A quick look at the Contax G2 Camera System by Steve Huff
TGIFF! Yes, this means THANK GOD ITS FILM FRIDAY! I am out with my family on vacation right now but through the magic of the internet I wrote this a few days ago and scheduled it to post today so you guys would have something new to read while I am away! Cool huh?
Anyway, rewind a few weeks back…
A very cool friend of mine called me up while I was on the road traveling from IL to AZ and said “Would you like to try out the Contax G2”? He wanted me to try it since I am now deeply into shooting film. He was curious to see what I thought of it as he knows I love Leica rangefinders. Of course I jumped at the chance! I always wanted to try out the G2 so this was awesome.
To those who do not know what it is, the Contax G2 is an Auto Focus rangefinder camera that was a direct competitor to the Leica M6. Contax created this camera with a set of lenses made by Zeiss and I have to say that these lenses ROCK. There is a 21 2.8, a 28 2.8, a 35 F2, 45 F2 and a 90 F2.8. I was sent the whole set to play with for a few weeks so this will just be a small-ish article with my thoughts on this camera. It’s no longer made or available new of course.
The Contax G2 with the Zeiss 21, 28, 35, 45, and 90.
The good news is this is a camera that you can find used, WITH a complete set of lenses for about $1200-$1400. Yes, a full rangefinder camera with 3-5 Zeiss lenses for $1300.
Some may wonder why one would buy something like a Leica M6 for $1500, BODY ONLY when they can have a full Contax G2 and lens set for less than that. Well, the answer is not that easy. While the G2 is a FANTASTIC camera system with superb lenses, when you are shooting it you feel like you are shooting an SLR. Everything is auto and the viewfinder is NOTHING like an M camera. It’s more like a small SLR or point and shoot viewfinder. Those who want the Rangefinder Experience will not get that experience with the Contax G2. But that is not to say it is a bad camera, quite the opposite.
The G2 is well made, had kick ass lenses, is fully auto meaning focus, exposure and advance is all automatic. It’s sort of the “Anti M”! Its built in motor drive lets you fire away with a “Snick, snick, snick, snick” all the while your film gets eaten up…fast. The interesting thing with the G2 is that when you look through the VF it is a “what you see is what you get” kind of thing, much like an SLR but the VF is small, kind of dim and doesn’t look very good, especially when you are used to a typical rangefinder window like those in the M7, MP, Zeiss Ikon or Bessa cameras.
Also, when focusing the lenses make a racket that would probably wake my wife if I tried shooting it in the room while she was asleep. Sounds like robocop is in the room. The shutter has a loud “snick” that doesn’t sound bad but it is a bit loud when you are in a quiet space. It’s body is a little clunky but attractive and well made. It also has a very cool scroll wheel for manual focus. No, you do not and can not use the lenses for manual focus. You use a “wheel” on the front of the camera. The lens mount is also as finicky as my freaking cat. It appears you must set the lens to F8 or smaller to take off OR mount the lens.
In any case, I shot with the G2 for a little while and ended up really enjoying my time with it though it did seem a little too fast. I was shooting through the film much faster than with my MP as the G2 has a “hair trigger”. One slight touch and you hear that “SNICK!” – Another thing I was not used to was the auto advance and auto rewind. Coming from a Leica this was a weird experience, which is why I say it is more like shooting an SLR camera than a rangefinder.
Overall the camera is a great buy and as I said, I did in fact enjoy the camera. It’s just of you want a rangefinder experience, forget the G2.
What I really LOVED about the G2 were the lenses. I found them all to be fantastic and they had the Zeiss color, pop, and 3D thing going on. Pretty damn nice if you ask me. The 35 rendered in a classic way much like a pre-asph Summicron. The subjects were sharp but not too sharp and the background melted away into a very nice blur when shot at F2. The cool thing is that the G2 has a 1/4000s shutter so you can shoot wide open in daylight, something you need an ND filter for with a Leica film M.
I tinkered with the idea of finding one of these for myself but a guy like me only needs ONE film camera system, even though my one MP and 35 costs MUCH more than a G2 with 5 lenses. I did not get any “serious” shooting in with the G2 but the silly stuff I did shoot all looked great. The metering seems to be just about perfect.
Anyway, this was not meant to be a detailed review, just my thoughts on the camera. If you are wanting to shoot film but do not want to spend an arm and a leg you should seriously consider the G2. I may have sounded a little down on it but in reality it’s a GREAT system that will give you better than digital results. Load a roll of Fuji Reala and shoot with that 45 F2 and get ready to have a smile on your face when you see the results.
The G2 comes in Black or Titanium colors. Here are a few shots from one of the rolls I shot with it. I think I had Reala loaded, which I LOVE! Also, you can see my fave lens was the 45 F2, which is probably the best of the bunch. I also enjoyed the 35.
35 F2 at F2
Contax G2 with Zeiss 45 F2 at F2
G2 and 45 F2
G2 with 35 F2
G2 with 45 F2
G1 with 35 F2 (I think)
G2 with 21 2.8
G2 with 45
Hello, is it possible to do macro?
