Which digital back for my Contax 645 using Zeiss lenses?

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by Jean-Claude, Mar 5, 2018.

  1. Dear all,

    I ow a Contax 645 MF camera and 4 Zeiss lenses:

    Distagon 45 f2.8//Planar 80 f2//Sonnar 140 f2.8//Sonnar 210 f4

    I also ow a EIZO screen FS2331.

    Since I am very new to the digital world, what digital back would you recommand on my hardly used Contax 645 and why?

    (I recently bought a Nikon D610 and use my old traditional prime lenses on it and I am very happy with the results.).

    I read former Zeiss prime lenses were built to suit negatives and are not suited for todays digital technology. I am an amateur meaning I never print digital, never. Should I love one of my digital photos in particular, I would then rely on a professional printer to make the best of it.

    Thank you for your precious help and advice.

    Bonne soirée,

    Jean-Claude, Brussels
     
  2. I'm assuming you want something that doesn't require tethering to a computer, so something like Phase One P45 perhaps. Check eBay, this site doesn't allow me to post a link directly.
     
  3. Good model digital backs (even not-so-good models) with Contax 645 mount are in very high demand but very limited supply. Unless you get lucky and find exactly the back you want when ready to purchase, you'll probably need to "settle" for whatever back becomes available to you in Contax mount at a reasonable price. Backs for Hasselblad V, Hasselblad H and Mamiya/Phase mount are far more common in much greater variety to choose from.

    The Phase P45 recommended by coronawithlime is excellent, if you can find it and afford it. Other models in that Phase lineup are also good, with the P30 being especially popular with Contax users. P25 and P25+ are the cheapest "full frame" models, with sensors closer to 6x4.5 film frame. But they have the larger "fat pixels" which are good in some ways and bad in others. Many prefer the "fat pixel" colors and tones over other sensor designs, but they are very prone to moire issues when shooting fashion or portraiture. If you see a nice Leaf back in Contax mount, consider that as well. Leaf and Phase both use the excellent Capture One raw file software to maximum benefit.

    Note that older digital backs made for medium format cameras like your Contax were never intended for "consumer" or "amateur" use. These backs originally sold new for the price of a Mercedes Benz automobile, and were marketed to professional photographers who could afford to buy or lease from a franchised specialty dealer who would support and maintain the backs. Buying one of these orphaned older backs used on eBay is a risk: you might get a good deal, but if the slightest thing goes wrong with the back it will be incredibly expensive to fix. Repairs can cost as much as the entire back itself, and require shipping to the country where the back was first made. Also, they are limited almost exclusively to ISO 50 or 100: not ideal for the handheld shooting most Contax owners prefer. If you set ISO to a modest 200, picture quality degrades noticeably, with ISO 400 being even worse. Beyond 400, you're wasting your time: these old CCD backs were meant for bright sunshine or studio flash, not available light shooting.

    For the amount of money you might risk on an old used Contax-compatible digital back, you could buy a new Nikon D850 to replace your D610 and achieve similar (if not completely identical) results. The D850 is a dramatic upgrade from the D610: Nikon finally got their color issues sorted, and the 46 MP sensor resolution equals or betters any affordable used back for medium format. You don't get to enjoy the experience of your wonderful Contax or its Zeiss lenses, but the world of digital changes quickly and 645 just isn't practical unless you're a professional who can afford one of the newer Phase CMOS backs in the IQ series. These sell used for at least $10,000 (US).

    If you CAN afford the cost, and feel it is worth it to use your Contax digitally, I'd strongly recommend speaking to an official Phase dealer near you in Europe. Prices will be higher than eBay, but selection of used backs in Contax will be better and the dealer will offer some warranty protection against defects. But consider carefully before investing: if you only make occasional prints, keeping the Contax as a film system may be more sensible. Paying a good lab to make high resolution scans of your favorite film frames for printing might be a better short-term option, since the more modern, more usable CMOS backs in Contax mount are so difficult to find (and expensive when you do).
     
    stephen_lee|13 likes this.
  4. Lacking an MF system accepting digital backs, I don't know an answer. Have you figured out, if it will work for you at all? And why it should do so?
    Clarifying: In film days I was happily toting my TLRs, loaded with ISO 1600 B&W and brought an obvious MF advantage home into my darkroom (compared to the grainy mess I'd get from the same speed in my 35mm stuff). To my understanding elderly somewhat affordable digital backs aren't made for high ISO. - Do you have enough light to shoot your Nikon at ISO 50 or 25? - If "yes", one of those backs should work for you and it is time to figure out if it feels worth the money.
    Upon the light issue: Yes I heard of tripods, even own some, but don't fancy carrying them around. - Flash is similar: A one pass portable kit isn't very powerful.

