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sorry for the late reply, I could not check my mails last week...
Judging about a DLSR is always risky. A judgment is IMHO only valid for the time when it was written. 6 months later, everything can appear different because of new DSLR innovations.
The Contax ND is a very special camera. Maybe the best way to answer this question is to compare it with other cameras, which are available in April 2006 and a potential alternative.
I tried within the last 12 months the Nikon D70, Nikon D50, Sony R1 and now the Minolta 7D. I also looked at my dealer at the Canon 10D, 20D, 30D and 5D, Nikon D200 and Fuji S3pro, but did not really shoot with them.
Unfortunately, I have not handled a Canon 1Ds or 1Ds Mark II or Nikon D2x, so it might not be really fair to compare an ND with "non-professional" DSLRs.
What I can say for now is that The Contax ND beats easily all the DSLRs I had in my hands until now in terms of "quality perceiption", viewfinder, controls and for my small hands also the handling. None of the mentioned DSLRs I had in my hands are coming close to it. For the other DSLRs, Marc, DJ etc. might better answer this question...
So in this regard it is still a dream DSLR and if you manage to buy one new or used on ebay for a good price, it will be hard to resist (check for the raw file issue mentioned many times here in the forum)
So now to the weak point of the ND. Actually nothing new. All other members here with an ND mentioned it already here in teh forum:
1. Battery consumption. This is for a private person like me not an issue anymore. 3 sets of 2400mAh batteries and you are safe. But I do not shoot 5000 images/day so this depends on your shooting habits. I seldom changed a set of batteries within 12 hours. And I shot maybe 100-300 images/day (jpeg or raw files)
2. NAM-1 adapter. It does not work with the ND. If you have Contax 645 lenses, you have to press and tweak a little bit until you can see the information in the viewfinder. I do not find this acceptable, so I would not recommend it for this purpose. The same adapter had no problems at all with my N1 and Nx by the way.
3. LCD screen. Small and the zoom function is not really up to the current standard. You can zoom only in pre-defined areas and magnification is obviously neither of "2006".
4. Autowhite balance: outdoor no problems at all. Artificial light indoor not recomended. It is better to set this manually, if needed.
5. Handling: a dream as mentioned above. Basically a Contax N1 which is pregnant. The body is thicker, otherwise you will not notice a difference
6. Image quality: In this criteria, you will notice the most the huge innovation in the industry made year over year. The Contax ND is from 2001. It was brought to the market in May 2002, but technology is from 2000-2001.
Basically I agree with all Marc said in the past about image quality of the ND. So I skip this avoiding to repeat the same again and again. I would like to shift rather the focus on the comparison in image quality between the ND and DSLRs which are now availiable in 2006. Knowing that each year over the last 5 years have been a dramatic improvement in image quality with every manufacturer, I have to say kudos to Kyocera what they succeeded already in 2001. But time is moving on and you might get already satisfactory image quality of a much cheaper DSLR of 2006. And an easier one in terms of immediate "for dummies" results and immediate control after the shot.
It is clear that you have noiser images with the ND than with the competition of the 6MP ball game. The question is for you, whether that is an important aspect for you. If you are not a wedding photogarpher, who needs available light shooting quality (and perfect AF), this might not bother you. But ISO 400 is not really nice with the ND
Surprisingly I missed the most the recording capability of Jpeg and RAW at the same time. I thought I would not miss this, since I have neither immediate feedback with my N1 and a Fuji Velvia. But once you use a DSLR, you also want to have that option. At least in the first weeks of your "DSLR fever"
Also the convenience, to have a ISO 800 available or a better ISO 400, is something, you would like to have as soon as you start with DSLRs. This is also something I would never have expected in the past. I shot in the past with Fuji Velvia 50 and Provia 100F. So why bother with ISO 200, 400 or even 800?. I can not really tell you why, but suddenly I felt I "need" it. Maybe this will calm down over the next months. But I guess this is also because I do a lot of family snapshots of my 2 year old son indoor and as you know the N System has not really many options for fast primes
I have to mention that I do not like photos with flash, so I do not use my flash at all anymore.
So I would recomend to go to your dealer and compare different models in terms of handling etc. IMHO Nikon is the best in this respect and the new D200 is really a nice camera, although no Contax or Leica, but this seems to be the mirror of our time. DSLRs are made to last until the next model arrives, most likely every 2-4 years.
