Leica M comparison with Contax645

Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by lars_tomanek|1, Dec 12, 2009.

  1. Dear Forum Members,
    Two months ago I bought a medium format camera, the Contax 645, because I was convinced that I would get even better quality pictures with this camera than with my M7. After shooting more than a dozen rolls of film I have to say that I am unimpressed. Using the same Portra film for both cameras I think that the M7 pics have a sharpness and bokeh (which type of lens I use does not seem to matter) that is superior to the results I obtained with the medium format camera (80 mm lens).
    I am wondering if I am missing something or if the quality of the M7 (leica lenses) is really better. Or in other words, I may just sell the medium format camera because why use it if I have a smaller system with equal or better performance.
    I am wondering if other Leica users had a similar experience.
    Thanks. Lars
  2. I'd be interested in samples. The 645 should give sharper, more defined images than the M7. The M7 probably does have better bokeh - that wouldn't surprise me.
    645 cameras have very good definition indeed. I saw a comparison with a high-end DLSR which was made a few years ago. The 645 camera was obviously better than the 35mm and slightly better than the DSLR (which I think was a 1Ds).
  3. Lars, I own both Contax 645 and Leica M6.
    I don't think you will, or should, see any difference in sharpness between the Zeiss lenses and the Leica lenses. Both are exceptional. However, the 645 results contain much more detail and a smoothness that enlarges to greater magnifications before grain becomes an issue.
    I project my images and whilst my Leica slides are sharp and brilliant, the 645 ones are outstanding. Once you've experienced MF slides taken with Zeiss lenses, 35mm doesn't compete.
    What's your shooting technique with the Contax?
  4. Lars, how large is your pictures ? You need enlarge to 24"x36" to see real difference
  5. Sharpness is a function of camera shake and subject motion. So the Contax can be less sharp if you had to use low speeds.
  6. FWIW when i had a Pentax 6x7, i found no difference between the "big" format till i passed the 8x12size, and the comparison camera was a Pentax Spotmatic. Both had Macro lenses on! i never used the 67 again..My Leica is sharper abd better "look" than the Pentax 35mm, but not by much and not always.Flare not exist in the P camera and lenses..
  7. Lars,
    Are you using a tripod?
    I bought a 6x9 fuji rangefinder for hand holding...and learned that the results were not much different than 35mm when both formats were hand-held. Of course, this is due to camera shake.
    But on a tripod, the fuji is far, far superior to the 35mm on a tripod for capturing detail. Any 35mm camera.
    So, shoot your 6x4.5 on a tripod (with cable release:) before dismissing it's image quality. If you hate tripods, then...stick to your Leica and it's superb lenses.
  8. If you want to achieve an objective comparison, you should base your results on using both cameras on a tripod.
    Unless you have a defective lens, I would assume that your unimpressive results owe something to your shooting technique. It's easier to hold an M7 steady than it is to do the same with a 645. More than likely, you see crisper images with the M7 because you introduced less camera shake.
    I shoot medium format and rangefinders side by side, as each is better suited to certain conditions. And from that experience, I'm in no doubt that the sharpness, rendering, resolution and micro-contrast of medium format wins out every time. The Zeiss lenses, and the 80mm f2 planar in particular, are exceptional, and coupled with the enormous magnitude in format, are capable of results that bear no comparison with any lens on 135 format.
    Out of interest, how did you produce your medium format images - optical print, scan or projection? I've seen people throw away 98% of the potential of their image by scanning it badly - using ill-suited scanners with incorrect focus and non-flat film planes - and then leaping to conclusions about medium format not being very good. Not suggesting you did that, but it's worth bearing in mind.
  9. Be careful of mirror slap. If you really want to compare MF with rangefinder 35 mm at their best, do not use an SLR for one and a Leica for the other. That is apples to oranges.
    Now a nice Rolleiflex TLR will put any rangefinder or Leica to shame (except maybe for the Contax G 2 with its superior lenses ... 21 Biogon ... oh my!).
    But not any MF SLR; or other than the Flexes, try the Mamiya 6 or 7 and you will see!
  10. Thanks for your constructive comments.
    I just developed the film and did not scan it. One of the main problems is the fact that I do not use a tripod. Thus camera shake may be a real issue. I have not compared both cameras more systematically side-by-side, using a tripod. This certainly what I should do to substantiate my claim.
    Other than that I have another question: Had anyone problem with their dedicated Contax flash (TLA 360)? I have gone back and forth on the setting and could not get it to flash when I was taking a picture. The light flash symbol shows in the view finder and I can manually trigger it but it does not work when I push the release.
