Contax S2 – A mini-review – by Aivaras

I had an opportunity to own and use Contax S2 together with 3 lenses (Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm F1.7 C/Y, Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 85mm F2.8 C/Y and Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm F2.8 C/Y) for more than half a year.  At first I thought to write a full review of this camera, but it’s so spartan, that even a full review can be covered with a 5 frames post. So here we go:

What triggered me to get this camera is a unique set of features that make it the ultimate purist film shutter weapon. Let me explain.

  • It has only manual shooting mode.
  • It has only spot metering
  • It has mechanical shutter with ability to reach 1/4000s shutter speed

Besides those controls it has an on/off switch, double exposure lever, DOF preview button, ISO selection wheel, self times and… and that’s all. So, when you’re in the mood for total control and don’t want to be distracted by any unnecessary automation, the Contax S2 is a machine to go. Let’s dig a bit deeper and look into the positive factors of shooting the Contax S2:

  • A lack of any additional features is liberating. It’s you, your knowledge and the scene.
  • The Contax S2 is very well built, feels solid and reassuring.
  • The control wheel, film cooking lever, film rewind are all well placed and operate with satisfying precision.
  • Viewfinder is big, focusing is convenient and the eye relief is OK for prescription glass wearers.
  • The max shutter speed of 1/4000th is a relief for us shallow DOF aficionados.
  • Spot metering lets you precisely and selectively meter the scene, but you have to know what you are doing.

And now my personal subjective shortcoming:

  • I don’t like the meter reading in viewfinder. Shutter speeds are listed in the finder, the preset shutter speed blinks and the correct shutter speed lights. I somehow find this system a bit counterintuitive
  • I like Pentax lenses better than CZ – CZ lenses are bit less compact and to me are more “clinical”, where Pentax (for example 31mm f1.8, 50mm f1.7 “F” version and 77mm f1.8) draw pictures with more character.

And that is it.  Thanks for reading, enjoy the photos:

Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm F1.7 C/Y, FujiFilm Natura 1600
F2.8 Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm F2.8 C/Y), Kodak Portra 400
Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 28mm F2.8 C/Y), Kodak Portra 400
Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm F1.7 C/Y, FujiFilm Natura 1600
Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 85mm F2.8 C/Y), Kodak Portra 400

More shots with Contax S2 you can find in my website:

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8 thoughts on “Contax S2 – A mini-review – by Aivaras”

  1. I like the idea of the s2 and thought it was overpriced until I saw the going rates for an fm2/t

    I got sick of my contax electronic bodies dying – will have to pick one of these up

  2. A history professor at my college lent me his S2 and CZ 28 & 85mm lenses for a photography class my senior year (’94). I loved that camera. The build was miles above the Ricoh KR-5 and Sekonic needle meter (because the camera’s meter had long since stopped functioning) . It made you want to shoot but also slow down and be creative. Maybe it’s just a fond or fanciful memory but I think I shot some of my best landscape/wildlife shots with that camera. After college I saved for one but caved and bought a Nikon FM2 and 105mm f/2.5 lens. I loved that camera and lens combo but still thirsted for the Contax.

    Great photos and thanks for bringing back the memories!

    1. Would’nt call it “getting rid off”, hope, that new owner is enjoying it 😉
      Short story – I’m on “less is more” mantra this year. So, I decreased my equipment and I’m concentrating more on shooting and less on gear.
      Longer story – I’m quite deep in Pentax system. My favourite lenses are Pentax ones and I have lens set that cover all my needs and wishes. My favourite autofocus 35mm film cameras are Pentax ones (MZ-S, MZ-3), my favourite manual focus 35mm camera is Pentax one – SuperA (strange choice, isn’t it? :)). As for Contax S2 – I think I needed to “scratch that itch”, I was looking at this camera for a long long time, before I acquired it. I persuaded myself that Contax S2 will be the tool of ZEN shooting when I’m in mood to shoot with manual mindset. But instead it gave me a bit of confusion – I have to pack for shooting and start to thing which set to take etc… To sum up – life with one system is easier and more liberating.

  3. The cat photo with the lady in the mask behind it is fantastic and hysterical. it’s almost like the cat is thinking “she’s behind me, isn’t she?”!

  4. The Contax S2 is still a very expensive camera to buy and Japanese made too. If you want a really top class mechanical camera then I heartily recommend the Leicaflex SL. While it is true that the correct cell for the light meter has been unavailable for many years, (PX625 mercury cell 1.35 volts) I use a Weston Master V with my pair. A friend uses a Gossen Lunalite with his Leicaflex as it’s got 3 LEDs for the readout and thus very rugged and solid state (no meter needles being dislocated from their divots. Also the Lunalite uses the readily-available PP3 9 volt battery that lasts years. While the lenses for Leicaflexes can be expensive, the 50mm f2 is not exorbitant, nor the 75-200mm f4.5. I started out with the Schneider Kreuznach 35mm f4 P A Curtagon shift lens and still use it for 95% of my shots. It’s not coupled to the meter but as I use handheld metering that doesn’t matter. My pal uses the Tamron 28-50mm F3.5 lens with an adaptable 2 mount for his Leicaflex. My first body was £65, second £79. My pal paid £60 for his Leicaflex original 1965 body. My pair are both 1971. I saw a dealer with a Contax S2 body for £499 and a 35mm f2.8 C/Y lens for £299. My pair and the 35 F4 shift lens cost me £373. Meter and bag I already had. Oh, apart from the Weston, British made, all made in Germany. Not Japan. Heavy gear, yes, but good to smack a would-be mugger in the face with.

  5. I shot for a quarter century almost exclusively with a system based around the Contax RTS II and it was 100% reliable and accurate. I’ve used the lenses you had, but found my lens set to be a bit more on the “artistic” side – 25 f2.8 Distagon, 50 f1.4 Planar and 100 f2 Planar. Together the three lenses and the body did pretty much anything I ever needed. The 25 was always brilliant…

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