I you want to have a camera, with which you start smiling once in your hand, buy an ND. IMHO You will not get a similar pleasure (handling) with another DSLR up to 3000 USD.
And you can use Zeiss lenses. This will be possible for Nikon now too, but only non-AF and it will take still time until you can really buy them.
If you have the time and will to learn Photoshop CS2 and to "learn the ND", It will be hard to beat it - depending on what you want to do withit. Of course you will get more details with a 10MP or 16MP camera. But these otehr systems have downsides too. Canon is a joke in wideangle and fullframe. Bodies are for the masses (body feeling) and have many bugs. Nikon makes better bodies and WA-lenses are better than Canon, but still not Zeiss or Leica level. One unique advantage of Nikon DSLRs is the ISO Auto setting in combination with minimum shutter speed. I just do not understand, why nobody is copying this great feature.
And in a few months Sony will present its new DSLRs. Time will tell how good these are in combination with Zeiss lenses. But I am very cautios regarding Sony since my experience with the Sony R1. They have to convince me first, that they are really committed to our target group (the Contax users). Things like bugs in the Auto ISO settings and ignoring it is childish and very risky if you want to lunch a new system within the next few months.
Kyocera raised the bar very high in terms of quality bodies, handling and thoughtful features. It will be tough to offer somthing that comes close to it.
So you see there is no perfect solution. The Contax ND has strenghts and weaknesses like all other system too. I guess the best approach is to think about what is the most important criteria for you and move accordingly to that system. Every user who writes about a camera, sees it from his own eyes and the way he uses the DSLR. If you use a DSLR differently, the suerexperience will not really help you that much. So always look closely what the specific user is actually using the camera for.
If you do not need to buy it NOW, I would recommend to wait until photokina end of September 2006.
The longer you wait, the more you get for your money. And as long as you have still a running system, you still can take pictures until photokina
Or buy a Minolta 7D second hand and put later on Zeiss lenses on it. This is cheaper than to play the beta tester for a new Sony DSLR. The Minolta 7D has also a quite good handling, Antishake (not perfect), and a good image quality. Only downside: the Minolta lenses are "average" and you have to live with them as long as Zeiss is not delivering any new Zeiss lenses/adaptors for KM/Sony mount.
I am sorry, Dirk, but I just cannot resist to comment on this one. "Quality perception" - nobody could have put it better. To me that is the sole reason to buy Contax ND. You are quite right saying that one should choose a camera based on its strength and weaknesses, it's just that I cannot see any "strengths" for Contax ND (not from your review). Yes, it's a digital camera and yes you can shoot things with it and with some tweaking great images can be captured, but this can be done with any other thing called "camera". Yes, it feels good to hold it, but that is not a photographically essential thing.
Anyway, my ramblings aside, I am actually very intrigued by this part of your message:
> Or buy a Minolta 7D second hand and put later on Zeiss lenses on it. > This is cheaper than to play the beta tester for a new Sony DSLR. The > Minolta 7D has also a quite good handling, Antishake (not perfect), > and a good image quality. Only downside: the Minolta lenses are > "average" and you have to live with them as long as Zeiss is not > delivering any new Zeiss lenses/adaptors for KM/Sony mount.
You make it sound like Zeiss glass on Sony KM camera is a done deed. Do you know for fact that there will be Zeiss glass on Sony DSLR or is it just an educated guess?
I tried not to repeat all things that have been said already in the past here in the forum about ND image quality. Please read the ND therads for this and use the search function. You are right that you can take pictures with every camera. That was valid in the past with film cameras and will be also valid in the future with DSLRs, no matter which brand, sensor, lenses or Pixel amount.
How that image has to "look" for you to satisfy your "needs" is a question of personal taste and what you need for your usage. I read lamost all tests avaliable on the net about all the DSLRs. And I can tell you that all tehse tests only can give you an indication, but you can never "trust" a tester as long as you have not seen his results in print in real life. Then expressions like "excellent image quality" "impressive dynamic range" "sharp like nothing before", "image quality like Medium Format" will translate in real terms by your own benchmark. Only then you know, whether you get really what you want to have.
The ND gives very good images, but not straight out of the box without any additional work, as you might be used to nowadays with DSLRs available in 2006. So one big point is how convenient you would like to get your results.
But other things, which affect image quality and usage did not get mentioned by me, since we talked about it already many times in the past here:
1. If you want to have fullframe, you have only 2 options. Either Canon (5D, 1Ds, 1Ds MarkII) or Contax ND. This was an important factor for me. Marketing departements try not to talk about this, but believe me, this makes a difference in both image quality and what you can do with the camera. As a general rule you can say the bigger the pixel, the better the image quality, if everything else is equal.
