It was both an advantage and disadvantage that when I was testing out the Contax G2, a mechanised rangefinder with both autofocus and auto exposure first introduced in 1995, I only had access to one of the seven lenses available to the system—the Carl Zeiss 28mm f/2.8 Biogon.
The disadvantage is clear; while the Biogon is tremendously sharp and demonstrates excellent contrast, it pretty much limited me to a certain type of image. For example, I wasn’t able to shoot as many portraits than if I had access to the famed Carl Zeiss 45mm f/2 Planar and 90mm f/2.8 Sonnar (even though we had no model anyway), or to capture more of the landscape with the 21mm f/2.8 Biogon and 16mm f/8 Hologon.
Then for street photography, the last of the official Zeiss lenses for the G system—the German-made 35mm f/2 Planar or 35-70mm f/3.5-5.6 Vario Sonnar—would have been incredible.
Rather than make excuses or to blame the gear however, I seek only to highlight the advantage of the system—Contax only made seven lenses because it only needed that many. The lenses (except maybe the 35mm f/2 Planar and the zoom), have gained renown for being some of the sharpest ever made for 35mm.
This reflects how Contax focused on the idea of ‘less is more‘, and Contax’s ‘less’ was always more than most other brand’s ‘most’.
In turn, the Contax G system is recognised as a triumph; it has limitations, but then again, so does every other film camera. The design of the body is so exact and precise, the lenses are trustworthy, and the autofocus is generally reliable—although as I mentioned in the video, quick portraits are an issue, so take the effort to check the distance confirmation in the viewfinder if you have time.
The speed of the camera is remarkable for its age and class, as it’s faster than any other rangefinder. It’s not as speedy as a SLR or as indestructible as a Leica M3, but it has a bit of both worlds—the automation of modern cameras and the elegance and intimacy of a manual rangefinder.
With each negative aspect, there’s also a positive element to offset it. While the rangefinder isn’t very bright, and is definitely smaller than a fully manual rangefinder, it offers parallax correction and it automatically adjusts itself for each focal length.
If it weren’t the fact that Contax is no longer around and that parts are becoming scarce, the G2 would be a sure choice for analog camera lovers to pick up. Alas, that is no longer the case, but if you find one in good condition, you can add to the legacy that Contax established.
Carl Zeiss 28mm f/2.8 Biogon with Kodak Tri-X 400
Carl Zeiss 28mm f/2.8 Biogon with Kodak Portra 160