Contax, Disruptive Innovation and Digital Imaging
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Contax, Disruptive Innovation and Digital Imaging

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How and why Contax died in the shift from analogue to digital photography.

How and why Contax died in the shift from analogue to digital photography.

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  • They really should have stuck with medium format and rangefinders...
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  • The main problem, as I see it, was that Contax stupidly designed a new set of lenses for their 35mm digital camera (the N). Contax/Yashica had a history of changing lenses and this final step must have alienated many followers whose collection of lenses would gain be obsolete: if I'm going to have a junk all my lenses to go digital, then I may as well change camera brands completely.
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Contax, Disruptive Innovation and Digital Imaging Contax, Disruptive Innovation and Digital Imaging Presentation Transcript

  • RIP Contax?
  • On April 12 2005, Kyoceraannounced that they would terminate the famous Contax brand.
  • With this press release,one of the oldest and most renowned cameras became history.
  • The first Contax cameraswere produced by Zeiss Ikon in 1932.
  • It was inspired by the famous Leica, but never regarded as merely a copy.
  • Contax became famous in the segment of 35mmcameras for professional photographers.
  • Over the years, famousphotographers like Robert Capa have used Contax.
  • A small, portable camerawith great image quality was ideal for Capa, who photographed many wars.
  • Some of his most famousphotos were taken in Normandie when the allied forces enteredthe beach in order to fight back the Germans.
  • According to his book "Slightly out of Focus" and a bio called Blood and Champagne", Capa took two Contax cameras and a bag of film to the beach. Judging by the surviving pictures, he seems to have shot with a 50. Capa claimed to have spent 90 minutes on the beach and apparently shot 4 rolls of 135. Unfortunately all but 11 of these shots were destroyed in the LIFE lab, in a rush to dry the film. Supposedly Capa never really got over that incident, but was graceful about it in public. My uncle Andy was on Omaha Beach that morning and I have often wondered if he had came across a fellow taking pictures in the hail of bullets.
  • • I also have a sneaking suspicion he had a Contax around his neck on the day in 1954 when he trod on a land mine and died in Vietnam. But I am working from memory in relation to the latter and may be wrong.• However, I can be certain that I have also seen him in photos in which he has been holding a TLR camera. There is one here in fact although I have seen others:
  • When he was killed in Asia he had his Contax in hand. He may have also had a Nikon, since he had just completed an assignment in Japan and was given several free cameras. There is a photo of him, dated a few days before he was killed, with what appears to be a Contax around his neck. The camera has a Nikon varifocal in the hot shoe. Ive never seen a high resolution version of this shot to verify if it was a Nikon, instead of his Contax.
  • • Whats certain is that the "prewar and wartime" Robert Capa was not a Leica photog, despite the Leica staff tries to assert urbi et orbi nowadays. He was a Contax (Zeiss Ikon) photog, just because the Contax II of that time (the 30s) was more than a serious competitor for the Barnack camera.• See the attached picture showing Bob Capa (left) and George Rodger (right) in Italy during the summer of 1943. Ive also seen a portrait of Bob Capa on a Spanish civil war battlefield - no Leica around his neck, but a Contax II as well.• The persistence of "Bob Capa used a Leica camera" cliche can easily explain for one reason IMHO.• The prewar Contax II resembles the postwar... Leica M. In fact, the Leica M was largely inspired by the Contax II regarding its design and style. The two cameras have approx. the same size, while the Leica SM is way smaller than the Contax II. So, its obvious that journalists, critics, "photo specialists" and whatsoever, who generally know nothing about the history of the photographic gear although they seriously think they know it at its best, decided that Robert Capa used a Leica because they had seen many photos of him with something closely looking like a Leica M around his neck.
  • Kyocera has today announced that it has decided to terminate the Contax branded camera business. Contax joined forces with Yashica in the 1960s, which became part of the electronics giant Kyocera in the mid-1990s. The history of the name goes back to the original Contax camera produced by Zeiss Ikon AG in 1932. The company announced its first 35mm SLR film camera, the Contax S, in 1949. A dark cloud has been hanging over the Contax brand since Kyocera announced it was to end of camera production last month.
