Does the Camera Make the Photographer or is it Vice Versa?

by | Aug 8, 2021

Today’s thoughts by Joe Farace

“I don’t have the words to describe it, but I know it when I see it.”—former Shutterbug Editor

This post was originally part of a column or article, I don’t remember which, and was written in 2001 when Shutterbug was a real magazine. Lonnie Long, one of my Instagram followers, recently asked what my favorite camera was. After some thought I couldn’t decide between my Contax G2 rangefinder or Contax Aria SLR film cameras. So I decided to dust off this piece for a weekend post.

So I Asked (back in 2001)… when this was going to be an article/column tentatively titled “The Contax Effect.”

The first person I talked with was a former Shutterbug editor (quoted above,) who originally introduced me to Contax cameras. When I told him I found using these cameras had improved my photography, he old me other Contax photographers he knew discovered the same thing but they weren’t sure why.

So I asked others including a highly placed executive in one of the largest camera stores in the United States. He came into the retail world as a working photographer and I was surprised to learn that he was originally a Contax user. His theory about the so-called Contax Effect had to do with the aesthetics of the camera. People smile when they see “pretty things,” he told me. “When a person looks at the beautiful Porsche-designed shape of a Contax SLR. They just naturally smile and relax.

Bill Craig, a fine art photographer, had a more mechanical theory. “Many modern cameras,” he speculated, “have longer lag times between when the shutter button is clicked, to when the shutter opens and closes to capture the image.” This tiny fraction of time between when you think you’re making a picture, to when you actually make the picture is what he thought makes the Contax so special. Like me, Bill is a subscriber to the three phases that photographer go through and thinks that a faster more responsive shutter means you actually capture the photograph you think you’re capturing.

How I Made this Photo: I photographed Kim Goetz in the living room of my former home with a Contax 167 MT and Carl Zeiss f/2.8 Sonnar Lens using only window light. Originally shot on (unrecorded) black and while film, probably Kodak T-Max 400, with an unrecorded exposure. The Kodak Photo CD scanned image was slightly tweaked in Exposure Software’s Exposure X4.

I asked legendary camera repairman Vern Prime what he thought. While he agreed there was something to these theories, especially the “beautiful camera” idea, he suggested the camera’s fine construction and Zeiss lenses “bring out the best” in a photographer. He suggested that a camera built as fine as Contax SLR and rangefinder cameras inspire a photographer to work harder to try and exploit the best these cameras have to offer and thus create more aesthetically pleasing images. Vern believed the right camera can improve both your photographic outlook and the images themselves. He cites the first Exacta camera he owned; he was so impressed with the engineering and precision of that camera that he worked harder to make images worthy of it.

All of this speculation is just that—moot. There have been no Contax digital cameras since 2004’s bizarre Contax i4R point-and-shoot (at left,) but wouldn’t it be something if there were.


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