Photo Of The Day: “Cold Cold World” Part II Sony A7r & Contax 35mm f/2.8 Biogon

In anticipation or celebration of the complex snow storm that’s hitting the Northeast here’s a shot from my latest test lens. According to the weather report, it’s going to be much colder than this in the next couple days!

It’s the 35mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss Biogon. No it’s not one of the new modern day iterations. It’s the old lens made for the Contax rangefinder cameras.

The Sony A7r was one of my last major purchases when it came to modern day digital cameras. I bought it in 2014. I mainly use it to test out vintage lenses. It gives me an idea what I might expect when I use the lenses on film bodies.

As I said many times here, I’ve always found the 35mm f/2.8 a rather “boring” lens in the sense that a 35mm f/2 is much more interesting to me. There were so many generic 35mm f/2.8 lenses back in the film era that I’m convinced it’s not that hard for a decent optical manufacturer to build a good one and thus it shouldn’t be expensive.

That’s why, as I explained in my Contax T2 video, even the 38mm f/2.8 on the T2 is quite a general lens which was only made special due to the Zeiss design and T* coatings. However, for the old Contax rangefinder this is about as wide as I’m going to get without spending a fortune so it completes my set for the Contax RF, ie, 35mm/50mm/135mm 😊

There’s more to this lens and its history, including several different versions of the same lens and compatibility issues with some Contax bodies, of which I’ll get to in a future posting.

For now what I will say is that it’s a very good lens, surprisingly good on the A7r. A bit boring on digital which tells me it’ll be GREAT on the Contax film bodies I’m currently shooting it with!

Till next time, stay safe and have a great day!

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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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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.

The Best Camera I Never Knew Part III: The Contax Tix APS Film Camera

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The Contax TiX from 1997. Perhaps the most beautiful Contax point and shoot, but doomed by being born an APS film camera.

I have to admit I’m a big fan of Contax point and shoot film cameras from the 90s. There was just something special about the whole series.

While I stand by what I wrote in earlier articles about the fragility of Contax cameras and their brittle electronics, I loved the concept, the feel, and execution despite the feeling that I could never really rely on them completely.

THE CONTAX Tix

The Contax Tix (pronounced T…i…x as opposed to Tix, I think!) is a high quality point and shoot camera introduced by Kyocera in 1997.

The camera featured a Carl Zeiss 28mm f/2.8 Sonnar T* lens and used the infamous and now defunct APS (Advanced Photo System) film system. The camera was the smallest of the Contax film point and shoots.

The camera has autofocus, a shutter speed range of 15 seconds to 1/1000, and came with a data back for date imprint. It was powered by one 3V CR-2 battery.

WHY IT DIDN’T JIVE WITH ME?

The last two cameras I profiled (Rolleimatic and Rollei A110) didn’t jive with me because they didn’t work. That was NOT the case with the Contax Tix.

A little history…I got my first Contax point and shoot, the original Contax T, in 1997. That was a superb little manual focus rangefinder and I got some wonderful shots from that thing. Basically, after the Contax T, I was hooked on Contax for a while!

I got the Contax Tix some time in the mid 2000’s, mainly as a curiosity and to add to my collection. I did not expect to use it often because even at the time of the introduction of the APS film system in 1996, I was never really interested in that format. Even back then, I wondered why would anyone bother with this over 35mm?

The 35mm format already had its limitations vs medium and larger formats and I felt like APS was a step backwards.

The negatives were smaller and despite the stuff you were able to do with it, ie, the three image formats, 16:9, 3:2, and 3:1 aspect ratios, as well as the quasi-panoramic mode, I wasn’t into it. I just thought they were gimmicks, but even if they were useful to some, I would take the larger negative of the (already relatively small) 35mm standard over APS any day.

So back to the Contax Tix. Yes, the camera worked and worked well. I used it for two or three rolls of snapshots expecting good quality, but most of the shots from this camera looked excellent!

I’m sorry I have no pics to show you now because as mentioned in the last couple of postings, I am without my main working computer and using a 10′ Chromebook. I would still need to scan these prints.

