1. a poem that speaks to a person or thing or celebrates a special event
Keats’s ‘Ode to a Nightingale’
This isn’t an ode, poem nor a lyrical piece of prose, but it is all I could do to give the Contax G2 I used to have something more in line with an eulogy as it played a very important part in my life and has since departed, leaving it’s legacy in dusty boxes and negative sleeves.
The Contax G2
Back in 2005 I had just started getting back into shooting Film and had bought a Minolta Dynax 5 to accompany my Konica Minolta 7D DSLR. What I then wanted was a Leica – almost everyone starts off wanting a Leica, very much like when one starts of being interested in Wrist watches wanting a Rolex. I never did get one though – I was on Amazon’s website and when I typed “Rangefinder camera” an advert for an open box Contax G2 with 45mm Carl Zeiss Planar lens came up for an expensive £550. I had never heard of Contax and had no idea what a G2 was but after a short read on the Web I took a punt and received it in a couple of days. A wealth of articles and reviews have been written, video’d and spoken about the Contax G2 -which is one of it’s kind. Totally unique.
The first thing I did with my new friend was to put a roll of Ilford Delta 100 in it, I had been perusing over Ilford’s website and decided to try out some Black and White. I remember that day well, after going to my girlfriend’s house we went to Heathrow Airport to pick someone up, then over to Crane Park in Hounslow where there’s an old gunpowder mill with the tower still there, looking over the land, a relic still standing and dreaming of unhappy, far-off things, and battles long ago.
I had fitted Red 25 filter for some reason and walking through the tree lined pathway, she turned to talk to me, then glanced towards her right at something, I lifted the camera and shot and the moment was captured forever. I had the Film developed at my local lab and when I saw the results I was bowled over with excitement. The photographs were beautiful and from that moment on was the first day of the next 13 years of my life. Even now 18 years from that day, I feel a sense of loss. Selling the camera and parting with it wasn’t just the trade of a material thing
The lens captured everything; from walks in the park, weekends away, summer holidays, birthdays, weddings and parties. Ah! Those halcyon days! The images are frozen in time, the essence of the moment, as if turned into stone by the White Witch Jadis herself – with Aslan breathing life into them whenever I look – releasing the spirits within. Those golden summer afternoons, laughing children then, now grown men and distant – fathers and uncles themselves.
These skies, these meadows evergreen
Are scenes that no one has ever seen
Bounty in joy, calming in strife
They are the essence of our life
That camera was part of my life! I photographed my love, my laughter, my wonder and my joy. My memories are to be found more truly in the slides and negatives which my G2 captured, then the very memories and confused sensations which lie in my heart and in my head.
In 2007 I took the Contax G2 tabroad for the first time, it was an expensive camera and hence I was a bit reluctant at first, then thought in for a penny in for a pound and packed it. I didn’t take enough Film and remember spending a day driving around Islamabad looking for anywhere to buy some E6 – I eventually did at Fujifilm Pakistan’s HQ! A few rolls of Sensia! Anyway, it was off to the Punjab and then to the Swat Valley – I drove through Indus Kohistan, by the Indus into the North West Frontier Province and into The Hindu Kush, just before the Taliban offensive on Pakistani Government forces in Swat. The day after I left my hotel was blown up! I could see and smell the tension in the air and sense it behind the mask of indifference people wore, but the souls of some were to be seen in their eyes.
I travelled a lot around these parts and the Contax G2 accompanied me; to The Karakoram and Western Himalaya, the heat of the Punjab plains, Turkey and Egypt amongst other not so exotic places (and all around Southern Britain, around England and Wales). I’m a creature of habit and also one who explores the same areas until I’ve seen everything – then I revisit and re-enjoy and marvel in the magic of a familiar yet exotic place once more.
Is the Contax G2 a Travel camera?
What is a “travel camera”? in my opinion it’s any camera one takes away with them, which suits their style whether in terms of how it performs, it’s size or suitability. I must admit, the most perfect ‘Travel’ camera I ever used was an Olympus XZ-1 Digital Compact, but the one I loved was the G2. The G2 isn’t for everyone – sure, it’s so easy to use (IF you understand F Stops as it has no Automatic or Program mode) but it’s difficult to master. I need to use a camera for a long while before I learn and understands it’s limits and what it can do. Even with over a decade using it, it always sprung some surprises; whether in an almost impossible photo made in low light with slow film, or the way it somehow nailed a difficult exposure. it also gave some nasty surprises, especially with the 90mm Sonnar which is a huge disappointment; a lens which manages to focus say 50% of the time and a lens I eventually gave up on because it let me down so many times. The supreme 45mm and 21mm more than made up for the lack of a decent portrait lens. The 45mm field of view in my opinion is perfect – it gave me everything – in fact I could shoot anything and everything I like with the 45mm and never miss anything else, but I also had the 21mm which again – I could mount and use exclusively, it’s that good! It’s so good it gives you shallow depth of field when shot wide open! I did have the 28 for a short while but once I had the 21 the 28 was no longer needed.
