Contributed mostly by Markus Hanke in Austria.
RTS, RTS II
Q: In am in a used shop and I saw what seems to be a RTS in mint
condition. How can I tell the difference between the RTS and the RTS
A: If the body in question has a manual self-timer on the front, it is
the original RTS. The follower RTS II had an electronic self-timer with
a LED. There is also a sync-terminal on the front of the RTS II. These
are the only visible differences besides the small designation near the
serial number on the camera back. The dimensions are the same, and the
RTS II is only 20grams heavier.
In the viewfinder, the difference is more obvious: The original RTS
featured a speed display with simple LED's (as in the Contax 137/139), the
aperture was shown by a mechanical needle like in the Yashica FR-I. The
RTS II had a similar design as the new one, red numerical LED's for
time and aperture (the latter is a multi-segment display) and exposure
compensation. Due to the manual film transport there was no frame counter
in the finder. The RTS II-finder showed 97%, the RTS only 92%.
The shutter speeds were nearly the same, but the RTS II offered a
mechanical 1/50 additionally, in case of battery failure.
The electromagnetic shutter release you refer to was introduced with
the first RTS already (the first "first-on-market-development"
of many to follow), the extraordinary speedy release (when compared to
the mechanical releases at that time) was the reason for the RTS's name:
Real Time System.
The two cameras have different shutters, the RTS I had the traditional
cloth-type, the newer model featured a quartz-controlled shutter made
of titanium foils, both had aperture-priority and manual modes (RTS:
1/2000-15sec[1/2000-4sec]; RTS II: 1/2000-16sec[1/2000-4sec]).
Other differences: The RTS II had an exposure-lock and TTL-flash-mode.
I fear it would not be easy to find system components for both of
the cameras. The RTS I could make use of a winder (2 fps) or a large
motor-drive (5 fps). For the RTS II there was a very beautiful winder with
3 fps and two additional releases (one on the handgrip and the other for
vertical use), AFAIK it was possible to interchange the winders between
the two RTS-bodies.
RTS III quality problems
Q: I often heard of troubles which the RTS III concerning its
electronics. When I was in the shop the last time, a man entered. (Now
follows an exact quotation) "He bought a new RTS III three weeks ago,
and had already sent it back for repair: his batteries were finished
after six films. He put in new batteries, and got himself an unwanted
double exposure. The next film stopped rewinding at frame 34, and after
that the camera was completely dead. I must say that my confidence in the
legendary Contax quality is fading away at this time (not in the lenses,
just in the bodies)."
A: I think it is a pity for the brand and tradition of Contax if there
really are quality problems. But I am not so pessimistic as you are. If
you take a look on the different rec.photo newsgroups over the time you
will read descriptions of problems with different cameras, often combined
with a very disappointed comment of the unlucky owner concerning material
quality (in the last time there were such postings about Olympus-SLR's
in general, the Nikon FA, F4 and FE2, nearly all Canons and Minoltas
etc.). But on the other hand there were much more positive comments
about quality (especially concerning Olympus and Nikon - one friend of
mine uses Olympus since twenty years without a problem). I think that in
modern times, where cameras are more and more stuffed with electronics,
the possibility of serious failures has increased dramatically (are
we just lucky that the operating system of our SLR's is not made by
Microsoft!!), and most "material quality defects" reported
were in fact electronic quality defects.
I cannot recall having read anything bad about purely mechanical cameras
like Contax S2, Nikon FM2, Yashica FX-3 or Olympus OM3. Maybe their
sales numbers are not high enough to deliver a representative base for
computations about reliability, but I think - recalling how often people
debate about mechanical cameras on the net - that there simply are no
failures, due to lack of electronics.
All in all I think that we hear of Contax-problems not more often than
from other high-class products. Its the same problem with cars: All the
world knows that Mercedes, BMW, Saab, Volvo etc. have a reputation to
build extremely solid cars with perfect finish. Within minutes, I could
list at least ten people who are really disappointed with the quality
of their car produced by one of the quoted companies. But I'm sure there
are many, many more who are very satisfied with them.
