5 newbie mistakes I made with the Contax G2 film rangefinder
Coming from the digital mirrorless world
So, the first week with the Contax G2 has past. I have yet not developed any of the finished rolls, but I have already made some mistakes that was recognizable even if I haven’t seen the results yet. Don’t be surprised if this post gets a follow-up with additional mistakes that will be discovered when viewing the developed photos.
Some background info. I haven’t owned any rangefinder camera before, and I haven’t shot a lot of film in recent years. I come from using digital mirrorless cameras for the last few years (mainly Olympus PEN and Ricoh GR), and DSLR before that.
1. Leaving the front lens cap on
Coming from digital mirrorless cameras, I’m used to the finder working very differently. On those cameras, the finder image comes from the image sensor, which means that if you leave the front lens cap on, no light will reach the sensor, and your EVF or screen will show pitch black image. Very telling that something is wrong. The Contax isn’t that kind though.
Since the G2 is a rangefinder, the finder is separate from the lens, so you will see your subject, even if the lens cap is on. Until the person you are photographing tells you about it, or even worse, until you have pressed the trigger and noticing that the shutter stays open, trying really hard to get an exposure in total darkness (running in AUTO shutter speed mode). This will leave the camera unusable for 16 seconds when the shutter is open. I have not yet done this in manual shutter speed mode, which could be even worse, since you might not even notice that the cap is on.
The clue to this however, is in the viewfinder. You will see the shutter speed that the camera is choosing for you. If it chooses max auto shutter speed 16'' with a blinking arrow down, you know something is wrong.
2. Locking exposure when turning the camera on
This is a relatively easy mistake to do if you aren’t careful when turning the camera on. The power switch has three positions, OFF, ON and AEL. If you want to turn the camera on, it is very possible to accidentally move the lever too far, thus ending up in AEL mode. This most definitely ruined a few shots for me until I noticed in the viewfinder that the camera stayed at 1/500 shutter speed no matter how I changed the aperture.
Bottom line: be careful when turning camera on, or keep it on during the session instead of switching on and off between usages. It will go into some sort of standby mode after a few seconds and wake up again when half-pressing the shutter release. The battery life in general seems really good, so I suspect it will handle this quite well. Not confirmed though.
3. Using half-pressed shutter to maintain AF distance
This mistake isn’t super fatal, but has cost me a few moments I wanted to capture.
On the digital cameras I have owned, it has been relatively easy to half-press the shutter and recompose, if for instance you want your subject in focus to be on the side of the frame and your focus point is in the center. You then put your subject in the middle, half-press the shutter to lock focus and then recompose and then full-press the trigger to make the photo.
On the G2, the half-press is super-sensitive, making it risky to hold focus and move the camera around. Unintentionally losing he focus or full-pressing the trigger happens easily. Especially if you are in chilly conditions outside (with cold hands or gloves) or if you are waiting long for that moment to happen, with the camera pre-focused. Luckily, there is a good solution to this issue built in to the G2.
The trick is to use the Focus Lock button on the back of the camera to lock focus. The button sits really conveniently near the thumb inside the focus mode dial. Learning to use it is key to use the AF, especially since you can’t move the the focus point around within the frame, as you can on most digital cameras. It is always centered on the Contax.
4. Accidentally running the camera in MF instead of AF
As before, as a mirrorless camera user since quite a few years, I am used to the camera working like this: When AF is on, the lens will focus when you half press the shutter. When MF is on, the camera will stay focused at one distance, hence not moving or making any sound.
On the G2 however, the camera and lens will always start from a default focus position, both in AF and MF. That means that after every shot in MF, the lens won’t stay focused at that distance, it will go back to the default position. Only to get back to the manual focus distance again the next time you half or full press the shutter release. Yes, between every shot.
So, when using the camera, you can’t intuitively tell if you are in MF or AF, since the camera will behave in exactly the same way in both modes. I shot half a roll thinking the camera was in AF, when the camera actually was in MF.
5. Thinking that you can’t swap lenses when film is loaded
This might be the most embarrassing mistake. I was thinking that light would reach the film when the lens is removed. Just as when removing the lens on a mirrorless camera which will make the entire sensor totally visible and exposed to light, I thought the film would be out in the open if I removed the lens. This led me to change lens only when finishing a roll, before the new roll is loaded.
When I wanted to change lens, but forgot to do so before loading the new film, I had to rewind the new roll and then change lens. The only way to rewind is by awkwardly fire off 36 frames with the lens cap on, to make it reach the end and rewind automatically.
Luckily, I came to realize that removing the lens will of course still have the shutter closed behind it, protecting the film from any light reaching it. The lens is open at all times, so naturally the shutter needs to be closed at all times. Confirmed this by googling. Felt a little less stupid when Contax actually recommends not to change lens in direct sun light.
But yes, it is possible to swap lenses with film loaded without ruining the film
It’s been a really fun week getting to know the camera, I really love it so far. So different in many ways from using a digital camera. Can’t wait to see the results.
Hope this can help new Contax G2 owners avoid a few lost frames.