Stereo Corporation Contura Stereo Camera
The Contura is one of those cameras where all the available knowledge seems to have been quoted from one source to the next, around in a circle. Was there ever any valid original knowledge? Seton Rochwite, of Stereo Realist fame, was hired by the startup Stereo Corporation to create the ultimate stereo camera. Presumably, the knowledge and experience gained from the Realist would be incorporated into a next generation camera, although it still included such Realist features as the bottom mounted viewfinder and left hand shutter release. The camera was styled by the well known industrial designer Brooks Stevens. A feature of the design was a gold stripe running across the face of the camera. Controls were oriented in such a way that on a bright sunny day with daylight film, aligning the gold stripes would render a properly focused and exposed image.
Unfortunately for Stereo Corporation's investors, the camera came too late. By the time it was ready for production, Kodak had flooded the market with inexpensive stereo cameras, and more importantly, the stereo fad had run it's course. McKeown's states "130 cameras were assembled and sold to stock holders for $100 each." I have seen cameras with three digit serial numbers beginning with the letter A, and four digit serials beginning with a B. I would love it if someone could explain this to me. Somewhere along the way I saw a claim that there are "fakes" being assembled today from left over original parts. To do this, you would need one each of every single piece in the camera - a tall order. Though valuable, the Contura is not worth so much money as to be a good candidate for scratch built fakes.
Whether any differences exist between the A and B serial cameras, I do not know. There were also some unknown number of experimental or prototype units. The second camera here, serial numbered X3, has two distinctly different features. One is a rewind lever located on top of the camera next to the hot shoe. The other less important difference is the focusing knob, which in this case a simple bent metal piece. Clearly the part's design was already in place, they just didn't have the manufactured part when this camera was assembled. The camera came with a history, but interestingly, some time before I had received correspondence from another individual referencing this same serial number. The two stories don't match.
The final bit of the Contura story is the attractive case, made by Perrin who also made cases for the Stereo Realist, and those nice Stereo Realist branded gadget bags. It's a bad example of what were they thinking? To use the camera, it has to be completely removed from the case. A lanyard attaches the case to one side of the camera strap, which means it would dangle from one side of the camera while taking pictures. To keep the camera in the case, the top flap has to be snapped in place or it will fall out from under the camera. In practice I believe this would have proven impractical and unruly. The Realist case is much easier to use.