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  1. #1

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    Contax Aria and lenses...questions galore!

    I plan to move from my Leica R8 kit to a Contax Aria kit in order to gain some cash and still have the benefits of Zeiss designed lenses. Almost all the information I find in searches dates from the late 1990's and early 2000's, and it's a messy bag. Questions:

    *I'm after manual operation, auto bracketing, spot metering, and spectacular glass...make sense to move to Contax (I've had both the G1 and G1...not great for me).

    *Apparently the Contax lenses are designated with MM or MMJ...what's the difference?

    *I'm interested in the 45mm Tessar or the 50mm Planar, and the 85mm...can describe their signature?

    *Yashica's lenses are designated ML...are they the same specs as the Contax lenses and do they mount the Contax without an adapter?

    *I see very few MM/MMJ lenses offered, whether from the big three or eBay...why is that?

    *Can you suggest any sites or forums that include the Aria (I'm not interested in the other similar Contax models or other brands)?

    ...many thanks for your thoughts and opinions...

  2. #2
    pstake's Avatar
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    MMJ = multimode made in Japan; MMG = multimode made in Germany.

    Some lenses were made in both locations; all of them were made under the supervision of Zeiss staff, either at Zeiss or at Yashica. They are equals but collectors like the G.

    The AEJ/AEG are only capable of Aperture Priority whereas the MMJ/MMG are suited for all programmable options on the Aria. The MMs are later and there are lots of rumors about certain versions of lenses being slightly better, for example the AEJ 50 1.4 supposedly is better than later MM 50 1.4s, or at least I've read this before. But it's mostly just internet gossip imho.

    The Tessar 45 is very sharp but more so in the center. It has a classic Tessar look with excellent microcontrast. A lovely all-around normal lens. The 50 1.4 Planar has extreme Bokeh wide open and is sharp edge to edge closed down. I owned an AEJ 50 1.4 but sold it on here. It's probably the sharpest normal lens I have ever used. And its rendering/depth of field at wider apertures is very special. If you look at my gallery you can find some examples.

    The Yashica MLs are great lenses but the secret's been getting out and their prices have gone up so the value isn't as great as it was a five years ago. The 24 ML and 28 ML are particularly special. Very sharp with good micro-contrast (3-D look). I've heard that they used glass that didn't quite pass muster at Zeiss but still fell within spec for Yashica. I don't know if this is true.

    I've never used the Aria but it has a good reputation. Contax electronics are gold plated which is said to be the reason for their reliability. I had an original RTS a few years ago that still worked beautifully and was my favorite camera to use except for the shutter noise. I have an RTS II which has a quieter shutter and a few more options such as AE lock and a mechanical override at 1/50. But it's AE only. No shutter priority. And you need a winder for auto frame advance. The 139Q is the one I usually reach for. These are both a decade older than the Aria but I prefer the older ones with manual advance and no shutter priority. The Contax S2 was my frist real SLR. It had a 5 degree spot meter that I sometimes miss.

    You will be hooked once you get started with Contax.

    Hint: Since you are in the US, I encourage you to look for a Yashica YUS 28mm if you want a good wide angle. It's an exceptional lens, supposedly a step down from the ML, made only for the US market, but it's sharpness, resolution and microcontrast make me sometimes want to smack myself for dropping big bucks on a Distagon.
    Last edited by pstake; 03-02-2014 at 12:41 PM. Click to view previous post history.

  3. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by Voyager View Post
    I plan to move from my Leica R8 kit to a Contax Aria kit in order to gain some cash and still have the benefits of Zeiss designed lenses. Almost all the information I find in searches dates from the late 1990's and early 2000's, and it's a messy bag. Questions:

    *I'm after manual operation, auto bracketing, spot metering, and spectacular glass...make sense to move to Contax (I've had both the G1 and G1...not great for me).
    Aria is manual focus, has spot metering, center-weigted & matrix metering. It is the only model with matrix metering mode in C/Y mount SLR bodies.
    Zeiss glass is superb. So yes, Aria fits the bill.

    There are several other Contax bodies that you may also want to consider. You can google them.

    Quote Originally Posted by Voyager View Post
    *I'm interested in the 45mm Tessar or the 50mm Planar, and the 85mm...can describe their signature?
    My experience with different makes of lenses is limited. But I can say this. I have used Zeiss C/Y 50mm 1.4, 1.7, and 85mm 1.4. In addition, Canon's 50mm 1.8, 1.4, and 85mm 1.8. After I got Zeiss, I dumped my entire Canon system. Zeiss C/Y 50 1.7 is very sharp, but I sold it to get 1.4. I never regret. As to Zeiss C/Y 85mm 1.4, it's magical.

