Leica R v Contax, can anyone advise?

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by Woolliscroft, Oct 29, 2004.

  1. Woolliscroft

    Woolliscroft Member

    Messages:
    726
    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2004
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Can anyone help me to advise a pilot colleague? He wants to get a MF, auto/man, 35mm SLR with a shutter speed priority mode to take air photos and has decided to go for 2nd hand so as to be able to afford the best.

    I spent this afternoon being dragged off to a camera shop to check out his short list: Leica R4 and 5s and a Contax 167MT. The Leicas had f2, 50mm Summicrons and the Contax a Carl Zeiss f 1.7, 50mm. I was able to confirm to him that all were fully working, indeed the Contax (which was much newer) looked virtually unused, and all the glass was in perfect condition. But although I have used an R4 a few times, and the 5 seems to be much the same but with a wider shutter speed range, I had never met this Contax model before. If it was me I'd go for one of the Leicas, if only because I like a traditional shutter speed dial and the Contax has a switch arrangement (but a normal lens aperture ring), but I really do not feel able to comment on the Contax, which was a bit cheaper. It seemed to be a beautiful mechanism, with absolutely no discernible kick from the mirror and shutter, but I otherwise don't know anything about it.

    Does anyone have any experience with this camera and feel able to comment on how it compares with an R4 or 5. Specifically: how does the glass compare and which is more likely to be reliable long term under heavy use in a high vibration environment like a Cessna 150 cockpit? The Leica would be used with a power winder (the Contax has an integral winder) and I gather that he plans to keep his new camera almost permanently in the aircraft and use it for this application only, using his existing kit for everything else (Olympus OM bought, I suspect, because that is what I use). A 50mm is all you really need in the air, so he considers that this means that the cost and availability of lenses and other system equipment isn't relevant (in my experience, dream on, but there you go), ditto flash sync etc. He shoots colour neg only, mostly one handed whilst flying the plane with the other.

    Many thanks. David.
     
  2. Brac

    Brac Member

    Messages:
    632
    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2004
    Location:
    UK
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Although I mainly use Pentax, I have had a Contax 167MT for the last ten years. It is a very solid and reliable camera and in tests by various camera mags that I have read it & the Carl Zeiss designed 50mm f1.7 & f1.4 lenses have often been very highly praised. Mine has the f1.7 and I have found it excellent.

    I have no experience of the Leicas although aware of their high reputation. I would think that because the Contax winder is integral, it would be less cumbersome to hold than a Leica (or any other camera) with a bolt-on winder.
     
  3. bjorke

    bjorke Member

    Messages:
    2,032
    Joined:
    Aug 17, 2003
    Location:
    SF & Surroun
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    All 50mm's tend to be very good, but the 1.7 Planar is ever so slightly sharper than the Summicron. The 1.4 Planar about the same as the 'cron but with an extra stop. The Leica costs a fair amount & weighs more. R4 has aperture-priority... but it does have a valuable red dot.

    I like my 25-year-old RTS, it's solid but works well.
     
  4. jon koss

    jon koss Subscriber

    Messages:
    675
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2004
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    Shooter:
    35mm
    I am a long-time dedicated Contax user and a less experienced Leica user.
    I would heartily counsel the purchase of the 167MT for just about any application except the one you describe. In my opinion, "reliable long term under heavy use in a high vibration environment" excludes both the R4 and the Contax 167MT. The glass for both would be fabulous, well beyond the limitations imposed by handholding on C-41 in a roaring airplane. But I would suggest a more ruggedly constructed body, such as a Nikon F3. The F3 would offer interchangeable prisms to boot. One look through a monster Nikon sports finder and you will never be the same.

    Plus, the Nikon lenses are superb optically and I am not sure that they have ever been equalled mechanically. Please remember, I am not shilling for Nikon. I use Contax every day and feel that the 167MT is one of the greatest marriages of price and functionality ever achieved. I would love to see another convert to the Contax family, but want to be sure the pilot picks the best tool first and foremost.

    Of course, if the idea of hanging from the window of a Cessna with a Leica or Contax around your neck is just too romantic to ignore, and practicality is not the prime directive, then just go for it!! Life is too short to sweat the small stuff!

