All About The Contax G2 35mm Film Camera: Why Is It So Good?

Whether you are a film photography professional, enthusiast, or a beginner picking up a new hobby, the Contax G series cameras have unique features that separate them from all of the other 35mm rangefinder cameras. If you’re looking to add a new camera to your collection, you may wondering what is the Contax G2 35mm film camera, how is it different than the G1, what does it have to offer, and why is it so good?

The Contax G2 is a 35mm film rangefinder-style film camera was designed by Porsche and made in Japan with an electronic rangefinder-style autofocus system that uses highly-praised, interchangeable lenses designed by Carl Zeiss. The camera was an update to the original Contax G1 which included several updates including a much improved autofocus system, faster sync speed, added an additional focusing mode, changed the drive button to a dial, rotated the LCD panel on the top, changed the location of the ISO button, and moved the manual focus dial to the front of the camera. The camera was introduced in 1996 by the Japanese company, Kyocera but stop producing the cameras in 2005.

What is the Contax G2 35mm Rangefinder?

The Contax G2 is a automatic 35mm film rangefinder-style camera was a unique camera amongst other cameras on the market at the time. With a fully electronic autofocus rangefinder-style system and automatic aperture-priority exposure system, it is an option for those looking for the familiar feel of a manual focus rangefinder with the ease of use autofocus features that came in a SLR cameras albeit in a smaller, more portable size.

These Porsche-design and Japanese-made cameras are considered one the most advanced 35mm rangefinders on the market and use some of the best lenses ever made. Others have suggested it is the best point and shoot film camera ever made. Contax G2 cameras were designed to hold their own against other high-end rangefinder cameras made by Leica and Voigtlander but without the high-end price tag.

The Front of a Contax G2 35mm Film Camera with the 45mm f2 lens designed by Carl Zeiss.
The Front of a Contax G2 35mm Film Camera with the 45mm f2 lens designed by Carl Zeiss.

Both the Contax G2, and the previous Contax G1, use German-made Carl Zeiss lenses. These lenses are loved by photographers for their all metal, sturdy construction and neutral but exact colors reproduction – similar to Leica lenses. They are made with high precision high-end glass, producing sharp images with exceptional contrast with little to no color fringing, and no noticeable light fall-off while shooting (even at larger apertures). The coating and the process used to coat the Zeiss lenses helps to create exact color reproduction with excellent light transmission (so lenses could perform well in low light) with little lens or color distortion. All of the G-mount Contax G1 lenses can be used on the Contax G2 but only specific Contax G-Series lenses will work on the Contax G1, so be aware of this if you are looking at a Contax G1.

Contax G2 Specs:

Parameter
Contax G2 Camera
Shutter Speeds: AE
16 – 1/6000 Sec
Shutter Speeds: Manual
4 – 1/4000 Sec, Bulb, X
Shutter Speeds: Flash Sync
1/200
Metering
Spot SPD off shutter curtain
EV 1–19 at ISO 100
Self Timer
10 Sec. Self timer (cannot be used with Bulb Exposure setting)
Exposure Modes
Aperture priority, Manual, TTL flash, Manual flash
Focus Type
Dual passive & active AF with assistance beam
Automatic Bracketing Control (ABC)
Automatically takes 3 frames with either plus or minus 0.5-stop of light or plus or minus 1-stop of light in this order: standard, overexposed, underexposed. Works in Auto and Manual mode.
Body Material
Titanium on top, bottom, front, and back covers in 2 finishes: Titanium / Champagne, and Black.
Shutter
focal plane shutter that is multi-blade, metal and vertical
Diopter adjuster?
Yes, built-in on viewfinder eyepiece (-2 to +0.3)
Winding
Auto with built-in motor, Auto rewind with mid-roll rewind possible
Viewfinder
Real image viewfinder, coupled with mounted lenses (zoom rangefinder)
Power Source
Two CR2 3V lithium batteries (80 rolls of 24 exposure 35mm film which is 1920 shots)
PC Terminal
Yes
Multiple Exposure
Yes
Built-in Flash
No
Viewfinder Info
Image area frame(parallax corrected), Focus frame, Focus display, Shutter speed, Exposure mark, Exposure compensation & Flash readiness
LCD Information
Shooting distance, ISO Speed, Drive mode, Custom functions & Battery power
Depth-of-Field Preview
NA
Dimensions
5.5 in (W) × 3.1 in (H) × 1.8 in (D)
(139 mm × 80 mm × 45 mm)
Weight
560g (20 oz) without film and batteries
Chart of Contax G2 Specs

When Did the Contax G2 Come Out?

