Good morning you awesome war torn camera geeks! Recently I found this photo and it’s quite timely because this week, the little baby in the photo is turning fourteen! I can hardly believe it!
This image was a self portrait taken in 2007 with a Rolleiflex 2.8F with the 80mm f/2.8 Planar lens. Film unrecorded but I’d bet it’s either Tri-X or T-Max. When it comes to film choices, I’m nothing if predictable 😍
I don’t think I’ve used a self timer before or since on a TLR!! Have you?
Friend, as you know there’s always a healthy dose of nostalgia on my pages and it’s not without reason. This weekend the twentieth anniversary of the September 11th 2001 attacks came to pass. Twenty years in the blink of an eye.
Same here with this photo. 2007 was a year that changed my life and yet every year it is seemingly passing by ever faster, becoming a fading memory. I’m not sure how other people deal with the passage of time but I’m just a sentimental fool I guess. My Dad was like that, I guess it runs in the family!
I cannot stop time but I can record it through photographs. I suggest you do the same because in the end memories are all we’ve got. Have a beautiful week good peeps! And thanks😍🙏🏻👍🏻
Good morning you awesome camera geeks! Over the years, I’ve catered to camera and photography lovers of every kind.
Perhaps because I’m a collector myself, I’ve written a lot for camera collectors. I’ve tried to do both film and digital reviews because I love both but there’s one group I’ve not done a lot for. That group are the humble beginners.
I actually did a video on YouTube a couple of years ago called “The Benefits Of A Cheap Camera” in which I talked about the Vivitar V3800n, a cheap and affordable 35mm slr and although I tried to give some useful advice in the video, I don’t think a lot of people liked or understood my lighthearted approach and humor 😀
So today I will try to be more gentle and serious (if that’s possible!) in my approach
The bulk of my advice today will be on my YouTube video. The young film beginner today is more likely to watch a video rather than read an article. For the rest of this article I will concentrate more on things I didn’t touch on in the video.
People can be funny sometimes. I’m sure a some people might say “Ah he’s just pushing his video!”
And the funny thing is, if the video is on Camera Legend YouTube and this is the Camera Legend blog, shouldn’t I be doing that?! It would be unwise of me not to 😍
But as you’ll see, this article touches on a lot that’s not on the video so consider it an addendum to the video.
Big Beginner Mistake
As beginners we all make mistakes. Heck even when not a beginner we make mistakes! At least I do still today 😀
To me though one of the biggest mistakes I see the beginner in 35mm film photography make is the notion that they have to be an expert camera operator first.
It’s not the beginners fault really. It’s perhaps all the “super photographers” they read about or see on YouTube but it seems to me they feel the need to learn aperture, shutter speeds, lighting, flash, everything all at once!
And yes it IS important to learn those fundamentals of photography but the truth of the matter is mastering these things take time and lots of practice.
Obsessing about learning camera function so much can make you overlook perhaps the most important aspect of photography: the actual picture. Taking the picture. Learning to focus the lens. Learning to compose. Developing an eye for a good picture.
So you say Sam, if I don’t know how to operate the aperture and shutter speeds then how am I going to take good pictures?!
Fear not! Let me introduce to something I call “The 1985 Method” 😀
The 1985 Method
No this isn’t actually a “method” I came up with but it’s how I developed a love for photography.
Back in the 80s as a youngster starting out, I usually shot sight unseen. Before I really got into photography, the camera was just a way of capturing my family, my friends, my world.
All I did was shoot and shoot. I knew nothing about aperture or shutter speeds. I knew nothing about composition or the rules of photography. I learned by discovery. And that still shapes a lot of how I approach things today.
The knowledge of light, aperture, shutter speeds, composition, that came later as I started buying books and magazines. You could say I started out photography the wrong way! Yet, some of those early photographs are the ones I cherish most.
It was photography in its purest form in my opinion before it became the “game.” A game of “you should do it this way or that way.” You should use this camera, buy this lens, etc, etc. I guess you could liken the experience to the innocence of a child before the realities of the world corrupts them.
As mentioned on these pages before, I dabbled in photography in the early 80s with my parents cameras with mixed results. It wasn’t until 1985 when Mom bought us a Minolta X-700 that I started getting (to me) great results, certainly better than I was getting previously. I’ve always considered the Minolta X-700 that I got in 1985 my first “serious” camera.
Even as a teen, I was getting roll after roll of consistently good results. As I got older, many of the photographers I met encouraged me to go back to all manual camera like the Pentax K1000, Nikon FM or Olympus OM-1. They told me I should do more “serious” photography. I did try those cameras and I loved them but I didn’t always get consistently good results like I got with my old Minolta.
With time and a lot of practice, I started getting results as good or better than the Minolta. I found out why…
It was because I often used the X-700 in the green P or Program mode. In this mode, the camera figured out the exposures for me and it mostly got it right most of the time! The Minolta was doing most of the hard work for me!
I was getting good pictures consistently and that inspired me to continue doing photography. And I have the Minolta X-700 and its great Program mode to thank for it!
Doing It The“Wrong” Way!
You see it all the time. Many photographers recommending a beginner start out with an all manual camera such as the Pentax K1000 or Olympus OM-1. Heck I’m a big pusher of that “hardcore” method 😂
So it may be a surprise to hear me say that for the beginning 35mm film photographer today I am not recommending they start out with an all manual camera any more. Even though in this YouTube generation things are easier than ever, I now advocate the beginner to start with a little bit of automation.
If you’re a beginner at 35mm film photography, I recommend you get a camera with a Program mode like the Minolta X-700 and I want you to use it! In addition, your first camera should also have an aperture priority or manual mode. I’ll explain more later.
I’m not the first person to advocate using the Program mode and I won’t be the last. And although the old “hardcore” method of having the beginner start out with an all manual camera is still near and dear to my heart, I realize it is actually a little bit of a “cruel” thing to do to a beginner 😍
A True Story
As a good example, back in the late 1970s my parents had a good friend who was really into photography. He had the great cameras like the Canon F-1 and A-1.
He was especially fond of his multimode A-1 and always got these great shots. He was always showing us slides and projections of his work.
I think I’ve mentioned before that this family friend was probably more responsible than anyone else for my interest in photography, cameras and lenses!
Anyway seeing all his great work, my parents asked his advice on getting a camera. He helped them choose the Canon AT-1. That’s right folks. Not the AE-1 or AE-1 Program but the no frills, manual mode only AT-1.
Guess what? My parents knowing nothing about aperture and shutter speeds, never bothered to shoot with the camera. It was never used until it was stolen from our apartment in 1982.
To this day, I wonder why our dear family friend, God Bless his soul, I wonder why he would recommend this camera to them and not proactively try to help them use it?
But as I said that was then. Today, young beginners can find everything they need to know online!