    Just my two cents. Enjoy and let us know how you make out.

    Jon
     
  5. Brac

    Brac Member

    Messages:
    632
    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2004
    Location:
    UK
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Backing the Contax 167MT again, I personally do not see how anything could be more ruggedly constructed than this, and I suspect the Leicas are in the same league as I understand they are famed for the quality of their build. I have never read about (or experienced with the 167MT) any particular propensity to damage by vibration. At the end of the day a lot of vibration isn't good for any camera, whatever make. Nor do I believe the Nikon lenses are any better than the Contax Zeiss ones. Equal maybe.

    None of the cameras under discussion were built down to a price but you will find you can get a decent 167MT for a lot less than a R4, R5 or F3.

    As a final plug for the Contax, it was in production for almost ten years which I think speaks for itself.
     
  6. John Koehrer

    John Koehrer Subscriber

    Messages:
    6,383
    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2004
    Location:
    Montgomery,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I'd like to second Jon's suggestion of an F3 with sports finder. Another consideration is the accessability of the Nikkor lenses.
     
  7. Woolliscroft

    Woolliscroft Member

    Messages:
    726
    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2004
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Good point, although both these cameras look pretty tough. In fairness, the aircraft environment is probably no worse than a car, except now and then. As they say:

    1. All landings are controlled crashes.
    2. Any landing you can walk away from was a good landing.
    3. The definition of a good pilot is someone with the same number of takeoffs as landings.

    David.
     
  8. jon koss

    jon koss Subscriber

    Messages:
    675
    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2004
    Location:
    Boston, MA
    Shooter:
    35mm
    Just to be clear, I agree that the 167MT is the bee's knees. I would not trade mine for the world. It is only the harsh environment factor that would make me look elsewhere. In my opinion, things such as the shutter speed switch, the door latch, the botttom plate fastener and the Single/Continous switch on the Contax are not up to Nikon F-Series standards. Also, as far as quality of the lenses, I should have been more precise. I really think the Zeiss lenses are tops optically - none better. But as a user of both systems over the last 20+ years, I would give the nod on build quality, or quality of the physical barrel itself, to the Nikon non-AF lenses. My ancient Nikkor 50 has less "rock" in it than my newer Zeiss 50. Also, the lugs on my Zeiss lenses showed wear much sooner than the Nikkors. Of course this is all just personal observation, not to be confused with fact! I am sure others will feel 180 degrees differently - all opinions combined will hopefully allow the pilot to make up his own mind. Best of luck.

    Jon
     
  9. mikewhi

    mikewhi Member

    Messages:
    808
    Joined:
    May 22, 2004
    Location:
    Redmond, WA
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Well, I own an R6 and I was a pilot for a while, flying 4-seaters.
    Frankly, the environment within one of the cockpits and even hanging outside at 130mph should be no big deal for the Leica. I can't imagine that it would be a problem for the Contax, either. Unless the plane is outfitted for oxygen, he's not going to be at a high enough altitude for it to be really cold. So, I don't think the environment is an issue. My R6 is built like a tank and would certainly hold up. I've held an R4 a few times and it seems like it would handle it easily, too.

    I'm not trying to convert anyone to Leicas (or Cessnas). I think either would do the job - so why not go with the less expensive one and spend the savings on extra air-time and barf-bags?

    Once he trims the plane off, maybe he could shoot with both hands! Then he wouldn't need a winder.

    Sounds fun. I recommend looking at the work of William Garnett.

    -Mike
     
  10. Bruce Osgood

    Bruce Osgood Membership Council Council

    Messages:
    2,612
    Joined:
    Sep 9, 2002
    Location:
    Brooklyn, N.Y.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    The Leica 50 1.4 and the Contax 50 1.4 come off the same Zeiss assembly line. One is branded Leica with Leica mount and the other is branded Contax with the Contax mount. When I bought my Contax 50 1.4 it was $1000 less than the Leica. Save a thousand dollars and buy ANY Contax or Yashica 35mm camera and bathe in the glow of Zeiss optics.
     
