Contax S2 Review

Apr 21, 2020
6 min read

The other day I asked you on Instagram which camera should I review next. Basically you all wanted to see a review for each and every one of them from that selection. So first of all, thank you for keeping me busy during this confinement, at least I get some entertainment!

But that didn’t solve my problem and I still had to pick the next camera to review. Some of you mentioned the Contax S2 because there isn’t much content about this camera yet so I thought it could be a good place to start. That’s why today we are looking at what’s probably the most special Contax SLR.

What Is The Contax S2

I’m calling it “the most special Contax SLR” because the S2 was the first and only mechanical camera made under the Kyocera era. This means that unlike other Contax SLR, it can operate even without batteries at all shutter speeds up to 1/4000th of a second.

Contax S2 35mm SLR film camera review with sample images Zeiss 50mm f1.7

Another peculiarity of the S2 is the spot meter system which can be pretty annoying but I’ll get back to that later in the article. 

Except for the plastic film advance lever, the S2 is made of Titanium which gives it a nice premium feel. Every buttons and knobs are placed where you’d expect them to be and it feel just right in hand. Though if you have large hands, the S2 might feel a little small for you.

Focusing on the S2 is a breeze with its bright and clear viewfinder and even has interchangeable focusing screens. I just wish there was an aperture indicator showing inside like on the 139Q. The viewfinder is really excellent and almost as good as my Nikon F2.

Contax S2 History

Contax S2 35mm SLR film camera review with sample images Zeiss 50mm f1.7

To understand better the philosophy behind this camera, it’s important to know when and why it was made. The S2 came out in 1992 (to commemorate the 60th anniversary of Contax cameras) which was the golden era of film photography and a time when camera manufacturer were replacing as many mechanical parts they could by electronics.

That camera was aimed at purists who where looking for a simple camera to use, without unnecessary or distracting features, and that would never fail of them because of a dead battery. Reminds you something? And that was almost 30 years ago!

Contax S2 35mm SLR film camera review with sample images Zeiss 50mm f1.7

The same year Contax released the Contax ST which was a fully electronic camera with a max shutter speed of 1/6000, X-synch 1/200, center weighted or spot metering. The only things these 2 cameras have in common are the manual focus and the C/Y mount.

I bought the S2 because I wanted a camera that could go above the 1/1000 max shutter speed of my Contax 139Q and smaller than my Contax ST which goes up to 1/6000 of a sec but is damn heavy! With a max shutter speed of 1/4000 and really light weight the S2 was the perfect answer to all my problems except for one thing that killed all my dreams :/ 

My Biggest Problem With The Contax S2

My major complain is the metering system. It’s already confusing to have a spot meter but on top of that you have annoying LEDs constantly flashing. Because the spot metering is so precise, the exposure changes with every little movements and that’s really distracting. It’s like a disco in there!

The shutter speed you have selected flashes inside the viewfinder, while the correct shutter speed stays still. So far, so good but once you have the correct exposure, the shutter speed that was still starts flashing!! I’ve never seen anything so confusing 🤯🤯🤯

I just wish they had come up with an option to lock the exposure or use a secondary button to activate the light meter like on the Contax 139Q which is by the way my favorite Contax SLR so far and reviewed it a few weeks ago.

Contax S2B

Contax fixed that issue later with the S2B version and implemented a standard center weighted light meter but these are even more rare and cost almost the double than the S2. As much as I love my Contax cameras, I can’t justify the upgrade cost here.

It’s been a little over 6 months since I got my S2 and only shot 2 rolls with. I have a third roll inside since I can’t remember when and don’t really take pleasure shooting this camera. BTW you get 10 Internet points if you guess the film inside 😉

Contax S2 Pros & Cons

In summary here are the Contax S2 pros and cons:

PROS

  • All mechanical. Can operate without batteries
  • Compact size
  • 1/4000 max shutter speed
  • Bright and large viewfinder
  • C/Y mount with Zeiss lens
  • Titanium body. Sturdy & durable

CONS

  • Spot Meter only
  • Light meter reading
  • Plastic winder
  • Somewhat loud mirror slap

Even there are more pros than cons, I didn’t get the thing for the S2 because is this annoying constant LED light meter flashing inside the viewfinder. This is so distracting that I can’t concentrate on my shot and when I want to shoot on an SLR, I still prefer my 139Q over the S2.

Shot On Contax S2 & Zeiss Planar f/1.7 50mm

Here are some samples images of the only two rolls I shot on the S2:

Contax S2 Alternatives

Because the S2 is almost perfect but not quite yet, here are a few alternatives that I think offer a better shooting experience.

CONTAX S2B

The first and obvious is the S2B with its center weighted light meter but like I mentioned it’s rare and a lot more expensive, but that there’s price to pay to have the one with the “normal” light meter. The S2b is only available with the dark charcoal finish.

NIKON FM2

The best alternative to the S2 would probably be the Nikon FM2. It’s also a mechanical camera with a max shutter speed of 1/4000 as well and cost about half the price of the Contax. If you want something a little fancier there’s the Nikon FM2/T which is the Titanium version.

OLYMPUS OM-1

The OM-1 was the flagship of Olympus cameras. It’s one of the most pleasing and relaxing cameras I’ve ever used with its needle light meter on the right of the bring and large viewfinder. On this one, the shutter speeds range goes up to 1/1000. Just for the light meter reading I might get myself an OM-1 and for the price of an S2 you can buy two OM-1 !

Yashica FX3

Another mechanical and cheaper alternative to the S2 is the Yashica FX3. It’s a compact and fully manual SLR that can shoot up to 1/1000. It’s the perfect camera to enter the wonderful world of C/Y mount lens by the small door and use amazing lenses like my favorite Zeiss 50mm.


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2 Replies to “Contax S2 Review”

  1. Great review!! It looks like a really nice camera, I’d love to get my hands on a Contax one day….
    My instagram handle is @salome.lfn !

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