The Contax N Digital Revisited 2020

In 2014 I posted probably one of the last “real” reviews of the elusive Contax N Digital, the world’s first full frame digital SLR with a true 35mm sized sensor. By “real” I mean it’s a review by someone who had actually used the camera and not just repeating information off the internet. The original review can be found here.

Flash forward to 2020 and today I have a new review on the Contax N Digital only for you the readers of Camera Legend!

INTRODUCTION

I won’t repeat everything that I’ve already mentioned in 2014 but I think a little bit of the specs and history of the camera are important and worth repeating.

The Contax N Digital headlining claim to fame is that it is the world’s first digital slr with a 35mm sized full frame sensor. It was introduced by Kyocera in the year 2000 and brought to market in 2002.

At the heart of the camera was a 6 megapixel full frame sensor made by Philips of the Netherlands.

The Contax N Digital is based on the Contax N1 film camera and it takes the newer N Mount lenses. The N Digital, N1 and NX are not compatible with the older Contax/Yashica (aka C/Y) lenses.

YOUTUBE VIDEO

For those of you who prefer a video review, here it is:

In this video, I discuss a few things not mentioned in detail here including image quality, and a lively “film vs digital” discussion including my early (Circa 2005) experimentations of scanned 35mm film vs digital.

At that time I had a Microtek Artixscan 120f which was a high resolution 35mm & medium format optical film scanner. In 2005, I compared scanned 35mm images to my 12mp Canon EOS 5D Classic and was surprised by what I saw. I speak about these results in my video.

REVISITING HISTORY

To fully appreciate how big this was in the camera world back then one must remember that the top cameras of the digital world from 2000-2002 were cameras with APS-C sensors like the 2.7mp Nikon D1, the 3mp EOS D30, and the 3mp Fuji S1 Pro plus a plethora of 1-3mp small sensor digital point and shoots.

As I said in 2014, the Contax N Digital was full frame before any of us knew what “full frame” was! Of course, I was talking tongue in cheek but you know what I mean. If you don’t, I was basically saying that in those days every megapixel seemed to mean something. Every increase in megapixel was exciting and expensive. And digital cameras, low end and especially high end models were also expensive.

We were getting used to APS-C sensors and hoping for increased megapixels so a “full frame” sensor was not on most people’s radar. But the thought of a “full frame” digital camera was out there no doubt. However the prevailing thought was that a full frame sensor back then was either not yet technically doable or it would be incredibly expensive.

And when the N Digital came out to market, it was indeed expensive at over $7000 for the body alone. The competition, primarily Canon, followed up in that same year with their own full frame body, the original 1Ds which came to market at $7999.

Nikon did not come out with a full frame DSLR until 2007 when it released the pro D3 model.

THE 2014 REVIEW

In my 2014 review I stated that I was lucky to have a friend who allowed me to use his camera for a short time for a review. I returned the camera to my friend shortly and a few months later the camera had a dead sensor.

Thankfully my friend did not blame me for it because it was working fine for months after I returned it. However, this is one of the reasons I no longer accept from or loan cameras and lenses to other people.

Not because I’m being greedy, but I have lent cameras and lenses to friends in the past and some of the equipment would come back with scratches or dents that weren’t there before. Sometimes, the equipment would be gone for months, and I’d have to kindly ask for the equipment back. Sometimes repeatedly!

I’m not extremely picky but as a collector if something is in pristine condition I’d like to keep it that way. The thing I hate more is the feeling when someone borrows cash and they promised to give it back to you, but then you have to chase them down to get your money back. You know the feeling! 😀

At the same time, I hate borrowing equipment from my friends for the same reasons. But since the Contax N Digital is so rare, I just had to ask! And my friend was kind enough to let me use it for a couple of weeks in 2013. I’ve always felt a little guilty for my friend’s dead sensor even though I know in my heart that I treated that camera with kid gloves and it was working when I gave it back to him.

(Above) An image from my 2014 review showing a little of that “Zeiss Pop” otherwise known as the Zeiss 3D effect. Contax N Digital, 50mm f/1.4 N Zeiss Planar.

Anyway, if you’ll remember from my 2014 review, I helped arrange and send the camera out to Kyocera for a repair and it came back a couple months later as “Unrepairable.”

FLASH FORWARD TO 2020

I was browsing photo gear ads without any real intent to buy anything when I saw a listing for a Contax N Digital for $477 USD. It was in “Bargain” condition (you know the dealer!) and no notes about a bad sensor.

Remembering what happened to my friend’s camera, but still so curious, I was hesitant but I bit hard and bought the camera!

