Denton Taylor on the Aria -
Last week, I picked up a new Contax Aria. I also have an RX
in for service) and an RTSIII. Thursday morning and Saturday morning
two rolls of chrome each in some of my favorite photo haunts;
buildings in Gowanus, Brooklyn; the World Trade Center plaza;
and SoHo. I wanted to limit myself to a single lens, so Thursday
I took the
35-70 3.4 (not the new one made for the Aria), and Saturday I
took the 28-85.
I'm not sure I see the point of the new zoom. The existing
35-70 is already
quite small and light (for Zeiss!) and as such is an excellent
Before moving to Contax in the past year, my primary 35mm SLR
Olympus 4T. Oly became famous for building full-featured cameras
considerably smaller and lighter than their contemporaries. So
I thought I
might make some quick comparisons.
The Aria is actually (at 16.2 oz.) about an ounce lighter than
the 4t, even
with a built-in 3fps winder. Of course this light weight is achieved
of the dreaded polycarbonate, A.K.A. _plastic_. However, it is
judiciously. It's really just the film chambers that are plastic.
mount and mirror box are stainless steel, and the top cover is
The Pop Photo review says the bottom cover is plastic; if so,
enough to fool me! With even the most expensive cameras using
polycarbonates, this should not be an issue. It is doubtful that
(besides Leica), will ever again build a classic metal camera
like the 4t.
Dimensionally, compared to the 4t, the Aria is 1mm wider, 8.5mm
The Aria certainly does not have a cheap, plasticy feel; nor
should it, for
$580! After one gets over the lightness, one realizes that it
is very well
made. The body has the rubbery covering similar to other Contaxes.
Off/On/AE switch is not nearly as smooth as other Contaxes, even
looks the same. It has a snap' instead of a snick'.
At first, I didn't
much care for the tiny switch that switches between
Matrix/Centerweight/Spot, but after some usage I discovered that
perfectly located and easily usable with the camera at eye level.
The Aria has all the modern features one would hope for, (except
for AF, of
course) including DX-encoding; matrix, center-weighted, and spot
(no multi-spot, though); manual, aperture-priority, shutter-priority,
program control (SP and Program with MM lenses, but program mode
shiftable); and exposure compensation with ABC bracketing. The
bean-counters managed to axe one feature found on the 4t and other
Contax bodies&SHY;built-in variable diopters. They also got rid
of the rewind
switch and replaced it with one of those dimpled things you stick
in, although the manual cautions you against using a pencil and
provides you with a prong on the camera strap. But who uses a
I was able to overcome most of my minor objections by use of
programming features. The slickest choice is that one can opt
to engage AE
lock by depressing the shutter button, instead of throwing the
to AE Lock as in other Contax bodies. Therefore, when walking
doesn't have to touch that snappy' switch. One can leave
the camera on all
the time, letting it shut itself off, and reactivating it simply
touching the shutter release. Overriding matrix mode, (or using
the Aria in
spot mode) becomes very smooth. Compose, with forefinger switch
to spot mode if required, move spot onto correct area of interest,
shutter release slightly, re-compose, and shoot.
One can also opt to have the camera rewind film automatically
at end of
roll, which takes care of the crappy rewind switch (except where
in mid-roll). And one can choose to leave the film leader out,
which I prefer.
I was especially glad to see the introduction of matrix metering.
heard several Contax users state they have no use for matrix mode.
disagree, but for the traditionalists, does the Aria have a feature
you. In matrix mode, a bar graph is displayed which gives the
between the matrix and the center-weighted reading!
