In 2009, my good friend Adrian suggested I buy a Contax 645 outfit, for my pending trip to India and Nepal. He said it has some of the most amazing bokeh of any camera system he’s used. I have to confess I took a bit of persuading at the time, as I thought most medium format outfits were perhaps too bulky and heavy to take on any extended journey.
Well, after a visit to a local second hand camera store, where they had plenty of the systems for around £950, I bought one. It was impossible to say no – once I’d raised the system up to my eye and peered into that gorgeous large viewfinder. Like an EOS camera on steroids, I had auto-focus, metering and it showed me the aperture and shutter speed in the viewfinder.
And because the standard lens has a focal length of 80mm, it behaves like any 80mm lens does – it has shallow depth of field! But with a field of view like a 40mm lens in 35mm land. Going medium format means you get a lot less depth of field for the same angle of view you get with 35mm. And shooting at f2 or f4 at 80mm results in some very shallow depth of field indeed.
I’m in the process of working towards making some new portraits, so I figured I needed to get round to getting a spare system. I never used to travel with any backup cameras, but over the last year or two, I’ve had a Mamiya 7 bite the dust in Patagonia (because I dropped it on its head) and a Hasselblad 503CX lock up on me in my travels to Iceland and Norway.
So tonight, after gazing at the second hand prices for the Contax 645 outfit spiralling to dizzy heights of around £1,700 for a decent system with standard lens, I’ve taken the plunge and bought my backup outfit. I feel relieved, because these babies have turned into gold dust of late. I’m amazed…. what exactly has happened in the intervening years since I first bought mine for £950 in 2009? It seems the power of the internet and one particular wedding photographer (just look up google for contax 645 and you’ll find him) has spurred loads of photographers to buy this system. And for good reason.
The Contax system has amazing lens quality, and the bokeh that the lenses produce – particularly the standard lens of 80mm at f2, is just stunning. I found that this was the lens I used for 99% of my portrait images. I prefer to get in really close to my subjects you see.
I also have the 45mm, 140mm and the 210mm lens. I have used the 140mm lens once, for the indian girl on the tightrope that you see here. But most times, it’s the 80mm I use, and I tend to be around two feet away from my subjects when I do.
I think it’s time I made some new portraits. It’s another side to my photography, which I feel I’ve been neglecting. It’s been a concentrated few years running a workshop business.
If you like portraiture, and you’re in the market for a medium format film system (the Contax 645 can be used with digital backs too), then I would look no further than this system. But you’d better act now, as the prices have really gone up of late and I don’t see them coming down.