Written by Jen Golay
If you’re a film photographer, chances are you are constantly on the lookout for the perfect camera.
Or maybe you’re just on a quest to shoot as many of the thousands of different film cameras ever made.
Either way, you need to put the Contax G2 on your list!
While the Contax G2 isn’t the elusive perfect film camera, it’s probably in the top 10 of the best rangefinders ever made. And it’s a fast, automatic, less expensive alternative to a Leica.
Find the Contax G2 at KEH Camera or on eBay.
I bought this camera a couple of years ago as a small, lightweight, reliable, easy-to-use, 35mm travel camera.
Unfortunately due to the shutdowns over the last few years, I haven’t been able to use it much as a travel camera yet, but it has lived up to all its other promises, and I can’t wait to have to chance to actually travel with this camera.
Reasons to Love the Contax G2
Let’s take a look at what makes it so great.
The Contax G2 is a 35mm automatic rangefinder camera system with seven different interchangeable lenses along with a dedicated hot shoe flash.
If you want to learn more about what a rangefinder is and how they work, check out this article.
It was manufactured between 1996 and 2005 and is the sequel to the Contax G1 camera.
It’s a compact, lightweight camera system designed to be extremely easy to use and reliably accurate in auto mode, yet with the option of full manual control.
The camera has a solid build that is extremely comfortable to hold and use.
It has a fairly fast autofocus, and the lenses in this system are sharp Zeiss glass. Its auto exposure mode is practically perfect.
The Contax G2 is a rangefinder camera, so that means that what the photographer sees through the viewfinder is NOT what the lens sees; however, the camera has a great parallax correction system.
The viewfinder also automatically zooms to the correct framing of whatever lens is attached to the camera, so the framing in the viewfinder accurately reflects the framing on film.
Related: 5 Best Point and Shoot Film Cameras!
An Overview of the Contax G2
The Contax G2 is the ultimate modern rangefinder.
It can shoot at up to 4 fps, has a lightening quick maximum shutter speed of up to 1/6000 of a second in automatic mode, has a flash sync speed of 1/200 of a second, and has a dynamic active/passive autofocus system.
The camera body takes two CR2 batteries, and the TLA 200 takes an additional two CR2 batteries.
Keep a couple of spare batteries in your bag because this camera is completely electronic and will not function without power.
The lenses for the Contax G2 are extremely high-quality Zeiss lenses that are fast at f/2.0 or f/2.8 with the exception of the 16mm (find on eBay) and the 35-70mm (find on eBay).
They are best used in auto-focus mode, but they can be focused manually with the dial on the front of the camera body.
The motor for the autofocus is in the body of the camera, and it’s fairly quiet, but it’s important to pay attention to the sound of the autofocus because it will give you a hint as to when the lens has reached focus.
If you hear a short zoom out and back, the lens has not focused. If you hear it quickly zoom out and stop, it has focused.
Focusing the Contax G2
There are three focus modes on the Contax G2, and these can be selected using the dial that surrounds the back focus button.
SAF – Single Autofocus
In this mode, the camera will autofocus on a subject within the center frame indicator in the viewfinder when the shutter button is pushed halfway down or when the back button focus is pushed, and it will remain locked at that focus point until the shutter is released.
The shutter will not fire unless the lens is focused. This is a great feature to ensure a high rate of shots in focus as well as to save on film wasted to out of focus shots.
CAF – Continuous Autofocus
In this mode, the camera is continually focusing when the shutter button is pushed halfway down on whatever is in the center frame indicator in the viewfinder.
It’s comparable to “sports mode” and is best used on subjects in constant motion.
The shutter will fire when the shutter release button is pushed completely down regardless of whether the desired subject is in focus.
MF – Manual Focus
In this mode, you can manually focus the lens on the Contax G2.
Unlike most lenses, though, there is no focus ring on the lens itself. You will need to use the round dial on the front of the camera to focus.
A focus scale will be displayed in the viewfinder, and a distance indicator will display on the screen at the top left of the camera.
If you’d like to see a distance indicator in meters in the viewfinder, hold down the back button focus continuously while adjusting focus with the focus wheel.
I have found that it takes three fingers to shoot accurately in manual focus. The thumb on the back button, the index finger on the shutter, and the middle finger on the focus wheel.
The Contax G2 has an active type autofocus that uses a trigometrical method with infrared rays and a passive type autofocus by means of a difference of the subject image through left and right focusing windows.
The infrared rays cannot measure long distances, so the passive autofocus kicks in. Low contrast subjects at close distances that are hard for the passive autofocus to lock on to will be measured by the active infrared method.
By combining these two autofocus methods, the Contax G2 has a precise and reliable autofocus system that works quickly and accurately.
Of course, no autofocus system is perfect, and you’ll need to be aware of the weak points in the Contax G2 autofocus system and compensate for them.
The autofocus system will only work if the subject is inside the focus frame.
So, use the focus/recompose method to ensure that what you want to be in focus is what the camera has focused on.