    Quote Originally Posted by Voyager View Post
    *I see very few MM/MMJ lenses offered, whether from the big three or eBay...why is that?
    Contax's sales volume back then were not as great as Canon/Nikon to begin with. In the digital age, people figured out they can mount Zeiss C/Y lenses to Canon's DSLRs and those M43s with adaptors. So...the used C/Y lenses were highly sought after. For several top-of-the-line lenses, their used prices are almost or even higher than they were new, even after inflation adjustment.


    Quote Originally Posted by Voyager View Post
    *Can you suggest any sites or forums that include the Aria (I'm not interested in the other similar Contax models or other brands)?
    For lenses, you can use this page as a general reference:
    http://www.nadir.it/ob-fot/CONTAX_EYES.htm

    For bodies, see the pages on cdegroot's weibsite, like this one:
    www.cdegroot.com/photo-contax-aria/

  4. #4

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    I bought an outfit a year or more ago for the Zeiss lenses. I'm learning to live with the bodies in order to use the lenses; pretty much the same as I felt with Leica R gear (I never had the late model R bodies).

    My preferences differ somewhat from yours. I only care about manual, and prefer the simplicity of manual advance too. I have used bracketing very rarely, and only for film/developer test rolls. But, I do strongly prefer as close to 100 percent viewfinders as I can get. I can mostly live with my original RTS bodies, except for the 92 percent (IIRC) finders. I picked up the Aria here on APUG for the 95 percent finder. I would like to get an RTS II, which I believe is 97 percent like many of the later bodies. Maybe not something you are concerned about.

    Both 85's have great reputations. I have the 1.4 and like it a lot. The 90 Summicron R suited me a bit better, but the 1.4 Zeiss is probably sharper and contrastier at f2. The Summicron had a smooth, rounded look that I liked for people pictures - the only thing I used it for. The Zeiss is wirier looking to me, still great for people, and probably a better all rounder. I have no real use for 1.4 in the focal length which is one of my other complaints about the old Zeiss C/Y lenses - they almost entirely skipped the f2's, which is a great fast compromise in many lengths.

    I was initially disappointed that my outfit came with a 35/2.8 instead of the 1.4, but it has come to be my favorite lens in the system, and one of my all time favorite lenses in any system. I wish it was an f2, but I've got Leica M for that, and prefer the M for available light anyway. I actually like this even better than the R4 era 35 Summicron. The Summicron was crazy contrasty and nice, but the Distagon actually looks more Leica-like to me. Great contrast, but a bit more rounded look.

    The 50's are both good. The 1.4 has much better bokeh, if you care about that. At this point I like them both and take the 1.7 if I don't need the speed. That preference may change as I use them more.

    Now, I do not want to step on any toes, but to me the Yashica lenses are nice but not in the league of the Zeiss lenses. I have a nice 24 that I keep thinking of selling here and getting a Zeiss wide, but I don't use the FL much and it is really fine. I also have the 200 and again, it is a nice lens, about like a good version of a vintage Vivitar (the good ones were good), but not in the same class as the Zeiss lenses to me. Just my personal preference. All are fine lenses that will make good images if you point them at something interesting.

  5. #5
    pstake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark Crabtree View Post

    Now, I do not want to step on any toes, but to me the Yashica lenses are nice but not in the league of the Zeiss lenses. I have a nice 24 that I keep thinking of selling here and getting a Zeiss wide, but I don't use the FL much and it is really fine. I also have the 200 and again, it is a nice lens, about like a good version of a vintage Vivitar (the good ones were good), but not in the same class as the Zeiss lenses to me. Just my personal preference. All are fine lenses that will make good images if you point them at something interesting.
    Toes definitely NOT stepped on!

    I agree completely. If you want Zeiss quality and rendering, there is no substitute nor shortcut. If you're toying around with a focal length, for example, and don't want to invest a lot but still make some good photos and get a feel, Yashica lenses are great. They are also very useable and you'll kick yourself less if you drop one, lose one, etc.

    I love the 50 1.4 Planar but it wasn't as useable to me as the Tessar 45, even though it outguns the Tessar in many regards. The 50 1.4 is magic for portraits, for example as I'm sure the 85 is (never used either 85). But if I want to take a good portrait using a normal lens, I shoot 6x6 with an Ikoflex and the pedestrian Triotar, which wasn't even a high-end lens in 1938, when it was made. But for my preferences and purposes, it's perfect.

