Contax G2 35mm Rangefinder – Featured User Review

Featured Film Photography Uncategorized User Reviews Zeiss

Contax G2 35mm Rangefinder Review It may not be the latest and greatest as far as camera technology goes, but the Contax G2 35mm rangefinder has achieved classic film camera status. And back in the late nineties when it was introduced, it was a really big deal. Before most of us even dreamed of useable digital cameras, I coveted the Contax G2 for its compact, jewelry-quality titanium body and wonderful Carl Zeiss auto focus lenses (With the exception of the G2′s predecessor, the Contax G1, all 35mm rangefinder cameras were manual focus). When I saw this excellent review I had to make it a Featured User Review. Film shooters – eat your hearts out!

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Featured Review: Contax G2 35mm Rangefinder

by bobby novatron (Intermediate)

Price Paid: $400.00 from eBay auction

Review Date: July 19, 2010
Used product for: 1 to 3 months

Overall Rating: 5 of 5
Value Rating: 5 of 5

So much has been written about the G1 / G2 from Contax over the past ten years. At the outset, it doesn’t seem like there’s very much that I can add. Maybe it would help if I clarified why I think this particular 35mm film camera is still relevant in 2010 and beyond.

The Contax G2 represents (arguably) the pinnacle of rangefinder camera technology. As a design piece, it’s worth collecting just for that reason. The build quality, materials, fit & finish are all impeccable. It feels incredibly solid in your hand.

As a photographic tool, the G2 is really in a rarefied class that includes Leica and not much else. This is the kind of camera that makes offerings from Panasonic, Sony, and other Japanese brands seem plasticky and gimmicky.

At the same time — one has to remember that the G2 is “stuck in the past”. You’re dealing with a film camera. FILM. It’s a bit of an archaic idea in this hyper-fast, super-networked facebooked uploaded instantaneous-everything world we live in.

So why bother? Why get a G2, when you can get a Lumix? Or an Olympus EP-1? You can get cool lens adapters and use the bloody Contax Biogon lenses (yes, all of them) on your snazzy 2010 digital camera. Heck, the Carl Zeiss Biogon lenses are so cheap on eBay, you could stock up on lenses and not bother with the G2 body at all.

Well, the reason you might want to get a G2 system is this: the “aesthetic” of film. Film has “something” that digital doesn’t have. Sure, digital wins on many fronts: convenience, color rendition, sophisticated metering, etc. … but film sometimes can just look “better”. But that’s highly subjective, and only for you to decide.

The G2 represents one of the the final, grandiose products of the Contax name, as well as the fatal hubris of Kyocera and the decline and destruction of Kyocera’s photographic division. While Canon and Nikon got their act together and successfully transitioned to digital while increasing market share, the engineers at Kyocera blew it — big time. By the time they got around to making a digital camera (the Contax N & the Contax TVS) it was too little, too late.

If you’re interested in photography, and especially keen to explore the world of 35mm film, I highly recommend getting one of these cameras. The body is a masterpiece of engineering, and the lenses are legendary and extraordinary.

Did I mention the lenses? There’s a reason why a strong aftermarket still exists for these lenses. The imaging quality of the Biogon series is really amazing. There is something about the “feel” of these lenses — I can tell right away by looking at a photo that it was taken with a Zeiss Biogon. Extremely sharp, virtually no vignetting or distortion, and a subtle, pleasant background blur (bokeh).

The G2 body is a major improvement over the G1 (I have owned both). The AF system on the G2 is far superior to the G1. Autofocus is screamingly fast on the G2.

Parallax correction on the G2 is wonderful. No framelines like on the Leica M series.

Motor drive & film loading on the G2 make it a pleasure to use. Extremely fast film transport, plus auto rewind.

Body materials and construction on the G2 & Biogon lenses is 1st-rate. You’re virtually getting Leica quality for pennies on the dollar, now that Contax has long closed its doors.

Despite rumours on the internet, you can still get these repaired. Parts and service is not an issue.

Yes, the viewfinder is a little dark, but in most situations it’s not a problem.

Mounting the lenses on to the body is very fiddly. Like other reviewers have stated, it’s not nearly as simple as the twist-click of using a Canon lens. It takes some concentration to ensure that your lens is mounting properly. Also, I have found that different lenses mount easier than others. I do no know why this should be so.

The AF and metering is not multi-matrix, like modern digital SLR’s. You have to be aware that the Contax AF system is more of a simple center-weighted idea. It is still possible to miss a crucial shot because the AF thinks you’re aiming somewhere else.

The motor drive is a little noisy, but only in the immediate vicinity of the camera body. A couple feet away, and the noise is not a problem. It only sounds loud to G2 users because they’re holding it next to their heads! On a busy street, the sound of the motor would be imperceptible.

One more weakness: manual focus. This has been stated on numerous places on the web, but yes — it’s true. The engineers at Kyocera really blew it on the manual focus. They might as well have not even put this option on the G2 at all. You have no idea whether your manual focus is actually going to work or not. Using the G2 as a “scale focus” camera — or using “hyperfocal” settings — is really iffy because there are no scale markings on the lenses whatsoever. If they had managed to put #1 a coincident RF patch in manual mode and #2 hyperfocal values on the lenses, then this would not be a problem. But then it would have been a different camera, no?

And finally — the AF selector. I use my thumb on the rear of the body to activate the AF on the very handy multi-function button. Unfortunately, this button has a ring-selector to choose between different AF modes (continuous, single, and manual) and I have found that my thumb has caused the ring to move and put me in an unwanted mode, usually “manual”, which is especially useless. Another flaw, but a minor one.

Similar Products Used:
Bessa R3A, Leica M6.

Customer Service:
None. Unless you invent a time machine and go back to 2002. However, there are service depots in Japan and USA that will still repair these cameras (as of 2010).

Related Content:
All Contax User Reviews
35mm Rangefinder Camera User Reviews
Film Photography Forum
All Featured User Reviews
All Film Photography News & Articles

About the author: Photo-John

Photo-John, a.k.a. John Shafer, is the managing editor of and has been since the site launched back in 1999. He's an avid outdoor enthusiast and spends as much time as possible on his mountain bike, hiking or skiing in the mountains. He's been taking pictures for ever and ever, and never goes anywhere without a camera.

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