And since I’m in a kinder “ask what I can do for you” mood I am not going to be cruel and have them start on an all manual camera the way our friend did to my parents 😍
That may change though! 😂 And yes, it will change once we get into medium and large format cameras where automation is much less available.
The World Has Changed For 35mm Film Beginners
The main reason though why I no longer recommended the all manual camera “hardcore” method is because many different dynamics have changed. But one factor above all is a game changer. I’ll explain…
Back in the late 80s and all throughout the 1990s until perhaps the mid 2000s, I had one distinct advantage that film photography beginners today don’t. And that is something we took for granted called the “One Hour Photo.”
One Hour Photo?
What is a one hour photo? There was a movie starring Robin Williams called “One Hour Photo” but that’s not what I’m talking about 😀
I’m talking about the places that develop your film in about an hour. At its climax, they were everywhere in nearly every country. You remember, don’t you? Well old school photographers will remember it well but kids born after the year 2000 may have no clue.
Basically, before digital came around and shattered everything, film photography had developed to its highest point of convenience where in the USA stores like Costco, CVS, Walgreens, and even local camera shops and pharmacies offered to develop your color print films in about an hour or so. Many times it took longer than the advertised “hour” but you’d still get your prints back rather quickly.
Companies like Fujifilm and Konica often supplied the machines necessary to do this.
So if I were trying out a manual camera, I could theoretically finish the roll and get the results back the same day and I did so, often!
But as digital began to put a stranglehold on film in the mid 2000s, these one hour photo labs began to fold. Many were gone years earlier when they saw the writing on the wall.
Today, you would have to send your film to a dedicated lab. The usual time for you to get your results back is around two to three weeks for most labs. Costco stopped developing or sending out film for most of their stores but CVS and Walgreens will still send your film out for development. Sadly, a few years ago they began this bizarre policy of not returning your negatives so if you have them send out your film, the negatives are gone forever.
The disappearance of the one hour photo labs is perhaps the main reason I relearned to do my own black and white development. I couldn’t stand the wait!
For the budding beginner in 35mm film photography, it is unlikely that they would be developing their own photos and so they must wait.
Why Great Results Fast?
We live in a world where we want and usually get everything fast. I can’t just blame today’s kids for being impatient because I myself have been spoiled by the convenience of it all.
Before the internet, and even as recently as the late 1990s when there was some internet, you’d sometimes have to wait weeks for an order to arrive. Today, I get most of my online orders in two days! That’s a game changer and no one wants to go back.
But in the world of film photography, sadly 35mm film development (as far as the wait goes) has gone back to something worse than it was when it was at its best in the late 90s and early 2000s.
It is my feeling that waiting two to three weeks just to get back lousy results from that first roll of film will do nothing but curb the enthusiasm of all but the most determined beginner photographers.
So I recommend the beginner start out with the much maligned Program mode, get some good maybe even great results right away and get excited about 35mm film photography.
Yes you should know the Program mode is not foolproof. Most old cameras have center weighted metering that can be easily fooled by bright light sources. However I’m willing to bet that the Program mode is going to yield a better percentage of results than if one were going in blind or trying to remember what they read or saw in a tutorial.
Shoot in Program mode. At the same time watch some good YouTube tutorials, read a book and take notes. After a few rolls in Program mode, then start experimenting by gently going out of the Program mode.
In my video I recommend and do a mini review on three cameras; the Nikon FG, the Ricoh XRX 3PF, and the Minolta X-700.
All three I have used and they all have a Program mode as well as manual mode.
I went into a lot of detail in the video so for the sake of time, I’ll just leave the details there for those interested. I also make recommendations on what to get for your first lens and also recommendations for film.
The photos below are extra samples from the humble 50mm lenses that I recommend a beginner start with.
By “humble” I’m talking about the 50mm f/1.8 or f/2 from any manufacturer and 50mm f/1.7 from some manufacturers.
The first shot was scanned with an Epson flatbed in 2010. The other two were crude iPhone X scans so they may not show the true nature of the images.
My Epson flatbed has gone caput and I’m trying to decide whether to go with a mid level scanner or a high end one. In addition to devoting time to YouTube, this one of the reasons you haven’t seen my work here. I’d really hate to continue giving you guys low quality scans! Y’all deserve the best 😍
As mentioned this article is an addendum to the YouTube video. Most of what’s on the video is not here and most of what’s here is not on the video. I’m not pushing you to the video for the sake of views. If that were the case I’d be making videos like crazy but I’m not. Note how long this article already is! 😀👍🏻
I figure those interested will check it out and those who don’t won’t.
Another point I didn’t touch on enough in the video is that it doesn’t have to be Nikon, Ricoh, or Minolta. You could get a Pentax Super Program if you like Pentax or Canon AE-1 Program if you like Canon. Any camera with a Program mode and a manual mode will do!
The main point is to get a camera with a good Program mode to start getting good results right away.
I however am NOT recommending that the beginner gets an autofocus film slr for their first film camera at this time. If you start with an autofocus camera and autofocus lenses then in my opinion you’re probably better off shooting with a DSLR.
I want you to have the Program mode for automatic exposures because exposures are probably the trickiest part for a beginner to understand, but I’d still want you to learn the “art” or the craft by learning to focus and compose. Get great results, get excited, and the rest will come to you with time, practice, and experience!
I can’t believe it took me all that space and time to basically say: Start out in the Program mode, get good to great results, get pumped about photography and work your way through the rest! You’ll be more interested in learning the camera when you start getting good results! 😀
Anyway this was the most I could put in one article but in future articles and videos we’ll work our way out of the Program mode so that you can work the camera and feel like a “real” photographer even though the Program mode will deliver 80-90 percent of the time! 😎
What is your opinion? Do you agree? Disagree? How did you learn 35mm photography? Leave a comment I’d love to hear it! In the end though, it’s just one man’s view so take it with a grain of salt and have a great day folks! 😍📸👍🏻
The Contax T2 is a high end autofocus point and shoot film camera released by Kyocera in 1990.
While many cameraphiles consider the T3 the “Ultimate” point and shoot film camera, the T2 has, over the years, developed such a cult following among camera fanatics that it might be considered THE greatest Contax camera of the Kyocera era. Is it really the greatest? 🙂
The T2 is one of the most popular point and shoot cameras of all time and there are many other reviews and testimonies better than mine. I’m just giving you my two cents on my experiences with this camera.
I have been a Contax lover since using the original Contax T back in the 1990s and have used all the cameras in the T series, including the T2, T3, TVS, TVSIII, and TiX APS film camera.
THE T2 CAMERA
As a camera the T2 features a Carl Zeiss 38mm f/2.8 T* lens, Program and aperture priority modes. Aperture range is f/2.8-f/16. Shutter speed range is 1 to 1/500th seconds in Program mode. ISO range is ISO 25 to 5000. The camera relies on one CR123A battery.
