Contax SLR Feedback.

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

  1. snegron

    snegron Member

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    Would anyone like to share their thoughts and experiences regarding Contax SLR's? I have seen prices drop on used Contax gear and it seems tempting to get an RTS to have access to 35mm Zeiss lenses.

    Any particular models to look for or avoid? I have been looking at the RTS, however, I noticed there are several more models on the used market like the 137, 159, 167, RX, AX, RTSII, RTSIII, S2, ST, etc. Any major differences? Any one more reliable or built better than another? Is the build quality comparable to the Nikon F series?
     
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  2. Jonathan Brewer

    Jonathan Brewer Member

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    I've owned Contax cameras, along w/Rollei, these two camera companies solved a lot of the 'teething' problems involved in the being two of the first camera makers to go electronic. The biggest problem w/an electronic camera, is that it tends to go completely dead when it malfunctions, versus the tendency for a mechanical camera to 'get raggedy', but still work until you can get it to a service center.

    I eventually got rid of my Rollei 6006 system because of these cameras going dead during portrait sessions. In 35mm, I first bought into the Contax system w/the purchase of two 159 bodies and ziess glass, no problems w/either body for at least 10 yrs, and these were fairly early electronic cameras, the fit and finish was elegant looking, but did not wear well, the Nikon FM2, which the Contax 159 is modeled on is better made, w/better build quality.

    Contax did tend to improve on workmanship and build quality, and as new models came out, they improved on both the electronics, and workmanship. My 159 bodies eventually gave out w/frozen shutters and I had the choice at that time to get either the flagship of the Contax line, the RTSIII, or the autofocus AX, either of these cameras were excellent, and even though many consider the autofocus on the AX slow and primitive, I simply love the idea of autofocus w/Carl Zeiss glass which is the whole idea behind the Contax system in the first place.

    I think a new/mint RTSIII or a new/mint AX is an excellent buy, I had my AX for 11 years, and the shutter froze up, but being lucky enough to know about Dean @ Deans Camera repair here in Southern California, he overhauled the camera, and it works like a champ.

    The knock on these cameras is going to be having somebody to repair the electronics, which I think were better in the later cameras along w/build quality, the later cameras were simply better. If you've got somebody to maintain/fix these cameras, the AX or the RTSIII are the best bets, Dean who works on my cameras loves both these models.

    Dean was able to have a long consult w/another technician who used to work on these cameras, so he knows how to maintain/service/fix them as well as the factory techs, so I'm in good hands, my AX is my mainstay camera when I'm shooting kids(58yr old eyeballs), with 2 Nikon mechanical backups.

    My AX went approx. 11yrs, without a malfunction, quit, with about a $200.00 cash outlay for an overhaul, that works for me, but if you don't have anybody to work on these cameras, pass.

    I've found you have to exercise electronic cameras REGULARLY or the shutters will quit, I exercise ALL my gear every two weeks whether I use them or not, and if you use a Contax camera regularly, it will last, they along w/Rollei have gotten pretty good at electronics, which isn't easy to do, just ask Leica. :D
     
  3. Robert Budding

    Robert Budding Member

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    I used to own a Contax N1. Nice camera, but it's almost as large and heavy as the Contax 645. And there aren't many lens options. So I sold it when Kyocera exited the camera business.

    I really love the older mechanical Contax rangefinder cameras. The Contax IIa is my favorite. But you have the usual limitations, and advantages, of a rangefinder.
     
  4. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    I had a pair of 167MT bodies, which were the first cameras to offer auto-bracketing. Great little jobs, very comfortable in the hand, served me very well. I added an RX, which has a fancy electronic feature that I find invaluable - the DFI (Digital Focus Assist). It serves as an electronic rangefinder, plus a DOF calculator, making it easy to put your focus point where you want it in the DOF, so you can still blur out the background when lighting and film-speed conditions require you to use F22 @ 1/2000th of a second. I recently sold off the 167s because I'm just not doing enough 35mm work to justify keeping that many bodies around. I'm now down to the RX, and my prime lenses plus an 18-35 Sigma zoom lens, and recently added a G1 rangefinder with 28 and 45 lenses. For shooting 35mm, the Contax stuff is about the only thing I'd want, as it has that Zeiss glass, especially those certain magical lenses like the 85mm F1.4 and the 35mm f1.4. If you do get the rangefinder bug, get the G2, not the G1, because it is a better autofocus design, quieter, smoother, and has faster flash sync for outdoor fill-flash.