    Sorry this second question may be more appropriate for the medium format forum.
    Thanks for the helpful hints and for sharing your experience.
  11. i own many 35mm slrs, leicas, and medium format cameras. i can see a difference in tonality and detail in 4x6 prints between 35mm and 120. leica lenses are great, but they can't cheat the physics of a larger negative, imo.
  12. Both cameras are just tools, and have different functions. The Leica may be the better tool for your use..... It is a great tool. I went to Hasselblad 30 years ago because I was shooting portraits and weddings that would produce prints that would be enlarged. So I need a larger negative to allow for retouching and enlargement. I found the zeiss lens to be great.
    But If I was shooting candids or street photography or some other styles that I needed to shoot in low light for example. I would have wanted to use a Leica M camera, if I could have afforded it. TIt is a better tool in some situations, and I think hands down they have the best optics ever made. Just my opinion......
    Use a hammer to pound in nails......and a saw to cut something....both are good tools for their uses, but dont interchange very well. Yes you can pound a board in half.....but a saw is better. There is no such thing as the best camera ever! At least not for everything.....both cameras you mention are great tools.....if you want I will trade you some Hasselblad equipment for some Leica M equipment right now.....just tell me what you need?
    But I do have a superwide that I think the optics are on par with anything Leica produced......but is a tool for certain situations only.
  13. Had anyone problem with their dedicated Contax flash (TLA 360)?
    I also own the TLA 360 flashgun. Have never experienced problems on the C 645, whether using hotshoe or Flash handgrip. Are you tightening down the foot of the flash in the hotshoe? This is necessary to make proper contact. Are you using 1/125th or less?(I've never tried using flash above max. synch. speed, obviously, so I can't tell you if the gun would fail to flash). Do you have another suitable flashgun to check your X contact?
    Just offering some suggestions and ideas.
  14. A Mamiya M7 might be a better comparison since it has no instant return mirror, also it has flash sync to 1/500 th sec. The Mamiya lenses are just as sharp as leicas but slower but you can use faster film since the film size is 4 times the area of 35mm and grain is therefore less an issue.
    Or you should look at the Pentax 645 since it has a reputation for having the best damped mirror of any 645 and tested to have no visible impact on results.
    I think either is a winner but you have more film choices with 35mm. That said many of us shoot only 3 to 5 different types of film so if you can find what you want in 120/220 then go for it.
    Bye the way the Mamiya M7 is I think quieter than a Leica M and that is darn quiet, in fact if your in a noisy place you have a tough time hearing the shutter go off.
  15. "I just developed the film and did not scan it."
    Lars, so how are you comparing them?
  16. I am wondering if I am missing something or if the quality of the M7 (leica lenses) is really better.
    Leica lenses are better than film, and so are Contax (and Hasselblad) lenses. As BG points out, the ultimate difference depends on the care you use taking the picture. Camera shake is the great leveler, and there is no advantage of hand-held medium format over 35mm other than less grain.
    I have found it takes a solid tripod, mirror lockup (OK, not applicable to a Leica M) and good technique to get the best results from any camera. That done, medium format can deliver at least twice the print size as a Leica with the same sharpness and image quality. On the other hand, it's not hard to see why HCB didn't use a Contax 645 (once you actually hold one in your hands)*.
    * HINT: The brochures for Contax always show the camera from the front, using a long lens to compress the perspective. The camera and back is nearly 6" deep without a lens.
  17. You need good technique -- tripod, cable release, wait for the wind to die down, make sure the tripod is heavy duty enough to hold the camera etc. Then you need to blow both pictures up to large sizes, probably poster size. Both NEGATIVES will be equally sharp -- the Leicafiles and the Contax fans (I'm both) have been arguing about sharpness for decades -- the fact is both are superb. But the Leica is a smaller negative, so given equal technique, only the ability to enlarge further favors the larger negative.
    Of course using the 645 and cutting out a small piece of the negative you could conceivable enlarge that and still get a great 8x10 or 11x14 where an equally small part (say 25% of the negative) of the Leica negative wouldn't enlarge as far so if you have only the ability to create 8x10's you can still see the difference if you enlarge a part of each negative.
    I handhold myself, but the truth is that you lose a lot when you do that, even if you have image stabilization. The fact is I have a hard time carrying a tripod these days, even a light one.
