Tuesday Titans: The Contax AX Film Camera

ConAXCC

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.

ConAXJPBabyI305

“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.

ConAXZoe304

“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.

Advertisements

Celebrating Ten Years Of JuJu

DSC_9567JJ

JuJu @ Six Months. 2006. Nikon D1X. Cannot remember the lens, it just shows as 300mm on the exif viewer. A straight jpeg from the D1X, no treatment done. Although it was only 5mps, I really loved the D1X!

No “Tuesday Titans” today. Instead, we are celebrating a “titan” of our personal world. He is the first kid of the new generation of our family. Today, we celebrate my nephew JuJu who just turned ten recently. He was, in a way, my first beta tester for so many of the cameras that came into my possession in the years following his birth. Thanks for joining me in the celebration and for my fellow gear heads, take comfort in the captions which will reveal some the cool cameras used during this ten year period. Happy Birthday JuJu!! 🙂

80313978.Y6P5wTjM.JoeJU1CPba

“Boy From NYC” 2006. Bessa R3a, CV 40mm f/1.4 Nokton Classic, Kodak BW400CN. I had just fixed the rangefinder on this camera, it was the first rangefinder adjustment I’d ever done. Shortly thereafter, I sold this camera, but now looking at the results from this combo, I kinda regret it!

124288972.KEsjHcuK.PenZoeJuJu1_SerenityCalamity

“Order & Chaos” 2009. Olympus Pen FT, Zuiko 35mm f/2.8 Pancake lens, Kodak Tri-X 400 developed in T-Max developer. Two frames from the half frame Pen FT camera showing how order can turn into chaos in a minute 🙂

1614239_10202970154807201_8424783835683906259_o

“My Brother’s Keepers” 2014. Nikon D1X, 35mm f/2.4 MIR Russian lens.

10917057_10205025856438457_737518350959434799_o

“Rockabilly Ju” 2013. Fuji X-Pro 1, Canon FD 55mm f/1.2 Aspherical lens. JuJu rocks around the clock! 🙂

10295047_10202961627314019_3801333893296660026_o

“Happy” 2014. Panasonic DMC-GF1, Lumix 20mm f/1.7 ASPH lens. Go ahead people, clap along if you feel like a room without a roof! 🙂

 

Black & White Portraits

JuJu1Pba-2

“The Tsingtao Boy” 2009. Canon F-1N, 50mm f/1.4 FD lens, Tri-X. Chinatown, NYC.

While I do love color photography, there’s just something different about black and white photography that really endears me to it. And when you combine b&w with people (or animals!), that really takes it to another level for me.

These are just some b&w images taken over the years. Like I’ve said before, sometimes I do want to remind myself that I love shooting almost as much as I love cameras…I think! These are also images from cameras I am planning to review for you, cameras like the Leica M8 and the Canon F-1N, which is one of my favorite Canon bodies ever, past or present.

It seems almost unbelievable to me that it has taken this long, but after two weeks I’m finally getting my main working computer back today! As I mentioned before, this really set me back as far as content for this website is concerned and I’m just beginning to catch up. Thanks to those who continue to visit and I do appreciate your time and comments.

This is admittedly going to be a busy week and writing a blog with any kind of content takes a lot of time. Even my shortest article takes me almost half a day. I admire those who can do this consistently on a daily basis, I know I can’t!

Hope you all have a good short week in preparation for the Thanksgiving holiday here in the USA.

301330_2123110929706_5679977_n

“Man In The Middle” 2011. Canon Powershot G10, Paranaque, Philippines.

a0020_22M1PSIBW

“Imported From The Past” 2011. Nikon F4s, Nikkor 28mm f/2.8 AIS. The great Louis Mendes stands out like an icon from the past with his old school Speed Graphic and sharp, retro outfits.

399395_3807078227836_955166717_n

“Vimeo” 2006. Canon Rebel XT, Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC. I was buying a lens from this man and I took this shot while testing it. I found out a couple of years later that he is apparently one of the founders of the video sharing site Vimeo!

TheCompetitionC.jpg

“The Competition” 2006. Canon Rebel XT, Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC. Sometimes facial expression tells you everything!

L1002321BoBui1

“Time Will Not Wait” 2011. Leica M8, 35mm f/2 Zeiss Biogon. Koh Samui, Thailand.

M8BluesMan1Crop

“Brother Blues” 2010. Leica M8, 50mm f/2 Summicron-M. Washington Square Park, NYC.

PAudMCC

“My Door Is Open” 2011. Leica M8, 50mm f/2 Summicron-M. Nonthaburi, Thailand.

12193438_179280389080157_404639994576245317_n.jpg

“The Godfather Of Bangkok” 2011. Minolta CLE, 40mm f/2 Summicron-M, Tri-X. A scene from a restaurant on the side streets of Bangkok, Thailand. With one hand on his meal, the other hand reaches for the plate before anyone else could get to it first. Don’t mess with the Godfather of Bangkok! 🙂

A couple of my favorite portraits from the selection above were done with Sigma lenses. Our affiliate and friends at Adorama is offering some incredible savings on SIGMA lenses which only runs through 11/30/15 so if you wanted to pick up some of those super sharp “ART” lenses, this is a good time to do it! And if you order within a certain time, they make every effort to ship same day, which is a great benefit to buying from Adorama versus the competition.


 

Autumn Surprise 2015

DSC00634ZaydaZoeCATI

“Autumn Surprise” 2015. Sony A7R, CV 35mm f/1.2 Nokton Aspherical. I used to love using 90-105mm lenses for shots like this. Now I like using wide and getting in close. For a larger and better view, please click on the photo.