    The RTS III, the flagship of the line, is one of the best SLRs ever made, IMHO. I had the chance to use one periodically when I was working in a camera store that was a Contax dealer. The vacuum film plane feature really does make a difference in image sharpness. It is big and heavy, but no worse than a comparable Nikon F4 or F5. And it offers another funky feature in addition to the vacuum film plane - TTL metering for external strobe. Very handy in the studio. If you do a lot of portrait shooting in 35mm, it is THE camera to have, combined with that 85mm 1.4 lens.
     
  5. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Over the years I borrowed an S2, an Aria and an AX for varying periods (months to a year or more) from the importers. All are nice but as you say the real reasion for using them is the lenses. All the ones I've tried for any length of time -- 35/1.4, 35/2.8PC, 85/1.4, 100 macro -- were superb.

    But right now my old Nikon Fs are wearing 25/2.8, 35/2 and 50/2 (macro) Zeiss ZF fit lenses. To tell the truth I prefer an F to an S2. It just feels nicer.

    Cheers,

    R
     
  6. Neal

    Neal Subscriber

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    Dear snegron,

    Although I love my old RTS, two options to consider are a Yashica FX-2 that can be had for around $25 on ebay and, if you have a Canon EOS mount camera, a conversion mount.
    http://www.cameraquest.com/frames/4saleReos.htm

    Neal Wydra
     
  7. naaldvoerder

    naaldvoerder Member

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    I have owned a ST and a RX, and still own a RTS 3 and a Aria. All these bodies feel and function great. All of them were bought used. The RX has a remarkingly well damped mirror, the RTS 3 is a rock solid dream of a camera, but rather heavy for hiking. It comes into it's own with studio (flash) photography. The ST died on me, but could have been repaired for 250 $. It was very used when I bought it. Instead of that I bought an Aria for hiking. It's a little gem, very quiet as well. All of the body share a AEL-lock. Ones you use it , you don't wanna miss it. And than there are the lenses.....

    Jaap Jan
     
  8. snegron

    snegron Member

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    Thanks for the feedback! One question I forgot to ask in the original post was about service options, thanks Jonathan!

    The allure of Contax, IMO, is the accsess to Zeiss glass. I currently own Nikon gear (both manual focus and autofocus cameras and lenses) and I am quite happy with Nikon glass. I would like the opportunity to experiment with other glass such as Zeiss or Leica. I have heard by many in previous posts that there is no major difference in terms of image quality between Nikon, Zeiss, and Leica glass. Having been curious about this for many years now, I look forward to experimenting with Zeiss.
     
  9. Bruce Osgood

    Bruce Osgood Membership Council Council

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    I found my way into Contax, like you, in order to use the Zeiss glass. But first I got a Yashica FX mechanical body ($125 new) that has the same coupling as the Contax (both Kyoceria at the time). For a couple of years I sported the Yashica with 1.8 38mm Biogen, 50mm 1.4 and 80 - 200mm f-4 zoom. I sold a few pictures and bought an Aria, sold a few pictures and bought an AX. The AX sets in a box waiting for someone to come out of the woodwork who can repair it. But the Aria keeps on ticking. Wouldn't change it.

    Oh, the Yashica waits patiently for the day I try IR film.

    Merry Christmas or Happy Holiday's to all
     
  10. Loose Gravel

    Loose Gravel Member

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    I have a 139 and a 159. I got he 139 for the wife because the leather was coming off and I could get fancy camera leather replacements. It looks nice in blue. The 159 I use to take pix at the kid's soccer games. Both fine cameras. The electronic shutters are right on. Some of the viewfinder LEDs on the 159 are weak, but it doesn't matter to me. I also have a G2 and it is wonderful. I think everybody should have one. I bought into Contax for the same reason as everyone else, the Zeiss glass.
     
  11. Jonathan Brewer

    Jonathan Brewer Member

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    I'd send Dean @ Dean's Camera Repair your AX, he'll be honest, and check the camera and tell you if he can/can't repair it, for no charge.

