Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 1994/11/07

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Subject: G1 (not a Leica)
From: Jeffrey Frey <>
Date: Mon, 7 Nov 1994 02:28:36 -0500

Or, turning a famous phrase, "You're no Leica M6!"

I bought the G1 with the 28/2.8 and 90/2.8 lenses and the Contax hoods.  The
G1 has OTF strobe metering if used with Contax strobes but I didn't want to
push my investment into this system any further at the moment.  Incidentally
the G1 lenses take 46mm filters (anybody have any old Pentax Super Takumars?)
which mysteriously are no longer available in Japan EXCEPT from Contax, who
charge Y3800 each (Latest list prices on Kenko or Hoya 49mm filters are under
Y2000).  The hoods, incidentally were Y2500 and Y3000.  The TLA140 strobe is
Y20,000; the G1-Contax SLR adapter (which allows AE but not AF) is also Y20,000.

The G1 is a development of the TVS, which has a similar auto-focus (passive)
system, although that is less accurate and has fewer steps.  The TVS has a
28-56mm 3.5-6.5 zoom lens of 6 elements in 5 groups, of which 2 elements
float to achieve the zoom.  The G1 28/2.8 has 7 elements in 5 groups, and
in cross-section looks much like the old Biogons, symmetrical lenses, although
it has to have been recomputed for the small mount-to-film-plane distance.
The 90/2.8 has 5 elements in 4 groups.  In their brochures in Japan Contax
publish MTF/contrast curves for the TVS lens at 28, 38, and 56mm, and Contax
package similar curves with the accessory lenses for the G1 (not individually
plotted, but either design curves or some kind of average) and I should compare
these--some time.  Whether these curves, in advertising material, can be
believed, is another question.  Anyway I haven't seen any of my negatives so
I can't say much about the G1 lenses yet.

After using it for a while one has to wonder what the G1 is FOR.  It is
noisier (qualitatively) than an M6, CL, or CLE, and maybe on a par, as far
as peak sound intensity is concerned, with my OM2.  But the nature of the
sound is quite different, involving the usual point-and-shoot motor noises
for focus and film advance.  These noises are of a higher frequency and longer
duration than anything emanating from the other cameras, and would certainly
be enough to bring attention to the camera in a relatively quiet environment.

On the other hand, it's a LOT quieter than any motor-drive AF SLR I've ever

And the auto focus seems to me to take too long, at least for the 90mm lens.
The 28 snaps in quite fast, but the 90 takes at least twice as long, depending
on the distance to subject.  Not only is there more travel to take care of with
the 90, but perhaps the computer knows the depth-of-field reduction at 90mm
requires more care in focusing.  I would not think the speed of focusing with
the 90 lens is fast enough for candids with "fast-moving" subjects, whatever
that means.  I tried the AF in both low-light and sunlight conditions with
near and far subjects and reached the same conclusion in all environments.
Comparing to the M6, which has SUCH a great RF spot, or the CLE, I could focus
at 90mm, even in fairly dim room light, faster than the G1 could automatically.
But the G1 would win hands down with the 28 in such conditions (although both
the G1 and I could take advantage of depth of field and just not bother 
focusing at all).

The G1 has a built-in red LED to assist focus in dim light; the LED illuminates
the subject for some fraction of a second when the shutter button is pushed. The
LED is quite bright and noticeable.  Interestingly, there is also a noticeable
delay between the blink of the light and the completion of the focus process; 
does the camera store somehow the information obtained as the light blinks,
then process it?  Certainly I can't figure this out from the manual.

