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  1. #1

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    Leica R v Contax, can anyone advise?

    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. #2
    Brac's Avatar
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    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. #3
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    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.

    "What Would Zeus Do?"
    KBPhotoRantPhotoPermitAPUG flickr Robot

  4. #4

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    Quote Originally Posted by Woolliscroft
    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. ...short list: Leica R4 and 5s and a Contax 167MT... 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? .
    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. #5
    Brac's Avatar
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    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. #6

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    I'd like to second Jon's suggestion of an F3 with sports finder. Another consideration is the accessability of the Nikkor lenses.

  7. #7

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    Quote Originally Posted by jon koss
    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

    Jon
    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. #8

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    Quote Originally Posted by Brac
    Backing the Contax 167MT again... 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.
    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. #9
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    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. #10
    Bruce Osgood's Avatar
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    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.

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