Reality check - Contax in the press

dirk

CI-Founder
There have been some articles in the German press about the N1 and NX, which lead to some confusion to prospective buyers of these two models. I am talking about articles of Color Foto and FotoMagazin. I think it would make sense to reflect these articles and comment on them, hence there were misleading conclusions afterwards.

First of all, I am using the N1 now a couple of months already in real life situations and shot around 60 rolls of film (36e) with it. I am using the N1 with the 24-85 zoom in 80-90% of the cases, the rest with the 100 Makro-Sonnar and the 70-300 zoom. So I would say I used the N1 long and intensive enough to build up my mind on my own.

I am not a professional photographer, nor I am working for Contax or Zeiss. So this is just my 2 cent opinion as a private person, having enjoyed the new N-system so much, that I am getting sick to hear or read things, which can not stay like this unspoken in the public.

The German articles are concentrating mainly on autofocus. So I will try to address on this issues with my personal view on this. This will be not a complete review of the N1, which I made already in a different thread.

The autofocus of the N1

There are two different possibilities to look at the autofocus-speed of a camera. The first one is the technical side in a laboratory, the second one is the experience in real life situations. The tests, which I am referring to, made different approaches to measure the speed of the autofocus in the lab. If you look just at these numbers, then you have to agree, that the autofocus of the N1 is slower, then the competition. But this is just half of the story.

Exkurs: I do not want to discuss here, whether this is the right approach. In this matter, I have to defend the photo-journals. They do not have the choice. They have to use these strange test-systems in the lab, because they have to defend themselves. The press has an enormous power and if they write something bad about a certain product, this product will have a hard time to become a bestseller, to say the least. So every producer would try to sue the journal after a bad review. The only way to get out of this is to use certain kinds of tests, which are so easy to prove and repeat, that nobody can say it would have been something subjective in it.

The results are more or less meaningless tests in laboratories, which do not reflect at all what you can see in reality, if you use these products. If you look at all the body tests in the industry, you will not find many, which end in real subjective value added comments. Always descriptions of the features, some MTF graphs, which nobody is really able to interpret (at least neither the journalists nor the readers of the journal).

This is why the internet in this regard is so beneficial. For the first time everybody has the possibility to read private and personal opinions of real users of certain products. Although, you should not always believe everything, what people write in their reviews, this is a big step forward for the consumer interests. That is why we try it here with this web-page.

Anyway, coming back to the autofocus debate of the N1, it is necessary to speak up and show that the N1 is totally fine with its speed of autofocus. It is a fact, that the autofocus is slower than the one of a Nikon F100 or Canon etc. I agree on this. But this does not matter at all. The important question is, whether the autofocus is fast and accurate enough for your own needs ! If you think what you are doing with your camera, you will realize, that it is not an Olympic Game of the fastest autofocus, measured in milliseconds in a laboratory. What I try here is to show others, what is not allowed to the photo-journals out there. I give you my pure personal opinion on what is good or not by using it in real life situations. Germans love testing things. Germans love testing things more seriously than others - sometimes to much scientifically, but that is how we are in most cases


So they look at charts of milliseconds and conclude, that they can not use a camera, which is x milliseconds slower than others. Strange that exact the same people 10 years ago focused still manually within seconds, not milliseconds ! And the pictures have been nevertheless wonderful sharp and caught at the right moment. So lets get down to earth and be honest to yourself: what kind of af-speed do you really need?

The answer to this question depends obviously on the subjects you want to take pictures of. To make it not to complicated, I would divide the photo-community into two different groups.

1. The Professional Sport Photographer

The first one is the group who needs always the top speed. In most cases, these are professional photographers, who are shooting sport events. I must admit, that I do not know, how they shot before autofocus was invented, but I understand, that this makes life easier to sell the picture and so they really need the fastest available autofocus with the appropriate lenses. This is in my opinion also the reason, why Canon took over the professional market of Nikon, at least in this segment. How is the Contax N1 in this segment? In my personal opinion, I do not believe that the N1 would be the right camera for you, although I never tried to shoot spport events with the N1. Maybe I will try that sometime..