    Would adapting your lenses on a mirrorless Fuji be a reasonable alternative? - CMOS MF-crop sensor: 7500 Euro should get you the kit with standard lens and an adapter. - Chinese brand Fringer offers full electronic coupling including aperture and AF.
    I haven't looked close at the Fuji GFX 50. - Their tiny cameras knock my socks off with JPEG color rendering but AF speed (of the early models I have) is not impressive, especially when it gets dark enough to need flash.

    I don't know who sells professional gear in Belgium. In Germany I'd hit a Calumet store (after arranging a date in advance) with a couple of memory cards in my pocket.

    My procedure for pondering another, this time sane(!), mirrorless purchase would include bringing a lens with adapter or an ND filter for the kit lens in store, to check EVF lag in the simulated dark.

    As usual: Ponder renting gear before you spend a whole lot of money getting into a new system.
     
  5. Dear you all,

    Thank you so much for your very detailled reports and the time you took in open my eyes a bit in this new digital world.

    There is a big photo Foire (show?) this weekend in Brussels called "Photo Days" where all the big brands will be represented include Phase One (Thank you so much orsetto:). Will talk with the people and see what they tell me.

    Kind regards,

    jc
     
  6. Dear Orsetto,

    Should I buy a D850 with your good convincing argumentation, what about my "old" lense: 35mmD f2// 85mmD f1.8, 50mmD f1.8, 105mmD f2 and 135mmD f2?

    Would those lenses deliver a good image quality for this fantastic camera? Since I am just watching my photos on my 23" screen and not printing them, would I see a better image quality or would I also need to change screen to suit this new camera model?

    Thank you.



     
  7. In my view, a D850 would not improve over what you have today, especially since you're not printing them. The additional resolution of the D850 makes sense for very large prints, not for screen watching. Also, the 35mm and 85mm lenses you have aren't very good performers, to be honest (I have both actually), so they'd also struggle to yield the additional resolution of a D850. The 105 and 135 should do better. So while the results of a D850 sure are impressive, it might be overkill for the uses you describe.

    Note that the remark on your Zeiss lenses not being particularly suited for digital has nothing to do with printing. The problem of some older lenses is that they don't deal well with a sensor, which is reflective, behind them, instead of a non-reflecting negative. I can't tell for Contax/Zeiss, but I use older Nikkor lenses than yours on a D810, and I haven't seen issues. So if you feel comfortable with the pricetag of a MF digital back, I'd sure give it a try. But digital medium format is costly.

    A good store which also operates in Belgium is Foto Konijnenberg, they also have second-hand items and maybe can help.

    Personally, if I'd have a Contax 645 with good lenses, I'd get film for it, and a decent scanner.
     
  8. My remarks suggesting the D850 were meant as an alternative to a digital back for the Contax, but only in the context of someone who was considering an older medium-format digital back specifically hoping just for better colors and higher resolution than the D610. Given comparable pricing between a new D850 and much older used MF back, the D850 is the more logical, practical solution here (esp if the person already has a nice set of Nikkor lenses).

    The original "lower resolution" Nikon full-frame cameras like D700, D3 and D3S had color that could be tweaked to look "natural" across the frame without too much effort. But the followup "higher resolution" D600, D800, D750, D810 are known to frustrate those with a critical eye for color: the files can be difficult to balance when you need both natural skin tones and good color in other areas. So if a D610 user feels something is "missing" from their pictures, which seems apparent in medium format examples, they should absolutely audition a D850 before jumping into the minefield of second-hand medium format.

    Between the 46MP resolution and significantly better colors, the D850 gives results very very close to older 40MP medium format backs. The only remaining differentiation being focal length: for any given shot, the medium format lens will be longer, creating a more rapid focus dropoff with alternative bokeh. This can be emulated to some degree by using faster or longer lenses on the D850, but CCD medium format will always have a specific "deeper" look to it that can't be exactly copied by smaller CMOS formats. The gap is narrowing, however, as the newest medium format CMOS technology increasingly moves toward smaller denser 33x44 sensors. These Sony "mini-MF" sensors aren't nearly as distinct from Nikon "FX" sensors as the older larger CCD MF sensors were.

    The main reasons today to use medium format involve greater flexibility in raw file processing via Capture One, and/or personal preference for the particular lens rendering or camera body handling of the Contax 645, Hasselblad V, or Hasselblad H systems. Nobody ever develops an emotional preference for the current Mamiya/Phase bodies or lenses: they're strictly utilitarian and hideously, insanely overpriced for anyone not doing paid institutional work like museum archiving (which Phase One specializes in as "cultural heritage workflow"). The Zeiss lenses for the Contax 645 and Hasselblad V + H cameras offer rendering quality that many photographers still feel is unique enough to be worth the trouble and expense of MF digital backs. But there is a huge cost/usability gap between "old school CCD" backs and modern current CMOS backs.

