Two years ago at a tram stop in Antwerp, I misstepped on the pavement’s edge and fell over. It was a bit embarrassing and it wasn’t helped by my own wife and daughter doubled up with laughter at my expense. “Why didn’t you put your hands out to break your fall?”, they asked. To them, it was the strange rolling fall of a short round man, a funny slow-motion accident.
It could have been because as I fell my instinct was to protect the camera hanging around my neck. The fall wasn’t that bad a couple of small cuts and a moment of humiliation but at least the camera was undamaged. Subconsciously I decided to risk injury to my elbows and knees rather than my CONTAX S2.
For me, having a strong connection with a camera, understanding it so that it seamlessly becomes a part of your shooting is important. I think that only by knowing your camera intimately can you concentrate fully on its primary purpose, making photographs. And because I don’t have the capacity to know a multitude of different cameras nor do I want to, I do not have a big collection preferring to keep and use only what I need. That and I really don’t like the idea of cameras sitting on my shelves unused.
One camera I do know well is my over-protected CONTAX S2. I sought and bought this camera for many reasons but overwhelmingly what attracted me most was its pure simplicity. Released in 1992 to celebrate Contax’s 60th anniversary, the S2 was a pared-down, totally manual camera with limited features. In Contax’s own words “Simple is Best”. By selecting the mechanical over the electronic the S2 was an uncomplicated camera that turned its back on automation.
In the 1990s, the best 35mm SLRs were packed with electronics and sophisticated automation reaching a zenith of auto-everything. Most did not even have a winding lever. So Contax’s daring gamble to do away with all but the most essential of camera operations was indeed novel for its time. Instead, they made a fully manual camera with a shock protected mechanical metal shutter that could fire at up to 1/4000 second. Dust and weatherproofed, and using a traditional winding system, it was a reliable camera that was not dependent on batteries or electronics.
Contax continued with its simple is the best philosophy on the S2’s metering system. Fitted only with a spot meter that precisely targets and measures light in the central area of the viewfinder. Uninfluenced by illumination outside this critical area and with no other assistance from the camera it allows a photographer full creative control. Finally, the S2 was designed to use Carl Zeiss C/Y mount lenses, arguably one of the best ranges of photographic lenses ever designed.
I knew almost from the moment I got my S2 that it had the potential to be the right camera for me. A small, solidly built body that is designed with a nod to the classic SLR’s of the 70s. The chassis is dressed with a warm-silver coloured titanium shell and wrapped in a classic black Contax leather surround. The pentaprism hump is wide and low with the CONTAX name finely embossed in black across its breadth. Dials either side control the speed and ISO selection, both turn with a precise, positive movement. Next to the winding crank is the shutter button with cable release thread and engineered locking ring that completes the elegant top plate.
The viewfinder is bright and has an interchangeable focusing screen. My camera is fitted with the standard FU-4 screen, a horizontal split microprism design. There are at least three other alternative designs available. With only the shutter speeds running vertically on the right side the viewfinder, it is uncluttered and clear. The set speed flashes red while the spot meter reading remains illuminated. Point the camera at something mid-grey read the number and set the dial or something like that!
And that is what I like most about the S2, it’s a blameless camera. Blameless because you choose the only three important things when it comes to taking a photograph: ISO, aperture and speed. You direct the spot meter and you interpret its reading, that’s it. If there is a problem with the photo it’s your fault and nothing else. At first I thought this way of shooting would be a challenge but in fact, it is liberating. Free from options like metering and priority modes, exposure compensation, a viewfinder packed with flashing numbers and icons, with the S2 I am able to concentrate on taking photos.
Allowing a photographer to take photos is what this camera does best: simplicity.
Thanks for reading,
Contax S2 technical specifications
|Camera name||Contax S2|
|Camera type||35mm Single Lens Reflex|
|Manufacturer||Asahi Optical Co., Ltd
|Manufacture dates||S2: 1992-2000
Note: the S2b was identical to the S2 but used a center-weighted average meter, alternate external flash and different finish)
|Format||135 format film|
|Lens mount||Contax/Yashica MM mount|
|Lenses||Ranging from 35mm fisheye to 1000mm mirror lens and zoom lenses. 20+ in total.|
|Viewfinder||0.82x magnification and 95% field of view
LEDs flash indicator, over/under exposure warnings and shutter speeds
Fixed eye-level pentaprism + w/ diopter adjustment
|Shutter||Mechanical focal plane, vertical travel, metal shutter
B, 1 sec - 4/000 sec
X-Sync 1/250 sec.
Self-timer: mechanical with 10 sec delay
|Accessories||8x optional diopter lenses
FU4: horizontal split-image micro prism (standard)
FU3: 45 deg split-image microprism
FU5: Matte screen
FU6: Grid mrkings
|Metering||SPD cell spot meter
EV 4 - 20
ISO 12 - 6400
|Flash||Focal plane (1/250) and X-Sync PC connection|
|Power||1x LR44 / SR44 (1.5v)|
|Weight||565g (without battery)|
134.5mm x 89mm x 51mm (W x H X D)
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