Vintage Camera Review: Contax NX (The Lil’ Contax 645, Sort Of)

The Contax NX is a camera that could arguably be called the lil’ Contax 645.

Though the Contax N is really the lil’ Contax 645, the Contax NX isn’t much different aside from the build quality and a few other things. Photographers will adore this camera if they’re the type to shoot portraits in a studio. Even if you shoot weddings the way photographers did with the Contax 645, the Contax NX will do a great job. But no matter what, just remember that it’s all about the lenses. And this system has some awesome lenses.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Feels good in the hand form factor wise
  • Access to a ton of excellent lenses
  • Interesting to use when it comes to the controls
  • Navigating the menu system is simple
  • Lightweight
  • Great metering
  • Good battery life

Cons

  • This camera and the lenses for it do not like cold weather; they’ll freeze up at times.

Gear Used

We tested the Contax NX with the 24-85mm f3.5-4.5 along with Fujifilm Superia and Ilford ISO 80 film.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the Camerapedia page

  • Type: 35mm focal plane type AF/AE single lens reflex camera
  • Frame size: 24 x 36mm
  • Lens mount: Contax N mount
  • Shutter: Vertical travel focal plane shutter
  • Shutter speed: AV, TV and P: 32 to 1/4000 sec.; M: 32 to 1/4000 sec. and bulb; X: 1/125 sec. (M mode)
  • Flash sync: X at up to 1/125 sec.
  • Shutter release: Electronic, with cable switch socket. electronic self-timer with 10 sec. delay
  • Exposure control: Aperture, shutter, program auto, manual and TTL auto priority modes
  • Exposure compensation: +3EV to -3EV (in steps of 1/3 or 1/2)
  • Metering: TTL, center-weighted average, or spot metering
  • Metering range: Evaluative metering: 0 to 21 EV; Center-weighted: 0 to 20 EV, Spot: 3 to 20 EV (ISO100, F1.4)
  • Film speed: Auto with DX-coded film, 25 to 5000 ISO; manual setting, 6 to 6400 ISO
  • Flash: Built-in GN 13.5 (ISO100), up to focal distance of 28mm; red-eye reduction.
  • Auto focus: 5-point TTL phase difference detection
  • Viewfinder: eye-level pentaprism with 93% Field of view and 0.78x magnification (50mm lens at inf.)
  • Focusing screen: Fixed, full matte
  • Film transport: Auto load, advance and rewind with built-in motor. Up to 2.3 fps. in C mode.
  • Drive modes: Single, continuous, 10 sec. self timer
  • Power: 2x 3V CR2 lithium batteries w/ battery check
  • Dimensions: 142mm x 113mm x 66mm
  • Weight: 605g

Ergonomics

Here’s the Contax NX from the front. A lot about it looks like a Minolta SLR film camera. But indeed it isn’t. The front of the camera gets you a few controls: the lens release, a custom function button, and the exposure dial.

On top of the Contax NX is the interface of the camera. You can control a few modes here on the right side.

On the left side are some of the weird things. Here’s where you’d control something like the ISO setting.

The back of the Contax NX is simple and only really has the joystick and another button. Between those is the other control dial. I hate calling it a dial, it’s more of a spoke.

Open the camera and you’ll the spot where you load film. This is pretty standard, but the film spool on the right has small and weak teeth.

Build Quality

The Contax NX has a much more plasticky body than its bigger variant, the Contax N. But that’s not to say it isn’t built well. It feels fantastic in the hands. In fact, it feels almost like a cross between Sony and Pentax ergonomics. When you pick the camera up, you’ll feel almost as if you’re holding a modern DSLR but without the excessive weight. The only weird part is the back control dial–which I’m remiss to even call a dial.

Unfortunately, the Contax NX isn’t necessarily the most reliable camera. It and froze up a bit the lens I was using hate the cold weather we were having in NYC at the time I was testing it. In fact, the camera at times and so too did the lens. This is one of the reasons why I really prefer full analog cameras and shutters. But in warmer weather, and once I was inside, the Contax NX worked perfectly.

Ease of Use

The Contax NX is a very simple camera to use. Everything you could possibly need to work with is done through this LCD screen on the top. Then using the two control dials and the joystick on the back enable you to choose what needs to be done. It’s great. The menu also isn’t that complicated.

Autofocus

The majority of the time, the Contax NX nailed its focusing. In fact, it seemed to do it better than some modern cameras. That’s saying something! Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a lot of focus points.

Image Samples

Conclusions

The Contax NX has a lot going for it. Besides having access to a lot of great glass, the autofocus is top notch. Then there is the way the camera feels in the hands. Top this all off with it being so simple to use and you’ve got yourself a winner. But it’s not all perfect. The build quality will make it suffer in the cold. Additionally, I always question the durability of cameras like this in the long run. Mechanical shutters and cameras are more reliable. But that’s not going to stop you from making great photos with it. We really like the Contax NX. And they’re pretty affordable on eBay.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.