Hello all,

I have a question for all of you who use the Contax 645.

Currently I have a RX with the 28/2.8, 50/1.4, 85/1,4, 135/2.8 and the VS 35-135/3.5-4.5. Recently a friend made some pictures of our 9 months old daughter with a medium format Hasselblad. The results were very good. I found the quality of the photo's significantly better than with the RX. This is only to be expected due to the larger format. Also I am having some difficulty focussing the RX when shooting our lively daughter indoors in low light. As you know the focus indicator of the RX is faily slow and doesn't work very well in dim conditions.

Considering this I am wondering if it would be a good idea to move up to the 645. The medium format would give me better quality (larger) prints and the autofocus would hopefully allow me to focus (a bit) more quickly. I usually shoot handheld in available light. Other than our daughter my subjects tend to remain still (landscapes) or are more patient (wife).

Another question would be if it is sensible to buy a discontinued model like the 645. I gather that I only would use the 80/2.0 lens for general use and the 140/2.8 for portraits.

I would appreciate your ideas.




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The Contax 645 is slow autofocus and rarely able to be used for moving subjects. I tried shooting weddings with one and just resorted to manual focus.

The Hassleblad H camera and Mamiya AFD-II are newer technology, and are both much faster and surer for AF shooting than a Contax 645.

But neither is anywhere near as fast and sure as a Nikon F6 or Canon EOS 1V.

Not many sports shooters use MF if that gives you a clue.


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I had the experience of the following options.

RX viewfinder is dimmer than Aria or S2, so an easy to improve the situation is to change to these bodies. S2 is preferred, the mirror of Aria created more vibration and so it is less useful in low light situation.

Another expensive way is to convert your lenses to the versions with larger apertures. They become 28mm f2, 55mm f1.2, 85mm f1.2 and 135mm f2. 28mm f2 is the better version compared to 28mm f2.8. It is certainly the lens to keep.

Marc sold his C-Y system and kept on using his Canon. It really very much depends on the shooting style. On the other hand, I am keeping my C-Y 85 1.2 as opposed to the Canon 85 1.2. The C-Y 85mm 1.2 is only marginally better than the Canon version considered by many, but it is several times more expensive.

There are several reasons why I am not using the Canon version. I have a personal preference to Zeiss lenses as opposed to Canon. I prefer the colours from Zeiss. I suppose if you are a Pro you really have no choice but to go for Canon.

Although Canon gives you accurate autofocusing most of the time, there are situations when I don't trust it at all. For ex&le, when you subject is about 1 meter from you and you are shootting at an oblique 45 degree angle. At this distance, the head will fill up nearly the whole frame. Inaccurate focusing will lead to one eye being sharp but not the other. What i do is to manual focus both eyes one at each time and take the mean. Once you get more experience, you can focus at one eye and move the camera halfway and shot. Yes, I agree Canon lens can manual focus, but it is a completely different feel. It is a time when you need the well d&ened feel of the Zeiss.

I would trust the autofocus if they have the face detection technology. I understand that it is being developed in some P+S cameras. I hope one day they can have eye detection and autofocus to the mean point. It is a day that I am waiting for.

You should consider an important class of cameras as well, the rangefinders. The G2 is very good, provided you get a well calibrated G2. The service provide to G2 is not existing at all nowadays.

The Leica M (and perhaps Zeiss Ikon cameras as well) will give a very accurate and fast focusing even at low light. Together with lenses with breathtaking performance, they are the systems you should look at. They certainly focus better than my RX in low light.

Low light photography has been dominated by the Leica rangfinders for half a century, it will continue to do so unless they invented another species better than the rangefinders.

Why the digital SLR are not as good as the rangefinders in low light ?
Yes, I agree they have stabliization technologies. So are the rangefinders, you can scan them and adjust it with the software. Rangefinders have better lenses in low light. Rangefinders have less vibrations. Film has more dynamic range and is preferred by me in low light.

Sure, it is not absolute in the choices and there are certainly many good works in low light done by the DSLRs.

If I am using my C645 in low light, I would preferred a tripod. It is difficult to hold it still because it has a much bigger mirror. If you managed to get some shots, they can be very good. Expect it to be much slower to use than the smaller format. I brought mine last year, it is great, it's price is going up.


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IMO, Joseph makes very good recommendations.

If you do not need AF and digital capture, companies like Leica and Contax/Zeiss reached such heights of analog/manual performance one need not look elsewhere.

I had to make a decision concerning what manual camera to keep, because two systems made little sense. I selected Leica R over Contax C/Y because there was a digital solution as well as film solutions ... and new lenses for general shooting from Leica were of interest (28-90/2.8-3.5 and the 21-35/3.5 ASPH lenses for ex&le). I already had lenses like the 35/1.4, 80/1.4, 90/2APO-ASPH and 180/2.8APO. I personally like the slightly warmer feel of the Leica glass over the Zeiss ... but since I scan films that was of little concern with either lens system... both are superb. The Leica R is also still in production and factory service is readily available.

