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User comments btil June 2003



i need help.
i'm about to buy the 645 for a very important shoot, print ad.
client always get 6X7 slides.
can CarlZeiss quality on 645 slides be better than 6X7 (mamiya) ???

must decide soon. thank you.



if this is an important shooting, I would test the camera, before buying one - no matter which model. I never shot with 6x7 or the Contax, just Rollei 6008 and TLR.

Zeiss lenses are a very good choice, but they can not break the law in physic. Assuming you enlarge each negative to the same print size, you can not have the same resolution if you compare the print of a 6x4,5 and a 6x7.

On the other hand, I guess in the print-ad industry the capability in photoshop is more important then the resolution in the original shot.

With color reproduction it could be different, but the bigger the negative/slide the more impressive is the picture in general, if this is the only check of the client for getting the mandate.

I would rent in your situation the Contax 645 and a Mamiya 7, an SLR Mamiya or equivalent. Shoot for a day with both cameras and compare the results.

And check whether your client is accepting at all the smaller slides of the Conatx 645.

Just my 2 cents


thank you dirk.

i shot for this year's national coverage beer calendar using fuji GA645Zi, drum scanned enlarge to 40X60cm print. they turned out okay. indeed photoshop took a vital role in the post.

this time the job is for regional coverage. and suddenly i felt credibility or something at a stake.
they're gonna hand out the result to many countries. all over asia.

i tried mamiya 7. certainly an issue when you need npc polaroid back, not a simple operation. most importantly they don't make macro lens for the series.

i prefer handheld most of the time, hardly use tripod. that left me not so many choices of cameras anymore.
this time the team prepared me RZ67. i must say it's a bitch shooting handheld with it. (sorry mamiya, i know that RZ is designed to use a tripod)

so now i must learn to use RZ handheld.
still not very sure on purchasing Contax 645.

thank so much for the kind reply.


I've recently posted a review of the Contax 645 system on my website,
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, as well as reviews of several other cameras. I am posting the text of my review (below) for your convenience.



My first medium format camera was a Mamiya 7 II, purchased in July 1999. It's a nice camera but limited in what it can do, being a rangefinder…no long lenses, imprecise framing, difficulty using certain filters, and no closeup capability. It does, however, make very nice 6x7 images, and the results that it gave me were so far superior to 35mm that I knew that medium format was for me. After using the Mamiya for six months, I began the search for a medium format SLR which would replace 35mm as an all-purpose camera.

I considered many brands and models: Pentax and Mamiya in particular, as well as Contax 645. I gave a lot of thought to Pentax 67, but in the end decided against it due to its sensitivity to shutter vibration. To make a long story somewhat shorter, I finally chose the Contax due to its features as well as its Zeiss lenses, in particular due to the reputation of its 120mm macro lens. At this writing (June 2002) I've had it for nearly 2 ½ years, and it remains a great favorite.

The Contax 645 is somewhat like a slightly overgrown 35mm model. It is extremely user-friendly, like most 645 format- but unlike many larger medium format cameras. It's fairly compact for a medium format SLR, although its Zeiss lenses, with their all-metal construction, are considerably heavier than some other brands. It boasts many advanced features, again being similar to a 35mm camera in that regard, yet offering much better image quality and convenient aspects of medium format such as prism and waistlevel finders and interchangeable backs. Ergonomic level is very high, the buttons and controls generally being "just right", and as a whole the camera is very intuitive to use.

Don't let anyone tell you that 645 isn't enough of a jump in size from 35mm to be worth consideration…the difference is spectacular, and my guess is that these naysayers haven't even tried it. The image size of 645 is nearly 2.7x larger than that of 35mm; that of 6x7 is only a further 60% larger. These same naysayers don't complain that 6x6 isn't much different from 35mm…remember that a 6x6 cropped from square is virtually identical in size to a frame of 645.


