All You Ever Wanted To Know About the Contax 645 - D'ARCY BENINCOSA

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All You Ever Wanted To Know About the Contax 645

by D'Arcy Benincosa

And Why It Is the Magical Unicorn of Film Cameras

Are you new to the Contax 645? Or are you considering adding one to your arsenal of cameras in order to up your wedding game? Well, I’ve got you covered with this all-encompassing Contax 645 review, my absolute favorite camera, film or digital, out there.  

Contax 645 & D'Arcy

Contax 645 Review

It’s no secret, my Contax cameras are my babies—second to my previous pups, Alfie and Fitzwilliam, of course. There is no way I would have gone as far as I have in my career if it weren’t for this camera. 

My personal opinion? The Contax 645s are magical, mystical creatures, akin to unicorns, and you should absolutely get one. They are worth every penny and every photo you take with one will be pure gold…if you know how to properly work your camera.

The Contax 645 can be tricky little cameras so you really do need to devote some time to learning this creature, from inside to out. Learning it so well that you and it become almost one entity.   

And as luck would have it, I happen to have a Contax 645 Tutorial on my YouTube Channel that you should watch in order to get more familiar with how to work your Contax 645. 

So let’s start with the negatives (spoiler, there aren’t many). 

The Downside

As with any piece of equipment, this camera is going to have its quirks and kinks to work around. 

Also, I won’t lie, there are a few Contax 645 duds floating around and if you find yourself with one of these—get rid of it and find yourself another one. In the case of this camera, second chances are always a good idea. 

The Autofocus

I’m not a fan of the autofocus on the Contax 645 so I only use manual focus. 

I have found that the autofocus can be slightly off and in order to get it to work properly, it takes a lot of time. It is actually much quicker to manually focus on my subjects. 

Before you start coming at me, I promise you manual focus is not as difficult to learn as you might think. It does take a bit of time to learn and will feel like learning a foreign language at first, but if you can keep at it, you will learn it… and once you learn it, everything about photography will become so much easier. 

I am like a ninja when it comes to manual focus now. I can even get moving children in focus if that is any testament to how much you can become one with this camera. 

So while it is definitely something to consider, the manual option works like a champ. 

The Camera Back

There are two potential issues that I have seen arise with the camera backs for the Contax 645. 

One, sometimes, a piece on the side becomes loose which will disrupt the image quality. (More about that on this video). 

Second, when you are putting the film back into the camera, you will need to make sure that the film back locks into place and is anchored on both sides. I found out the hard way (with my first 20 rolls of film), that it is fairly easy to think you have loaded the film back properly but really one side is slightly disengaged. This will cause  your images to be out of focus on the one side.

Solution: Just be aware and cautious as you are loading film and installing the film back. 

And pro-tip: Have 1 or 2 extra film backs for every camera that you have. This allows you to have film loaded at the ready so you can shoot without interruption. 

The Upside 

Now on to the all of the good stuff about this fabulous camera. 

The Lenses

0ne of the highlight features of this camera is its standard lens, the Zeiss 80mm, 2.0. It is truly the chef’s kiss. 

This lens (along with this camera) makes everything look like a Rembrandt painting. I actually have a YouTube video that shows images taken with this camera at different apertures so you really get a feel for the scope of this lens. 

With the Zeiss 80mm, 2.0, I basically live at 2.0 or 2.8, with the exception of large groups where I will journey up to 5.6. You can shoot it at higher aperatures but this lens is really not meant to be a landscape camera – this is definitely a portrait camera. 

A lot of people stick to the 80mm, but I realized there were a lot of situations that I couldn’t cover with that lens. So I picked up a 35mm Zeiss for those wider image situations. I know photograph weddings with the 35mm on one body and the 80 on the other. 

Without a doubt, it’s the dream team for tackling wedding photography.

The Images

My absolute favorite thing about the Contax 645 is, of course, the image quality. 

Coupled with the Zeiss lenses, Contax 645 images are known for being dreamy and ethereal. I jokingly say it makes everyone look like Grace Kelly, but really, it is kind of true. 