    So ya, I agree with you Mark ... I just don't know the OP's depth of interest or bank statements. So I was throwing out some options and enjoying espousing all the otherwise useless Contax/Zeiss trivia I have for some reason amassed.

    And I would never let go of my Distagon, even though I joke that I would. Photos at F8-f11 could cut glass. And it focuses close. And it's got no distorition. And it's even across the frame, etc.

    The yashica wide angels are fine lenses though. If you decide to sell that 24, I might be interested. I actually prefer that FL more than 28; but I hardly ever use wides anymore, either.

    Or SLRs, for that matter.

  6. #6
    Richard Sintchak (rich815)'s Avatar
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    I can only add my experience for the great write ups above. Firstly I love my Contax T2 and G2 so take that for what it's worth. I have owned and used the following: RTS, RTSII, RX, AX and Aria. Only one I've sold was the Aria. It has a few extra features but paled in feel and build quality to me. I have the following lenses: 35/2.8 PC-Distagon, 50/1.4 Planar, 50/1.7 Planar, 60/2.8 Marko-Planar, 85/1.4 Planar, 135/2.8 Sonnar, 180/2.8 Sonnar, 80-200 Vario-Sonnar, 45/2.8 Tessar and 100-300 Vario-Sonnar. Only ones I've sold off we're the 80-200 and 45 Tessar. Latter two just nothing special. Sure they were sharp but just lacked that over the top 3-D modern Zeiss signature and look. Many people like the Aria. Just too lightweight and plasticky to me.
    -----------------------

    "Well, my photos are actually much better than they look..."

    Richard S.
    Albany, CA (San Francisco bay area)

    My Flickr River of photographs
    http://flickriver.com/photos/rich815...r-interesting/

    My Photography Website
    http://www.lightshadowandtone.com

  7. #7

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    ...OP says "thank you" for this good information...much appreciated...

  8. #8
    TheFlyingCamera's Avatar
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    I agree with some of the other posters here about the bodies - the Aria is the most technically advanced (in some ways) of the Contax manual-focus bodies, but I think you may find it too light and compact for your hands (that will vary of course). I used to shoot an RX (which had the depth-of-focus indicator feature in the viewfinder that I loved) and a pair of 167MT bodies, both with the AA battery grip. I found that I wanted and needed a more solid camera that fit my hand better. I recently got an opportunity to pick up an RTS III which is a massive beast of a camera, but it does have the super-cool vacuum film-plane pressure plate which keeps the film perfectly flat at the moment of exposure, and the TTL flash metering for non-dedicated (read: studio) flash units. As to lenses, I would choose the 50 f1.4 over the Tessar any day, even though it is bigger and heavier. It delivers "the look" that you buy into this system for. The 85 1.4 is also a legendary lens and is amazingly sharp even wide open. If you THINK you might be limited to just one lens, don't overlook the 35-70 zoom. While not super-fast (f3.4), it is a constant-aperture zoom, and it also produces that signature "Zeiss" look. You get your main focal length range, plus macro focusing down to 1:2. It's a little counter-intuitive in that you push out to go wide, pull back to zoom in, but once you get used to it, it becomes second nature.

  9. #9
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    -For me the best 50mm on earth is summicron f2! and this with R3 leica body have the best filing!
    -Zeiss on the other is more contrast with stronger color and sharper optics, special those for contax G series.
    -The wide angles of zeiss is top quality, better than Leitz R, but no better than Leitz M.
    -If i am in your position i try to find a clean R3 with elmarit 35 f3,5 and summicron 50 f2. The zeiss is good from technical point of view but for me missing the character and tonality of Leitz optics.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally Posted by alexfoto View Post
    -For me the best 50mm on earth is summicron f2! and this with R3 leica body have the best filing!
    -Zeiss on the other is more contrast with stronger color and sharper optics, special those for contax G series.
    -The wide angles of zeiss is top quality, better than Leitz R, but no better than Leitz M.
    -If i am in your position i try to find a clean R3 with elmarit 35 f3,5 and summicron 50 f2. The zeiss is good from technical point of view but for me missing the character and tonality of Leitz optics.

    Ummmm,
    Quote Originally Posted by Voyager View Post
    (I'm not interested in the other similar Contax models or other brands)?

    ...many thanks for your thoughts and opinions...
    Heavily sedated for your protection.



 

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