The body is well constructed of black composite material containing carbon fibre. It's lightweight but sturdy, and I typically carry it by the neckstrap with ease. It includes a built-in motor drive and normal top-of-the-camera dials, not a dreadful menu-based layout such as the original Pentax 645 had.

One of my favorite things about Contax bodies is the AE lock switch. It's integrated with the off/on lever; to lock exposure, simply flip the lever to "lock" and it will retain the same exposure settings until you release it, even for the entire roll. Another exceptional feature of the 645 is its built-in flash meter, similar to Contax's 35mm RTSIII…this is perfect for precisely-metered studio flash use such as my flower and macro work, and since it is TTL metered, no compensation for extension is necessary. Just spotmeter the desired area and flip the flash meter lever; it fires a preflash and displays compensation, if any, that is necessary to attain this exposure. Adjust the exposure compensation dial and all is well…no fussing with resetting flash power levels. This actually works with any flash; I very rarely use on-camera flash, so cannot offer an opinion in that regard. Exposure and lens data is imprinted along the edge of each frame, an extremely nice feature and difficult to do without once you've gotten used to it.

The body includes just about any feature one would want, such as multiple exposure capability, automatic bracketing, self-timer, continuous firing, mirror lockup and much more. Mirror lockup is unfortunately limited to a short interval to save battery life, necessitating continual relocking if one is waiting for wind to stop (my most frequent aggravation). Film backs include a well-designed insert, which is usable for either 120 or 220 film by simply rotating the pressure plate.

Metering is generally very accurate, except that it is oversensitive to bright red objects. After much testing, I determined that it underexposes by exactly a stop on such objects as red flowers and stop signs; I give it +1 stop exposure compensation and get perfect exposures, although I find it annoying that accurate metering across the entire spectrum didn't seem to be a Contax priority.

My other complaint is the 645's well-known appetite for batteries. I get around 5-6 rolls of 220 per 2CR5 battery, similar to many other users. Fortunately I've discovered an online source for them (
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) at $4 each, rather than the $10-11 charged locally.


While not an extensive lineup, the 645's lenses are extraordinary and are one of the main reasons to buy into the system. Focal lengths run from 35mm to 350mm, plus a 1.4x Mutar teleconverter. As yet there are no zooms nor a 2x teleconverter; although not yet officially announced as of June 2002, it's believed that 45-90mm and 90-180mm will soon be available. All primes have full DOF scales as you'd expect from superior lenses. The entire range can also be used with Contax's "N" series of 35mm autofocus bodies.

My setup includes 35mm, 45mm, 80mm, 120mm, 210mm and 350mm focal lengths. Every one gives superb image quality; two deserve special mention. The 120mm macro is, quite simply, the best single lens I have ever used. Image quality is unbelievably good; nearly all of my flower portraits were made with this lens, and it serves as a superb general-purpose lens as well. If I were limited to one lens for this camera, the 120mm would surely be it. Like the others, the 350mm is superb quality, and fast (f/4) with close-focus capability…however, it is very bulky and heavy (8.5 pounds/3.8 kg), necessitating special arrangements for carrying (see below). I don't have the 140mm, since I consider it too close to my present 120mm macro to have both. There is also a 55mm available, which is a nice bridge between the 45mm and 80mm lenses; I'd initially planned to obtain it but have decided to wait for the 45-90mm zoom instead.

Lenses are of the usual Zeiss build quality…heavy, all-metal construction, exuding high quality across the board. Thoughtfully, all have 72mm filter threads save the 35mm and 350mm, which take 95mm filters. Very nice metal hoods are available for each focal length, and are stored by reverse-mounting onto the lens.

My relegation of the lenses' autofocus capability to a brief note is due to the fact that I treat them as manual lenses at all times. I have no use for autofocus for anything besides birds (handled by Canon 35mm), and quite honestly ignore the fact that they have anything besides manual abilities. To the credit of Zeiss, the manual operation is very smooth and positive-feeling, virtually as good as any non-autofocus lenses. If you are interested in writing me with questions about the 645, feel free, but don't ask me about autofocus capability since I have no experience with it!


