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.
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.
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.
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.