Contax vs Nikon 35mm SLR and ZF/CY Planar

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by puketronic, Jun 15, 2014.

  1. puketronic

    puketronic Member

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    I'm looking into getting a 35mm SLR with a Zeiss 50mm f1.4 Planar lens. This is the only lens that I will get.

    It seems, to me, that nearly all 50mm f1.4's are fairly good, but I'm partial towards Zeiss. I've never been dissapointed from any Zeiss lens from any vintage (I admit, that it is probably more psychological and make-believe).

    If I go the Nikon route, then I will go with a Nikon F2 or an F3 with a ZF 50mm f1.4 Planar. If I go the Contax route, then I will go with a Contax body (not sure which one) and a CY 50mm f1.4 Planar. The reason to go Contax, is if the bodies are good-enough and the overall cost is lower (this is my speculation). At the present, I'm inclined to think that Nikon bodies are better because of their work-horse reputation. This is all speculation. I honestly, have little doubts regarding the ZF vs CY lens performances.

    My ideal body is all-mechanical (although electronic shutter isn't a deal breaker) as I don't need automation or meters. I do love all matte screens, not having one is a deal breaker. I know that Nikon meets this requirement and that they are fairly inexpensive, robust, and readily available. I might consider the F3 over the F2 only because it feels more refined to me. I don't really need guidance within the Nikon line of bodies, but I'm unfamiliar with Contax.

    - What is the simplest, purest Contax body available? Something that is analogous to the F2/F3. Any reliability issues? Are plain matte screens available?
    - Is the build between the ZF and CY lenses similar? Is the build good? I know that the ZM lenses (rangefinder) have some quality control issues...
     
  2. PtJudeRI

    PtJudeRI Member

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    Cant speak to the Contax body, but I have been using my F2 for the past 6 or seven years ( on and off, I also have an F5 that gets a good deal of use ) and it hasn't skipped a beat. I recently had it for a CLA, and the guys at Midstate camera in RI reported the camera and shutter to be in excellent working order, and also tested the phonemic meter, and found it to be within 1/3 stop accurate. Pretty great reliability for a now 40 yo camera, although you didn't really care about a meter. The nice thing about the F2 is all the focus screens ( I have a bunch that I use ). You can really tailor the camera to suit your needs. a good, user F2 body shouldn't set you back too much, as long as you don't want one of the Titan models, or the F2AS.
     
  3. Les Sarile

    Les Sarile Member

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    Good review of the Contax RTS series

    Because you didn't mention Yashica, you may not be aware that Zeiss collaborated with Yashica to make the C/Y (Contax/Yashica) lens mount and therefore Yashica also made C/Y lens mount SLRs. I have the Yashica FR which I understand is their version of the Contax RTS and it is a fine camera too and reviewed very well in an previous photography magazine to be "better constructed" than the Contax RTS. What is interesting with both Contax & Yashica design is the shutter switch is simply a magnetic switch which requires hadly any pressure to trip as opposed to most other shutter switches that require some travel to make contact. The premise being that this minimizes camera movement caused by the traditional shutter mechanism. It does that but it does take a little getting used to.
    There were three in the series - FR, FR I and FR II. THe FR is manual only, the FR I is auto expose only and the FR II is manual with aperture priority. Compact size, bright screen and well made. The shutter is electronic and completely battery dependent.

    [​IMG]
     
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  4. ic-racer

    ic-racer Member

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    The simplest purest C/Y mount bodies are probably the unber-expensive and rare Contax S2 and the ubiquitous, near-free Yashica FX3. The most inexpensive path to a Planar 50mm is probably a Rolleiflex SL35M. I picked up a like-new SL35M with 50mm Planar 1.8 on craigslist for $25. I have a box of those 50mm Planars (I never use 50mm focal length and these lenses seem to come free whenever I buy a body)
     
  5. Les Sarile

    Les Sarile Member

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    I understand that the Contax S2 is made by Yashica -> Contax S2 brochure
    It does look very nice!
     
  6. puketronic

    puketronic Member

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    Between the Contax RTS series and the Yashica FR bodies, is there a plain matte screen that is readily available?
     
