Anyone using Contax SLR's?

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by snegron, Apr 23, 2006.

  1. snegron

    snegron Member

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    I have been looking into purchasing a used Contax ( I'd love to get a new one but since the company went out of business no one seems to stock them) but I am not too familiar with the different models out there. The one that I have been focusing on has been the AX only because of the ability to use a variety of Zeiss lenses out there.

    I have always wanted to own Zeiss lenses, so I think Contax would be the way to go. Not to mention the prices on used bodies have dropped considerably. Can anyone comment on the durability of Contax SLR's? Are they as tough as Nikons?

    I have also been throwing around the idea of getting a Leica R5 or R6 instead. Used Leica's are pricier but I think that parts availability would be better than Contax if I needed a major repair. Any suggestions?
     
  2. PhotoJim

    PhotoJim Member

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    Contax cameras are pretty decent. Some of them (e.g. the 167MT) were pretty innovative in their day. Unfortunately, because of the Zeiss mystique, although the body prices have come down nicely in this digital age, the lens prices are still fairly high.

    The RTS-series bodies are probably as tough as the Nikon F-series bodies (meaning the F, F2, F3, F4, F5, F6, not the F100, F90x, F80, etc.). Nikon's cameras have typically had a lot more accessory availability than probably any other cameras, but whether that matters is a point of debate. Not that many F-body users bought secondary viewfinders, but for the ones that needed that feature, I'm sure it was a godsend.

    I used to have Yashica gear (which shares the same mount) and I had the same Zeiss lust that you have. However, I went Nikon when my gear got stolen (primarily because I wanted to try autofocus) and although I am now shooting probably as much manual gear as autofocus, I have found the Nikon system to suit me perfectly. Most of the Nikkors are as good as the comparable Zeiss lenses; some lenses are better, some worse. They are usually significantly cheaper than the Zeisses.

    Also, Zeiss is now making a few manual-focus Nikon-mount lenses (50/1.4 Planar T* and 85/1.4 Tessar (I think) T*) with a few more to be released this fall, so you can have a tough-as-nails Nikon body and some Zeiss glass, if you have the budget. A bargain-grade Nikon F3 body is well under $200 these days (I just bought one).
     
  3. Claire Senft

    Claire Senft Member

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    I have a Contax RTSIII. I use it a lot. Prpblem free and well built is the camera.kyrocera has promised parts availability for approx. another 91/2 years on models availble new at the time which the line was dropped. This is the only Contax SLR that I have experience with.

    I have nine prime lenses. All have been more than satisfactory.
     
  4. snegron

    snegron Member

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    You are right about the prices of used Zeiss lenses! I have owned Nikon gear for many years and I have had no complaints with their lenses. I guess I have always been under the impression that Zeiss is sharper and I wanted to get that "extra edge". It boils down to the idea that the grass seems greener on the other side!
     
  5. Loose Gravel

    Loose Gravel Member

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    I recently bought a 139Q and a 159. I bought them so I could use Zeiss lenses. I bought these models, one for the wife and one for me, because of the good reports and the electronic shutters. Also, the leather was coming off the 139 so I could recover it with leather from cameraleather.com. The 139 is known for bad leather and now it looks very classy in blue. I do need a rewind knob for the 139, however. If anybody sees one, let me know.
     
  6. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    I shoot 167mt's and an RX. They are excellent quality all of them. The 167 is not as robust as an RX or RTS III, but that said, mine have been to the jungles of Belize and Cambodia and held up admirably. The #1 reason you buy these cameras is the Zeiss glass; you'll come away with photos that you'll always be amazed by. If you are thinking about an AX, they're neat cameras, and if you do a lot of macro work, they're pretty cool, as you can have a mini-bellows extension factor if you set the manual focus lens to its' minimum focus distance, then let the body focus kick in. However, the AX is a bit problematic when focusing big tele lenses. You'll quickly have to do some manual focusing with it if you want to focus on anything significantly closer than say 30 feet or so. Also, because of the many moving parts inside an AX, I would be concerned about long-term reliability. That is why I got an RX instead - less mechanical fuss, but it has the digital focus assist. The DFI is a really cool feature- you can not only see how far off the focus point you are, but you can also have your Depth-of-field indicator turned on, so you can see where you are focused relative to the depth-of-field for your selected aperture, which makes playing with selective focus very easy.