I think in this case you should go for a Canon or Nikon. If you think seriously about it, you will realize, that at the moment, Contax has neither the right lenses for you, nor the appropriate top speed. There are just zooms out there which are not the fastest and lightest.. There is currently neither fast telezoom (aperture of 2.8) for the N-system, nor fast fixed focal lenses. And do not forget, this group of people shoot often with iso 400 and 800, so why should they spend a hell of money for zeiss quality, if you can not use in these situations the better lens-design. The film is not able to reproduce everything as the zeiss lens could be, and at the end of the day it is printed in inferior technique on normal newspaper. So why all this panic?

This gives me the impression, that Contax was not targeting the pro-sport-photographer with the N1/NX. Maybe there will come later on a pro-model similar to the RTS III, but with autofocus and also some appropriate lenses for this target group. But this is not at present the case. If you look at it from this point of view, everything makes sense and we are at the second group of the photo-community.

2. The Rest of the World

Here we are, I assume you and me. This group likes autofocus, if it makes your life easier. You are not planning to catch Michael Schumacher in the corner of the last round of his race or shoot the winner goal in the next world ch&ion game. If you agree to that, relax, sit down and think where you can buy the N-system for you. It will be your camera. The autofocus is fast enough for your needs, although it is not among the fastest in the industry.

In most case you do not just press the shutter, you also look first, what will be on the picture, compose, focus and shoot. Trust me, the speed is not an issue (at least it is not for me). Go to you local dealer and try it yourself with different lenses. You will be surprised how good it is...

3. un-logical test-reviews

There was a funny comment in Color Foto/Fotomagazin, That it would take more than 1 second for pressing the shutter until you get the picture. I wonder how that is possible, if you can shoot with the N1 up to 3.5 pictures in one second. So this does not sound logical. I had never these problems. Also in the same test, they used the 50 Planar and the 100 Makro-Sonnar. I do not have yet the Planar, but I can comment on the Makro-Sonnar. It is surely slower than my two zooms. But this is because it has not a build in ultrasonic motor as the two zooms. Therefore it is a lot louder and slower.

But you have to be fair and realistic. The Makro-Sonnar was meant as an Makro-lens, not as a normal portrait lens, as it will be the soon expected 85/1.4. My two zooms are very (!) quiet, fast, and accurate. If you are not familiar with the Contax autofocus, be careful to give judgements. The best results you will have, if you choose the central sensor. It willl focus slightly faster and above all it will not hesitate, because of moving objects at the border of the picture. This is with all brands the same issue, you have to concentrate, where the computer is focussing, otherwise you will not have your target sharp.

Regarding the different AF markings (sensors) in the viewfinder. They react in a different way. The outer ones (4) seem to be situated in an angle of 45 degrees. So they react differently then the central sensor (they are also slower). Sometimes a slight twist of the camera body helps. Additionally only the central sensor gets help from the AF assist beam, the outer ones not.

I had at the beginning problems to autofocus on moving flowers in a field. This is because the 4 outer AF always catches the movement of a different flower and so the AF goes back and forth. Just use the central AF and the problem is gone. Use the optional Split screen to make sure that the AF is doing what you want it to do (FX1). This makes also MF easier. Do not forget to program the individual function for this screen – see the manual.

So do not believe always what was written somewhere, go out and look yourself, whether you like it or not. It is also you, who is using it later on, not the test-author.

For a general review of the Contax N1 and NX, please look in the specific Folder.
 
G

Guest

Buy a Canon 1V and L lenses. You will get sharper pics. The AF snaps into place unlike the N's slow AF. Canon's AF is the difference between 'getting it' and cursing your camera.

For now Contax's attempts to copy the USM motors in Canon's lenses failed. They failed because primarly they overbuilt their AF lenses. You can't move metal barrels as quickly as Canon's molded high impact plastic barrels. Also it is their 1st attempt.

Perhaps soon Contax will get it right. They did start over will a larger mount as Canon did a long time ago when they switched to AF. Nikon is still in the stoneage in this respect; although the extra compatiability with MF lenses is a nice option. Narrower mount=slower focus, a less positve mount of these larger and heavier AF lenses. Nikon has the same mount they did 50 years ago.