  7. Richard S. (rich815)

    Richard S. (rich815) Subscriber

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    I have a nUmber of Contax and Nikon bodies. I'd recommend either the F2 or RTSII without reservation. As for the lens do not overpay for the modern Nikon-mount Planar. In fact I prefer the 50/1.7 Planar over the 50/1.4 Planar,
     
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  8. ContaxRTSFundus

    ContaxRTSFundus Subscriber

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    The joys of a mechanical Contax

    The Contax/Yashica Zeiss 50 1.4 Planar is recognised as one of the finest standard lenses ever made - indeed, when it was first tested by SLR Camera magazine (July 1976) along with other photo journals, they had to completely recalibrate their equipment to accommodate it's previously unseen sharpness. Oddly, the smaller, lighter 50 1.7 Planar is slightly sharper - which probably explains its enduring popularity, especially with many DSLR/CSC owners. Someone has already mentioned the quality of the RTSII - a delightful, robust camera that won't break the bank and has a mechanical fail-safe of 1/60th despite using an electronic shutter. For a mechanically-shuttered camera you have several options as has been mentioned: the Contax S2 (a stunner with a 1/4000 top speed but with spot metering only), the rare S2b (essentially the same as the S2 but with average metering) and then the Yashica FX-3/FX-7 (top speed 1/1000) and FX-3 Super (with a faster top speed of 1/2000). The two Contax Preview cameras also have mechanical shutters but are too specialised for your needs as they only take instant film.

    The FX3-Super represents the best value (also to be found as the re-badged Braun SR2000Y) by far but for greater versatility in film sensitivity and shutter speed range you would need the S2 or S2b. They both use titanium bodies for durability and lightness and the shutter is a joy. I've used both but prefer the S2b - if you're happy with spot-metering only (not a big issue unless you're in a real hurry) then get the S2 as there's a 30% premium to be paid for the much more rare, and dark coloured, S2b (see photo).
     

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  9. puketronic

    puketronic Member

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    Thanks for the suggestions. Very helpful, but any comments on the screen?

    Is a plain matte screen readily available/interchangeable/affordable? This is a deal breaker if it is not.
     
  10. Xmas

    Xmas Member

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    Down load the PDF instruction manuals if you want information.

    If you like flim flan post questions in threads...
     
  11. Richard S. (rich815)

    Richard S. (rich815) Subscriber

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    Yes, and KEH has some in stock now. And there's been a few on eBay lately, and may be now too.
     
  12. Alan Gales

    Alan Gales Member

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    I have owned the Contax 139 and a couple 167 MT's. I have handled the RTSll, Aria and also various Nikon bodies. To me the Contax cameras were much more ergonomic than the Nikons. Of course this is a personal preference. As far as durability both Contax and Nikon were great. A fellow I knew at the local pro shop told me that the biggest problem with any brand of 35mm cameras was the manual film advances jamming. The 167 MT solved this with built in motor advance.

    You can't beat Zeiss lenses but of course Nikkors are not bad either. :smile:
     
  13. Patrick Robert James

    Patrick Robert James Subscriber

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    I would take a Contax camera over a manual focus Nikon camera any day. I own a ST, 139 and a Yashica FRI. A previous poster had the #s wrong for the FRs. You want the FRI. The FRI is a little more old school, but I have been beating on mine for 20 years without a hiccup or service. The 139 is a classic small camera. If you want more automation then the later bodies are nice. I really like the ST. It is like the little brother of the RTS III. The RX is another good body. The RTS III is of course the flagship, but it is rather large. The S2 has been mentioned, and it is one of the best all manual cameras. I would love to get one someday, but they ain't cheap.

    The following models have matte screens that can be installed according to a system brochure I have from the 90s- RTS II, RTS III, ST, RX, 167MT, S2, 159MM.

    I hope that helps you. If you want the system brochure, p.m. me with your email.
     
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  14. ContaxRTSFundus

    ContaxRTSFundus Subscriber

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    Yes - a plain matte screen is available: the Contax FU-5 and if you shoot architectural photos, they have a sectioned matte screen FU-6. These screens are widely available, especially on Ebay, as they were made to fit 4 different models (167MT, S2, S2b and Aria) and were manufactured right up to the end.
     