The Contax G2 was released in 1996 with updated shooting and aesthetic features to the Contax G1. See this article for more specifics about the differences between the Contax G1 and Contax G2 but below is a summary of these changes:

Technical Changes:

  • A much improved autofocus system (with a dual passive & active AF with an assistance beam)
  • An additional autofocusing mode (continuous) with safety mode (won’t let you take an image if the image isn’t in focus)
  • Faster flash sync speed (1/200 vs 1/100)
  • Faster shutter speeds in automatic and manual exposure modes

Aesthetic Changes:

  • Changed the drive button to a dial
  • Rotated the LCD panel on the top
  • Changed the location of the ISO button
  • Replaced the manual focus dial on the top of the camera with the G1 with the shutter speed dial on the G2
  • Moved the manual focus dial to the front of the camera
  • Larger and heavier body
  • Added a champagne and black finish

For more information about the differences between the Contax G1 and Contax G2, see this article.

However, Kyocera, the company that made the Contax G series cameras, shut down it’s camera division in 2005 which ended future cameras and the G-Mount.

Where is Contax G2 made?

The Contax G2, and Contax G1, 35mm film cameras were made in Japan by the Japanese company Kyocera Corporation. Unfortunately, production ended on the Contax G1 and G2 when Kyocera shut down it’s camera manufacturing at the end of 2005.

How Much Is A Contax G2 camera?

In 1996 when the Contax G2 was available and came with the 45mm F2 lens, the camera cost US$2,250 (equivalent to $3,500 in today’s money).

Today, how much you pay for a Contax G2 is really going to depend on the condition it is in and the seller you’re buying it from. The Contax G2 is on the higher end when it comes to cost and has risen even more so in the last few years due to its popularity. The current average price is around $1,400 for a body and around $2,500 with a lens, and if you’re looking for any color other than titanium (like the killer black edition), you can expect to spend even more. 

You can find a used Contax G2 cameras (body only or with a lens) on Ebay here. 

What is the Contax G2 made from?

The body of the Contax G2 is made from Titanium and is available in two finishes: champagne and black enamel coating. The titanium makes the Porsche-designed body sleek and stylish but easy to hold. The body of the camera weights around 1.25 pounds (560g / 20 oz ) without film and batteries and is 5.5 in (W) × 3.1 in (H) × 1.8 in (D)
(139 mm × 80 mm × 45 mm) making it slightly lighter and larger than the Leica M6 35mm rangefinder camera.

Is The Contax G2 Manual?

The Contax G2 has the option to shoot manual. However, this isn’t often recommended. While autofocus is considered superior, many users aren’t impressed with the manual settings of this camera.

The manual focus is controlled by rotating a wheel on the front of the camera that is then displayed in the viewfinder using a digital scale. While this system works, compared to other rangefinder cameras and the autofocus features already in the G2, it doesn’t make sense to use it.

Is The Contax G2 A Point and Shoot?

The Contax G2 35mm camera is a rangefinder-style 35mm film camera with autofocus and a built-in light meter. Some consider it more like a point-and-shoot camera rather than a rangefinder because, unlike most rangefinder cameras made by Leica, the focusing system is electronic and not mechanical. However, the Contax G2 camera uses the same process as a mechanical rangefinder with twin windows to triangulate the focus, it just uses a electronic focusing system that is a combination of an active AF system and a passive AF system.

This makes the Contax G2 one of the most advanced point-and-shoot cameras because autofocus system is very easy to use where you just point the camera at your subject and shoot the image while letting the camera make the decisions for you. Even in the dark!

What Lenses Work With The Contax G2?

The Contax G2 can be used with all seven lenses in the Contax G series:

Including the the 35-70mm f/3.5-5.6 Vario Sonnar that wouldn’t work on the G1. 

Can You Use Contax G1 Lenses On A Contax G2?