    Let me tell you how good Dean is, I bought an absolutely mint(or so I thought) Nikon FM2n from a guy over e-bay, got the camera, and had Dean go over it. Dean being a qualified Nikon technician, checks it with all his instruments, tells me the camera is a great little camera, EXCEPT, that the guy forgot to tell me that he's either swung the camera lensfirst into a door, or dropped it, hitting lens first, because the lens wasn't seating right and presenting a corner soft, and he tells me by exactly how the much the tolerances are off.

    Dean takes the camera apart, straigtens out everything, the camera is now truly in mint condition, and this was very cheap, his prices are surprising, which is why he repairs ALL my cameras, TLR's, my Mamiyas, my Contax, my Nikons, everything. His repairs for my Mamiya's are a fraction of what the factory technicians charge.

    As previously mentioned, my AX was a conversation piece, until dean brought it back, so I'd contact him.

    In terms of what you mentioned about exploring Zeiss glass, you'll get all sorts of opinions, ...............talking about Zeiss glass, tends to get some LeicaLovers all bent out of shape, which is hilarious, because the difference between the two, is like arguing about two very beautiful women, and who looks the best, and the truth being, you're lucky if you got either one.

    Years ago, Zeiss was head and shoulders above most, Lieca glass notwithstanding,.............there was much talk about the Zeiss 'glow', some believed they could see, some insisted folks were 'talking' themselves into seeing something that wasn't there, regardless.................20-25yrs ago, to me, there were about the best.

    Things changed, everybody else making glass got better, and raised their glass up into roughly the same ballpark as Zeiss glass, not the same as far as I'm concerned, because different lenses have different personalities, but to the point where you could say that the glass from the 'A' players was all good.

    The lenses out there from the different lensmakers are so good, that the skill of the photographer using a particular lens will make a bigger difference than whatever the difference is between Zeiss or Leica glass or anything else.

    Having said all this, if you invest in Contax, to explore Zeiss glass, I don't think you'll be disappointed :D
     
  12. Jonathan Brewer

    Jonathan Brewer Member

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    ..............AND BEFORE anybody gets bent out of shape, there's absolutely NOTHING wrong with Nikon glass, great glass!!!:D
     
  13. Bruce Osgood

    Bruce Osgood Membership Council Council

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    This is the only address I find (google):

    Dean's Camera Repair
    1055 W Carson St
    Torrance, CA
    3107828619

    Do you know if he can be contacted via email?

    Thanks,
     
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  15. snegron

    snegron Member

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    I was starting to feel neglected! :D Just kidding! This does bring up another good point though. Nikon has produced many professional grade lenses as well as many consumer oriented lenses. There were outstanding lenses in both categories as well as several overpriced flops. Are there any Zeiss lenses that have proven to be better than others? Also, are there any Zeiss lenses to stay away from?
     
  16. Jonathan Brewer

    Jonathan Brewer Member

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    That's Dean's address, I can't find his biz card, and since he's only 20min. from me, I just call him, I'm not sure about an internet presence. He's had somebodies else's AX in the shop, when he worked on mine, so he's worked on several of these cameras, he'll tell you just what's wrong with it, and his repair pricing is very low.

    I've had the 35mm F1.4, the 85mm F1.4, 100mm F2, 100mm F2.8 135mm F2 135mm F2, and the 35-135mm zoom in Carl Zeiss.

    There are MTF tests all over the internet for these lenses, I consider every one of these lenses great lenses, no dogs. I think the MTF tests can only draw out the limits of performance, if you're shooting on a tripod, using a cable shutter release, and blowing up bigtime.

    I give less and less credence to tests as I get older, they don't tell you how the results from using your lens in conjunction with your style, LOOKS, and like sportcars, one might have a bit more acceleration, but the other model you're looking at in comparison, might be the car you'd actually love to drive.

    That said, the results I got back from the 35mm F1.4 were simply gorgeous, between the 85mm F1.4.......100mm F2.........100mm F2.8......they all give absolutely beautiful results w/portraiture, the 100mm F2 would be the champ, but I believe saying that to be almost 'splitting hairs'. The 135mm F2, I found myself never using, becuase of it being so close to the 85mm and 100mm length lenses.