    As I am trimming down my gear to focus primarily on large format, I have my 2 167mt bodies I'd be willing to let go. Both are in excellent condition, and have been factory serviced for the duration of my ownership. I have the P5 battery holders for both of them, which let you use AA instead of AAA batteries, have a socket for an external battery pack to use in extreme cold weather, and have center-mounted tripod sockets (the stock baseplate for the 167 has an off-center tripod socket). The P5 also makes it easier to shoot vertically, as it functions like a vertical grip (without a vertical shutter button). PM me if you're interested. I would be willing to let them go with my zoom lenses - the 35-70 and the 80-200. The 35-70 is one of those lenses that once you use it, you say, "If I had to keep only one lens for my camera, THIS would be it". It is a fixed F3.5 max aperture through the entire zoom range, and will give you a 2:1 macro at the 35mm.
     
  7. Bruce Osgood

    Bruce Osgood Membership Council Council

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    I'd stay away for the AX. I didn't and cannot find anyone who will even consider repairing it. Other than an engineering marvel the autofocus isn't very good. It is slow and indecisive. The last battery I bought ($15) lasted one day or one roll of film, whichever comes sooner.

    The Aria is little jewel. Light, small and does it all. The three metering systems (Matrix, Average, Spot) are all accurate and can be overridden by Manual. The Aria is a strong foundation for T* senses which is really more important than the camera body for making 35mm pictures.

    My advice would be to research the lenses you would like to use. The major manufacturers (Nikon, Canon, etc) make two levels of lenses, Consumer, that you will be offered when you buy the body, and Pro, which is really what you would want. Find the lens and then decide on the body you need.

    My $.02
     
  8. avandesande

    avandesande Member

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    i have a 139q, and the time when the zeiss lenses shine the most is with color. prices haven't come down a bit in the last 5 years though..
     
  9. naaldvoerder

    naaldvoerder Member

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    I own a RTS 3 and a ST. Both are build to last. I have 4 primes up to now (hope to get more, a 18mm would be nice and the 100mm/3,5 is on the wishlist to). The lenses are exitingly sharp. I never used Nikon so I can't really compare with them. But you can't realy go wrong with contax and zeiss.

    Jaap Jan

    Bruce is right, by the way. It's the lenses that mather. They function equally good on Yashica's, I suspect.
     
  10. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    I shot Contax for years. Loved my AX. Service was ALWAYS a nightmare for me, and most pros I knew shooting Contax.

    When Kyocera bailed, I bailed and haven't looked back.

    I shoot SLR 25% of the time, RFDR 75%. I use Leica RFDR and (now) Nikon F5. If I shot SLR 75%, I'd be in Leica SLR. The R8 is briliiant, the lenses untouchable. But picking carefully through Nikon ( or Canon ) you can get dazzling lenses for almost free... and no headaches at all.

    The major camera makers designed and built great stuff. When the service is creatively and aggressively malevolent.... go somewhere else.
     
  11. elekm

    elekm Member

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    I picked up two Contax SLRs last year, and the one thing that struck me was how bright the viewfinder is. And that makes a big difference with some of the slower lenses. I had to replace the covering on both cameras, as well as the light seals. I've very pleased with the Zeiss glass.
     
  12. Nancy

    Nancy Member

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    I have a 139q along with the 135 f2.8 and 50 f1.4 Zeiss lenses. Both lenses are sharp, sharp, sharp. Unfortunately the camera's developed a problem where intermittently the shutter sticks open when I advance the film. I'm not sure if it's worth fixing, or even can be fixed. Does anyone have a suggestion for someone that works on these?
    It's a beautiful little camera that 'feels good' to hold and like someone else said, the viewfinder is very bright. It was a pleasure to use when it worked right.
     
  13. Woolliscroft

    Woolliscroft Member

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    I have a 167MT and it's a gem. The glass is lovely and I have never used an SLR with so little shutter and mirror shock. My only reservation is that it is a bit noisy, with its built in winder. I mostly use it for air photography where that is not an issue, but it is a bit obtrusive when I use it on the ground. I must say that I could also wish that it had a manual film wind as well as the motor. The batteries stop driving the film rather abruptly and way before they stop running the meter and shutter.

