Photo Of The Day: “EyeZ”

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Always trying to improve my digital black and white images. Digital photography spawned from an attempt or desire to escape the giant shadow of film, but as they say “you don’t know what you got till it’s gone.” Lots of people genuinely miss the look of film, but not the work involved to shoot, process and develop it, thus since the early days of digital, people have been attemting to create “film-like” images on this modern platform.

I’ve shot film for a long time and I’ve come to accept that you just cannot duplicate film completely, it’s got its own special thing, but digital black and white can have its own charm as well. I’ve so far resisted the urge to use popular software such as Silver Efex Pro, instead I try to tune each pic to my taste by playing with the levels, curves, etc, in Photoshop. I’m not quite happy with my efforts on the whole, but I’ll keep trying.

One thing I can tell you that works well for me is to use old or older lenses on my digital cameras in this effort. I find it gives me a head start. This one was shot with the original Canon EOS-1Ds 11mp camera introduced in 2002 and reviewed on these pages. The lens used was a Contax 50mm f/1.4 MM  Zeiss Planar. If you like using “alt” lenses as I do, that’s cool and you know it’s incredibly fun! I’m going to try to do an article for you on this subject. And as I said, I’ll keep trying to find the best formula for filmic digital black & white, even if such a thing might not exist. If nothing else, it’s a lot of fun! Have a great day good peeps and get out them cameras 🙂

***DEAL ALERT***

From time to time, our media affiliates will send us deals they have going on and since I do not want to burden you good people with advertisement, I decide whether or not to tell you about it. And believe me, the majority of the time I choose not to plug it, much the chagrin of our media friends 🙂

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“Standing Strong” 2013. Fuji X-Pro 1, Canon 35mm f/1.8 ltm. I’ve used the Fuji X-Pro 1 for some time. It’s an outstanding camera with its native Fuji lenses, but is a pain to use with legacy manual lenses such as the Canon I used here. The Fuji X-T1 that I’m talking about in the article is a much better body for this purpose.

Just like you, I know no one likes it when you plug an ad or ask you to click a link, but you should know too writing and equipment reviews take a lot of time and cost money, most of which I spend on my own to give you the best info I can and I do this for free. No one ever sent me a piece of equipment to write about. But that’s ok, I love this thing, that’s why I do it and I can and will always remain objective.

If you buy anything through our links, I don’t get much, if at all, but every little bit adds to help this site grow. And it costs you nothing to do so. Especially if you’re planning to buy the stuff anyway, it’s a win-win.

Anyway, today we got some screaming deals!! Sometimes you get deals and sometimes you get duds. This is a real deal yes! Most of you will know that the Fuji X-T1 is an awesome and capable top end camera that produces amazing pics and it usually goes for $1299. For a limited time, you can now get it brand new for $799!! Ho! $500 off plus other savings through our partners. If you ever wanted to get the Fuji X-T1, this is it. Check out this and other Fuji Deals and if you do get one, drop back here and let me know how you liked it. I bet you’ll love it! Thank you very much, I appreciate your support.

Also a sale on the superb Zeiss Batis 135mm f/2.8 HERE

And instant rebates on the hot new Canon EOS 5D Mark IV.

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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 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.