The model I bought looked exactly like my friend’s (why wouldn’t it?) and worked well except it would only AF using the back AF-ON button.

If you’ll remember what I mentioned in 2014, I kept the Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Contax N lens to use with my N1 and NX film cameras so I used this same lens on my new to me N Digital.

The images were just as beautiful as I remembered in 2013, color and everything looked the same. I was happy!

SAMPLE IMAGES

Here are some of the better images I got from my short five months with the N Digital in 2020. Images were shot using mostly ISO 200-400. I have always loved the Contax 50mm f/1.4 N Zeiss Planar and in combination with the sensor on the N Digital, I feel they are a perfect portrait combo, which is why you see a lot of pictures of the kids 🙂

Most images have been processed but most remain very close to the original files. Any of the images with trees have not been processed if you need to know for camera geek reasons 😀👍🏻

THE SURPRISE

About a week in to using the camera, a couple of photos started showing purple lines and blacked out images. I said uh oh! I remember seeing this on my friend’s camera back in 2014. I knew what was happening. The sensor was going to give out! 😦

This is how a failing sensor looks. Images begin to have lines, streaks, and discoloration.

In all honesty, it wasn’t a surprise to me. I was expecting the camera not to even work and when I saw the sensor failing, it didn’t surprise me at all.

I was all ready to pack up the camera for a refund when I took a few more shots and the photos came out fine. What? Yep that’s what I said!

I figure ok, no doubt the sensor is going to fail but if it works for a year I’ll keep it and take the loss so long as I get some nice pics out of it.

So over the next few months, I used it sparingly. As I’ve mentioned many times, much to the chagrin of Contax fanboys, Kyocera/Contax electronics are very delicate, fragile even.

I basically used the camera only on weekends, maybe 5-10 shots at a time. I always made sure it had fully charged AA batteries in it.

About five months into my ownership of the camera, the Contax N Digital gave up the ghost. After one last good picture, it started shooting only blanks. Black screen. It was game over.

This is how images look when the sensor finally dies. The camera starts shooting blanks. Nothing but black screen images.

I did everything I could think of to see if I could get it to start taking pictures again. I cleaned the contacts, tried different settings, tried RAW, Tiff, what have you. No dice. The sensor was dead.

PRICE & AVAILABILITY

If you’re seeking the Contax N Digital, and I’m not sure that’s a good idea, I have revised my trending prices to around $500-2000 USD for the N Digital body only. That is, if you can find one, and in working condition!

I would not recommend it unless it had a working sensor and at a very low price. Anything in the $2000 range would have to be old new stock, brand new in box, which I think is almost impossible to find.

As in the two copies I have tried, when the sensor dies, the rest of the camera may still work which is a shame because without a sensor, it becomes something like a chicken without a head or a man without a heart. A digital camera without a sensor becomes a paperweight. In the case of the N Digital, it’s an expensive paperweight.

As I mentioned in my video, I even reached out by email to Roger Cicala of LensRentals.com, a man known for tearing down cameras and lenses to see their innards and how they worked. I asked Roger if he or his team would like to open up my Contax N Digital and see if they could fix it. He politely declined to do it 🙂

BOTTOM LINE

I said this in my 2014 review and I’ll say it again…As the world’s first 35mm full frame digital SLR, the Contax N Digital is no doubt a Camera Legend.

However, it’s hard to find them, and almost impossible to find one in working condition. The main issue appears to be dead sensors in these cameras which are in Kyocera’s own words “Unrepairable.”

The camera was pulled from the market very early in its production run so it’s apparent now that Kyocera either may have known something we didn’t know or perhaps it cost them too much to produce versus how many sold. We’ll never know.

Take it from me and avoid the urge to buy one. I was your guinea pig. I did it for you guys! I can almost guarantee that if you can find a rare working model with a working sensor, that sensor will fail if you use the camera enough.

All that said, I will say something that might surprise you…when it was working, the Contax N Digital might have been my favorite DSLR ever!! I love the way it renders. There’s something to the images. A lot has to do with the Zeiss lenses but I also give credit to the flawed Philips 6mp CCD sensor. In my opinion, images can have that rare 35mm “film-like” quality and it has a lot to do with the low resolution sensor. I speak more about this in my video so check it out if you’re interested.

The N Digital also has some very digital qualities such as banding and not so pretty noise at higher iso ranges or underexposed images. But overall its images can be impressive especially when you remember it’s a camera introduced in the year 2000!

(Above) The Contax N Digital is among my favorite cameras of all time. Unfortunately, they never last and almost always end up with dead sensors

Looking back today, it’s clear that in 2002 Canon was on the verge of releasing the 1Ds, the world’s second 35mm full frame digital slr. Contax just beat them to it, but by beating them to it, they have that distinction of being the first and anything “first” will always be remembered.

