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I fell to temptation at the weekend. A new camera.
It could be worse. It might be the overpriced Alpha 99. It might be the too-big-for-my-hands D800. Fortunately, it isn’t.
It’s a camera I first came across ten years back, and liked. However, it was expensive (then), and didn’t give me anything I really, really wanted.
But on Sunday, I found one for sale on the Ffordes website, and I fell.
So now I have a Contax AX. Possibly the biggest, and nearly the heaviest Contax made before the firm faded out from its idiosyncratic niche.
To be honest, I thought they’d lost the plot when the Contax RTS III came out. I tried one, and fund it too big and heavy for my hands, so I happily ignored it. Why should a Contax emulate the overweight tendencies of the full-house pro-sport cameras that Nikon and Canon were putting out? The RTS was always a thoroughbred, a sniper’s rifle among Gatling guns. Not as tough as some, but with such lovely manners and handling. It is, perhaps, not surprising – the ergonomics were by Porsche. (Unfortunately, in the Seventies, this made it a bit of a handful on wet downhill bends…)
Similarly, the AF N series, and then the N digital were too costly, and offering facilities that I did not particularly want.
But the A… That was something odd. An autofocus body that took manual focus lenses. Never mind that (like a Porsche 911) the engineering was hopelessly compromised from the start, simply because it’s… an AF body that takes MF lenses.
It achieves this by having a mirror box that moves backwards and forwards: film, shutter, pentaprism and all. By 2013 standards, the focus is a trifle slow and hesitant: but it does the job. The body has to be deep, to accommodate this, and I’m sure that the whole thing is relatively fragile. But it works, and it feels good!
My body came without instructions, and this really is a camera that needs instructions. Like – how do you make the autofocus work?
Online, and three dollars later, I had the answer. And then I made a wonderful discovery.
The AF will operate two different ways, and it happened that the first way I got it to go is the interesting one. There’s a button on the back of the top plate, easy to press with your right thumb. Do that, and the AF slides quietly into perfect focus. And stays there while you recompose, adjust exposure, and make a pot of tea.
For the first time ever, an AF camera that knows its place, and doesn’t try to out-think me!
“Why can’t they all be like that?” I wondered.
Three days on, and I’d picked up a book for my niece, one of those “everything you need to know about” books – this one for the Alpha 700 that she now has on permanent loan from me. Idly reading it in the car, while my wife scoured more shelves of the bookshop we’d stopped at. Found a diagram of controls, and something that suggested that there was a menu option for a button to activate or deactivate AF…
Hmmmm… The 700 and the 900 are very similar in control layout, so maybe I could make my 900 act like the AX?
To cut to the chase, if you set the front of body control to MF, then the joystick control acts as an AF engage button! Sorted, maybe, for an awful lot of studio work (where I have previously valued the “AF disengage” button very highly…)
But it makes me wonder… Just how many shots have been missed while a camera hunts for focus when the tog presses the shutter release? I remember, seven years back, proving to myself that a Hasselblad 500 is a better camera for action than an Alpha 100. Working with a dancer, jumping. VERY hit-and-miss with the Alpha. Roll of film in the Hassel: 12 perfect shots.
And I have no idea how many other cameras share the 900’s ability to make AF the callable option, so to speak. How many people would use an option like that, anyway?
Recently, at the end of a day’s shooting with others, someone asked me to take a shot with his camera – a Canon, I think. As I took the pictures, all of the little AF squares twinkled, in the way that they do when they’re showing that they are active.
Odd, that. An experienced tog. A studio shoot. And they’d left the AF to go its own sweet way! Every serious tog I know uses a single focus point for almost everything they do…
So maybe I should count myself lucky – not only have I got a new camera, but I’ve discovered how to make a far more modern beastie obey me. Does anyone care? Will anyone else switch the AF off more?