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What Olympus and Panasonic could learn from old cameras: Contax G2


Something I really do not like that much is how often Panasonic and Olympus keep reiterating the same camera design. I guess they need some suggestions from us what you think? :)
Of course mirrorless is a new world and you don’t have to copy the past to develop the new cameras. But there are a couple of interesting technologies that could still be intriguing in modern cameras. One of them is the Contax G2 (Click here to see that camera on eBay). I already mentioned the camera here and there in these last three years. But today I will give you a greater idea of the camera.  The camera was really advanced at the time. It had autofocus(!) which is really something you didn’t see in rangefinder cameras before.  Top silent shutter, few and very useful buttons and superb lenses.

But there is one single feature that Olympus and Panasonic can learn from. The optical viewfinder changes magnification depending on what lens you use!  Ken Rockwell made that table:


Electronic viewfinders are the future but you still can find extremely appealing solution if you want a camera with optical viewfinders. Now dream with me. Imagine a pro Olympus m43 camera with optical hybrid viewfinder a là Fuji X100 but that can change the magnification depending on the prime lens you use. The question to you know is:

How much would you like an Olympus/Panasonic camera with a hybrid viewfinder and switchable magnification for prime lenses?

View Results

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One more nice thing about the G camera are these top quality and nice lenses (there is even a zoom!):
Contax G 18mm lens (Click here to see it on eBay).
Contax G 21mm lens (Click here to see it on eBay).
Contax G 28mm lens (Click here to see it on eBay).
Contax G 35mm lens (Click here to see it on eBay).
Contax G 35-70mm zoom lens (Click here to see it on eBay).
Contax G 45mm lens (Click here to see it on eBay).
Contax G 90mm lens (Click here to see it on eBay).

And of course her eis the link to the Contax G2 (eBay). P.S.: The Contax brand is dead. Hey Zeiss, why not bring it back to live?

Contax G2 Reviews: Ken Rockwell, ePhotozine, Steve Huff and

  • Anonymous

    Two things they can learn, built in vf and full frame

    • +1

    • Scotch

      if it’s FF it’s not M43 anymore and I was told by an Oly fans that the m43 system is the best system by the laws of Physics

      By the way G3 and GH2 already have EVF built in why you guys keep ignoring them?

      • alexander

        Because we would like to have rangefinder style & not min DSLR style. Photography has to do someting with art…
        And also I would like to have at least same features liek the NEX 7 PLUS GPS, a real Pro Model WITHOUT any marketing Compromises. Price dose’t matter!

      • Neonart

        All the Panasonic cameras with VFs look like faux-DSLRs. Part of the allure of the “rangefinder-look” is that you don’t look like the dude with the stupid DSLR.
        Cameras like the PENs, GF1, X100, NEX, is that people are less likely to pay attention to you and you can get great candids.
        With DSLRs, mini DSLRS, and even with compact super-zooms, you end up sticking out and drawing attention to yourself. Fine if your “the” photog at a wedding, shooting wildlife, etc. But not good for street & casual shooting, & social events where candid natural shoots are captured by NOT pointing a big “camera-looking” camera in someones face.

        I’ve gotten so many great shots with my EPL1 that I could not with my E5 simply because people don’t start posing or running away when I’m taking a shot. I also have a G2, but don’t use it much because of the look and feel. I was at a cafe with it and some dude with a Canon Rebel something immediately came up asking “What kind of SLR is that?” I don’t get that with the EPL1 and Voiglander 35/2.5. People just assume its old or something and leave you alone.

        • Nathan

          Be honest. It’s the style you want, not the camera. “dude with the stupid slr”, seriously?
          I agree WRT candid photography that a smaller camera is better, but I think you’re exaggerating the difference in reaction. Leicas are small and work fairly well for this purpose, but there’s still a noticeable reaction from your subject.

    • Admin…you got the one of the lenses wrong at the top of the page. There was no 18mm for the G2. It was a 16mm f/8 Zeiss Hologon, with optical viewfinder AND rectangular gradation filter (to correct wide-angle fall-off specifically for this lens), all tucked into a neat little box. True tech porn! LOL!
      Its the one at the bottom of this page. Talk about obsession. :-)

  • infinity jr.

    Contax is going to join the m43 consortium!
    in my dreams, anyway…

    Hey admin, why do I only get one post when I load this page? I used to get a whole list.

    • Scotch

      Contax could be revived. Kyocera released the right to use Contax brand back to Zeiss)

      I hope one day there will be Contax Digital RF

    • Anonymous

      I’d say gh2 and g3 are ignored couse both provide a bad plastic feeling and are way too overpriced

    • MJr

      lol, comments don’t come out of thin air whenever he post something, it takes a few minutes for people to notice the news.