Canon has made it's mark not in it's lens design specifically, but more due to the speed of operation, rugged performance, and it's digital capture. In fact most can be attributed to it's digital capture, since Nikon film cameras are just as rugged and fast in operation.

One solution that may be of interest that Joseph did not mention is the Nikon F6 camera using Zeiss F mount manual focus lenses (ZF). The offering is not very deep, but does cover key focal lengths: 25/2.8 Distogon, 35/2 Distagon, 50/1.4 Planar, 85/1.4 Planar as of now. The Nikon F6 then provides the option of AF when you want it using a few key Nikon lenses, including VR versions ... The F6 is the pinnical of annolog camera evolution, provides focus confirmation, endless acessories and screen choices, as well as current service.

Personally I never could get used to using an AF rangefinder and migrated back to a Leica M after some time trying the Contax G system. This has not stopped me from fitting the new M mount Zeiss lenses to my Leica MP3, and I anxiously await the redesigned ZM 85/1.4: -)


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Douke, yet another advantage of the 645 is its adaptability to other lenses like Hassy F glass or those MC versions of Carl Zeiss Jena sonnars. You are right, "native" 2.8/140 is great for portraits, but CZJ 2.8/180 is very much similar, it's a little sharper and costs few times less. I personally collected 3.5/35, 2/80, 2.8/140, 4/120 Apo-Macro, 2.8/50 Hassy F, 2/110 Hassy F, 2.8/150 Hassy F, 2.8/180 CZJ and 4/300 CZJ and very happy with my Contax 645. Hope this helps.


Thanks for all the replies. I gather that the 645 might not be the most practical option for shooting moving small children in low light.

I wonder if the Zeiss Ikon rangefinder would be a good alternative.

Does anyone know how the ZI with the 21/2.8, 28/2.8, 50/2.0 or 1.4 and (improved) 85/2.0 compares to the Leica M7 with similar lenses in terms of quality? I guess in terms of costs I would prefer the ZI.



No, a manual focus rangefinder will not work. I know it from my own experience. Only Nikon F6 or Contax G2 can focus on my two year old son (he is very fast) practically in any situation. (C645, N1 can not (too slow), although C645 pictures come out really beautifully if a child gives you 2-3 seconds to focus and recompose a shot. I found C645 AF to be very accurate, but relatively slow.

You may try to use a MF rangefinder with the lens set to hyperfocal distance (f11-16, to give you DOF from 1.5-2m to infinity), but in my opinion it is a waste of excellent lenses, that shine at wider apertures. You already have an equipmnet that will allow you get pictures that undistinguishable from pictures taken with leica lenses @f11-16.


Active Member
I am asking to myself how we taken decent pictures of our childs when no autofocus nor good reflex viewfinders were available.

Perhaps nowdays the childs are faster ... or slower photographers ...



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Well sonny, in MY day we used a technique called pre-focus, that is we set our speed graphic to focus at a specific distance and using another technique called hyper-focus we set the f-stop to allow enough depth of field that the image was razor sharp within the zone our subject was in or running into. Of course we had to compromise the shutter speed and the f-stop, but it worked very well in daylight and we added additional flash powder for inside or flash shots.


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IMO, it is because not enough photographers practice and master their camera.

Recently a very good tabletop and portrait photographer was looking at some images I had done of an office picnic I was hire to shoot. I used a Canon and Zeiss C/Y manual focus 85/1.2 @ 1.2 of kids on a swing ... he was astounded that the kids were in focus. It's no magic secret, it's called pre-focus, anticipation and timing.

HCB got a lot of "decisive moments" with slow film and a manual focus rangefinder camera. Some the most iconic action shots in history have been done with Nikon or Leica manual cameras.

Here's a tip: you don't shoot hypersonic kids where they are, you shoot them where they are going to be : -)

Here's another tip: when using manual focus cameras, especially a rangefinder with short throw focusing lenses, always return the focus ring to infinity after shooting. It teaches you that the motion will always be in the same direction, rather than back and forth "hunting". If you look at the distance scale on a manual lens you will see that most distances are closest to infinity, so the amount of adjustment is relatively minor to achieve critical focus for a majority of action shots.

With this technique, I can focus a Leica rangefinder faster than I ever was able to achieve with my Contax G2s ... which is why I finally gave up and sold the Contaxes.

In my experience, the only AF cameras that defy this principle are modern SLRs like Canon 1 series and Nikon Pro models ... which, with practice, you can track a running black cat in a coal-mine at midnight : -)


I agree, the photographers are slower. They are (including myself) spoiled by AF cameras. Sure one can practice MFing from scratch, but in a meantime a good AF camera could be very handy. Otherwise the kids will grow w/o pictures. :)