I have a Contax g2 in original box never used. Also the Zeiss 35mm lens and the 200 automatic flash.
All are brand new in original packing with all the the books and printed materials. None of the equipment has ever been used. How do I try to sell this at a fair price?
Please sell me the contax!
To Will Heilman : Hi Will, if you still have your unused G2 in original box and 35mm lens I would be interested to buy them. Please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Looking forward to hearing from you. Kind regards, Thibault.
I had a G1 and loved it! I once took it to a Leica dealer for a trade in and he said I would be crazy to swap for an M?. I currently use an XPro1 and it reminds me so much of the G1.
Love love love my Contax G2. Great complement to my M3. Was thinking about getting an M6 but the value of G2 is hard to beat. With the savings I also picked up an F5. Another amazing camera. What the hell! They are all great!! Never mind this vs that. They all complement each other.
The contax G2 was the finest 35mm camera ever made
Did anyone try this at home: http://www.metabones.com/product/sony-nex/cg-e-gd1-detail ?
Would be very interested in user reviews.
superb review and photos! man,I hope you make use of the G again sometime
Hi did you manage to sell the camera?
hello I live in southampton england and have been left a g2 by my late granfather
the camera is in a stainless steel case with 5 zeiss lenses and flash strap and remote control also hoods for the lenses
The whole kit has never been used and could be put into a museum
Could anybody help me in finding out the value of the item as i would like it to go to a new home
Hi Dominic – Did you figure out how much you’d sell your kit for?
I just found your great site thanks to Mike Johnston mentioning your interview with Shelby Lee Adams on The Online Photographer. In jumping around I noticed you had reviewed the G2 a few months ago. I reviewed the G1, which I have owned for about a decade, on my own, more modestly successful site, a couple of weeks ago, and was glad to read that you, who have used so many cameras (including the Leicas) found it such a good system as well. The G1 is even cheaper than the G2 on ebay these days. I bought it intending to buy a G2 if I liked it, but found I liked it so much I never felt I needed to make the upgrade.
Thanks for all of the comments guys Just got back in town so will be working hard all week on new updates!
Thanks Steve, for the trip down memory lane. I love the G2. It rekindled my interest in photography after I’d tired of lugging slr gear around and the passion waned. What a blast of fresh air it was; and those lenses….I’ll have to dig it out to run through my last Kodachrome rolls (once I liberate them from whatever corner of the freezer they’re hiding in).
I have hopes of revisiting the Planars and the Sonnar via a µ4/3 adapter. Evidently, some folks are also using the Biogons digitally as well, but only after surgery on the little light tabs that extend past the back element. I’m not sure that bit of brutality is for me.
Here’s a link to an adapter maker in the States. I have no first-hand knowledge of the product, but it appears to be a big improvement over the tiny-wheel ebay version.
The G Vario Sonnar was quite a technological achievement. Watching the viewfinder zoom and mask the image at the same time is a joy to behold. It’s a much more elegant solution than the Tri Elmar and its massively complex dedicated finder.
I used G1 as my main travel camera for about 10 years. It was just too much to carry and SLR and most film P&S cameras had zero controls. The G was perfect for me and the Zeiss lenses for this system are fantastic. I carried the 21,28,45,90 and a flash around the world several times and it gave me everything I needed for 90% of my photography. Aside from being too small, I loved that the RF magnification matched the lens, especially on the 90. Gosh – the K64 and Fuji50 slides out of that camera were something to see….
I can’t think of a camera system that would be better received than a new digital G. If only Zeiss of Kyocera would launch a full-frame G I think it would sell tremendously. If they maintained compatibility with the existing lenses I think they could easily get $3-4k for a body and would have a hard time meeting demand.
If anybody at Zeiss is listening….here’s your chance! I still have my lenses….
Nice write-up, Steve. I had the G1 with the 35/45/90 lenses for about a year (there is an 16/8.0 Hologon and a 35-70 zoom as well for the G system). In the end I sold it because of the noise. Yes, the pre-focus noise is extremely attention-catching, and the way the AF works is that the lens will always return to infinity, once you let go of the shutter button. In other words, you can’t just leave it set at 3 metres and F/8 to avoid the focusing noise, as you would with a Leica M. The shutter itself might not be that loud, but the wind-on noise is also really, really loud – and it has an annoying high-frequency pitch as well. I found the G1 to be way more noisy – both in focusing and shooting – than the Nikon F70 SLR (aka N70) that I also had at the time. To compare, my current D70 is much less noisy than that F70, while my Leica M3 is obviously the most silent of the bunch… So there is really a world of difference in how discreet you can be with an M relative to the Contax G. Except for busy streets, of course 🙂
Every time I see a review and pictures, I notice your Mom posing for you. It seems that she does this willingly and dutifully as a loving Mom.I hope she is getting one fantastic Mother’s Day gift. LOL! My Mom would have never posed for me. She hated being in pictures. You’re lucky to have a family who loves to be photographed. She seems like a very upbeat, positive, joy to be around, person.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Love the camera, by the way. I was looking at these 3 months ago on eBay. Saw a lovely set, but never bought it. I was holding out for the Leica.