If the subject is too small, the autofocus may not know what to lock on to. Adjust your framing so that the subject fills the focus frame.
Subjects with little or no contrast, a repeating pattern, a glossy or extremely bright surface, will be hard for the passive autofocus system to lock on to.
Choose a higher contrast area of the subject, lock focus, and recompose. Or choose another object located at approximately the same distance as the subject on which to focus and then recompose.
If you are good at approximating distances, you can switch to manual focus and set the focus distance yourself.
When shooting in dim light, the passive system won’t be able to find focus.
Instead move to within three meters or less so that the active infrared system can achieve focus.
If shooting at a long distance at night, switch to manual focus and set the lens to focus as infinity.
Subjects with horizontal lines, such as the horizon, may be difficult to focus using autofocus. To compensate for this, hold the camera vertically, lock focus, and then return to the horizontal composition.
Mounting and Removing Lenses
Mounting and removing the lenses on the Contax G2 is a little different than you may be used to.
To mount a lens, line up the red dot on the camera body with the red dot on the lens. Insert the lens and press down gently while turning the lens grip ring clockwise until you hear the lens lock into place.
When this lens grip ring turns, it not only locks the lens in place, but it also zooms the viewfinder to the correct position for the lens’s focal length.
To remove a lens from the G2 body, press and hold the lens release button on the front of the body while turning the lens grip ring counterclockwise.
Using Auto and Manual Exposure Modes
The Contax G2 really shines brightest in auto mode, which is actually aperture priority mode since the aperture on its lens must be set manually.
Its exposures are well metered, and the Zeiss glass renders sharp images with beautiful, saturated colors, but if you want to set your exposures manually, you’ll find an aperture ring on the lens and shutter speeds on the dial at the top of the camera on the right side.
Note that to change the shutter speed from Auto to a specific selected shutter speed, push the small button in the center of the shutter speed dial.
You will need to follow the same procedure when moving from manual shutter speed selection back to Auto mode.
There is an exposure compensation dial at the top of the camera as well just to the left of the shutter speed dial. And the automatic bracketing switch is just below the exposure compensation dial.
Setting Your ISO
At the top left of the camera, you’ll find the ISO setting and the drive mode dial.
The Contax G2 can recognize DX encoded film canisters but will only do so when the ISO setting is set to DX, which is the setting found between ISO 6 and ISO 6400.
To set the ISO manually or to change the ISO setting to DX, press and hold down the ISO button on the top left of the camera until the window next to it show ISO and the current setting and both are blinking.
Release the ISO button. Then turn the focus dial on the front of the camera until the window shows the desired reading.
Setting Your Shooting Mode
The drive mode dial offers five shooting modes: Single shot (S), continuous low (CL), continuous high (CH), self-timer, and double exposure.
The camera can shoot 2 frames per second in CL and up to 4 fps in CH.
The self-timer mode sets a timer for 10 seconds before an exposure is made. While the timer is counting down, an LED on the front of the camera will blink.
Note that in SAF the focus is locked the moment the timer begins to count down; but in CAF, autofocus works continually, and focus is not set until the moment the shutter is released.
Shooting Multiple Exposures with the Contax G2
Double exposures on the Contax G2 are easy to execute by setting the drive mode to double exposure.
Unlike the other drive modes, you’ll know you’re in double exposure mode because the double exposure icon will blink in the LCD window next to the dial.
Make the first exposure. The film will not advance. Reset the drive mode to S and make the second exposure.
After the second exposure is made, the film will advance, and the double exposure mode will be canceled.
It is possible to make the second exposure without changing the drive mode, but further exposures will not be possible.
To make multiple exposures, after the first exposure, set the drive mode to S and then change it back to double exposure before making the second exposure.
After that, a third exposure will be possible.
You can repeat this process as often as you want. Just remember when making double exposures to use exposure compensation to underexpose each exposure to equal a correct exposure in the end.
The amount you underexpose will depend on the number of exposures per frame.
What You’ll Spend on a Contax G2 Kit
The price of the Contax G2 is not insubstantial, and it has increased in recent years due to its uptick in popularity.
You can get a basic system of a body and 45mm lens for around $1500. (Find it at KEH Camera here.)
Because this camera is such a great system, you’ll often find a body with the three most popular lenses: the 28mm, 45mm, and 90mm for around $2500.
If you want to complete your kit, you can add the 16mm, 21mm, 35mm or the 35-70mm zoom lens along with the TLA 200 hot shoe flash (find on eBay).
Another great accessory is the GD-2 Data back (find on eBay) which will record exposure data between the frames as well as collective imprinting on the first two frames of the film that were advanced as blank when the film is rewound.
Available Lenses and Accessories
The available lenses as well as the flash and data back:
- 16mm f/8 Hologon (find on eBay)
- 21mm f/2.8 Biogon (find at KEH Camera)
- 28mm f/2.8 Biogon (find at KEH Camera)
- 35mm f/2 Planar (find at KEH Camera)
- 45mm f/2 Planar (find at KEH Camera)
- 90mm f/2.8 Sonnar (find at KEH Camera)
- 35-70 f/3.4 Vario Sonnar (find on eBay)
- TLA 200 Hot Shoe Flash (find on eBay)
- GD-2 Data Back (find on eBay)
The Imperfections of the G2
There are a few imperfections with the Contax G2.
