Is the Contax RTS reliable?

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by steven_bristow, Mar 31, 2010.

  1. It all started with a Yashica FX-D Quartz and a 28mm Yashica ML lens.
    Then I bought an FR and a 50mm 1.9 DSB. My most recent purchase was a Contax 139 Quartz.
    Okay, I think I'm officially hooked on Yashica/Contax gear.
    So my question is, is the Contax RTS reliable? I am wanting a nice, solid, metal Y/C body, something like my Nikon F2 or F3. Is the RTS a good choice? If you can reccommend a different solidly built Contax, I'd love to hear about it.
    Thanks, Steve
  2. My RTS works well, and they really are tanks. I would recommend an RTS II over an RTS, but the RTS will work well. I have a Yashica FX3 super 2000 that I love, but it is not as solidly built.
    If money is no issue than an RTS III is the best, with the S2 being another high-quality all-metal camera.
    I would say:
    RTS- Good
    RTS II- better
    RTS III best
    S2- expensive, but spot metering only
    Yashica FX-3 Small, light, all mechanical, cheap, my favorite.
  3. In what ways is the RTS II better than the RTS?
  4. Please refer to this excellent site. Despite their external similarity, the RTS II Quartz is a different camera in many ways and not a somewhat upgraded RTS. For instance, it has an different shutter (with curtains made of titanium and a mechanical shutter speed of 1/50th), metering system (with TTL flash capability) and viewfinder (97% as opposed to 92% if I remember correctly). Both models are very dependable in general, but if you want to be sure you have a really reliable piece, check it thoroughly and have it CLA'ed. Keep in mind that all RTS IIs have a large decomposing light seal inside that threatens to damage the shutter or clog up the internals of the camera, so a CLA is almost mandatory for any lover of this model. I don't think the original RTS has this issue, but I've never disassembled one, so I'm not sure. Anyway, I think the RTS II is the best and most reliable Contax ever made. Moreover, many if not most older Contax SLRs need to have their mirror re-glued in place since the adhesive tape under it tends to loose its strength after decades of use. This isn't too difficult fortunately. Don't be afraid to buy any Contax body if it looks good and works correctly and also consider an ST, RX or RXII. The 137MA (avoid the auto-only 137MD), 167mt and Aria are not bad either.
  5. If you don't already know this page then here's a model by model overview.
    MY personal favorite has always been the RX, but I've never had enough money. For me the main drawback (exception the S2) is they all need batteries and therefore to a certain extent will eventually suffer from electronic failure. That said many have years of reliable use in front of them.
  6. No, it's not reliable. The electronics are an unfortunate design and there are no replacements. I've had 3 of them and they're basically unrepairable. Great cameras to use, but nearly impossible to repair. My understanding is that the RTS II is more reliable, but I have no personal evidence that this is true or false.
    I still have an RTS III and an Aria (and a non working RTS I). The RTS III is still repairable by sending it to Japan, but it's pricey. Not sure about the Aria. I've had two problems (well one problem twice) with the RTS III. The blue LCDs in the viewfinder acquire "splotches" the latest one over the aperture readout. I think it's called LCD bleed. I'm having the RTS III fixed at the moment. The Aria has never had a problem.
    Don't get the RTS unless you get it REALLY cheap. My information about their unreliability comes from Mark Hama in the Atlanta area who does my repairs. He knows them pretty well. But you just can't get the electronic replacement parts. I guess the only reason why the RTS III is still repairable is that it was the "pro" model. The RTS III is, by the way, a great camera to use, really wonderful, but a bit heavier and bigger than the I or II.
  7. I don't know of any design flaw in the electronics of the original RTS, but it it obvious that this first Yashica-made RTS from 1975 (or is it 1974?) would be more prone to failure than later models. By the way, the Yashica FR is a lower-spec'ed Contax RTS in disguise. While it is true it is impossible to obtain parts for these cameras any more, RTS bodies (for parts as well as in working condition) are relatively cheap and plentiful. Personally, I would rather trust an old RTS that was looked after and used little rather than a heavily used and battered RTS III, which is a far more complex camera with more things that can go wrong (LCDs, motors, vacuum film plate, ...). Only one Contax has failed me so far, and it is an RX with a broken aperture mechanism, which I am hopefully about to get mended soon. My two RTS IIs are going strong with a little attention to their few known problems. In case something happens, I have a spare parts body and a copy of the repair manual. So yes, the original can be considered reliable RTS if it works correctly and hasn't been damaged or worn out, but the RTS II Quartz is a better and more dependable camera.
  8. There are still parts for the RTS III. I'll just challenge you to find a place that repairs RTS I's. If you do, let me know because I have one that needs the very repair that typically causes them to die. I would trust the battered RTS III before I'd buy another RTS. Seriously, avoid them in favor of the later bodies (such as the RTS II which Mark tells me is a better designed camera).
    I know it's a crying shame given how wonderfully designed the RTS bodies are (body by Porche and so forth) but I really would advise not buying an RTS I without looking around for someone who claims to be able to repair them first. Don't count on Yashica or Kyocera to repair them or provide parts (not for the I anyway).
  9. There is quite a good article on the RTS range of cameras by Ivor Matanle in the 20 March edition of Amateur Photographer. If you live in the UK and can't get hold of one I'm happy to post you mine.
  10. Do you know anything specific about this cause of death? If it is purely electronic? I've given a deep CLA to both of my RTS IIs, but I've never had the opportunity to explore the internals of the original RTS. I do have a broken Yashica FR that I bought for its leatherettes, which now decorate my Yashica FX3. It died from an injury to one of its plastic gears.
  11. Mark showed me a little circuit board which he said was the problem for mine because there were no replacement parts. He also said the wires are very torturously run around the camera which makes it tough to work on, at least that is what I remember. I just took the RTS III back to him. Before I did, I emailed around Kyocera's site and finally got a hold of someone who said:
    We send the RTS III to Japan for repair. Once they go over it they send us an esitmate which we in turn send to you. You can send the camera to us at
    Tocad America
    53 Greenpond Road,
    Rockaway, NJ 07866.
    Attn: Service Dept.
    I then asked:
    Any idea of whether the repair is likely to cost $100 or $1000? Might give me an idea of whether it’s worth doing.
    And she said:
    The average I have seen lately is 250-350 dollars. But it doesn’t cost anything to send it
    To which I asked
    Is the original RTS still repairable for electronics problems?
    To which she said:
    No there are only parts for the RTSIII