It performed flawlessly, yes the meter does underexpose and I learned how to get exposure compensation set to over expose by 1/2 a stop to get it right. Mine was dropped, bumped, nearly fell off a cliff edge with me, was handled by cowherds and kids and covered in mud and snow – but never let me down with no maintenance ever!
So for Travel, I’m not sure – it worked perfectly for me, but others may find it limiting and would prefer a zoom lens, something Digital perhaps. The Viewfinder isn’t the biggest, but it’s bright and large enough with that perfect adjustment for the different focal lengths. The buttons and dials are all placed, for me, in the perfect place, easy to find without looking at the camera. The exposure lock is great – the same style of lever as on a Contax RTS II but placed where it should be, not somewhere you’ll be groping for (as I do with the RTS II). I kept my 21mm hot-shoe finder attached most of the time – as I didn’t want to lose it, it was always ready for when I changed lenses and it looked really cool!
Wherever I went it attracted attention, passers by would look at it curiously, other photographers would ask me about it and I never ever met anyone who knew what camera it was! The best times were when people I photographed asked to look at the rear LCD and were perplexed when all they saw was a blank sheet of metal! Strange how in such a small period of time people have more or less forgotten about Film and it’s as if there had always been digital cameras with a rear LCD screen!
It’s a quick camera, lightening fast, locks instantly into focus and fires off like an AK47, even in near total darkness! The technology Kyocera put into it is amazing and now I’m hoping Kyocera will see which way the wind is blowing, the popularity of Film and re-release it (with a focus fix for the 90mm).
I could go on singing it’s praises, but I did sell it, with regret and a lot of misgiving, but not out of choice – sometimes life bowls googlies at you and you have to play the game to stay in and money; the source of all misery is usually the deciding factor.
Kodak Ektachrome E100vs
Kodak Ektachrome E100vs was my go to film. Sure, I used many colour stocks (and many B&W) – from Agfa Ultra 100 to Kodak Kodachrome, from Kodak TMZ 3200 to Kodak HIE, but I never got the look I wanted from any other Film. I miss this stock (I have two precious 35mm rolls in the freezer and a roll of 120), sure it was grainy and lacked the subtlety and fine look of Fujichrome Velvia (my second favourite), but it gave me the ‘look’ and the colour I wanted especially for people (Velvia colours I think tend to be too extreme for people skin tones) and suited my eye. My most memorable photographs have been shot with this Film. Unfortunately most of my Slides are at my mother’s and I haven’t had the opportunity nor the time to gather them and scan many that are missing from the files on my Hard Drives, but God willing one day I will do so. Slide film is very special, unlike Negative Film where the printer or the post process determines how the photo will look reversed, or Digital where the processor determines what the image captured on the sensor will look like, Slide Film is as it was shot in camera – (after developing of course) in my opinion it’s the truest manifestation of what your camera saw that you can get and Projected on a white screen in a dark room is a very nice experience and no amount of looking at computer screens or prints can ever hope to match it.
Now I have my trusty Contax RTS II and my Minolta SLR/DSLRs and The Contax G2 is long gone. I miss it, but would I get one again? No. I think I’ll leave it and won’t return to it – sometimes precious memories are best left alone and some things symbolize them – I think it’s fitting that my negatives and slides shot with the G2 should stay unique and special in this way, with the knowledge that as I sit and stare in the darkness, silent except for the whirr and click of the projector, through the mist of the pipe smoke; I see the phantom light of my past come to life. So Adieu Contax G2, Thank you for everything, you were the finest camera ever to see my minds eye and I’ll never see your like again.
The camera became a central part of my life and through its eye I saw and captured memories and spirits – thousands of photos; whether my late uncle and my late Father’ who I loved and miss dearly, to my lost loves and memories of happiness and laughter. Walks in London, my home town, which I’ve now left behind, parties, family snapshots, days out and portraits and even weddings (the weddings were the worst photographic experiences of my life).
Life is full of memories, and my G2 captured them all, it gave them a physical being; something I can look at, touch, feel and look at time and time again.
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