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Friday, 12 May 2023


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I hope after this you'll move on to the 167MT.
It was the first camera with "ABC", auto-exposure bracketing control. I'm not sure, but... I think it was also the first camera with a built-in motor drive. It's only fault was that there was no shutter speed dial, but for aperture-priority shooting it was a dream. The body was "rubberized" and one of the most comfortable to hold.
It was bettered later by the Aria...
Too bad we'll never see a digital Contax!

That darkroom TV idea is brilliant.

Letterman’s brief daytime show was also very good. My mom became a fan and used technology to keep up with his new show’s time. She taped each episode of Late Night overnight using the timer feature on my family’s new VHS VCR. She could then watch it in the morning once she had shuffled us all off to school. I remember coming off the bus, hoping he had thrown weird stuff off a building the day before, and rewinding to see. My mom’s joy and devotion over early Letterman had her talking about “that Dave” like he was a member of our family.

Keep the series coming! I enjoy it as well as possibly others you may have… love the historical placement as well as the personal relevances. Often, I read about a camera or technique without knowing anything about its provenance or place in relation to the time. Sometimes, just a simple review. Even though some of us probably photographically lived and worked when this camera came out, I’m sure your perspective is at the very least, for me, entertaining and enlightening…

“ ***I bought twenty of them before I bought my first CD player.”

Oh, I know how that works! I bought batteries and a charger for the D800 I didn’t have yet.

Fun to read Mike. Brings back lots of nostalgic memories of a time long gone in so many ways.

Ah yes, the sublime CONTAX RTS2 my favourite! along with it’s big brother the CONTAX 645 my other favourite!
Thanks for the memories, the RTS2 & 18 f4 distagon was the combo that took my favourite image to this day on big beach Maui Nov. 1987
1/15@f4 handheld at minimum focus, Kodachrome 25 as the light faded, I can almost feel the camera in my hand , the image called impermanence a self portrait of sorts a one image documentary of my life here on earth
I could send a small file if you wanted to see it although I’m sure you get a lot of that
Thanks so much for the article
Mike Boyle Vancouver

I am loving this. The mix of personal, world, and photographic context is deeply satisfying.

The old ("3M") Pentax film cameras also had the microprism-only focus screen. No finder blackout in dim conditions and the surrounding area served as a ground glass focusing screen, so you could focus around the microprism part if necessary.

These old cameras had some neat features.

My God, what a rodeo ride through that time and the content, goals of 35mm camera technology at that time.
Simply great. You don't get to read anything like that anywhere else, in that quality.
Yes, this technical content and features were in our minds and kept many of us busy, during the day and especially during our sleepless nights.
When I read your text and the description of the Contax Model II and the struggle of Zeiss to achieve technological perfection, I feel the probably nonsensical desire to want one, although ...
Which reminds me, many, many years ago, the Windows 95 operating system came out. It was so glowingly reviewed and praised in the computer magazines and the newspapers that, supposedly, lots of people wanted to buy it, even those who had no computer at all ... .
That's what I call passion.

Of course it’s worth the writing and the reading. I almost pulled the trigger on an RTS II a few months ago, primarily for the Zeiss 50/1.4 and some other lens. And the design, of course.

It’s still in the back of my mind, but hi-fi purchases were a higher priority, and will remain so for a while. Besides I have OM bodies, good Zuikos, the Rolleiflex and Chamonix. Too much, yes, but there you go.

Outstanding post Mike

I haven’t used a film camera for a few years but this series is utterly compelling. Thank you!

Loving the camera history, especially the serialized format. And Rubylith over a tiny TV in the darkroom? Effing brilliant! But it would have ruined the darkroom for me. My darkroom was like Dr. Who's T.A.R.D.I.S. No, it wasn't bigger on the inside, but it did allow me to time travel. I'd step inside at 6:00 p.m. and step out at 11:00, after what I thought was only an hour or two having passed. Having a game or a show playing while I worked would have grounded out that magic.

We did the business of buying CDs before buying the player also. Something around the same number, and close to the same year, for that matter. We had set a price point for a satisfactory player ("satisfactory" was still a judgment call though), and would buy the player as soon as we found one. I think I've only ever owned 2 CD players, the other is still in the rack across the room from me (not counting drives in computers of course).

There's a thing about "high-end" cameras that affected the competition, maybe, that you don't mention. A bunch of people, and not just old people (the group included me, and I wasn't old in 1980) were rather averse to auto-exposure. Furthermore, most of us thought in terms of picking a shutter speed (needed to stop motion) and then finding the aperture that worked with it, when working manually (might have to constrain the apertures for depth of field, but for a remarkable range of things it was never an issue). So the fancy things you could easily do with an electronically-controlled shutter—didn't interest us, even put us off a bit. Electronic shutters were also more accurate, that was of some value, at least in theory.

Previous commenters have said it better than I can, but what a great post! I remember lusting after Contax cameras back then— but could never afford one. The camera/film/ darkroom store I frequented in Berkeley, CA, had a rack of camera brochures and I always rummaged through it looking for anything Contax. I seem to remember one of those bodies having an autofocus system whereby it moved the film plane forward and back. Could be wrong about though, my memory isn’t what it once was.

I seem to recall reading that W. Eugene Smith also had a tv with a gel over it in his darkroom.
Great minds...

Minolta never had a tilt lens but I believe they had two with a plane of focus that could be adjusted from concave to convex. Doesn't this rank with the Contax "vacuum"? I'd love to hear about more of these unique solutions.