Contax is on the right track. And I expect good things from them.
 

dirk

CI-Founder
Peter,

I am not really sure about your statement, that you will get sharper pictures in generalfwith Canon. I would modify your statement, that if you want to capture fast scenes without thinking and just by pressing the shutter, you will have more pictures, that are in Focus then with an N1/Nx. This counts for very fast moving objects only.

But this is not the point. The AF of the N1 and Nx focuses every picture at the right spot and also fast (not as fast as the top Canon "sport" camera, but 5% of the photographers need really that speed).

In my opinion, people make the mistake nowadays to look only at technical data. Who has the biggest/smallest body, who has the fastest AF or shutter, who has the most matrix fields etc. They forget what is it all about in photography.

If you want to make really good pictures you have to think first! The speed of the AF is no limiting criteria for a good picture. If you know what you are doing, you will try to estimate the right moment in advance, even before you can see it in the viewfinder. That is how the best shots of the world famoust photographers were made within the last 40 years - with and without autofocus.

There is a huge difference between a fast-correct focused picture and a good picture. If you are able to shoot good pictures, you will not have any problems with the wright focusing, because you know what to do in the right moment. AF speed is not at all an issue at this point, ecpecially not in the difference of milliseconds as it is nowadays between different camera models.

If someone does not have the eye for that and stops thinking because he is believing that the camera will do all that for him (as the marketing of the manufacturers try to suggest with their Af/ Shutterspeed/ Matrix/ Flash advertising), he will get many spot on focused pictures, that he is throwing away afterwards, because there are no "good" picture among them.

The reason for your so called "overbuilt" N-lenses are described in the other threads. In one phrase: to guarantee a better image qulity in the mass production. You can not achieve small tolerance if you are using plastic only. Additionally the target was also to enable a very smooth manual focus ability, which is very similar to purely manual focus lenses. You will not find this at any other AF brand !!!

dirk
 
G

Guest

Dirk,

Have you (or anyone else) attempted to *quantify* the N1's focusing accuracy? I've never seen a test report that rated, much less specified accuracy - only speed. I haven't used the N1/NX, but found Canon to be the best of the others in this respect, with certain lenses (the camera-lens combination does the focusing).

My findings indicate that AF SLR's yield a random approximation of focus, probably a normal distribution around the correct point, and as such aren't suitable for precision work. I always fall back to my Canon F1 for SLR work where precision is more important than speed.

The Contax G2 is completely different in this respect - once you know how well it's calibrated, you know how it will focus: usually better than manual focus, especially in CAF mode.

Dan
 

dirk

CI-Founder
"Have you (or anyone else) attempted to *quantify* the N1's focusing accuracy?"

Hi Dan,

no, I have never read/heard about that and I assume it is impossible to measure this in an objective way. I do not see any sense to quantify it. Either the point where you have focused on is sharp or it is not. There is no 80% sharpness out there.I have heard from some wrong calibrated N1 bodies, mine was one of them, but Contax fixed this for free.

An exact calibrated G2 can not focus sharper then an exact calibrated SLR (AF or MF does not matter). The physics are the same, as long as the calibartion is correct. What you might have seen is the in gerneral better image quality of the G-lenses, because of the easier construction. If a lens is able to show higher contrast and higher resolution, the picure obviously appears to be sharper.

Remember the 100% exact focussing point is just one tiny spot in the DOF. You will get more pictures out of focus because of wrong handling or low speed then because of wrong focussing. If you want to be sure to exclude camera shaking, you need to use 1/500s ec. shutterspeed even with a 50mm lens! How often do you use this speed in your normal situations?

If you want to have the utmost condifence to focus exactly on the right spot, you should use a magnifier in front of your viewfinder with manual focus cameras. Then you have the perfect control. Your eyes can not see in the normal viewfinder that clear whether you are in millimeters on the right spot focussing. Depending on the subject and aperture it is difficult to see differences because of DOF. Additionally you need a very, very, very solid tripod and mirror lock up. This is just the pain of physics. Read for this also the Zeiss articles in this Forum.

dirk
 
G

Guest

Dirk,

We both agree and disagree.

"If you want to have the utmost condifence to focus exactly on the right spot, you should use a magnifier in front of your viewfinder with manual focus cameras."