  • The Contax G1/G2 were the cameras I lusted after, disgustingly expensive in most countries because of duties and taxes. They were an almost perfect marriage of wonderful glass, cutting edge design, brilliant technology and absolute quality. Probably the camera that Leica should have emulated as a second range to the M.
    I was told when I was on the cusp of purchase of a G2 that internally they are complicated and need a factory trained service technicianI to even carry out a simple CLA. I don’t know what the service availability for them is like in the US but if something goes wrong and you happen to be in Australia it has to be sent back to Japan and the minimum charge was horrid!
    As much as I would still like one I now think technology has moved on, the Olympus EVF can just about see in the dark and I think that in some instances a camera with an EVF is actually better to work with than my M9, final image quality aside. With each generation of mirrorless cameras optical rangefinders loose some of their advantages
    I am really looking forward to the next generation of micro four third cameras there are still a lot of current useful features that can be added and no doubt will.

  • Chekai

    The point&shoot of the film era, which uses OVF, zooms together with the picture taking lens. Gives you more than 100% coverage as well. Technically it can be done (since it has been done before), but the LCD had long already replaced it, and it should be more expensive to include this as it it mechanical.

    • FaradayCage

      Yes, the G2. Seeing it here makes me go all sentimental inside. I still have mine, and loved it from the day I obtained it. The entire reason I entered the micro 4/3 game was that Olympus made a body with IBIS that could mount my old Contax G lenses, with the lovely Metabones adapter. Those lenses make stunning images today, and are the best lenses I own. The 45mm and 90 mm excel on a micro 4/3 body. Sadly the 28mm cannot work on account of sensor to rear element clearance and ears on the rear of the lens. The 45mm Planar must one of the finest lenses ever made for 35mm film, and still works today… I wonder how it performs on a NEX? That G2 body was like a jewel, and shooting with it made you feel almost like you didn’t have a camera. You thought about framing, and then you shot. I nearly always shot the G2 in aperture priority, so all one needed to consider was DOF and a little AEL. Get a really good built-in EVF on a body like the E-P3 or a GFx and you are nearly there. My fantasy for years was that someone could manufacture a digital back for the Contax G2. My second fantasy was that I could justify the expense of buying the Contax G 16mm Hologon lens. That was an amazing bit of optics.

  • I owned a Contax G1, the earlier version with extra slow AF. Nether the less it was a joy to work with. Not least the small, extremely HQ Zeiss lenses. This was really a Leica-style (has owned that too) with AF and image quality definately on Leica level.
    I also owned a Contax 139 with a couple of Zeiss lenses. After a travel in India with Olympus OM-1/10 with lenses falling apart, I switched to Contax. This was an excellent camera. Same size as Olympus, but better built and better ergonomy. And then the lenses……. So much better image quality compared to OM-1! They did hold together too.
    I think Contax/Zeiss combination was the best! Sadly it did not survive the transition to digital.
    A G2 digital would have been a real Olympus/Panasonic/Sony/Samsung/Leica killer!

    • Marcel

      The Olympus/Panasonic/Sony/Samsung/Leica killer is coming …. a Fujifilm rangefinder with interchangeable lenses!

      • MJr

        They sure have us enthusiast all intrigued with their tweets ‘n stuff.

    • already more then ten years ago I owned a very small camera. Sopisticated body in a small package and the highest quality lenses possible. A body which had few, although big buttons only. Very strong and robust. This was a contax. The brand was owned by carl zeiss but the rights were given to kyocera for making the cameras a specific time. So when kyocera quit making cameras, carl zeiss was not able to use it’s own brand for X years. ( I think they are still not able to)

      Zeiss is doing what they do best now, making lenses for al kinds of brands. The magic of contax was the glass and excellent camera bodies.

      Olympus and panasonic cameras never reached the contax-level of simplicity and robustness (in that combination). Hopefully they feel inspired by building someting similar to contax G2. Make m/43 sized, rock solid like e5, stylish like a pen, with a few buttons only.

  • spam

    I really liked the G2-idea/design, but it was too expenive for me at the time. The rangefinder design is basically obsolete today for system cameras. EVFs are good enough and will work with any focal length while an OVF rangefinder can’t even cover the existing mFT focal length range.

    Fujifilm’s hybrid viewfinder is great for fixed lens cameras like X10 and maybe for similar models with a short zoom, but would only work in EVF-mode with most lenses for interchangeable lens models. And then the extra cost and complexity just isn’t worth it IMO. Yes, I know about Leica and the hybrid viewfinder might work there. Leica have a very special postion though and there isn’t a market for another rangefinder type camera.

  • Anonymous

    My friend bought the whole G2 system in 2001, from the ultrawide to the tele. He took a trip to India and bought back some beautiful pictures.

    I read somewhere that the 90mm lens was the sharpest lens ever made, might have been from a Contax brochure.

  • Peter

    Sorry, but no.

    I still own a Contax G1 with 28/45/90mm lenses and as much as I like the feel of the camera and the quality of the lenses, I do not think its viewfinder should come back in 21st century cameras.

    For starters, it will seriously limit you in the lenses you can use. On the G series, anything wider than 28mm would need an external viewfinder, which would not give you focus confirmation. Contax did not make lenses longer than 90mm, but those would likely have needed a separate viewfinder as well.

    Secondly, it projects a really small image. Also, if I remember well it did not show focus (ie the image in the finder was always in focus); but my memory may be failing me on this.

