Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Dream Rangefinder Camera

Contax G2. Photograph by Tim IrvingI have a weakness for rangefinder cameras that's akin to Imelda Marcos's weakness for shoes. Of the Leica range, I've used everything from the 3F to the M6, only missing out on the M5, which for many years I thought was too large - but now it's grown on me to the point where I need to own one real bad.

I've also gone through a few Linhof's, both the medium and the large format rangefinders, and as you know I'm very fond of my Canon 110ED 20 camera. I had a brief fling with a couple of Super Ikontas and an inappropriate relationship with a Voigtlander Bessa 2, what a mess that turned out to be!

Now I have an hour to kill before I go out to work, and instead of doing something useful I'm mulling over which rangefinder is the most satisfying to use. The only guide I can use is which camera I would grab at this moment if I were going for a walk. And today I would, and probably will, take a black Contax G2.

This isn't a comparison piece, just my thoughts about a particular model. I've owned my G2 for about 7 years, I wanted one when they were launched in 1996 but couldn't afford it until the price dropped due to the digital revolution. The person from whom I bought mine, needed the cash to upgrade to a silver, plastic, Canon digital Rebel, I still wonder how he's getting along with that one.

So the camera was originally very, very, expensive. I think the cost of this camera must have reflected the R and D that went into it because it was years ahead of its time. The design of the camera is spot on, all the controls are in the correct place - there's not a lot to think about, just concentrate on the composition.

Obviously, for a multi thousand dollar camera it's beautifully made, it oozes quality. It's heavy and I suppose that's why they opted for a magnesium alloy body as a means of keeping the weight down, but I have no problems with heavy cameras, I find the weight reasurring.

The metering is as accurate as anything I've ever used. In the days when I used slide film I would set the Contax on auto and be 95% confident it would get the exposure correct. Of the 5% of times I wasn't confident I'd dial in the compensation to make sure. Now I use print film which has huge lattitude, I don't give exposure a thought, it's always correct.

I have 2 lenses for the Contax, a 45mm Planar and a 35mm Planar. The 35mm I keep on a Contax G1 but I occasionally swap them over. There isn't a lot to say about the Carl Zeiss lenses, they are just about perfect, and like the later Leica 50mm Summicron they are the benchmark for optical quality. The 45mm Sonar is my favourite focal length, it feels normal. An amazing lens and I feel very fortunate to own it.

The Contax G2 viewfinder is great but different! It's different to other rangefinders and you might prefer one over the other. I don't really have a preference, I find the Contax viewfinder perfect.

I have a few minutes left and I can't leave this without talking about the famous autofocus. There's a lot of nonsense written about focusing the Contax, usually by dunces who have never owned the camera or if they have, never taken the trouble to read the manual (which isn't the greatest manual ever written).
Contax G2 focusing button. Photograph by Tim IrvingJust like any other autofocus camera, you can focus the G2 by half pressing the shutter button. However, the G2 also has an ingenious focus button which sits right under your thumb. Using the focus button on the back feels a lot more natural and is more accurate and faster than focusing using the shutter button.

The focusing (if you know what you're doing), is incredibly fast and (a blessing for me because my eyesight isn't perfect), extremely accurate.

So there you have my quick appraisal of the Contax G2. It's silky smooth, fast, accurate and stylish, with the finest lens Carl Zeiss ever produced for a 35mm camera.

1 comment:

  1. You're creating camera lust in me, and I don't even have time to take photos.



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