Yes, all the lenses compatible with the Contax G1 can be used on a Contax G2. Unfortunately, it does not work the same in the other direction. While the Contax G2 can use all the of the Zeiss-designed lenses for the Contax G-series cameras, only four of them can be use on the G1. These lenses are:

Other lenses (except for the 35-70mm f/3.5-5.6 Vario Sonnar) can be used on the Contax G1 if the camera was/is modified and turned into a Contax G1 Green Label.

What Film Does The Contax G2 Camera Use?

Since the G2 is a 35mm rangefinder, like the Contax G1, can use any 35mm film including:

For information about how to develop different 35mm films, see this article about color film and this article about black and white film.

What Battery Does The Contax G2 Use?

Contax G2 takes 2 CR2 3V lithium batteries (like the Contax G1). The battery should last around 80 rolls of 24 images per roll 35mm film. The battery compartment is located on the bottom of the camera and requires a coin to turn and open the compartment cover. The battery warning mark will only show on the display panel when the batteries are running low, so if you don’t see it, then there’s no need for concern. 

How To Change the Battery on Contax G2?

To change the 2 CR2 batteries for the Contax G2 35mm film camera, follow these steps:

  • Turn off the camera before replacing the batteries
  • With the lens facing up, use a coin, a flathead screwdriver, or the side of a key to turn the battery compartment cover on the bottom of the camera to clockwise to remove it.
  • Remove the spent batteries from the compartment and recycle and/or dispose of them
  • Load the two CR2 (3v) batteries into the battery compartment with the positive polarity of both batteries toward the camera (usually the positive polarity is the side with the bump and the negative side is flat).
  • Replace the cover and screw it back on the camera using a coin, screwdriver, or side of a key moving it counter-clockwise with the lens facing up.
How to change the batteries on a Contax G2 35mm film camera.
How to change the batteries on a Contax G2 35mm film camera.

Tips on Using Batteries in the Contax G2:

  • Always replace old batteries with new ones of the same type and never mix old batteries with new ones. Always use the same brand and never mix brands.
  • Battery performance is generally reduced by cold temperatures. When shooting in cold weather, keep the camera warm by keeping it in a bag or pocket to protect it against the cold. A battery reduced by low temperatures will return to normal at warm temperatures.
  • Wipe both pole contacts with a clean and dry cloth when replacing batteries. Poor contact may happen if the batteries are dirty with sweat or grease
  • The Contax G2 is fully electronic, which means it cannot take images without power. Keep spare batteries with you when shooting with the Contax G2, especially on long trips.

How Do I Check Shutter Count on Contax G2?

To check the shutter count on a Contax G2, look at the small LCD display close to the shutter release button on the top of the camera. This LCD display shows the exposure count and also shows the operation order of the Auto Bracketing Feature (called ABC mode), the end of the film (shown as “00”), time left in the self-timer, and elapsed time in bulb exposure (B) mode.

Top of the Contax G2 35mm film camera. Note the Exposure count LCD display beside the red dot and above the shutter speed dial.

Top of the Contax G2 35mm film camera. The exposure count LCD display is beside the red dot and above the shutter speed dial. Note the exposure count is “00”, which means the film has been shot and has rewound in the camera.

How Does The Contax G2 Autofocus work?

The Contax G2 35mm rangefinder uses 2 autofocusing systems: a combination of an active AF system and a passive AF system. The contax G2 begins to focus first with the active AF system and then uses the passive AF system to fine tune and check the original focusing point. The active autofocus system also uses infrared light to focus in the dark at close range. The lenses themselves don’t have a focus ring and focus by mechanical screw in the lens mount. Also, keep in mind the focus resets after each shot, which can slow your shooting down in fast conditions.

The Focus Mode Dial Next to the Viewfinder on the Rear of the Contax G2
The Focus Mode Dial Next to the Viewfinder on the Rear of the Contax G2

In practice, the Contax G2 has two autofocus settings set by using the focus mode dial on the rear of the camera. The first is the Single Auto Focus (SAF) mode. To use this setting, make sure there is film in the camera and turn it on. Look through the viewfinder and press the shutter button down halfway to gain exposure lock. If you are happy with the focus, press the shutter down all the way to take an image.

The second autofocus mode on the Contax G2 is Continuous Auto Focus mode. To use this setting, press the shutter down halfway, the camera will lock onto whatever is in the center of the viewfinder and continuously keeps the subject in focus. This mode works best for shooting children or subjects that are in constant movement.  