    The older backs are "affordable", they offer beautiful colors and imaging that is highly compatible with older Zeiss lenses, but they kill much of the pleasure these camera systems had when using film. The old backs are ridiculously slow ISO, almost unusable handheld. Their display screens are dreadful: the Phase P series screens are near-worthless for evaluating exposure or focus, live view is crude or non-existent. The typical crop of digital formats messes up your lens habits: all focal lengths will be tighter than on film. Their only advantage over film is the immediacy and economic utility of digital imaging, which was a boon for professional studio photographers twelve years ago but doesn't do much for MF casual shooters at all. In many respects, continuing to shoot film with your MF system and having your best frames scanned to digital remains the best choice today vs older digital backs.

    Newer CMOS backs provide an experience vastly more familiar to Nikon/Canon DSLR users. Their usable ISO range is much greater, their display screens more usable for live view and accurate for review. But they use smaller-than-film 33x44 sensors, and are frighteningly expensive for any but the wealthiest amateur to purchase (minimum $10K US for 50MP 33x44, rapidly escalating to $40K US for 100MP 41x54 sensor). This is a LOT of money: even the cheapest CMOS back is worth more than a complete Contax 645 kit with many Zeiss lenses. Hard to justify, and too many compromises unless you REALLY love using the old cameras and REALLY know how to reliably nail focus with the lenses. And really REALLY hard to justify if you aren't going to print at all: even if you can afford the costs, why deal with the usability compromises and fear of walking around with such expensive gear if you won't be fully exploiting the performance? Those who don't expect to make many huge prints can achieve very similar results with a D850 and select, premium lenses like the Nikkor 105mm f/1.4 and Nikon-mount Zeiss Otus apo series.

    Jean-Claude, all of the lenses you asked about would work just fine with the D850. It is a myth that higher resolution sensors always make older lenses look bad: actually, they often make older lenses look surprisingly good. Much depends on the specific combination of sensor, camera body and lens, and it can change as camera bodies evolve. Many who upgraded from the D800 to the D850 were surprised to find lenses that did not work well with the 36MP D800 work beautifully with the 46MP D850. Of your lenses, the only one universally considered "weak" is the 35mm f/2.0 AFD. But one man's "weak" is another man's "paintbrush" - a number of photographers seem to enjoy making the flaws of the 35 AFD work to their advantage. Its biggest flaw is soft corners, but if you don't care about that in your compositions (or don't see it on your screen or in prints), so what? My favorite lens is an ancient 35mm f/2.0 Nikkor-O my father bought in 1969. In lab tests, of course it would be inferior to a new $5000 Zeiss Otus. But I get great pics from that handy old lens, while I would never dream of dragging the huge heavy Otus out with me every day. Horses for courses.

    BTW, there is one more uncommon (but interesting) option for using your lovely Contax 645 lenses digitally. One professional whose work I very much admire has made excellent use of his Contax 645 lenses on a medium format Leica S2 digital body. Leica offers a mount adapter that permits full electronic communication and AF with Contax Zeiss lenses! The Leica S2 (older CCD version) is not much bigger than a D850, handles the same, but has a medium-format 30x45, 38MP sensor. The S2 is available used at prices comparable to a Phase P45 back, but would be MUCH more pleasant and familiar to use. Worth exploring if you enjoy the rendering of the Zeiss 645 lenses: examples I've seen with them used on the Leica are very, very nice indeed.
     
    Jean-Claude likes this.
  9. I did not consider the colour rendering; there might indeed be a point to that aspect.

    As for the lenses: generically I agree that there is a lot of hyperbole about lenses not living up to the sensor. If I were to believe forums, I could replace all my lenses when I went from a D700 to a D810 (very recently). There is an assumption that you get high megapixel bodies to explicitely make use of that high resolution: print large, crop liberally, large projections. With these higher magnifications that are made possible, you go down to a level where lens flaws will be noticeable. Whether that actually matters in real life is indeed dependent on how you'd use the images.
    Also, I am surprised how well many older lenses hold up, in my case mostly AiS manual focus primes; also with high magnifications there is little problem with them. Unfortunately, two lenses that do not "scale" too great are the two I mentioned (35 f/2D, 85 f/1.8D); they're simply not that good. Their rendering is also rather flat, so they won't help getting that near-3D look that good Zeiss lenses can get. If that is the aspect you're missing, trying (renting) something like a Zeiss ZF 35mm f/2 could also be an option. Lenses also play their part in colour reproduction and how an image renders, after all.

    Anyway, that's the reason why I said the added resolution is of limited value, but indeed whether it is depends on how you'd use the images and what you'd expect from them. Horses for courses indeed. Having some multiple points of view (and different considerations) though isn't a bad thing: whatever you choose, it's costly options being discussed, so balancing all the variables is worth it.