If one is shooting in the wilderness, perhaps matrix mode is
not much use,
but shooting mostly in the city as I do, speed is often of the
there may not be time to properly meter a scene. So, for the purposes
first experiences with the Aria, I decided to always use Program
Matrix metering. All my exposures were perfect or very close,
The first was an image of an abandoned crane against a bright
blue sky. I
decided to use the ABC bracketing feature, because I really could
decide on a reading, even in spot mode. (Normally, I dislike bracketing,
because it seems wasteful and makes me feel that I don't know
doing, a silly hang-up, I know). The proper exposure was the one-stop-under
In the other instance, there were some flower pots in front
of a black
glass building. In spite of my resolve to stick with matrix mode,
I saw no
point in losing the shot, and I was positive that the matrix exposure
camera had chosen was wrong. I took one shot in matrix mode, then
another based on a spot reading of the flowers. The spot exposure
correct, the matrix shot was way overexposed.
The viewfinder displays everything you would ever want to know,
some, in a green LCD panel on the right side. Unlike my RTSIII,
is quite visible even in the brightest light.
Maximum shutter speed is 1/4000, with synch at 1/125. The Aria
control with TLA flash units. The manual warns against using the
IR film, but doesn't give the reason. The manual also warns against
the Aria with large-barreled lenses on a tripod without an accessory
The optional D9 databack will add film imprinting and interval
but is not yet shipping.
I love this camera. It goes from full manual operation to total
control, with no bias in favor of either method of operation.
In spite of
the better build quality, I really see no reason to keep my RX
I will probably sell them in favor of another Aria and put the
into more glass or maybe a G2!
Photogallery at www.dentontaylor.com
David W. Griffin on the RTS III
Just spent my first weekend with the RTSIII. I think it was
very positive despite finding out that my electronic RTS cable
release wouldn't work on the RTSIII. I ended up using the 2 second
self-timer as a substitute, and by and large it worked well. Subsequently
picked up a self timer cord that does work. Funny that they'd
use two different kinds of electronic cable releases for different
models of their electronic cameras. Here are what I consider the
bad and good points about using the RTSIII.
I found the display easy to read outdoors except for unusually
bright conditions, and then just shielding my eyes and the eyepiece
make it easy to read again. The new 2CR5 battery I put in fresh
a few days before was signalling low in about 4 rolls, but then
it has sat in my bag for maybe 2 years, so that may not be a fair
test. We'll see how long a really new one will last.
The manual, while fairly complete is difficult to read due
perhaps to the requirement to write it in all the different languages.
There are areas which should have been covered more thoroughly
and were sparse at best. There is also a lack of a good explanation
of camera accessories in the manual and it's needed since Contax
dealers are few and far between so you can't just go to a camera
store and ask.
On the positive side, the ergonomics, as always with Contax
cameras, was superb. Everything seems just where you'd want it
to be. The depth of field preview when held down changes as you
change the aperture (unlike my Minolta 600si). The spot metering
was easy to use and the camera was full of those nice touches
I liked with my RTS (like the the exposure compensation warning
in the viewfinder).
The camera was easy to read on manual mode though I would have
liked something like the flash meter scale I could use for ambient
light. I have a scale like this for my 600si. The viewfinder was
clear and bright and a pleasure to use, and of course it's 100%
coverage.The mirror lockup worked well, though I confess I didn't
use it a great deal. Still it's good to have it.
The exposure meter seemed to be correct, though I had a number
of mis-exposure readings due to misuse of the spot meter and a
bit of unfamiliarity with the controls. Still think I might need
to bracket the important shots for a while.
I bought my used, and chose one with a very high serial number
in hopes that any early problems will have been resolved before
mine was made. Hopefully I have a long working relationship ahead
of me with this camera.
Marcus Hanke on choosing a body
Contax itself claims the ST to be 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 highly ambitious amateurs. But there are
some things missing in the ST which I think should not be missing
in a professional camera: There is no mirror-lockup, no double-exposure
possibility and no way to leave the film leader out after rewinding.
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 well damped and therefore the vibrations really are not
bad), I never change partially exposed film and with Photoshop
around nothing can convince me to making double-exposures on film.
What is "professional" with the ST is certainly 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
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 saw the plate wearing off a bit. 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 overview. 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 a 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
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 viewfinder. 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 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 RST 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 tele's.
I hope I didn't over-flood you with my opinion and that you could
read out something useful from my essay.