2. If you want to have fullframe and very good wideangles, you have to use Zeiss lenses on the choosen body. Once you are used to the Zeiss wideangles, Canon wiedeangles on Canon fullframe cameras are a waste of money (this is my pesronal opinion). Zeiss lenses on Canon DSLRs is possible, but not really convenient (stop down metering, using an adapter etc.). So this was an important factor for me.
3. Marc mentioned here already many times, that he gets even with old Zeiss tele lenses better results on his Canon 1Ds Mark II than with similar Canon lenses. So not only the sensor and MP is important. Alos the lenses play a big role.
So even in 2006, the ND has advantages. Dynamic range is better than other 6 or 8MP DSLRs (I did not compare it to the fullframe DLSRs of Canon). Because of the bigger pixel, it has still an edge over the APS size-sensor DLSRs. And the Zeiss lenses make also a difference, in some situations an extreme difference (lens flare/ghosting), The CCD in combination with Zeiss lenses gives a better look of the skin (my personal taste) compared to the "plastic" and "unnatural" look of other DSLRs' images. If you look at some images of other DSLRs, you have the feeling someone put vasiline on it.
So again, there are still advantages of the ND even nowadays. But this can change very fast. IMHO the following points determine the final image quality in your print (no specific order):
1. The sensor (pixelsize & structure, CCD or CMOS, etc.)
2. MP (8MP only marginal better than 6 MP etc.)
3. The dataprocessing within the "black box"
4. The lenses (colour reproduction, sharpness, flare, bokeh, 3-D effect, microcontrast etc.)
5. The raw converter
6. Your know-how in image processing i.e. Photoshop CS2
7. Your printer, paper, ink, colour management etc.
So if you look at this list, many things can go wrong even if you use the best sensor in the world. The ND has surely not the best sensor in the world. It is one of the first generation DSLRs. Neither has a Canon D60 (3.300 EUR in March 2002) nor a Nikon D1x (6.500 EUR in June 2001). But in combination with Zeiss lenses, Photoshop Raw converter and the skills of a Photoshop experienced person etc., you can still get better results than someone with a Nikon D200 (1.700 EUR in 2006), bad lenses or lacking know-how in Photoshop. I am not that good in Photoshop. So Marc and Irakly will ALWAYS get better images with their ND than I do with mine. I have either to live with that fact, or spend a lot more time in my PS skills
We have to be realistic here. The improvements in DSLR technology was really dramatic over the last few years. So it is almost a sensation, that the ND can still beat in some areas the most modern 6 or 8MP DSLRs. But it is unrealistic to hope, that this advantage will last for the next 5 years. This is why I put my focus on the alternatives you have available NOW. Last year and the year before, the situation was different and so was the result if you compared the ND with others DSLRs. But we can not ignore, that many manufacturers released over teh last 6 months new DSLRs with better performance (than their predecessors) and will release even more over the next 6-12 months.
It is a different story to compare image quality of a Contax ND with i.e. a Nikon D100 (2.800 EUR in July 2002) vs. ND and D200 (1.700 in April 2006). The Sony R1 gives you already an image quality nowadays, that most users will satisfy in 98% of their shootings. But this is only possible (IMHO) because of the Zeiss lens. The R1 came out at christmas time 2005 for 990 EUR. Now you get it for around 680EUR. INCLUDING a Zeiss T* 24-120 Zoom. Just think about this!
We are living in a DSLR world, where the user pays today an exaggerated price for DSLRs, which are the "trash" of tomorrow.
Ask your friends who are using Nikon, Canon et alii: How much money they would have been willing to pay for an analogue body 6 years ago? How many would have paid 2000-9000 USD? So why are they doing it now, knowing that it is worth 3 months later maybe 50% of it. Is this a mirror of the stock market bubble of the year 2000?
So this is why I say, ND is very good, in 2006 still better than some other DSLRs, but not perfect. Know the weaknesses and learn to work around them as with every camera. But IMHO it would be smarter to wait a few months before making a buying decision for any kind of DSLR.
After Photokina, product cycles will slow down. We are today at an image quality, which is good enough for most users. Minor improvements will not justify to ask 1.500 EUR every 12 months from the users. You will see this with the new Canon 30D (1.400 EUR in April 2006), which is better than the 20D, but not better "enough" to make many 20D (1.600 EUR in 2004) owners to switch and pay again so much money.