  • Other than this model, and its associated Zeiss lens line, the Contax brand has been at a dead-end for several years. Their film cameras were once highly regarded, for their use of Zeiss lenses as much as for their remarkable build quality and excellent handling. I owned a Contax RTS III for a while in the 80s and found it to be an exquisitely built camera with excellent ergonomics.
  • one of the oldest brands in photography, Contax. Contax cameras have been produced since the early 1930s, when the brand was launched by German optical legend Zeiss Ikon. Contax joined forces with Japanese manufacturer Yashica in the 1960s, becoming part of electronics giant Kyocera in the mid-1990s.
  • He certainly used contax cameras. Having read his account of his landing at Omaha Beach in Normandy, it is clear that he was using two Contax cameras on the day (Here is a direct quote: "It was now light enough to start taking pictures, and I brought my first Contax camera out of its waterproof oilskin." found here:
  • Capa now felt safe enough to photograph the other soldiers who, like himself, had taken cover behind the steel defences. Wading to a disabled US-tank, he continuously clicked his two Contax-II-cameras. “I lived through a never before known terror and my whole body shook while all the time looking around me”. Throughout he repeated a sentence he had picked up during the Spanish Civil War: “Es und cosa muy seria.” This is serious business. To Robert Capa it seemed an eternity before he spied a landing craft in the surf. “I did neither think nor decide; I simply stood up and ran for it.” Racing for the boat he held his cameras high to protect them from water. He had shot three films and took 106 pictures. On reaching England, he boarded the first train for London in order to have the photos developed. John Morris, photo editor at Life, had already waited impatiently for the material since Tuesday 6th June. It needed to go rapidly through British censorship and on to New York. The following evening, from a port on the Channel, came the hoped for phone call: Capa’s photographs would be in London within one or two hours. Around 21 hours a courier delivered a total of four miniature and six medium format films to the offices of Life. Dennis Banks, the young laboratory assistant developed them and suddenly raced up the stairs to John Morris. “They are ruined, ruined! Robert Capa’s films are all ruined!” In the hectic he had closed the door to the drying room, where he had hung the films. The negatives could only dry properly with the door left slightly open; otherwise the air would be too stuffy. The surface of the films was damaged. John Morris looked at them, three rolls were unusable, only on the fourth were eleven usable pictures. At 3.30 on Thursday morning Morris, with the pictures, raced his Austin through London’s deserted streets to the censor’s office where first of all he had to wait. The pictures needed to be handed over to a courier by 9 o’clock in order to arrive on time in Life’s New York head office. But Morris did not leave the Ministry of Information until 8.45. Again he raced through London, this time to Grosvenor Square. He sprinted the last 40 meters to the courier service and entered their office just as the delegated assistant was about to close the transport bag destined for the USA. “Wait!” Morris shouted. On Saturday evening, shortly after going to press, the publishers of Life cabled London: TODAY WAS ONE OF THE GREAT PICTURE DAYS IN LIFE’S OFFICE, WHEN CAPA’S BEACHLANDING AND OTHER SHOTS ARRIVED. On 19th June 1944 eight photos by Robert Capa were published in the magazine. The captions stated that the pictures were slightly out of focus, because Capa’s hands had trembled from excitement. Capa denied this and accused the London laboratory of Life to have ruined his films. 1945 saw peace again in Europe and nine years later Capa once again visited a war theatre for Life, this time Korea. But this was his last assignment; he was mortally wounded when stepping on a mine. After the end of the Korean War other themes played a part in Life: In the 60’s many pictures of film stars, the Kennedy family, the Landing on the Moon were printed. Only during the Vietnam War did the magazine again show unadorned pictures of military conflicts, this time in South East Asia. The reporting by Life helped to bring about anti-war protests in the USA. The big times of the magazine however were soon to be over. Diminishing circulation saw the first closure of the magazine in 1972. From 1978 onwards it was again published monthly, but till today it has never again reached the circulation numbers it enjoyed during the heyday of photo journalism.