    Lastly, you would get _no_ information in the finder on where the camera would focus; it had one “center” focus point, but the exact position depended the lens and the distance to the subject.

    Other than the viewfinder I would _love_ a digital G.

  • “Something I really do not like that much is how often Panasonic and Olympus keep reiterating the same camera design. I guess they need some suggestions from us what you think? ”

    Maybe not as such pace, but the same can be said of practically everyone else. Canon Rebel anyone?

    • efwee

      Reiterating camera design: Leica 1925 – ..

  • The G2 was also extremely expensive. It may be more affordable now, since not so many are interested in film based cameras anymore.

    I much prefer the video viewfinder of the Panasonic G and GH series. It is large and bright and detailed. Much better than a tiny optical viewfinder which is difficult to use with glasses.

    • Marcel

      The G2 is still expensive when compared with other film camera’s.

  • Andyoz

    Interesting thought – I would not mind an OVF option but I tend to think that an EVF is a much simpler solution for a large range of focal lengths.

    I just hope that either Olympus (or Panasonic) comes out with a built-in EVF model that looks something like the NEX or even with the controls of the Fuji X10. I think that camera has a perfect set of controls (yes I know its a different fixed lens camera with OVF). I like the thumb dial, the lower control wheel and on the top an exposure comp dial on that model. The whole back panel design is spot on. I hope Olympus or Panasonic bring out a model with three controls – I think that a layout like the X10 would be perfect with one possible improvement to make the top exp comp dial a generic dial which could be assigned to a range of functions as per the NEX.

  • Mike

    G2 is still my beloved camera, amazing Zeiss lenses and real joy to use. It keeps me shooting film again and again. I bought a NEX-5N mostly because of wanting to shoot with those G2 lenses.

    Agree with others that it was a shame Contax didn’t survive the digital transaction. Otherwise, you can forget about all these mirrorless hypes. Just put a decent sensor at the back of a G2 and you have a camera that lasts.

    I also have high hope for the upcoming Fuji. A digital G2 is what a lot of us are waiting for.

    • The G2 was/is an incredible camera…I owned one and all of the lens except the 16mm Hologram. (that had its own separate optical viewfinder that sat in the flash slot). Incredible camera. I sold the whole kit about a year ago to buy digital lenses for my Canon. I don’t regret the choice as I just wasn’t ever using the camera. It was because of the film, processing, scans etc.
      IT IS AN AMAZING CAMERA. I hated to let it go…I sat there with it trying to decide whether to sell it and would be soooooooooo cool if this was a digital camera just the way it is. At the time it was released it was a no brainer …it was “in-effect” a Leica with auto focus for 1/3 the price. Contax got it right …REALLY right. (They were a photographers company (so they went out of business…as is stated here so that is something to keep in mind with what we think when Pany and Oly produce cameras that don’t reach the level we want them to it because, whah, they want to make more money…not serve our needs. Contax did though, truly.).
      I hated to sell that kit..but I am not a horder…so I just wasn’t using it because of all of the improvements in digital, which was not truly an affordable, quality choice for image making until about 3 years ago, in my opinion…but boy is it getting good now.
      And I agree with a lot of the posts…I would love a range-finder-like form factor even if it is a (high-rez) video screen..there is no reason to make these cameras in a DSLR configuration…its kind of silly to have a mirror hump in a mirrorless camera? Duh. Let FORM FOLLOW FUNCTION! There could be a new form factor that would blow us away if a creative designer was allowed to think out of the box…or in it! :-)

    • fs

      Absolutely… I haven’t gotten over my G2s. I still shoot them some, but definitely not as much as I shoot digital. If anybody makes a digital equivalent of that, I’ll buy it — no questions asked. I’ve tried a lot of the current offerings, but all have come up short compared to the G2. Excellent build quality, top notch glass, and high tech without being overly complicated. Hard to say exactly why, but it was such a comfortable tool to use, that I simply got better photos with it.

      That said, it was a quirky camera, and certainly not universally loved. If you chose to focus on its problems, there was a lot to complain about. For me, though, its quirks were non-issues and its features were amazingly well aligned with my style. That 16mm Hologon is still one of my all time favorite pieces of gear.

      I think the G2 makes a good role model for the upcoming Fuji mirrorless project. Clearly they’ve demonstrated with the X100 that they aren’t afraid to make a quirky, limited appeal camera. I could easily see the multi-lens version of that being a lot like a G2. Hopefully they won’t let Contax’s lack of commercial success with that camera deter them from making an amazing product.

      I’m not sure, though, how applicable the G2 is to the m43 world. The G’s lenses were obviously made to work only with the G cameras, and you could not reasonably use any other lenses. For that reason, they were able to make the camera and the lenses work together in a complete no-compromise fashion. With m43 and the semi-open-source consortium, you need to make cameras and lenses that are broadly interchangeable. Philosophically, those seem like opposite ends of the spectrum. That said, the more G2ness they manage to stuff into a m43 camera, the better.

      • +100. That was probably my favorite camera kit ever. It was just fluid!

