Note: This is an update to an update repost of a 2017 blog entry originally written for KEH that now has quite a few broken links in it so I am reposting it here. Have since sold it all before coming back to my senses and buying back the G1, 28mm, and 90mm. Have recently welcomed the 45mm back in to the fold, hence this update. Why the G1 over the G2 outlined below. Mainly reposted so I could link it in full in this video.
Yeah, I no longer own any of it.
Was it because of the FED 2 I compared it to in that same post?
Nope. Not at all. While I do still own the FED 2 it is a completely different animal and I kept it for the pure bang for buck novelty of it all.
Why do I no longer have the Leica?
Simple. While there is only one Leica, and I appreciate its purist virtues and performance, another system better suited my needs. Now mind I did not say better, but better suited my needs.
Sidebar: I also find it hard to ignore the value angle. You can purchase a Contax G1 with 28mm, 45mm, and 90mm G lenses for less than the price of one Leica M3.
Once I had my fun I traded the Leica gear on some lenses for the digital side of my camera house that became available at my local camera shop.
A Tale of Two Gs.
Which one, the G1 or G2? Yes to both in my case the first time around.
I first bought the G1 since it was such good value compared to the G2 and just about any film camera spec wise. But the G1 was so good the G2 soon followed (both purchased from KEH.com). So good that it put other film cameras on a trailer regardless of format. So good it suspended my virtual film camera shopping list until further notice.
For starters three numbers and a name played a huge part in this decision. 28, 45, 90 and Zeiss.
After much research I picked up these three lenses and soon found that everything ever written about Zeiss lenses in general and these lenses in particular is true. Why not the highly regarded 35mm also? It sits between and too close to the 28mm and (50mm-ish) 45mm. Your mileage may vary. As for the 90mm I will always purchase a portrait length prime if I can afford it. And at these prices for an AF Zeiss portrait lens it was a no brainer.
And as I said that is just for starters. Above these stellar lenses are a stellar feature set. What features? Glad you asked.
- AF. A film system with an actual usable, accurate, focus and recompose friendly AF system. Some say the G1 is bad and slow and the G2 is good and fast, but in my experience the G1 is good and fast, with minimal hunting under the darkest and least contrasty conditions (like many other AF systems even up until today), and the G2 is better and faster focusing even in challenging situations.
- MF. Many have dinged the MF system, which is awkward admittedly, but it is usable for those rare occasions when you need to drive. Spin the wheel (on the top of the G1 and more conveniently on the front right of the G2) to to the estimated distance and keep it moving. They both also show a digital readout of the distance in the viewfinder (in meters) and on the external LCD (in meters and feet). They also have in viewfinder focus verification. But if you are using that you should just use AF.
- Lock AF implementation. On the G1 you simply half press until you get focus and recompose. On the G2 there is a dedicated backbutton focus set up. Press the backbutton with your thumb to focus, recompose and take the shot with the shutter button.
- Shooting modes. The G1 has one time focus with a button to set single, timer, multiple exposure, and continuous shooting (if you are in a rush to burn through a roll) and the G2 adds more options by employing two dials. Like the G1 there are single, multiple exposure, continuous (high and low speed), and timer shutter modes, but the G2 adds a second dial around the second dedicated AF button that lets you choose between single focus, continuous focus, and manual focus. So continuous focus with continuous shooting is available. While not blazing fast it works.
- Build. These things feel like the Titanium tanks that they are. While Titanium is not a requirement for solid build these are the most affordable cameras I know of made of the stuff.
- Automation. Put in film roll, pull lead out to the mark, and close back to load film. Film advances automatically. Film speed read automatically and easily overridden manually if you wish. Winds film back when done with roll. Some balk at such levels of automation, but performing these activities manually makes no better pictures.
- Glass. Zeiss glass. Mentioned above and worth mentioning again. Sharp, great color rendering, and focus fall off. Even the nonsensical rangefinder zoom renders wonderful images.
- Viewfinder zoom innovation. While other rangefinder systems require goggles or accessory finders to match wide and tele field of view lenses these have native in built viewfinder that zoom internally and automatically for 28mm though 90mm lenses. The G2 provides the added hat trick of zooming the inbuilt viewfinder with the 35-70mm zoom ring.
- Parallax correction dark mag… er, innovation. While the zoom is impressive the parallax correction in viewfinder is amazing. While some other rangefinders I use helpfully provide a highlighted frame that will move with focus these go one step further. These cameras block the frame in black only to reveal the portion of the viewfinder to be captured based on focus. So you still have the whole viewfinder available while framing and then it closes down automatically with focus just before capturing the shot.
