This is about the Contax G2 as a camera for street photography.
First off -- street photography as a term is a bit of a misnomer. Since
a lot of it doesn't take place on the street. My favorite subject for
the last few years has been the NYC subway.
I've been using the G2 since it was introduced, about three years ago.
Before that I used a Hexar, and for a year or so a Leica M3.
I never did that well with the Leica. I know that it has been the camera
of choice for this type of work for fifty years. I like to work with
fairly wide angle lenses, and be close to the subject, but I also don't
want to stick the camera in someone's face, and only shoot looking through
the viewfinder occasionaly. If I'm going to be carefully composing a
shot, I'd rather work with the Nikon FM2. If I'm out in Central Park
during a snow storm, I'd rather use the FM2. If I'm shooting at night,
on a tripod, again, its the FM2. But if I'm in tight quarters -- in
a place where I can't or won't raise the camera to my eye -- there is
nothing like the G2.
The G2 is not a perfect street camera. It is a bit noisy. The viewfinder,
compared to a Leica is squinty -- but for certain type of off the hip
shooting, there is nothing like it. And the ambient noise level of New
York City being what it is the click of the camera has never caused
Most of the work on this site that was done on the subway, was done
with the G2. And I don't think I could have done it with any
other camera. The first thing you need to shoot on the subway, is
a fairly wide angle lens. The second thing that is helpful is autofocus.
The third thing is autoexposure. And most importantly, an auto-winder.
Most of this work was done with the 21mm and 28mm lenses. Both are excellent
The technique that I've used, most of the time, is to have the camera
hanging around my neck (there's something new) and to have the wide
strap of the camera bag positioned to hide the fact that my finger is
on the shutter. I use 400 TMAX, and the camera is set to SAF (which
means it needs to be locked on something before it will fire off). The
lens is always wide open.
The secret is to get on a noisy train -- which in New York is not real
difficult -- to always have the camera hanging around your neck -- to
give people a chance to get used to the fact that the camera is around
your neck before trying anything (usually two or three stops) -- hope
that something interesting happens, and that you are in a good position
to shoot, (most often, standing against the door which doesn't open
is the best place) and only shoot when something distracting is going
The beauty of the camera is that you can easily fire off 4 or 5 shots
of the same subject quickly -- in a second or two -- hoping that one
of them will work out. The camera doesn't usually get too much attention.
It doesn't look like an SLR and of course is nowhere as noisy.
I like to say that the G2 is the perfect camera for a blind man. You
obviously need to be able to know what each lens is going to cover --
but after shooting from the hip for three years, this can be picked
up easily. If you want to get fancy, you can easily hold the focus lock
button on the back with your thumb without anyone noticing -- and fire
off-centered shots. Some people say that you can do the same with the
Leica -- by Zone Focusing for example -- but this is not going to work
shooting wide open.
In terms of price -- there is no comparison with a Leica -- I think
I once calculated that you could buy the whole G2 system, with two bodies
(excluding the 16mm Hologon) for the price of a Leica and two or three
I believe that the type of photography that's possible with this camera
is actually different than what is possible with the Leica. Overall
composition is going to be more haphazard -- often filled with surprises.
But you are also going to get shots that you couldn't get with the Leica.
The Hexar RF may address some of these issues, but it is not autofocus.
- When the batteries go, they go fast, and there is no way of checking
the batteries before the little 'cracked battery' symbol shows up. They
also go really quickly if you end up using the Autofocus lock a lot.
On the other hand, always carry an extra set of batteries and you'll
- I wish the 35mm was sharper wide open. It really needs to be closed
down to f5.6 to get the resolution of the other lenses. And since the
35mm is a standard lens for a lot of street work, this is a problem.
The 28mm on the other hand is excellent, and I use it as my normal walking
around lens. The 45mm is even sharper. And of course the 90mm is often
rated as one of the best around.
- The viewfinder is simply not as clear as a Leica. (On the other hand,
since it is a zooming mechanism, it actually may be easier to use with
- I wish there was at least one F1.4 lens.
- They make a black body, but only with three black lenses. Black cameras
attract less attention. It would be great if the other lenses were also
available in black.
- Very reliable. I've used it in below zero weather with the extra
battery holder without a problem. The camera has never jammed, misfired,
or malfunctioned in any way.
- Very quick to load. (Compared to Leica). This really does make a
big difference when you're working quickly.
- Lenses are top notch. According to the MTF charts, the 45mm and the
90mm are the best. But the 21mm is also excellent wide open.
- Very light. Great for travelling.
- Almost all the lenses use the same 46mm filter size.
- Fairly easy to 'zone' focus with .
- When autofocusing, you can look down at the LCD on top of the camera
and see what it's focused on. (When shooting from the hip, this is really
important. And one of the featues I use all the time. You can pre-set
a manual distance, and quickly switch from manual focus to autofocus
with your thumb, depending on the situation.
- The manual focus ring is 100% improved from the G1
- For me, anyway, the autofocus is faster and more accurate than I
was ever able to achieve with a Leica.
Sometimes, I would think about switching back to a Leica. Why? I'm
not sure. The mystique. The mechanical nature? The viewfinder? The faster
And then I would ask myself -- which camera has given be the most usable
and unusual images -- and the answer was always the Contax G2.
* * *
I have recently switched to using the Leica M6 for most of my work.
And after that - the saga continued to other equipment. If you'd like to read about how I ended up back with the Leica M3 - click