  • http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/c ontax645.shtmlBut the world of film is fading fast, so why review a film camera? The answer is because though medium format film has been eclipsed of late by high-end 35mm digital, there are several medium format digital backs of 16-22 Megapixels coming to market that are reasserting medium formats superiority. I decided that the Contax 645 would be the platform that I would use to investigate these exciting new developments.
  • • Autofocus• This is not the autofocus that you may have become familiar with from 35mm cameras. Its slow. In fact, its really slow. But, who cares? The Contaxs Zeiss lenses have metal barrels and silky-smooth focusing rings. And did I mention the real aperture rings and depth of field scales? OK. Autofocus is slow. But given the type of shooting typically done with an MF camera, I can live with it
  • Contaxs N Digital, while it did eventually make it to market, then ended up beating a hasty and ignominious retreat
  • Contax is a brand name that belongs to the Carl Zeiss Foundation, and which was licensed to Yashica (now a part of Kyocera). Similarly the Zeiss lenses which are used on Contax cameras, while they were produced under license by Kyocera, are still Zeiss lenses. The are made from Zeiss designs, with Zeiss glass, under the supervision of Zeiss technicians – at least this is so for the 645 and RTS lenses
  • http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/c ontax-rip.shtmlContax is one of, if not the oldest and most venerable names in photographic history. Carl Zeiss owns the brand name, and Zeiss is very much a going concern. In fact there are few photographers who dont appreciate, if not actually covet owning and using Zeiss lenses. For Zeiss to abandon the Contax brand and its flagship camera now doesnt seem like a sensible thing that any company would do, (especially since it was Kyocera who took all the losses in recent years – which of course is why they bailed out)
  • Because it’s the most popular medium format camera in the world, there are more than 20 digital backs available from virtually every manufacturer in the industry.
  • While the firm of Ernst Leitz of Wetzlar established the 24 mm×36 mm negative format on perforated 35 mm movie film as a viable photographic system, Zeiss Ikon of Dresden decided to produce a competitor designed to be superior in every way. The name Contax was chosen after a poll among its employees. Dr. Ing. Heinz Küppenbender was its chief designer.
  • Made between 1932 and 1936, the original Contax, known as Contax I after later models were introduced, was markedly different from the corresponding Leica. Using a die-cast alloy body it housed a vertically travelling metal focal-plane shutter reminiscent of the one used in Contessa-Nettel cameras, made out of interlocking blackened brass slats somewhat like a roll-up garage door. This complex shutter became the characteristic of the Contax camera and its Super-Nettel derivative. By contrast, the competitive Leica followed the established design of using rubberized fabric shutter curtains wound around rollers, moving horizontally. The Contax design allowed a higher maximum shutter speed: the top speed was 1/1000s, then increased to 1/1250s in the Contax II. The fact that the shutter ran across the shorter dimension of the format area was a significant factor for achieving this technical feat. The interlocking slats were aligned by specially woven silk ribbons, which were very strong but subject to wear.
  • After the Second World War, a few Contax cameras were produced at the original Dresden factory, and some were assembled at the Carl Zeiss optical works at Jena, before production was transferred to Kiev in Ukraine. During the war years, the chief designer, Hubert Nerwin, tried to convert the Contax into a single-lens reflex camera but was hindered by the presence of the upper roller of the vertical focal-plane shutter. The postwar design chief Wilhelm Winzenberg started with a clean slate, which became the Contax S (Spiegelreflex), even though the "S" was not marked on the camera.
  • The Contax S can be said to be the camera that defined the configuration of the modern 35mm SLR camera. Not only did it introduce the M42 lens mount which became an industry standard, but it was also equipped with a horizontal focal-plane shutter, and also removed a major objection against the reflex camera by offering an unreversed, eye-level viewing image by employing a pentaprism. Introduced in 1949, numerous models followed including D, E, F, FB, FM and FBM.During that period, VEB Zeiss Ikon, as the firm became known, was gradually under pressure from the new Zeiss Ikon AG in the US zone, so the original Zeiss Ikon and Contax names and trademarks gradually disappeared and were replaced by the new name of Pentacon, which never really caught on. Finally this line of camera was abandoned.
