A month ago I found myself in the Gobi Desert shooting a week-long ultra marathon event – a friend of mine who’s participating needed a cameraman along for the trip as her sponsors needed some footage and stills of her undertaking the gruelling course. I’m normally hired to shoot interiors and portraitures, so this was a marked deviation to what I’m used to shooting, both in the subject-matter and the environment I’ll be working in. The Contax G2 proved to be a great fit for the project.
I’ve always loved documentary-styled photography and this was a great way to jump right into it. Been shooting with film for a couple of years now but always in conjunction with digital. B/W film has always been my emulsion of choice, due to its flexibility and how simple it is to develop.
From Leica M6 to Contax G2
I’ve been asked if there’re any special considerations when you’re using both film and digital formats for an assignment. Yes there are – lots in fact. Colour-consistency is a major consideration, which is why I very rarely shoot commercial projects with film. In this particular marathon however, I brought along my Contax G2 with the 28/2.8 and 45/2 lenses to capture personal photos and leave the main workload to my other digital cameras.
I sold off my Leica M6 to fund the purchase of the Contax G2. Why did I switch from the M6, widely considered one of the best film cameras money could buy, to the G2? Three things mainly:
- Focusing system
The first point is a no brainer. A black Contax G2 with 3 (very beautiful) lenses cost just a few hundred more than what my M6 body could fetch in the local market. Admittedly, I lucked out on this deal. I figured if I didn’t like the new system, I could always turn back for little to no loss anyway. The way I see it, I’m not sacrificing quality by switching systems. Compare the prices of a champagne G2 + 45/2 lens with the nearest equivalent, an M7 + 50mm/2 Planar and the difference is pretty stark. I’d be very surprised if anyone can tell the difference in the resulting print made from these two setups.
This one is a little bit of a trade-off. The Contax G2 viewfinder is tiny, bordering on point-and-shoot territory but it also has something called a ‘zoom-finder’ which means that the image you see in the VF is representative of the focal length. I found this a great help for framing and composition. The G2 AF system works like a charm and once you’ve gotten used to the duration of the sound that the focus motor makes, you can ensure that the AF is locked onto your subject and not infinity/MFD.
Manual focus aficionados who rely on muscle-memory and pre-focus their lenses can get faster results, but it’s a skill that takes a some time to master. Zone-focusing with the Contax G2 is somewhat more fiddly (but still possible!) than the M – when I’m shooting with the 28mm, I’ll stick it to f5.6 or f8, set manual focus to 2m and push my film to 1600. Those settings let me to capture anything from 2 paces to infinity with reasonable sharpness.
I wanted an autofocusing, AE-capable, interchangeable lens, film rangefinder. Basically the handling convenience of a compact camera, with high quality lenses. Sure there were many film SLRs that could do this but their sizes put me off. I wanted a camera that I could take together with my digital cameras, so it needed to be compact. The Contax G1/G2 systems were the only ones that met all these criteria.
All in all, it’s the quality of a Leica (in terms of body AND lenses) with the convenience of a point-and-shoot.
Handling and Performance
Shooting with the Contax G2 is a rapid-fire affair. I bring it up to my eye, hit the back-button-focus and trip the shutter. Compared to the Leica M6, I don’t have to…
– fiddle with my shutter speed in accordance with the meter
– adjusting my aperture if I’m topped out at 1/1000th and it’s still overexposed
– wind the film advance
I mainly shoot in Aperture-priority on digital and to have the same mode on the Contax G2 is handy. The 1/6000th top speed lets me shoot as wide-open as I wanted – especially helpful during my Gobi trip since I shoot in very bright conditions and can suddenly find myself in very dark environments (within the tents for example).
The increased throughput of the G2 is simultaneously a boon as well as a bane. In terms of shooting an event, it gets me from shot to shot with a minimum of fuss. However, I blast though my film at a much faster pace because of this!
Now I know the M6 was built to last, well so is the G2. The Gobi was incredibly dusty, hot and at certain regions, cold and wet. My Contax G2 never stopped shooting. Actually, I never expected it to fail – film cameras in general are incredibly incredibly hardy. My A6000 and A7R2 stopped shooting on occasion due to extremely high (50+c/120+f) ambient temperatures, so thankfully I had the G2 as my backup. The lenses were non-internal focusing, but despite that, dust never got into the optical assembly.
The automatic loading, frame advance and rewind system is pretty good. It’s helpful in the dusty and challenging conditions in the Gobi as it minimises the time that I expose the innards to the elements. I do miss the extra frame or two that I could squeeze out from manual loading cameras though.
Without further ado, I’ll like to share some photos I took with the G2 over the week in the desert, together with some photos from street, fashion and documentary assignments.
Other shots I’ve taken with the G2
A Proven Travel Companion
I’ve yet to travel extensively with the Contax G2, but its has proved to hold up in punishing conditions and I have no qualms about adding it was a walkabout camera when I travel.