    By the way, Capture One as an editor isn't limited to digital Medium Format backs; it can be purchased seperately and then works with a very wide range of cameras. Personally, I much prefer this software. You could download the trial version and check how it works with your current D610, if it's different colour rendering you're mainly after, maybe it'll get you closer already.
     
    Jean-Claude likes this.
  10. Dear Orsetto,

    You must be (or have been) a teacher: all is very detailled and crystal clear. Thank you so much.

    The Leica adapter for my Contax is 1800€ (2.200$) + the price of a used body +/- 4.200€. Total 6000€ (or 7200$). For that money I'll be better of with a new D850 keeping the D610 as a second body.

    Regarding my old lenses, included the 35 and 85mm (!), I m very happy with them on the D610. The corner fall off, if any, is not an issue for me. Important is sharpness, contrast, color. I guess they will kiss the D850 mount as much as they did with the others Nikon bodies they were on.

    The reasonable solution is then to sell all my Contax system but looking at Ebay, the demand is very scarce....I belong to the old school and selling for cheap money is not an easy psycholigical step.

    To be honest, I don't need the money for buying a new D850 but why keeping all that nice gear on a shelve?

    I still have a 501CM Hasselblad red leather (very nice!) with a 80mm f2.8 CFE lens. The day i feel nostalgic, I could buy a a few rollfilms and go back to my huge darkroom (with fridge and radio).

    Since I started Photoshop learning at an art school here and discovered how easy and fast the digital darkroom is compared to my B&W negatives years, it is difficult to keep lots of expensive gear sleeping on a shelve (next to 2 Nikon 801s and 2 Olympus OM1/OM2).

    Thanks again Orsetto.

    Jean-Claude






     
  11. Dear Wouter,

    My answer to Orsetto is the same for you: thank you so much for your advice.

    Regarding the 2 "weak" lenses, they perfectly do the job for me. Maybe if compared the the recent ones on the D610 they will not be able to compete but should I buy a D850, I the would need 2 new ones and that would be fine.

    I am freshly retired and we only live once...:)

    Jean-Claude



    I did not consider the colour rendering; there might indeed be a point to that aspect.

    As for the lenses: generically I agree that there is a lot of hyperbole about lenses not living up to the sensor. If I were to believe forums, I could replace all my lenses when I went from a D700 to a D810 (very recently). There is an assumption that you get high megapixel bodies to explicitely make use of that high resolution: print large, crop liberally, large projections. With these higher magnifications that are made possible, you go down to a level where lens flaws will be noticeable. Whether that actually matters in real life is indeed dependent on how you'd use the images.
    Also, I am surprised how well many older lenses hold up, in my case mostly AiS manual focus primes; also with high magnifications there is little problem with them. Unfortunately, two lenses that do not "scale" too great are the two I mentioned (35 f/2D, 85 f/1.8D); they're simply not that good. Their rendering is also rather flat, so they won't help getting that near-3D look that good Zeiss lenses can get. If that is the aspect you're missing, trying (renting) something like a Zeiss ZF 35mm f/2 could also be an option. Lenses also play their part in colour reproduction and how an image renders, after all.

    Anyway, that's the reason why I said the added resolution is of limited value, but indeed whether it is depends on how you'd use the images and what you'd expect from them. Horses for courses indeed. Having some multiple points of view (and different considerations) though isn't a bad thing: whatever you choose, it's costly options being discussed, so balancing all the variables is worth it.


    By the way, Capture One as an editor isn't limited to digital Medium Format backs; it can be purchased seperately and then works with a very wide range of cameras. Personally, I much prefer this software. You could download the trial version and check how it works with your current D610, if it's different colour rendering you're mainly after, maybe it'll get you closer already.[/QUOTE]
    Dear Wouter,
     
  12. I forgot to mention the NIKON F6 I also have, very nice and a pleasant to shoot with. I keep it!



    You must be (or have been) a teacher: all is very detailled and crystal clear. Thank you so much.

    The Leica adapter for my Contax is 1800€ (2.200$) + the price of a used body +/- 4.200€. Total 6000€ (or 7200$). For that money I'll be better of with a new D850 keeping the D610 as a second body.

    Regarding my old lenses, included the 35 and 85mm (!), I m very happy with them on the D610. The corner fall off, if any, is not an issue for me. Important is sharpness, contrast, color. I guess they will kiss the D850 mount as much as they did with the others Nikon bodies they were on.

    The reasonable solution is then to sell all my Contax system but looking at Ebay, the demand is very scarce....I belong to the old school and selling for cheap money is not an easy psycholigical step.

    To be honest, I don't need the money for buying a new D850 but why keeping all that nice gear on a shelve?

    I still have a 501CM Hasselblad red leather (very nice!) with a 80mm f2.8 CFE lens. The day i feel nostalgic, I could buy a a few rollfilms and go back to my huge darkroom (with fridge and radio).