There are quite a few accessories available for the system; I will mention only those that I actually have and use. Besides the regular film backs, a Polaroid back is available; this is handy for checking tricky studio-lit exposures, but I don't use it in the field.

I normally use the prism finder; I also have the waistlevel version, which sees limited use but is nice for special purposes. I use it when shooting upward, for ex&le to pick out details in tall trees…no need to acquire a stiff neck from stooping to awkward positions. Similarly, it's good for very low shots…an angle finder is not needed, nor is lying on the ground for flower macros a necessity. However, it is *extremely* cumbersome to use for verticals: the image is inverted and I find it far more difficult to use than a view camera with its inverted but much larger image. It's also incapable of spotmetering, so a handheld meter is useful in these instances. I use the grid screen at all times, as I do in all of my cameras. Regardless of which finder is in use, the image is bright and easy to focus.

Three different extension tubes are available, and are a nice addition to attain closer focus with the 210mm and 350mm lenses in particular. I also have the bellows for studio use; it's quite a piece of work and is a masterpiece of design. It's extremely well-constructed and fully meter-coupled, and is virtually a miniature view camera in that it allows tilt, shift, swing, and rise/fall in the macro range. Unfortunately there are no short-mount lenses available that could allow infinity focus; this feature (or dedicated tilt/shift lenses) would be a great asset for landscape use. As much as I love my Contax 645, the lack of movement capability is the main reason that I've also obtained a Fuji GX680III.

My method of use in the field

I have no problem carrying the entire 645 system while hiking. I keep the camera itself, with one lens mounted, stored in a small Tamrac shoulder bag; it's carrying via the neckstrap while hiking. The rest of the system, except the 350mm lens, goes into a Tamrac "superlight" shoulder bag…this includes four lenses plus teleconverter, waistlevel finder, a complete set of filters for color and b&w use, film, and many small accessories. If I feel that I'll need the 350mm lens, it must be handled separately due to its bulk and weight. It lives in a Lowepro Micro Trekker backpack, and I simply strap this on for hiking. It's virtually weightless compared to a large pack such as a well-filled Pro Trekker, and doesn't need to be removed during the hike unless I actually want to use the lens.

I plan to purchase the 45-90mm and 90-180mm zooms when they become available; these will be convenient for ultra-compact use in difficult terrain such as steep or very lengthy hikes, or for those occasions when one can't carry a large shoulder bag. I'll be glad to answer your questions about the Contax 645.

Danny Burk


Hi Danny,

thank you very much for your detailed review of the Contax 645. I am glad that now also Contax Users of the Medium Format have an expert on this Forum.

Regarding the mentioned zooms, I can confirm that they are definitely coming. They are listed in the new Contax N-Digital brochure with the remark "under developement" what means nobody knows when they are actually coming

I guess it will be for the Photokina in September in Cologne/Germany




I would be interested whether you have thought about using a digital back for your 645. What would be the Pros and Cons for it in your view?




Presently I don't have an interest in doing in-camera work digitally. A very important reason against it is due to the small image area; wide-angle capability is much reduced, and for that reason I would not consider it even if it were more advantageous in every other way.

I drum scan my transparencies of all formats; besides Contax 645, I also shoot 6x8, 617, and 4x5. The quality of any of these formats *as film* surpass most digital technologies, and at a far lower cost.

Besides the above...there is nothing like seeing a real transparency on the light box!



Hi Danny,

I hope Kyocera/Zeiss will bring out something like a 5.6/135 mm S-Planar for the bellows, with a focus range from infinity to perhaps 1:1 (depending on the length of the bellows). I don't mind, they can use the Hasselblad 5.6/135 as an ex&le. In my opinion the tilt and shift functions of the bellows are more or less senseless without such a lens.



Hi guys ( strange no woman in the MF chat )

In short Pentax645 or Contax645 I will have to buy it second hand due to the $$$$ factor.