  • Mark

    I agree with the substantive article. I used Contax G2’s with 21/28and 45mm lenses professionally at the end of my film shooting days alongside Nikon SLR’s for when I needed either longer lenses or more accurate framing for closeups. I used the G2 for probably 60% of what I shot, and would probably still have been using them today if I had not had to go digital. It was probably the nicest camera I had ever used. The AF could sometimes glitch, but you just had to be aware of the conditions it would fail under and keep an eye on the distance scale in the viewfinder. In terms of responsiveness and ergonomics, they were superb. One poster said they were expensive, but a full black bodied kit with 28/45/90 lenses, hoods and baby flashgun could be had for not much more than a new Leica M6 body only, and the G2 was a so much more complete and responsive camera than any Leica M. I like direct vision viewfinders, they impose a different way of seeing than SLR or electronic viewfinders, and I think do still have a place in the modern world.

    I’ve tried the Fuji X100, and whilst the quality of the files is breathtaking, the interface and performance can be clunky. I actually prefer to use my Panny GF1 and 14mm with a voigtlander 28mm b/l finder, (in 3/2 mode), camera set to programme and face detect enabled, which rather strangely gives me the closest shooting experience to my G2’s in terms of responsiveness and overall feel of any digital compact I have yet used, even the shutter sounds the same. Now if someone was to give me a digital camera with the form factor and control interface of a Contax G2 or Fuji X100 in terms of shutter speed dial, aperture and exposure compensation controls and a good optical finder, (without the problems of the X100), I would be round the dealers like a shot. I find the body design of the Sony NEX7 interesting, (evf not withstanding), but find the range and bulk of lenses off-putting.

    • +100….and Mark..try the Olympus 12mm! The image quality blows the 14mm out of the water (I realize it may just be too wide for your work…but it has a WOW factor!) I own both and the 12mm is an amazing lens.

  • mahler

    While the G2 was a nice camera, I don’t think it is a model for m4/3. First me and many others aren’t convinced that the rangefinder paradigma is the panacea for m4/3, we prefer the design of GH2 or G3 like bodies much more. I have no idea, why repeatedly this old rangefinder design pop up here as an example, how Olympus and Panasonic should design their cameras. They can be developed as alternatives, because m4/3 stands for diversity, but the rangefinder design is NOT the model a m4/3 camera has to look like. Besides that, theere are already enough rangefinderish m4/3 bodies on the market.

    Second, I have no sympathy with the notion that the vendors should incorporate optical view finders or even hybrid ones. It is a waste of development efforts. m4/3 is a camera system ranging from focal lengths from 14 to 600mm equiv., incl. fisheye lenses. It is probably very hard to envision an optical view finder, which can cope with that range. Even Fuji could only build a camera with a fixed lens so far, using that hybrid technology.

    Sony has shown, that the technology to develop electronic view finders with nearly identical quality to optical finders, is there. The quality of that technology will improve in the future. So optical view finder are essentially superfluous or only interesting for a niche target group.

    m4/3 vendors should stop looking backwards, trying to copy retro style and should look for the best ergonomic solutions instead, regardless of style. They should concentrate development in solutions, which would work in the whole system, instead of trying to incorporate exotic solutions. For a camera system with that range of focal lengths only “through the lens” finders are appropriate solutions.

    • Mr. Reeee

      The Fuji x100 hybrid viewfinder is nice, but seems more like a technological challenge (mostly met) for a single focal length than a workable solution for a system with such a wide range of native lenses as M4/3 has.

      This doesn’t begin to address the issue of adapting lenses from other systems, which is a an extremely important feature and selling point of the M4/3 system. It’s not something I’d be willing to give up for retro-ness.

  • Alfons

    Contax G2 was and still is an expensive camera.

    I quess Olympus and Panasonic keep on producing cheap Chinese cameras and keeping the margins bigger rather than start to play Fuji (Contax) games.

    Contax T3 was amazing too! Ricoh GXRs and Sigma DPs just aren’t there.

  • Mar

    Right, that’s why olympus & panasonic are still in business and contax isn’t…

    Rangefinder design is a dead end with digital – good, large lcd screens work much better on small factor cameras than viewfinders.

  • keoj

    The G2 is still my preferred camera. To answer a few of the comments above:
    – It was and is still exepnsive. I bought mine for a 1/4 what a Leica would have cost (BTW, that was with a 3 kit of lenses)
    – The value of the lenses is still holding up remarkably well. I think that MFT and NEX adapters have enabled this phenomena.
    – The quality of the glass is amazing for the dollar spent. It is scary sharp.
    – I too wish that someone would design a digital back for this camera….it was build like a tank, have no superfluousness features and simply takes great images.
    – It is a slightly finicky camera…focusing is a learned skill. Once mastered, easy-peasy.
    – I also have this weirdo adapter that lets me shoot CY glass on the G2 with no AF. It works pretty well but with no focus other than the rangefinder info on the camera, it’s even more of a skill. BTW, as good as CY glass is, and it is very, very good, the G glass still has the edge. I shot and looked under microscopes (ultimate pixel peeping) and the G glass is just a little better.
    – I agree with the comment about looking backwards. The G2 is a great system (and again I’d love to have a compatible alternative but look forwards…..Example: The GXR is a very interesting body vs sensor/lens functionality partition….kudos to Ricoh for do it. Amazingly innovative and it seems with the A12 M mount module, they are starting to be recognized for it.

