Contax SLR Feedback.
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?
Last edited by snegron; 12-23-2006 at 11:48 PM. Click to view previous post history.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Originally Posted by snegron
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.
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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.
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.....
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.
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
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.