Contax 645 images look like a Rembrandt painting, which makes targeting those high-end, luxury weddings even more attainable. 

Plus, can we just talk about the bokeh that this camera can create? Absolutely breathtaking. 

Easy to Use

As a film camera, the Contax 645 is, at its core, basic and easy-to-use.  Like anything new, there is a learning curve involved, but the settings are minimal and universal. 

You can watch this Contax 645 Tutorial to learn more about the ease of use for this camera. 

How to Use the Contax 645

Beyond the basics of using any pro-level film camera, there are several things worth noting about using a Contax 645, mainly in regards to loading film and the aperture settings. 

Loading Film

Loading film in the Contax 645 is simple but easy enough to mess up that is warrants mentioning.  First, its worth mentioning that the Contax 645 uses 120mm film, not 35mm film.  Unlike 35mm cameras where you normally just open the back of the camera to insert the film, the Contax 645 has a separate back that slides in and out of the housing.

Here is a YouTube that I shot of loading the film. It’s one of those things that makes more sense to watch rather than explain but beyond the video, a few points to highlight: 

*Always load the film from the top of the film back, not the bottom. 

*Make sure that the film is facing out (not towards the screen). The worst is when you shoot an entire roll of film only to realize you had the film facing the wrong way. 

*Follow the prompts on the back of the film. The film very clearly marks where to start shooting at. 

*And as I mentioned above, make sure the film back is secured and locked properly or you chance having a part of the frame out of focus. 

The Importance of Aperature

If you are playing around with the Contax 645, you most likely already understand what aperture is (the size of the len’s diaphragm which lets light in) and what it effects (the depth of field in you image). This isn’t the place to go in detail about photography basics but you can find some good information on the Photographer’s Life website. 

But, what is interesting about the Contax 645 is the massive difference in apertures in this camera. 

Here are the apertures that I normally shoot at and the effect they give: 

2.0 – when I want one thing in focus and everything else blurred

2.8 – more general, two people in focus on the same plane

4.0 – more focused, less on the same plane

I do shoot at a 5.6 occsionally when I have larger groups.

Here is a video that has examples of images at each setting.

How to Take Care of the Contax 645

As I mentioned before, the Contax 645 can be a finicky little thing. 

My best advice for taking care of the Contax 645 is to service it frequently. At least once or twice a year, send it in to you favorite camera shop to get a good once-over. If you go to a tropical climate, know that humidity and sand can create a lot of issues so definitely make sure you send it in for servicing after your trip. 

If your camera stops working, just know that the sensors can be a little touchy. A few troubleshooting tips I use when this happens are to: 

*Turn the camera on and off. Sometimes this is all it takes to kick it back into action. 

*Start taking the camera apart, blowing on the sensors, and cleaning it up. Gently put it back together and see if it works. 

And finally, if the camera gets too cold or too hot, it may stop working. Slowly warm it up or cool it down, no quick, drastic temperature changes or it can cause permanent damage. 

Who Should Use the Contax 645

If you are a high-end, luxury wedding or portrait photographer, I can not recommend this enough. It is my go-to camera for every wedding and is always with me on my hops across the pond to Paris. 

The Contax 645 has literally become my signature camera. 

So there you have my Contax 645 review. What questions do you have for me? 

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Not booking $10k+ weddings?

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Play

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A few of my favorite business tools:

CREATIVE LAW SHOP

Contracts, Privacy Policies, and more. Use code DARCYB10 for 10% off!

goodlight presets

Struggle to match your digital to your film? You've met your match. Use code PLAYITBRAVE to get $50 off!

pic-time

Say au revoir to lazy galleries! Use code DARCY to get your first month free.

tonic site shop

Crappy website? Say no more. Get 20% off a template with code PLAYITBRAVE. You're welcome.

Have no time to submit to publications?

Don’t let your images gather dust on a hard drive – GET THEM SEEN (and gain street cred too).

free guide

Learn my simple tweaks you can make that will have you attracting your dream clients with the portfolio you have TODAY.

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