Mini Camera Review: Contax G1

November 4th, 2009


This is a camera I wanted to love so much — yet it continues to disappoint every time I use it. Rangefinders are dreamy, and I bought the Contax after feeling nostalgic for my old Voighlander Bessa R. And the Contax should be a great camera simply because of its impeccable pedigree, yet I find the camera maddening to take pictures with due to its bizarre design. The two lonely positives are the interchangeable Carl Zeiss lens and the beautiful fit and finish of the camera body. Just holding the camera in your hand is like handling a piece of art. But back to the aggravating design. The G1 is actually not a traditional rangefinder like the old Leicas. It can operate in auto or manual focus modes. To manually focus, you must turn an awkwardly placed dial on the top of the camera. For me, it takes forever to get the focus just right, even with as much practice as I’ve had. the updated G2 has the focus dial in the front of the camera, which is a little better, but it’s still totally fiddly. Forget auto focus mode, I find it completely useless.

Despite the frustrations the camera elicits, I continue to use it. Quite simply, the Zeiss lens are some of the best lens I’ve ever used. The 45mm Planar is actually considered the sharpest 35mm camera lens ever made, beating the Leica 50mm Summicron. For some reason these lens are magic with black and white film. I also like the camera size. It’s smaller than an SLR, but has a nice heft to it and it auto advances the film unlike my old Bessa R. It’s too bad they screwed up on the auto and manual focusing though. Coming from my Nikon F100 (review coming), the auto focus on the G1 seems clumsy and primitive. Even my cheapo Yashica T4, made by the same company, has a better auto focus system. But I suppose I’ll keep the camera just for its lens. The G series Zeiss can’t be used on any digital cameras, so they can be found on eBay for pretty cheap.

Entry Filed under: Photography

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Dave Raaum  |  December 8th, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    Update on the use of the lenses. Adapters are now available that let you use the G-series Contax lenses on the 4/3’s cameras (e.g., the olympus ep-1).

  • 2. mark YOUNG  |  December 20th, 2012 at 5:07 pm

    yes, not a rangefinder in the usual sense and a camera you must wrap yourself around and not expect it to be something it isn’t. Having said that, it will deliver the images as you have noted, I look at mine as a kind of imaging machine and leave the rangefinder esthetic to my rangefinder, lol.

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