On the other hand, look at the Canon 1Ds Mark II (8.000 EUR in Nov. 2004) vs. the Canon 5D (3.400 EUR in Sept. 2005). There is not that much reason anymore to buy the 1Ds Mark II today...
Regarding my Minolta 7D comment: we all know by now that decisions in this industry change quickly. Kyocera told us several times things they want to do (and they meant it at that time), but changed their mind later on. Zeiss Ikon should have been distributed by Hasselbald, now Zeiss has to it themselves. Minolta wanted to release a Mxxum 9D, and are now out of business.
We always try to inform you as much as we can and as much as we are allowed to. These are 2 different things. All I can say now is that according to a source, we can expect Zeiss lenses for the new Sony DSLRs. This is as of January 2006 and I can not promise anything in these turbulant and always changing markets. It is not official and we only will really know it, when it is announced.
But it would make sense. I do not know how Sony has the self-confidence to aim 25% DSLRS marketshare, if they have not a deal with Zeiss behind the curtains. Canon and Nikon will not give their market share away easily
And I do not know how Zeiss wants to survive in the SLR/DSLR market in the future, if they have not a deal in this direction with Sony. IMHO Zeiss-Ikon, ZF and ZM lenses are not enough to pay their costs. Zeiss Medium Format is dead. And the Nokia deal can not finance everything.
So I bought one of the last Minolta 7D, just to be sure to have a working model for whatever is coming this year
I throw in here some numbers to show how much competition will probably increase over the next 12-24 months:
Currently Nikon and Canon have a marketshare in the DSLR market (worldwide) of around 80-90% (depending on the sources and the time it was measured). Canon will be in the ballpark of 60%, Nikon 30%.
So 10-20% is left for the rest of the DSLR manufacturers in the world: Sony-KM, Pentax, Olympus, Leica etc.
Additionally Nikon announced, that they are aiming 40% DSLR marketshare in the future. At the same time Sony announced that they are aiming 25% DSLR marketshare in the future (KM was formerly around 3%)
I do not believe, that canon sits there and is doing nothing. Same for Olympus etc.
You can do the math yourself. This will be a tough fight and for some it will be a fight for their survival in the DSLR business. This means for us hopefully better and cheaper DSLR products.
The bridge-camera business seems to disappear slowly. It seems that only the manufacturers, which do not offer yet DSLRs, offer new bridge cameras. Everybody else is focussing on DSLRs and some also in the pocket P&S digicams.
If there is anything we may all have learned in the recent years it's that Brand loyalty is a misplaced emotion.
What one need do now is determine real needs not fantasy desires ... then select from the menu of equipment regardless of Brand name.
Turn back to yourself and figure out what your real needs are ... because this stuff is so expensive that you shouldn't buy into manufacture hype designed to make you desire more than you will actually use.
For ex&le, the Sony R-1 seems like a very able camera for those who like to travel and for serious amateur photography.
A far better choice than carrying around a monster like the 1DsMKII ... and unlike the 1DsMKII affordable enough to not worry about impending obsolesce.
The wide angle issues with Canon is a phenomena most amateurs won't ever experience. They aren't up to Zeiss, but for most shots for the travel album @ 5X7 it's hard to determine that. It is more an issue for critical applications especially in commercial work. While I have a slue of Zeiss wide angles, I still use the Canon 16-35/2.8L and 24/1.4 for work where convenience and speed are more the issue ( getting the shot takes precedence over subtile differences in image qualities ).
I personally no longer would buy into a system because it offers Zeiss lenses. Not a popular statement here I'm sure, but one born out of taking a bath financially due to misplaced loyalty.
I also wouldn't advise getting a ND any longer. A Canon 5D is a much better camera. It is ( or will be) about $2,500. USD and is a lot easier to use to make photographs including ones shot at high ISOs ... and most especially if you are NOT a wizard at Photoshop. Plus it's small and tough as nails.
Not that I'm a Brand loyal Canon user, nor would I like it if they ended up with all the marbles in the Camera game. But other makers better wake up or that is exactly what is going to happen.
I believe though that there is still the problem of dust in DSLR's (as opposed to bridge cameras) until the other manufacturers catch up with Olympus on this. I would have thought that all the others must be working on a solution.
I'll put my 2 cents. In general I think both Dirk and Marc make valid points. A lot depends on your needs, situation and type of shooting.