So despite the Contax/Yashica brand being gone for years now, I do miss them. They thought differently and brought something different to the camera world and the Contax N Digital is a prime example of this. Despite the sad fact that in my opinion and experience, the sensor will inevitably fail and is unrepairable, the Contax N Digital will always be a Camera Legend as the world’s first 35mm full frame digital slr. It will always have a place in my heart as a camera I have experienced and loved, as well as a camera that will always have me thinking what could have been.

Photo Of The Day: “Autumn” 😍

It’s early November and around here where I live the leaves are well past their peak. This photo was taken a few weeks ago up in Rockland County, about 25 miles from NYC. The autumn leaves were still at their beautiful peak and I just had to get some shots. This was one of my favorites.

The camera I used was the Olympus Pen-F Digital, my current favorite digital camera and the Panasonic LUMIX 20mm f/1.7 G lens. I’ve had this lens since 2009 and it’s sharp, versatile, and always delivers the goods.

Whatever you shoot, there are still a lot of Autumn remnants. It’s a beautiful season for photography. Get out there and shoot! 😎📸👍🏻

YouTube Video Part III…Results, Poor Man’s Rollei Wide, and What YOU Need To Start Developing Film

Good morning you war torn hardcore camera geeks! Just posted last night the latest (I don’t want to say last) installment of the “The Lonely Art Of Film Developing.”

As stated in the video, when I first thought of doing this, I just wanted to take you guys through the process, give people an idea of what a film developing session is like, for me at least.

The focus was not really to show you pretty results or anything, although the results are just a by product of this.

As you’ll see in the video, before I even thought of making the video, I was testing a Rolleiflex 3.5F with a 0.7x Mutar which is an add on lens that turns the 75mm lens of the 3.5F into a 55mm, or around 28 or 30mm in 35mm equivalent.

The goal was to see if this would work for me as a poor man’s Rollei Wide. The Rollei Wide is the Rolleiflex with the 55mm f/4 lens. The prices for these cameras are insane, like $3000-4000 insane! Like Crazy Eddie’s “Insane!!” 😀👍🏻

They have pretty much become collector’s items. In comparison my poor man’s version cost me $400 total.

I’ve read in many forums and discussions that the Mutar is junk, that it doesn’t get sharp until you stop it down to f/11 or f/16 even. But there were a few who said it was very good, fine even. Since opinions differ greatly, I wanted to find out for myself.

The above photo is a good example. I shot this probably at f/4 or 5.6. I definitely did not stop the lens down to f/11 or f/16.

Maybe I’m not as demanding as the $4000 Rollei collector but the sharpness is perfectly acceptable to me. Center sharpness is best but even corner sharpness is not bad. Sure it may not be a match for a $4000 Rollei Wide but the point here is that this is good enough for me! If you want to see the photo larger, just pinch the photo to enlarge it if you have a phone, tablet or smart computer.

The film was Ilford HP5 Plus developed in ID-11. This is one of the frames I developed in Part II of my video.

I still have some more testing to do with the 3.5F and Mutar but needless to say, it works for me! I’m happy with my poor man’s Rollei wide and as most of you know, you can’t get much better in photography than getting something good for cheap! 🙂

Also in this video I discuss a little bit of the basics you would need to get started in the fascinating world of black and white film developing.

To make it easier, here’s a list of the items you would need. Please understand, these are affiliate links. You pay nothing extra and I may get a few cents, maybe not even enough to buy a cup of coffee but every little bit helps the site to grow.

As always, thanks for reading and I truly appreciate your support!

LIST OF THINGS YOU NEED TO GET STARTED:

1) Patterson Tank https://amzn.to/3kstlBr

2) Kodak D76 Developer https://amzn.to/3kfJmue

3) HC-110 (Great Developer!) https://amzn.to/2T6PZTP

4) Kodak Rapid Fixer https://amzn.to/3m3Byw1

5) Kodak Photo Flo https://amzn.to/31qabEG

Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com

YouTube Video: How To Load Film In Leica M6 Quick & Easy!

Good morning camera geeks! Today’s YouTube video is perhaps my shortest! And surprisingly no words from a guy who seems to be able to gab endlessly 😀

This is not part three of “The Lonely Art Of Film Developing.” That is part of a longer series on black and white photography. I was almost done with that video but allergies and lack of time has set me back.

