Camera Geekery: Contax G2

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by Michael Nguyen /

5 min read
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Camera Geekery: Contax G2

It can be said that film rangefinder technology culminated in 1996 with the release of the engineering marvel that is the Contax G2. The Contax G2 raised the standard for rangefinder cameras with a 4 FPS integrated motor drive, top shutter speeds of up to 1/6000, X sync at 1/200 second and an extended baseline autofocus system. The supposed Leica killer listed for US$2,250 with the 45 mm Planar lens when it debuted (almost $3,500 in 2018 dough) and became the rich-man/woman’s travel and vacation camera. The Porsche-designed titanium beauty has since developed a cult following despite the love/hate relationship documented by many a user. Curious to find out what the fuss is about? Let’s take a closer gander.

Tech Specs

Type35mm AF Rangefinder with interchangeable lenses
Lens MountContax G
Focus ModesSingle shot AF, Continuous AF & Manual
Focus TypeDual passive & active AF with assistance beam
Focusing Sensitivity RangeEV 3-19 @ ISO 100 with all lenses
Exposure ModesAperture priority & Manual
Exposure MeteringTTL Center-weighted averaged(also possible to meter from outside of the lens)
Metering RangeEV 1-19 @ ISO 100 with f/2 lens
Shutter Speed1/6000th to 16 Seconds + Bulb with flash sync at 1/200th second
Exposure Compensation±2 EV in 1/3rd EV increments
Exposure Bracketing+/- 0.5 or 1.0 EV in three-frame sequences
ISO Range25-5000 (DX)
6-6400 in Manual setting
Built-in FlashNo
Film WindAuto single mode & Continuous at 4 frames per second
Focusing ScreenNA
Diopter CorrectionYes (-2 to +0.3)
Self Timer10-Second delay
Remote ControlOptional cable release switch F
PC TerminalYes
Depth-of-Field PreviewNA
Mirror Lock-UpNA
Multiple ExposureYes
Viewfinder InfoImage area frame(parallax corrected), Focus frame, Focus display, Shutter speed, Exposure mark, Exposure compensation & Flash readiness
LCD InformationShooting distance, ISO Speed, Drive mode, Custom functions & Battery power
ColorChampagne / Black
Power SourceTwo CR2 3V lithium batteries
Dimensions5.5 x 3.2 x 1.8″ (140 x 81 x 46mm) WxHxD
Weight1.24 lb (561 g)

Design Aspects

The Contax G2 is touted for its ergonomics and well thought-out layout. Indeed, the AE Lock, shutter speed, EV compensation and even focusing modes all have their own dedicated single-purpose dials. In addition, the controls are arranged in a clever way with secondary adjusters positioned near or within other adjusters.

An example of this would be the the large exposure compensation dial located right next to the shutter release. While its location is quite handy and intuitive, underneath it you will find the handy little built-in Automatic Bracketing Control (A.B.C.) function (automatic exposure compensation on three consecutive frames) which allows you to do an exposure sequence consisting of one frame standard, one over and one under exposed. Bracketing works in both auto and manual modes!

The focusing mode dial which toggles focusing between single, continuous, and manual focus is well-positioned under the shooter’s thumb.

To the left of the top plate is a dedicated shooting mode dial that will let you choose between single shot, 2 FPS (CL), 4 FPS (CH), double exposure, and 10 sec. timer. While it’s a nice conception that is appreciated, in my sample I found the dial to move rather easily in a bag and would change accidentally during transport or removing from the bag.

The viewfinder of the Contax G2 is indeed unlike anything else you’ll see in a rangefinder. Many users have dubbed it the best viewfinder ever in a rangefinder; while that statement is up for debate I can agree that it is the most advanced. The viewfinder not only automatically compensates for parallax error for close focusing and features a diopter adjustment but zooms as you change lenses and corrects for different magnifications at different distances. Below you will find the magnification with different lenses.

Lens
Finder
Magnification
90mm
114%
45mm
57%
35mm
44%
28mm
35%

There’s a backlit LCD display in the bottom of the frame that shows the shutter speed (but no aperture). It also serves as a light reading in manual mode with suggested adjustment arrows, exposure compensation status, a digital focus indicator when using auto-focus and an analog-style focusing scale when using manual focus, and the whole LCD display flashes to show when a photo’s been shot.

The AF system uses an active infrared beam to instantly get approximate focus and an instant later, a second precise passive rangefinder system fine tunes for exact focus. The speed and no-light performance of the active IR-beam AF can see up to 3m (10 ft) in the dark and the precision of passive AF can see through glass. Not much reassuring indication that things are in focus other than the bottom LCD, you’ll have to trust that it’s got it.

Sample Pics

The below color shots were taken on Agfa Vista 200 and black & white shots were taken on JCH Streetpan 400.

Conclusion

For me the Contax G2 could earn the moniker of “World’s Best Point and Shoot”.

Though designed as a technological revolution for rangefinder systems, I belong to the group of people who don’t love the finder. While I marvel at the tech behind the adaptive viewfinder, I do find myself missing two important aspects of shooting a rangefinder altogether: seeing outside the frame lines to anticipate a subject’s movement and accuracy of manually focusing. Manual focusing on the Contax G2 is so poor that it might as well not be an option.