I used my 167MT for ten years, and I had it sent for repair only once. The
camera had the same problem as my CD-Player: The small plastic buttons
tended to stick and were more and more "unpushable" because
I used them so rarely, so it was necessary to lubricate them. And I
had another problem which is a result of a true design flaw: The RTS's
battery compartment/base plate is locked by a large "screw" you
have to turn for a half rotation in order to lock or open it. The 137MA
had the same system. But the 167 and the ST with their micro-batteries
have a small screw you have to tighten by means of a coin or something
similar. After a time this screw can get loose and the base plate will
fall off. I lost the plate of my 167 in that way, and I couldn't find it
because I realized my loss only when I was home again (the spare plate
was - untypical for Contax - not expensive). And only some days ago I
lost the base plate of my ST in the same way, but it was in the town
and I heard it when it fell to the floor. But this have been my only
problems I ever had with my (until now) four Contax cameras.
This is also true for battery capacity, be it AA (mignon), AAA (micro)
cells or lithium (currently I am using a spare lithium battery in my RTS,
it was left behind when my Yashica T3-Super P/S went into the eternal
hunting grounds). In the ST I have the second set since I bought it
in 1994, in the RTS the batteries I bought it with only brought some
three films, but I bought the camera used and the batteries have been
the original ones which are packed with the body for function-checking
purposes only. Since then I am using the lithium cell, having used some
So maybe you think of me being too enthusiastic about my cameras, and
you might be right. I am not a professional photographer, my cameras are
not strained to the maximum limit, but since my Yashica FR-I locked its
electronics after having served for six years in 1986, I never had any
other "casualty" with my SLR's. And therefore I won't change
a winning team until being convinced from the contrary.
ST and RX
Q: What is your opinion concerning the Contax RX? How does it compare to
A: I don't own the RX myself, but I tried one for several days. I have
the ST which I bought before the RX came out. If you compare those two
models, each camera has something the other hasn't, so it's up to the
customer to decide which one would satisfy the wishes more.
- The RX has the focus/DOF-indicator. When I used it I found out
that it is more or less useless in everyday photography, because it is
very slow. In the time the indicator needs to react, the object you want
to photograph (if it is living) moves already out of focus. On the other
hand I do a lot of reproduction and scale model photography, and there
the indicator of focus and Depth-of-field is much more exact than any
split-field or micro-prism could be. The same would be valid for macro
work, so if you do things like that (and tripod work generally), you
would be very happy with the RX. If you prefer street scenes, travel,
action, portrait etc., the RX's focus indicator might not be reason
enough to spend the money.
- The RX has custom functions. You can choose the working mode of
the AE-lock, the automatic bracketing function and the option to let the
film-leader stay out of the cartridge after rewinding. Additionally,
the RX has a double-exposure function. It always disturbed me that
a so-called "semi-professional" camera like the Contax ST
doesn't offer these possibilities.
- The RX is quieter. This might be a subjective point, because
the technical data says that the ST is a very quiet camera measured in
dB(A). But in fact the level of noise is not so relevant when it comes
to the individual sound of the noise. The ST's winder has a whining
sound which I find annoying, much more apparent than the 167MT or even
the 137MA. The RX's winder sounds smoother.
But on the other hand there are some points for the ST, too:
- The ST has a faster shutter. The 1/6000 over 1/4000 is not so
important as the 1/200 flash sync over 1/125.
- The ST has the unique ceramic film pressure plate which promises
a better flatness and is less likely to be scratched or damaged by dust.
- The materials used in the ST are at some points better than those
of the RX, but the overall material quality of the RX still is far ahead
of 90% of the current camera market.
- The ST makes use of standard AAA batteries you can buy all around
the world, the RX needs a more expensive and lithium cell which might
not be obtainable everywhere.
In Europe the price of the RX and the ST is the same, but I heard that the
RX is cheaper in the States, so if I considered all, I might buy the RX.
ST and RTS III:
Q: You are the first person I found who owns both an ST and a
RTSIII. I am considering the purchase of one or the other, and would
love to know how you think they compare. Any and all information will
be much appreciated.
A: Contax itself claims the ST being positioned between the
professional RTS III and the amateur 167MT (at its appearance time, the
RX and AX didn't exist). So the ST should be the camera for professionals
besides the RTS and for ambitious amateurs.