    In the old days, some people used 8x10 or 5x7 view cameras, and with negatives that large, they contact printed them rather than enlarging them in order to get really high quality images (and contact printing was a bit easier than enlarging too and probably cheaper).
  18. Of course the Leica lenses are better. You really can't compare them to many other lenses, other than the Heliars. If you want a MF camera that images like a Leica get a Minolta Autocord TLR w/ Rokkor lens. Trust me, you'll be happy comparing it's shots to the Leica. The only other MF camera I can think of that would compare to Leica optics is the Voigtlander Bessa II w/ 105 Color Heliar lens (it MAY even be better). I own a Leica, an Autocord and a Bessa II so I know from actual experience. Great cameras.
    I know more than a few people who gave MF a fling and ended up going back to their Leicas. If you can live w/ smaller enlargements they are as good as it gets in 35mm. If you need bigger prints you'll have to go to MF and try the cameras I mentioned.
  19. I disagree. If you say one should compare tripod shots, I'd say why bother? Unless you're shooting landscapes for a living.

    Real world shots are handheld, so one should shoot handheld, and find out if 645 has an advantage.
  20. Lars,
    I sympathize with your analysis. For everyday use you may be right. It is very hard to tell a 35mm 6 x 4 from a 120 equivalent. In fact probably impossible if the print is from an inkjet or digital process. Sometime it can be hard to tell at 8 x 10 size. Even a conventional C or R print at this kind of size is difficult to tell apart. Obviously with the MF you can print a larger image, but most people don't do this. Personally I found that my Canon 5DmkII beat the hell out of my Hasselblad system for efficient shooting with superb results, so I sold off all my 'blad stuff.
    Funnily enough though I do still have a yearning for a nice single lens MF camera like a nice Rolleiflex - something to do with the look of the medium/ depth of field and the alternative process that is still attractive.
  21. Using the same Portra film for both cameras I think that the M7 pics have a sharpness and bokeh ... that is superior to the results I obtained with the medium format camera (80 mm lens) ... I am wondering if I am missing something​
    You're missing something. Print Portra 160 at 3x5 and you won't see a difference between the Leica glass and the plastic lens from a toy camera. Enlarge Portra 800 to 12x18 and you'll see any 645 producing sharper and lower grained prints than any 135 format camera.
    Bokeh is something else. However, which lens renders it better is entirely subjective.
  22. I once had a Mamiya 645. It gave good color saturation compared to the Leica 35mm, but you could see a big difference in lens quality, with color fringing with the Mamiya. I live in a part of Arizona where no one shoots medium format. Everything would have to be sent out.
    After attending an Alfred Eisenstadt display, with all the 16x20s from Leicas, I gave up 120. These Eisenstadts were so sharp. Probably due to processing and the sharp Leica lenses.
    The best luck I ever had with a 120 was with a Fuji 690, 6x9cm. (The "Texas Leica") But most places where I took the film used enlargers made for smaller formats, i.e., 6x7 and the pictures were cropped. 120 fans need to do their own developing and printing.
  23. I would compare identically framed shots of the exact same thing before I would state that one is sharper than the other.
    Back in the old days Uncle Sam made some lens test charts to remove some of the subjectivity from lens / camera testing.
  24. it's about tonality and rendering of fine detail. any decent mf camera trumps 35mm, even leica, even at smaller print sizes. (i don't know about inkjet prints, i'm talking traditional wet prints.)
  25. I agree with most that has been said. If you blow up large the negative size is key for a given quality of lens. My Hassie pictures are no better than my M6 at A3 but when blown very large - at least 36"x36" then you can see the advantage of a big neg.
  26. Simple answer/ If you shoot hand held Leica shakes far less than any MF camera, so unless you use a tripod leica will always come out better (except for the grain as you have to enlarge more). I had an absolutely identical experience with Leica and Hasselblad (incidently I used the Hassie ELM with electric release an that was better than the mecanical 500cm). So if you cannot or does not want to shoot tripod bound photo: use a Leica.
  27. Concur with Niel Ambrose..basically all things being equal, given quality glass like both Contax and Leica make, Medium Format will be much higher IQ. Not only in practical results under a loop, but commonsense wise too. Think about it, given equal coverage let's say a MF 80mm and Leica 50 mm you will, depending on the framing of the MF get basically the same coverage, yet the MF negative gets the same picture information on a negative that is much bigger than the 35mm negative. There's just going to be a lot more information there. Maybe in printing it doesn't become obvious until a certain size happens, but if you look under a good loop you will see it.
  28. Sorry, but this comparison is stupid!

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