But I didn’t want my subscribers to wait as long as I used to make them wait for a new posting and I had this video already made months ago. I never posted it for some reason or another. I guess I was waiting to do a full M6 review but I knew that would take forever so I posted it tonight as a way of saying thank you to the camera geek faithfuls so they have something new to watch. I have a bunch of videos I made and never posted. This is just one of them.

The Leica M6 is perhaps the most popular Leica camera in the world. They sell every one of them! Have you ever noticed an M6 go for sale on your favorite camera dealer’s website and within a day, sometimes hours, it’s guaranteed to be gone.

This is a testament to the M6. It’s a great and reliable camera. It’s an icon. It’s a Camera Legend!

However, its popularity is more complicated than just the fact that it’s a good camera. It’s a mesh of several factors, ie, the resurgence of film, it’s a Leica, it was at one time “affordable,” it’s been reviewed ad nauseam, it’s been touted as the greatest thing since sliced bread and oh yes, the hipsters love it!

All these things and more have worked in the favor of the M6 driving up the prices and continuing to cement its legend.

In many ways, the rise of the Leica M6 reminds me a lot of the Canon AE-1. Two totally different cameras I know, but both have benefited from similar circumstances. And yes, hipsters love the AE-1 as well!

Like many cameras before, I’m just so glad to have bought it at an earlier time when the prices were sub $2000.

Anyway today is not a Leica M6 review. Today’s video will show how easy it is to load the M6 and it is EASY!! It is in no way intimidating like older Leicas.

Extra Tip: Once you have the film secured in the camera, just start taking shots, no need to wind to “0” to get that first shot. If you do it this way, you may be able to get a couple extra frames from the M6!

If you are thinking of getting an M6 or just got one I hope this helps! Thanks for reading and watching and have a great week my friends!

Photo Of The Day: “Social Distancing” Olympus Pen F Digital

Good Sunday morning you war torn camera geeks! Well, anyone who knows me knows that I have been chasing that elusive “film-like” digital file for ages.

Perhaps it’s my love for b&w film, but when I started shooting digital the first thing I remember doing was trying to convert the images to black and white.

In the very early years, circa 1996-2003, most digital camera files looked horrible in b&w. They really did! Lots of blotchy noise that made it obvious it was from a digital camera.

Then in 2006, I got a Ricoh GR DIGITAL 8.1mp original and it rocked for filmic digital b&w. I’m still using the GR DIGITAL to this day.

I’ve never used the Leica Monochrom but I’ve looked at many, many files from that camera and I thought it was what I needed but it was always more than I wanted to spend on a digital camera.

Fast forward to 2020. I recently got an Olympus Pen F Digital specifically because of what I’ve read and seen of its b&w capabilities. The above photo was shot using the Pen F Digital and the 20mm f/1.7 Lumix G Asph lens. I’ve had this lens since 2009 and love its compactness and its sharpness.

And now I can verify that, yes, to me this camera in Monochrome 2 mode produces the closest I’ve seen to a black and white film image! Reminds me of Tri-X. There’s a nice balance of softness and sharpness in the film like tones.

It betters the GR Digital in that I can change lenses but I love the files from both these cameras equally. I could go on and on but today’s post is not meant to be a review but that may come at a later date. Happy Sunday good peeps!

Photo Of The Day: “Sisters” Rolleiflex 3.5F

Good September morning camera lovin’ geeks! Here’s a photo recently developed using the methods shown in my previous two YouTube videos.

The camera used was a Rolleiflex 3.5F 75mm f/3.5 Planar lens, film was Ilford HP5 Plus, developer was Ilford ID-11.

I’m pulling together the rest of the roll as well as some from a roll I developed tonight for the next video.

As seen in the YouTube videos, I’m not always textbook when I comes to developing. Perhaps I’ve gotten sloppy and I’m certainly not advocating you get sloppy.

Many years ago when I started developing film again, I was always by the book. The exact amount of developer, fixer, the exact number of minutes.

But over the years, and not on purpose either, I began to get off the books. I would sometime miss a minute of agitation here and there. Sometimes I would forget and leave the stop bath for an extra two minutes. Sometimes I had little fixer left but used it anyway with an extra dilution of water and extra minutes.

To my surprise, my results were almost always the same as when I did it by the book.

So when I say black and white film development is not an exact science it’s from my experiences. It’s not an excuse to be sloppy and for the absolute beginner I do advise going by the book. That said, black and white film developing at home is very forgiving of variations in time and temperature.

Of course if you do more esoteric b&w developing like stand development or cafeinol you might want to follow the recipe more closely.

Now C41 color film development I do find to be much more of an exact science when it comes to time and temperature. This is what I want to explore in the coming months.

