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  1. #1
    snegron's Avatar
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    Contax SLR Bodies

    I have seen many threads recently on Contax SLR bodies and did some reaearch on them. Unfortunately all I could come up with was the marketing statements put out by Contax and repeated by many sellers of Contax cameras.

    My memories of Contax SLRs was that they used Zeiss lenses and some bodies were better bulit than others. Can anyone share their thoughts and experiences with Contax bodies? Was the RTS that much better than the RTSII and RTSI? How durable were the AX, AX, ST, 137, 139, Aria, etc?

    Does anyone know of a website that describes all the Contax SLR's, maybe a historical chart?

    How about the lenses? were there any ones better that others? I invite you to share your experiences with us who never owned a Contax.

    p.s. If I were in the market for a used Contax (especially now that their prices have dropped to tempting levels), which Contax would be comparable to my currently owned Nikon F3HP with several manual focus prime AIS lenses? My reasons for considering a Contax is because of the reputation of Zeiss glass, solid reputation of several Contax bodies, and prices now are at an al time low, and it would be cool to experiment with a new camera system without breaking the back.

  2. #2
    TheFlyingCamera's Avatar
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    I have owned a pair of 167mt bodies, and an RX. I have had the opportunity to use an RTS III on occasion. As far as durability/reliability, I dragged my 167 bodies around the world with me, to places as exotic as Belize and Thailand, and had no problems with them. My RX has been good also, but it gets a little temperamental on me from time to time, I think more from inactivity than anything. I also got to play with an AX, and while it is really cool, and it worked pretty well, I would have some concerns about long-term reliability.

    Probably the closest thing to your F3 would be an RTS III. The Zeiss glass is outstanding - the prime lenses are all quite good, and their zooms are optically terrific. I had the 35-70 zoom, which is probably one of the best fixed-aperture zooms available, but the build quality is a little iffy- I had two of them (one my own, one a loaner from Contax) that the lensmount worked loose, and in the case of the loaner lens, it completely detached from the barrel. I think this is from the weight of the lens- there's a lot of glass out there.

    In any case, the 85 f1.4 is one lens you must have in your arsenal. If you can spring for it, the 100 f2 seems to have held its value even better. I really didn't see much if any difference in field of view between the 100 and the 85, so I got the 85. Other lenses to save your pennies for are the 35 f1.4, and the 28 f2. Both are a bit scarcer, and may take a little time to lay hands upon. Zeiss was famous for their wide-angles, so I'd not hesitate with any of the wider stuff like the 25, the 21, the 18. They also have a 15 rectilinear and a 16 fisheye.

  3. #3

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    CDeGroot.com has a fairly full accounting of all things Contax. I have owned and used the foloowing Contax bodies: RTS, 139Q, 137MD, 167MT, S2, RX and the Aria. I still use the RX & Aria which are very sturdy cameras the RX being my favorite. If you are going to use heavy zooms or fast heavy primes I would stick to the RX or RTS 1,2 or 3 rather than the Aria which is much lighter and in my opinion doesn't balance as well with heavy lenses. I have the CZ 35-135 Zoom which is as sharp as any of my primes. It is a large and heavy lens but beautifully made. The 35 2.8 and the 85 2.8 are excellent lenses and are a lot less expensive than their 1.4 bretheren. The S2 is a beautiful camera but unfortunatley mine has given me a lot of problems -- it is a completely manual camera. Read the CDeGroot site and you will get a better idea of what to get. Good luck.

  4. #4
    Snapshot's Avatar
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    I had my hands on a Contax RTS III for a while. It was definitely 'overengineered' in terms of quality and robustness, something I really liked. Solid. I had a 50mm f/1.4 lens that was sharper than anything I had at the time.

    I would have kept it but the flash technology was not as sophisticated as Nikon's and the cost of building two different systems wasn't justifiable. However, I did regret it in the long run.
    "The secret to life is to keep your mind full and your bowels empty. Unfortunately, the converse is true for most people."

  5. #5

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    Wasn't there a Contax that took some special design considerations into keeping the film flat (it either stretched it or vacuumed it)? Was that a particularly good model? Sorry for the basic question, but I don't know much about the line.

    I am looking at some G2's on eBay as a nice carry around 35mm, though.

    -R

  6. #6
    TheFlyingCamera's Avatar
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    The one with the vacuum film plane was the RTS III. It does make a perceptible difference.

  7. #7
    Snapshot's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by reggie View Post
    Wasn't there a Contax that took some special design considerations into keeping the film flat (it either stretched it or vacuumed it)? Was that a particularly good model? Sorry for the basic question, but I don't know much about the line.

    I am looking at some G2's on eBay as a nice carry around 35mm, though.

    -R
    Yes, as TheFlyingCamera said, this feature was on the RTS III. It does make a (barely) perceptible difference but I never really thought it as "must have" feature.
    "The secret to life is to keep your mind full and your bowels empty. Unfortunately, the converse is true for most people."

  8. #8

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    I see they have it as an option on their 645, too. It is an insert that goes into the film magazine\magazine holder. I wonder if it makes a bigger difference with the larger film?

    I'm getting the Contax bug, I'ave always wanted to use one. Now I cannot decide between the G2, RTS III or the 645. The more reading I do, I like them all.

    -R

  9. #9
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    I own the RTS3 and 2 Ariabodies and have owned the ST and RX. The RTS3 is beautifull machine. The vacuumback is only usefull using telefoto lenses with big apertures and minimal DOF, like the85mm at 1.4 The RTS also has a extra release button for vertical picturetaking. a pretty usefull flashmeter and 100% viewfinder. It is as solid as a rock and equally heavy. The Aria is my hiking camera because of it's light weight. I do have 2 however because it doesn't seem as sturdy as the RTS3. On one of them (i bought it used) the lock of the filmdoor didn't shut itself on closing. Allthough the camera was perfectly useable it anoyed me so I had it repeared. I heard that it is not a uncommen problem with the Aria.
    The RX (which I sold because of famillypresure- 3 is enough!) had the most remarkebly well damped shutter. It would probably my choice if the wife would have demanded that I keep only one.
    The lay-out of most Contaxes is pretty perfect, I really like the AEL-switch on all of them.
    And the lenses are really nice, probably the reason to buy a Contax anyway...

    Jaap Jan

  10. #10

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    The prices are at an all time low - sure, as the 35mm photography is a rare animal and the Contax cameras are old by now.
    I know very well the 139Q type. I'm an avid stock photo photographer and I was using this Contax for more than 20 years. It is not a professionally built camera - too weak for that. use The weak points were the winding mechanism and sometimes the sprocket spool, the leather was just a detail. I used the camera all over the world, (in humid conditions too, rain forests etc.) for its low weight, with two flashes on a home made bracket. For my purpose I couldn't replace it by any other Contax type. The only way to make the camera reliable was to carry 2 bodies. I had 3 of them at home -when one was in repair (about every 2 years) I used the other 2 of them.
    A wonderfully lightweight camera. Later I tried to replace it with the Aria but I never used it as I went over to a different format and the rest of 35mm photography I still do with my old 139Qs.
    The lenses? You can find tons of blah blah about it in forums.

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