My assessment of the 28mm f/2.8 Zeiss Sonnar on the Tix is this…The lens is excellent, as expected. It is very sharp. Not as bitingly sharp as the lens on the Contax T3, but still sharper than most point and shoots. But my favorite part is that the lens seemed to have more of a classic look, a soft/sharp kind of thing like the 38mm f/2.8 Sonnar on the original T or T2. So, in my opinion, the lens on the Tix was in between that of the T3 and T/T2. That’s almost perfection right there!

So the camera itself was never a problem. The fact that it used APS film was what didn’t jive with me and why I got rid of it.

If looking for one of these, prices have been trending steady for years at a low of $70 to around $150 with an average of around $90. The camera came in silver or black which is a bit more rare.

If I were to seek one out today, I don’t think it would take me too long to find one. And there are apparently places that will still develop APS film if you send the film out to them. But I’m already dealing with enough dead or outdated systems like Polaroids, 127mm, 110mm, etc that I wouldn’t bother with APS film right now.

BOTTOM LINE

The Contax Tix is a beautiful, jewel-like camera. I feel that this camera could’ve been THE best of all the Contax point and shoots, but unfortunately it was and will forever be hindered by the format it was born with, the APS film system, which is probably one of the biggest flops in film history.

Now before any APS film fans get mad at me, I want to say the concept, and indeed the quality of APS film was not bad. If I recall correctly, there were even some APS films that equaled or exceeded its 35mm equivalents in magazine tests.

In many ways APS was “pre-digital” film. It wasn’t designed for ultimate quality, but instead was made for easier development (with machines specifically designed to take APS film, of which one can guess the companies also hoped to make money selling) and promised smaller, lighter cameras. It foresaw almost all that we see in digital point and shoots today!

But APS wasn’t friendly for the home developer. I’m sure someone must have done it, but I haven’t met anyone who actually home developed APS film. You actually had to bring that film into the store as each film cartridge was locked and coded. The main problem for APS film was timing. It was introduced in 1996 right around the time the first wave of digital cameras were coming in.

In only a few short years it was killed by digital, but somehow managed to hang on till 2011 when Fuji and Kodak, the last two APS film manufacturers ceased production of this film forever.

Again, in many ways, APS had some key concepts that made its way into digital such as switchable aspect ratio, smaller cameras and lenses, and of course APS lives on in our memories by the APS-C sensors which is approximately the same size as APS film. This is the lasting legacy of the APS film system I guess.

The Contax Tix was one of those cameras that I loved as a camera. It had a wonderful lens and beautifully small proportions. The Tix is probably at the apex of APS point and shoot cameras. It is no doubt a camera that added to the Camera Legend of Contax/Yashica.

It is a camera which was only held back by the APS format that it was created for and a camera of which I was never able to realize its full potential. The Contax Tix is a superb camera that unfortunately became one of…the best cameras I never knew 🙂

Note: Still waiting for my Mac in repair, but the show must go on! While I have created a workflow with this Chromebook, I have noticed it is becoming painfully slow the more I use it. Thanks to all who continue to visit, I appreciate it, and I continue to write about cameras for you my friends.

A Look Back At The Sony DSC-F707 and F717

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The venerable Sony DSC-F707. A killer digital camera that was only limited by the technology of its time.

The DSC-F707 is a 5.24 megapixel camera released by Sony in 2001. The DSC-F717 is the upgraded version of the same camera released in 2002.

The bulk of this article is based on my experience with the F707, but indeed I have used the F717 and their similarities are close enough, not only in looks, but in form, function and image quality.

The camera had a 38-190mm f/2-f/2.4 (35mm equivalent) lens and a 2/3″ sensor. It was an immediate sensation due to its futuristic looks and radical design.

Whether you love them or hate them, you have to admit Sony is an innovative powerhouse in the camera world. The electronics giant is well known for their attempts to dominate every area they compete in, whether it’s television sets, the video gaming world or cameras. They are competitive, and that can only mean good things for us consumers.

This is a very old camera, digitally speaking, so I’m not going into a full review with this one. I will just touch upon some key areas of interest.

CAMERA AND LENS

The camera is well built with a magnesium alloy body and light thanks to good integration of plastic parts.

The camera is certainly “different” thanks to its radical and futuristic design. No doubt this eye-catching quality helped to make it a hit with camera buyers in 2001.

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The Sony DSC-F707 and its upgraded, but nearly identical twin the Sony DSC-F717 were unique cameras with a radical and brilliant design, not to mention a Carl Zeiss lens.