As for the above photo, I do love any chance to have the girls stand still for a photograph and while I’m happy to have this portrait I was testing for something very specific with regard to the Rolleiflex 3.5F. I will share this with you in upcoming posts. Why not today? It’s not because I’m trying to build anticipation lol but simply because this would take up a whole article in itself! 😀

Thanks for your time and happy Tuesday good peeps!

YouTube Video: The Lonely Art Of Film Developing Part II: “Fixer…It Just Smells Funny!”

Good September morn you war-torn, hardcore camera geeks! Continuing on from our last article, here is Part Two of my YouTube series on “The Lonely Art” of film developing.

This video focuses on the “fixing” part of bw film development. It is a very important process that makes your images permanent and protects the film from going bad, ie, fogging up, etc.

Incidentally, the fixer is also the part of bw film developing that “smells” the most! All the fixers I have used have had this really pungent, sour smell to them.

Some of you may remember the Flickr group with the brilliant name of “Film Is Not Dead It Just Smells Funny.” Personally, I believe the fixer is what they’re talking about. If I am wrong, let me know!

Anyway, this video is a little more technical than the last but my main point is still NOT about teaching bw film developing. Many people already have videos up that show you how to do it way better than I can.

What I have learned over the years is that, even though there are guidelines as to what to do for whatever film or developer you’re using, there can be variations and people sometimes do things a little differently but as long as you don’t stray too far from the formula, your results should be ok.

The point of this video is to show how tedious the process can be. There’s a lot of downtime involved, a lot of counting minutes. It reminds me a lot of when I worked overnight security for a big tech company. I did in the 1990s so I could go to school during the day.

There was a lot of downtime, free time with that job. Often I would read books, eat, call friends, exercise or get lost in thought. Anything to past the time. And the same goes for developing film.

When I started relearning the process over a decade ago, it was fun, fascinating and I did a lot of it. Today, I still find the results fascinating but I don’t quite enjoy the process as much. My mind wanders.

And even though it doesn’t take all that long to do one roll of film, it feels like forever sometimes but no it’s not. Actually yes, when you factor the scanning and processing thereafter, it does feel like forever!

In the video, I exaggerate some of the things I might do while waiting but there’s a lot of truth to those exaggerations. It is a deeply personal process. Some people put music on, some might do their bills, meditate, etc. It takes a patient person to want to develop film but the results, especially when good, are most worthwhile.

Also to keep it fun, I reveal in this video a camera I’ve been shooting with a lot the past couple of months. Can you guess what it is? 🙂

Thanks for watching and feel free to leave a comment about your experiences, I love to hear from you!

YouTube Video: The Lonely Art Of Film Developing Part I

Good day you hardcore camera geeks! Well, as you may or may not know, this summer I am concentrating on building our YouTube channel. As a result the written blog is suffering a little, but I have faith it will catch up. The content already written will always be there so I’m not too worried about it.

Today’s YouTube video focuses on “Lonely Art” of developing film, and in particular black and white film.

At home film developing has always been a labor of love for me although in recent years the stress is on the word labor more than love.

I had my first experience developing film in high school. I think we’re going back to 1986 or 1987! Anyway, as a young kid with no patience I think I was traumatized by my early failed efforts and I didn’t develop film again for many decades.

Besides, in the 1990s and early 2000s I focused more on color film which was easy to have developed at any “One Hour Photo.” Ironically, it’s harder to get your film developed today than it was then! I mean, yes, CVS or Walgreens will develop your film. They send it out actually. But you will NOT get your negatives back.

What you will get are either prints and/or a photo cd. This is the digital age and we actually live in an age where people print less. And I admit I’m guilty of viewing most of my photos these days on any number of devices, ie, computer, phone, tablet.

Anyway, when I reignited my love for b&w photography, I learned how to develop b&w film at home and I’ve been doing it now for about 11 years I’d say.

I’m no expert at it. And I don’t always follow the instructions to a tee but for the most part whatever I’ve been doing has worked for me.

Black and white film development basically involves three steps: Film developer, stop bath, and fixer. Agitation is what you do within these steps. Oh yeah, there’s a final rinse, and Photo Flo, etc, but it’s not as complicated as it sounds. Scanning is the after process. Your images actually become a hybrid digital/film thing.

A stop bath essentially “stops” the film developer from continuing to develop your film. You can use a store bought solution or use water. I use water. It gives me another 2-3 minutes of downtime where I have nothing to do but wait and get lost in my own thoughts.

Anyway, this video is NOT about how to develop film. And my film developing methods may be very different from yours. I learned a very imprecise method from an old pro. It’s may not be textbook but it worked for him and it works for me. I may make a video on that later but this video is about the “Lonely Art” of film developing.