Every year since 2008, I’ve been photographing my elder daughter in a personal series of fall portraits that I like to call “Autumn Surprise.”

I’ve used the photos to document her growth with the yearly change of seasons. It’s quite heart-warming to see how quickly she has grown. Time flies too fast for me 🙂

Today, that seven year record was broken with the introduction of her baby sister into this series.

Just as fun for me is to see the gear I was using then and what I am using now. I plan to post the whole series in another post.

If you live in an area of the world that has fall foliage and you have children, this is a good weekend to pull out your Camera Legend cameras and catch those kids in the Autumn Leaves!




 

Leica R Images

As a follow up to last night’s article on the Leica SL (Typ 601) mirrorless full frame system from Leica, tonight I am posting some Leica R images, both film and digital that I have taken over the years.

The Leica R system was Leica’s 35mm SLR system. Though it had its own large and cultish following, it never set the world on fire the way Leica’s M system did.

That said, Leica R lenses were every bit as good as their M system equivalents and at one time commanded much lower prices. But through online forums, the internet, and the popularity of alternative lens adapters, the prices for the R lenses have gone way up.

I had an almost complete collection of the “essential” R lenses, including the 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit-R, 50mm f/2 Summicron-R, the 80mm f/1.4 Summilux-R, the 90mm f/2 Summicron-R, the 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit-R and the hard to find 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-R.

While I had to sell most of them when I hit rock bottom, the one I regret selling the most was the 35mm f/1.4 Summilux-R. I had a persistent overseas buyer who offered me twice what I paid for it. I needed the money. That was five years ago. I have yet to find another one as their prices have skyrocketed to the point where I don’t even consider it.

Still, you may find bargains in the R lens lineup that you won’t with the M lenses. So for your Throwback Thursday, I present you a small set of Leica R images that I hope will show some of the characteristics of these fantastic lenses. Please click on the images for a better view. Thanks for lookin’

Best Regards,
Sam

SLZoePepsiCAFA

“Blue Bayou” 2008. Leicaflex SL, 90mm f/2 Summicron-R, Kodak Portra film.

99388588.WRfjkUXc

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

BirdJunC

“Bonnie & Clyde” 2008. Leica R8, 90mm f/2 Summicron-R, Ilford XP2.

CLeicaZ80C

“UFO” 2012. Leica R4, 80mm f/1.4 Summilux-R, Tri-X film.

TreeC

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

 

CZoeC

“Those Eyes” 2008. Canon EOS 5D, 90mm f/2.8 Elmarit-R

SL90Plants

“The Entrance” 2008. Leicaflex SL, 90mm f/2 Summicron-R, Fuji Superia X-Tra 800.

17600_10200941212084901_1335241629_n

“Ordinary Day” 2013. Canon EOS 1Ds, Leica 28mm f/2.8 Elmarit-R. The focus was off, but I kinda liked it.




Some Film Images Part II

I had so much fun going down memory lane last night, I decided to do it again, one more night. This time the focus is on people and portraits. Back to reviewing cameras soon, I promise 🙂

Again, captioned with these images are equipment that I have profiled or am planning to profile. Most of the gear I no longer have, except for the negatives and memories I have of them.

And again, while I love reviewing equipment, I love the equipment even more if it helps me take a decent pic!

Also as mentioned in the last article, a lot of these photos were posted for photo sharing sites long before I started blogging on WordPress. As such, some were resized much smaller than I’d like, but it would take me forever to locate the originals and work on them again. I thank you kindly for taking a look.

141123443.euHZ8DVy.imgT3MamaQuilin243I

“Separate Your Colors” 2011. Contax T3, Fuji Reala. Manila, Philippines.

72199654.3VurRO0j.BNwaPB

“The NWA” 1990. Minolta X-700, miscellaneous brand 80-200mm. No this is not Dr. Dre and the “West Coast” NWA. This is “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and the original NWA 🙂

1186234_10201381547813019_1521540462_n

“The Young & The Restless” 1988. Minolta X-700, 50mm f/1.7 MD lens. Los Angeles, California. I was at the Farmer’s Market in L.A. and checking out magazines at a newsstand when I spotted two (then) very popular soap opera stars, Tracey E. Bregman and Doug Davidson, who were also checking out magazines. They must have been on a break from their show which was being filmed at CBS Studios nearby. I asked them for a photo and they graciously obliged. I was most impressed that they had no movie star “issues” and smiled for a geeky teenager with a camera 🙂

10924621_10205004028452771_2700291808193830651_o

“The Gentle Giant” 2011. Nikon F4s, 28mm f/2.8 AIS Nikkor, Kodak Portra 160. I ran into NYC icon Louis Mendes, a photographer well known for his old school Speed Graphic camera and sharp retro outfits. Lou takes unique Polaroid portraits and has made a living and a legend out of it. I’ve bumped into Mr. Mendes a few times over the years and he has always been a willing a gracious subject for my cameras. Thanks Lou!

CPBrideC

“Bangkok Bride II” 2005. Olympus Stylus Epic, 35mm f/2.8, Kodak High Definition 400 film. Bangkok, Thailand.

160432330.BUW2hQF2

“Native New Yorker” 2015. Leica M4P, 50mm f/2 Summicron-M, Kodak T-Max 400 developed in D76. NYC is a melting pot of cultures. No matter where you come from, you can quickly transform into a New Yorker!