One is that the viewfinder is quite small. This can be rather frustrating at times but becomes less bothersome as you become more experienced with the camera.
Focusing can be a bit tricky. Listen to the lens. Pay attention to the distance scale at the bottom of the viewfinder. And use the back button focus tip below.
The Contax G2 is a completely electronic camera, which means that it must have power to operate, so be sure to always have extra batteries on hand.
It also means that if it breaks, it will be harder and/or more expensive to repair. When Kyocera stopped manufacturing the G2 in 2005, it also stopped servicing and repairing them.
The Contax G2 is best when used in auto mode. This may not really seem like a negative, but for photographers who like to have more control over the exposure and focus of their images, the manual functions on the camera can be irksome.
The LCD screens on the G2 are not backlit, so shooting in dark situations makes it hard to read the frame counter and the ISO indicator.
There is no aperture indicator in the viewfinder.
You can see the shutter speed in the viewfinder, but not the aperture setting, so you’ll need to be aware of your selected aperture, and if you change it while looking through the viewfinder, you won’t know what it is unless you take the camera away from your eye and check the lens.
Important Tips for Using the Contax G2
Remove the Lens Cap Before Shooting!
Always remember that this is a rangefinder camera and that what you see through the viewfinder is NOT what the lens sees.
I confess that there was often one black frame on a roll of film when I began shooting my Contax G2.
Now, I have a routine for shooting with rangefinder cameras that works for me to ensure that the lens cap is always off before I begin shooting.
Be sure that when you’re holding the camera—especially when shooting vertically—that you are not blocking the AF finder, the infrared emitter, or the lens.
Remember that the viewfinder doesn’t show you what the lens sees.
Also be careful not to accidently depress the ISO button and inadvertently change the ISO setting. This could adversely affect your exposure.
Use the back button focus feature.
One of the biggest complaints about the Contax G2 is that it’s sometimes hard to make sure that what you want to be in focus is actually in focus.
Set your focus mode to SAF. Center your subject or what you want to be in focus in the center focus point in the viewfinder. Depress the back button focus and continue to hold it down.
Recompose your image if necessary being careful not to move the camera forward or back (especially when using a wide aperture).
Pay attention to the distance scale at the bottom of the viewfinder. This will help ensure that what you want to be in focus is actually what the camera has focused on. Take the shot.
The back button focus also locks focus in CAF mode once it is pressed and held. For an excellent tutorial on mastering focus on the Contax G2, check out this great piece by Kevin Bjorke.
Get a TLA 100 extension cord to get your TLA 200 off the camera for directional lighting.
This is especially helpful for portraits.
Cool Custom Functions
You can set the camera to rewind the film with the leader out. This is great if you want to shoot a roll of double exposures by exposing the entire roll twice.
You can change the double exposure setting to enable multiple exposures without switching back to single exposure mode in between each.
You can set the focus distance while manually focusing so that the focus distance remains constant.
This prevents changing the focus distance by accidentally shifting the focus wheel. It makes taking images at preset focus distance fast and easy. Think focusing at infinity for fireworks.
The Contax G2 often gets caught up in comparisons to traditional rangefinders such as Leica, and to many rangefinder snobs, the G2 is thought to be lesser for all of the things that make it unique: autofocus, motor drive, a proportional viewfinder.
But that doesn’t make one better than the other. They are simply different and meet different needs and shooting styles.
While some may say that it takes a true understanding of photography to use a Leica and that the G2 is just an advanced point and shoot camera, I think there is room in the photography world for both.
Sometimes complete manual control is the best option for the job, and other times, it’s nice to concentrate on experiences other than making exposures. The Contax G2 allows for both options almost completely.
This camera is perfect for the professional and amateur photographer alike. It’s great for portraits, travel photography, street photography, family time, and every experience in between.
Its ease of use and quality build make it a good investment and outweigh its minor shortcomings.
In an ideal world we would all have a Leica AND a Contax G2. It’s the Mary Poppins camera—practically perfect in every way!
Thank you so much, Jen! Jen is a regular contributor here at Shoot It With Film, and you can check out her other articles here, including How to Shoot Snow on Film and a review of the Rolleiflex 2.8F.
You can also check out more of Jen’s work on Instagram.
If you have any questions about the Contax G2 35mm film camera, leave them below in the comments! And you can pick one up for yourself at KEH Camera or on eBay.
February 7, 2023 at 8:46 am
I read this article with great interest and I agree with many of the considerations contained in it. I own a contax g2 and I’m really crazy about it; the only problem will be the repair when the time comes (hopefully as soon as possible) because Kyocera hasn’t made spare parts available for several years
February 7, 2023 at 3:03 pm
You are so right, Alessandro! It is unfortunate that both parts and knowledgeable repair people are continually growing scarce.