The ergonomics are for the most part good, although as with most Sony cameras of that era, controls can be a little confusing at times. You may want to access the manual for certain features.

The camera has a 1.8″ LCD which will seem small if you’re used to today’s 3″ and larger screens, but it presents with good visibility and colors. The F707 also has an electronic viewfinder which you can access with the flick of a switch.

The body swivels 36 degrees down and 77 degrees up. A really cool feature for street work or tight situations.

The lens is a 38-190mm f/2-2.4 Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar. It’s interesting to note that early on in their camera history, Sony sought acceptance and credibility in the camera world by making key moves such as licensing the Carl Zeiss name on many of the lenses on their cameras.

There are many Zeiss fanatics out there, and sometimes that name alone is enough to sell cameras.




The lens on the F707 is excellent and provides wonderful colors and sharpness, but keep in mind that this is a small sensor point and shoot camera with 5 megapixels. Almost any 5 megapixel point and shoot with a decent lens will provide sharp results. In 2001, we’d be nitpicking over these things. In 2015, we won’t 🙂

That’s not to cut down the Carl Zeiss lens. On the contrary, I am just saying that I feel the lens is limited to the technology it was mated to at the time. It’s a fantastic lens, but compared to similar cameras of its time, you may have a hard time making out the differences. That said, there are certain situations where you might coax that “Zeiss look” out of the camera, thanks to the great lens, but you won’t see it all the time.

The AF is good, but not instantaneous. There is a noticeable lag when taking pictures. The Hologram AF assist works well for low light, but the camera only has an ISO range of 100-400 so it’s not like you’re going to be shooting in ISO 128,000 situations with this camera.

There is a TIFF mode, but it is slow and uses more memory. Unless you’re a real stickler for RAW, I wouldn’t bother with TIFF’s for a fourteen year old, 5mp camera. The jpegs may have some compression artifacts, but it’s not something you’d really notice or care about. You’re not using this camera for exhibitions 🙂

The camera’s biggest failing for anyone planning to use this camera today, in my opinion, is the use of Sony’s Memory Stick. The largest the camera can take is 128mb (that’s megabytes) which can be somewhat pricey for the amount of memory you get. It’s a rip-off, but basically you pay for it because it’s the price vs availability thing. I tried one of those 256mb “128mb X 2” cards, but it didn’t work on my camera.

This was supposedly remedied with Sony’s upgrade to this camera, the F717. I’ve heard that this camera can take up to 2gb Memory Sticks. However, in my limited experience with the F717, I tried a 1gb Sony branded Memory Stick, it didn’t work.

If you get an “error” message don’t give up on the camera right away, it’s probably the card. Try a lower capacity Memory Stick first.

IMAGE QUALITY

The Sony DSC-F707 is capable of excellent results, especially for daytime shots. Details are crisp, colors can be beautiful, although as with most digital cameras of its time, it has a tendency to bleed the reds. The resolution is about as good as you can expect for 5 megapixels. For best results, stick with low ISO settings.

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“Stars” 2011. Sony DSC-F07. I stood above these flowers and shot in macro mode. Note the wonderful whites and yellows.

Bokeh is not easy to come by with a small sensor camera, but can be had with the F707, especially if used towards the telephoto end of the lens and the right situation.

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“Summer Breeze” 2011. Sony DSC-F707, ISO 100. Autumn is right around the corner! A shot showing the sharpness, details, color, and bokeh possible with the Sony DSC-F707/F717.

The bokeh has a bit of that “nervous” look, which to me is actually quite typical of Zeiss, so feel good that you’re getting a real Zeiss lens!

Dynamic range is quite good for a small sensor point and shoot, but cannot match today’s cameras and highlights can be clipped easily if you’re not careful. Remember this is a nearly fifteen year old camera.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE DSC-F707 AND DSC-F717

If shopping for one of these, prices are trending at $30-70. I would probably go for the DSC-F717, which is the upgraded version of this camera. Prices for the F717 are trending at $50-130. Go for the F717 if prices are similar, if only for the peace of mind knowing you got the one with all the upgrades. If the price is really low, go for the F707, be done with it, and never wonder about how much better your shots would look with the F717. They look the same.