thany you for the hint with the adapters. The one from Kipton exists in two versions. The first version had a very tiny wheel for focussing; the revised version a bigger one but on a lens like the 90 mm f2.8 is seems to be a pain “scrolling” through the whole focus range. The atempt in this video seems better but I’ve so far been not able to find the manufacturer of that adapter:
Honestly steve, ever since you posted that image of the titanium MP you have ruined the chances of me ever owning any rangefinder other then that. Come hell or high water, wether it takes 50 years to afford it, one day I will own that camera, even if its in my retirement and they no longer make film (doubt that part, nostalgia alone will keep some film going) i would buy one for my shelf.
they do make micro 4/3 adapters for contax g lenses — it has actually driven up the price of these lenses on the used market. You can find the adapters on eBay.
Thanx Steve, enjoyed yet another of your “real world” camera thoughts / reviews. Can`t wait for one of your US supporters to lend you a Nikon F6 to try out. In this “digitally saturated world” it`s so good to have an expert appreciate the joys of film photography. Lets hear it for the “dinosaurs” (:-))
I’ve been very surprised to read an article about this camera on your site. I’ve a G2 as well with the 28, 45 and 90 mm lenses all packed in a beautiful small bag from Camera Care Systems UK. I love this camera because it’s so compact, the lenses are excellent and the automatic exposure as well as the AF is perfect for that kind of analogue camera. It has always been the perfect travelling camera for me. At that time I mostly shot diapositives with Fuji Velvia film.
Anyhow since I bought into the Olympus E-System in 2004 the Contax remains hidden in my sideboard simply because of the fact that I do not want to spend the time waiting for processing the diapositives and I’ve to admit that I got used to the convenience of the digital workflow with Lightroom.
I wish someone invented an Adapter for MicroFourThirds including a microchip for autofocus which would allow the use of these lenses. They would perfectly fit to the champagne E-PL1. But even the E-P2 iwhich is available in SILVER since today would be a nice combination.
Oliver (Bremen, Germany)
“Small VF … hehehe, you should try the G1 Steve then realise how big the G2 VF is. 😀
I LOVE this camera system, as you say you cannot compare it to MF Leica RF’s but that’s no bad thing, it’s just a bit different as you indicated. Agree with you the 45mm Planar is the best lens, I think it was one of the sharpest lenses ever tested when it was launched and you just get that great Zeiss image pop too.
Even though they are all electronic I’ve never had a single failure or problem, they just plain work. The one known flaw to look for with these (Or indeed any other Kyocera built Contax of this age) is the LCD readouts on them, sometimes suffer from “bleed” but even if they do it’s not always a problem so long as it can be read but better be on the safe side and look elsewhere if you find one like this.
Also just to mention there are *2* other lenses in this system that you did not mention and that’s the 16mm f/8 Hologon which comes with separate flash mounted viewfinder VF-16, it’s a non variable aperture lens and costs a bomb! The other is the zoom which is a 35-70mm f/3.5-5.6 Vario-Sonar which is more a curiosity really with it’s high aperture and can be had fairly cheaply compared to it’s new price these day’s. Great site for anyone considering the Contax G system is:- http://contaxg.com/contaxuser/
Why won’t someone make a digital version of this gem? Traditional ragefinders are fine, but very limited. The G2 seems to have fixed most of their issues. The G2 could be the basis for my dream EVIL. I’d love to see an EVIL with a nice optical VF like the the G2 has built in. Heck, all they’d really have to do is retro-fit a G2 with a 3″ LCD and all the modern digital parts and I’d be all over it.
Fond memories. I used a G2 about ten years ago and absolutely loved it. The only problem I ever encountered was that at dusk, the autofocus was sometimes difficult. I quickly got used to the viewfinder and the noisy shutter never bothered me. The auto-loading was flawless and not once did it ever fail. It was quite a gem. Its unfortunate that Contax can not produce a digital version of this camera.
Oh ya. The lenses were astounding!
Yep, I use a G2 all the time and it is the bomb. The lenses are so good it really makes you wonder why it costs so much to make the Leica lenses. The 45/2 is beyond astounding, so are the rest. Still looking to get the 28/2.8.
I have loved using the G2 for about 5 months now. I too am not saying it replaces my M6 … but what a BLAST of a camera. Sharp Lenses brilliantly easy and accurate to use, a pleasure.
If you are someone who would like to shoot film, has not got a lot of money and would love to get the quality to mach “Leica” lenses purchase away !!! at great low prices. I purchased my 4 lens kit for just under a $1000. CRAZY I know.
That’s interesting, I first learnt about Contax cameras in the comments of one of the latest Leica rumors: