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Contax 645

by Chris Lee, 1999


The Contax 645 represents the second AF medium format SLR currently on the market. It competes directly with the Pentax 645N and Mamiya 645 AF (to be released in October, 99) and is currently the only AF medium format SLR to feature an interchangeable viewfinder and a filmback. The use of Carl Zeiss T* lenses presents another appealing feature.

Interesting Features

  1. Electronic linkages
  2. Communication between the lens, body, filmback, and viewfinder is exclusively electronic. Electronic linkages do away with mechanical wear and tear and provide design and expansion flexibility. One example is the possibility of leaf-shutter lenses in the future. (All current Contax lenses are shutter-less and utilize the focal plane shutter in the camera body.)

  3. A new metallic shutter assembly
  4. The Contax utilizes the first medium format metallic-blade shutter. The shutter is electronically controlled and has a top speed of 1/4000s, which is another first for medium format.

  5. Interchangeable filmbacks
  6. There are three filmbacks currently available for the Contax: Standard, Polaroid, and Digital.

    For Standard, two inserts are offered. The regular insert accommodates both 120 and 220 film types by rotation of the pressure plate. The Vacuum Film Insert is a Contax exclusive. It is also used on the Contax RTS III. A mechanism creates a vacuum during the moment of exposure and keeps the film flat on the pressure plate. This theoretically increases focus accuracy and provides sharper pictures. Unfortunately the Vacuum Film Insert works only with 220 films due to interference of the backing paper on 120 films.

  7. Interchangeable viewfinders
  8. The standard viewfinder is the AE prism finder with center-weighted and spot metering options. A waist-level finder is available.

  9. AF system
  10. Unlike the Mamiya and the Pentax, the Contax uses in-lens motors. The AF system doesn't have an AF-MF clutch and hence allows for simultaneous AF and MF.

    Additionally, the AF system uses a high precision area sensor for enhanced accuracy. This will be discussed in greater details.

  11. 1/125s flash sync and TTL pre-flash metering
  12. The Contax offers the fastest flash sync of 1/125s for focal plane shutter medium format SLRs. Also available is the TTL pre-flash metering feature which works with ANY flash equipment. This handy feature is well described in the Contax RTSIII review here on photo.net.

  13. Data Imprinting
  14. The camera prints exposure data on film outside the picture area.

  15. Film Barcode Reader
  16. The Contax is one of a few medium format cameras to have this feature. The reader scans the barcode on DX-coded film and sets the film speed automatically, just like on most 35mm cameras.

  17. Built-in Motor Drive
  18. The Contax advances film at the rate of 1.6 frames per second. That's slower than the Rollei 600x and Pentax 645N, but faster than all other systems to-date.

  19. The Lenses
  20. The Carl Zeiss T* lens line up comprises roughly the fastest medium format lenses in each focal length range. The 120mm/F4 lens is the only APO Zeiss Makro-Planar currently available, and is allegedly the best of the Makro-Planars. This life size macro lens is the only manual focus lens in the lineup.

Build Quality and Ergonomics

Although the Contax has a plastic outer shell, it is a very well built camera. The chassis is made of rigid copper silumin like the RTSIII, while the body covering material is a mixture of polycarbonate and carbon fiber. Carbon fiber, which is the same material used to build F1 racecars, maximizes the body's ability to absorb strong impact while keeping the weight at a minimum. The result is a respectable reduction in weight--with all the extra features, with batteries loaded the Contax weighs the same as the Pentax 645N. The same setup on a Hasselblad, which I have tried, would make the Hasselblad far too heavy for rapid shooting. The unique texture of the outer shell also makes the camera quite scratch-resistant. My Contax once landed on gravel (prism finder first) from a five-feet height . All I got was very fine rub marks. The body feels solid with excellent grip comfort and weight distribution.

The control layout theme is basically the same as the RTSIII, which uses mostly dials and levers than buttons. Most notable is the Contax-style AE Lock switch, which locks the exposure EV value for as long as the switch is engaged. By flicking the switch, one is free to experiment with framing without having to worry about losing the metered value after some period of time as on most systems.

In practice I find dials and levers to feel a lot more accessible and reassuring than buttons.

Certain less frequently used dials need to be unlocked before they can be turned. I find this approach to be finicky and unnecessary at times; it's not always easily done if you have large fingers, and some of these dials are quite well protected where they are that the locking/unlocking feature is redundant.

One feature that Contax could have thrown in is to automatically open the shutter when the filmback is taken off--this will prevent the shutter blades from being damaged by accident. But since the Contax is entirely electronic, this feature can be added with a ROM upgrade in the future. For the time being, a rear body cap that comes with the camera body is available if you want to be on the safe side.

On the other hand, the Contax does have many smart additions to prevent mistakes. For example the filmback cannot be taken off unless the dark slide is in place and fully inserted, and the shutter won't fire unless film is loaded. (You can, however, test fire the shutter without film if you remove the filmback altogether.) And I find more of these thoughtful designs as I use the camera more and more.

On balance the build quality of this camera is outstanding and unique, and the ergonomics are very good but can definitely be improved.

Autofocus

The Contax's AF is slightly quieter and faster than the Pentax 645N (which I owned for a while until stolen). But that doesn't put the Contax in the same league as the top 35mm AF SLRs.

To generalize, AF on the Contax is less noisy than Canon's non-USM lenses, but obviously not as quiet as those with USM. Focusing from closest to infinity takes a bit of time, but sufficiently fast for most situations in practice. I haven't had a problem with AF speed on either the Pentax or the Contax.

The Contax system uses in-lens motors and rear/inner focusing whenever possible. So why is AF not blazingly fast?

First of all the Zeiss lenses are heavy. The Zeiss lenses for the Contax don't weigh any less than those for the Hasselblad and have the same manual focus feel. They all have stainless steel barrels and very solid construction, which , in the case of the Contax, come at the expense of AF speed.

The second reason, according to Contax in an interview with Asahi Camera magazine of Japan, has to do with AF precision. Contax has made a firm commitment to take precedence in image quality, and this commitment prompted them to produce an AF system that optimizes precision rather than speed.

According to Contax, they have optimized AF precision on three levels. Most AF SLRs on the market use a small number of linear or cross-type AF sensors, usually in a horizontal formation. Each sensor is made up of a few hundred pixels. The Contax 645 is the first AF SLR to use a 1/4 MILLION-pixel CCD for its AF system. The result is a true area sensor (i.e. no gap) with supposedly much higher AF measurement accuracy. Secondly, the AF motor in each lens is optimized for precision with extremely fine movement rather then speed. Lastly, in the case of 220 type films, the vacuum filmback ensures higher film flatness.

How much better is the resulting AF precision is not known without some testing, but there are indeed some compromises as a result. The AF motors being optimized for precision, comes short in speed as I said. Also, the choice of 1/4 million-pixel CCD, which means a lot more information needs to be processed, slows down AF a little more and adds to battery consumption. (This has been verified by Asahi Camera.)

Whether the tradeoff in speed is worthwhile is beyond me. But if I were Contax I would throw in a provision to switch off the area sensor to function in a single point focus mode and add a second AF algorithm to optimize speed over precision. This way the user can decide between speed and precision on his or her own. (I wonder if this can be achievable via a future ROM upgrade.)

On the other hand, the Contax 645 AF-MF integration is the best I have seen. Basically AF and MF can work simultaneously without the need to switch between focus modes; the camera is constantly ready to operate in both AF and MF. This allows you to fine tune the focus manually at any time. For example, if you turn the MF ring during autofocusing, the AF motor stops to allow focus manually. AF can be reactivated at anytime by half depressing the shutter release. In practice, the ability to shift rapidly between AF and MF is very handy. Also, AF activation and AF lock can be assigned to a dedicated button, instead of being fixed to the shutter release button. In my opinion, the AF-MF integration is similar to the Canon real-time manual focus concept, but is one step further.

Exposure Modes and Metering

Being targeted at professionals and serious amateurs, the Program mode is absent on the Contax. No protest from me. All the other basic modes--aperture priority, shutter priority, full manual, bulb--are provided.

Metering is very accurate and consistent. With the prism finder, TTL center-weighted and spot metering options are available. Unlike the majority of medium format cameras, spot metering is still available with the waist-level finder (but not center-weighted metering).

The spot metering circle is concentrated and is marked in the viewfinder.

Pre-flash TTL metering is, in my opinion, the best of its kind on the market. Again please refer to the RTSIII review for details on this feature.

Asahi Camera measured the aperture accuracy to be between +/- 1/8EV approximately. The shutter speed is within +/-0.02EV accuracy. This level of exposure precision is very high and hardly achievable with a mechanical camera with a cloth shutter.

Viewing System

The prism finder is bright and uncluttered. Viewfinder information provides just the information that you need and is easy to read, although the 645N's is slightly better. There is a focus confirmation light, which is handy if you choose to focus manually. The same display is available when a waist-level finder is in use, which has not been the case with other cameras that I've used. The prism finder also features an eyepiece shutter and a built-in diopter.

Changing the focusing screen is easy. No tools are necessary. The focusing screen has a steel frame with a small handle for holding by fingers and is glass laminated on one side to prevent fingerprints and damage, especially when a waist-level finder is used.

The optional microprism collar/split-image focusing screen is not very good. The central circle looks brighter than the surrounding area, and the microprism doesn't provide that in-focus snap. There is at least one third-party manufacturer with a replacement screen planned.

Against the Pentax 645N and Mamiya 645AF

Modeled with a 35mm SLR in mind, the Pentax 645N lacks an interchangeable filmback which renders digital photography impossible. (The Contax already has digital backs available.)

The Mamiya has an interchangeable back and functions a lot more like the Contax. However, like the Pentax the Mamiya doesn't have a interchangeable viewfinder. And both of these cameras use a in-camera motor for AF and require the use of a switch to go between AF and MF. In other words, they don't offer the AF-MF integration of the Contax.

One additional strength of the Contax is its TTL pre-flash metering, which makes studio photography extremely easy.

On the other hand, the Mamiya has an additional active AF system for shooting in a dark environment. There is a visible red light emitter on the body. (Contax claims that they chose to not include this feature because of the short useful distance of only 4 to 6 feet.)

The Mamiya has partial backwards compatibility with current Mamiya 645 lenses. The lenses can be used, but need to be stopped down for metering.

The Price

The standard Contax kit contains the body, an AE prism finder, a standard back (with insert), and a 80/2.0 lens at $4,000. The closest Hasselblads (with electronic linkages and focal plane shutter) are the 200 series bodies. A 203FE body alone costs about $5,000, and is over $8,000 by the time you add a prism finder and a motor drive. And this price doesn't include a standard lens. The Contax seems like an absolute bargain in comparison.

On the other hand, the Contax system is much higher priced than the Mamiya 645AF and Pentax 645N. The bodies are priced similarly, but lens-wise the Contax costs quite a bit more. Ultimately, Zeiss lenses carry a premium, and the Contax system offers several features and flexibilty not available on the other two systems, namely an interchangeable viewfinder. Also the Contax lenses are generally faster and much better built.

The higher price may also reflect the small production volume--the Contax 645 is produced in very small quantities of 1,000 units per month for all the markets combined, according to a Contax press release. In my area, these cameras don't ever stay on the shelf for long.

Conclusion

The Contax represents a milestone in medium format photography. It garners several world firsts in its design and features, and has a high quality of construction. It is arguably one of the most flexible medium format camera to-date, with capabilities, thoughtful additions ,and portability that allow it to fill the job of both a 35mm AF SLR and a medium format SLR. On the other hand, its shortfalls are AF speed and some minor ergonomic nitpicks. There is room for improvement, but for the time being it remains the most advanced and functional system on the market.

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Readers' Comments


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Chris -- , September 14, 1999; 04:52 A.M.

I failed to stress this enough in the review: One of the most appealing characteristics of the Contax 645 is that it works and handles just like a 35mm SLR. So one can sell his/her 35mm SLR if he/she decides to get the Contax. (This can be much better than keeping both a medium format and a 35mm SLR at the same time.) That also brings down the overall cost of acquiring the Contax system and saves the trouble of deciding which camera to take for an assignment. Addiontally, one gets much better with his/her equipment if there's only one system to live with.

The Contax is now the only SLR that I keep.

There are additional reviews by other users at www.camerareview.com

Erik Janssen , September 24, 1999; 08:40 A.M.

Comment for new users: If the Contax 645 battery runs out, the mirror will stick up, but it gives the appearance that maybe it is going to continue to "work." It won't. Once the mirror is stuck up, don't bother to release it and shoot again. It will just make multiple exposures on the same frame. Once you've seen this once, you will know anyway, but I thought I'd mention it so that someone might save buggaring up the first roll when the battery fails on them. Once the mirror sticks up, you need to go on and change the battery out. The instructions say to change the battery as soon as the icon appears in the viewfinder, and this is probably the best approach.

Glen Johnson , September 24, 1999; 09:05 A.M.

I've also thought about just keeping the Contax 645. It is a beautiful camera, and it does handle like a pro level 35mm. If I had bought it BEFORE putting together a more or less complete EOS system, I probably would never have bothered with 35mm.

However, with the 35mm system in hand, I can't bring myself to sell any of it, and the reason is, that it is genuinely useful, even in comparison to a super-handling 645.

I've had the EOS stuff for more than 3 years now. I've had the Contax for about 4 months. When I go out to shoot events, I still prefer a pair of 1N's, one with the 17-35, and the other with a tele-zoom. It just gives more flexibility. I know all the arguments about primes vs. zooms, and all the arguments about walking around to get your framing with a fixed focal length. It just isn't as fast, isn't as easy, and it just doesn't always work, especially when space is limited.

With the Tilt Shift set, the IS set, the sub f/2.0 set, the range of L-zooms, the general primes, the super telephotos, the macro lenses (including the new super macro that replaces the old FD series bellows macro kit), and the extreme wide angles, that are available in the EOS system, there are times when it is a better tool than the Contax.

I will eventually have all of the Contax lenses. The set is small enough, and there isn't any significant duplication, so it makes sense. But even after I've got the whole set, based on the past four months, I am sure that I will continue to reach for the 35mm camera when I head out for pj style shooting, except when I want to travel really light. When I want to travel really light, I will probably grab the Contax and a single lens. Sounds odd to pick 645 over 35mm, when you want to go light.... the lightness comes from not grabbing a whole bag, but just grabbing a single camera.

The Contax is a truly great camera, and the lenses are superb. But the system isn't comparable to the best 35mm systems yet, and it probably never will be.

Steven Hiu , October 04, 1999; 08:33 A.M.

Motor Drive Speed on the Contax

In your review, you stated that the motor drive speed on the Contax was 1.6 fps, whereas the contax website and several magazine reviews have reported a speed of 2.5 fps (compared to the Pentax's 2.0 fps). Is it possible that the previous figure was due to AF functions or low shutter speeds, or is Contax's figure a bit of an exxageration?

Chris -- , October 04, 1999; 06:36 P.M.

Hi Steven,

I went to the Contax website and it is indeed 1.6FPS (under "Specifications"). I also looked at a Japanese magazine review, and again it's 1.6FPS.

However, I did see that B&H quotes 2.5FPS. I'm not sure as to why a discrepancy exists. I think I'll email Contax to find out.

Alex Ng , October 06, 1999; 03:44 A.M.

I've had the Contax 645 for almost 5 months know, and so far I've been highly impressed by the camera's operations and optics. The lenses are simply superb, especially the 120 Makro Planar, I do think all Contax 645 users should try or even own one even if you already have the 140 2.8. The 120 Makro is simply tack sharp and versatile (for portrait shooters you might opt for the 140 instead). The 210 F4 is ridiculously large for the 210 focal length, with the hood attached, it's abt as long as a 300 2.8 in 135 format or even a little more. Worst of all, there's no tripod collar that comes with the lens so tripod mounting isn't that balanced. Abt the data imprinting thing, at 1st in Contax's Japanese brochures, the data is supposed to be imprinted between frames not outside of the frame, coz sometimes the data imprinted will be obscured by film's own printed code. I would like to see more accessories such as a tilt/shift adapter or a ts lens , longer lenses like 300 would be nice, too. I just tried a Mamiya 645 AF yesterday with the standard lens attached. With the standard lens attached the Mamiya's AF certainly is more responsive than Contax's, the grip also feels better. The Mamiya is just as heavy as the Contax but the Mamiya's operations are very much like a Nikon F100's. But I will not trade in my Contax for the Mamiya. Another useful feature of the Contax 645 is the built in flash meter, very handy and works pretty well if you've left your Minolta or Sekonic meter at home. All in all, I just love my Contax 645 system

Chris -- , October 07, 1999; 05:48 A.M.

For those of you who are interested in additional information regarding the Contax 645 system or want some good advice as to which medium format system to choose (Rollei vs 'Blad vs Contax), please visit Carl Zeiss' official site.

www.zeiss.de

You will be able to find MTF charts and CLN "Camera Lens News" under "Products". The CLN contains particularly interesting information and provides answers to common myths (i.e. Zeiss lenses for which MF system are better? or Why are Zeiss lenses for the Contax system made in Japan and who makes them? What do MTF charts really mean? etc.)

Very informative!

Robert Bedwell , October 23, 1999; 06:17 A.M.

I have owned the Contax 645 with 4 lenses for about 6 months. I was very apprehensive about the construction quality but have since determined that this is not an issue. I prefer the 6x6 format but I did not have this choice with auto-focus. The negatives are every bit as good as those with my Hasselblad and I am getting shots that I couls never have with the Hassy. I have only one major negative issue with the Contax. When the camera has not been used for around 30 seconds it goes into "rest" mode and requires you to lightly press the shutter release to bring the camera into the ready mode. Unfortunately this takes around 5 seconds and, as a result, I have lost quite a few shots. I understand that this conserves batteries but I would like for that to be my choice. The only other issue is that of the small buttons. They are difficult for me to use.

David S , October 28, 1999; 11:28 P.M.

Just went to photo+expo in New York today and tried out the handling of the contax 645. The grip is way too small and the handling suffers a lot for it. Granted I do have large hands, but the grip is short as well as not having sufficient diameter. It seems that these new 645 systems are headed in the right direction ergonomics wise, but still have a lot of catching up to do until they are nearly as good as the current 35mm cameras. My EOS3 with BPE1 is joy to hold irregardless of weight.

Chris -- , October 29, 1999; 10:44 A.M.

The Contax accessory battery holder entends the grip and may solve your problem.

http://www.contaxcameras.com/645/acc/batteryholder.html

Glen Johnson , November 01, 1999; 10:26 A.M.

I noted in the review above that it was stated that the shutter won't fire when there is no film unless you remove the back. This may have been true in some prototypes, but it is not true in the production model that I have. If you have a back installed, with no film, and the dark slide removed, you can dry fire the camera. Maybe the shutter doesn't open - I don't know. But it does go through the motions of metering, focusing, mirror up, etc.

As for the motor drive speed, the specs are definitely 1.6 fps. B&H has it wrong, and there are other companies that are advertising with the B&H specs.

Chris -- , November 03, 1999; 11:54 A.M.

Glen,

You can dry fire if you have neither the dark slide nor the insert in the filmback. If you have either, or the combination, of the two installed in the filmback, then the camera will not allow you to shoot without film.

Jan Senko , November 27, 1999; 09:35 A.M.

First I would like to say that despite the fact that Contax 645 is a great looking camera with some excellent features I don't think it poses any threat to Hasselblad.As an I ex-Contax owner(35 SLR) I personally believe that Hassy and Rollei are in their own division... and then there is a division "bellow" with Contax,Pentax,Mamiya,Bronica and the rest of the pack...Right now Contax might be selling better than Hassy but not because of the "breakthrough" in technology...because their marketing campaign is very clever and eye catching...I have to give The Contax corp. A+ for designing their catalog,direct marketing techniques,and for designing The Web pages..The Contax Web side is so updated,beautiful and well designed with every information about the equipment...and what counts the most their Web pages connect the browser or potential buyer directly to the dealers across the USA !!!..and special events across the USA !!!!...am'I kidding myself ???....No,it's really true...... ...but what's really Contax ???...."The essence of Zeiss optics" fitted to Autofocus body with some improved(maybe)features.... Can Hassy and Rollei do the same ??...Of course they can...Will they do it ???...Who knows....I shoot landscape and architecture using Hassy mostly for landscape and Leica mostly architecture; Leica allows me to "get away" from tripod and explore the angles otherwise I would miss by using tripod...Several years ago I switched from Contax(RX,167MT,25/2.8,50/1.4,35-135/4.5,100-300/5.6) to Leica R system just to find out how good Leica was...Is Leica good ??..No, Leica is simply phenomenal !!!...Will Leica ever make an autofocus camera or medium format camera ?..who knows...maybe if marketers tell Leica to do so.... Sincerelly,Jan

Jon P. , December 08, 1999; 04:26 P.M.

I dont know if this is the right place to do this, but I have rented the 645 on a few outings and find it suits my needs very well. I'm interested in getting a group to together to make a GROUP PURCHASE. Anyone interested should go to http://www.zwirl.com and look for the contax 645 group. It's worth a try.

Travis Jordan , December 21, 1999; 11:44 A.M.



  • I went to my local pro store today and examined the camera. I'm very impressed with the overall construction - the Hassy's seem like little tin boxes now. Although it was much heavier than I expected, I'm sure I'd get used to the weight. One serious thing that bothered me though was the info readout in the viewfinder. The numbers are very small and the contrast seems low. What's worse is you have to be looking in the viewfinder at a very specific angle or the numbers are not visible. If you're pointing the camera slightly up or down, the plane of your face has to be traveling precisely with the camera or the data disappears. This need to be so careful seems like a big hinderance to the normal flow of movement I have in shooting. Obviously, the system is so fantastic that I might be willing to deal with this flaw.

  • One thing that captured my attention is the overall aesthetic of the body and lenses. When compared to the new Mamiya AF, the Contax looks much more impressive! The Mamiya looks like some hybrid between a 35mm SLR and a digital camera. It looks like it belongs to the lineage of Olympus' sideways cameras, something you could pick up for $500. This factor is important to me as I primarily shoot people, and always to some degree subjects consider your gear as a rough gauge of your proficiency. I was also looking at the Mamiya in hopes of possibly becoming free from my Zeiss addiction - uh, not this year.

  • Finally, a question I'd like to pose to everyone is: like the G1 & G2, will they will come out with a second version a year to two after the orginal release? Since this is Contax's first venture into this format, it seems probable that they are going to receive a huge stream of feedback which would prompt a second version. I'd rather wait a year and pick up the enhanced model if people have heard this is likely to happen.

  • Michael Cahill , March 16, 2000; 07:49 A.M.

    I am an admitted camera junkie. I have several medium format outfits, two of which I use regularly, the Mamiya 7 and the Contax 645. I usually shoot slide film (Agfachrome RSX 100). I've accumulated 10-15 rolls of film over the winter months and have recently sat down, edited the images and chose 7 to have enlarged prints made. Despite different conditions and different cameras, all of the selected images were shot with the 645. It is an amazing camera. I couldn't be more pleased with it.

    Peter Karlsson , September 06, 2000; 09:28 A.M.

    About the Contax 645 ups and downs, in my own humble opinion:

    1) Two of the controls seems to get stuck during time: the rotable lever wich chooses AF/MF on the back of the grip, and the swith for film transport/selftimer on the side. I´ve seen marks of nails on three different camera bodies out in the pro shops on these levers. As far as I know, these levers don´t have additional locks to prevent operation. Have this occured to anyone owning a 645? Please let me know, I´m planning to buy the whole set.

    2) The closest possible focusing distance is too short for tight head shots with the 140/2.8 (1.3 m), it needs to go as close as 0.8 m or so. The Mamiya 150/2.8 AF is even worse, and does not allow autofocus with extension rings. Is this also the case with the Contax 645 combo? Let me know, please!

    3) The 210/4 is lacking a tripod mount. Too bad, it´s a long and sharp lens. Why, Kyocera, why?

    4) I need a shiftable wide angle lens for the Contax – is there one coming, or does Hasselblad have one to use with the converter?

    Finally, something about myself: I now use the Mamiya RZ 67 range with tilt/shift possibilities, and a Canon EOS equipment for moving subjects. I hate the small negative size, that´s why I want the Contax. My darkroom is an Imacon scanner, plus Photoshop, and I deliver all my material on CD, mostly to magazines and advertizing agencies. I live in the country of Hasselblad (wich is Sweden, up north in Europe). Contact me about the Contax at <peter@svarteld.com>.

    And above all (even MTF): smile and be happy!

    Gregory Allen , December 08, 2000; 02:01 P.M.

    Yes, it is possible to auto-focus with an extension tube with the Contax 645. I frequently use the 140mm + the 13mm tube. Auto-focus is not a problem.

    john beckman , April 27, 2001; 02:07 P.M.

    It's a fine camera. What has emerged as its most serious problem is its power saver feature.

    The camera eats batteries. That doesn't bother me too much (though the 2cr5 batteries aren't cheap). But to avoid monstrous consumption, the camera has a standby feature that engages after 15 seconds of non-use.

    The problem is the power-up -- it takes a second or two, during which the camera won't focus or take a picture. Potentially, that could make for a lot of missed shots.

    It's serious enough that I'm giving at least some thought to getting a replacement

    Hernan Mapua , December 10, 2001; 03:55 A.M.

    New users of this camera should remember to re-adjust the diopter every time the lens is changed (read the manual). Your pictures will come out much sharper than if the diopter is even silghtly off. I use the Mfs-3 ground-glass focusing screen with the grid. I'm currently saving up for the 350mm which is the only lens I don't have.

    james kerner , January 24, 2002; 02:55 P.M.

    For good deals on the Contax 645AF, Rollei 6008i, or other equipment be sure to contact Poon at Hong Kong Supplies(etefore@netvigator.com). He has an impeccable eBay rating (400 positive, no negative ratings the last time I checked), is very knowledgeable, and saved me about $2K on an entire Contax system. The savings for Rollei would be even higher. He insures everything, provides tracking numbers, and the shipments show up in around 3 days. I have had no surprises and recommend him highly.

    Vincent Huang , January 26, 2002; 12:42 A.M.

    There seems to be quite a few requests for tilt/shift lens for the 645. I too have been hunting for an alternative. There is not much out there short of buying the Hassy flexbody but I've recently found a solution. Horseman sells a viewcamera attachment for Hassy. Using that plus a Hassy/Contax convertor should allow us to use the shift and tilt feature of the viewcamear attachment. But you have to stop the lens down manually to meter and there is no autofocus of course. What do you guys think? Doable? Useable?

    Glen Johnson , February 02, 2002; 09:20 A.M.

    Kiev Camera sells Eastblock tilt and tilt shift lenses with adapters for the Contax 645, as well as for other medium format cameras. They are relatively inexpensive. They put them up on eBay fairly regularly. Kiev's url is http://www.kievcamera.com/. Take their hyperlink to the Hartblei site, and the lenses and adapters are listed there. Kiev says they are the importer, and you have to check with them to find out what the real prices are. I haven't ever seen a negative or slide from one of these lenses in person. The images I've seen posted on the web as representing images taken with these lenses have not impressed me, but there are so many possible places where quality could have been lowered, I don't really know how good or bad these lenses are.

    Frank Gao , February 15, 2002; 02:11 P.M.

    Contax offers an Auto Bellow with tilt and shift mode for perspective control and depth of field shift. Has anyone tried it?

    john beckman , February 25, 2002; 01:36 P.M.

    I've used the bellows. Very nice set up, and well thought out -- a cord maintains the electronic connection between the lens and the camera. Every six months or so, I write contax asking them to make a short barreled lens so one can focus to infinity with the bellows. It would be great -- perspective controls in a camera that permits maintenance of electronic connections. Give me a short barreled lens and some leaf shutter lenses, please, Contax, oh please

    Doug Dolde , February 25, 2002; 02:19 P.M.


    Mout Pinos

    Of interest to Contax 645 and Mamiya 645 owners, Kodak just announced a 16 megapixel (4080x4080) digital back for these cameras with an MSRP of $11,995.

    http://www.kodak.com/global/en/professional/products/cameras/dcsProBack645/proBack645Index.jhtml;jsessionid=B0G5R1SW0XFTNQHIO2SXWIA

    Nick Recob , March 06, 2002; 01:05 A.M.

    For Contax 645 users who go thru a lot of batteries--There IS a solution! (I don't mean the Contax Battery Grip). Go to www.digitalcamerabattery.com and buy their RECHARGEABLE NiMH battery--it can accomodate not one but TWO cords so you can power your camera AND flash at the same time with ONE battery pack! (Voltages are determined by the cords so you can power two things that work on completely DIFFERENT VOLTAGES!!!!) I power a Contax 645 and Quantum T2 flash this way--it works GREAT!!!(No, I don't work for the company, I just thought I'd share an excellent solution to the battery appetite "problem" of the Contax 645). Happy Shooting!

    Subrata Chattopadhyay , March 11, 2002; 06:03 A.M.

    I'd like to draw the list members' attention to the lens comparison between Zeiss/Mamiya AF lenses for the 645 format available at www.mamiya.com.

    I'm a bit shaken reading this report. Though the Mamiya 645AFD has a known film flatness problem, and the Contax 645 is reportedly more robustly built, I'd think twice before investing a fortune in the Contax 645.

    Any comments?

    Thanks. Subrata Chattopadhyay.

    Nick Recob , March 23, 2002; 12:30 A.M.

    Of course Mamiya America Corp (MAC) is going to post a "test" that claims Mamiya lenses are superior to Zeiss--but are you going to rely on a third party's (Pop Photo) "testing"? Here's the one thing you need to remember: Zeiss publishes performance specs on what their lenses actually do (they are the only lens manufacturer in the world to do this!)--everyone else (Mamiya, Nikon etc etc) publish specs of what their lenses are capable of. If you understand this very important difference, you will see thru Mamiya's smoke and mirrors! Don't get me wrong, Mamiya makes some fine cameras (I've used them in the past) but the Contax 645 with Zeiss lenses really are superior. Probably the best way to decide on which system to buy is to rent both of them and then look at the results. I did, and the Contax was the clear winner!

    Maestro Logos , March 24, 2002; 03:34 A.M.

    I agree with the last comment. In that particular issue of PopPhoto, in fine print it was said that those resolution scores came from each respective manufacturers own labs. Not a very objective comparison and not easy to interpret what really is meant.

    For those of you who are interested in seeing the spectacular image quality of Contax 645 lenses, check out:

    http://www.photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=69154&size=lg

    http://www.infosnow.ne.jp/~tate/gallery/new/index.html

    Gary Katz , October 07, 2002; 09:42 P.M.

    I REALLY enjoy my Contax 645, too, but I've discovered a strange problem. I do a lot of architectural work, and recently while shooting moldings for a catalogue, I discovered that my 140m lens bends images that are straight and parallel--worse as the straight/parallel lines approach the top and bottom of the frame. I sent the camera in to Contax, with the lens. They said they adjusted this and that, and sent it back. I've just shot another roll of film and the same bending is still there. I don't get nearly as much bending when I use the 80m lens. This is NOT an effect of perspective control. My camera is dead level and at 90 degrees with the molding set. Any one else have a problem like this? I would surely like a solution because I enjoy the camera and all its great features, Gary

    Mark Holzapfel , December 10, 2002; 03:20 P.M.

    I have used the Contax 645 since it first came out. All my film inserts have cracks in the maine roller. I reported this to Contax and they acted like they could careless.

    I am shooting outside in all weather from Alaska to Europe.

    I purchased replacement roller at $12 each for all my incerts. Anyone else have this problem?

    Jorge Diaz , January 19, 2003; 10:35 P.M.

    Briefly I'd like to comment about the Mamiya/Zeiss quality controversy.I own both brand of lenses.The Mamiya is a lens for making pretty pictures.The Zeiss for accuracy.If I want a portrait I would trust a Mamiya lens to get the more flattering rendition of a face.Witness the photography of Mamiya greats such as Leibowitz.There's glowy softness to them...coupled with great sharpness.The Zeiss on the other hand are precision instruments.If I were a forensic specialist I would use Zeiss lenses.I guess that's the reason why Zeiss offers the "Dutto"softening filter....They are simply going to show that little blemish on the bride's gown more poignantly than a Mamiya's. I have a Rollei integral and the Distagons,Planars and Sonnar give you texture like nothing else in medium format.Yes the Leica's new repertory are superior performers than any other thing out there.Their only limitation is the size of the format.I have sometimes gotten better enlargements from a Leica negative than a MF be it whatever brand.

    Seth Hansen , August 05, 2003; 09:12 P.M.

    I've been using the Mamiya 645 AFD for a year shooting with film and also a Leaf digital back... and I can't get a sharp image from any of my 3 lenses - the 150mm is the worst. I've been considering trading out of Mamiya to Contax for this reason: I can always successfully soften an image in Photoshop... but sharpening an image (even by sharpening the L channel in LAB color) usually gives less than ideal results and makes me wish I had a sharp image to begin with.

    H. M. , December 07, 2003; 06:20 P.M.

    With respect to the last comment - just looked at the Mamiya website, and they give the impression that the Leaf digital back with the Mamiya 645 AFD camera is a fantastic combination.

    Patrick (Washington, DC) , April 06, 2004; 05:43 P.M.

    I guess I'm a late commer to this discussion and camera system. I bought a used C645 Pro kit plus some extras in March 2004. I did a lot of researching and testing in the MF game and finally settled on the C645 because of its lenses, the build quality, and the handling. Hasselblad H1 is too expensive, the Mamiya system is heavier, louder, the standard 80mm lens is a stop slower, and it is not much cheaper. Still 5 years after its introduction, I must say it is one of the finest AF medium format rigs around.

    By now, "everyone" says DSLRs will kill MF, but do compete with the C645 output one needs a Canon 1Ds for about USD 8,000. Then add a couple of L lenses, Photoshop CS, Capture One RAW software, a powerful PC like a Mac G5, large screen, color calibration technology, hardware backup, DVD burner etc, etc. All this to simply match what a used mint C645 system for USD $2,000?!?!

    I would say that a good 645 MF system still holds its own compared to almost any system out there on the market and it is a fine addition to anyone seriously interested in large prints for people/portraits, macro, still life etc.

    Finally, do visit the Luminous Landscape C645 field test link below.

    Cheers,

    Seth Derrick , September 15, 2004; 12:03 P.M.

    I am currently researching both MFs and DSLRs. One thing that doesn't get much mention, perhaps because of the cost, is that there are being made right now digital backs for MF cameras. Kodak's 11MP back seems to get the best reviews. Of course right now that's a $12,000 solution but witness the price drop in every single other area of technology. Just five years ago, while working for Dell, the holy grail was a sub-$1000 computer. Now the market is flooded with very high quality, very fast and capable PCs for $6-700.

    The point is, a high quality MF camera will always be able to take a roll of film but a DSLR....

    Is the direction I'm leaning showing?

    Maximiliano Braun , November 07, 2004; 08:36 P.M.

    I agree, unless digital is the widely dominant medium for photography, film will still be there. Remeber that if you want to make really big prints, digital cameras have a limit on final image size. Film can be scanned to amazingly high resolutions and make billboards.

    Whether you go for film or digital, its up to you to see which is best for your workflow. I do fashion, I am student, I have a 645 and its working great with me, I love to scan the film and play with it in photoshop while for black and white I love going in the darkroom and work the magic out.

    It just depends on you. I love my camera, the feel and the picture. But most of all, I love photography.


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