  • Instead, many companieswere created around the idea to develop digital backs for established medium format players.
  • Leaf…
  • Imacon…
  • Phase One…
  • (This document was translated from the Japanese press release.) April 12, 2005 Kyocera Corporation (President: Yasuo Nishiguchi, hereafter called "Kyocera") has decided to terminate CONTAX-branded camera business. Although Carl Zeiss and Kyocera have entered into a long term co- operation regarding the development, production and sale of CONTAX-branded cameras, Kyocera has decided to terminate such business due to difficulties in catching up with the recent rapid market changes. Consequently, Kyocera will terminate the shipment of CONTAX- branded cameras, and the exclusive lenses and accessories in September, 2005, except for the CONTAX 645 camera system, the shipment of which to some markets will come to an end in December, 2005.
  • 645
  • • Kyocera / Contaxs digital point and shoots were never much of a market factor, and simply have been a stylish but technically me-too line up.• When it came to DSLRs though Contax was the first company out of the starting blocks several years ago with its Contax N Digital, a full-frame 6MP camera. It was a highly flawed product, and though heavily marketed initially, was only shipped in small quantities in most markets. In typical Kyocera fashion the company flubbed the way it handled the cameras problems, and it wasnt long before it was withdrawn.
  • The Contax 645 is somewhat like a slightly overgrown 35mm model. It is extremely user-friendly, like most 645 format- but unlike many larger medium format cameras
  • http://www.dpreview.com/news/050 3/05030301kyocera.asp
  • • Sources at Kyocera have confirmed that the company is to cease production of film and digital cameras, putting a huge question mark over the future of
  • • Kyocera has had some success in the digital camera market with models bearing Yashica, Kyocera and Contax branding, though the companys first foray into the digital SLR market (the Contax N Digital) was widely regarded as an expensive failure.There is some confusion over the future of the Contax brand, or the widely anticipated digital rangefinder (G digital) and Mark II 645 cameras. When we spoke to a Kyocera UK representative at the UKs Focus on Imaging exhibition this week, it was made clear that there may well be a future for Contax under another owner, with one rumor mentioning Sony as a potential buyer (the company already uses Carl Zeiss branded lenses on some of its digital compacts).
  • • This review of the Contax N Digital is being published in early 2004, many months after this ill-fated camera was withdrawn from the U.S. market by Contax. It is still apparently available though in some European and Asian markets.• So why am I publishing this review now? Simply because it was an important landmark in the history of digital photography — the first full-frame 35mm camera to reach the market. There have been very few published reviews of this camera. I tried very hard to obtain one for testing from Contax U.S., but was ignored, lied to and avoided by them for many months. I finally gave up in disgust. Virtually no other reviews have appeared in U.S. magazines or web sites, and I am told by other reviewers that Contax was similarly uncooperative with them regarding this product.• This review is written by Irakly Shanidze, a photographer and author whose reviews are widely published in both Russia and the United States. Even though the Contax N Digital failed in most markets, hopefully Contax will bounce back and bring to out a second generation digital SLR; something that owners of Contax 35mm lenses and 645 cameras look forward to with anticipation (myself included).• — Michael
  • Philips sensorThe Contax N Digital was the first professional digital SLR with a full size CCD chip and 6.04 megapixel recording resolution. In many ways it was, and still is a groundbreaking camera that sports a host of unique and innovative features. Not to mention that it is the only digital camera that provides access to professional Carl Zeiss optics, it is also the only digital SLR in existence that is fully compatible with lenses and accessories of two film systems: Contax N1/NX 35mm system and Contax 645 autofocus medium format camera. Even with the advent of Kodak DCS 14n and Canon 1Ds that feature over-ten-megapixel full-frame CMOS chips, the Contax N Digital remains the only full-frame digital camera that uses CCD technology for digital capture. Kyocera Optics managed to integrate a Philips 3008x2008 24x36mm chip used before in medium format digital backs into a camera body that still remains the lightest and the most compact among full-frame digital SLRs.
