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Review Contax Nx

dirk

CI-Founder
...the affordable N-body...

1. General remarks

After the N1 has been on the market for almost 2 years as the only auto focus model for the new N-mount, Contax introduced in December 2001 the “little brother” NX.

On the first sight, the NX looks like a mixture between Contax Aria and 167MT, both from the manual focus line of Contax. It seems to have the same comfort in terms of functionality for an entry level model as the Aria, the big LCD screen and button-oriented settings reminds me of the 167MT.

First of all, it is great to have finally also for the auto focus line an entry level model, if you can name it this way, because the price tag is still 899 Euro. But everybody should know by now, that quality costs also money and if you want to use Zeiss glasses this is even more valid. But because the N1 is 450 Euro more expansive than the equivalent choice in manual focus, the RX, it is nice to see that the price of the NX is the same as for the Aria. This is important, because if somebody thinks about entering into the Contax system as a newcomer, it should be not influenced only by the price tag, whether or not to choose AF vs. MF.

There are some similarities between NX and N1. But if you think, that the NX is a kind of second class N1, you are deadly wrong. To say it upfront: If you do not need mirror lock up, exchangeable viewfinder screens or a sophisticated data back as an optional feature, the NX could be the better buy for you !

2. Handling

The NX feels very good in the hands. If you have bigger hands, it might be to small as with the Aria. Contax achieved once again to build a camera which is comfortable and fun to handle. Even if it is not the traditional Contax-way of selecting the settings, the menu is so easy and logical, that you do not need a manual to change settings.

The main controls are used with 2 separate rollover-wheels on the right hand of the camera. One on the front (horizontal), as with the N1, and one on the top-rear (this one has to be scrolled vertical). That makes it very logical and easy to use if you choose the settings on the LCD screen. Depending on what you want to select on the LCD screen (after pushing the mode button), you have to go either vertical on the screen or horizontal. And this is exactly what you are doing with the specified control-wheels. Everything can be changed within a second, very intuitive. No thinking anymore, whether it is the front or the rear wheel, which is changing the desired setting.

On the left side of the camera, you set certain specification, which are normally valid over a longer period of time, like ISO, programming of 20 different camera-options and two kinds of customised “remember” settings (green and white circles). This side is not looking very Contax –alike, but it is easy to use. Personally, I prefer the “traditional” N1-way.

3. NX vs. Aria

NX and Aria are supposed to offer new Contax user an affordable entry into the Contax System. One with AF and the new N-mount, the other one without AF and the traditional C/Y mount.

As already with the Aria, there is almost nothing to be missed on the NX to take really good pictures. Compared to the Aria, you have additionally the internal flash, a light button for the LCD screen, better Matrix metering, better viewfinder information and of course auto focus. Everything is well thought through. What you do not have compared to the Aria is exchangeable focussing screens, an optional data back for aperture and shutter speed recording, no gold contacts inside and the film holder is plastic, not metal anymore. So because of the expensive auto focus and flash you have some cost reductions in other parts, to be able to offer the NX at the same price as the Aria for the entry in the Contax N-system. It is up to you, what you prefer more.

4. NX vs. N1

If you compare the NX with the N1 there are more things in common then different. First of all both have the same N-mount and therefore the same possibility to use the new N-lenses. For a n objective decision, as always, you have to decide first what you really need as a mandatory criteria and what is just a “nice to have” feature for you. This is different for everybody, so do not judge purely on behalf of others’ comments.

Of course, the NX has not the top specs as the N1, but who really needs them mandatory? The NX is fast enough with its 1/4000 shutter speed (N1 1/8000), 2.3 pictures/sec. (N1 3.5), the flash sync is also fast enough for most users with its 1/125 sec (N1 1/250). Both have many things in common. There are often just marginal differences between the two, which are not important for the day to day average shooter, especially not for the typical entry level buyer.

Both have the same Matrix-system. The NX overexposures with slide film always 0,5-1 stop, compared to the N1, which is nothing negative, just a question of personal taste. If you do not like it, you can change this with the ISO settings. Both have Spot and Centre-weighted (CWM) metering (NX with 1 EV less). The Spot metering of the NX is a 7.5mm circle, which equals ca. 3%, the N1 has a 3mm circle, which is ca. 1%.

Both have the same auto focus - I checked that with Contax in Hamburg. On the NX, you can select just one single sensor out of five as the focus point, with the N1 more combinations are possible. For a description of the speed and accuracy of the AF please look at the auto focus review folder. In short it is fast enough and reliable. They have also almost the same jog dial and AF-assist button, ABC bracketing etc.. But the N1 is always one step more “elegant” to use.

