The Contax T2: The Greatest Point & Shoot Camera Of All Time?

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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 🙂

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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’ 🙂

PERFORMANCE

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.

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“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.

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“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.

BOTTOM LINE

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 🙂

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“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.

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“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 🙂

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“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.

Contax T2 For Sale

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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Photo of The Day: “The Lady Of The Harbor”

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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 🙂

Photo Of The Day: “The Beach”

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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

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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.

PERFORMANCE

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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

BOTTOM LINE

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.

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“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!

 

Tuesday Titans: The Polaroid 180 Land Camera

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“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.

IMAGE QUALITY

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.

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“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.

BOTTOM LINE

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 Fuji Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic

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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 🙂

IMAGE QUALITY

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.

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“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.

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“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.

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“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.

BOTTOM LINE

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!

***DEAL ALERT***

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:

Bundle includes:

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!

Tuesday Titans: The Contax 645

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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.

PERFORMANCE

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.

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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.


BOTTOM LINE

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.

INSTAX cameras on Sale

GoPro HERO on Sale

 

 

 

 

Tuesday Titans: The Contax AX Film Camera

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The Contax AX. A camera that could “autofocus” manual focus lenses. Totally unique, but it didn’t always work well. Note the tripod attachment on the very bottom is not an original part of the camera.

Today, I present to you good readers a double whammy:

“Tuesday Titans” and “The Best Camera I Never Knew” and the recipient of this honor is the legendary Contax AX 🙂

THE CONTAX AX

The Contax AX is a 35mm single lens reflex film camera introduced by Kyocera in 1996. At the time of its introduction, the AX made camera headlines due to its unique ability to autofocus manual focus lenses.

Although probably more technical than this, in a nutshell, AF was achieved by moving the film plane, the distance from lens to film. The official company description of this was “Automatic Back Focusing.” This was a remarkable achievement and still something unmatched in the camera world today.

THE CONTAX AX BODY

The Contax AX is a big, bulky, OX of a camera! The extra bulk was needed to accommodate the mechanism that would drive the film plane to focus.

The camera feels well built, sturdy, and again, bulky. Like most Kyocera made Contax SLR cameras, it gives the feel and impression of quality.

Ergonomically, the AX is pure Contax. That is, controls are well placed with knobs and dials, things I really like on a camera.

On the left top plate you have a mode shifter for AV/TV/P/M/X/B and the shutter speed dial which runs from 4s to 1/4000. Also on the left is where you can change ISO values as well as play around with the cameras Custom Functions. I can’t remember these off hand, but I think the only one I used was the function to leave the film leader out.

On the top right plate of the camera you have the on/off switch, the film counter lcd, the exposure compensation dial, the focus switch which includes macro, manual focus, continuous, single af. Also on the right is a dial for drive, i.e., single shot, continuous, even double exposure.

Again, all these are on switches, knobs and dials that are well labeled which I really love on a camera.

WHY IT DIDN’T JIVE WITH ME?

I tried two of these. The problem? Well, the first one I got couldn’t autofocus to save my life! It would just rack back and forth. Then it would get close, but seemingly give up. I sent that one back. I eventually got another one and it did autofocus…when it felt like it 🙂

Actually, I’m being unfair. Maybe not. Anyway, it did autofocus, and when it did, I got some nice shots. However, the AF was very fidgety. On certain targets, it would be great, but in general, the AF was inconsistent. It would rack back and forth, sometimes never getting the focus, even on easy targets. Sometimes it would be so out of focus and give up. Pre-focusing the lens seemed to help, but again, it wasn’t consistent.

The autofocus was also somewhat slow, but that’s to be expected and I’m not blaming the camera for that. You have to remember this was a camera that was attempting to autofocus manual focus lenses.

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“Olympians” 2011. Contax AX, 50mm f/1.4 Zeiss Planar lens, Kodak Tri-X 400 developed in HC-110. When the AX managed to focus, it focused well, but it was inconsistent. Shooting in daylight seemed to help.

And speaking of manual focus, you can do that with the AX and if you use the camera that way, it’s a pleasure to use, but maybe not to carry around due to its bulk.