    Since I started Photoshop learning at an art school here and discovered how easy and fast the digital darkroom is compared to my B&W negatives years, it is difficult to keep lots of expensive gear sleeping on a shelve (next to 2 Nikon 801s and 2 Olympus OM1/OM2).

    Thanks again Orsetto.

    Jean-Claude[/QUOTE]
     
  13. Wouter Willemse made a good point about Capture One software, Jean Claude: it isn't only for medium format. While the primary aim of the developer is supporting Phase One medium format backs, and exploiting the deeper image data those backs record, it also works extremely well with Nikon files. Indeed many photographers cannot stand D800 or D810 color unless the raw files are processed thru Capture One (one reason the improved colors of the D850 are so significant). The drawback is you must buy this software separately if you want to use it with Nikon, Canon, Sony, etc cameras (owners of any Phase or Leaf backs may use it for free). Current cost is approx $300 US, well worth it if you shoot Nikon in raw format. However if you usually prefer the in-camera JPEGs instead, it wouldn't be applicable.

    The Contax 645 system was top-notch, with lenses that improved upon prior Zeiss Hasselblad versions (esp the superb Contax 120mm Makro Planar, still one of the finest lenses ever made). Unfortunately it was never as popular as Hasselblad in the studio, which is where digital first took over. So the percentage of backs made with Contax mount is very very small and more expensive vs Hasselblad 500cm or Hasselblad H. The difficulty in obtaining digital backs for the Contax has reduced its value considerably, but this varies from country to country and year to year. Recently, there has been a resurgence of pro wedding photographers returning to film as a "luxury" offering to clients, and they have been snapping up good Contax kits at higher prices than they were willing to pay a couple years ago. Also, Leica S2 owners began seeking Contax 645 lenses to supplement the crazy-expensive Leica lens lineup (despite the pricey adapter). So timing and venue is everything: with luck, it is still possible to sell Contax 645 gear for reasonable prices.

    Zeiss has expanded its offerings for smaller format cameras considerably over the last few years: if you want rendering similar to your Contax 645 lenses, you should be able achieve it with glass in the Zeiss Milvus/ZF.2 or Otus collections for Nikon mount. The drawback (and its a big one for some people) is lack of autofocus: it can be rather difficult to fully extract the performance of these lenses with manual focus. Zeiss really needs to get its act together and pay a company like Sigma to license their generic AF knockoff technology: with high res DSLRs, AF is no longer an option but a necessity. Mirrorless full-frame cameras with live-view magnified viewfinders make manual focus more practical, but right now this is limited to the Sony A7 series (whose color output leaves a lot to be desired: Nikon implements the Sony sensor far better in the D850).

    Of course there are alternatives: some of the newest (and alas most expensive) Nikon AF designs offer rendering and performance that either matches Zeiss (105mm f/1.4) or is interesting in its own right (the controversial 58mm f/1.4). Old standbys like 85mm f/1.4 are still good, as are the exotic or fast teles. The Achilles Heel of all DSLR systems remains affordable mid-speed wide angle lens performance: you can get some excellent pro zooms, but they're bulky heavy and slow. Nikon also makes an excellent line of high-speed f/1.4 primes, but prices are very high and again, bulky/heavy. The current midrange collection of f/1.8 Nikkors is a mixed bag, unfortunately: very good overall performance let down by excruciatingly cheap-feeling plastic construction, and avoidable optical flaws that are an embarrassment in lenses designed today (i.e. huge focus shift when stopping down). Admittedly, some of the pricey Zeiss alternatives also suffer focus shifts- but theres really no excuse for it.

    Which is why some of us are still using old manual Nikkor lenses from the distant past. I'll never give up my 20mm f/3.5 AI, 24mm f/2.8 NC, 28mm f/2.0 NC, 35mm f/2.0 "O", 85mm f/1.8 HC, 105mm f/2.5 AIS and 135mm f/2.8 QC. The 35/2 NikkorO is my mainstay: I have tried everything to replace or update it, but nothing comes close to its combination of size, speed, build quality and optical rendering. Like any fast prime, it isn't perfect at f/2.0, but from 2.8 on theres little to complain of and lots to like. My only grief with it is internal reflection that makes it unpredictable for night time street shooting: street lights duplicate themselves randomly in frame. This was a nightmare with film, but a bit more manageable with digital since I can check results immediately and reframe to minimize the issue.
     
  14. Reading about present issue I discovered yesterday that a chinese gentleman, apparently working very seriously, makes JAS adapters from C645 bodys to any Nikon DSLR. His name is Lee CHEN. He also made a video on Youtube on it.