    • FaradayCage

      Totally agree. Also, I used to shoot with a Contax T2 as well as the G2, which was a hell of a point and shoot film camera. Again, no frills, just built like a battleship.

  • Nick Clark

    “Something I really do not like that much is how often Panasonic and Olympus keep reiterating the same camera design.”

    I don’t get this logic. First, the only body form Panasonic reiterated was the G/GH series, and then everyone bitched when they made the G3 different… The GF1/2/3 have all changed from model to model, and once again, everyone complained…

    Do people actually want P&O to come up with a completely new body design every time they release a new camera? Why? I thought it was nice having continuity between models, then at least you don’t have to re-train muscle-memory every time you upgrade (case in point: CaNikon 1D/Dx models).

    I think considering the rate at which EVF’s are improving, the extra stuffing around (and cost) required for a hybrid finder just isn’t worth it.

  • Mar

    People want what they don’t have.
    It’s simple as that.

    If market was flooded with medium sized rangefinder style models, they would bitch they “need” dslr styled or smaller and cheaper ones without VF and to give VF option as an addon.

    Some people will never be happy.

  • I used to own a G1 with a 28 and 50 for many years before digital.
    I LOVED that camera
    The GF-1 came very close for me but lack of OVF/EVF and having to hold the camera out killed it for me after a year and half of ownership.
    I’ve said this many times, but why can’t Olympus and Panasonic build a Digital “G1 or G2”?????
    Even sony got it with the NEX-7

  • i love this camera !
    i m still using it sometimes and will never sell it !
    small lenses(35 + 90 mm) fit perfectly my GF1 ( except the 28mm which is too long “at the back of the ring”)
    very nice design
    fast af + mf
    if panasonic could be inspired by this concept, a high end camera, in a compact size with rangefinder ( ovf or evf or both), that would be a best seller !!!

  • safaridon

    If you posted pictures of the Pany GF3 next to the above Contax G2 you might be surprised to see the similarities. The GF3 grip as a dead copy of the grip of the G2 as is to a lessor extent that of the G3. In a new body extended 0.7″ to right for EVF to fit outside with the LCD screen in the middle you could have a camera looking very much like the G2 only with EVF and m4/3 not FF and optical finder.

    Back in the earlier days of digital photography I hunted for a very small camera with the maximum tele reach and both Pentax and Oly produced some “2/3rds sensor compact rangefinder cameras that went from about 35mm to 180mm equivalent focal length and had very small optical finders. My brother begged mine off me or else it would have been my SLR backup at that time but I use a 10X TZ for that now but greatly miss the optical view. I guess Nikon now makes a similar product ie 28-200mm with small optical finder only much bigger in size.

  • QuantM


    I would like to reiterate my previous offer to make a poll about the presence of articulated screens on Panasonic’s GF/GX lines
    (and the relevant Olimpus cams).

    I do suppose it is one of the principal parameters of the camera’s ergonomics and utility. Without the articulated screens the whole dimension of the situations remains missed.


    • The articulated screen is on the G and GH series. I see no reason to put that on the GF series.
      I prefer the simple form factor of the GF line. If you need one of those screens you have two other lines to choose from.
      The whole point of having different camera lines is to have diversity toward different user needs.

      • safaridon

        I predict the rumored GH2 replacement or GP series will have an articulated or swivel screen in a slightly larger body than the GX in a rangefinder format with inbody EVF. I agree a fixed or maybe a tilting screen best for GF and GX series to keep size down and more better defined choices. Pany reps previously estimated 3/4rds of m4/3 market would be small rangefinder form and given poorer DSLR model sales expect the former is where they will concentrate their efforts in the future.

        • QuantM

          1. Articulated screen does not confront with the simple robust compact body without embedded EVF. Just look at Sony NEX (though they have tilted – not articulated screens).
          Embedded EVF – is what compromises the size – not the screen. This is why they have two lines differing in EVF (and it perfectly make sense). But this quite separate from the type of the screen.

          2. My comment is not about what you or I personally want but about the poll to see the statistics of who prefers what.

  • bitcrusher

    EVF’s are where its at. There is no room for a optical view finder and there are so many lens that you can use on a m43 camera how many frame lines would you put in. How would a 14-100mm zoom work?

    Mirrorless cameras are so much more then a rangefinder camera. But I do really love the contax G.
    Here are some videos I did with my GH2- Hint- the 45mm F2 is one of the best lens ever made! Contax G 45mm F2 Contax G 28mm F2.8

  • Kerwood

    This article is flawed!

    Could you please explain how an optical rangefinder would resolve its 135mm limit in a day and age when most users expect to reach up to 600-800mm equivalent focal length?