  11. mikewhi

    mikewhi Member

    Messages:
    808
    Joined:
    May 22, 2004
    Location:
    Redmond, WA
    Shooter:
    8x10 Format
    Another thought on the environment and equipment choices. There will be a fair amount of vibration. Airplane engines are basically non-muffled. They have mufflers, but I saw the insides of one once and it was basically hollow with a few baffles (and cost, like $500!!!). The level of vibration will be like driving down the road in a car with an unbalanced tire.

    So, fast lens, fast film and fast shutter speeds seem in order. I know the Leica R6.2 goes up to 1/2000th. The R6 tops out at 1/1000.

    Others can help more than I in this area. I shoot LF at small apertures and nice long exposures so I'm in a different world.

    Also, I'm wondering if 50mm is going to be enough. Depends on the altitude and how much he wants to take in. If he is photographing top-secret military installations or trying to catch Bush sunbathing on the roof of the White House, I would think he would need some long lenses, too which just makes the vibration issue worse. How about a glider? Zooms would be nice, but a fast one costs a mint.

    Can anyone suggest a long lens that is also fairly fast and not too much $$?

    -Mike
     
  12. Bruce Osgood

    Bruce Osgood Membership Council Council

    Messages:
    2,612
    Joined:
    Sep 9, 2002
    Location:
    Brooklyn, N.Y.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    The Contax Aria goes up to 1/4000. The AX (autofocus -- discontinued) does also.

    I just think the Contax SLR's didn't (past tense) receive the recognition they deserved. They're not making many nowadays and have gone heavy into digital.

    I guess I've gotten off topic, sorry.
     
  13. modafoto

    modafoto Subscriber

    Messages:
    2,102
    Joined:
    Oct 17, 2003
    Location:
    Århus, Denma
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Contax!

    The true WORKHORSE of photography (35 mm and Medium Format)
     
  14. John Koehrer

    John Koehrer Subscriber

    Messages:
    6,383
    Joined:
    Apr 3, 2004
    Location:
    Montgomery,
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Camclicker:
    Since when has Zeiss made Leitz lenses? Just curiosity on my part.
     
  15. Bruce Osgood

    Bruce Osgood Membership Council Council

    Messages:
    2,612
    Joined:
    Sep 9, 2002
    Location:
    Brooklyn, N.Y.
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I really don't the date. But my understanding is that it has been many years. I'm not suggesting Zeiss is sole manufacturer but "A" supplier.
     
  16. Tom Duffy

    Tom Duffy Member

    Messages:
    963
    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2002
    Location:
    New Jersey
    I don't think so Bruce, I'm aware that with the exception of the 50mm f1 Noctilux, Leica doesn't make it's own glass, directly from sand. But except for a couple of weird exceptions such as the 24 f2.8 R and a mid range zoom, both made by Minolta, I do believe than Leica makes its own lenses. I think the latest incarnations of the Leica 50 f1.4 R and the Contax 50 f1.4 are different designs, with the Contax generally considered to be better.
     
  17. bjorke

    bjorke Member

    Messages:
    2,032
    Joined:
    Aug 17, 2003
    Location:
    SF & Surroun
    Shooter:
    Medium Format
    Really? My 50/1.4 Planar is stamped "made in japan" -- is this also true of the current Summilux? I do know that Kyocera makes some Leica lenses, to be sure -- the 180 for example.

    Half? No, a brand-new Planar 1.4 at B&H is $247, while the Summilux-R is $2295....
     
  18. Woolliscroft

    Woolliscroft Member

    Messages:
    726
    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2004
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Many thanks for the comments. I'll pass them along.

    David.
     
  19. skahde

    skahde Member

    Messages:
    427
    Joined:
    Feb 16, 2004
    Location:
    Germany
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Leica used several sources as suppliers for speciality (shifts, superwides) as well as entry-point optics. Schneider-Kreuznach, Minolta and Sigma were or are among them. Currently the 4/80-200mm is manufatured by Kyocera who also manufacture most (but not all) lenses for the Contax-SLR. This lens was nevertheless developed by Leica and is not available from any other source. With respect to the different incarnations of the 50/1,4 I suggest you visit the forum at http://www.leica-camera.com/. But better wear your flamsuit before you suggest that it is or was made by Zeiss.

