The amazing Contax AX and ‘forbidden’ photography
I mentioned in a previous post that when I could find some pictures I had been forbidden to take I’d do a post on ‘forbidden photography’, but having been able to finish the film with pictures of a junior football match I had been forbidden to take last year, and spurred on by a very recent post by Leanne in Australia (on which I felt compelled to comment), I thought I’d combine it with this post with other pictures from the Contax AX, a true engineering masterpiece.
All the above pictures were taken with the Zeiss 50mm, f/1.4 Planar on the AX at f/1.4 or f/2 (Retro 400S film) – no macro lens, no supplementary lens, no extension tubes – the AX does it all by itself.
I have mentioned before that I acquired the AX when I began to have problems focussing – age! But I wanted to continue to use my manual Zeiss prime lenses. The AX offers automatic focussing with manual lenses by a masterpiece of engineering. It does it in a way familiar enough to view camera users – by moving the film plane rather than the lens or elements of the lens. However, it is the only SLR capable of doing it. The whole mirror box is moved back and forth by a stepping motor but it can only do this fast and smoothly enough to give useable auto focussing because of the expertise of the developer – Kyocera – in ceramics. It does not, of course, focus as fast as the light, plastic auto lenses of today, but it’s no slouch. Considering the size and weight of what has to be moved, it is truly amazing.
From macro to telephoto
One of the things the AX does is offer macro photography with a standard lens and no add-ons. It does it by moving the film plane to one end of the travel by setting a small lever to ‘Macro’, then you can focus manually. Because I didn’t take a tripod on my short expedition last Sunday – carrying the AX with the Mamiya Universal was quite enough! – I set the lens on infinity and focussed simply by moving towards the subjects – berries etc remaining on the bushes.
But the autofocus, although not quite fast enough for dedicated sports photographers, which I definitely am not, does allow me to follow focus with a long lens sufficiently, which I could never do now trying to focus manually. So I took the AX with a Vivitar 100-300 f/5.6-6.7 zoom to take some photos of my nephew playing football one Sunday morning late last year. I was able to take only a few before I was told I could not take photographs; I was not in the changing rooms (there were none), where it might have been understandable. Had I not been there with my brother and nephew, not wanting to cause them future problems, I would have told the little Hitlers to “get stuffed” or something like that. As it was I came home and the pictures remained unprocessed till last Sunday.
I thought it was just in the UK that, since the fall of Communism, we have this ‘you can’t do that here’ mentality, but from Leanne’s post it seems to be more widespread – maybe it’s the English-speaking world as I have no such problems in Germany. Here a host of red herrings are hung out to justify the attempt to impose a host of restrictions – health and safety, human rights, child protection, data protection, the EU … …
I have no quarrel with the ref who came and asked who I was, nor with the official (team manager?) who came and told me that some parents were complaining.
But to those parents I say
get a life! What goes through your sick minds I cannot imagine.
Retro 400S film.
I really do not not like anything about this film. I will not be buying any more. But I have a roll of 80S somewhere; I’ll have to dig it out and see if I get on with it any better.
Contax AX features/reviews
The Contax AX offers so many features it would take a very long post to cover them all and there’s no point as there’s a wealth of info on the net; just Google it.
I found your blog whilst looking for users’ reviews of the Contax AX and also enjoyed the macro photos. I suspect what you’re seeing here is not really the natural film grain, but that the scanning software added automatic sharpening. I know from experience that on my Epson scanners “unsharp mask” is selected by default and I have to take pains to batch de-select it.
I’m so glad I was able to get in just under the wire when my AX was sent to Japan (free of shipping…a big deal from Miami Beach, Florida) because the local Kyocera repair shop didn’t have the parts. Even though it took over 4 months I didn’t care because it came back better than new! I will shed more than a few tears if it ever breaks again as there will no linger be anywhere to send it. I just love this camera and it’s the only thing keeping me from buying a DSLR.
Next time send it to KEH for repairs. They repaired mind and offer great servicea. Chet
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If you had been shooting with an iPhone, no one would have questioned you. Anywhere. One of the great advantages of my little Sony NEX-6 is that those little Hitlers would not likely suspect it was capable of taking professional quality images – especially if I held it like an iPhone.
Beautiful shots, and what a crazy and ingenious concept Contax came up with. Unfortunately I don’t have any C/Y mount lenses or would have bought a Contax AX on the spot. Well, maybe it was fortunate 😉
And about Germany. Sorry, but I’ve been stopped in Germany, too. It’s even against the law to take pictures of people without asking them first. So technically almost any kind of street photography is illegal in Germany.
Hi. As I said, I’ve never had a problem in Germany so your comment was a surprise. I’m in Dusseldorf again next weekend so I’ll check it out. Depending on weather and other things I may take the AX to the seaside this coming week as it’s the only camera I have really long lenses for and I’m after the seabirds. If it comes off it’ll no doubt be a future post.
Thanks you so much Marie. From you, who I consider to be the close-up nature photographer ‘par excellence’, I take that as high praise indeed. It has snowed here so if the light is anything like decent I might have another go today with colour. I’m tempted to take Astia but then I will have to wait for a while for it to be processed, so I might take Portra, with which you produce such wonderful natural winter colours. We’ll see how the day looks when it gets light.
I have not tried this film myself, but I just LOVE your images of closeup nature above. The grain is beautiful and the images very artistic and looks beautiful!