View Full Version : Nikon S2 and Contax . . .
Is there anyone on RFF who has used both the Nikon S2 and the Contax IIa who could compare differences between the viewfinders and handling of both bodies? I know that the Nikons were modeled on the Contaxes and that the normal lenses are copies of the Sonnar formula. . . but any advice on the handling of these two cameras? Any compelling reason to buy one over the other? Reliabilty? "Feel"? Any guidance appreciated.
I think Contaxes are undervalued and great value. Nikons have become collector pieces and that is reflected in the higher prices.
The Nikon has 1:1 viewfinder magnification and an etched, non-parallax-compensating frameline for the 50mm field of view. The Contax has a smaller frame magnification (about 0.70x, I think) and no framelines at all -- you have to rely on the fuzzy border of the finder to indicate the edge of the image. Advantage: Nikon.
The Nikon has fast and slow shutter speeds on separate, coaxial dials; the fast-speed dial rotates as the shutter fires, meaning you have to keep your fingers clear to avoid inaccurate shutter speeds. The Contax has all shutter speeds on a single dial. You have to lift and turn this dial to set it, so it's a bit slower than a modern one, but at least it doesn't rotate as the shutter fires. Advantage: Contax.
Both cameras load via a removable back. The Nikon has a single twist lock, making for slightly faster operation than the Contax, which has two twist locks. The Nikon advances film via a thumb lever and rewinds via a folding crank; the Contax uses knobs for both operations, making them slightly slower. Advantage: Nikon.
The Contax shutter consists of vertically running metal slats; the Nikon has a conventional, horizontal-travel cloth focal plane shutter. The Nikon's cloth shutter curtains are susceptible to burning by the sun if you don't take a few simple precautions, but its overall construction is simpler and probably more reliable. The Contax shutter is burn-resistant, and when adjusted correctly it's a bit quieter, but it's also more complex and requires more specialized maintenance skills. Advantage: Tie.
The Nikon is a handsome, rugged-looking, nicely-made camera. The Contax is an exceptionally beautiful mechanism, with fantastic detail in the textures of controls and variety in the surface finishes. Advantage: Contax.
So, the basic question: Should you buy a Nikon, or a Contax? The basic answer: Yes.
I have a Contax IIIa and a Nikon S2.
The Contax shutter is smooth, and something to behold. It's film advance is smooth, the camera is a precision instrument. The viewfinder is "old style", no framelines, and is on the squinty side.
The Nikon S2 viewfinder is 1x magnification, film advance is quick, and the shutter is reliable. Some people do not like the sound of the shutter brake, it is louder than the Contax.
I ended up modifying my S2 to use with the Sonnar lens. It is too bad that Zeiss never updated the viewfinder of the Contax to compete with Nikon and Leica.
Pricewise, Contax's are up a bit lately and Nikon S2's are down. They are getting quite close in price. I could not get the lens for what I paid for the IIIa with Zeiss-Opton Sonnar these days.
I think that Brian pointed out the major differences. I will only add that it maybe easier to get a Nikon repaired should that become necessary as I think more people will work on them. The S2 may also be easier to get used to as it is more SLR like to me. Not much to choose from between the two.
It's hard to over-state just how pleasant it is to spend a day working with the S2's bright life-size viewfinder. A lot of people, myself included, believe it was Nikon's best-ever viewfinder for shooting with a 50mm lens, especially in low light. On the other hand, the secondary rangefinder image on a Contax is better defined and more contrasty. It's probably a bit easier and more accurate to do critical close-in focusing with a Contax. And the Contax shutter is much, much quieter. The Nikon has a slightly more "modern" feel and is all around quicker to use.
Thanks all, that was _very_ helpful.
I own both and use both although the Contax less now that I have the S2. I am a long time Nikon F user (since 1967) and I guess the familiarity of the S2 is what I like. The layout of the controls, the lever film advance, rewind mechanism, shutter release, film loading, removeable back all are a natural function to me and I probably enjoy the S2 more for these features. I have used Contax IIA for about the same length of time but nowhere as much as the F. As has been pointed out the Contax viewfinder is harder for me to see through and the rangefinder is certainly not as bright and quick focusing as the S2. The Contax IIA is a beautifully crafted camera quite deserving of the praises it has received in the past.....but its design is old and features very outmoded. I use my 21mm Biogon quite a bit on the S2, almost as much as the 35mm F1.8 Nikkor. I don't see any reason to actually keep my Contax other than for an occasional (second) camera when shooting the S2. I would like to buy a nice SP one day just to have before they get out of reach...which I believe they will one day.
The one thing about the Contax IIa vs the Nikon S that often isn't mentioned is weight.
The Nikon S is noticeably heavier than the Contax IIa, and I don't feel that the added weight in this case is a benefit.
Thes S2 is noticably lighter than the S. Bob Rotoloni lists the weights at 23 ounches for the S and 18 ounces for the S2.
The S2 is improved over the S in every way, especially for weight and the viewfinder.
I can only "wish" that Contax had updated the IIIa and IIa to compete with the Nikon SP, Leica M3, and Canon VI and 7 series.
Of course the R2C is still available from cameraquest if you want to use a more modern camera with all of those Contax mount lenses, including the inexpensive ones from FSU.
Prices on gooud user-condition (8/10 and under) have dropped from their peak a few years ago. Partially due to the re-issue of the SP-2005 and S3-2000. You can get a good user SP for under $1,250 with F1.4 lens, opposed to $1,800 and over a couple of years ago.
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