Manual focus is accomplished by depressing a little button in the middle of the
focus knob at the top right of the body, to get out of AF mode, and then turning
this knob by thumb or by thumb-and-forefinger (easier for me) until focus is
achieved.  It would be interesting to know the precision of this focusing
method.  At the bottom of the viewfinder there's an array of LEDs with various
kinds of information (it's nice to see it come up with a shutter speed of, say,
1/1750 sec in bright light) including focus information.  In AF mode, a distance
scale appears for the user's information; it goes infinity sign-5-2-1 (meters,
in mine) in a distance that is about 20% as long as the bottom of the viewfinder
frame (i.e., not much). This distance is divided into 9 increments, and a
black square appears under the distance at which the camera focuses.  This
is rather rough, but seems acceptable since it's not really essential 
information.  In MF mode, you point the camera where you want to focus, and a
little black arrow appears under the distance scale in the finder (the same one)
telling you where the camera thinks it ought to be focused at; you then rotate
the focusing knob until the long row of little black square (well, no longer
than 9, actually) that tells you how far off and in what direction your focus
is, shrinks down to just one square, above the arrow.  At that point you have
focused the camera manually to where it thinks it should be anyway.  If you 
want to focus, say, 5' in back of where the focus frame is pointing, you
just don't have the information, since there are only 9 black squares and the
coarse focusing scale in the meter to tell you where you are.

The focusing scale engraved on the focusing knob does have more resolution.
It is particularly annoying, though, that there are TWO focusing scales
engraved around this knob--one for the 28 and 45mm lenses, and one for the 90;
they are different scales, with different minimum focusing distances (.5m
for the WA is at the same mark as 1m for the tele).  And they are not labeled
as to which is which (of course, that's obvious to all of us here, but why
should we have to think about it at all?)  Does this mean that 28, 45, and 90
are all that Contax will make available for AF?

Another annoying fact is that there is a separate non-TTL AE system for the 16mm
lens.  I resent paying for it and I don't see why anyone would want to use
a 16mm on this body anyway; you lose the finder and its functions and the AF
(maybe hardly necessary anyway) and also the TTL AE system.  Such a lens is
no doubt best used on an SLR and I don't see why Contax made provision for it.
Yes, the mount-to-film plane distance is smaller in the G1 than in an SLR,
making design of a good lens easier, but I bet an equally good lens and an SLR
body could be bought for less than the Contax Hologon alone.

The auto-bracketing is a nice feature, although it would probably be more
useful on an SLR loaded with slide film, than on an RF with TriX (which is the
way I always think of using RF cameras).  The quality of construction and
ease of use seem quite nice, although the chamber for the film cassette seems
a little short (takes a lot of fiddling to get a cartridge in there).  And, no
matter what Popular Photography says, I think the aesthetics are pretty bad. 
All those separate windows, some vertical, some horizontal, along the top!  The
size does not seem much different than that of the M6, body for body, but the
G1 lenses are somewhat bigger than the 90/2.8 M-Rokkor (or Elmar-C) and the
28/2.8 M-Rokkor or 35/2 Canon I like to use.

AS an interchangeable lens point-and-shoot, this camera has no current
competition.  It appears to be an evolution of the Contax T2 (fixed lens), TVS (zoom lens) concept--multiple-step passive AF--in the direction of better lens
quality, made possible through interchangeability and the provision of a
focal plane shutter instead of a between-the-lens shutter/diaphragm combo.  The Nikon 28Ti and 35Ti cameras are almost in this ball park.  The Konica Hexar
has a very good 35/2 lens, fixed, but otherwise the same functions as the G1.
The Nikons and the Hexar use active autofocus (i.e., radar) while only the
Contax uses passive AF in this group; I wish I knew more about the pros and cons
of these two systems to understand the benefits of one or the other.  

As I said above, I can't quite make out what I would use this camera for,
assuming I like to take low-light B&W pictures of things that don't stand still.
I do use 28 and 90mm lenses, but would prefer an f2.  I am often willing to
give up sharpness for shooting speed and use depth of field.  But the person
who really likes optical viewfinders and wants better lens quality than is
possible with a point-and-shoot zoom, and is willing to carry around an 
extra lens (and swap it) may well love this camera.  And note, a G1 with
28/2.8 and 90/2.8 can be bought for about half of what a similarly equipped M6
will cost.

Oh yes, maybe someday I'll look at those negatives....