The Contax RX is a chunky hunk of plastic. The viewfinder is a bit cluttered. It autowinds. It is not all metal, all mechanical, nor steeped in the lore of Teutonic history. It’s name hails from that place, but it is from the land of bullet trains and giant monsters. The marketing for it seems to have been aimed at dentists with disposable income rather than professional photographers. All of this combines to make the camera so under-rated, it only gets a small paragraph on the Malaysian Contax site.
This camera seems to derive it’s styling cues from the professional RTS III model. The RTS III was designed by the Porsche design studio and was more angular, but you can see some of the same DNA in the bulbous frame of the RX. Some people downgrade this camera because of the plastic. They will tell you it squeaks when you squeeze it, which is a sure sign of inferior quality. I have never understood this metric. Who feels the need to try to strangle their SLR? How does applying a pro-wrestler death grip to a camera prove anything? That’s not a test for quality, it’s a demonstration of a need for anger management.
I’ll go ahead and expand upon the thing about the Contax name. Purists will tell you this is not actually a Contax, no matter the name is right there on the front of the camera. The Contax name was licensed by Kyocera when this camera was made and it was made in Japan. The lenses had the Zeiss name, and their formulas, but were also mostly made in Japan instead of Germany, using a mount shared with Yashica SLRs, which were also produced by Kyocera. The snobs all tut-tut at this. The upside of this is it has kept the prices down.
I mentioned the viewfinder is a bit cluttered, but it does try to be helpful. On the left side is the frame counter and metering mode indicator. The camera has both spot and center weighted TTL metering. On the right side of the frame you have f stop and shutter speed. In the center there is a focus indicator, letting you know when the camera is properly focused. It uses a scale to indicate which way adjustment needs to be made, and has arrows that flash when focus is achieved. It’s a bit small to rely on while focusing, so the best approach is really to focus as best as you can, then fine tune with the indicators. During the time this camera was made, everyone was moving toward autofocus, but Zeiss was hesitant to follow. They eventually did make autofocus lenses that were excellent, but manual focus was the only option on this camera.
Also, the sound when the shutter fires and it winds is the coolest shutter sound of any SLR. Nothing more than a quiet little “fwip” announces that you took a shot. So sexy it gives Leica a run for its money.
I traded for my first one of these, and took it with me on a cross country drive. It preformed well, and weathered me dropping it upon getting out of the car after 16 hours on the road with no real ill effects. After a few following hikes, I decided I liked the camera enough to buy a second body. Like most Contax products these days, service is hard to come by, and having a spare may keep me in business should a tragedy befall me.
Compared to some of my all metal all manual cameras, shooting with the RX is like easy mode. The number of rolls I shot on the drive was far above what I expected, and I began to use Kodak Ultramax and develop at home to offset the increased usage. But when I got this camera, I was going through a time when I was having trouble shooting, and it proved the cure. I picked it up, loaded it, and banged off a roll of 36 in a third of the time it usually took. It felt good to be back.
It may only be a 167 on steroids, as some have suggested, but this weird bodied plastic fiend is going to be with me for a long time.
All the film shots were taken using a Contax RX and Zeiss Planar 50mm f1.4 on Kodak Ultramax.