But there are some things missing in the ST which I think should not in
a professional camera: There is no mirror-lockup, no double-exposure
possibility and no possibility to leave the film leader out after
But for me personally these things are not important: I
very rarely use the mirror-lockup (also because the ST's and the RTS's
mirror are very good damped and therefore the vibrations really are
not bad), I never change partially exposed film and since there exists
Photoshop nothing can convince me of making double-exposures already on
What is "professional" with the ST certainly is the material
quality, which suggests extreme sturdiness. I like the data-back very
much (its digits on the film are larger and therefore more readable than
those made by the RTS's data-back).
Here are my personal "likes" and "don't likes" of the ST:
What I do like:
- I said it already, the material quality is extremely fine. I like the
ceramic film pressure plate, because on my old 137MA I really recognized
the plate wearing a bit off. But on the other hand I presume it would
not have been that expensive to have it changed. I like the large dials,
which was wonderful compared to the tiny buttons on my 167MT. And I like
the viewfinder, it is bright and quite easy to view. The lighting of
the buttons from behind is very nice, but for me its rather a gimmick. I
never used it in "real life". The shutter is fast (1/6000sec.,
although I never needed speeds like that), what I use more often is the
1/200 flash sync.
- The ST isn't really a compact SLR, but after working a while with
the RTS III, the ST seems to disappear in the hands, what concerns the
optical appearance , the ST definitely is the more discreet camera.
What I don't like:
- There only are very few things which I would prefer having changed:
I don't like the sound of the winder. Officially it is quieter than
that of the 167MT, absolutely measured in dB(A), but in my opinion,
noise is consisting not only of loudness, but also of the frequency of
the sound. And the ST's winder definitely has a whining sound which I
think is annoying. The 167MT sounds much smoother, even my old 137MA
was more comfortable to hear.
- And I don't like the fact that the
exposure compensation is shown as "+/-" only in the viewfinder,
instead of a differing "+" for over- and a "-" for
underexposure. So I never know if I compensate over or under when the
camera is on my eye.
Now some words, merely additions to other posts, concerning the RTS III:
It was discussed several times on the net if the vacuum unit of the
RTS's back really is of some use or not. There was also a thread about
a so-called "design-flaw" of the Nikon F4, when the first two
pictures of a series are not sharp. There definitely is a design flaw,
but not in the Nikon. The problem is posed by the design of the film
cartridge. Tests made by Zeiss twelve years before the RTS III came out
showed that most films tend to be bent when coming through the slit in
the film cartridge. If the film stays in this position for a longer time,
this bending becomes perpetual, and therefore the film cannot be flat when
transported into the shutter frame. The curve made by the film surface
can make pictures un-sharp in spite of having focussed perfectly in the
If you ask if this is only a theoretical consideration
or if a facility to force the film into a plain surface really has some
practical effect, I have to answer: it depends. Take my own case: Very
rarely I shoot a film totally through on one day. Mostly the camera is
lying around with the film in it through several days or weeks. One of my
favorite lenses is the 1.4/85mm which I like to use wide open whenever
possible. When taking pictures with the ST I sometimes discovered that
sometimes the second and third picture of a day seem not to be as sharp
as I want. And those pictures were always made with the 85mm lens. I am
aware of the very tight depth of field of such a lens at an aperture of,
say 2.0 or 2.8, so I always thought inaccuracy in focussing or slight
movement during the release of the shutter being the reason for the lack
of sharpness. I bought a new viewfinder screen with special micro-prisms
for fast lenses, but it didn't help until I bought the RTS where I never
noticed such an effect.
But I recall having the sharpness problem maybe not more often than six to
eight times, so the vacuum unit of the RTS III only pays in such special
instances: Pictures with wide opened lenses after the film staying in
the camera for several days. Conclusion: Nice to have the vacuum unit,
but not the only reason to spend the money on the RTS.
Much more important and in fact indispensable for me is the built-in
pre-flash spot metering. Since I got that, the calculation of exposure
when I use several small slave flashes doesn't exist any more. Now only
the new Leica R8 has got that feature.
Also a very nice thing is the vertical shutter release, but I would like
it even more if it also had the possibility to lock the metered value.