    Although some other folks my argue w/this, the best overall lens, in terms of having performance, very, very, very, close to the abilities of the prime lenses, and I think the MTF numbers are also bear this out, would be the Carl Zeiss 35-135mm zoom, I just leave this lens on my AX,.........it is a BIG/HEAVY lens, w/a 82mm filter accessory thread, and it doens't have a constant aperture, but my attitude about that is 'so what'.

    I'm completely happy with using almost exclusively the 35-135 lens F3.3-4, and now don't have any urge to bother using anything else, I just don't see any difference in the results between this lens and the others.

    I believe you can get a 100mm F2.8, for the least amount of money, the 35-135 sold for 2K new, I've seen them go for as low as $575.00, they go up from there, and are worth every penny. I hear the CZ28-85, is dynamite also, but I've never used it.
     
  17. Bruce Osgood

    Bruce Osgood Membership Council Council

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    Thanks Jonathan,
    I'll try and phone him next week.
    I made a typo in my initial post, where I said 35mm 1.8 Biogin,I meant to have said 28mm 2.8 Biogin. It is really a 'favorite lens'.
     
  18. Tom Hoskinson

    Tom Hoskinson Member

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    Bruce, I own a T* 28mm f2.8 Zeiss Distagon lens (MM/AE mount for my Contax RTSIII and other Contax & Yashica SLRs).

    I also own a T* 28mm f/2.8 Zeiss Biogon lens (G mount for my Contax G2)

    These are both excellent lenses in my experience.

    Take a look at http://www.contaxusa.com/lensdetail.asp?parent=123000
     
  19. Bruce Osgood

    Bruce Osgood Membership Council Council

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    I agree, the T* Biogon 28mm f-2.8 is fantastic. I think of it as old friend who likes to gossip and reveals much more than is apparent to the casual oberver. It has secrets to tell you about. Love it.
     
  20. Vincent DiPietro

    Vincent DiPietro Member

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    I have used the RTS, 137MD,167MT and am now using the RX, Aria, S2 and 139Q. I love them all but like any mechanical/electronic gear things break down. The film advance on both the 139Q and S2 went on me and I was able to have them fixed. The mirror box went on my RX and for $200.00 I had it repaired. All three run like a top now. The knobs on my Aria are stiff so I think she is in need of a CLA. TOCAD will repair the later models but they take forever. I found a mom and pop place here in NYC that repaired my 139 Q & RX and who I plan to contact to do a CLA on my Aria. All my cameras where purchased used.
     
  21. Bruce Osgood

    Bruce Osgood Membership Council Council

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    "TOCAD will repair the later models but they take forever. I found a mom and pop place here in NYC that repaired my 139 Q & RX and who I plan to contact to do a CLA on my Aria. All my cameras where purchased used."

    Vincent,
    Can you tell me the name of the Mom and Pop place in NYC? I'm still waiting (more than two years) to hear from ToCad regarding the AX.
     
  22. Vincent DiPietro

    Vincent DiPietro Member

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    Bruce, It's "PANORAMA CAMERA CENTER" 124 West 30 Street, NY,NY 10001

    Tel (212) 563-1651 They are opened Mondays through Fridays from 9:00am to 6:00pm. And on Saturdays during the winter 11:00am to 3:00pm.

    They are licensed. Good Luck.
     
  23. sbelyaev

    sbelyaev Member

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    I have G2, N1 and 645 with all lenses.
    Both cameras and lenses are very good. Presently the film equipment is so inexpensive that one can experiment with it as much as he/she wants.
     
  24. Woolliscroft

    Woolliscroft Member

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    I have used a 167MT for some years for air photography. It is a little gem in that role. It's quick and (so far) reliable. The glass goes without saying. There is less mirror/shutter shock than any other SLR I have used, but I don't really like it on the ground because it is rather noisy. That might not bother some and the only other sin it shows is that the batteries just stop, with no warning that they are weakening.

    David.
     
  25. snegron

    snegron Member

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    What is the battery life like on your 167MT?
     
  26. Woolliscroft

    Woolliscroft Member

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    Maybe 45-50, 36 exp films. You would probably get more on the ground, where it's warmer, but I am often working in sub zero conditions. I tend to change batteries around every 2 flights (approx 30 films) just to be sure, then get the rest of the life out of them in my PDA and an assortment of TV, video and projector remote controls.

    David.