    Stefan
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 2, 2004
  20. BruceN

    BruceN Member

    Messages:
    585
    Joined:
    Aug 24, 2004
    Location:
    Wyoming
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    I've been a professional pilot for about a decade, now, and I seldom fly without my trusty Olympus OM-2n. It's been all over the world with me for more than 20 years. I also do nature photograhy, so between airplanes and 4WD's and backpacking into the most remote places, I can hardly complain about the camera's ruggedness and reliability. I primarily fly turbine and jet equipment now, so vibration isn't the problem it once was, but big and fast lenses are the order of the day. I seldom use a focal length shorter than 135mm for aerial work and f2.8 or bigger helps keep the shutter speed up. There are occasions for wider lenses, I just don't see them very often. On the ground, however, my 24mm is pretty much my favorite lens. Under the circumstances, depending on exactly what kind of aerial work your friend wants to do, he might be better served by going with the Nikon (or similar) and taking advantage of the cost savings by getting a bigger arsenal of lenses. As previously stated in tis thread - the operating environment of a piston aircraft is certainly no harsher than driving down a gravel road or hundreds or other situations that all kinds of cameras put up with every day. Tell your friend "good luck!" There's quite a learning curve involved with aerial photography; after all this time I think I'm still on the beginning part of it. :smile:

    Bruce
     
  21. Woolliscroft

    Woolliscroft Member

    Messages:
    726
    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2004
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Thanks Bruce. I'll pass that along. I actually use two OM2n's for my own aerial work: one with a 50mm and one with a 70-200 zoom lens. The problem is the apperture priority auto. Flying as passenger this is no problem for me, I just ride the apperture to keep 1/1000th sec, but my colleaugue doesn't feel up to doing that while flying the plane, so wants shutter priority.

    David.
     
  22. Jeffrey A. Steinberg

    Jeffrey A. Steinberg Member

    Messages:
    296
    Joined:
    Jan 11, 2004
    Location:
    Scarsdale, N
    My only concern with Contax is that they appear to not be actively investing in MF or 35mm--only Digital P&S. Also, I have heard-but not experienced--that there repair department in the US has cut back so repair times are going longer.

    Leica is seriously devoted to 35mm and is coming out with new products.

    Don't get me wrong, the Contax is great (I own an N1 and a 645 and love them both). If I didn't have a great Nikon F2-AS and F2n, I would buy a Contax manual focus 35mm.

    Just my two cents.
     
  23. telyt

    telyt Member

    Messages:
    33
    Joined:
    Nov 12, 2004
    Shooter:
    35mm
    This is not correct. They are different designs and made on different assembly lines on different continents.

    As for the original question, the R4 is not considered one of the more reliable Leica reflex bodies. I would suggest the R5 or newer including the R-E instead.
     
  24. Woolliscroft

    Woolliscroft Member

    Messages:
    726
    Joined:
    Oct 22, 2004
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    Many thanks for the comments everyone I passed them on to the pilot. He got the Leica: I suspect because it had Leica written on it. I tend to agree about the R5, especially as it has a faster shutter speed than the R4, but such is life. I am told that late R4s, with serial numbers later than 1.6 million are more reliable and this is, so fingers crossed.

    David.
     
  25. isaacc7

    isaacc7 Member

    Messages:
    250
    Joined:
    Nov 10, 2004
    Location:
    Yemen Baby!
    Shooter:
    Multi Format
    The R4 had the reputation for not being the most reliable camera. The good news is that after all these years, the bad ones will have sorted themselves from the working ones by now!:smile: I'm not really sure where the idea that the Leica and Zeiss lenses were made on the same assembly line, I've never heard of that before. It's true that leica does not make it's own glass, and I'm sure they buy a bunch from Schott, but that's as close as I've ever heard of them getting. I guess the Kyocera manufactured lenses could be an oblique connection, but that's really stretching things. The new 50mm f1.4 from Leica is supposed to be the best 50mm f1.4 ever made when shooting wide open. I do lust after it in the M line, but I really can't justify the price when so many 50mm lenses are so good as it is. Of course as a Leica owner, you'd think I'd be pretty good at justifying the unjustifiable by now:smile:

    Isaac