Continue reading for more specifics about the autofocus modes on the Contax G2.

Does The Contax G2 Have Manual Focus?

Yes, the Contax G2 has manual focus but it is mostly known for it’s autofocus. The camera has three focus modes: Single Auto Focus (SAF), Continuous Auto Focus (CAF), and Manual Focus (MF) which can be changed by moving the small dial on the back of the camera to the corresponding setting. See the image below to see where the dial is located.

The Back of a Contax G2 35mm Film Camera.
The Back of a Contax G2 35mm Film Camera. Notice the Focus Mode Dial Above the Grip.

Single Auto Focus (SAF)

To shoot in Single Auto Focus, turn the Focus-Mode Dial to the SAF position. In this mode, autofocus operates when the shutter release button is pressed halfway, then pressed down all the way once the focus is locked on the subject. The shutter will not operate unless the lens is in focus to save film.

Continuous Auto Focus (CAF)

Continuous Auto Focus operates when the shutter release is pressed halfway, but instead of locking the lens in position, focusing is performed continuously, locking onto whatever subject is in the center of the viewfinder. This mode works best for shooting children or subjects that are in constant movement.  

Manual Focus Mode (MF)

Manual focus modes is activated by turning the focus mode dial on the back of the camera to MF. To manually focus the camera, turn the focusing dial on the front of the camera and align the marks on the display panel in the viewfinder to focus your subject.

Can you Manually Focus a Contax G2?

Yes, to manually focus the Contax G2 put the camera into manual focusing mode by turning the focus mode dial located on the rear of the camera to the right of the viewfinder to “MF” or manual focus mode.

The Focus Mode Dial Next to the Viewfinder on the Rear of the Contax G2
The Focus Mode Dial Next to the Viewfinder on the Rear of the Contax G2

Once the camera is set in manual mode, the display in the viewfinder will show a focus scale and focusing mark. Rotating the focus dial located on the front of the camera (the dial was added to the G2 and doesn’t exist on the G1) until the scale is aligned with the index mark will indicate that the image is in focus.

Focusing the Contax G2 in Manual Mode Using the Viewfinder.
Focusing the Contax G2 in Manual Mode Using the Viewfinder.

Below is a guide to using the marks to focus the Contax G2 camera:

Guide to using the alignment marks to manually focus the Contax G2 35m film camera.
Guide to using the alignment marks to manually focus the Contax G2 35m film camera.

How Do You Put Lenses On A Contax G2?

To put a lens on a Contax G2, align the red dot on the lens with the index mark on the camera body. Insert the lens into the body and turn it clockwise while pressing it in. You should hear a click when the lens locks into place. 

How to Mount a Lens on a Contax G2
How to Mount a Lens on a Contax G2

To unmount a lens from the Contax G2, hold the lens grip ring and pressing the lens release button on the face of the camera. Turn the lens counterclockwise as you pull forward until the lens releases from the camera body. 

How to Unmount a Lens on a Contax G2
How to Unmount a Lens on a Contax G2

More tips on Mounting and Dismount lenses on the Contax G2 35mm film camera:

  • The lens will not lock with a click if the lens does not mount correctly, or the red dot on the lens is not aligned correctly with the lens mark. If this happens, remove the lens and try to mount the lens again correctly.
  • When the camera is loaded with film, avoid direct sunlight and other bright light when changing the lens to protect your film.
  • Do not leave your camera in direct sunlight for any amount of time when is the lens is not mounted on the camera.
  • When mounting and unmounting lens from any camera, it’s important to make sure that you don’t touch the lens surface or the camera’s inside. Always hold the lens around the grip ring and replace the rear cap and lens cap when not used. 

Does The Contax G2 Have A Built In flash?

Not, the Contax G2 camera does not come with a built in flash. However, Contax produced two flashes specifically to be used with the camera: the TLA Flash System. The TLA flash is a Through-The-Lens system (TTL) that uses direct light metering to automatically control the amount of light in the image that attaches to the hot shoe on the top of the camera.