Both are solid build, although the N1 gives here not just because of its bigger size a better impression – but to make it clear: there simply does not exist a cheap, plastic feeling with Contax cameras, no matter what the names of the materials are!. A smaller size or modern materials of a body does not have to mean weaker. But you should also not expect an RTS III.

So where are the meaningful differences? In my opinion it is above all the size of the body. The NX is meaningful smaller and lighter then the N1 (605g vs. 795g). Secondly the shutter vibration is less (!) “hard” on the NX then on the N1, because of a different construction. The N1 sounds more “adult” and I prefer the noise of the winder of the N1. With the faster shutter speed of the N1, you need a stronger mechanical mechanism, which effects the intensity of the vibration. So basically less speed capability, less vibration. Therefore with handhold-shots it is actually better to shoot with the NX instead of the N1.

But if you need absolutely shake-free pictures, a mirror lock up is a must. The NX does not have a mirror lock up, the N1 does have one in combination with the 2 sec. self timer.

If you never shoot with shutter-speed between 1/30 and 2 seconds, it does not matter at all, because longer and shorter exposure times eliminate the effect of mirror vibration on the picture

What is remarkable with the NX is the custom setting #18, where you can decide, that the real aperture with a zoom is shown in the viewfinder. If you have for ex&le the 28-80/3.5-5.6 zoom attached and put the aperture on 3.5 and the zoom on 80, the real aperture is not 3.5. It is 5.6. So with this feature, you will see in that situation 5.6 instead of 3.5. The N1 does not have this feature – unfortunately not. The custom settings of the NX are in general slightly different then the ones of the N1. The on/off switch was improved with the NX. Actually it is better then any other Contax camera. The design of it is now in a way, so that you can easier turn it on by pushing it towards the pentaprism with your forefinger. This should have been done already years ago.

The built in flash (the first one in a Contax model ever) is also very handy. It has a LZ of 13.5 and is calculated to the 28-80 zoom. Even flash sync on the second curtain is possible. No need anymore to take a small flash with you for the just in case/better than no picture situations. One item less which can be lost or stolen. Seems to work well on my few flash-shots, although not very strong.

5. Day to day performance

So how performs the NX in normal daylight shootings? Excellent – very similar to the N1. My biggest concern was that because of the smaller and lighter body it would be uncomfortable to use the bigger N-lenses (i.e. 24-85 and 70-300) turned out to be not true. Actually it is quiet good, because you are forced to handhold the camera as it should be, with both hands and always one under the centre of the lens. Easy going, although the NX “looks” more “normal” with the 28-80 zoom than the 24-85 zoom. But again, handling is because of the size and weight quiet “sexy”.

Matrix mode is excellent, as we knew it already from the N1. But the NX gives you 0,5-1 stop overexposure compared to the N1 in Matrix Mode. This is just important, if you use slide film. With slide film you achieve more saturated colours by under-exposure the picture between 1/3-2/3 stop, depending of the subject and the film. So set the correction accordingly. On my test shots with Fuji Velvia, rated at 50, the picture was well defined between the darker and lighter areas. But it was not as saturated, as I was used it with my N1. It reminds me to pictures with Fuji Provia 100F, where the colours are more realistic. But this is not as strong as with the Aria, which gave me also in matrix mode between 0,5-1,5 stops overexposure.

The viewfinder of NX good enough. Everything is very easy to read, even in bright sunlight. I personally do prefer the split indicator for manual focus, which is not available for the NX (but for the N1). This is for me an important missing feature. The NX has just this full matte screen which is fixed and can not be replaced by another screen.

But hey, there have to be differences, if you look also at the different prices. Every manufacturer is doing this.

From the comfort point of view, I do prefer the switch between the metering modes of the N1 on the body with a specific dial instead of the NX and the setting over the LCD screen. But this is very subjective. With the NX you have to look at the top of the camera, with the N1 you do not move your eyes from the viewfinder. But this is for many people marginal. For more details of the technical specifications, please look at the specification spreadsheet or the manual download.

For the new 28-80 Zoom I will try to write a review within the next weeks, as soon as I made more pictures with it. But a few things, I can say already now. The new lenses which has been introduced at the same time (28-80 and 70-200) seem to be in the same league as the 24-85 and 70-300 according to the MTF charts. Actually according to the MTF charts there are slightly better. But they have also a different range, so this would not be fair to compare. The construction and feeling of the 28-80 is surprisingly solid. Especially if you think at the price difference of almost 1200 Euro to the 24-85. No cheap plastic feeling. Very smooth also for the manual focussing. With the price difference you see the more expensive requirements for a wider zoom-range and the dualfocus mechanism. That means you have to turn a switch on the lens itself to get them into the manual focus setting (as with most other AF-brands). With the other (Dualfocus) N-lenses i.e. the N24-85 and N70-300, you just turn the manual focussing ring without thinking. But this makes the construction more expensive. So for the price sensitive entry-level buyer, I would recommend the 3.5-5.6/28-80 and 3.5-4.5/70-200 zoom, which is by the way also a lot lighter then the 70-300 (ca. 650g vs. 950g)

