Review Contax Aria

dirk

CI-Founder
...the lovely SLR answer to the Leica M6...

When the Contax Aria hit the market in 1998, I was a happy user of an RTS II and an S2. Since I love the old fashioned design of the Contax cameras, I was quiet cold, what this kind of full featured (assuming) plastic camera is giving me, what I can not have with my other Contax’s. So I did not care so much about the Aria, although I found the prospect beautiful attractive made.

Then, one year ago, a friend of mine talked a lot about the Aria and all the benefits of having a small and light camera instead of his heavy metal RX or my RTS III (which I used last year). So he ended up buying it and made the mistake to lend it to me for a week-trip to Italy.

I must admit, that after using this tiny jewel, I changed my mind by 180 degrees. First of all, it is not a plastic camera. As far as my experience with Contax goes, there simply does not exist a plastic camera in the Contax philosophy. Even if they use modern materials, it never feels or looks cheap. It is always this great Contax-feeling. I think most of the Contax users know what I mean.

Secondly, it really has everything you need. An internal silent motor, three different metering methods, good viewfinder, very good compact handling and all that in a body of the size of an Leica M6, just lighter. Just think about it. We are talking here about an SLR, which gives you the possibilities, just rangefinder cameras have been able to give you in the past. I was already impressed by the size of the Contax S2, but now also with modern electronic and an internal winder – this comfort in this size was new for me. As far as I heard it from others, the 139 and 137 must have been in the same size.

O.k., if you are really searching for it, there are also disadvantages. The Aria has no mirror lock up and no 100% viewfinder. But which entry level model of other brands have that? – None. The on/off switch is kind of stiff – not Contax like.

Most shootings I made have been with center weighted metering. I did not trust the Matrix mode, because it was knew to me. As it turned out, on some test-pictures, the matrix-metering overexposed always by 0,5-1,5 stops. I do not know whether that was my mistake, but I heard it also from others. Very good is the information in the viewfinder, by how many stops the matrix metering differs compared to the center weighted metering. The little switch for changing the metering mode is good located at the right rear of the camera. You do not have to look up to use it. But it is kind of stiff. The same for the ON/Off switch. This is the stiffest one I have seen at Contax. really to hard to turn with the forefinger without looking at it.

The information in the viewfinder are on the right hand side. Sometimes in bright sunlight difficult to see. But this can be also because of my glasses, that I am wearing. But you always have to turn your head to the right side, to read the info. 95% Viewfinder and a 0.82 magnification makes it more easy to focus manually and looking with glasses. Viewfinder is not as bright as RX or any RTS, but this is normal, if you look at the price difference. You can program the AE lock to be activated by half pressing the shutter button.

Exchangeable screens, a “sophisticated” data back for aperture and shutter speed etc. imprinting in between the pictures (on the frame) or on the first two pictures are impressing me a lot for an entry level camera. These are more likely features for a pro model at other brands.

The advantage of the lighter body has also disadvantages. Some of the newer Zeiss Zooms are quiet heavy. You should be cautious using them without any accessories. I used also the 28-85 zoom with it and had no problems. But I guess a 100-300 would be not the best fit on a tripod.

For more specific technical details, please look at News & Info. For a comparison with the Contax NX look in the NX thread.

Summary of most important points

Very good handling
Very light
Professional accessories (i.e. “sophisticated” databack, exchangeable focussing screens)
3 Different Metering Modes
Many custom functions
On/Off switch to stiff
No mirror lock up
Matrix metering not as good as CWM
Viewfinder info to much on the right side


Excellent price/performance ratio (899 Euro) - compared to other Contax models !

Dirk.
 
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Guest

> I agree that photographers are weird folk ! I had an R8, sold it because i= t=20 > was too big and heavy, bought another R7, and swapped the whole kit for an= =20 > Aria with two zooms and the 85 and 50 lenses. I was as happy as a clam=20 > until my eyes went funny. I then went back into Canon EOS, for the=20 > autofocus I now really need, sold my Leica M6s and bought Contax G2s, and=20 > have now binned the Canons ! I would have liked to get a Contax SLR, N1 o= r=20 > NX, but couldn=B4t justify the price now that I am retired, so I bought a=20 > Minolta Dynax/Maxxum 7 with 24-105 and 100-300 D zooms. I love the Minolt= a=20 > results, but am aware that the Zeiss lenses are sharper with my G2s. =20 > Bottom line, though - how I wish I could still see well enough to manually= =20 > focus an Aria - the finest travel camera I ever owned. Robin Adshead
 
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Guest

I have had an Aria body with 50mm /1.7MM, 28/2.8AE and 85 2.8 Sonnar. I experienced some rare efects with this body and sold it: underexposition, an extrain effect in some portraits and light but unacceptable out of focus with the Sonnar.

Benigafull
 
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Guest

A question to Any PROS. By Pros I mean folks who make a living from taking pictures and use the Aria.

It is an intriguing camera to me. A lot good things and the Contax lenses (well they speak for themselves in most focal lenghts).

I do heavily question it's durability. A molded (not metal) film door and the stories I have heard about bizzare electrical and shutter problems.

Again pros or daily users ONLY please tell me about your experiences.