    The EVF is the future, even if their relatively lower resolution makes them a bit hit or miss at the moment.

  • Guys, you need to USE these old cameras before you start salivating over them!

    i owned a Contax G2 (and G1); I liked them; I used them a lot; I even maintained a website about them (which someone else has preserved at, although it’s no longer updated.)

    But trust me, a digital version WOULD NOT cut it in today’s marketplace! Here are some reasons you would not like it:

    — Don’t be confused by Klown Rockwell’s chart; the “variable magnification” viewfinder is simply a zoom optical viewfinder, exactly similar to what you can find on the Fuji X10, Canon G12, Nikon Coolpix P7100, etc. The only difference is that Contax added some (expensive) extra parts to show display an LCD below the finder image; this was one reason it was such a costly camera.

    Zoom viewfinders, IMO, are better than no eye-level finder, but they have a number of drawbacks: (1) They are dim, because the brightness is limited by the size of the objective lens, which has to be kept small to keep the camera compact. (2) They are small; the size of the image seen through the viewfinder is tiny, and the Contax G’s eyepiece is squinty and you need to be careful to keep your eye centered behind it. People complained about this all the time back in the day. (3) They don’t show the exact framing of the picture; the Contax finder showed only about 85% of the frame; (4) They won’t work at distances closer than about 1 meter because of parallax, the difference between what the finder sees and what the lens sees.

    So while the Contax G viewfinder wasn’t bad for its era (although most rangefinder buffs even then preferred the Leica M-style multi-frame finder) nobody would tolerate it today; an EVF is simply better on all counts.

    — You would not put up with the Contax’s non-through-the-lens AF system on a modern camera. In combination with the viewfinder, the G’s AF system had a huge problem: when several objects in the scene fell within the camera’s AF frame, there was NO WAY to tell which one the camera would focus on! A common complaint was that if you were shooting a portrait, and you wanted to focus on the subject’s nearer eye, the camera often would focus on the farther eye or the bridge of the nose instead. The viewfinder gave no warning of this; you wouldn’t know until you processed your film.

    This uncertainty about what would be in focus and what wouldn’t was nerve-wracking enough to drive many early adopters away from the Contax G system. Again, an EVF completely solves this problem and is a much better solution.

    — Another problem with the non-TTL AF system was that its accuracy was limited. Many of us were always wishing that the 90mm lens were faster than f/2.8, or that the 45mm lens were faster than f/2, and so on — but none of this would have been possible because the AF system would not have been able to focus them accurately. And again, there was NO WAY to tell through the viewfinder if your focusing was “off,” so your pictures had to live or die by how good the AF system was. A modern camera with contrast-detect AF is much better, and an EVF with magnified view lets you manually focus any lens as accurately as you’d like, so again, nobody today would put up with the Contax G’s system.

    — Contrary to admin’s statement, the shutter release on the G was anything but silent — it had a conventional focal-plane shutter and motorized advance, so it made an odd “sneezing” noise whenever it was fired. It wasn’t as loud as most of the SLRs of the day, but I considered it too loud to use during chamber-music concerts, for example. Leica M fans were always telling us that their cameras’ shutters were quieter, and I’d have to admit they were right.

    — The Carl Zeiss-branded lenses that Kyocera made were good, all right, but they weren’t world-beaters. Based on lots of pictures, I don’t think the 45mm Planar was any sharper than the closest M43 equivalent, the Panasonic 20/1.7, and the 90mm f/2.8 Sonnar was no sharper than the Olympus 45/1.8, which also is more than a full stop faster.

    So when you say, “I would like a mirrorless camera like the Contax G2,” think again! You probably would NOT like it.

    What you probably really mean is, “I would like a cool-looking mirrorless camera with a metal body, lots of knobs, and an EVF on the end instead of in the middle, and I wouldn’t mind paying a lot of money for it.” In which case you are exactly the person for whom Sony made the NEX-7!

    • spam


      • QuantM

        good points, before buying smth. try to use it before.

    • MP Burke

      It’s nice to read some objective comments by somebody who used the camera. I was writing something about the limitations of the G2 and its OVF (as posted below) before your article appeared, which is why I seem to be repeating some of the points you made.

    • rick d

      I need to challenge these assertions re the G-lenses, several of which are spectacular. The 45 Planar was one of the top two lenses ever tested at the old Photodo site, and the Biogons and Sonnar are also quite good. Only the 35 Planar is a bit soft wide open but sharpens nicely stopped down a bit. And, for anybody who’s pondered the gobsmacking complexity of the $900 Tri-Elmar auxiliary finder, I highly recommend experiencing the relative elegance of gazing through the G2 finder while zooming the Vario-Sonnar. It’s with this lens the G finder really comes into its own.

      The G2 was (and is) a wonderful camera to carry and shoot. Even today, a digital version would slot nicely in the marketplace between the pure rangefinder Ms and their automated mirrorless distant cousins. It’s quite true the AF and related systems are over a decade old and would warrant considerable upgrading. Anyway, I don’t think the market is yet ready for a digital G, but as it continues to saturate and fracture, the day could come.