Exactly. By "precision work" I'm mean pictorial/landscape work with the camera on a rigid, low-resonance tripod (carbon fiber), MLU, & cable release. And yes, I do use a magnifier. Medium format cameras are better suited for such applications, but I can't carry them.

"I assume it is impossible to measure this in an objective way."

Not at all true. A purely objective measure is simply the distance, measured at the film plane, between camera focus and best focus. In fact, Modern Photography used to include this in their test reports before the advent of AF cameras. However, their finding was always reported as "within DOF", an extremely loose criterion.

A much more understandable presentation of the same information would be something like "X lp/mm with 50mm f/2 lens at f/2.8, 1:50 magnification". Only the most dismal 50mm lens is not limited by focusing accuracy.

"Either the point where you have focused on is sharp or it is not"

True, but AF SLR's, even when perfectly calibrated, 'guestimate' focus - a limitation of both sensor technology and market demands. Each of 5 consecutive (tripod/MLU) exposures will be focused differently. The smaller this difference the more precise the camera's focusing, independent of its calibration accuracy.

"An exact calibrated G2 can not focus sharper then an exact calibrated SLR (AF or MF does not matter). The physics are the same"

Not so. The G2 uses the optical lever principle to multiply the effective precision of the sensor. Much less guessing is involved, and repeatability is much better, though not perfect. Effectively, precision is limited by calibration.

Dan
 
G

Guest

Hi Dan,
Please forgive me I am confused. Why would you need autofocus for pictorial/Landscape work from a tripod.Surely the depth of field really negates any focus worries.
I photograph people on location. Rarely using any artificial lighting and I have been shocked at the focusing accuracy, handheld at slower speeds than I would have dared with my Ex-R8 system. The N1 has won my heart.
We should stop worrying and enjoy.
Phil.
 
G

Guest

Hello Dan,

I must question you on one of your statements: "I always fall back to my Canon F1 for SLR work where precision is more important than speed".

I believe most high-end AF SLR lenses, including certainly the lenses for the N1, may be manually focussed in just the same way as you focus a lens on a MF camera such as the Canon F1. Why must you then "fall back" to a MF camera for any reason?

Best regards,

Ron
 
G

Guest

Ron,

True. I always use manual focus with magnifier when evaluating any new AF lens.

It's just that, at least for Canon, the central split/mp in the manual cameras makes manual focus much easier an faster. In fact, I usually get the same results with/without the magnifier.

I've never used (or even seen) an N1; If I did, I'd probably want one. The G2 lenses certainly "blow away" anything I've experienced with a variety of other cameras over many years. Unfortunately, I'm currently invested in other equipment.

Dan
 
G

Guest

Dirk,

It is clear you never do anything comparable to press work. That is fine. The N is fine for slower working speeds. To imply everyone will be mindless shooters blowing through roll after roll of film if they use anything thing other than a N is silly and wrong. Even you pointed out with a Canon or Nikon (slower) more shots per rolls will be in focus than from a Contax. I will admit with a Contax you may be able to market those out of foucs images in some 'modern' galleries of your local art school. A body cap pin hole is cheaper.

View the film War Photographer sometime. You will learn something about Canon's AF accuracy. Also you will see that the AF is the only thing James Nachtwey relies upon for making his images. He hand meters and then adjusts in his head from there when light changes rapidly. All AF slr's, on the market, metering can and will get fooled. So that is no surprise. So he trusts the AF focus and sets the exposure manually.....

He is a real photojournalist (the best IMO) and uses the freedom the Canon fast and accurate AF affords him. His images would be different without it. He is a great photographer and over 25 years you see no matter what he shot with the images are great. He now chooses Canon above others, why? That answer it simple.

As for build quality. I have not heard a working pro complain their L lenses couldn't hold up. It is surprising since the company that is Contax does a lot of buisness in ceramics and plastics. And why they won't use this technology to their benefit is puzzling.

Nachtwey switched from Nikon to Canon when he recognized Canon's superior AF. Nikon and Canon glass is about equal. They offer different characteristics/signatures.

How do I know all this. I know the lab Nachtwey used in NYC to print his retrospective. They also continue to process his film.