    David
     
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  15. guissimo

    guissimo Member

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    I'm currently using an RTS II and I had an RTS III. I've never had problems with the RTS II and I really like it. The RTS III is another story though. The camera was a pleasure to use, but it developed some annoying (expensive) problems.
    First, the viewfinder got dimmer and dimmer until the bottom could not be read. Later, the shutter started to stick at random. Apparently, the foam used to seal the shutter enclosing dissolved and the sticky stuff made to the shutter blades stick. I was able to clean the shutter blades and make the camera functional again, but in the end KEH had to replace the shutter. The next problem was worst. The back started to scratch the film and then one day the camera would not power on at all. KEH and Contax (Japan) failed to fix it, so I ended up selling the camera "for parts".
    No complain about the lenses. I have the 28, 35-70 and 80-200. They are all great!

    To Nancy,
    Check with KEH, as far as I know they still work on Contax gear.

    -G
     
  16. alien

    alien Member

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    I own quite a selection of Contax gear (RTS II and III, AX, RX, S2, N1, G2). I love the way these cameras handle. I think the ergonomics of these Contaxes are second to none (of course this is only my opinion).

    I still have a large Nikon gear (consisting of F4 and F5 plus a full range of primes, 15 - 400), but they mostly stay at home.

    With regards to autofocus, I find that I (after many years WITH autofocus, and the Nikon autofocus is not bad, mind you!!) prefer to work mainly without - I mostly focus on the screen (hardly use the split-screen or microprisms). The Contaxes are particularly helpful there, as they have fantastically bright screens.

    I own a range of prime lenses with the whole lot, and am extremely happy with them. In prefer them over the Nikon primes, but that - again - is my opinion and preference - the Nikons are outstanding, too. The Zeiss lenses feel better (although I bet the old Nikon AI lenses probably feel much much better than the new Nikon AF lenses), and I think that some of the Zeiss lenses just deliver this 'little bit more'.

    I have had one problem once with the film advance on the S2 (6 years ago), but that was sorted quickly. I have my cameras regularly serviced here in the UK and sometimes in Germany - no problems so far, just sometimes you have to wait a bit.

    My personal favourite? Without any doubt the RTS III, together with the 35/1.4 - it has everything I need in a camera, looks and feels phantastic, and is perfect for me.
     
  17. Vincent DiPietro

    Vincent DiPietro Member

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    I currently have the Contax RX -- very sturdy and reliable so far (I've had it for a number of years) The Aria -- a fine camera also very reliable. The S2 -- the film advance went after a year ( I purchased all my cameras used so I don't really know how much the S2 was used previously) I had it repaired and so far so good. Last year I purchased a beatup 139Q. This is also a great camera but two weeks ago the film advance went on it and it would cost more to repair than it was to purchase. My over all feeling is that Contax cameras (of which I have also owned at one point or another the RTS,137MD, & 167MT) are sturdy cameras.
    You can get the 50 1.4 or 1.7 fairly cheaply along with the 135. KEH has some good prices. I have a number of Zeiss lenses beginning with the 25 2.8 up to the 35-135 Zoom. I got all of these except for the 35 2.8 MM used. All are very fine lenses. These days you are taking a chance that the camera was not overly used or abused since there would likely be no more than a 3 month warranty if any warranty at all. I hear and have read that the RTS II is a solid, reliable camera with a very bright viewfinder. It was at one time the flagship camera for the Contax system until the much larger RTS III came out. I handled the AX years ago when it was still being sold in stores and I personally found it to be too fat for my hands. I guess it all depends on what kind of photography you are doing. I also wondered as was mentioned by someone else here about so many moving parts liable to go wrong. Once I held the RX it was love at first sight and feel. For me the RX is the greatest.
     
  18. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    The ONLY thing I don't like about the RX is the whiny-sounding shutter. I do like the custom functions, including the in-between frame data recording if you want, the rewind to leave the tongue out or not. It has to be one of the brightest finders I've ever seen on an SLR. While it doesn't have the vacuum film plane, it has the ceramic pressure plate, which reduces the possibilty of film scratching during transport to zero, and produces a more even pressure, resulting in a more evenly focused image across the entire negative.
     