The EOS 1DsII was the first camera that wooed me away from the ND. I love the detail and dynamic range, and I've gotten used to any user interface inefficiencies, which I considered minor. When you think everything through they actually did a decent job and made some sensible compromises for the target environment (serious pro on the job).
Dust is a consideration, but I've simply worked it into my process, like one does things that come with the territory. I have become used to checking the camera every evening of shooting, and spend a half hour once or twice a week cleaning the sensor, air-bulb first, and swabs and lotion if necessary. In between there's Photoshop and the spot-healing tool to the rescue. Beats caring for negs any day of the week
I've been using exclusively a couple of Leica (21-35/f3.4 Asph, 100/f2.8 Apo Macro) and the rest CZ lenses in stop-down mode. I just love their feel and performance especially in harsh light conditions which I like. I have the Canon 24-80/f2.8 and 100/f2 just in case, but they've been on the bench.
Because I shoot mainly landscapes and travel, this is OK for me. I love the results I get, especially when you see an 11x17 or 13x19 print, which is all I print nowadays (no more 8x10s - what's the point of getting those 17MP otherwise?). With practice I've gotten fairly quick and manage nice "grab shots" very often. It's a challenge and I love it. Yes, the kit gets heavy, but I just see it as part of my daily work-out routine (OK, it's THE daily work-out routine). And the weight helps with steadying hand-held shots, though nothing can beat a nice tripod shot, lens stopped down
But my lunch doesn't depend on it, unlike Marc
, and fortunately I can afford to be over-equipped. I realize not everyone is that lucky. For me ultimately I need to have fun and get decent results while doing it, with the occasional sacrifice for that special shot.
Hello Dirk Thanks for your excellent and informative reply .It seems to me the problem with the N digital and the nam 1 adapter is massive. One of the major attractions of the ND is to be able to use 645 lenses on the digital body.Is this really terminal? The niose could be an issue but I see the camera more as a studio or landscape tool where 100 ASA or less is ideal. I suppose the big question is how does the image compare with a D2X and Nikon lenses.Another question ,is there a shutter lag ?
"..I do not know anybody, who got a working NAM-1/ND combination without pressing.."
I do and used to use it all the time. First I got a used one and it did not work 100% on my N1 and ND. My new one works 99% without manually pressing the adapter as you described. The 1% that does not work usually is user error where I did not attached the adapter all the way in or dirty contacts. Come to thinks of it, it probably the same user error I got with my first adapter.
I just recently bought an extremely pristine used ND with 74 actuations on it. Every Contax item I have was bought used. I had not heard of the NAM-1/ND incompatibility until recently searching past posts. I have a 645 system with lenses and a N1 system with lenses. Attaching the NAM-1 to the ND, I have none of the problems that have been posted after shooting with my 45,80,140 and 210 Medium Format lenses. No pressing or jiggling of the adapter or lenses needed. Everything just clicks into place. The 140 and 210 lenses combined with the Mutar extender work on my 645 and N1 but will not work with my ND. The use of the Mutar with my ND would have been nice, but... oh, well. Has anyone had this problem? Love the 645 and N1. Hope to like the ND as much as I like my Nikon D100. By the way, love this forum.
I could resist the N Digital no more and got one. My NAM-1 adapter seems to work which is good news. So the big learning curve begins any advice gratefully accepted .Once again thanks for your advice and help.
Since photoshop is so important, I can recommend the following books, all from Bruce Fraser as Author or Co-author:
1. Camera RAW with Adobe Photoshop CS2
2. Photoshop CS2
Some parts are overlapping with #1, but theer is a lot more in PS CS than just Camera Raw
3. Color Management (2nd edition!)
I read #1 and #3 completely and parts of #2. But my brain seems to be smaller than others
I can not really say that I am now the master in this. The books are very easy written and cover everything in depth. The best books I have seen so far and I looked at many alraedy. BUT you have to practice a lot too, and this is my problem currently. The best books do not help, if you do not shoot enough or spend enough time on the computer with the books to exercise.
As Marc mentioned somwhere: Concentrate on Adobe Bridge. This can do already 90% what you need. Little tweaking later on in Photoshop itself. To get satisfying results, you need calibration of Monitor and printer. My Monitor is really bad. So were my results in calibrating. So if you have the time to invest in learning it, invest also money ina very good monitor. Enough said, theer are others here, who know more about this stuff than me