    Here is what I read (among other positive comments)

    So I contacted Steel Chen via email, and he initially put me off from making the purchase - his explanation was that critical parts that he outsourced were not meeting his specs and that he was waiting for the next batch before accepting any orders. He asked for my patience and would contact me when he was again up and running. A few weeks later, he did so and we worked out the details via email using paypal for fund transfer. Shipping via EMS to the USA was included in the price and final receipt took about a week from the point of purchase - cleared US customs without additional charge. Pretty smooth process. However - no manual, only instructions on how to fine tune focus adjust in English at this time. The adapter was shipped inside a cocoon of semi rigid antishock plastic, overwrapped in clear plastic and inside a small shipping box with peanuts. The adapter did not come with any caps - I spent the extra to buy a generic Nikon back cap and Contax body cap as a safeguard for storage in my case.

    1) Fit and finish are very nice, with a heftiness that belies all metal construction. The initial fit to my Nikon bodies upon receipt was very tight but repeated use over the last few months has eased the coupling process to a smooth action. The lineup dot is a dimple on the body and should have been marked in white or red to be able to be seen in less than optimal light situations. The adapter couples just like a Nikon lens with that noticeable attachment click at the end of the movement. Again, the attachment is tight and feels like it isn't going anywhere (no wobble or gaps). As the dimple now lines up at the 12 o'clock position on the camera, attaching the Contax 645 lens involves lining up the red dot on the lens mount to the dimple on the adapter and twisting the lens in the opposite direction as that of the adapter (takes getting use to) until it clicks in attachment. I did have an initial bit of trouble finagling all of the lens mount bits into the adapter, but realized this was my fault, as I found myself rotating the lens while looking to ensure that all of the lens was lined up properly. Trusting the line up markers seems to be enough now to make a good coupling with all of my lenses. But lets just repeat and say tolerances are "tight" - to me a good thing.

    2) Once the lens is attached - the camera body is now in control. However there is one important exception (and hence the need for a manual someday), the attached Lens' aperture ring by default becomes an additional "M/AF switch" (perhaps as a safeguard) once attached. When the lens ring is at minimum aperture (say f-22 on the 80mm) AF contact to the lens is off. Any other f-value allows the AF command to the lens focus motor to electronically engage - this switch has no effect on the lens aperture motor. The Nikon body M/AF switch still works independently as it should. Otherwise, the camera body controls the lens' focus and aperture actions via electronic connections - the Lens aperture ring has no control (outside that noted above). Manual focus over-ride works the same with the Nikon body as it does on the Contax body. Focus, metering and aperture indicators work well in the finder and on the camera body LCD's. All aperture stops from the lens are listed on the camera body when turning the body function wheel. Using the DoF preview on the camera body visibly drives the aperture motor (and lens blades ) to the supposed f-stop. Some of the details I've listed here can be seen on Steel Chen's YouTube video.

    3) All of the lenses I have operate well with the adapter 35mm, 45mm, 80mm, 120mm (manual focus only), 140mm and 210mm, much like the Youtube video. However, while my 45mm and 140 are sharp with AF, the 80mm isn't. I have to yet go through the process of fine tuning the AF on all of the lenses, but at least the instructions were available in English. AF performance of the Contax 645 lenses using the Nikon bodies is a night and day experience over that of the Contax body. The Nikon bodies tested (D800 and D810) appear to be able to drive the larger Contax 645 lens focus motor more effectively and without the focus hunting that the Contax body produced. This may just be due to the advance AF system (i.e. feedback) that the Nikon has over the older Contax system. I have no way to measure speed between the two. Using driving the focus on the Contax 645 lenses via the Nikon body feels solid. Metering feedback via changes to the DoF, shutter speed or ISO appear unhampered with the Contax lenses being attached.

    4) Disconnecting the set up is a matter of taste. My experience with using extension tubes, other adapters and teleconverters has been to take the lens + adapter off from the camera as one unit (decouple at the adapter/camera) and then disassemble the lens from the adapter. The Nikon body's release button does this first step easily. To then remove the lens from the adapter, a metal tab on the adapter is toggled which releases the coupling lock, allowing the lens and adapter to be uncoupled. This can be done while the adapter is still on the body for quicker lens changes, but the initial stiffness of the release tab made sticking to old habits an easy choice. Of course the camera should be turned off prior to uncoupling anything. I have not seen so far any negative usage issues stemming from using the Nikon body and Contax lenses together, or when using them within each exclusive system afterwards.

    5) Other tidbits learned from communicating with Steel Chen. A) Cannot use the adapter on the D3/D3S/D3X in its current state of manufacture (dont know why as yet as I own one), B) adapter contains proprietary firmware so if it is to be updated the adapter would need to be sent back to Steel to do so, C) he has ideas on other adapters to try.

    This would be a fantastic solution because very cheap on my Nikon D610 and at the same time I could use my Zeiss lenses.