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“Fix My Hair” 2012. Contax AX, 50mm f/1.4 Zeiss Planar, Kodak T-Max 400 in HC-110. Aside from trying to capture the moment, I was actually testing the autofocus system on the AX. The problem is that, with the AX, I always seemed to have to be “testing” it 🙂


BOTTOM LINE

So why does this “Titan” of a camera get a “Best Camera I Never Knew” badge? Because autofocus was its selling point. It was an admirable attempt by Kyocera, and like I said, if and when it worked, it’s great. But most of the time, for me, it didn’t hit its mark.

Ultimately though, I just could not rely on the AF to get the shots I wanted and decided that the AX was better as a manual focus camera. And if I wanted a manual focus Contax, I much prefer the (also big, but more portable) RX or the smaller ST (my favorite Contax body).

The Contax AX was a titanic attempt by Kyocera to bring autofocus to their fine line of manual focus Carl Zeiss lenses by doing something no one else had ever done before. It was made at a time when AF had already become the standard for 35mm SLR cameras.

However, company was not ready to join the AF race and wanted to keep their loyal customers happy. They eventually came out with a true autofocus SLR cameras, in 2001 with the introduction of the Contax N1 and the NX in 2002. Unfortunately, the company folded in 2005.

Kyocera and their Contax/Yashica line were something unique in the camera world. They were innovative and sought to bring the philosophy of high quality cameras and lenses to the masses and market themselves as an alternative to a “luxury” camera market that was ruled by the German giant Leica.

Kyocera and their Contax brand were the Lexus/Acura/Infiniti of the camera world. Unfortunately, many of their cameras, such as the AX, while beautiful, did not deliver the expected performance nor were they as reliable as a Lexus or Acura, or in this case, Leica.

They do, however, hold a special place in my heart and in the hearts of millions of camera fanatics around the world. The Contax brand still has a huge and loyal following. The AX may not have lived up to my expectations, but as I said it was an admirable attempt by a Camera Legend. In some ways, it was ahead of its time with technology that wasn’t quite ready for prime time. If only it worked better than it looks 🙂

WHERE TO BUY?

Due to its unique technology, the Contax AX is still quite popular among camera collectors.  I think most people will seek one out based on curiosity, as I did, only to find its headlining autofocus abilities clunky in real world use.

If seeking one of these, and I’m not sure that’s a good idea, prices have been trending steady at $200-300 dollars. Mid to low two hundreds are a good price on the AX. I got my first malfunctioning one about five or six years ago at around $300. As mentioned, I sent it back for a refund. I got my second one, which was sold as a parts camera because the battery chamber lock was broken, for $80. I replaced the battery chamber lock with a lock from a tripod and was more than happy with my $80 AX 🙂

If seeking one make sure your seller has a good return policy because I’ve said many times that the electronics in Contax cameras DO NOT age well. For a safe purchase try HERE and HERE.

Tuesday Titans: The Leica R8 (R9)

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I might as well call this “Tuesday Night Titans” as a tribute to the old WWF (now WWE) rasslin’ show 🙂

The Leica R8 is a 35mm film SLR introduced by Leica in 1996. The R9 was introduced in 2002 and was the last film SLR made by Leica for their R series which was discontinued in 2009.

Although the R9 was marketed at the time as a new model, it is pretty much an upgraded R8. The bulk of this review is based on my extended use of the R8. R9 differences will be pointed out later on in this article.

While the R8 appears much like an autofocus camera, it is not. It’s an electronic camera that relies on batteries for everything, and it is pure manual focus.

THE LEICA R8 BODY

The Leica R8 (and R9) look radically different from any Leica single lens reflex before it. It is huge, it is massive, it is a TITAN!!

I remember reading about the R8 in one of those cool British photography magazines in the late 90s. I remember thinking it was huge and cool and even a little crazy. I never thought about getting one until I started picking up R lenses to use on my 5D in the mid 2000s.

After seeing how great these lenses were, I found a great deal on an R8 in 2008 and although I’ve sold off a whole load of stuff since then, I still hang on to the R8.

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“Lots Of Love” 2008. Leica R8, 90mm f/2 Summicron-R, Ilford XP2.

The camera feels great in the hand. Heavy, robust, and well put together. The controls are definitely in the Leica bloodline, spartan and uncluttered.

The Mode dial is on the top left. It has all your usual modes, manual, aperture priority, shutter priority, and a very unusual “F” flash metering mode. I could write about this, but it would take a whole half page and I’ve never used it. In a nutshell, the mode is used in conjunction with the camera’s pc socket and your flash which can be a dedicated flash unit or a number of studio strobes. You trigger the flash (or strobes) in “F” mode and it will help you determine flash exposure values which you can see on the back LCD without actually taking a shot, saving you from wasting film. At least that’s how I understand it.

On the top right of the camera is the shutter speed dial which runs from 16s to 1/8000th of a second. A good rule to remember when buying cameras is that any camera with 1/8000 means serious business even if 99 percent of the time we never use that shutter speed!

The 93 percent coverage viewfinder is bright and clear, but appears smaller and not as easy to focus as that on the older Leicaflex SL series. You probably would’ve expected 100 percent viewfinder coverage on a camera like this, and so did I.

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“Man In Black” 2015. Leica R8, 80mm f/1.4 Summilux-R, Tri-X 400 developed in Ilford ID-11 developer. My man Mr. Louis Mendes, NYC fixture, icon, and friend. I don’t know how many times I’ve photographed Lou over the years, but I never tire of it. Awesome guy, awesome photographer!

Funny thing, when I first got the R8 I felt as if I could never be sure if I had things in critical focus or not, having been spoiled by the SL viewfinder. I was a little obsessed about it to the point that I had even contacted several highly regarded Leica “people” including repair expert Don Goldberg (DAG) and famed Leica nature shooter Doug Herr. Both gentlemen were extremely helpful. However, in the end, I never did anything to the viewfinder.

My fears dissipated when roll after roll, 80-90 percent of the images were always in sharp focus, which is actually better than a lot of other manual focus bodies I have used.

“Baby Love” 2008. Leica R8, 90mm f/2 Summicron-R, Ilford XP2. Despite my fears, I was able to manually focus well enough on the R8 to get roll after roll of mostly sharp shots. The color cast is the result of a drug store scan, which I have not bothered to correct.

Don’t let me scare you though. What happened to me was that the images looked “in focus” in the R8 viewfinder, but it didn’t have a reassuring “snap” to it the way the SL did and that concerned me. I don’t know if the screen in my R8 is original stock, but it doesn’t have a split-image focusing screen in it, which always helps if you’re unsure.

But again, my fears were unwarranted so I no longer have issues focusing on the R8. Most of the time, if it looks in focus, it probably is.

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“Lonely Still” 2008. Leica R8, 90mm f/2 Summicron-R, Ilford XP2.

The shutter is well damped and smooth in its sound. Always a sign of a high quality camera.

ISSUES

In the first few years that the R8 was out on the market, there were numerous reports on reliability issues. Leica reportedly, at that time, fixed these issues free of charge.

All I can say is in the eight years I’ve had the camera, knock on wood, I never had a problem with it.

It is likely, but not certain, that if you buy one today and it’s in working condition, it’s probably fine.

If you’re worried about this, that’s one good reason to buy an R9 which apparently fixed everything. However, the R9 on the used market is a good $500 more than a used R8.

Here’s a good page on R8 ISSUES including suspected serial number ranges.

IS THE LEICA R8/R9 THE ULTIMATE LEICA CAMERA?

If Leica had not discontinued their R system bodies, lenses, and accessories, it is my opinion that the Leica R could stand out as the ultimate Leica film body, even when compared to their beloved rangefinders.

Whether you love it or hate it, it’s a standout body. There’s nothing in their film range of cameras that looks like it. I’ve compared a lot of these monstrous cameras to the Canon EOS-1, but I can’t even compare the R8 to that behemoth in its looks. It stands alone.

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“Past Imperfect” 2010. Leica R8, 80mm f/1.4 Summilux, Tri-X.

I know people who think this camera is butt ugly, and I can’t remember if I was one of them, but what I can tell you is that most people who love the R8 end up loving it after they have held and used one.

To me now, it feels and looks awesome and it produces great results, roll after roll.

THE UNIQUE LEICA DIGITAL MODULE R (DMR)

The Leica R8 and R9 have the distinction of being the only 35mm film camera that could be converted to a digital body by replacing the film back with a digital back that Leica made called the “Digital Module R” otherwise known as the “DMR.”