Thanks.
 
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Guest

I have head any problems with the ARIA (out of focus with tele lenses, for ex&le, electrical rarities, inaccurate metering, etc.) It's maybe an exception, but it's my exception, and I sold it.

Thanks.
 
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Guest

> Hi Leopoldo, I have the same problem with Aria. It is out of focus with tele zoom lens 80-200mm/f4. Peter >
 
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Guest

Thanks Peter Ye and Leopoldo for your input. I appreciate it. Both your experiences confirmed why I have bulked at buying the camera.
 
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Guest

Regarding the Aria camera body, and holding it up to 'Pro' requirements: It was never marketed by Contax as a Pro camera. As the least expensive (by far) Contax SLR manual focus camera, it offers a way into the Zeiss lenses at a reasonable cost. I believe it is competively priced, far from the 'Pro' bodies of any other manufacturer.
 
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Guest

I'd like to jump to Contax system by buying Aria. The question is if it's worth the money. What do you think about quality of Aria? I hope that problems mentioned on this page are fixed already in 2002.

Thanks,

Karel
 
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Guest

John Un and others wrote: "the 167MT has a better build than Aria".

I would like to know what kind of experience or other argument that make you people write this. Or is it pure speculation/prejudice?

Jakob
 
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Guest

It's just a personal favourite. My statement should be re-wrote as: If you can find a mint condition 167MT, it's worth to own. Otherwise, it's more safety to buy a new Aria. Although many people don't like its plastic feel, it nevertheless provides one extra option of metering--the matrix metering. Futher, the grasp will be OK when mounted with standard lens or other light-weighted lenses.

To my limited knowledge, a mint condition 167MT is quite rare, maybe many Contaxians like it and keep it(like me) rather than leave it.

Anyway, whichever model of Contax SLR you finally pick, you do enjoy the legendary of Carl Zeiss lenses. Good
 

dirk

CI-Founder
...as you said John, it is a personal taste. In my case I would prefer the Aria. It is lighter and in my opinion looks better. I am not a fan of big LCD screens and the way you can change the camera settings of the 167MT. Additionally It is easier to handle with the info of the viewfinder at the side instead of at the top of the screen. Also the change of metering mode is very elegant on th Aria, without taking the camera from your eyes. BUT this very stiff On/Off switch on the Aria is getting on my nerves


Just my 2 cents...
 
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Guest

Dirk wrote: "I would prefer the Aria. It is lighter and in my opinion looks better. I am not a fan of big LCD screens and the way you can change the camera settings of the 167MT"

I have to agree here. The 167MT to me always felt like a Yashica more than a Contax, and in my eyes it is the one Contax SLR model ever that did not have the right 'classic' user surface and way of handling that I love with Contax.

Not a word said about picture quality here. Just of my personal 'love' factors.

Jak
 
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Guest

Hi, I have just purchased an Aria plus 85mm 2.8 lens.Its a lovely camera I used to own a 167 it was heavy and the Aria is getting more use due to its size and weight and ease of use.Do not be put off by the plastic body it is just as strong as a metal one.Metering appears spot on the matrix metering tells you if it is under exposing image compared to centre weighted.Easy to focus it is a photographers camera that you can take anywhere. Have had no problem with on off switch,controls easy to use plus you can leave the camera turned on and it will shut down after 16 secsYou hardly ever see these come up second hand so some one must like them. Marcus
 
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Guest

> Hi Dirk,

I never had any stiffness trouble with my Aria. I did have a sloppy On/Off switch on my black G2, and it went back to Contax UK to get fixed. Maybe the Aria should go into the workshop for a check too. Good luck with it - it is NOT normal for an Aria in my experience. Albest, Robin
 
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Guest

I own an Aria for three years now. I am not a pro and do not use the Aria on a daily basis, but use it in extreme conditions. I took the Aria to the Himalaya twice and used it up to 6300 meters with very low temperatures (up to minus 20 degrees celcius). My Aria has also seen the Mauritanian Sahara and Sinai Dessert (Egypt). It is a very good camera that does the job in a variety of conditions. Yes, you have to take care for the camera in these conditions. Keep sand and moisture away. People seem to forget that a camera is a machine and the photographer is the weak factor, not the Aria. When my slides are out of focus or to dark or to bright I can blame myself.

The matrix metering is not a Nikon alike, but it works very good in backlight. I only use it in specific situations.

I like the Aria very much and its weeknesses are minor ones (no mirror lock up, but the stiff AE lock is not a problem for me)

I am working on a website, it just gives you an idea in which conditions I have used the Aria.
Please, Log in or Register to view URLs content!


Melvin
 
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Guest

I own an Aria and an RX. Yep, the matrix metering is way off on the Aria, but I have also found that my Aria and RX never agree on exposures (even though both have been recently serviced by kyocera), especially when aiming the camera at blue scenes and red scenes. On mainly green scenes, the meters agree. The differences can be up to 1.5 stops.

Does anyone else have this problem?
 
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Guest

I must be lucky, no stiffness on the on/off switch, matrix metering just about "spot" on, and I love the "difference to centre weighted display" ... all in all, an excellent camera which I would recommend to anyone
 
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