Eric L. Woods

This Old Camera: Contax G1 – Return of the G.

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As I have mentioned in recent posts I went on a full on Contax G bender a few years ago. Even wrote about this system for KEH claiming it to be my favorite. Then I sold them all off afterward. Why? My stated reason was that I used the T2 more. Honestly no idea what I was thinking. As I should have been able to predict the T2 and the G lens system are different enough where having both makes sense for me. Upon G system re-entry the G1 or G2 question was easy. G1.

Contax G1

Is the G2 better? Arguably yes. There are “buts” however.

  • Better AF.
    • G1 is more than good enough. I have never once thought “I wish the AF worked better” when using the G1 even when I also owned the G2. Your mileage may vary.
  • Continuous AF during bursts.
    • I never shoot burst on film, which the G1 has also, let alone continuous AF burst.
  • Focus wheel on the front.
    • Top or front I always use AF. Plus the G2’s focus wheel does not have distance markings which the G1’s wheel does so if you were to try (me never with this) zone focusing could theoretically be a thing here if one were so inclined to try. Again. I am not. AF all the way with this bad boy.
  • Faster shutter speeds available.
    • Nice, but 1/2000s bests many other film cameras and is plenty for my purposes since these lenses top out at f/2 and the lenses I use top out at f/2.8.
  • Compatible with G system 35-70mm zoom.
    • Quickly after acquiring an AF Zoom I lost interest in having an AF Zoom after one roll. Went back to the primes after that.

So with that I was left with the G1’s advantages for me.

  • The G1 is just that much smaller and lighter that it was the first camera I reached for every single time when I had both.
  • The G1 is considerably less expensive.
  • Lastly I can in no way tell the difference between photos taken with the G1 from photos taken with the G2 I had. So much so I did not bother creating a separate gallery and put them all in one instead.

When I first bought a G1 I was unsure about the system so I acquired a less than pristine copy. Knowing that this would be the only G I obtained a cleaner copy this time.

That compares the G1 vs the G2, but what is the deal? Why buy back into the G system again at all? Why did I miss it?

Lenses

The corner stone of any camera system film or digital is their lens line up. I lead with saying that this system brings Zeiss glass. In case more is needed here is a post on the 28mm, 45mm, and 90mm. Stellar. I cannot think of another better set of lenses.

Rather than launch into lens purchases I decided to start slowly. First pick was relatively easy. The 28mm f/2.8.

Contax G1

It was the first lens I bought last time also and produced this day one then.

Fujifilm X-Tra w/ Contax G1
Fujifilm Superia X-Tra 800

This was a focus and recompose test and it passed with flying colors. A fantastic lens and a solid performer. Here is a shot from a New Year’s Day Durham walk.

Film - 20200101 Durham Photo Walk
Lomography 400

I waited many months before adding another lens. Second up was the least expensive (considerably less than $200) but still awesome 90mm f/2.8.

Contax G1

While I would not recommend this as your only G lens it does make for a no brainer second lens if you already have one of the lenses between 28mm and 45mm.

Accurate AF

To my recollection I have never missed focus with the G1 (or G2 for that matter) regardless of the conditions. Mind the in viewfinder focus distance indicator and you are golden. It will blink to warn you that you are too close. It will also give you a rough estimate distance. While it has not missed focus on me it is a nice way to make sure that the camera is focusing on what you think it is focusing on. But in every case if that box in the middle is over the subject you are good.

Accurate Exposure

Just nails it. Like focus I have never experienced a missed exposure with this camera that I can recall. In addition, as I pointed out in this Hexar AF comparison, it is TTL rather than having a sensor on the body so you do not have to be concerned with accidentally covering the sensor with your finger and you can use ND filters with ease because…

Rangefinder-ishness

I see no point in comparing this camera to MF rangefinders. I have MF rangefinders and they are a different use case. While the G1 has AF and is not a proper focus patch rangefinder you do gain some rangefinder like advantages though:

  • ND filters do not dim your view like it would on an SLR.
  • Allows you to take in a wider view of the world before before final framing.