      Sign me up.

    • Thyl

      Thx for your insight, very interedting. After fighting with an E-p1 for almost two years, admittedly, I indeed long for direct control of parameters like speed, aperture, white balance (all only through weird dials/buttons on the e-p1), and focus (imprecise), and in particular a viewfinder without ANY lag. If an EVF can give me that, fine. If not, I would be willing to compromise on an OVF.

    • Tulio

      Hi Ranger. I need some help. The brown plastic ring in my 21mm contax G is broken, any ideas where to get a spare one?

  • hlbt

    As I remember it the majority of the market was not very accommodating to the Contax G series. A small group embraced it; many considered Contax to have lost their mind. Unfortunately, it was not a sustainably profitable venture for Contax.

    Add to that the loud bunch that slammed the TVS Digital and every other adventurous T* Contax digital camera — in just a few years, Kyocera was driven out of the camera market altogether.

    See a parallel?

  • MP Burke

    Those who don’t know much about the Contax G system should also be told about its limitations, which are severe, worse than in the Leica M system.
    While lenses from 28-90 were covered by the viewfinder, separate viewfinders were required for the shorter lenses.
    The longest lens available for the camera was a 90mm with a maximum aperture of f2.8, hardly impressive for those who seek shallow depth of field.
    Unlike the Leica M system, where you have cumbersome “spectacle” attachments to allow closer focussing of lenses, the Contax G system has no close focussing capability whatsoever.
    With a fastest standard lens of f2.0, it would appear that the autofocus system of the G series is less accurate and precise than the rangefinder system on the M system that was developed over 30 years earlier.
    While some makers of rangefinder cameras (Mamiya, Bronica and Leica) made accessories to permit polarising filters to be used more conveniently, Contax-Yashica didn’t bother to provide one for the G series.
    The combination of EVF with OVF is likely to cost a lot more than an EVF alone and the limitations of the OVF (regarding use of filters, macro, telephoto, etc) will lead to many people having to use the EVF much of the time anyway.
    The digital mirrorless design allows the shortcomings of the direct vision non reflex cameras to be overcome while still giving the potential for compact lenses and cameras. I think the way forward is to improve the quality of EVFs.

  • Daemonius

    Heh, comparing Contax to Olympus or Panasonic isnt fair. Contax systems (RTS, N, G, 645 AF) were brilliant and made for photographers, no compromises there. Not mentioning how amazing they look (and how pricy they are even today). Btw. G lens are really great on NEX (tho full-frame wouldnt hurt).

    They should at least learn how to design camera properly, no fancy useless features, but camera which has only two primary purposes – 1) take photos 2) not standing in way of photographer. Most of Contax cameras do that, its like extended hand, you can just focus on what and how you want to shoot that photo. Tho, for example KM 7D was pretty similar..

    Yea and cost cutting doesnt help this either..

  • keoj

    It’s great to see a variety of comments on the G2. Such passion! The G2, you either loved it or hated it. I have used the Leica M system as well and for me, it was slightly superior but not worth 3X the cost superior. As for the comments regarding people would find the G2 fundamentally lacking relative to today’s camera offerings, I suspect that you are correct. Sort of like having manual crank handles for car windows versus electric motors (and so on). That said, I still find the G2 an excellent tool in a small form factor that is capable of producing great images. I never felt that there were severe limitations at all. As I noted earlier, it is/was quirky but once it’s quirks are understood, it rocks.

    PS: The web page still is an amazing place if you want to see some good photographic work. I think that it’s still live but I’m not sure.

  • Tulio

    I have the Contax G2. It is an amazing camera, I know some very famous photographers still using it. The best of it is how nice it feels in your hand, contrary of a GH2 that feels like an Holga.
    The lenses go for 1/5 of Leica prices, but are often better than the Leicas.
    The 21mm is probably the best kept secret in the world.
    Interesting on the last days of film cameras, just before Kyocera returned the Contax name, Zeiss-Ikon launched a Rangefinder without a name using Leica’s M-mount. What a waste. They had no vision.

  • broxibear

    It would be nice if designers would look at older cameras like the Contax for design cues and inspiration.
    How much better would the Nikon mirrorless cameras been if they’d taken design ideas from the 35ti
    There’s more to design than iPods.

  • FaradayCage

    You know what else was fun with a Contax G2? Shooting IR and color IR. If you used a tiny strip of black tape to block off half of the IR led frame counter inside the film compartment, you could eliminate fogging the image area of film from the camera’s frame counter, and you were free to shoot IR stock. Keep the lens at f/8 and you were pretty much guaranteed to keep subjects in focus. Old Kodak color EIR was one of the most interesting films out there.

  • flash

    The Contax G2 was a nice in concept, it however did not sell much. It went out of production long before digital. There did not seem much of a market for it.

    But, I would of wanted one as like most of the posters here stated. I think maybe we are not a real successful large market for camera companies.

    I never even got to use one. The only one I had in my hand was not working, and in very bad shape.