  • • The camera is based around the well-known Contax N1 film-based camera, and it looks almost identical to the N1 with a vertical grip/battery holder attached. In fact, both cameras are amazingly similar in controls layout, handling and operation. All digital controls are located on the back plate, and they are very easy to learn and operate. The Contax N Digital inherited such fine N1 features as focus bracketing, wide array diagonal AF with dual-focus capability and a very reliable exposure system.• Since I purchased the Contax N Digital in July 2002, it was my primary substitute for a 35mm camera in most shooting situations. The transition from the Contax N1, which I used before, was very easy because of the remarkable similarity. After eight months of using the camera almost on a daily basis with lenses ranging from 17mm to 300mm, I learned a great deal of very exciting and sometimes not very exciting things about Contax N Digital that you may find interesting and useful, especially when considering committing to a very capable yet expensive film/digital system.
  • Another notable flaw of AF the system is its dramatically increased power consumption in low light situations. It is possible to drain fresh batteries in less than ten minutes just by frequently engaging autofocus by pressing a shutter release button halfway down.
  • Another signature feature of Contax N Digital is its excruciatingly high power consumption. It came at no surprise, however, because powering such a large CCD is not an easy task.
  • Both of them show full charge almost to the point when batteries are nearly exhausted and then suddenly show low battery sign. When the batteries are low, the camera may perform erratically, lock-up and even produce images with artifacts.
  • The Contax N Digital produces images of outstanding quality that in my tests supersedes any current 6-megapixel SLR and holds up very well against Canon 1Ds and even Kodak DCS Pro Back mounted on Contax 645 body. Partly due to outstanding Carl Zeiss optics and partly to developed by Kyocera thin low-pass filter that eliminates light frequencies that produce image artifacts common in digital images.
  • but it takesan amount of work that one should hardly expect from a $7000 worth professional rig
  • • Outstanding image quality makes the Contax N Digital quite a capable performer, even compared to new generation over-10-megapixel DSLRs. It is especially suitable for fine art, glamour and portraiture as well as for landscape photography. Its studio performance is outstanding.• Unfortunately, there are some tasks that the Contax N Digital is just not equipped to perform well enough. High power consumption, small and slow buffer, poor performance in low light and limited selection of high- speed lenses makes it nearly unsuitable for photojournalism.
  • The real drawbacks of the Contax N Digital are in its image processing software and the camera firmware.
  • Launched in early 2002
  • Irakly Shanidzes work may be seen on his web site at www.shanidze.com/en
  • The camera was announced in late 2000, and began to be sold in spring 2002, after several delays. The camera received mixed reviews from the press
  • and was withdrawn from the market within a year of its introduction
  • There were only three Contax N-Mount cameras - two 35mm film SLR bodies, plus the N Digital - all of which have been discontinued
  • After the demise of the N Digital, the Contax brand name was used for one further camera, the Contax TVS of 2002. Contaxs parent company Kyocera withdrew from the digital imaging market in 2005. Today the N Digital is considered a collectors item.
  • • Back in late 2000 when the Canon D30 was new and hot and the Nikon D1 was king of the hill both Contax and Pentax announced cameras that would offer 6MP full frame imaging chips. The chip used was from Phillips, and was essentially the same chip used in a number of high-end digital backs used on medium format cameras.• Photographers were thrilled. Imagine — a full frame imager in a 35mm camera.• Then time passed, and passed, and still no cameras. About a year later Pentax announced that it was dropping out. The rumours were that they simply couldnt get the image quality they needed from the Phillips chip. Contax hung on though, and in the spring of 2002 they finally started shipping the 1N Digital
  • The N Digital is based on Contaxs 1N 35mm film body, introduced the year before. It was Contaxs first autofocus SLR. (Actually they had an autofocus SLR in the mid-90s that moved the film plane, but thats another story). Contax aficionados were pleased when this camera came out because finally there were Zeiss autofocus lenses
  • http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/cameras/1 n-non.shtmlAs soon as the N Digital started shipping I contacted Contax and their PR department, explained that I wanted to review the camera for both one of the magazines that I write for as well as this web site. I was told that they would get me a camera for review as quickly as possible. That was more than six months ago. When a camera failed to show up I would call every few weeks and was assured that as soon as one became available I would receive it. But over a half year and after a dozen phone calls and e- mails one never showed up.