The camera is primarily an autofocus camera, but you can opt for manual focus if necessary.
One neat feature that I love on the T2 is the ability to change lens aperture via a ring around the lens mount.
The camera is rather large and long for a point and shoot, quite in line with its peers from the 1990s such as the Leica Minilux or Konica Hexar, which are all larger than most high end point and shoots of today, i.e., the Ricoh GR, Leica Q, or Sony RX100 series. The camera is not jeans pocketable, but perhaps coat pocketable depending on your coat 🙂
The Contax T2 was one of my film companions overseas. While large, clunky and not small like today’s point and shoots, the T2 exudes that Contax charm and Zeiss power that still seduces camera lovers to this day. Please forgive this bad phone pic. It was late night and I was just giving the T2 some lovin’ 🙂
As mentioned, the T2 is primarily an autofocus point and shoot. I have found its AF to be generally reliable in good light or when using flash, but less accurate in low or challenging light situations.
The center point AF seems to need something solid to lock on to and not just sharp edges, as many cameras do. Solid objects with good light helps.
“Sister Samui” 2016. Contax T2, Tri-X 400. On Koh Samui island, Thailand, I met a wonderful lady whose grace and elegance made me think of her as a “Thai Lauren Bacall.” I’m getting used to going to these places now, but it’s the people I meet that keep it interesting for me.
I have mentioned many times that I do not like using manual focus on similar cameras because it’s really electronic vs real manual focus and clunky to use. It’s more like a “guesstimate” system using the distance indicators vs physically manually focusing the lens which you cannot do on the T2 and most comparable point and shoot cameras. However with the T2, using its electronic manual focus is sometimes necessary.
When the AF is in its zone however, the 38mm f/2.8 produces excellent, sharp images with lots of contrast. The high contrast is what you have come to expect and love from Contax Zeiss lenses and it accentuates the appearance of sharpness.
“Pak Nam Klai” 2016. Contax T2, Tri-X 400 developed in D76. The Klai River in Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand. Not as famous as the “River Kwai” but just as nice and it looks just the way it did when I visited as a child.
However, in very bright lighting situations, the high contrast can be problematic and it’s easy to get blown highlights with this camera. Thankfully, due to the high dynamic range of film, I can generally bring the levels down and recover detail with post processing.
The lens seems to be more in line with the original Contax T, which produced sharp images with a more classical look that I liked as opposed to the T3 which produced bitingly sharp pics with a more modern look. Many people prefer the T3 probably for that reason, but to me, the T and T2 produces images with more “character.” Hard to explain, but I suspect many of you will know what I mean.
Oddly enough, whenever I’ve used a 40mm f/2.8 lens on my film or full frame cameras, I’ve always found that focal length a little “boring” especially because it reminds me a lot of a 35mm f/2.8 lens which is a generic old school focal length that can be found very cheaply. Yet everyone including me has no complaints about this on the T2. Hmm, perhaps it’s the T2 “legend?” It’s like seeing five apples that look exactly the same, but you were told that one was special so you believe it and it tastes better than the rest 🙂
Keep in mind I’m not saying the T2 lens is just like any other 35-40mm lens. I’m just talking about the focal length and the f/2.8 aperture which I find boring. A 35mm f/2 or 40mm f/2 is preferable to me, even if it’s less than a stop faster. Your milage may vary. That said, I do think the lens on the T2 has that special something! I loved the original T which was my first T series camera and I suspect it’s the same lens.
The tiny original T was and is my favorite of all the T series due to the lens and the ability to achieve accurate focus using its true rangefinder system. It is manual focus only, but I found I had a higher rate of keepers with the T than with the T2 and its AF.
The bokeh on the 38mm f/2.8 Zeiss Sonnar can be a bit “nervous” or “busy” and in line with what I have seen and mentioned here about most Zeiss lenses that I have used. However, you can also get very nice bokeh out of it. To achieve this, you need to get in close on your subject and make sure the background is uncluttered.
The camera is not silent, but the AF and motor advance/rewind are quite quieter than, say a Ricoh GR1. In fact, if I weren’t spoiled by other cameras like the Konica Hexar, I would say the T2 is very quiet indeed.
The Contax T2 has achieved an enviable status among cameraphiles and camera collectors alike. Despite Kyocera/Contax being out of the camera business for quite a while already, these cameras are still actively being sought.
There’s a lot of love, respect, and perhaps even a bit of romanticism involved in the cult of Contax T2 lovers.
The T2 is not without its flaws however. It does not have the most accurate AF that I’ve ever used, but it is generally reliable in good light. The results can sometimes be inconsistent. When the camera (or the photographer!) does get it right, the results can be superb. The good will make up for the bad with this camera, and there IS a reason it has earned its reputation. The lens can be fantastic, but you got to earn your keeps with this camera.
The T2 is a camera that I have bought and sold, and then bought again. Usually I would say that means it’s a great camera, but one could argue that if you sold it in the first place then maybe there was something about it that was not so great? No, it could just be that I needed cash at the time 🙂
Anyway the T2 is a “Bad Ass” camera! I’m on my second one and I’m glad to have it, despite its AF issues. I’m holding on to this one as long as I can this time around. I still have a couple rolls of undeveloped T2 pics, but that will be for a later time. I just wanted to give something to you wonderful fellow camera addicts 🙂
“Little Badass” 2016. Contax T2, Tri-X 400 developed in D76. I was just taking some test shots when this cute little “badass” stopped me in my tracks 🙂
It’s been said that the T2 was beloved by famous fashion photographers like Terry Richardson and Juergen Teller, but I haven’t seen any pictures of these guys holding one. I know Terry used a Yashica T4 and have seen pics of Juergen with a Contax G2.
“Double Trouble” 2016. Contax T2, Tri-X 400 developed in D76. In Manila, Philippines, I met these two beauties who I called “Double Trouble” 🙂 This was shot with direct flash in dark conditions and I was surprised it came out! This is my salute to Terry Richardson and Juergen Teller who made the “point and shoot with flash” shots hip and fashionable in the 1990s.
However, I think the main point was that cameras such as the T2 (if not the T2 itself) were made famous by photographers like Terry and Juergen who took that once dreaded “point and shoot with flash” shot and turned it into something hip, cool, and fashionable. Of course, if they can turn a point and shoot photograph into art, it doesn’t mean I or just anyone can! However, with enough savings we mere mortals can all own (or someday own) the T2 🙂
The Contax T2 is one of the most beloved 35mm point and shoot cameras of all time and certainly a Camera Legend. Is it the greatest? Well, I wouldn’t call it that, based on its AF performance, but I will say it could certainly be considered one of the greatest, if not THE greatest. However, if you’re a camera fanatic, you probably need to have one in your collection 🙂
“Number One” 2016. Contax T2, Tri-X 400 developed in D76. Not the greatest picture, perhaps one of my worse, but I decided to post it anyway to show that yes, you can use the T2 to take those lousy pictures point and shoot cameras used to be known for and besides that, Baby Zay thinks the T2 is “Numero Uno” 🙂
WHERE TO BUY?