The camera would mainly be used for weddings and portraits.
Thanks Jan


Hi Danny,

at your nice 645 report, you've mentioned missing a shift/tilt lens! There is a WIESE TECHNOPLAN MC 3,5/45mm for CONTAX 645 available at a good price. The lens itself is very solid made and the optical quality does not need to hide.

Regards, Wolf Rainer


Hello All,
I really need your help and comment but also worry about my question since this going to be a fundamental and stupid question. I'm struggling between Contax 645(+140mm) and N1(+17~35 and 85). I usually take portrait and fashion (mostly focus on people) and normally work with 11R size and sometimes 20R. My question is, N1 with 17~35 and 85 can generate good quality of picture even with 11R or 20R size? I don't think it will be better than 645 obviously, but could it be, at least, similar and good to see?

Best Regard, Jin


Posted by Guy Gonyea on Monday, August 12, 2002 - 9:25 pm:

Wow! What's the story on the 645 and batteries? Seems to be a hot topic. I haven't bought yet but want to this week. I do "exotic"
travel people and places + scenics shooting and shoot in 35mm a lot of film (5 rolls of 36 Fuji - mostly Velvia/day) What can I expect in battery consumption? I have to carry batteries with me a lot as I am in remote areas often. What am I setting myself up for with the 645?


Hiya guy

I have only just purchased the Contax 645 but have already run into the battery problem. a new set of duracell aa`s don`t last that long at all( in the battery grip) the standard 2CR5 `s aren`t a lot better but I` have had better results with a set of Ni-Metal rechargeables and have just ordered 2 sets of 1850 mAh rechargeables and at £5.25 per set of four it will help a lot. I am amazed at the battery drain but with the quality of the results it is worth living with( some camera systems have faults that can`t be got over as easily as fresh batteries)I might well build a battery pack of my own design that can be plugged in with plenty of cells that would do any full days shoot.If you are going out in the wilds for any length of time without being able to get near a mains charger then carrying enough AA`s or precharged batteries could add quite a weight to your load. As far as I can tell so far the battery drain is the only problem with an otherwise excellent bit of kit. I`m just amazed after using a Canon D30 with a small Li-ion battery and large `L` lenses just how short the battery life is in the Contax but i would have thought that Contax would have solved it if they could have. A Ferrari does about 10 miles to the gallon but what a car!




Get the 645. Same optical excellence or better, with a considerably larger neg. You can get a N1 body later and use the 645 lenses on it with the Nam-1 adapter. For what you want to do you may want 2 645 lenses, the 140 and 80 ( which is cheaper if you buy the kit ), then eventually the 45/2.8.


Dear Guy,

I have been shooting a 645 system for the last 2 years as a professional nature photographer. I am often in the field for long periods.

Your film consumption is moderate, and one set of batteries in the 645 should last you a couple days of shooting (220 film gives 32 exposures--expect 10-15 rolls without using AF much). Also, the 645 format probably will reduce your film consumption as you will tend concentrate more on composition as opposed to firing away with the high speed motor drive.

The 645 is a battery hog supreme! There is just no way around this. I gladly make the sacrifice for (1) the optical quality and easy handling and (2) the incredible toughness of the body and lenses (something not often mentioned). One reason for huge battery use is using AF with the heavy all-metal lenses. I rarely use AF in my line of work and so have no real explanation for the substantial battery usage.

There are several ways to address this problem.

First, you can get the vertical grip, which holds a 2CR5 lithium in the handle in the grip and 4AAs in the base. Use lithium AAs and you should see a great improvement.

Second, you can go to NiMh rechargeable batteries. These last a much longer than standard alkalines, but not quite as long as lithiums. They are, though, infinitely cheaper because they can be recharged 1000 times (and also offer excellent cold-weather performance). I simply carry 30 or so of these along with 2 8-battery chargers on trips, and can be assured of enough battery power to reach my next recharging opportunity. I would note that it is truly rare to be away from any electricity for weeks on end (see below)even at "exotic" locations (even safaries have generators nowadays).