    Thank you again for your precious halp.
     
  15. Yes, I had heard of Mr Chen's work as well. He is very inventive: I've seem him post a variety of interesting adapters and other contraptions (most of them design studies or solutions for his own needs). The kind of thing SK Grimes was famous for.

    It is hard to say whether you would get enough use from your Contax 645 lenses on a Nikon D610 to make the (pricey) adapter worthwhile. I was not always happy with my Zeiss Hasselblad lenses on a D600, D750, and D800: there is something about that generation of Sony sensor that makes it a mediocre marriage. The same lenses were stunning on a 12MP D700 and D3, and the 45MP D850 I recently borrowed came very close to them (with a nice boost in resolution). I was also pleased with these lenses on a Canon 6D. But on the D600 they seem a little drab and dead: this is one of those subjective experiments you would need to test for yourself.

    Also consider your shooting needs. DSLRs with medium-format lenses work best on a tripod: handheld, they tend to be clumsy and of course your ultimate quality will be more limited. The dramatic crop factor of the smaller sensor increases effective focal length enough to be significant: the Contax 35mm isn't very wide on a Nikon, the 45 is a normal, the 80 is a portrait tele, the 120 more tele-macro than normal-macro, etc. So Contax lenses shorter than the 80mm become less useful (the longer lenses are more practical). Wider Contax lenses would have more application if a tilt/shift adapter was available.
     
    Last edited: Mar 10, 2018
  16. If I understand you well and knowing the subjectivity of photo "feeling", I could buy this adapter and see if I have the same feeling as you on my D610.
    If not, I could buy a D850 and fix the Zeiss lenses on it (I don't own a 35mm but a 45, 80, 140 and 210mm).
    At least they won't sleep on a shelve any more.

    Correct?

    At the photo show yestarday I came across the boss of a Leica store here. We know each other a bit. He has a client with a S2 for sale. He will call me next week if he finds a Leica adpater to reasonable prices...

    I wish I could send you some B&W negatives from the C645 but don't know on how to proceed. I am loading them on a USB key here at home to futher connect them on my 55" Samsung screen (resolution 1920x1080, the same as my Eizo screen).

    The idea in near future is to photoshop on my 23" Eizo screen, save the pictures (color & b&w) on a USB key and make an amazing slide show with music (from the the USB key), the whole lot on the Samsung 55" screen. The result is (modestly) stunning. I made 3 different settings: color photos, 645 and 24x36 b&w negatives (scanned witrh different resolutions and formated to the big screen dimensions, when possible.

    With a nice drink, life is pretty much uncomplicated...

    Your comments are welcome, as usual.

    Merci bien Orsetto.
     
  17. Hello,

    I apologize if this is not the right thread for my inquiry, but the discussion here seems like there are some quite knowledgable folks here ...

    Also, I am one of the colour-obsessed D810 users that somehow never really feel happy with what I produce with. I also enjoy working with film so what I am thinking about is acquiring a system that would allow me to use both MF film and digital backs on one body and lenses set.

    A SImple question would be - which MF analogue body would you consider most digital back-friendly?

    Thank you for your opinions in advance!
    Rene
     
  18. Unfortunately, rene_maurin, there really isn't any single medium format system that is equally adept at both film and digital when purchased for use today, in 2019. Ten years ago, yes: the Contax 645 was a lovely option, a couple of the Hasselblad H were very versatile, the old Hasselblad V system was still highly supported, and there was the exotic Rollei/Sinar Hy6. But that was then: all medium format digital backs were similar in features and price, and (crucially) in the case of Contax could still be ordered new. Of course, all this gear was also much more expensive, which put it out of reach for most non-professionals.

    Today, much of this gear is less expensive and more attainable, but the world has changed to make it less desirable and/or less available. With the failure of the now-rare, hugely expensive Hy6 system, the Contax 645 remains the best overall compromise system for film + digital. Sadly, repairs are becoming more difficult and digital backs in Contax mount are scarce as well as old (most are CCD sensor, limited to to ISO 50 for best results). While the old CCD backs create gorgeous colors and flexible files, they are just too slow for typical non-pro use in the field (iso 50 is incredibly limiting for handheld use, and can be a pain even on a tripod, live view is rudimentary or non-existent). These earlier digital backs were primarily intended for studio fashion and product photography, with the camera tethered to a computer.

    The Hasselblad H system was roughly equal to the Contax 645 in versatility, with added flash options via leaf shutter lenses (vs Contax focal plane shutter). But second-hand lenses are not quite as good on a price/performance basis as the Contax Zeiss glass. Some of the more desirable H bodies cannot use the film backs: assessing compatibility is a nightmare of sub-models and firmware details. Most H cameras come with calibrated, matching Hasselblad-brand (Imacon derived) CCD digital backs: many of these still produce great images, but are outdated and Hasselbald service/repair support for them is inconsistent. Newer, up-to-date CMOS backs are available in H mount, but most are limited to a puny 33x44 sensor (excellent, but heavy crop factor on the lenses).