I usually develop my film in lonely hours, well after midnight. By then it’s very dark and I don’t have to worry about damage to the film from the light or worry about anyone disrupting my workflow.

This video is about the solitary nature of developing film at home and all the downtime you have when developing film. And with that downtime, many things enter your mind. Thoughts and memories locked within the inner reaches of your brain are released. That is what this video series is about.

What do YOU do when you develop your film? Do you play music? Do you calculate your bills and expenses? Do you clean the bathroom tub? I’d love to know how you spend the time! Feel free to leave a comment.

Have a great day you great camera people and many thanks for watching and for your kind support!

Photo Of The Day: “Fourth of July 2020” Polaroid SX-70

Yesterday was the Fourth of July and America celebrated its 244th birthday. With the Coronavirus once again wreaking havoc in much of the USA and social unrest gripping the nation, America’s birthday this year is very different from any other year in recent memory. Some say it might be the worst year ever. It may be a traumatic, tumultuous year but certainly not a boring year to say the least!

A precious memory from the Fourth of July, 2020, delivered by the Polaroid SX-70.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that every 4th of July, on a purely photo related level, I reflect on the cameras that I feel are true American Camera Legends and that’s what I’m doing today.

Past contenders were the Argus C3 and the Kodak Medalist. This year, it’s the Polaroid SX-70. I have used the SX-70 for many years, but have never really reviewed it though perhaps I should, but today is not that today. I have always kind of viewed it as a “personal project” camera.

I love shooting the SX-70 and I’d love to shoot it more often but the price of the film has always meant that it would never be my main shooter. I mean, for $18.99 you get 8 shots. That means you got to make every shot count! And sometimes I don’t or can’t.

Now in the past, especially in the early days of the Impossible Project’s attempts at keeping Polaroid film alive, I didn’t think the film was ready for prime time. It was very inconsistent with bad color shifts, uneven spots, scratches, etc. Needless to say I had many wasted shots which kind of killed my enthusiasm.

I understood even back then that they were attempting to do something that really seemed “Impossible” so I did not expect perfection right away. I’ve always admired their efforts as a great and noble project to salvage one of photography’s great treasures. I just didn’t want to throw good money out but I supported the project whenever I could by buying stuff from them.

Flash forward to today, and I’m pleased to say the SX-70 film that Polaroid (formerly Polaroid Originals, formerly the Impossible Project) have been putting out for the past few years is much better! Rich, colorful and sharp, and everything is more consistent. I feel that the color is shifted more to the blue or “cool” spectrum but that’s just an observation not a complaint.

The SX-70 remains not only an iconic camera but still a very affordable Camera Legend in today’s world. If you like instant photography, get it!

Today, I just want to celebrate Dr. Edwin Land’s creation with a photo I took yesterday on the Fourth of July. The SX-70 was introduced in 1972 and to me it remains one of the greatest photographic machines ever made. The beauty of a sharply focused SX-70 print is something to behold.

Just one more shoutout to the makers of the current Polaroid film. Making quality instant film is a fine art and these folks have truly done the impossible in not only keeping SX-70 film (and consequently, the SX-70 itself) alive but also to continue to improve it to the point where I think it’s nearly as good as the original Polaroid formula. Well done guys!

Now I’m just hoping their pack film project goes just as well. It will take time, maybe even years, but I’m convinced they can do it!

Rewind ‘99 Part II: The Contax T Review

Quick Covid-19 Update: I’m sorry I continue to be away for lengthy periods. This is my new norm friends. I’m still working with Covid-19 patients although the list of infected patients today is much lower, thank goodness. I’m happy to report that, knock on wood, I’ve tested NEGATIVE for the virus and for the antibodies, multiple times.

But this is not the time to become too lax about this. Just take a look at what’s happening in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California. Be safe, be vigilant, wear a mask!

And now…

Today on part two of our Rewind ’99 series we take a look back at the camera that arguably started the luxury compact camera revolution, the venerable Contax T.

Again, this series is about cameras that I was using in 1999 and in 1999 the Contax T was in regular rotation for me. Indeed, one of my most used cameras ever!

Apologies for the delay on this article. It should’ve been finished a long time ago around Christmas of last year but it was then that I came down with a bad case of the cold. And at the same time, I got a new job!

How can I afford to review these cameras for you guys? As I said in one of my videos…You gotta work son! 🙂

INTRODUCTION

The Contax T was introduced by Kyocera in 1984. It is a manual focus, compact 35mm rangefinder camera.