In addition to the smaller and darker than other finders, I found the LCD display under it to be distracting in both brightness and size. Compounded with the uneasy feeling you get without confident feedback that things are in focus, it makes for an unoptimal user experience. That being said, the negs you get back are brilliant. Like the Contax T2, when it’s on it’s ON. It’s an unnerving experience (T2/T3 users must know the feeling) not knowing for sure if focus is correct but thankfully the AF is light years ahead and rarely misses. The body is beautifully manufactured and paired with an arsenal of top notch lens to work with, there’s no excuses not to get great images.

If you’re a rangefinder purist looking for a Leica replacement, that it is not. To me it shouldn’t even be a comparison, the experiences of both are too different. Manual purists stay away, but if you wanna enjoy the pinnacle of the 35mm film look and reliably leave all the decision making to your camera, the Contax G2 is hard to beat.

MN

 

10 comments on “Camera Geekery: Contax G2”

    Reinhold December 14, 2018 at 2:20 am / Reply

    Thank you for this post. It’s always good to see that this gem is still appreciated.
    Just one remark … regarding the AF confirmation, there is an AF confirnation symbol in the status LCD distance scale in the viewfinder. It shows when (and at what distance) the small central AF field has got focus. As long as no AF confirmation has been achieved, the shutter does not fire. If you use shutter-priority mode, the shutter fires immediately.

    For me, the AF is simply stunning and I had not a single shot where I missed AF.
    It remembers me on the AF of my Yashica T5 which has a similar small central AF field.

    Harry Teasley December 14, 2018 at 1:14 pm / Reply

    I agree with everything you said. I’ve had the G1 and G2, and I love the G2, but the viewfinder is small and dark compared to an M. It is a beautiful camera and so well designed, but anyone saying it’s the best viewfinder just sounds ridiculous.

    Great fun to shoot, though.

    L. Kılıç December 14, 2018 at 5:49 pm / Reply

    Very good camera. I have two bodies. I have been using for years, the sharpness of the lenses is very good. 21 mm wide angle perfect.

    Jose December 14, 2018 at 11:04 pm / Reply

    To whit, the things that bothered me about point and shoots:
    1. Tiny, crappy viewfinders.
    2. Not knowing where the thing is focused.
    3. Not knowing what exposure the thing is going to use.

    These things have made me not a point and shoot type of guy. Here we have check, check, and not check. So despite being a Contax fanboy and really liking their ergonomics I decided this camera probably wasn’t for me. The lenses though seem incredible.

    Buche December 16, 2018 at 11:38 pm / Reply

    Got one for a few years (with the 45mm and the 90mm). The lens lineup was really awesome (sharpness, contrast and so on) and the overall design of the camera is beautiful. Unfortunately I ended up selling the kit for the following reasons :
    1) viewfinder wasn’t that great at all, parallax is indeed well taken care of but the size of the viewfinder was disappointing
    2) as far as I know servicing / repairing these cameras is between extremely complicated to impossible. Risk of ending up with an expensive paperweight (same situation as a T2, 3 or else…) was too high.
    Prices are still going up, i sold the camera after almost 4 years of use at the same price i acquired it initially. The guy who bought it sold the whole kit after less than a year bumping the price by almost 300€. You really have to aknowledge the risks before buying one. I switched to a M4-P and the viewfinder is just night and day compared to the G2. I lost the AF and exposure mettering but I have never been the run and gun type.

    Andrew R Rhodes December 18, 2018 at 5:56 am / Reply

    Hard to believe you can really be a reliable reviewer of the camera when you can’t take a halfway decent picture with one. Those pics are terrible! Try to get some in focus next time. I would be ashamed to have published photos this terrible.

      Michael Nguyen December 21, 2018 at 4:33 pm /

      Thanks for having the urge to spend precious free time on such valuable constructive criticism #getyoureyeschecked

    Floyd Takeuchi December 20, 2018 at 9:52 pm / Reply

    I agree that the viewfinder takes some getting used to. It’s leagues better than the squinty viewfinder on my Zeiss Ikon Contax IIa from the early 1950s. But it’s a PITA compared to the big, bright viewfinder on the modern Cosina Voigtlander R2C that I use with four early- to mid-1950s Zeiss and Nikkor lenses (35mm; 50 mm. 85mm; 135mm).

    Still, I enjoy shooting all three “Contax” bodies. Regarding the G2, I particularly like it’s solid build, and having AF, which I find nails it most of the time. But the overriding reason most of us use a Contax G2 (or Contax IIa), is the lenses. Whether the “Zeiss” lenses that go with this body were built in Japan or Germany, the resultscan be magical..

    Babaky December 22, 2018 at 6:39 am / Reply

    Thanks for the review. There is also a 21 mm lens which is awesome.

    Richard December 24, 2018 at 7:55 am / Reply

    Thanks for this review – I agree with everything you say apart from the viewfinder. It is teeny and tiny and not really that great for serious shots. Having said which, as a holiday camera, when you want to point and shoot, and rely on everything just being right, it is hard (impossible?) to beat. I just took mine to SE Asia (again) and am thrilled with the results (I am scanning some shots of Angkor Wat as I write this). And it is not just a holiday camera – you can use it for more serious work too.

    The lenses are just amazing and even an average scanner will bring home astonishing results.

    Thanks for the review!

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