    So I think the RTS I is prone to problems, and the only way you can fix it is with a donor body. If you can buy the bodies cheaply enough (and you sometimes can) you could maybe use them until they break or use them to repair another body, but I just don't think it's worth the trouble. I haven't heard anything bad about the other Contax bodies, just that one.
  12. Fred, I have a Yashica FR with a broken plastic gear in the self timer. Is that what happened to yours?
    To everyone else, thanks for the info. Sounds like I should stay away from the RTS.
  13. No, it's the sector gear of the shutter/winding mechanism. The person who damaged it must have forced the winding lever quite a bit. I could send you the entire self timer assembly if you'd like. Mine is an FR-I, though, and all the gears in its self timer are made of metal by the look of them, so I wonder whether they are interchangeable.
  14. Fred, I must have lost my mind for a brief moment. I meant frame counter, not self timer.
    A plastic gear mounted on a brass shaft split and now just spins. The shaft is horizontal with a black gear on each end. The whole assembly is about 16mm wide and held on with two screws.
    If you had that little assembly, that sure would help out.
    Thanks, Steve
  15. The gears in my FR-1 are white, as shown here and here. Take a look, and if you think the parts are identical (my guess is that they are), e-mail me your address. I'd be happy to post it to you.
  16. Thank you very much Fred, I sent you an email. If you didn't get it, please let me know. Thanks!
  17. sorry for this obviously dumb, but sincere question: what does CLA stand for. I can guess what it means, but what what is the full form for this acronym?
  18. Not a dumb question at all. CLA means Clean, Lube, and Adjust.
  19. I've had my RTS for about a decade. It's been in regular use, had the shutter serviced once by a local dealer, and the light seals replaced by myself in half an hour. It's a joy to use, and it's got the best shutter release of any camera I have, including my other Contaxes (159/167/RX/Aria). It's the camera that derailed me from Nikon. I also have the Yashica FX-3, and it's seen thirty years of service, and is far more reliable than its appearance or lightweight feel would lead you to believe. I don't have the RTS II or III, so can't comment on those in handling. What made me buy the RTS I only went in to handle out of curiosity was the sense of nearly audible 'pop' when the viewfinder image of the Planar 1.4/50 went in and out of focus. Even my RX doesn't give me that feel.
  20. thanks steve!
  21. As far as usability, I loved the RTS I while they lasted (I had 3, now I have one non working one) as they combined superb build with outstanding optical performance and great user interface. The RTS III has needed repairs twice, but is also a pleasure to use -- it is just a bit large and heavy. The Aria is wonderfully light, but a little plastic feeling -- mostly it's the cheap feel of the switches. One of these days I may try to find a II as it combines the small size and great build with (hopefully) more reliable electronics. Alex, glad yours has held up.
    The Contaxes often had a favorite trick -- The RX's focus confirmation, the AX's autofocus, and my RTS III's vacuum pressure plate for the ultimate in performance (well... supposedly).
  22. I have a good number of Contax/Yashica lenses and all of them are very good
    I had a good experience also with Yashica Fx3 bodies but not with the electronic ones
    I had Yashica 103, FXD, FR FRII Contax 139 all of them with electronic problems never repairable.
    The real great problem is that the malfunctioning is always random, rare at home on the desk, more frequent during trips or treks (Murphy's law)
    For these reasons I agree with David Griffin "Don't get the RTS unless you get it REALLY cheap"
    Last news it that I just bought for 90 Euro an RTS in really good conditions and for the moment it looks working (at home)
  23. My first 2nd hand RTS worked fine till it got stolen, then I bought 2. I did some 25 concerts (a few rolls per camera per concert) with them in 2 years, till one developped an unreliable shutter (a metering or mechanical problem?), the other one is still fine. Love the size, feel and brightest viewfinder I've ever had the pleasure shooting through.
    I use the same Zeiss lenses on a 5D MKI with focus confirmation adaptor ring, but by far prefer the RTS.
  24. Used RTSIIIs are beyond my budget but I did find an RX in great condition a month ago. It's mine now. You want solid? It's comfortable and very solid. Do you have any Contax MM (multimode) lenses? If so, the RX has a program mode (for when you feel lazy like I often do.)

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