  15. Richard S. (rich815)

    Richard S. (rich815) Subscriber

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    I have used Contax RX, AX, RTS, RTSII and Yashica FX-3. Also have used Nikon FM2, FE2, N70, F3 and F2. By far the best built by my own subjective use are the RTSII and F2. Though none are anything I'd call slouches. I stick by my recommendation of the RTSII and 50/1.7 Planar. Probably be less than $300 total for both. Great kit.
     
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  16. Taslim Abdani

    Taslim Abdani Member

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    Nothing beats the Aria and the 50mm1.4 Zeiss combo except maybe the RX 50mm1.4 Zeiss.
     
  17. TheFlyingCamera

    TheFlyingCamera Membership Council Council

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    I have had 167mt, RX, G1, G2, and RTS III bodies in the Contax line-up (the G-series of course being the autofocus rangefinders). I loved them all, with the RX probably being my favorite. I now have an RTS III, which is an incredibly sophisticated camera for something from the late 80s (1/8000th top shutter speed, 1/250th flash sync, TTL flash metering for non-dedicated strobes (I know, wow!), and perhaps most famously, the vacuum film plane. This is NOT the camera for someone who values battery-free operation - it needs 6 AA batteries and without them is pretty much dead in the water. But you get all that goodness mentioned above, plus a 97% viewfinder (97% of the film area is visible in the finder - very important when shooting things like copy slides or macro work where composition is critical). Back in the day they were $2200. Now, one in pristine condition will run you $800, or if you're patient, you can find one with a few cosmetic blemishes but in good working order for <$500. And to top it off, if someone tries to mug you, you can beat them into submission with it.
     
  18. GarageBoy

    GarageBoy Member

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    Contax bodies are great when they work; my first camera was a Yashica FX-D (poor mans 139) and a 50 1.4 Planar (loaned to me from my father when I was 8 years old)

    OTOH, Nikon bodies are way more reliable and the Planar may have been updated in the ZF configuration and thus "better"

    Going with C/Y cameras does open you up to the entire C/Y catalog
     
  19. markaudacity

    markaudacity Member

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    Look at an F3, too. Not mechanical, but you will not be able to kill it unless you hit it with a sledge. I don't believe the same can be said for any postwar Contax.
     
  20. film_man

    film_man Member

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    Up until a few months ago I had a FM2n with a Zeiss ZF2 50/1.4 and the plain matte screen (I believe it was the B2, got it for $10). It was a fantastic combo, I loved the Zeiss glass and the screen was really good for focusing, no problems with it and always bang on focus anywhere on the frame. I have no experience with the Contax bodies so I can't help you there. If you go down the Nikon route you can save some money by going for the first generation ZF lens (which doesn't have the electronic contacts) instead of the ZF2 which you don't really need for film bodies.
     
  21. Trask

    Trask Subscriber

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    I've had a 167MT for a very long time, and it has never failed me. Yes, it has motorized film advance, and program and A and Time modes, but if don't want to use them just put in on Manual and there you go. I usually use it on Aperture Priority and the exposures are very, very good. I got it with the 50mm f/1.4, which I'll agree is a great lens. Sometimes I wonder why I've bothered to get other cameras. So I can recommend the 167MT. I also bought an RTSII at a camera fair, and only belatedly realized that I got taken. Turns out that C/Y lenses have a lug on the back of the lens that mates up with a lug in the camera mount that inputs the lens' max aperture to the onboard electronics - I imagine it uses a variable resistor track as seen in Nikon Photomic heads, etc. Trouble is that in my RTSII the readings of max aperture will jump around, knocking the exposure out of whack. I've had one repair man look at it and tell me that it cannot be fixed; I've purchased a parts body online to try to cannibalize the parts needed to get it up and running. I imagine this is an uncommon problem, as no one I've ever met has had the same. One reason I'd like to take up with the RTSII is that it uses LEDs in the viewfinder, which are generally easier for me to read then LCD (though I never had problems with the LCD readout in the 167MT). In terms of lenses, I've got the 25mm made-in-Germany lens, which is great, the 80-200 zoom (Japan) and the 28-85 zoom in addition to the 50. All produce very fine images.