Something different from the ST is the changing of the metering
type. In the ST the spot and average metering are near the shutter
release. This combination has the effect that each time you switch on
the camera you automatically are in center-weighted mode. If you want
to lock an exposure value, you first have to switch to spot metering,
so the AE-lock is fixed to the spot meter (which I personally think as
logical). On the RTS there is a separate switch for the metering mode,
so you can combine the AE-lock with either the center-weighted or the
spot meter. After being used to method one for nearly ten years after
I bought my 167MT, I had to change my way of working with the RTS. Now
also the RX and the AX all feature method two.
The only thing I don't like with the RTS III is the viewfinder display:
In my opinion its layout is the worst since my 137MA. The bluish digits
might add a hi-tech-appeal to the camera, but in bright sunshine they
are nearly impossible to read. I think the best viewfinder display is
offered by the 167 with its two LCD-fields concentrated on only one side
of the viewfinder.
To sum up I have to say that the RTS III definitely is the camera which
offers more possibilities. You have to pay that with nearly twice the
price of the ST and a lot of weight, especially if you use the six
AA-batteries (so if you aren't after the high frequency of 5fps, better
equip the camera with a lithium cell). While carrying in your hands,
the size and the weight are not bad, but when it is in the bag hanging
on your shoulder, you feel every gram (I should add that Zeiss lenses
are not known for being lightweights, too!). I wouldn't have bought the
RTS III additional to my ST and 167 if it wasn't a special occasion,
but now that I have it, I won't let it go again.
The ST still is a workhorse I use frequently, mostly with wide-angles,
because I prefer the RTS's weight as a counterbalance to the telephotos.
S2 and FX-3 Super:
Q: I wanted another body so that I could shoot color and B &
W; I just ordered the Yashica FX-3. It's cheap, and I guess that's the
problem I have with it. It's 100% plastic, and lightweight plastic at
that. I've also become used to the quiet operation of the 167MT and was
quite surprised how much the mirror on the Yashica vibrates the body
(however with self timer the mirror flips up). Question: Do you think
pragmatically speaking that the Yashica will do just as well as one of the
other Contax Bodies. Basically, I don't need any fancy frills. Thus, I'm
totally satisfied with the basic manual body, it's just that I'm wondering
if my pictures will turn out as good with this totally plastic body.
A: I am convinced that the Yashica will do all the jobs you want it to
do - except hammering nails into the walls, maybe. For that better take
You know that the offer of all-manual, mechanical SLR's is very small,
and normally these cameras are very expensive, being a wonder-piece
of craftsmanship this only is normal. Only the Yashica and the Pentax
K-1000 are quite cheap, because they are produced since many years now,
and because the quality of the materials used in them is not so high
than in other bodies.
The FX-3 is an offspring of the Yashica FR-series, presented together with
the FX-D Quartz. Contrary to the Pentax, it was a bit upgraded over the
years, mainly by adding a faster shutter with a higher flash sync. But on
the other hand it seems to me that the overall material quality was also
reduced when compared to the original FX-3, mainly to keep the price low.
When I compared the Contax S2 to the Yashica, I first thought that the
Contax is nothing better than an upgraded FX-3, this being supported by
the fact that the design and location of the dials is contrary to the
now twenty years old Contax tradition (shutter speed dial left). But
it is a new camera, indeed. It is larger, heavier and has a far larger
penta-prism which results in a much brighter viewfinder. Everything which
is plastic in the Yashica is metal in the Contax (the rewinding spool, for
instance). But for one S2, you can buy up to seven FX-3s! And concerning
two people I know who are using FX-3s since several years, the camera
is very reliable and rugged. BTW, the FX-3 is not 100% plastic, only the
outer hull is, whereas it has a metal core. Maybe a FM-2 and a S2 are more
rugged and reliable, but for their price you can buy a lot of Yashicas.
The mirror of the S2 also causes some vibration, decidedly more than that of the 167MT, but this maybe cannot
be prevented in a mechanical SLR.
Q: What Zeiss Lenses (not zoom) can you recommend (have experience
with) for general photography (within 28 - 200 mm range)?
A: I own the following Zeiss lenses: 2.8/21mm, 1.4/35mm, 2.8/45mm,
1.4/85mm, 2.8/180mm and Mutar II 2xconverter.