- Exposure accuracy. I have now put several rolls through both of these cameras and I cannot recall having lost any shots to missed exposure so far.
- Exposure lock. The best I have seen implemented. You turn the camera on by pushing a lever surrounding the shutter button forward to reveal a red dot. For exposure lock you simply point the camera where you want the reading and nudge the same lever one detent notch further forward and exposure is locked until you nudge it back to the on position. Genius.
- Thoughtful execution. Most film systems have lens and body designs that vary a bit, and some a lot. Each of these lenses and cameras have the same design theme. Even the lens caps are the same across all three primes I have. I love details like that. The only variation is the color schemes. While the black option is intriguing I actually prefer the gold color scheme. (Plus black variants of cameras and lenses are rarer and bring a premium of $200 or so.)
- They are gold. But seriously these are some good-looking cameras. Has nothing to do with capturing an image, which is why this is listed last, but it does not hurt either. While they cost a fraction of some other more storied systems they feel premium in hand and look the part as well.
Downsides. There are always downsides. Here we go.
- Automation. No batteries. No camera. Solution? I carry extra batteries.
- Might break and be done. After much research I have not heard anything about this system being fragile. But if one did break I would buy another without hesitation if I could not get it fixed.
- Contax as a company is no more so any dream I have of a digital Contax G is dashed. Or is it? More on that below.
- Six bladed aperture so bokeh balls will be less round. Meh. Small price to pay in my opinion. Plus whenever possible I shoot these wide open.
- That is all I have got.
To G1 or to G2.
Why both? In my opinion they are different enough, but if you must choose one and are undecided here are my thoughts.
- Not much smaller and lighter, but smaller and lighter enough to notice in jacket pocket or bag. The difference between the two separates simply sturdy from melee weapon in a pinch.
- Not as precious. I tend to use this one for day to day activities since it is much cheaper to replace.
- AF acceptable and not near as bad as some would let on. Slower yes, and the 90mm trips it up a bit, but not immensely so. The shot below was taken on the fly and the G1 had no issue nailing focus.
- Quite a bit less expensive.
- AF is better. Though not by much.
- Manual focus wheel is better implemented, but I almost never us MF.
- Continuous focus with continuous shooting is nice to have, but I never use it.
- Works with the 35-70mm zoom where the G1 does not… But as fun as it was that lens made no sense.
- Buy a flash. I recommend the smaller of the two. It is cheaper, adds enough light for fill in my experience, puts the flash further away from the lens (which should reduce the chance of redeye), and is smaller. The larger flash is fine also I understand and adds the perk of sharing batteries w/ the cameras should you need to cannibalize the flash’s batteries.
- When shopping for the G1 try and find a green label model. Made no difference for the primes I have, but green label means it has been modified to work with more lenses (21 mm and 35 mm lenses for instance). G1s and the 35-70mm zoom are not compatible green label or not. But while shopping for mine I do not remember coming across a non green label G1.
- Lenses wider than 28mm (21mm and the eye wateringly expensive fixed aperture 16mm) require a separate viewfinder to frame properly. These do not make use of the viewfinder perks mentioned above so I chose not to get them. Plus the 16mm costs more than the 2 bodies and 3 lenses combined by itself.
Another mention regarding the lenses. I cannot state to you fully how impressed I am with the sharpness of these lenses. So sharp in fact that the first time around I coughed up the extra outlay for a Techart AF adapter for my Sony digital system. It gave me close to the digital Contax I have wanted since I received the G1. It even captures the focal length in the EXIF data and sets the image stabilization focal length. It also has bluetooth for smartphone linked firmware updates. During my first G lens run on the A7Rii I shot the picture below at night, from the booth at a football game (back when my daughter filmed the halftime show for the marching band director) using AF to focus on the nearest sideline below.
Contax G Zeiss 45mm f/2.0
This is a decades old film lens rendering this level of detail on one of the best, high MP sensors available today with AF. And looking quite spiffy on the camera while at it.
Update: Sold the AF adapter above when I sold the G system. When I repurchased the G1 and lenses I went with a MF adapter. MF costs significantly less and does just fine.
Suffice it to say that these lenses do just fine using film also. Here are a couple of shots from my last roll of film.
I am not trying to get anyone to switch film systems. There are plenty of fantastic film systems and I still own a few of them. But if you are looking for a no nonsense, consistent, high value, quality output film camera system you could do a lot worse than to try the Contax G System.
As per usual here is a link to an ongoing G1 album. Also contains older G2 photos. They produce identical results so I saw no point in separating the two) and a sample gallery below.