6. Summary

The obvious question is, would I choose the NX over the N1? This is a tough one. I am a fan of mirror lock up, split-field focus screen and a data back, which gives me more possibilities then just date and time imprinting (I am to lazy to write it on paper). With few exceptions, I also like more the more “elegant” ways of using the controls and settings of the N1. But if you have to make the decision whether to start with the Contax N-line or not and you are restricted to a certain amount of money as we always are, then you can not do something wrong with the NX. But try it out yourself at your local dealer for a couple of hours (please not just 5 minutes in the store!).

I would not recommend the NX as a back up body. It is just to big for that and there is nothing that a N1 can not do. I could imagine (or hope) that Contax would come out someday in the future with a very basic mechanical N-mount-model à la S2 but with spot and centre weighted metering in one body, better film rewind knob, and aperture display in the viewfinder.

For a decision between N-System (auto focus) and C/Y-system (manual focus) of Contax, please look in the specific thread.



Summary of most important points

NX brings even more features and flexibility as an Contax Aria - very good handling
NX has almost the same features as the N1
Very light (605g) and small for an N-mount Contax
Excellent Matrix Metering
Very good Autofocus (same as N1)
Access to the newest lens designs of Carl Zeiss!
Same lens mount as for the future N Digital, therefore an investment for the future
Currently the cheapest entry to the Contax N-line
No mirror lock up
No professional accessories i.e. “sophisticated” data back and no exchangeable viewfinder screen

Because of the last point: price/performance ratio “just” between very good and excellent (899 Euro) - compared to other Contax models

Dirk
 
G

Guest

I am seriously considering the NX. I like to photograph people & portraits. I am concerned about a comment in the May 2002 Popular Photog review of the NX that notes that the spot focus was too wide resulting in inaccurate focus. It suggested focusing on your hand (pink?) for exposure then taking the photo of the skater. Any comments or recommendations of why or why not to go with the CONTAX NX? Any one with experience of the spot metering?
 

dirk

CI-Founder
Hi Fem,

I guess you meant spot-metering instead of auto-focus. I have not seen a review of the NX in Pop Photo, so I can not tell you what they exactly tried to do in the test.

The spot metering of the Nx differs from the one of the N1, as mentioned in the Nx-review above. The N1 has a really tight 1% spot metering, the Nx a more normal 3% spot metering.

I have used the Nx not yet so excessive, because of bad weather here in Germany, but I have had no problems at all yet with the spot-meteing and portraits.

hope that helps...

dirk
 
G

Guest

Has anyone chosen the NX with the N 24-85 instead of the N1 with the N 24-85? How is the feel and balance? After living with this combo,are you very satisfied, or do you wish you had gone with the N1 with the N 24-85? Thanks for your insights.
(sorry--I had posted this under the Auto Focus lense section comparing auto focus to manual lenses before realizing the query would be a better fit here!--I'm learning!)
 
G

Guest

Just happy to report that I am enjoying the NX though I only have the kit lenses (28-80 and 70-200). The custom function to display the difference between the evaluative and spot metering in the viewfinder is really a plus for me!
 

dirk

CI-Founder
Hi Michaela,

welcome to the Contax User Site!

You choose excellent lenses with your NX. These are not "just" kit lenses. The 28-80 is actually optically better then the 24-85, same counts for the 70-200 vs. the 70-300. This is due to the narrower zooming range and the easier task therefore to design it.

I switched from my 70-300 to the 70-200 mainly because of the weight and aperture advantage. I used to have the 28-80, but I absolutely need the 24mm, so even it is optically inferior (on a Zeiss level), I sold the 28-80 and use the 24-85 instead.

Dirk
 
G

Guest

Thanks for the warm welcome, Dirk.

I have not been disappointed by the 28-80 but I was curious about the 24-85. I am quite relieved with your feedback regarding the lenses that I have. Also, the 28-80 is slower (f/3.5-5.6). That's why I paired it immediately with the 70-200. As for the NX body, I don't have any complaints about the controls. It's purely subjective. The light weight of the NX package makes it a joy to use.
 
G

Guest

FYI...Shutterbug Aug 2002 issue has a review of the NX with the 24-85mm, 70-300 and 70-200.
 