So if you don't need the better speed of Nikon or Canon lenses (the fastest available) and prefer heavier, slower, and more expensive lenses you will be pleased with the N lenses.

As I said above someday Contax may get it right.
 
G

Guest

At the risk of speaking out of turn..If Peter thinks contax cameras are not up to snuff, and this goes for the T3 as well, why does he post here? I am just not sure..is he trying to convert others, maybe antagonize??? I would like to see useful, productive discussions, no name calling or insulting.

Joel Stern



Peter said to Dirk (for no apparent reason that I can tell)
"It is clear you never do anything comparable to press work. That is fine. The N is fine for slower working speeds. To imply everyone will be mindless shooters blowing through roll after roll of film if they use anything thing other than a N is silly and wrong. Even you pointed out with a Canon or Nikon (slower) more shots per rolls will be in focus than from a Contax. I will admit with a Contax you may be able to market those out of foucs images in some 'modern' galleries of your local art school. A body cap pin hole is cheaper.

View the film War Photographer sometime. You will learn something about Canon's AF accuracy. Also you will see that the AF is the only thing James Nachtwey relies upon for making his images. He hand meters and then adjusts in his head from there when light changes rapidly. All AF slr's, on the market, metering can and will get fooled. So that is no surprise. So he trusts the AF focus and sets the exposure manually.....

He is a real photojournalist (the best IMO) and uses the freedom the Canon fast and accurate AF affords him. His images would be different without it. He is a great photographer and over 25 years you see no matter what he shot with the images are great. He now chooses Canon above others, why? That answer it simple.

As for build quality. I have not heard a working pro complain their L lenses couldn't hold up. It is surprising since the company that is Contax does a lot of buisness in ceramics and plastics. And why they won't use this technology to their benefit is puzzling.

Nachtwey switched from Nikon to Canon when he recognized Canon's superior AF. Nikon and Canon glass is about equal. They offer different characteristics/signatures.

How do I know all this. I know the lab Nachtwey used in NYC to print his retrospective. They also continue to process his film.

So if you don't need the better speed of Nikon or Canon lenses (the fastest available) and prefer heavier, slower, and more expensive lenses you will be pleased with the N lenses.

As I said above someday Contax may get it right."
 

dirk

CI-Founder


"To imply everyone will be mindless shooters blowing through roll after roll of film if they
use anything thing other than a N is silly and wrong."

Hi Peter,

I surely did not mean or express it this way. My only concern was and is - therefore this thread about the German press articles - that people get the impression they could not make great pictures anymore just because the AF is 10 milliseconds slower then maybe the market-leader in AF speed.

I do not think that it is helpful to list now photographers who are using this or that brandname. Every photographer might have his own reasons - either because of real advantages while using the system or just because they get payed for announcing it.

Furthermore it would be interesting to compare, whether it is really visible if one AF should focus "more accurate" then another. I would be surprised if I would see it, just because the DOF makes it almost impossible in 99% of the cases to see with our own eyes whether the exact focus point was 1mm at, before or after the choosen point.

If people are so concerned about the 100% correct focus point, why not using then the Focus-bracket function of the N1?

Anyway, I do not see myself as the extended marketing arm of Contax. All what I can tell is what I have learned in my hobby-photography life. I do not think that it makes sense to continue a Nikon vs. Canon vs. Contax debate.

I appreciate any criticism about Contax cameras, because this is the only way a manufactureer can improve their products. I just know that this is a very good system and for what I want to do - and in my opinion 95% of the rest of the world- this system is just great. I just do not need more.

And I do not need to know which professional photographer is using a Contax system, because this would not influence my buying decision. My pictures are not getting better, just because xyz is using my system.

just my 2 cents

dirk
 
G

Guest

Dirk,

Amen! I hope that this site doesn't deteriorate into the "brand wars" as I've seen happen on so many forums, and I appreciate your efforts to guide contributors away from that path.

Surely for 99.9% of photographers out here, the human element is the limiting factor so long as the equipment meets basic criteria.

Happy shooting.

Ron
 
G

Guest

We come to this forum because we either use Contax or are looking into the possibility of buying one. To seek advice and to help others not to be converted. If I were interested in anything else I will look for it myself thankyou.
Keep smiling Dirk.
Phil.
 
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