The DMR used a 10mp Kodak CCD sensor and was highly praised by those lucky enough to use it. I was not one of them. They were and are always pricey and scarce on the used market.

At the dawn of the digital era, around 1996 or so, there were dreams of turning film cameras into digital. You may have remembered reading about this. If you forgot the main company pushing this idea at the time, they were called “Silicon Film.” Do a Google search if you’re interested.

Anyway, although it held great promise, the “digital film” concept never materialized in production.

To this date, only the only 35mm cameras that could be turned into digital are the R8 and R9 bodies, again, assuming you can find, or really want to buy a 10mp digital back for over $2000 used.

LENS COMPATABILITY

To further complicate things, the Leica R8/R9 are recommended to be used only with Leica 3-Cam or ROM lenses. The 1-CAM or 2-CAM lenses can damage the ROM contacts on the R8/R9 bodies. You can get these lenses converted to 3-CAM or ROM by a specialist. As a disclaimer, me being foolhardy and cheap, I’ve used 2-CAM lenses on the R8 with no issues, but I don’t recommend it and don’t blame me if you try this and it ruins your camera 🙂

LEICA R9 DIFFERENCES

The R9 is 100g lighter than the R8. The R9 has a special edition “Anthracite” model, in addition to the black model. The R9 has an LCD frame counter on the top plate, the R8 has the frame counter on the back LCD.

There were also some changes in the electronics, mainly to better support Metz’s flash units. Reliability is supposedly better with the R9. Do a little research on this if this interests or concerns you.

Overall though, they are pretty much the same camera.

BOTTOM LINE

The Leica R8/R9 were the climatic highlight of the Leica R System, a system which was never as popular as Leica’s own M System and a system which is now dead.

The R lenses were, in most cases, every bit as good as their M counterparts, but the R bodies were not. The R8 and R9 were said to be the only electronic R bodies which had nothing to do with Leica’s partnership with Minolta. But sadly, it’s too little, too late for the R system.

Ironically, digital photography and the popularity of adapted lenses have resurrected the R system lenses from the dead, at least on the used market and prices are dramatically higher than they were only a few years ago. I’m so glad I got my R lenses when the tide was low.

The R8 and R9 are eye-catchers in terms of looks, but more importantly, they are superb shooters which can produce fantastic results. Although they now belong to a technically dead system, the Leica R8 and R9 represented the pinnacle of Leica’s foray into the 35mm single lens reflex arena and they are true Camera Legends which serves to remind us of Leica’s past and gave us a glimpse into Leica’s future.

NOTE FOR POTENTIAL BUYERS

While I love the R8 and the R System lenses, I would not recommend you start with an R8 or R9 if its your first foray into this system. I certainly would not recommend the DMR unless you have money to burn.

The reasons are many…

It’s a dead system. I’m not sure if Leica will still repair the R8/R9. I’m pretty sure they don’t repair the DMR any longer.

The ability to adapt the R lenses to many, many systems including many full-frame systems negate the purpose of the DMR, which remains pricey on the used market.

If wanting to get your feet wet in the Leica R System, spending as little as you can, the all manual Leicaflex SL is a much better choice. No batteries necessary, better viewfinder, and cheaper. Body should be $100 or less. A good lens to start with is the 50mm f/2 Summicron-R and for the SL, you could probably find a 1-CAM version for around $300 or under. That’s the cheapest way to get into the Leica R System.

WHERE TO BUY?

If you really have your heart set on an R8 or R9, I can’t blame you after all the stuff I just wrote about it 🙂

Prices are trending at $350-500 for the R8 and $650-1000 or more for the R9. And for delicate electronic cameras you really should buy from a place with a good return warranty.

For a safe purchase try HERE and HERE in the USED section.

Happy hunting and if you do get one, please be sure to drop me a note, would sure love to hear about it!

***DEAL ALERT***

For those of you into more modern stuff, there are some great savings on Panasonic Gear.

Also if you’re an Olympus user, take advantage of the current Olympus Lens Rebates. There’s no better time to buy lenses for your OM-D or Pen series cameras.

Photo Of The Day: “Lost”

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“I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see” -John Newton. I’m not particularly religious, but I do think Amazing Grace is an amazing song. Shot with a Zenza Bronica S2A, 75mm f/2.8 Nikkor-P, Fuji Neopan 400 developed in T-Max developer.