Contax made the TLA140 and TLA200 for the G-series of cameras but others have found the Contax TLA280 and TLA360 flashes to work as well but they are much larger and don’t match the body. Most users prefer the smaller and lighter TLA140 flash to the larger TLA200. The TLA200 is a larger flash that takes more expensive batteries (2 CR2 batteries) and has a faster refresh time but is prone to producing red-eyes when people are looking at the camera and are more than 4 -5 feet away in images. The TLA140 flash is much less prone to red eyes but is not as powerful.

The Contax TLA140 flash (left) and Contax TLA 200 (right) on Contax G2 35mm film cameras.
The Contax TLA140 flash (left) and Contax TLA 200 (right) on Contax G2 35mm film cameras.

How to Use Flash on the Contax G2

When taking your photos indoors or at night, you will sometimes need to use a flash to light up your subject. Contax G series cameras do not come with a built in flash. However, they use the TLA Flash System, which uses direct light metering to automatically control the amount of light used through the use of a mountable flash that attaches to the hot shoe on the top of the camera. Contax made the TLA140 as well as the TLA200 flashes.

To use flash, first, mount the TLA flash unit on the hot shoe located on the top of your camera, then set the flash to “TLA AUTO MODE.”

Once the flash is fully charged, you will see a flash icon appear in the viewfinder. Set your aperture to avoid overexposure, then take the picture by pressing the shutter button. 

What is the Contax G2 Flash Sync Speed?

The Contax G2 flash sync speed is 1/200 of a second at most. In auto mode, you can get from 1/60th to 1/200 of a second but this is adjusted by the camera as needed. If you want slower sync speeds, you can select the slower speeds using the manual shutter speed dial.

How Do I Rewind My Contax G2?

The Contax G2 will automatically rewind your film when the film roll reaches the end and show this with a “00” on the exposure counter window on the top of the camera.

However, if you want to manually rewind the film or rewind the camera before the roll finishes, there is a manual rewind button on the side of the camera with an “R” that will activate the automatic film rewind. If you have the original camera strap, there is a part that will fit into the manual rewind button. Otherwise, you will need to use something small like a pushpin to activate it but be careful not to damage the button.

Ways to Rewind Film in the Contax G2 35mm Film Camera.
Ways to Rewind Film in the Contax G2 35mm Film Camera.

How Do I Put Film into My Contax G2?

To load the film into your Contax G2 camera, follow these steps:

  1. First, you will need to pop open the back of the camera by lifting and rotating the release knob located on the side in the direction of the arrow.
  2. Remove the protective sheet in the camera’s picture area and insert the film cassette into the film chamber at a slant with the protruding end facing down.
  3. Pull the film tip out as far as the red mark and place it on the spool, then close the back of the camera securely. The fill will advance automatically and stop when the exposure counter says “01.” 

If you prefer to see these steps visually, there is a great video that walks you through loading a G2 here.

How Do I Rewind Film in My Contax G2?

In a Contax G2, the film will automatically rewind once the entire roll is exposed. While it is rewinding, you should see the counter counting down until it hits “00” and blinks. Once it has stopped rewinding, you can unload the film. 

To rewind the film in the middle of a roll on the G2, you will need to press the manual rewind button located on the left-hand side of the camera when looking at the viewfinder, unlike the G1 where the rewind button is located on the bottom of the camera. You will probably need to use a fine-pointed object like the end of a paper clip but avoid using anything sharp such as a needle. 

The Back of A Contax G2 35mm Film Camera.
The Back of A Contax G2 35mm Film Camera. Notice the Film Rewind Button on the Left-Hand Side of the Camera Marked With a White “R”.

How Do I Unload Film In My Contax G2?

To unload the film in a Contax G2, make sure you are in an area with subdued light, then open the back of the camera and pull out the film canister. I recommend storing your used film in a film canister to keep it out of light before you are able to develop it. If you are interesting in learning about how to develop your own film at home see this article.

One thing to keep in mind when loading your film is not to touch the shutter curtain with your finger or hit it with the tip of the film to avoid damaging it.

How Do I Check ISO Setting On Contax G2?

The ISO can be set by using the automatic setting modes using the DX codes on film or manual setting mode.

If you are using DX film and the film speed is set to “DX,” the camera will automatically set itself to the speed (or ISO) of the film you are using. You will know that camera is in automatic mode if you see “DX” on the display panel. If the camera is loaded with non-DX film, the film speed will automatically be set to ISO 100. 