It was one of the first luxury point and shoot cameras to be marketed. What is meant by “luxury?” Basically it means that it was marketed as a premium camera with hight build quality and high optical quality. And of course, high price too! 🙂

AS A CAMERA

The Contax T as mentioned above is a manual focus, rangefinder camera that uses 35mm film. The camera features a 38mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss T* lens. It has a shutter speed range of to 1/500 and an aperture range of f/2.8 to f/16. Minimum focus distance is 1 meter.

The jewel of the Contax T is the sharp 38mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss T* Sonnar lens.

The camera is manual wind and manual rewind. It comes in either black or silver trim. The camera relies on two MS76 batteries to function.

YOUTUBE VIDEO

For those of you who prefer a more “dynamic’ experience 😀

Contax T Video Review.

I don’t really enjoy making videos, but I do it for YOU! 🙂

HOW I CAME ACROSS THE CONTAX T

I bought the Contax T around 1996 or 1997. I can’t remember what got me interested in the camera but in those days it was most likely from either reading an article about it in a magazine or perhaps someone told me about it. During my free time, I hung out at camera stores quite often back then so that’s a very real possibility.

I do remember very clearly where I got it from. I got it from camera dealer Tamarkin. Now a lot of the general public may not know the store but I’m sure you old school hardcore camera lovers have heard of them.

It was Stan Tamarkin’s old store in Woodbridge, Connecticut. Today I believe they are out in Chicago. I believe they are now better known for holding auctions on rare, classic cameras. They are a good dealer, albeit on the pricey side a lot of times.

Anyway, I saw the Contax T listed in an ad in Shutterbug magazine, back when they had that cool oversized format.

In the mid 1990s the internet was still in primitive stages and most camera dealers did not yet have an online presence.

What the dealers did was to put their ads with listings of their inventory in the major photography magazines.

Whether or not the item was still in stock you could not really tell until you call them! It’s hard to imagine this today in a world where we can see right away whether an item is in stock or out of stock!

Some say “the good old days weren’t always good” and even though I’m a nostalgic fool, this time I agree with them! The online system of buying and selling is much better, but there is a charm to the old school way, almost like waiting for your film to come back and not knowing if you have any keepers 🙂

CONTAX T IMPRESSIONS

My first impression of the Contax T was one of awe at the feel and beauty of this compact gem.

There was indeed a feeling of “luxury” and that this camera was different from any other I had used previously. The metal was cool to the touch and it weighed more than it looked. Seeing “Carl Zeiss” on the lens thrilled me!

That first impression was in 1995 or 1996. And in 1999, I was still feeling the love for the Contax T. It was like my pride and joy in many ways 🙂

I suspect this is the way many people new to the brand feel upon holding their first Contax. It did give the impression that it was different from the typical Canon or Nikon camera. And in reality, it was and is different from many cameras, even today!

THE CLAMSHELL

When in the closed position, the camera is small, neat, and compact. To turn it “on” you need to pull the clamshell down. Once you do, the 38mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss Sonnar lens comes out, and the camera powers on. And you can tell by the lights in the viewfinder and on the film counter which is the small top lcd.

There are people who love the clamshell design, and people who hate it. I would have preferred if it did not have this design. I feel it just makes it look less, how would I say this, neat maybe?

Nonetheless once you use the Contax T for a while you eventually get used to it. Once you realize that the clamshell protects the lens and turns on the camera when it’s in the down position, you realize it’s actually an integral part of the camera so you learn to live with it.

HANDLING AND IN USE

The Contax T without the flash attachment is small and compact. In fact, it may be small and compact to a fault meaning that it’s very easy for this camera to slip out of your hand so a case or handstrap should be considered essential. It’s not unlike a Minox or Rollei 35 in this respect.

Since the camera is primarily Aperture Priority there is not much in the way of controls, other than changing the aperture values on the lens. Even for my relatively small hands, it feels a little fidgety but not bad. I imagine larger hands may be more uncomfortable with it.

The viewfinder is small but usable to me. Inside the viewfinder, you will see three shutter speed indications, 30-125-500, basically 1/30, 1/125, and 1/500 but the camera will choose the values from its full range (8 secs to 1/500) automatically, depending on the exposure needed for the shot.

IMAGE QUALITY

The Contax T is capable of excellent, even superb results. The 38mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss Sonnar lens is the same, or similar, to the lens on the T2. Some people might say they are different lenses because the T2 can focus closer at 0.7 meters vs the 1 meter MFD on the T but I think they just tweaked the lens on the T2 to focus closer. If there are any differences between the lenses, I’ve never seen it in the pictures.