G

Guest

>[Only the introduction to the article is available online - to encourage >you to buy the August issue in the news stand. Have a look at >
Please, Log in or Register to view URLs content!
and click on the Contax NX review. - Michaela]
 
G

Guest

Dirk, thanks for the correction. I just bought a copy of the Shutterbug. The review was not very lengthy. It had a lot of praises for the NX. It did not mention any problems when using it with the 24-85 and the 70-300mm. The cover even had the NX with the 24-85 - it looks well balanced. Of all the things the author can praise in detail - he chose the PC connection with regard to studio application. But, he did rave about metering in the end...
 
G

Guest

...I just read the few lines available online. Sounded almost to positive for my taste. I have also an Nx. The metering seems to be the same as for the N1. Very reliable. But I like my N1 more - just a personal taste. I will try to get the shutterbug print edition tomorrow in frankfurt...
 
G

Guest

Dirk,

FYI - I have decided to purchase the NX with the 28-80 for my wife based on the type of Point/Shoot and Size/Weight issues for her. Really could have done with a cheaper and maybe better AF camera from Canon or Nikon, but I would feel guilty depriving her of Zeiss glass, especially as I am now having the N1 and 24-85. Should be fun for me to compare them. Didn't go with the TV/G series, as she didn't feel comfortable going from her traditional SLR brick to a smaller and sleeker camera regardless of ease of use and quality points!

Will also be interesting to see the 'reality check' of if the built-in flash on the NX... Is it worth anything? I will pair the NX with a TLA30 she has now for any serious flash work. I will be using a TLA360 with the N1 and check it with the NX too. Maybe I end up with a couple of TLA30s.

Looks like I will dump all of my manual stuff once I get these new systems into my comfort zone. But then, I can't look to some cheaper lenses for CY/Macro types of special but limited use. May pick up a cheaper camera for those speciality times I feel like being creative in non-traditional picture modes.

In general, what led me to my decision was that it just wasn't worth the inconvenience for carrying a bunch of primes, so the zooms won the battle of the lens types. Then, an investment in older zooms wasn't worth it because of the low cost difference to new and also the AF versus MF debate for most people outside the most serious photographers can live with the quality of the AF and especially as the AF is useable as an MF. The AX was tempting, since it would give me AF with CY and other cheaper lenses, but the body, at it's higher price, lower AF performance and limited life production, made me lean to the N series as the best place for investment.

Will let you know how I feel in a few months after using... if I get some time to actually use these new tools.

Thanks again for your advice and feedback.

Best Regards, Mike
 
G

Guest

Dirk, other Contax Users - I am a long time Contax user that until recently had stayed with the manual focus line. I began with a 139Q, moved to an RTS, then on to a 159MM and finally have been using an Aria for several years. In over 18 years I never had a single piece of Contax equipment fail to perform.

At the beginning of the year I "retired" all of my manual focus equipment and jumped in with both feet buying an NX body, the 28-80mm zoom and the 70-300mm zoom. My initial reaction to the new auto-focus stuff was favorable until recently. I'll get to that in a minute.

In April I added the N1 body because of the favorable press it had gotten and because I wanted a tool that would help me take my photograpy to the next level. In early June I also added the new 17-35mm zoom - a very nice addition but at a significant cost. And just like the 70-300, it is a tank.

Now the bad news. Within the first 40 days the N1 failed and it is now in Kyocera's repair department. The mirror locked in the up position and I lost all power to the unit. They are telling me 4-6 weeks before I see it again. So I fell over to using the NX as my backup. To my horror, 4 weeks ago it failed as well. Appears that the circuit board which governs the drive functions failed. It advanced the film (although unevenly) but refused to auto-rewind at the end of the roll. Kyocera repair turned it around in a very short period of time and I got it back two days ago. Working fine so far. Fingers are crossed.

But this brings me to my concern - the quality of these two new offering. I treat my equipment with kid gloves and certainly don't abuse them. For the N1 to fail with fewer than 4 rolls through it and the NX to experience problems with fewer than 30 rolls through it is cause for concern. (P.S. The lenses have performed flawlessly).

How have your other readers/contributors experience been with these two new bodies? I am very interested in knowing if anyone has had any similar problems (or even any difficulties of note).

Thanks.
 
G

Guest

James,

So far, the only time the mirror locked in the up position for my NX was when the batteries ran out. Of course, the film would not advance. After replacing the batteries, it was back to normal.

Mike,

The flash on the NX would pre-flash. Something to do with red-eye reduction. That pre-flash is something that annoys me a bit because I have to tell my family/friends to hold it until the second flash fires. Otherwise, it's a good fill flash for horizontal shots. For vertical ones, the shadows are strong. I haven't tried the flash compensation though.

Why haven't they come up with a built in flash that can swivel? ;0)
 
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