  19. Nancy

    Nancy Member

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    Thank you for the suggestion of checking with KEH for repair. Their quote is about 3 times what I paid for the camera. LOL. They do have a bargain grade 139q though for the same price as their repair quote. I'm going to have to think long and hard. I already have more cameras than I need. (Or so I'm told).
     
  20. Robert Budding

    Robert Budding Member

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    You might want to consider a Contax G1 or G2. Rangefinders are a little limiting, but the glass is stunning. Besides, the lenses are relatively cheap as they can't be used on DSLR's.
     
  21. naturephoto1

    naturephoto1 Subscriber

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    I use a series of Leica R series cameras including an R4SP, R7, and an R8. If weight is not an issue, I use the R8. The camera has real heft to it, feels very solid, with tremendous capabilities and a brilliant finder which includes a tremendous amount of information. The R4SP and the R7 are smaller and lighter cameras with the R4SP being the smaller and lighter of the 2. If you want a smaller and still a rugged Leica these would also be something for consideration. The R4SP is only slightly larger than the M series Leicas, however it does lack through the TTL for flash. Leica is the only camera manufacturer to my knowledge to continue to service their camera for 20 to 50+ years out of production.

    However the reason that most photographers buy Leica cameras is for their optics. Most of these lenses are stellar performers that are usually equal or superior to the professional series Canon and Nikon offerings. However, Leica designs their optics to perform wide open with little or no aberations and generally to have more even sharpness from center to edge than many of their competitiors. Additionally, Leica specs for their lenses are to be within 1/6 of a stop while their competitors are normally speced to 1/3 stop.

    Their optics do tend to be a bit heavier because their helical focusing mounts rely on 2 self lubricating metals brass on aluminum. These are some of the best manual focusing lenses ever made made for 35mm. They are very precise in their focus with no backlash and a buttery smooth feeling. This kind of focusing action and is found in both the M and R (SLR) series cameras. No other 35mm lenses have the focusing feeling of Leicas.
     
  22. Brac

    Brac Member

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    I bought a 167MT new over 10 years ago and have found it robust and reliable though as I'm getting older I do find it rather heavy. In the UK a few dealers still have new Contax bodies on offer mainly the RTS111, the RX (the original model surprisingly) & the Aria. You see them advertised in Amateur Photographer magazine.

    All the early models along with contemporary Yashicas suffer from the peeling leather problem but substitutes can be got cheaply from cameraleather in the US and from someone in Japan.

    Secondhand Contaxes can be got quite reasonably on ebay, especially common are the RTS, the 137MD and 137MA. You pay more at a dealers but then you get a guarantee.
     
  23. Robert Budding

    Robert Budding Member

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    Not sure what you shoot, but have you considered a medium format system? Hasselblads are affordable these days. And you get Zeiss glass on a 6x6 neg!
     
  24. snegron

    snegron Member

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    Currently I shoot with Nikon 35mm, also with Mamiya 645, (and Nikon DSLR's as well). I love my 645's, but I have had very little luck scanning them with my Epson 4870 Flatbed Scanner (the odd shape of 645 frames is not recognized by the software of my scanner). So, I have opted to stick with 35mm. I like my Nikons but I want that "extra edge" in terms of sharpness. Yes, my nikons are sharp (especially my 180mm 2.8, 80-200mm 2.8, 105mm 2.5, 85mm 1.8, etc) but I guess I am under the impression that Zeiss optics are sharper. After reading the replies on this thread (and I really thank everyone for their input), I wonder if I will be actually getting sharper results with a Zeiss or Leica vs. Nikon? I did look into Hassleblad and it could be an option, especially because my scanner recognizes square format frames. However, I have even less of a clue about the Hassleblad system and would not know where to start!
     
  25. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    Zeiss lenses are largely pricey because they're known as a premium option for Canon shooters (film or digital). I use my RTS lenses on my Canons all the time. The finder in the RTS is still the best of the bunch though, and built solidly\. Just watch out when the shutter goes -- no parts!
     
  26. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    I assume you mean for an original RTS I (not the later II or III). I know there are still parts in the hopper for the RTS III, and there are enough IIs out there to cannibalize for some time to come.