Watch the video here: Pentax 645nII versus the Contax 645
Today we’re going to take a look at two film cameras. We have the Pentax 645nII and the Contax 645. These are some of the last medium format film bodies ever produced. It’s really interesting to look at these two film cameras. And why do we choose these film cameras? Well, because these really are the two go to cameras for wedding shooters these days, the two most popular when everyone’s shooting on everything from Hasselblad to Mamiya, etc. But these Contax and Pentax really are kind of the mainstay for wedding shooting.
One of the reasons for that is they both have pretty good autofocus systems, early autofocus. So there’s no eye detect or anything like that going on, but it is autofocus. They also have very fast motor drives and all the basic bells and whistles you would get on a film camera in the early 2000s. The nice thing about that is you do have the motor drive, you do have the autofocus and you have a meter inside. So if you want to use a meter you can shoot quickly. And that’s why a lot of people like these, because these bodies are relatively new. They’re only 20 years old, as opposed to 30 or 40 years old. You can actually rely on the meter, especially if you’re shooting negative film, you have a lot of latitude.
There is a price difference between these two. The Contax is way more expensive. This is around $3,000 versus you can get the Pentax for around $1000. But the Contax has a Swiss Planar T Zeiss lens. It is an incredibly sharp lens. It’s really in the same category as a Hasselblad when it comes to lens quality.
And you also have a removable back on the Contax. Pentax does not have a removable back, which means you have to fire through your whole roll of film before you can change. That’s a huge bonus for the Contax.
Another thing I want to mention is that the lens on the Pentax only goes down to a f/2.8, whereas the lens on the Contax goes down to a f/2. A lot of people think that that’s kind of a big deal. They like the idea of shooting at f/2, especially with the medium format. That means your depth of field is going to be super shallow. So I’m interested to take some portraits and compare the two to see how much of a difference it makes.
Also let’s compare the glass. This Pentax doesn’t feel quite as nice as the Contax does. So we’ll see.
I would be shocked if Pentax images are as sharp as the Contax images. Let’s shoot some images and compare them and see what we got.
So we’re back here in The Slanted Lens lab. We should have lab coats. Anyway, let’s look at the images. Right off the bat you do see there is a little bit more warmth in the Pentax. This image is a little out of focus with the Pentax unfortunately. But you do see that warmth there. And a little more contrast with the Contax Zeiss Lens. And the colors are a bit deeper. You know you are scanning these things. So you’re going through processing and then scanning. So the person who’s making the decisions on these scans can push them around a lot. It’s just like being in Lightroom or Photoshop Camera Raw or something. So I would guess you could make these things match pretty close if you want to. But out of the gate, that Contax has a richer, heavier color, heavier blacks and heavier contrast than the Pentax.
Here we have our shot of the Capitol Records building. It is out of focus again on the Pentax.
You know we’re at a distance here because we didn’t see this until you get some of these f/2.8 close up shots. But at this distance with that background that far away, the way they fall out of focus feels very similar. As far as how out of focus the background is. They’re both the f/2.8. And they feel very similar. If you look at the bokeh on the Pentax on the right, it’s kind of more oblong. The bokeh is more round on the Contax.
So when we were out working the Contax was is a little slower the autofocus. When we were in the sunlight and trying to focus the Contax was a little slower than the Pentax. When we came back here. And we did try pointing at things here inside, it’s a much lower light situation with not a lot of contrast. That’s where the Pentax really pulled ahead. I mean, it’s slower and it hunts sometimes but it would actually find a subject and stop and land somewhere with pretty much every frame. The Contax never stopped hunting and because it can’t autofocus it can’t take an image. So it’s just hunting, hunting in situations where there are darker areas. So I would say autofocus in a low light situation with the Contax is unusable. The Pentax seems a lot more usable in lower light and the viewfinder is brighter in the Pentax. So the ease of use in low light is better with the Pentax. That’s quite an advantage.
Here we are comparing the image and they’re both sharp. It’s interesting that with less contrast with the Pentax it washes out some of the highlights. I’ve got to say I’m liking the Contax better. This image is out of focus, but I’m liking the contrast better from the Contax Zeiss lens.So on this one, you see the difference of f/2.8 with the Pentax. But look at the f/2.0 on the Contax, it really falls out of focus much quicker. It’s much prettier in the background and it has beautiful bokeh. I love the way it resolves the lines around the trees, it just has a really pretty kind of bokeh and out of focus in the background. So pretty. The Pentax doesn’t fall that far out of focus at that distance. It does look like she’s a little further away, but not that much. It shouldn’t make that much of a difference. I am very, very impressed by the way the Contax lens performs on this image.
Now on this one, they’re definitely not further away. These are both shot at f/2.8. They’re both same distance from the background and same distance from the camera. And the Contax falls way out of focus faster. So the fall off is quicker. I like how she pops out more in the image. The subject pops more with the Contax.
This is probably the image where they look the most similar. You do have a little more detail in her skin with the Contax. I think it’s because of the contrast you have in the Contax. You get those nice lines in her face. Just a little more definition. It feels almost like you’ve softened her face with the Pentax. A soft look.
And here’s our final image. I’m sad the Pentax is not quite focused right here. It’s not focused on her right eye, its focused on her Left Eye. Again there is a little bit of warmth with the Pentax through the leaves. It’s a very pretty image, especially from the Contax with the way it falls out of focus. I love this kind of look.
If you’re a geek about metadata, it is interesting because the Contax is recording all the metadata in the margin of the frames. When you look at the negatives you can see the metadata on the Contax. The Pentax has some writing but it’s hard to discern.
All right, so what what’s the conclusion? If I was a wedding photographer and I was doing this seriously I would get a Contax. I would, even though the autofocus is tricky, I would manual focus the Contax. So if you’re not into that thought, and you don’t want to manual focus it which is not easy. So if you’re shooting film, and you’re not trying to grab a shot, and you have time to focus. (We used the Litra Studio Light to shine some needed light onto our talent.)I just think the Contax looks beautiful. They just have a very pretty look. The Pentax is not far behind. But it’s also $1,000 for the Pentax versus $3,000 for the Contax.
I feel like the Pentax is a great option. If you’re trying to get into film and get into the medium format world, the Pentax it’s super affordable. And it’s one of the newest medium format film cameras you can buy. It was made in 2002. I’ve seen them as low as $650 or $700 for the body. That is a great deal. So either way, you can’t go wrong either way. It just depends on what your needs are. What do you want to spend it on?
I think the image out of the Contax is just really good. The Zeiss lens is really great.
Alright, so there’s a look at those two cameras. If you’re enjoying this kind of information, make sure you subscribe so we can bring you further videos in the future. Let us know if there’s something else you’d like to hear about with regards to film. We love to hear your thoughts. We’re always open to suggestions on things that you want to learn about or things you want us to compare. We love all those thoughts. So leave us comment on our YouTube channel. We’ll take a look and see what we can do.
So keep those cameras rollin’ and keep on clickin’.
The Litra Studio Light is a great option for shooting on location like we did in this lesson. Check it out:
You can even use is under water!