams with batteries.

Contax/Yashica Lenses

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

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