  • After a time I simply lost interest and gave up. But, I didnt forget about it. Two things struck me as being strange. First that I knew that there were cameras sitting on dealers shelves, and secondly that I wasnt seeing reviews anywhere else, either online or in magazines. Strange.
  • • Two things happened in early November 2002 that lead me to question what was going on. The first was a chat with some senior executives from Contax at the PhotoPlus Expo show in New York, and the second was the appearance in the French magazine Chasseur dImages of a full review of the N Digital.• At the show I was aggressive with the Contax brass, asking them why I hadnt been provided with a review sample. In fact, I asked, why had I not seen any reviews in an American magazine, though the camera had been in the retail sales channel for a half a year? The answers were the worst bit of evasive baffelgab that Ive ever heard. They were non-answers. I walked away from the Contax booth shaking my head in disbelief.• Then a couple of weeks later I bought the current issue of Chassier dImage, in part because it featured a review of the 1N Digital. After I read the review I started to understand what was going on.
  • • On a scale of 1 to 5 Chasseur dImages gives the 1N Digital a 1, the lowest possible rating. The magazine likes the handling and build quality (always Contax strong points) but strongly criticizes the digital side. They write that the image is very noisy, especially at 200 and 400 ISO. Images are clean at ISO 25, 50 and 100, but as they point out that only really leaves ISO 100 as a usable speed.• They are also critical of the buffer, claiming that it is both too small and too slow, and the batteries — four AA cells, which they say are woefully inadequate. They feel that the resolution is good, but really no better than many much less expensive cameras. Also one cant set the colour space, the post-processing software is lacking, and so on and so on. They have almost nothing good to say about the digital side of the camera. In fairness, they do like the ergonomics, the viewfinder and the metering. And of course, the Zeiss lenses.
  • • I am left to conclude that Contax U.S. simply doesnt want to have media coverage for this product. Most manufacturers are eager to provide cameras to reviewers, usually providing pre-production samples in recognition of the long lead times that traditional print publishers have.• Of course if no press coverage is what Contax wants, thats their affair. But, they shouldnt expect for it to go unnoticed. They also should be taken to task for obviously selling a product to consumers that they appear to be less than enthusiastic about. For whatever their reasons Pentax decided that they couldnt build a camera with this chip, while Contax decided to forge ahead. To save face? Possibly. Well likely never know for sure.• By now, of course, the N Digital has missed the boat. Both Kodak and Canon have announced full frame cameras, and with double the resolution of the Contax. The Kodak 14N comes in at nearly half the price, and the Canon, while a bit more expensive, is clearly a far superior camera.• The bottom line for the Contax N Digital. Too little, too late, too expensive, badly marketed.
  • http://www.robgalbraith.com/bins/content_page.asp?cid=7-6234-6239• A spokesperson for Contax in the US has confirmed that the N Digital SLR camera is no longer being manufactured. While there may still be stock at dealers or in the distribution chain, no new shipments are expected from parent company Kyocera in Japan.• The 6 MP Contax N Digital was the first digital SLR to ship with a sensor about the same size as a 35mm film frame, and emerged on store shelves about a year ago. The Contax N Digital remains listed for sale at reputable dealers in the US for about US$6800-7000, or about the same price that it shipped at originally in 2002.• References to The N Digital as a current product will soon be removed from the Contax web site. The spokesperson said that while new products are always being developed, a possible replacement for the N Digital is not being announced at this time.
  • Contax compact cameraPhotokina 2002: About a month ago we first heard of the Kyocera Finecam S5 and some hint of a new Contax TVS Digital. At Photokina Kyocera / Contax took the covers off a pre- production TVS Digital, and a stylish looking compact digital camera it is too! As far as we can tell the five megapixel TVS Digital is based on the Finecam S5 digital engine but has a different lens, which is labelled "Carl Zeiss" (not the same Carl Zeiss lens as the Sonys?;)
  • Kyocera has already stopped production of film and digital cameras, and the various international operations are being prepared for closure. The reasons given were purely market-related (in other words not because of financial difficulties), with Kyocera now concentrating on its mobile phone and semiconductor business.