If seeking one of these gems, I hate to tell you that prices seem to have gone up on these babies, even from just a couple of years ago. Prices are trending at $500 and up for the camera in EX and EX+ condition on eBay.
The silver T2 is the most common and therefore quite often the cheapest ones you’ll find. There’s also black, titanium gray, gold, black, and something called “platin” (most beautiful to me). All these are much more rare than the silver models.
The good news is that the T2 is almost always available on eBay. While the T3 will probably always be thought of as the ultimate Contax point and shoot, it also cost more and is harder to find, which probably adds to its appeal and iconic status.
The great thing is that the T2 is cheaper and to me, no less iconic. However, if buying one proceed with caution as these cameras are aging and no one is repairing them as far as I know. That doesn’t mean a good repair shop wouldn’t attempt to fix it, but the parts are no longer available so most shops would probably not try to repair it.
On the other hand, while I’ve been critical on Contax electronics in the past, the T2 is probably one of their more reliable and durable models. Just be sure you buy from a place where you can return it if a problem arises. For a safe purchase try here Contax T2 Silver 35mm Camera.
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So another 4th of July has come and gone and indeed the year is more than half done. Is there any way to slow down time short of getting on a spacecraft and cruising at the speed of light? 🙂
I still remember as a kid watching on television America’s “Bicentennial” in 1976. That was a big deal the Bicentennial. Anyone remember that? Gerald Ford was the President of the United States (thanks to reader Kevin Thomas for pointing this out!). You’re telling me that was forty years ago?! Hot damn man!
Anyway, here’s one in the spirit of the 4th of July. I shot this twenty years ago in 1996, the last time I actually visited the Lady. If anything, I hear she looks better than ever!
Any New Yorker knows that you visit the Lady once or twice and then you’re content to see her from afar, i.e., from a bridge, from a boat, etc. Only tourists actually want to go there and brave the long lines 🙂
The gear I was using at that time was the Canon EOS A2E which was a semi-pro/enthusiasts camera, much like the 7D is today. It had a unique feature called “eye control” focusing which is what the “E” in A2E stood for. The camera also had a twin without the eye control feature called the A2 and was also known internationally as the EOS-5.
The camera used technology that followed your eye movements to predict focus. It didn’t work really well for me, but I heard that it was fine for others. I did try it on the EOS-3 later on and it worked much better on that body. Overall though, being somewhat of a traditionalist, I just thought it was a fun gimmick and went back to focusing the “normal” way. Choose focus point, compose, shoot 🙂
The camera was actually quite great to use. Good build quality, speedy and accurate AF. It had one fatal flaw however. That flaw was that the mode dial was prone to breaking rendering it useless. The good news is that it did take a lot of usage for that to happen. Mine happened after about five years of ownership with moderate use.
Canon did repair them at one point, but the cameras are so cheap now it’s just better to grab another one if you really want to try it.
The lens used was an el cheapo EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 which was a decent, if not great lens. And the film I believe was Kodak Gold as it was my film of choice back in those days.
Ah those were the great days when I got by on one camera and two lenses, far from the gear lust monster I have become today. I always tell anyone starting out, if they have a decent setup like a DSLR or a mirrorless camera, to just stick to what they have and work with it. Of course, they don’t listen and I can’t blame them I guess 🙂
Oh yes my friends, Summer is now officially here! If it sound a little late, it’s because I actually started this draft on June 20th! Almost a week late and seven dollars short 🙂
Anyway, this is the time all kids look forward to. Do you remember your summers as a kid? Parents, while they may not happy having the rowdy kids home full time, they too will enjoy the summertime as an excuse to bring their kids somewhere that they too may have wanted to go to.
I used to love summers as a kid, but now as an adult I much prefer the spring time. I don’t really enjoy hot weather and from a photographic perspective, I also think the spring is prettier.
Anyway, this is a shot from 2010 taken with a Bronica RF645, 65mm f/4 Zenzanon lens on Kodak T-Max 400 film and developed in T-Max developer. The Bronica Rangefinder or RF (as most people call it) was one of those cameras that I did not expect to like, but ended up loving.
Why did I not expect to like it? As some of you may know, I love fast lenses. The fastest lenses for the RF start at f/4. Of course, you can still get shallow DOF and that medium format look, but f/4 is still f/4 as fas as light transmission goes and I’m always shooting in less than ideal light conditions.
On this shot however, it was in the late afternoon sun and it was good enough for the Zenzanon lens to do its thing.
Also there aren’t many lenses for this system. You’re limited to about three lenses, I think. Having used a Fuji GA645 before, I also was not fond of the default “portrait” orientation on these cameras even though I do a lot of portraits. I’ve gotten used to tilting the camera vertically when I want to do a portrait.
The Bronco RF645 was made during the period when Tamron owned the company so I’ve always wondered if Tamron made the lenses since they are also a well renowned lens manufacturer. Tamron has always made great lenses, most of which were sharp with a modern look. I was concerned that if Tamron made these lenses, they would be sharp but perhaps lack character.
The only reason I got this camera was because I got a very good deal as part of a trade with a photo forum member. I also remember being impressed with some portraits from this camera from some talented shooters on Flickr. I wouldn’t have bought this camera as an outright purchase, but buying and selling works if you want to try other stuff!
I ended up loving the camera and Zenzanon lens because they gave me that “look” that few cameras deliver consistently. The camera and lens, especially when shot on Kodak T-Max 400 always delivered for me.
To me, the shot above has a good balance of sharp focus and just the right amount of bokeh to show the environment. In this case, you can see the hotels on the left side of the picture, in the bokeh zone. If you look hard enough, you may also just barely make out the famous Wildwoods roller coaster in the far distance to the right of the baby. See how the Zenzanon lens’ focus “melts” from the foreground to the background without getting too “nervous” like some lenses can get. This was shot on Wildwoods Beach on the Jersey Shore.
While I love super shallow bokeh, it is somewhat overplayed in my opinion. The Bronica RF645 and 65mm f/4 Zenzanon is great for environmental portraits which show your surroundings while still giving a very nice and smooth transition from sharp to soft.
This is one combo that I regret letting go! Well, there are quite a few I regret, but I will say again that this combo gave me very consistent results that I loved. Consistent is the key word here! I have a large print of this image on my wall an it looks just as it does here, maybe even better as details are more apparent.
If funds permit and I can find the right one, I may give it another go in the future. I also plan to do a more in depth review of this camera so keep an eye out if you’re interested in the Bronica RF645.