How to Check the Film Speed on a Contax G2
How to Check the Film Speed on a Contax G2

You can also check the film speed setting by turning on the camera, pressing and holding down the ISO button for about 16 seconds. The LCD panel will show the ISO setting and if it is set by the DX code or not (100 ISO is default for non-DX film). To exit out of the setting menu, press the shutter halfway down.

How Do I Change ISO on Contax G2?

There are several reasons you may want to change the ISO on your Contax G2. For example, you are shooting expired film, your film doesn’t have a DX code, or you want to push or pull your film. In anycase, to set the ISO manually on a Contax G2:

  • Turn on the camera and switch the film speed to manual mode by holding the ISO button for about 1 to 2 seconds or until the ISO starts to blink on the display panel.
  • While the ISO is being set, the display in the viewfinder will blink, and no pictures can be taken.
  • Turn the focus dial (the front dial next to the lens) to change the ISO in 1/3 increments in a range of 6 to 6400. Turning the dial left makes the ISO value go down and turning the dial right makes it go higher).
  • Once you’ve chosen your speed, turn the camera OFF, press the shutter down half-way, or wait about 16 seconds to complete the process and have the camera save the setting.
Top Plate of A Contax G2 35mm Film Camera.
Top Plate of A Contax G2 35mm Film Camera. Note the ISO Button on the Left and the Dial Which is Different From the Contax G1.

Is the Contax G2 Worth It?

The Contax G2 camera has a classic, streamlined feel, and quiet shutter noise. It is easy to carry, so you can always have a camera on you without having to lug a bulky, heavy weight around your neck. Plus, all of the buttons and dials are right where they need to be, making control the camera as fast and easy as modern digital cameras. You also can’t forget the dual autofocusing system and tack-sharp lenses that can compete with modern Leica lenses for their M series cameras (and are several times more expensive).

Some camera enthusiasts claim that the Contax G cameras aren’t true rangefinders because of the added autofocus system while others would disagree. Others say the viewfinders on the Contax G system are small and dark compared to other 35mm rangefinders on the market. Regardless of where they stand, all agree that using these cameras is truly a unique and worthy experience that even competes well-known high-end camera models like the Leica M6 which sell for 2-3x more, even on the used market.

Is the Contax G2 35mm Camera Any Good?

Overall, I think the titanium-clad Contax G2 is a very interesting camera and worth checking out – even if the price point is inflated.

It offered, for the time, a futuristic and complex dual electronic rangefinder focusing system. Very few 35mm cameras have matched it’s quality and therefore was way ahead of its time. You also can’t forget the G-Mount lense that offered the best lenses ever made for their price point. The Contax G2 has risen in popularity over the past few years so it much more expensive on the used market than the original Contax G1 (which can be found for less than half of the price of a Contax G1) but the Contax G2 has access to more lenses, a much better focusing system, ergonomic improvements, as well as shooting improvements.

Below are some pros and cons of the camera from several reviews I’ve found online:

Pros:

  • Reasonably priced lenses are very sharp with fantastic contrast. These lenses can keep up more expensive Leica lenses (some people will have them modded so they can manually use them on Leica cameras)
  • Beautiful titanium body that fits well in your hand
  • Viewfinder is adaptable for parallax error and for different focal lengths (like the Fujifilm X-Pro series of digital cameras)
  • Fully automatic but can also be used in with manual focus (can be a con – see below) and manual exposure
  • Champagne and black finishes
  • Fast flash sync speed
  • Fast Shutter Speed

Cons:

  • Viewfinder is small and not very bright. It also doesn’t show much outside of the frame lines like other rangefinder cameras.
  • Fully electronic so if the insides go bad it will either difficult or too expensive to fix
  • Manual focus can be somewhat clunky
  • Dials on the top of the camera do not lock so they can easily be bumped out
  • Larger and heavier than the Contax G1
  • LCD display in viewfinder is somewhat distracting in how bright it is and how large it is
  • No focus indicator in viewfinder
  • Manually focusing is not even close to other rangefinder film cameras like the Leica M series

Sources:

Lee

My name is Lee and I love photography and learning. I received a Master of Fine Arts in Photography in 2010 and have worked as a university professor for the last 10 years in addition to being a working photographer. I started this website to learn more about digital and film-based photography and to provide a resource for all of my students.

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