And better than most other systems:

Contax G1
  • Adjusts the view magnification in viewfinder for the lens attached. It is like having rangefinder goggles built into the camera. You do not need to remember to use the correct frame lines.
  • Once you half press for focus acquisition the rangefinder… finder? blocks the scene to show the parallax correction. I prefer this to other cameras that show nothing at all or guesstimate with frame lines.
Contax G1

Build and Aesthetics

Contax G1

Titanium for Pete’s sake. I have had no other film camera better built than this camera. I personally put it in the same realm as the best and most lauded brands. This coming from someone that has owned a Leica M3. All buttons and switches have a quality feel to them. Looks are subjective, but this is also one of the best looking cameras I have owned.

Ease of Use

Set everything to A and this is an aperture priority point and shoot. Focus your attention on the moment and framing and the camera will make you look good.

Manual Controls and Overrides

Contax G1

Exposure Compensation: Yes (-2 to +2)

Exposure Lock: Flick the shutter surround switch from On one more click.

Aperture: Manual

Shutter Speed: Full manual control with in viewfinder exposure confirmation.

ISO: DX or manual.

Contax G1

Drive: Single, Continuous (focus lock), Timer, and Multiple Exposure.

Contax G1

Manual Focus: Yes, with in viewfinder confirmation.

Focus and Recompose: Shutter half press.

Film Wind and Rewind: Auto. Early rewind button on the bottom.

Contax G1

Bracketing: +/-0.5 and +/-1 3 shot bracketing available via A.B.C. (Auto Bracketing Control) switch below auto exposure/exposure compensation/shutter speed dial. Takes all three shots in Continuous and one shot at a time in Single.

Reliability

With this much automation if this camera’s electronics pack it in you are likely out of luck. Other than one friend’s camera that was a bum unit on purchase that was returned and replaced with another that was fine I have not heard any horror stories other than one user error drop/ruin horror story online. But even if it did fail I would either:

  • Call it a day and continue using the lenses adapted to digital.
  • Go and find myself another G1.

Given my history I am leaning towards the second bullet in that case.

Value

While black versions are costly for either model, and G2 Titanium models can creep up on you G1 models are the most affordable Titanium built, Zeiss AF lens using system I can think of. If you steer clear of the wider 16mm f/8 glass w/ finder the lenses are reasonably priced as well, especially the 28mm and 90mm. The 21mm w/ finder (G1 requires green label mod to use. I have yet to come across a G1 on the market that has not had this mod. The finder was the deal breaker though so I went for the lower priced non accessory viewfinder 28mm instead.), 35mm, and 45mm are excellent also, and worth every penny, but will set you back a bit more. Flashes are reasonable also all things considered and come in two sizes/strengths. I understand it shares the TTL system with the Contax SLRs so I bought an SLT Contax flash instead for all of $30. I say “understand” because I have never tried it out. I rarely ever shoot film with flash and opt for sky high T-MAX P3200 or Delta 3200, use constant lights, or brace myself and wing it if I intend to shoot in the dark. Personal preference. Still it is nice to have a flash if I ever needed one.

Sample Images

Ilford XP2 w/ Contax G1
Ilford XP2 w/ Contax G1
Rollei RPX400 w/ Contax G1
Rollei RPX400 w/ Contax G1
Rollei RPX400 w/ Contax G1
Contax G1 and 45mm f/2 w Lomography 400
T-Max P3200 / Contax G1 / 45mm f/2
Film - 20200101 Durham Photo Walk
Film - 20200101 Durham Photo Walk
Film - 20200101 Durham Photo Walk
Contax G1 w/ Zeiss Planar 45mm f/2 and Lomography 400
T-Max P3200 / Contax G1 / 45mm f/2
Contax G2 w/ 45mm f/2 & Fuji Acros 100
Rollei RPX400 w/ Contax G1
Ilford XP2 w/ Contax G1
Fujifilm X-Tra w/ Contax G1
Fujifilm X-Tra w/ Contax G1
Fujifilm X-Tra w/ Contax G1

Conclusion

Great camera. Oddly took me selling it to realize that it is one of my all time favorites.

-ELW

Contax G1

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