Thanks for looking and enjoy your Summer weekend everybody!
The Minolta AF-C is a compact, autofocus point and shoot 35mm film camera introduced by Minolta in 1983.
The AF-C comes from the late 70s/early 80s era of small, boxy compact cameras such as the Nikon L35AF or Pentax PC35AF, and just like those cameras, it features a fixed 35mm f/2.8 lens.
The camera most closely resembles the Lomo LC-A or Cosina CX-2 and like those cameras, the camera is turned on when you open the sliding cover which protects the lens. Unlike the Lomo or Cosina which rely on scale focusing, the AF-C is an autofocus camera.
THE AF-C CAMERA
As a camera, the Minolta AF-C is completely automatic. It is a point and shoot camera where to take pictures you simply point and shoot 🙂
As I’ve said in previous articles, today’s advanced point and shoot digital cameras can do almost everything. From 4k video to in-camera editing to wifi sharing. Many of these cameras have astonishing lenses, such as the Leica Q, and price tags to match. However, it seems to me that they’ve lost the soul of what it means (or meant) to be a point and shoot camera.
And what is that you might ask? Well, for me, a point and shoot camera has to be simple. It has to be humble; all you need is a good, decently sharp lens, not a lab chart killer with an astronomical price tag. And lastly, it has to be cheap. By having a good/great little lens and not a lens with some “premier” name on it, they can do that.
And they did all this with the Minolta AF-C. It meets all the criteria I stated: Simple, humble, good/great lens, cheap. The lens on the AF-C is a 35mm f/2.8 Minolta lens and it is a very good, even excellent one. There is no “Rokkor” or “Rokkor G” designation on the lens, so it has no pretenses of being anything more than it is 🙂
The lens is a 6 elements/6 group design and has an aperture range of f/2.8 to f/17 and again, all automatically chosen by the camera.
Don’t let any “premium” designation fool you. It’s not that hard for any decent camera/lens manufacturer to make a great 35mm f/2.8 lens so it’s not necessary that it be expensive. I’ve used the Nikon 35ti and it’s a better looking camera, but I do not think the Minolta lens on the AF-C gives up anything to the 35ti.
The Minolta AF-C relies on active infrared autofocus. There is no way to manual focus this camera, so tinkerers and gadgeteers get that out of your mind.
If you want some control of the camera, it will let you wind/rewind it using a thumbwheel on the rear of the camera. The camera has no autowind/rewind function. Additionally, you can adjust the ISO in 1/3 values.
The Minolta AF-C runs on four SR44 or LR44 button batteries or two CR1/3N batteries. I used the cheaper 675 hearing aid batteries bought at CVS and they worked fine, no exposure problems.
The Minolta AF-C is small and compact, perhaps not as small as many of today’s digital point and shoot cameras, but still pocketable as long as you don’t have the accessory flash attached.
“Princess Of Messy” 2016. Minolta AF-C, Ilford Delta 400, D76 developer. This is a crop from a larger picture. The AF-C displays good sharpness despite the film grain.
The AF-C has two leds in the viewfinder. The green light, which indicates correct focus and the red light, which is a low light warning.
When shooting with the AF-C, the autofocus is so quiet, I wasn’t sure the camera was working properly, whether it was actually focusing at all. But knowledge is power and I have read before acquiring one that this is exactly how the camera focuses and you simply have to learn to trust it.
“Redrum” 2016. Minolta AF-C, Ilford Delta 400, D76 developer. Check out the nice contrast and range of b&w tones. It seems no one is safe from harm in NYC! Ouch, love hurts! 🙂
When I developed my first roll, any fears I had were laid to rest. Indeed, the majority of the time, the camera achieved correct focus. The shots that had blurriness were due to movement and the camera correctly choosing slow shutter speeds in low light (something I have a habit of doing to challenge my cameras and myself).
Even better was that nearly every shot on the roll was correctly exposed. Not surprising for me as I’ve always known Minoltas to provide excellent metering.
“That Funky Building” 2016. Minolta AF-C, Alford Delta 400, D76 developer. This is the IAC (InterActive Corp building) as seen from NYC’s West Side Highway. This has always been an intrigueing eye sore for me whenever I see it.
The Minolta AF-C is a brilliant example of beauty and simplicity that represents the best of the early 1980s era of compact autofocus cameras.
“The Evil Camera Boy” 2016. Minolta AF-C, Ilford Delta 400, D76 developer. He’s evil and he loves cameras. The Evil Camera Boy is back! 🙂
It delivers excellent results most of the time under the right conditions. I guess you could see the slick caveat right there “under the right conditions.” What does that mean? That means if you use the camera as it was intended, the right amount of light, the right film, flash if necessary, then the camera will generally deliver excellent results. If you try to challenge it too much, i.e., low light, slow film, you might get less than excellent results 🙂
I read somewhere that it was thought of as the ultimate film street camera by some European magazine and I can’t disagree. While some will of course refer to the Ricoh GR-1 (which I love and have reviewed here) as the “Ultimate” I have to say the AF-C betters it in some ways. The AF is much quieter and the manual winding and rewind makes it even quieter still, both of which are benefits for unobtrusive shooting.
The Minolta AF-C takes you back to a time when “point and shoot” cameras were point and shoot cameras. Give it a little love and faith and this little camera will produce. Today, the AF-C enjoys a cult following among camera lovers, but is largely forgotten by the masses as are many of its peers. But should you come across one, get it because you will have in your hands a point and shoot Camera Legend that will deliver the goods without a lot of fuss or headaches.
WHERE TO BUY?
If seeking one of these, prices are trending at $20 to $100, with $100 being a bit on the high end. The most abundant place for the Minolta AF-C is obviously eBay.
However, you may also find them in flea markets, garage sales, and Craigslist. If you’re lucky, you may even find one for $5 or maybe free 🙂
***NEW CAMERA ALERT***
The hot new 24mp APS-C AA-less Pentax K-70 is now available for pre-order.
Pentax appears to be really upping the ante with their hot pro K-1 and now the K-70. We will keep an eye on this new Pentax, but just from the specs it appears to be an awesome new camera!
“Cat’s Meow” 2016. The Polaroid 180 Land Camera with Portrait Lens kit attached, is an instant film Camera Legend and to me, the Cat’s Meow! 🙂
I was debating to myself whether this camera belongs in the “Tuesday Titans” series. Half of my mind says no, but the other half says, well, this IS a rather big and awkward camera to use, once unfolded out of its protective shell. However, it is not heavy, where most of the Titans reviewed before are. Ah well, what’s done is done I guess.
I’ve wanted one of these for a long time. I’ve played with them, seen prints from them, but never owned one till recently.