    The legendary Hasselblad V system (500cm, etc) was the building block for the whole digital revolution in the first place, so has a very wide choice of digital backs from ancient to very current (as well as the widest selection of film backs). But here again, what was amazing in 2005 is not so wonderful in 2019. The lack of AF makes nailing focus thats good enough for digital very very difficult. Most V backs have some version of cropped sensor, which doesn't make the best use of the most popular Zeiss lenses (which were great on film, but somewhat disappointing on some sensors). The sensor crop requires blacking out a big chunk of the viewfinder screen, which reduces the joy of using a vintage Hasselblad.

    Then one needs to contend with the annoyance and unreliability of a clumsy cable syncing the lens shutter with the digital back (there is a cordless option, but it isn't trustworthy on most of the older bodies). Finally, the V cameras were designed for the film era, nearly 50 years prior to serious digital photography. The tolerances that worked for film can be a problem for digital: the V works best if you have a dealer calibrate the back of your choice to your specific body. This was trivial back when people were spending $27,000 for new backs, but not such an easy service to get today with second-hand gear. The biggest advantage in favor of the Hasselblad V is its legendary status as a premium film system: if you mostly plan to use film, and just occasionally need digital, it can be a good choice. And its probably the system with highest availability of affordable large-sensor CCD backs (sensor size very close to a 645 film frame). Hasselblad itself also offers very nice (expensive) new CMOS backs in 33x44 sensor size, custom designed to look exactly like the old chrome-trim A12 film backs.

    Last (and for most non-pros, least), we have the ubiquitous Phase One / Mamiya 645 system. This has (by far) the widest availability of backs in all price and technology ranges. However, it also has the nastiest, most unpleasant camera bodies and confusing array of lens options. The professional or very wealthy amateur can simply opt for the very latest version of XF body, IQ4 large-sensor high-resolution CMOS digital back, and Schneider blue ring lenses. This will indeed provide state-of-the-art performance, but will cost $50,000 for a just the basic kit with standard lens, and has no film capability.

    Below this tier, you have endless variations of the old, rather trashy Mamiya 645 AF camera system with both Mamiya (older) and Phase One (newer) branding. These are not to be confused with the original, very fine manual focus Mamiya M645 film cameras (which cannot take digital backs, and remain workhorses for film fans today). The Mamiya / Phase AF bodies with M-mount for film and digital backs are more versatile, but few photographers truly like using them: they were/are a "necessary evil" for those who wanted access to the latest and greatest Phase One digital back technology (often only available in M-mount). The cameras, esp used aging examples, are fraught with ergonomic and electrical issues. This was not completely solved until the most recent, completely redesigned Phase One XF bodies (very nice, much improved, horrendously expensive, no film capability).

    Times have changed, medium-format digital is rapidly evolving. What made sense to purchase as recently as four years ago would be almost pointless today. Phase One and Hasselblad have shifted into a La La Land of extravagantly overpriced new large-sensor absurd-resolution SLR systems, support for older systems with film options has nearly evaporated, and the rise of modern, far more affordable mirrorless medium format cameras from Fuji and Hasselblad has obliterated interest in the old, limited digital back systems. For most enthusiasts today, the Fuji GFX50R or Hasslblad X1D with "Mini-MF" 33x44 sensor, AF and camera size comparable to a Nikon D850 have irresistible allure. They can be purchased brand new with standard lens for less than the cost of obsolete, inferior digital backs for larger, clumsier old film cameras.

    Mirrorless is the path forward in digital medium format: non-pro enthusiasts with interest in both medium-format film and large-sensor digital today might be best served by investing in the GFX or X1D systems, then buying whatever second-hand film camera system they prefer. Or indeed, consider recent and upcoming high-resolution 24x36 sensor cameras like Nikon D850, Nikon Z, Sony A7, etc for digital work, and a separate medium format film kit. By avoiding the "trap" of a single unified film/digital system, you free yourself to buy the best separate systems for YOU for EACH medium. This is especially an advantage for film, as it opens up many more possibilities in camera configuration, frame format, lenses and pricing (the choice is far more constricted if you insist on a single hybrid film/digital camera body).

    The gap between 35mm film and medium-format film remains significant, as it always was. In digital, not so much. Many projects that once required mf digital, because 35mm SLR digital wasn't good enough, can now be tackled with modern, much improved smaller-format mirrorless and DSLR. AF quality and lens selection is still far ahead of medium format, and the sensors nearly at parity for anything but large prints and distinctive portraiture.
     
    Last edited: Sep 26, 2019
    stephen_lee|13 likes this.

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