I have many film cameras and I’m lucky to have a very understanding partner, who has always supported me with my ‘quirky film camera and photography habit’, her words not mine. Using different cameras and systems is central to my enjoyment of photography. The process is as important for me as the final image. Enjoying cameras as creative instruments and making images are not mutually exclusive outcomes. I bought some of my film cameras in my youth, during the 70s and 80s and then even more during the rise of digital photography when the bottom dropped out of the 35mm camera market. Suddenly camera models I had only dreamed of owning were within reach of my resources. Some cameras I have kept and use regularly, others I have tried and with the ‘itch satisfied’, I’ve sold them on. Just occasionally, I sell a camera on and then look back with regret at parting with it. The Contax RX was just such a camera.
Contax cameras have a long history, with the later models being made in Japan by Kyocera, better known for their Yashica branded cameras. The Contax name was used under license from Carl Zeiss Germany who wanted high end SLR bodies for use with their premium lenses. The Japanese manufactured models were in their time, premium products, innovative, very well made, cleverly thought out and beautifully designed. Contax was perhaps to Yashica what Lexus is to Toyota. Added to this, the high end Carl Zeiss T* lenses made for the Contax system added to the appeal of the brand. I had always wanted to try Contax cameras and after buying and selling several basic models and acquiring a lovely Carl Zeiss 50mm f1.7 T* standard lens, I sourced a Contax RX body from a Japanese seller I have used several times. The choice of the RX came from hours of reading and researching the later Contax bodies. I was not disappointed and although this article is not a review, a few things stood out about the camera.
The RX is heavy, but its design just felt so comfortable in the hand. The controls are well thought out and just where they need to be. Most of all, the viewfinder is big and bright as is the display. The whole package exuded quality, but also superb ergonomics and handling. The camera was a joy to use with its precise metering, easy manual focusing and effortless integral motor drive. The icing on the cake wasn’t the fabulous shutter and wind on sound, but the lovely images made possible by the camera and lens combination.
Whilst not thinking of myself as a ‘petrol head’, I love the pleasing aesthetic of American cars from the 50’s and 60s. When I see them on the street I’ll try and grab an image for a long term project I have been slowly building called ‘Old Iron’. I don’t generally go to car shows, but when a local charity held an impromptu vintage vehicle gathering in a neighbouring village, I couldn’t resist. It was a glorious summer’s day and to my delight, there were a significant number of stateside classics in attendance, automobiles from the days when Detroit was the centre of America’s future looking car industry. All this in an East Anglian village hall car park! I love Kodak Portra emulsions in every version and am sad to not be able to get Portra 160VC which was discontinued some years ago. I have a few rolls remaining in the film freezer, saved for special occasions. The roll I put through the RX proved to be just such an occasion.
The magnificent combination of the Contax RX, Carl Zeiss 50mm Planar and Kodak Portra 160VC, rated at 80 ISO to over saturate the negatives and create deep rich colours, proved to be a great choice for the subject matter and the lighting conditions.
The results in the images shared in this article capture the mood of the day, a bygone era in automotive engineering and I hope just a little bit of Michigan’s Motor City magic, still going strong in the Waveney Valley on the Norfolk-Suffolk border. They are also a keepsake from the last roll of film I put through a camera that for some reason I chose to sell but now regret parting with. The RX was the one that got away.
Maybe I will revisit the Contax RX again, or may be an RX II, the joy of the wonderful world of cameras, film and photography makes anything possible!
More of my work can be seen at: https://www.instagram.com/distagonlight/
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