I got one through a trade deal which involved me getting rid of some digital gear and a lens. Now it would seem perplexing, maybe even dumb to get rid of digital gear which I could use for a long time for an instant film camera whose main “food” is the recently discontinued Fuji FP-100C, which was the last remaining production instant packfilm made.
But most of you who follow this blog already know I have a habit of doing things that you, nor I, would ever expect. Not that this is something to brag about, it’s just the way I do things.
THE POLAROID 180 LAND CAMERA BODY
The Polaroid 180 is much like other Land Cameras that came before it. It’s a simple but delicate mix. The bellows is probably the most delicate part of these cameras.
I used a Polaroid 360 that was given to me by a friend in college many years back, but I never really liked it. The fiddly operation, the slow f/8.8 lens was disadventageous to me as someone used to 35mm, medium format, and digital cameras.
Plus I have to admit, I was never a huge fan of the Polaroid lo-fi look. I think it only works well for certain subjects, and for a select group of artists of which I am not one of them.
I started enjoying instant cameras more in the late 2000’s when I got myself reacquainted with the medium through the Polaroid 600SE which is probably one of, if not the most desirable packfilm cameras. I really enjoyed the prints I got with this camera and Fuji FP-3000B, also now discontinued.
The Polaroid 180 is also very high on the list of desirable Polaroid cameras. The camera body is genuine Polaroid unlike the 600SE which is really a Mamiya Universal clone, but with an incompatible lens mount to the 600SE.
The 114 f/4.5 Tominon lens on the 180 however was made by Tomoika of Japan. It is roughly the equivalent of a 35mm lens on full frame camera. At f/4.5 the lens is one of the fastest available for instant packfilm cameras. Only the f/3.8 Tominon on the Polaroid 190 and 195 is faster. Needless to say these lenses are still no f/1.2 speed demons, but in the Polaroid world of f/8 and up, yes these lenses are “fast.”
While many see the 195 as the highest model, I prefer the 180 due to its integrated rangefinder and Zeiss finder. The 195 has separate viewfinder and rangefinder windows, much like the old Leica screw mount cameras, which to me makes it more inconvenient, certainly less speedy to use although I’ve heard some people say they prefer the 195’s arrangement because framing may be more accurate.
The 190 is probably the ultimate because it combines the 180’s finder with the 195’s faster lens.
All these cameras are fully manual and do not need a battery conversion, which a camera like the heretofore mentioned 360 Land Camera does.
The 180 offers aperture settings from wide open at f/4.5 to f/90, shutter speeds from 1 second to 1/500 plus bulb. There is a lever near the lens for M (bulb), X (flash), and V (self-timer).
IN USE AND ISSUES
As mentioned earlier, the 180, while well built has a bit of a delicate feel, but this is due to the nature of the beast, as with many folding cameras. To open the camera, you need to pull out and extend the top “arm” until it makes a noticeable click. You need to be careful not to poke or damage the bellows in any way or you will have light leaks.
The Polaroid 180 uses rangefinder focus and many of you are probably familiar with this, but for those who are not, you simply move the sliding focus bars on the camera until the image in the center is aligned to achieve focus. You cannot focus by physically moving the lens on this camera.
Especially if buying from eBay, you should right away upon receiving the camera, check the overall structure of the camera to ensure that there is no physical damage. Next check the rangefinder and see if it’s aligned. It should give you a good idea, although the real test is with some film in the camera. Check the aperture and shutter speeds, make sure they’re working properly. And check that bellows for any pits, holes, or wrinkles.
It’s a simple camera to use, although somewhat awkward at first if you’re not familiar with the Land Cameras.
As I completely forgot about the way these cameras worked, I lost a couple of shots due to film jamming in the camera back. That seems to be the main issue with this camera. If you run into this issue, this remedy works nearly all the time…
After you take a shot and pull the film tab, if there is a lot of tension, do not force it or you will most likely break the tab and lose the first and/or second shot. Instead, if you pull hard and it does not seem to be moving, open the bottom of the camera very slightly, then pull again until you feel it move. Once you do feel that movement, close the back again and pull until the film comes out. You need to close the back because the film has to come out through the rollers to “distribute” the chemicals that will develop the film.
Do not be afraid that you will ruin the film by opening the back slightly. If you do it right, there won’t be any issues. Admittedly, this requires some practice so be ready to lose a few shots. I know it’s not easy as packfilm is now so expensive! For extra safety measures, you can try to do this in the dark or subdued light if you’re really worried, but I’ve done it in daylight with no light leaks or film fogging.
The problem with film jamming apparently has to do with the metal clips inside the film back putting so much tension on the plastic that Fuji’s packfilms are encased in. Some have had success by pushing the clips in and in some cases, completely removing the clips. I really didn’t want to butcher the camera.
Also, when pulling out the film, I prefer to collapse the bellows back into the camera before proceeding as it keeps the bellows safe during a potentially “violent” experience of pulling out that film 🙂
A good practice is to clean the rollers with a napkin before loading each pack of film. No need for super wet cloth, just a dry or slightly damped napkin will do. This should keep film coming out smoothly.
When folded, the camera is very compact for a camera of this size, and it’s not a heavy camera the way the 600SE is.
I’ve been shooting the 180 with expired FP-3000B. I have yet to put FP-100C in it. I find the lens quality of the Tominon to wonderful for what I want, probably very good to excellent if you want a more magazine friendly description.
“Baby Is Here” 2016. Polaroid 180 Land Camera, 114mm f/4.5 Tominon wide open. I did add contrast to this image, perhaps too much. The original image is of much lower contrast, but this is just to give you an idea of how you can adjust contrast to your tastes.
The lens has a good soft/sharp quality wide open and becomes very sharp as you stop down, as with most lenses.
The Tominon seems to have lower contrast than many of you may want, especially when compared to modern lenses, but this actually works very well for black and white images. Plus you can always add more contrast during your post processing workflow if you’re planning on posting your images online or just like a higher contrast look.
The results on FP-3000B have that classic look that I’m a big fan of. Again, this may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I fell in love with photography by seeing black and white prints from my parents photo albums back in the 70s and 80s and a camera like the Polaroid 180 is capable of giving me that look straight from the camera.
Why did I get rid of digital gear for the Polaroid 180 which could be a camera living on borrowed time? Because I have other digital gear which makes it redundant.
Plus, I have hope that even if packfilm goes extinct, these cameras are too good not to have someone come up with something to keep them running.
As many of you know, Impossible film’s co-founder Mr. Florian Kaps (who is no longer with the company) recently met with Fujifilm’s representatives in Japan trying to save Fuji FP-100C. While I don’t believe there is a definitive answer yet, I’m not really holding out for Fuji. I thinking of new companies and new films for the future.
The Polaroid 180 Land Camera is an instant film Camera Legend and as I said, this camera is too good to let die.