I've fancied an rts3 with a 25mm zeiss lens but they are getting old now, many seem to have bleeding lcd's in the Finder, the rubber body covering shrinks and peels off, the mirrors are only held in place with double sided tape which perishes and of course any fault electronically is a death sentence.
Because you can adapt the lenses to mirrorless the 25mm Zeiss I lust after is worth twice what the body goes for.
Maybe best left as a fantasy for me.
All the best, Mark

Regarding the origin of emoticons,I don't know if it had any effect but I always found this quote (quotation?) fascinating:
"It occurred to him that, with their turned-up little smiles and round, empty eyes, they looked like a row of umlaut U's."
Trevanian, The Eiger Sanction, Crown (NY) 1972

Howard Stern didn’t actually call the airline, phrased the simulated call differently, and was fired about six months later. That, of course, doesn’t negate any of the outrage that followed. Stern has since talked about his rage, his extended psychotherapy, and his apologies to many people. His long term relationship with Letterman has also been discussed by both parties, in books and in various shows and interviews.

I meant to attach this link…


A beautiful piece of writing. Even though I have never seen a Contax RTS II (I was shooting a Canon AE-1 around that time), I feel like I missed out on a piece of gear I might have enjoyed. The background of historical moments shared with your time with the Contax is captivating for us around your age. Thanks for an interesting series about a camera I have never heard of before.

Didn't know that about Stern, but then I only listened to him once or twice and didn't find him funny, at all. Instead, he along with Springer and Morton Downey Jr. (the 3 stooges of their day- no knock to the originals) all operated under the same rubric, to appeal to the lowest common denominator and in so doing profit from and contribute to the dumbing down of America. The results of which are so prominently evident today...

Great post, Mike.
I really have bonded with the lovely jewel-like silver finish Fujifilm XT cameras and their equally lovely silver Fujicron lenses. But I do sorely miss the Pentax film camera system I sold to fund my first digital SLR.
It didn't have the clean simple finder of the Contax, but the Pentax MZ-S to me still had the best ergonomics and exposure control of any film SLR, ever. It was a half-size smaller than Nikon or Canon equivalents; the top plate was angled toward the user so the little settings LCD and dials were always visible. With a sinuous, organically shaped extra battery grip it fit my large hands like it was designed just for me. I always used it in spot-meter mode, used the lens ring to set aperture and the right dial for shutter speed, and placed the exposure dot where I wanted it on the viewfinder's simple pos/neg scale along the bottom. Even with unforgiving slide film, exposure was invariably spot-on.

@Mike don’t knock that local college or your contributions. I took most of my photography classes at the London campus, but my first few were in Springfield,since my wife to be was in “real” college, just down 95 in Fredericksburg. I jumped behind the wheel of a ‘76 spitfire and crossed my fingers the car would make a class many nights. Young, dumb, in love, and supremely confident! Life doesn’t get much better! You’ve probably made more of a difference in this world than you realize. Hopefully I passed a small portion on too.

Yes, William Cook, Yashica/Contax DID make an autofocus Contax ..the AX. The whole mechanism shifts back and forth - up to 10 millimetres - inside the body, so you could use any of the manual focus lenses and the camera will autofocus with all of them.

I have one, and it's a great - if rather heavy - camera. (I did have another, briefly, with a Leica R mount, but that had a screw or two loose, would get stuck, and I sent it back to its previous owner.)

For anyone with an older Yashica or Contax and a stash of assorted lenses, buying the AX meant you could continue with all the lenses you already had - instead of buying new ones with built-in motors or screwdriver sockets like Nikon - and just continue as you were, but now with autofocus!

It's large (top to bottom, and front to back) and heavy (1130 grams - 2½ pounds) but you don't notice that, as it's so ergonomic (everything's in just the right place) and smooth, with an excellent handgrip, and works effortlessly, with surprisingly FAST autofocus.

It's also versatile, with Aperture or Speed priority auto (or manual) exposure, as brief as 1/4000th sec manual shutter speed (1/6000th in auto mode), flash sync at 1/200th sec, anything and everything you could want from a camera ..including astonishingly close Macro focus with ordinary lenses (set them to closest focus, and the movable film plane does the rest), auto-wind and auto-rewind (and you can choose to leave the film tab out, for 'half-used' films, or for easy loading into your own developing tank).

Everything you could possibly want of a camera ..all in a single device.

Hi, Mike - what a great pair of articles! I own an RTS II and it's one of my favorite cameras. I originally bought it in response to a Craiglist posting from model turned photographer Steven Patenaude, who lived in Manhattan's Lower East Side. Some time later he asked if he could buy it back, so I sold it back at the same price. He later offered it back to me and I bit; then he bought it back; then finally I bought it from him again and it's remained in my hands since, following those 3 full round trips LOL. I did eventually re-cover it, though, since the leatherette had disintegrated and was patched with bits and pieces of electrical tape. Took some great photos with it last year on vacation and will be bringing it along again this year.

I think you are ripe for this. Based on your column about the Takumar 50 f/1.4, I got one on eBay and an adapter for micro 4/3. It was nice, but I am not a fan of the 100mm length, which it was. I now have several full frame L mount cameras, including an fp. Got an adapter for that and have loved the results. What a lens. For $65.00!

>>On January 14th, Air Florida flight 90 hit the 14th Street Bridge shortly after taking off from what was then called National Airport, and plunged into the freezing Potomac River, killing 78 people, including both pilots and four motorists on the bridge.<<

Related trivia: A bystander named Lenny Skutnick dove into the frigid waters and pulled a drowning passenger to safety. Shortly thereafter, President Reagan invited him to attend the State of the Union address, calling him out for an ovation. It was a touching and heartfelt moment -- but ever since, no State of the Union address is complete without an ever-growing group of heroes to be saluted. Not that they're not worthy, but what was once spontaneous is now a highly programmed and often politically partisan PR event.

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