Sometimes you see a cool widget you don’t need and you think about buying it. This is a common problem. If it wasn’t there would not be any subscription boxes, fidget toys, or any other type of do-dad that lives on one of your shelves collecting dust.
The coolest widget I ever saw was the Contax NAM-1. It was an unassuming black adapter that allowed you to take a Contax N1 autofocus SLR 35mm camera and use a lens off of the Contax 645 autofocus medium format camera. Most people used it to attach the 80mm f2 Zeiss Planar on the N1. I saw a photo of this rig here. Look at that absolute unit. It’s huge and unwieldy, but think of the possibilities. You’re just shooting through the sweet spot in the center of the lens, so no vignetting or other problems. You’re getting that razor thin DOF from the medium format lens. Plus huge, smooth bokeh.
True, it’s a boat anchor. Toting it around is both arm and leg day. But in a studio, that monster is a portrait machine. Just add some good light and that’s a perfect portrait camera setup.
It does have some downsides. Huge ones in fact. The aforementioned size and weight being big ones. After that there is the N1 itself. Many of the examples I have found have been used heavily, and they have issues. This is offset somewhat by the fact they’re comparatively cheap. The same can’t be said for the 645 mount 80mm f2. The lens is mostly going for between $2500 and $3000 on eBay. You’re getting a workout carrying it around, and you are paying for the privilege.
The more I looked at this setup, the more I liked it. Some of the images were outstanding, and I began to think the output outweighed the potential problems. Well, except for the price tag. Dropping 3k for a lens is out of my reality. I don’t have that kind of scratch. So I began to cogitate on an alternative.
Which brings me to this lower budget monster.
I have a couple of Contax RX bodies already. I also own a Pentacon Six mount Zeiss Jena 80mm f2.8 Biometar. All I needed was an adapter. I found one from Hartblei that works very well, the interior is even flocked. Thus equipped, I gave it a try.
I toted this monster around to prove it can produce landscape shots. On the first outing, I noticed it was hard to focus. The long throw, the stiffness, and the dim viewer even outdoors led me to just crank it to infinity and use it as the world’s most inconvenient point and shoot. It also flared some, requiring the hood.
Driving forward undeterred, or in denial of what I knew was coming next, I set up a light in the living room and asked my wife to sit for a portrait.
It was not easy. The dimness in the viewfinder I experienced outside was far worse indoors. Even the focus assist in the RX body was having trouble. I don’t know if it was the lack of light or the extremely thin plane of focus, but the indicators hopped around and were hard to figure out. I fiddled with it and persisted, and the results did not impress. Wide open, the lens is easy to blow focus on. I was grumpy about the softness until I wasn’t. After looking at it for a while, I kind of liked it. The wall behind her was a bad choice. It’s textured and makes it look grainier than it really is. But still, there is something there.
Is this a successful substitute for the N1 and 80mm combo? I think so. I see the benefit of autofocus using a medium format lens on a 35mm camera. Manual focus is a lot of work, but the results are pleasing for far, far less money. I think the low budget monster is going to provide me with some interesting portraits in the future, since I am planning of working with people more. Awkward, bulky and unwieldy? Sure. Something I still need to get the hang of? Yup. But unique and pleasing. I think I’m on to something here.