Just like the innovative Cubans who drive around in classic American cars of the 50s and 60s, I do believe someone will come along with a solution to keep these cameras running. Whether it’s new packfilm or modifying them for convenient use with Instax film, I believe it may take some time, but it’s going to happen. Fingers crossed, of course! 🙂
WHERE TO BUY
If seeking one of these prices are trending on eBay at $200-600, with $600 being on the high end, and $300 being average. On the low end of the price spectrum, it seems to be for body only. On the high end, it seems to be the complete kit with the add on portrait and close-up lenses, plus case and extras. I’m talking about a genuine Polaroid 180 Land Camera, not one of the many modified “tribute” clones you see on eBay.
The most abundant place for these cameras is eBay. You may also find them from time to time HERE.
The gear I traded for this camera comes down to under $300, and for that price I got the whole shebang, portrait/close-up lenses, case, so I’m very happy with this trade. I could easily make this money back if and when I sell it.
But make no mistake, this is not an easy camera to sell as it serves a niche, but very dedicated market. I know of camera dealers who slashed prices on these cameras the week that Fuji discontinued FP-100C film. On anonymous dealer told me: “It’s very hard to sell a camera that they don’t make film for.”
So unless you’re foolish and a hopeless romantic like me, this is actually a very good time to SELL your Polaroid 180. Even as I hold out for hope, there is still the very real possibility that there will be no film left for these cameras in the not so distant future.
If that happens, well, I got my stock of packfilm and I will use it with reserve until it finishes. That means no test shots of brick walls, no focus test on trees or nearby buildings. I will most likely use the camera for portraits of my kids because they are my most precious gifts in life and I would like them to someday look back on these prints and know their images were made on something classic and historic and hopefully relive the magic of instant photography. And if you’ve got one of these babies, don’t forget to stock up on that film before it’s all gone!
The Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic is an instant film camera introduced by Fujifilm in 2013. The Mini 90 Neo Classic uses Fuji’s Instax Mini film.
I first saw the Mini 90 or Neo Classic (whichever short name you want to use) at its introduction at the PhotoPlus Expo in the fall of 2013. After seeing it in the flesh and speaking with the nice Fuji representative, I knew I had to have one! What I didn’t think of was why? But we’ll get to that later on.
I got one as soon as they were released in 2013 and at Urban Outfitters of all places.
THE INSTAX MINI 90 CAMERA BODY
Upon first glance, you can see why Fuji named this camera “Neo Classic.” It really looks like an instant classic, literally and figuratively! It looks beautiful.
Upon first touch, your feelings may change a bit. Now here’s a camera that I would say looks better than it feels. It feels lighter and I don’t know how to say this nicely, but it feels “cheaper” than it looks. Maybe it’s better to say, it looks like a metal camera of yore, but feels like a plastic camera. It doesn’t feel like a cheap camera, but as I said, cheaper than it looks.
The Mini 90 has a very smooth power on. With the flick of the little switch, the lens protrudes very smoothly and quietly. I just love the way it works. The only negative might be that it’s very easy to hit the switch accidentally so be mindful of this if you have the camera in your bag of goodies.
Like most instant cameras, the Mini 90 has a slow 60mm f/12.7 lens making it hard to not use flash indoors or get any kind of bokeh unless you get really close. Fortunately, the camera has a built in macro mode which lets you get as close as around 11 inches from the subject.
The Mini 90 is probably the most full-featured of the current Instax camera line. In addition to the built in macro mode, it offers a stronger flash, the ability to turn off the flash (not available in some other Instax models), double exposure, bulb, brightness adjustment, kids mode (for moving subjects), party mode (brightens the background), and landscape mode.
For the most part, this is an automatic camera. You cannot control the aperture or shutter speed, except for bulb. Keep that in mind and feel good knowing that the camera generally produces good results without your help 🙂
The image quality coming out of the Mini 90 and Fuji’s Instax Mini film is generally excellent. But here’s the pun…it is excellent for what it is.
“Cheeri-O” 2016. Fuji Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic. Macro mode used to get in closer for a more effective portrait. Baby Zay believes in the power of a good breakfast. She starts her day off with a healthy dose of Cheerios and works her way up from there 🙂
Remember when I wondered WHY I got one? Well, my main issue is with Instax Mini film in general. The 2.13″ x 3.4″ credit card sized prints are just a little too small for me to really enjoy.
“Vanilla Fudge” 2016. If you’re a fan of that old vintage look, you can do it with the Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic. This was taken recently, but it looks almost like a print from the 70s!
That said, I think that’s kind of the whole point of it. It’s supposed to be small and fun, not some kind of “artistic” tool that we photographers always think we need. But sure, you can definitely put your artistic twist to the pics as with any camera. Me, I just use it as a point and shoot instant film camera for family fun snapshots. It is superb for that purpose.
“Beauty & The Beast” Part II, 2013. One of my first shots from the Mini 90 Neo Classic. It wasn’t going to win me any awards, but I knew it was going to be a fun camera 🙂
All Instax Mini film at this time is ISO 800. There is also an Instax Wide format film which at 3.4″ x 4.25″ is more to my liking and closer to the size of packfilm. Unfortunately, Fuji does not make a camera currently in this format that is as sophisticated, spec wise, as the Mini 90 Neo Classic.
I find the Instax film to be very consistent, maybe clinical at times, but very consistent in color and stability. I cannot say the same for the Impossible film that I have used.
In the age of digital, analog photographers should be very happy with the success of the Instax Mini line of cameras. They are so popular that you can find them almost anywhere, from Target to Toys ‘R Us. I read somewhere that Fujifilm’s latest financial release apparently shows Instax sales growing, while digital sales have stalled or are declining. Don’t quote me on this, but do some research if you’re interested.
The funny thing is, while so many photographers (myself included) were raging over the discontinuation of Fuji’s FP-100C instant packfilm, there’s a general consensus that the Instax line is not as well loved by seasoned photographers.
Why? Well, camera selection is one thing to be sure. As I said, there aren’t many models, if any at all, designed for the photo enthusiast.
The second reason, and this is my own personal take, is that people just love retro and hard to find stuff man! The Instax cameras are not rare and they are widely available. People may cross it off their list for that reason alone.
As I said, people just love retro. In fact, it’s probably the Mini 90’s retro looks that caught my attention in the first place.
But yeah, people. You give them a high quality audio CD and they will find that the scratchy analog records sound better. You give them a modern car with all the amenities and they will say, “They don’t build ’em like they used to.” You give them 42 megs and the ease of digital, and they’ll want to shoot an old film camera and deal with the hassles of development and scanning dusty, scratchy negatives.
Sure, I’m being a little sarcastic, but not really because I am also one of those “nostalgic” folks 🙂
Anyway, again, I think all analog photography lovers should really be glad that Fuji is still even making instant cameras and instant film.