The purchase of Zeiss lenses always is a question of finances. The very
common focal lengths in a normal-aperture-version are not very expensive
and extremely good. Only the wide-opened lenses or those in more extreme
ranges cost very much. In my case the 21mm is one of my favorite lenses
because of the quality and the possibility to use it for street scenes
without being observed. Additionally, I use it for architecture, scale
models etc. But it is expensive, far more expensive than the older 18mm
For general photography I would either recommend a selection of primes
or one or two zooms. If you prefer the range from 28 to 200mm (which in
my opinion is chosen very good for everyday photography) the two options
would show as follows:
2.8/28mm, 1.4/50mm, 2.8/135 and 2.8/180: ca. 1.970 grams of weight, ca. 3.400 US-D (prices of Germany).
Advantages: Large aperture, superior picture quality.
According to your preferences and/or financial possibilities you could
alternate this basic proposal: Add a 2.5/25mm (which would be very
fine for landscape and architecture) and a 2.8/35mm, skip the 28mm. If
you want to take more macro pictures, skip the 50mm lens in favor of a
2.8/60mm C macro. If you think you need one wide-aperture small tele,
skip the 135mm in favor of a 1.4/85mm (this could even replace the 50mm
standard lens, as it does in my case), etc. etc. With the addition of
a Mutar tele converter you could extend your range to a 5.6/360mm with
very fine quality.
So look at this alternative: 2.8/25mm, 2.8/60mm C macro, 2.8/180mm,
Mutar II: ca. 1765 grams, ca. 4.600 US-D. If a 5.6/270mm is enough for
you on the tele side, then replace the 180 with the 135mm and you save
230 grams and 1080 US-D.
3.3-4.0/28-85mm, 4.0/80-200mm: ca. 1.415 grams of weight, ca. 3.050 US-D
(again German prices).
Advantages: Less cost, less weight, more flexibility.
Disadvantages: Smaller aperture, therefore you have to use either grainier
high-speed film or the tripod more often; picture quality is inferior
to that of the primes, but still very good when compared to other zooms
on the market. The use of a tele converter would result in a huge loss
of light and a definite loss in picture quality.
Q: Another question: What are your thoughts re: 28-70mm vario-sonnar
vs. the primes: specifically the 28mm 2.8 and 35mm 2.8?
A: If you are hiking with your camera, it would not be the best idea to
replace your 28 and 35mm with the 28-85mm (I presume you mean that one)
zoom, for the zoom weighs 220 grams more than the both wide-angles
together. Additionally it is very bulky (14 centimeters long fully
extended), filters are expensive (82mm) and not cheap. You lose one stop.
What concerns the optical quality, the zoom should be quite good. Of
course distortion is larger than with the primes, but on the other
hand the vignettation generally is better. Sharpness and contrast, as
measured and shown in the MTF-charts, of course is different from that
of the primes, but not worse. But unfortunately I do not own this zoom,
so I cannot tell you more, and referring to charts is nice, but only
one side of the coin. The effective quality of the lens is showing on
the pictures. If you are really interested in the lens, try to rent or
borrow it from somewhere and take the shots you normally do, and then
compare them to others you made with your primes. This is the best way
to find out if the lens fits you.
ZEISS tele lenses
Q: I want to get a telephoto (which I'll rarely use). Question: What's
the difference in "quality" between the prime (135mm and 180mm)
vs. the 80-200mm f4? I think off the bat, I'll probably end up getting the
zoom because of the cost vs. amount of times I'll actually use it. But,
I was wondering about the lens quality.
A: The clue to your question is in your words of the rare opportunities to
use the telephoto. Considering that I would choose the 4.0/80-200mm zoom
over the primes. The advantages are 720 grams less weight and ca. 1000
US-D less of cost (based on German prices).
Optical quality: If I compare the charts published by Carl Zeiss I
see that the 80-200 in 140mm performs similar to the 135mm prime in
resolution and contrast (MTF-chart-based) when stopped down two stops,
but is inferior to the prime in vignetting and distortion both fully
open and stopped down.
In 200mm, compared to the 180mm prime the zoom performs similar when
stopped down with worse vignetting fully open and similar distortion. Here
it is apparent that the 2.8/180mm - though regularly updated - is
basically an old design which needs some brushing-up.