Third, you can buy an external Contax battery pack. They make one that holds 4 "C" (or "D"?) cells and should pack quite a punch with lithiums or NiMh batteries.

Finally, if you are really going to be in the field (i.e. wilderness river rafting, backpacking, remote third-world travel, etc.) with no hope of access to electricity for weeks on end--don't take the system. Use instead your 35mm system which, for weight/space concerns would be preferred anyway.

With modern gear, carrying extra weight as batteries is just a fact of life, to me, worth it in exchange for the capabilities of electronic cameras. Given that the 645 system is HEAVY, I think that the extra weight of 30 AA batteries and a charger is, proportionately, a very small increase.

Hope this helps you with your decision. I think that all 645 AF systems are intense in their battery consumption, so I don't think for a second that this should be a deciding factor between 645 systems. It may, though, be a deciding factor in which type of system (35 vs 645) is best for extreme travel.

You can see s&les of my work with the 645 at
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All the best,

Guy Harrison



Thanks for the great comments! It really helps. Are you, or anybody out there aware of any new 645 developments coming up? Maybe at photokina?



I would be interested in your opinion about Contax 645 vs. Hasselblad 500C/M or 503CW vs. Rolleiflex 6008 and Mamiya 7.

I know this is a very broad range, but I am thinking every 6 months about Medium Format as an addition to my 35mm Conatx N-system, I only used rarely in the past an old Rolleiflex 2.8F Twin lens.

And now I saw today again these nice Hasselblad brochures in my shelves. So I started dreaming again: If I would have time again to take pictures, whether it would not be nice to have Medium Format, especially 6x6 (I love the square Format).

But normally it is big and heavy, except the Mamiya 7/6.

So my question are:

1. What was your reason for medium format?
2. Why Contax 645 et alii and not other brands?
3. Do you regret it?
4. Do you use it as often as you anticipated it before buying it?




Dirk, this can be a very subjective discussion. I've had several of the cameras you name. Write to me at and we can discuss this a little bit. Jack Casner



There are others that use these different cameras I'm sure, But I am one who actively uses all of the ones you listed in your post above, both for commercial work and weddings.

First the question of why MF:
My assistant asked me the same question recently after seeing some B&W Leica enlargements I had done. I then showed him some 13X19 prints from a Hasselblad, and I didn't have to say another word as to why MF.

If you are going to do any bigger prints, a MF camera with quality lenses will capture beautiful tonal gradations and more detail every time. It also means more cropping can be done with less loss of quality.

As to which model:
The 645 offers the least step up in quality just because of neg size. But it is a step up for sure. 645 needs a prism finder to shoot vertical images, and is less handy for portrait orientation than the Hasselblad, which you never have to turn on its' side. The Contax 645 is easier to focus than the Hasselblad even when being used manually, let alone on AF, (the C 645 offers focus confirmation in the viewfinder). The Hasselblad flash sync's at 1/500th where the focal plane shutter of the Contax 645 is limited to 1/125th, a consideration when shooting fill flash out doors. However, any Contax 645 lenses you get can be used on the N1 or N Digital, making for a tidy little system across formats.
(P.S., you can also use Hasselblad Ziess lenses on the Contax 645 w/adapter).

The Mamiya 7II is a great camera that is easy to carry & use and produces huge 6X7 negs of excellent quality. The rangefinder is easy to focus, but you do not see the distortion produced by lenses of W/A or Telephoto types.
It's a different style of shooting like that of a Contax G or Leica ( more like the Leica). And the 7II lens line up is limited, with no really long lenses.

If you want to see a real marked, can't miss it, difference compared to Contax 35mm in prints up to 11X14, you have to step up to 6X6 or 6X7 or even 6X9. This is why the Mamiya RZ Pro II is such a popular studio camera ( which I also have and use). But it is far from portable like the Contax 645.

I'd be happy to answer any other questions, here or by direct e-mail.