If you can live with the small sized prints, the Mini 90 Neo Classic is truly a wonderful instant camera that is full featured and fun to use. I do believe it will be a classic, and who knows, maybe one day a Camera Legend.
WHERE TO BUY
The great thing about Fuji’s Instax Mini cameras is that they are very easy on the wallet. Even the Mini 90 Neo Classic runs close to $150 new and around $90-100 used. For the small difference, I’d say just save your pennies and buy new unless you can get one for $50.
For a good selection, you may try HERE and HERE. Thanks for supporting CameraLegend.com!
For you Canonites, we have a really nice deal on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III bundle from our friends at ADORAMA. Here’s what you get:
Canon Speedlite 430EX II Flash, USA,
Canon EOS 5D Mark III DSLR Camera Body with EF 24-105mm f/4 Lens
Canon PIXMA PRO-100 Professional Photo Inkjet Printer
Canon SG-201 Photo Paper Plus Semi-Gloss, 13×19″, 50 Sheets
Lowepro Nova Sport 17L AW Shoulder Bag, Slate Gray
Sandisk Extreme 32GB microSDHC Class 10 UHS-I Memory Card -BULK IN JEWEL CASE
Damn, that looks like a killer package! If you were wanting to get into the professional photography business, ie, portraits, weddings, etc, or you just want the complete package and you have the cash to spend, this is it!
The almighty Contax 645 and 80mm f/2 Carl Zeiss lens. I took this shot when I had to sell this dream combo. Perhaps one of the greatest camera systems ever made?
Wow, what can I say about this one?
The Contax 645 is a Medium Format autofocus film camera introduced by Kyocera in 1999. It was part of their 645 system, an ambitious foray in the (then) professional portrait and wedding world where medium format was king.
I got the Contax 645 in 2008 and had the pleasure of using it for a few years, but eventually had to sell it. I’d always say that I would only sell this camera if I had to pay the rent. Guess what? I had to pay the rent 🙂
I had actually gotten the camera initially because I had done a couple of weddings, was thinking of going down the weekend weddings path, and was thinking of adding something different and unique to my wedding portraits. Looking back now, it was just another excuse for G.A.S. but man, if you have to have an excuse for another camera, the Contax 645 is IT!!
I apologize for not having more photos of the camera. When I sold it years back, I never thought I’d be writing about it one day on a blog 🙂
This is by no means a complete review of the Contax 645, just my memory and experience with it. I do have photos made with this camera and will be updating this article, once I can rescan and put them together. I couldn’t write enough to do the camera justice.
THE CONTAX 645 BODY
The Contax 645 is a modular system with removable backs, prisms, and lenses. You can even add a nice (but expensive) accessory battery holder/vertical grip (the MP-1).
The body when fitted with AE prism and film back feels very solid and is as beautiful to look at, as it is to shoot. The viewfinder is beautifully bright and contrasty. I believe there was actually a waist-level finder for this camera.
From the shooter’s perspective, the top right of the camera contains the shutter speed (32-1/4000 in AV mode) and exposure compensation dials. The mode (B/X/M/TV/AV) dial and AE lock is also located on the top right.
The left side does not have a top “plate” so to speak, but it contains the dial for drive (single or continuous at 1.6 fps). The camera runs on one 2CR5 battery, but can run on four AA batteries with the optional MP-1 grip.
The Contax 645 is still popular with wedding and portrait photographers today due to its ability to use compatible digital backs and if you’ve got this setup, this would be the ultimate digital portrait system in my view.
Ergonomically, I had no complaints. It’s a Contax and all the controls are well laid out. It’s one of those cameras I could use without a manual and that to me is always a sign of a good camera.
The Contax 645 is an autofocus camera and unlike the Contax AX 35mm camera I wrote about, the AF on the 645 is quite good and definitely usable.
While there were quite a few lenses for the 645 system, I only used the 80mm f/2 Zeiss Planar so I speak only to my experience with the camera and this lens. I do not know how it performed with any other Contax lenses.
It was not an EOS or Nikon speed demon, but I did not remember having issues with it, except in very low light conditions. I think you’d be fine with this for those wonderful outdoor wedding portraits.
The 80mm f/2 Zeiss Planar is one of the fastest lenses available in the 645 format. I believe only the manual focus Mamiya 80mm f/1.9 was faster.
The lens, as expected, made for wonderful portraits. The lens was beautiful wide open for portraits with bokeh that seemed much smoother than other Zeiss lenses I have used. Perhaps it was the extra shallow DOF that you can get with medium format, but the bokeh on this lens was not quite as “nervous” as the Zeiss lenses I have used in the 35mm format.
If you’ve ever read any of my articles on Contax, you will know that while I love Contax cameras, I’ve always blasted their electronics as brittle and unreliable.
I’m happy to report that in the three or four years that I had the Contax 645, I never had that problem. Oh, there was one time when the camera started focusing erratically, but it turned out that it just needed a new battery.
It seemed to me that Kyocera put everything they could into making the Contax 645 the best camera that they could make.
The Contax 645 is a highly desirable camera. With its usable AF system, and an arsenal of superlative Carl Zeiss lenses, it is an incredibly capable image maker. To this day, it is considered one of the premier systems in all of medium format photography. It is a camera that can take film or modern digital backs making it versatile enough for the old school film die-hard or the modern digital artist.
The Contax 645 is without a doubt a Camera Legend and perhaps one of the greatest cameras ever made.
WHERE TO BUY?
If you’re thinking about a Contax 645, I have to burst your bubble a little bit and say that with Kyocera out of the camera business, buying a Contax 645 is a bit of a risky gamble.
The reason for this is that if something goes wrong with the camera, Kyocera’s contact in the USA, Tocad, will no longer repair them. I’m not sure who does.
The good (or somewhat good) news is that there are not many reports of these cameras needing repair, just do a search. However, as these cameras approach twenty years on the market, they are getting older and as with any camera, there’s bound to be many ready for retirement or in need of repair.
I would imagine that since the camera is incredibly popular with pros, there should be someone or some place out there repairing these cameras. But in my research, I haven’t found any. I believe they still repair them in Japan, but I will have to do more research.
When I got the Contax 645 in 2008, I paid $1200 for the whole outfit with 80mm f/2 lens, film back, and AE prism. A complete outfit in the same excellent condition today runs for $3000 or more. I’m glad I sold it when I did and made a little profit from the sale 🙂
A Mamiya 645 AF or AFD system is probably a better alternative if you are looking for a similar medium format system that will still be supported.
Now, if you still have your heart set on the Contax 645 Kit (body, 80mm lens, AE prism, back) is trending at $3000-3500. I have seen the kit on eBay with the 45mm f/2.8 Zeiss lens going for around $2300.
For this camera, with its delicate electronics, I would definitely recommend buying from a place with a good returns policy. For that you may try HERE and HERE.