If you could spare one stop of light, I would recommend
the 4.5-5.6/100-300mm zoom. It is a new construction with
ultra-low-dispersion-glass, performs better than the 80-200 in any respect
(MTF, vignetting, distortion, both fully opened and stopped down) and
is even a little bit shorter! In Germany it costs ca. 850 US-D more than
I personally like the 2.8/180mm very much, my tele-pair consists of
that and the 1.4/85mm. For me the wide aperture of those lenses is very
important, and I use them frequently. Together with the Mutar II I have
a 5.6/360mm tele with high performance so I don't need a longer tele.
Q: Does Zeiss still make the 200/3.5?...and (regardless) do you know
anything about how good it is? The 200/2 is way too expensive for me (
$6000), not to mention pretty heavy.
A: No, unfortunately neither the 3.5/200 nor the compact 4/200 are
produced by Zeiss any more. I have heard good comments about those two
lenses but I never have used them. I agree that the Apo-Sonnar 2/200 is
a monster, both in size and price, but what about the Sonnar 2.8/180? It
seems to me to be a good alternative for the 3.5/200, only one centimeter
longer and 60 grams heavier, and the price is not that high.
Q: On a similar topic, I've heard the Mutar II does not work with
the 200/3.5. Do you know if this is true? Do you know if there are any
other telephotos that the Mutar II doesn't work with ( =100mm)?
A: It is correct that the Mutar II can not be couples with the
3.5/200. The reason is that the Mutar II has a lens element which
protrudes into the rear part of the lens, so there must be enough room
left to accommodate this part. But by nearing the converter lenses to
the rear elements of the telephoto you get better results. This lack
of free space makes it impossible to use the Mutar II also with the
Macro Planar 2.8/100 and with all zooms (included the 3.5/70-210 and the
4/80-200). The coupling with the 2/135 is mechanically possible, but not
recommended by Zeiss because of possible loss of quality. I am using my
180 Sonnar together with the Mutar II and I'm very fond of the results.
Q: It's said Canon EF 80-200 f/2.8 outperforms 80-200 f/4 which is
slightly better than 180 f/2.8 in this focal length. It's pretty odd,
isn't it? Given the 5 star (*****) rating from Chasseur d'Image for
Sonnar T* 180 f/2.8, it's hard to believe this. Any comments? Is T*
200 f/4.0 any good?
A: You are right, it sounds odd. In fact I are very content with the 180mm
Sonnar's performance, but on the other hand it is also a fact that the
latest re-engineering of that lens (besides changing the outer appearance)
was about twenty years ago. So it seems possible theoretically that
there exist new zoom constructions which perform better than the Sonnar,
at least stopped down. I severely doubt that a zoom lens is better fully
opened at 2.8, the only exception maybe being the new 2.8/70-180mm APO
by Leitz which weighs about 2 kilograms and costs three times as much
than the Zeiss 180mm.
What concerns the Vario-Sonnar 4.0/80-200mm you quote, I consulted the
performance graphs published by Zeiss and they show (when compared at 200
vs. 180mm) that the zoom construction offers more contrast but not as
much brilliance than the fixed focal length. Vignetting and distortion
both are worse, but in my opinion the differences are not large enough
to be recognized in a picture.
It must be taken into consideration that zoom lenses never have been
the strength and specialty of Zeiss. I am sure that there are several
zooms on the market (Canon's and Nikon's 2.8/80-200 included) which
have a better overall performance than the Vario-Sonnar which itself is
decidedly outperformed by the newer Zeiss 4.5-5.6/100-300mm zoom. If you
compare the Sonnar 2.8/180 with a Canon zoom of the same aperture keep
in mind also that the zoom is bulkier (Nikon and Canon both are roughly
20 centimeters long and weigh about 1.3 kilograms vs. 13 centimeters and
800 grams of the Zeiss Sonnar) and the fixed focal length being a better
base for combination with a tele-converter. Together with a Mutar II
the Sonnar at 5.6/360mm is nearly as good as the Tele-Tessar 4.0/300,
but a stop slower.
What concerns the Tele-Tessar 4.0/200mm you asked me about: It is a
very good lens, compact and optically roughly as good as the 2.8 Sonnar,
but one stop slower. Additionally it has not implemented "floating
elements" for better near-focus correction.