    Maybe Cosina, can make a digital one for us enthusiasts of the optical. I don’t think a large camera company can. The Sony Nex-7 certainly is not one, maybe a Fuji “x-200” could be with 4 lens; Fuji seems surprisingly to be able to sell to a small market.

    The m43 are nice, and getting nicer though.

    • rrr_hhh

      It is not true that the system went out of production long before digital. Contax issued the last G lens, the 21mm, just a few months before I got my first digital camera in 2001. And the G system continued to be made and sold until Kyocera stopped all after Contax got a flop with its first Dslr camera which focused by moving the back instead of the lens.

  • Why the centered Lens/Viewfinder??

    I just don’t get why all these M43 cameras have the lens in the center, that’s a film thing. Look at the DiMage A2, or the Oly E1, the lens is flushed left, so you can hold it with the palm of your left hand, and the most important thing is that with a small camera body you need lots of space for your right hand to work the controls.

    The further left the viewfinder the more room on the right for controls and easy manipulation while the cameras is to your eye.

    That’s the one thing the Nex are getting right. When I try out the M43 cameras, it’s just too hard to work the controls when it’s too your eye.

    And for all those people who just say use the LCD, fine, but not as good for keeping the camera steady or for those that use the diopter adjustment on the VF…if you need reading glasses and are out and about, the LCD just doesn’t work for a quick shot.

    • True, if your right eye is your dominant eye. If you use your left eye for the finder, it’s almost impossible to get comfortable with a camera that has its viewfinder on the left end.

      Since Olympus and Panasonic both offer add-on EVFs, here’s what I’d like to see: A camera designed with an EVF port on EACH end, and a swivel EVF built onto a handgrip/end cap. If you’re right-eyed, you’d put the EVF on the left end of the camera and swivel the eyepiece so it pointed to the back; if you were left-eyed, you’d do the opposite. Users of either eye also could swivel the eyepiece up for use as a right-angle finder.

      Simple, practical, wouldn’t add a lot of extra cost compared to today’s external EVFs, and wouldn’t take up the flash shoe the way current EVFs do. But will anybody do it? Nah…

  • Contax G2’s were my last film cameras. I had two bodies – one silver, (I think they called it champagne) and one black – and one block. I also had four lenses, the 21, 28, 45, & 90. It was an outstanding kit and the lenses were stunning. My GF1 fits into my camera ecosystem in much the same way the G2 fit into my ecosystem then.

  • overrated viewfinder

    Optical/digital viewfinders are overrated. Why reduce your image clarity/quality to 1 eye and reduce image to 0.7 inch?
    Why squint and give yourself headaches?

    Close one eye at the computer screen. Look better then 2 eyes? absolutely not.
    Now shrink your 14 inch laptop screen to 3 inch screen. Look better? Heck no.

    View finders downgrade from larger 3inch screens. Ignore the constant hype on this site for an optical viewfinder. (oh wait, bright light..? wear a hat.)

    • Illumination

      If that 3 inch screen had more resolution and was accompanied with optics that allow you to see it from 1 cm away, that will be much higher quality.
      Optical viewfinders have theoretically infinite times more resolution.
      I’m not even going to go into your 2 eyes argument.
      I can give you one advice though, maybe re-read your physics book from middle school.

  • Mojojones

    I have two of these and all the primes. It’s really the model I’ve been chasing in a digital camera that led me to the GF1. But he viewfinder, while cool, is really not the greatest optically. It’s small, not particularly bright, and somewhat prone to flare.

  • Anonymous

    You are a retard as well as Ken Rockwell.

  • The Contax G-2 is a fantastic camera and the lens are the best. Period. As good as Leica. The auto focus is a bit fussy, but the picture quality is fantastic. In a perfect world, they would sell a digital back for this camera and life would be perfect! Well that is dreaming. Someone should take up this camera system and retrofit it for digital. Same lens mount and lens, viewfinder – keep it! THAT would be a great camera.

  • That Contax G2 is way too serious for Olympus and Panasonic. They should stick to what they are good at; consumer products with that sweet ratio between quality and size.

  • tim

    I wish M4/3 would have a body look like Contax G2. It’s just beautiful! So far only Pana GF1 (GF2 is ok too I guess) and Oly E-PL2 bodies look nice enough to me…

  • ramayana

    Well, the Contax G2 is bigger and heavier than the GF1. If Panasonic made the GX1 as big as that then maybe they could have fitted the VF in. I still wonder why the Nex 7 can do it, but not m4/3. But as it is, looking at the scoresheet for my next stills camera purchase, the Nex 7 still leads, and by a substantial margin.

  • rrr_hhh

    This Contax G2 picture makes me nostalgic !

    I’have owned a G1 and then a G2; it was an incredibly nice camera. I do still have it with the 16mm f8, the 21f2.8, the 28mm f2.8, the 45mm f2.0 and the 90mm f2.8 it was a fabulous combo. I have been waiting for it’s digital equivalent since 2001 when I went digital !

  • It seems to me that this website doesnt download on a Motorola Droid. Are other folks getting the same problem? I enjoy this blog and dont want to have to skip it when Im gone from my computer.

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