Below are some samples from the Contax T over the years. It is probably best viewed on a computer and not on a phone. The images are not optimal as my scanner has broken and I’m using an iPhone to scan most of them. I’m not making excuses, it is what it is!

ISSUES

I give credit where credit is due and as I said before the Contax T has been my most reliable T series Contax. I bought it used in 1996 or 1997 and it still works! But it hasn’t been exactly flawless and there are a few issues to look out for.

First let me address the common issues which are just cosmetics, superficial, Watch for the rubber front grip to come loose and eventually fall off. That’s what happened to mine after prolonged use. It happened years ago, maybe more than ten years ago. I lost the part but it doesn’t really bother me so I never tried to replace it. But with the T being so diminutive and slippery, make sure you have a hand strap or case. It’s very easy to slip out of your hands!

The body scratches with use, especially if you carry it around in your pocket like I did or don’t keep it in a case. Again, it’s just cosmetics but if you like your cameras pristine, take some precautions.

The rangefinder spot on mine is now so dim, it’s getting harder and harder to focus with it. A trick you can do is to put a tiny dot of ink or a tiny black dot on the rangefinder window, superimposed over the place where the rangefinder patch would be. This helps increase contrast making it easier to focus the rangefinder.

I don’t know who came up with this, but I remember reading about it from a Tripod page from one of the early internet camera site pioneers, the great Rick Oleson. I give credit where credit is due! I hope you’re still out there and doing your thing Rick, I really enjoy your writings!

The more serious issues, like most Contax/Yashica cameras has to do with aging electronics. From my own experiences, these camera acts more unpredictably if the batteries are not fresh or have been sitting in the camera for a while. I’ve seen this in two T cameras.

The most serious issue is a shutter that begins to sound “weak” like its dying and changing batteries don’t really help. This is happening on my first T. Check my video for an account of what happened to my camera.

It doesn’t mean the camera will die soon but it might. If buying one make sure you buy from a place with a good warranty or return policy. Check our trusted affiliates.

PRICES AND AVAILABILITY

The Contax T is not a common camera but still easily found. If seeking one of these, prices are trending between $400-600. Compared to its sibling the T2, it’s a bargain that will offer you very similar pictures in a more compact (without the detachable flash) but manual focus package.

BOTTOM LINE

The Contax T was the first in a dynasty of T series cameras that has fascinated photographers and camera collectors for over thirty years.

Yashica, the manufacturer of the Contax T, were an amazingly innovative company that pushed boundaries and thought outside the box to give camera lovers very different, unique and high quality cameras with their Contax brand.

While the Zeiss Ikon Contax brand may have been the original Contax Camera Legend, they were unsuccessful at topping Leica for the camera king crown and one could argue that when Yashica took over the Contax name, they had a much more successful run.

When people think of Contax today, the Zeiss Ikon Contax is usually not the first thing they think of. Most people will think of Contax/Yashica and the Contax T with its diminutive size and super sharp optics led the way.

It could be argued that if the Contax T was not successful, there would not have been a T2, T3, TVS, etc, etc.

For many people the Contax T is the Camera Legend that introduced the high end, premium compact 35mm camera to the world. It made people marvel at what could be accomplished with a small, high quality camera design. It was equipped with a superb Carl Zeiss 38mm f/2.8 Sonnar lens that takes wonderful photos and does so in a small and pocketable form. After the Contax T, small compact cameras would never again be restricted to being “just a point and shoot.”

And yes this author can testify that the Contax T is the first camera he truly fell in love with!

***BREAKING NEWS***

“Dark OM Days” 2009. Olympus 35RC.

I posted this photo to places like Pbase and Flickr in 2009 in tribute to Yohihasa Maitani, the brilliant Olympus camera designer and a true Camera Legend who passed away in that same year. Today, I post it for the “death” of Olympus cameras as we know it.

I’m sure by now that most of you have heard the news reported on June 24, 2020, that Olympus will sell off their camera division to a group called Japan Industrial Partners. The deal is expected to be finalized in September of this year.

Now it seems the common sense thought would be that Japan Industrial Partners will continue to make and sell cameras to continue the Olympus name. However, I’m not so hopeful about that.

Why? Because this is the same group that bought the rights to Sony VAIO. Now I don’t know where you live, but here in the States I haven’t seen a Sony VAIO computer in ages!

Olympus was one of my favorite brands in the early days and indeed to this day. They made great cameras and they knew how to make top notch optics. Thus this is very sad news for me! I will have more on Olympus in future postings. But for today, let’s have a moment of silence for the passing of a true Camera Legend, Olympus, indeed a giant in the world of cameras.

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