For travelers who want exceptional image quality in a compact package, it's tough to beat the Contax G1 rangefinder 35mm camera. I've explored many parts of the U.S. with mine, capturing images from San Francisco, to Austin, to Chicago. But don't just take my word for it, here's a recent post on Steve Huff Photo titled, My Burmese Trip with a Contax G1 by Carlos that tells the G1 story quite well.
Based on my travels, plus my testing of many Contax G1s for TheFilmCameraShop, here's why I like them so much.
- Excellent Exposure - The camera's metering system consistently delivers wonderfully exposed images.
- Compact Design - Because it's a rangefinder, there's no mirror box to deal with. So you have an easy to pack rectangular shaped body.
- Necessary Features, and No More - Exposure compensation, click-stop aperture settings, autofocus, manual focus, DX coding, film label viewing window, diopter adjustment, TTL flash, autoexposure lock, aperture priority, and full manual exposure - all easy to use and learn.
- Good Value - This camera sold for $1,200 when it was released, but you can find bodies in excellent condition for $125-150.
- Great Lenses - The Zeiss 45mm f/2.0 is one of the sharpest optics I've ever tested. And the 28mm and 90mm are exceptional as well. And it's not just sharpness, they all have wonderful color and contrast as well.
Silver Label vs Green Label
When studying the listing for a Contax G1, make sure you determine if it's a silver label or green label model. Silver labels are the original cameras that accept three Contax Zeiss G Series primes: the 28mm, 45mm, and 90mm optics.
G1s with a green label have had a ROM upgrade that allow them to accept two more G Series lenses: the 35mm f/2.0 and the 21mm (as well as the original trio). The label is located inside the film door. If the label type isn't listed or shown in the images, assume that it's a silver.
(I have one of each, and to tell you the truth, it doesn't make much difference to me. Primarily because I can't afford the 21mm or the 35mm G Series lenses anyway. I shoot with the 28mm and 45mm most of the time.)
Regardless of the label type, G1s cannot accept the Contax Zeiss G 35-70mm zoom. To use that lens you'll need a G2 body.
The Achilles Heal for some G1s is what's known as LED leakage. There are two small LED windows on the top deck of the camera, The right window displays what frame you're on, and the left side shows some basic settings such as ISO.
Some of the cameras show a little darkening around the edges of the panel. This is known as LED leakage. I've never seen this bad enough where it prevented my viewing the readout information. So it's mainly an aesthetic issue.
Cameras that have the LED leakage should sell for less than those that don't. So if it doesn't bother you, this is a good way to get a discounted body. Study the photos of the camera carefully and judge for yourself.
The Shooting Experience
Keep in mind that this is a rangefinder camera. So remember to remove the lens cap before taking pictures. Also, the viewing optics may dim a bit over time. This is never a problem outside, but indoors in dim lighting you will notice a difference compared to your SLR.
On the plus side, there is no blackout during exposure. So you can watch the subject during every second of the shoot.
Also, I like the data back for the G1s. Not only do you have the capability of the data back itself (I like to use it for the first exposure for a roll), it makes the body just a bit thicker and easier for my hands to hold on to.
The Final Word
I love having a rangefinder camera in my collection. They are different animals, and provide a unique shooting experience. But the real gems here are the lenses. It's worth having a Contax G1 just to experience the 45mm f/2 and its brethren. They're not cheap by film camera standards. I paid $325 for my 45mm, $245 for the 28mm, and $200 for the 90mm. But they are worth every dollar. And I doubt if I will ever sell them.