Over the past year, I have begun adding back more and more 35mm film to my work for a few reasons:
- 35mm film is more cost effective (I can shoot more of it for less of an investment).
- The look of 35mm can be conducive to documentary work (that's not to say that medium format isn't).
- The size of 35mm helps with getting documentary shots (smaller camera = less noticeable/intrusive), and is perfect for personal work and travel work.
My most recent 35mm camera that I have been working with has been this advanced rangefinder camera called the Contax G2. This little camera has so many advantages, and very few disadvantages - so let's dive in!
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...And let's talk about it in a practical, use-during-weddings-and-every-day kind of way.
Why I Decided on the Contax G2:
I have shot a handful of various 35mm cameras throughout my career, but I've found that the ones I tend to gravitate towards have the ability to use beautiful lenses and are relatively small. The Contax G2 is long-lasting, compact, and has the ability to use the coveted Zeiss lenses - and the best part was it was at a (relatively) affordable price point.
The Good (...the Great)
- Small camera body.
- Fairly reliable electronic autofocus (I would say 70-85% or more of shots in focus when focusing very quickly for documentary work). Much more accurate and reliable than many autofocus 35mm cameras!
- Incredible lens selection.
- Easily automatically load film (extremely easy + quick).
- Reliable auto-exposure (and yes, I use this about 80-90% of the time).
- Perfect size for travel.
- Has TTL for flash.
- Can go from 4 second exposure all the way to 1/4,000th second.
- Typically comes with a small Contax G2 flash (compact and bright!).
- Is perfectly paired with this camera strap (the easiest to quickly take on and off the strap).
The Bad (or...less good?)
- Battery-operated (dead battery = no shooting).
- I highly recommend only shooting auto-focus. It's very difficult to get things perfectly in focus using manual focus viewfinder.
- The auto-rewinding of the film is a bit noisy.
- If you're trying to autofocus into a crowd of people that's slightly far away, it may be difficult to figure out what you're focusing on precisely.
The Ugly (and the mistakes I've made)
- Autofocus sounds still occur when on manual focus. So yes - there has been one shoot where my camera accidentally got changed to manual focus, and I didn't notice until the end of the shoot. I highly recommend checking this before shooting. The noises of autofocusing will still occur, however if you look at your meter internally, it won't estimate distance of your subject if you're in manual mode. Below, you'll find an example of the accidental manual focus mistake I made (lesson learned the hard way).
- I had to do one very specific repair: when I switched my camera to exposure compensation +1, my camera's shutter no longer fired. Even after returning to the "normal exposure compensation of 0", it wouldn't fire (just made focusing noises without opening shutter). I had to send mine in for repairs that estimated at around $300. I did extensive research, and found that this isn't very common for these cameras (they tend to be extremely reliable). I just got a bit unlucky in that!
- If you're very concerned about this, I recommend asking your seller for a 1-year warranty, or purchasing through a site like KEH.com that comes with a 180-day warranty. You can find the Contax G2 from KEH here. If you purchase the body-only, I recommend pairing with the 45mm lens.
Film Choices + Exposures
- Color Film: I almost always shoot Portra 400 with this camera. When I do, I typically set my ISO/Film Speed to 200, then let it auto-expose.
- Black and White Film: I have preferred shooting TriX 400 about 90% of the time when shooting BW with this camera. I typically set the exposure to either 200 or 320, then let it auto-expose. I have also enjoyed shooting Ilford 3200, but be aware that the grain will be pretty significant.
I currently only have one of the Zeiss lenses to pair with my Contax G2 - the 45mm, so I cannot speak to the other lenses available from a personal level. However, I can speak to the reasons that I decided on the 45mm lens, and what you may want to consider when deciding which lens to begin with.
The lenses you may want to consider are the 90 f/2.8, the 28mm f/2.8, and/or the 45mm 2.0. The 45mm lens is "the standard" lens that is typically shot with it, and creates some phenomenal bokeh and is very sharp. See the image below for reference.
While the 45mm lens is typically wide enough for my work, if you tend to shoot very wide (35mm or 28mm primarily digitally), you may want to consider the 28mm f/2.8. If you're considering getting the wide lens, you may want to go ahead and grab the full kit, which you can find here.
If you're picking up this camera, I cannot recommend this camera strap enough. It makes it very easy to take the camera on and off a strap quickly.
The exact price point of the Contax G2 is difficult to pin down. Since I purchased it slightly over a year ago, the prices have gone up a bit. Because this camera is built so well, it's typically a great investment (as far as being able to re-sell down the road, or keep in your family for years and years).
At the moment, you should be looking to spend somewhere around $1,100-$1,500 for the camera body, and around $400-700 for the 45mm lens. If you decide to invest in the full kit, you should be around $2000-$3000 in total, depending on the kit.
If you decide to purchase off of Ebay (which is what I did), I highly recommend downloading/installing Rakuten before purchasing to get 1-5% cash back on all of your purchases. Check out what helpful money tools I use for my personal and business life on a daily basis here.
If you're looking to spend more (quite a bit more), you may want to consider the Leica M6. The downfall to the Leica M6 (or positive if you love shooting manually) is that it's completely manual focus. Once you've practiced significantly, you may be able to get really quick manual focus. You can grab that camera from KEH.com as well.
If you're looking to spend a bit less (or if you're just getting started in film photography), you may want to consider grabbing a Canon 1V or a Canon AE1. If you're already shooting with Canon EF lenses, the Canon 1V will allow you to use those lenses (and with pretty reliable autofocus), and for less of an investment than the Contax G2.
Before you consider getting the Contax G1 over the Contax G2 to save some money, please note that the autofocusing capabilities aren't nearly as good as the Contax G2. If you're thinking you want to save some money, then I suggest grabbing a different 35mm camera, rather than downgrading to the G1.
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