IQ wise I don’t see much difference, but the F717 offers improved Auto ISO, supposedly improved autofocus, improved shutter lag time, a hotshoe for dedicated flash vs the cold shoe on the F707, and the ability to take larger Memory Sticks. The F717 also offers a higher 1/2000 shutter speed vs the 1/1000 max on the F707, but the F717 only provides this in program mode.

There are probably more improvements that I can’t think of at the top of my head. But again, IQ wise I don’t think you will see a big difference.

These cameras DO NOT have Sony’s much vaunted “Steadyshot” image stabilization.

BOTTOM LINE

When I got this camera a few years back, I initially thought it would be fun to shoot with. However, that has not been the case. Perhaps it’s the slow lag times or the small screen, I don’t know, but it’s one of those cameras that looked cool, but I hated picking it up to shoot. I can’t complain though. For the low price I paid, I think I got more than my money’s worth for a “play around” camera.

The Sony DSC-F707 and its siblings are uniquely designed and very interesting cameras that represented the best digital camera technology had to offer in the early 2000s. Even today, they offer excellent image quality in context to what they are, that is, nearly fifteen year old digital cameras.

However, these models stand out in a world of ever increasing “prehistoric” digital cameras. They will no doubt add to the Camera Legend that Sony has become.



The First 35mm Full-Frame Digital SLR: The Contax N Digital

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Introduced in 2000 and brought to market in 2002, the Contax N Digital is the world’s first 35mm full-frame DSLR.

Many people mistakenly believe that the popular Canon EOS-1Ds of 2002 was the first, but it wasn’t. The 1Ds may have caught the public’s attention in 2002, but the short-lived N Digital was actually the first.

The Contax N Digital sported a 6mp full-frame sensor made by Phillips of the Netherlands. The camera was designed to take lenses from the Contax “N” series of Carl Zeiss autofocus lenses. As expected, many of the lenses were outstanding.

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“Z 3D” 2013. Contax N Digital, Zeiss 50mm f/1.4N Planar, ISO 50. I think you might see some of that famous Zeiss “pop” in this image. Please click on the photo for a larger and better view.

In 2013, I was able to procure the use of the N Digital through a good friend. The camera, as might be expected from a camera from 2002, was a bit limited in its ISO range. It had a cool ISO 25, but only went up to 400.

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“Jok” 2013. A rice porridge that is a Thai comfort food. Contax N Digital, Zeiss 50mm f/1.4N Planar, ISO 400.

I was not expecting much from such an old sensor, but found the images to be superb when mated to the 50mm f/1.4N Planar and with reasonably good light, although as always, I tried to stretch its abilities to see what I could get.

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“The Fence” 2013. Contax N Digital, Zeiss 50mm f/1.4N Planar, ISO 100. One of my “boring test shots” as I call them. Contrary to what a lot of people say, I usually find Zeiss bokeh to be “busy” but eye catching. You can get “smooth and silky” bokeh, but you need to get in close without a lot of clutter in the background.

The Contax N Digital is pretty rare on the used market, although they show up once in a while on eBay, and once in a blue moon on KEH’s website. Prices are trending at $2K or above for minty, working samples.

Now here’s the CAVEAT…A few months after giving back the camera, my friend reported that the camera had a sensor failure! Thankfully, I was not to blame 🙂

With my help, we sent the camera back to Tocad, who were still servicing Contax cameras at the end of 2013. I am not sure if they still are.

Anyway, Tocad sent the camera back to Kyocera in Japan for servicing. Guess what? It came back a couple months later, UNREPAIRABLE. I guess if the sensor is gone, you have $2000 brick as a souvenir 😦

I felt bad for my friend, but he took it all in stride. Still, this is a lesson to be learned especially when buying older and expensive digital cameras. They are not a good buy.

And while I loved the Contax brand, there has always been one thing I’ve known since using Contax film cameras in the 90s: They are fragile. They may feel tough and well made, but the insides are brittle, especially the electronics which are prone to failure.

I still use Contax film cameras now and then, but would never buy a Contax N Digital unless the price was really, really good. That said, there is no denying that the Contax N Digital was a pioneering camera. It was full-frame digital before anyone even thought about full-frame digital! In working condition, when mated to those spectacular Zeiss lenses, the N Digital is capable of superb images. And with its distinction of being the very first 35mm full-frame digital, well that alone makes it a Camera Legend.