  • • Kyocera has already stopped production of film and digital cameras, and the various international operations are being prepared for closure. The reasons given were purely market-related (in other words not because of financial difficulties), with Kyocera now concentrating on its mobile phone and semiconductor business.
  • • Kyocera Corporation, parent and global headquarters of the Kyocera Group, was founded in 1959 as a producer of advanced ceramics. By combining these engineered materials with metals and plastics, and integrating them with other technologies, Kyocera has become a leading supplier of telecommunications equipment, cameras, laser printers, copiers, solar energy systems, semiconductor packages and electronic components. During the year ended March 31, 2004, the company’s net sales totaled $10.969 Billion with net income of $654.673 Million. Kyocera Corporation trades on the NYSE, Tokyo, and Osaka stock exchanges under the symbol “KYO”.
  • The last camera branded Contax
  • On April 12, 2005, Kyocera announced that they would no longer produce Contax cameras.
  • • A departure from the 35 mm format, the Contax 645 was an autofocus medium format SLR system, featuring an array of Zeiss lenses and interchangeable film and digital backs. One of its unique features was a film back equipped with the vacuum system originally developed for the 35 mm RTSIII SLR, which was claimed to increases sharpness by keeping the film perfectly flat in the plane of focus.• In addition to 120 and 220 medium format backs with film inserts for quick loading, including the previously mentioned vacuum back, many manufacturers offer a variety of interchangeable digital backs for the Contax 645 system:
  • CONTAX TVS Digital with Zeiss Vario- Sonnar 2.8-4.8 - the last camera with the brand Contax
  • Kyocera developed the modern Contax camera brand, along with their Yashica brand (from a much earlier acquisition), long before digital. Imaging was never a very large part of Kyocera and they could not keep up with the larger electronics companies (Sony, Matsushita, Canon) so they bailed
  • • Zeiss has not indicated they will resell rights to the brand name to another company, but I doubt it could happen soon if ever. Kyocera never did disclose if they would sell their own designs, patents, and equipment to anyone else....• Ergo, Contax has faded away...
  • What a great system it was... I mean all of it, from 35mm rangefinders to 645 AF cameras, I am thinking of buyinh 645 system today,
  • Zeiss still owns the Contax brand name - it was licensed to Kyocera for exclusive use and, even though Kyocera has discontinued making cameras, Kyocera still has the brand rights for several years. (The agreement probably should have had a caluse to revert to Zeiss if Kyocera quit using it but it didnt) Whether there will be some new deal that creats a new Contax line is not yet known. Most probably, the contax 35mm manual SLR line, the Contax 35mm AF SLR line and the Contax 645 AF SLR line have all seen their end and any new "Contax" would be something different.
  • Well, I think Zeiss probably cares less about the CONTAX name anymore. While a historic brand to some degree, I dont think its very marketable today.
  • I do agree with you that the Contax name doesnt really tie to Zeiss anymore, even though they own it. Made in Japan for too long, and with too little Zeiss input in terms of camera systems.
  • Thats just not true. You obviously are not fasmiliar with the brand. There was quite a bit of Zeiss input, and the cameras benefited from it. The name is stil strongly associated with Zeiss and still has tremendous brand value. There are a lot of potential partners out there that would kill to be able to use the name and work with Zeiss on the Contax line. First, however, they have to sort out the arrangement with Kyocera, which is confusing and confounding to most people watching it. (even though Kyocera has left the business and stopped all production and development activies -- so they say -- they still are, apparently, able to hold the Contax licnese in spite of non-preformance under the license and are able to stop Zeiss from re-newing the brand with another partner.)
  • Contax has never been a mass market brand, and never has positioned itself there. It is not going to compete with the volume of Nikon D50s and Canon Rebel XTs, and will never make a camera that cheap. It has always been a product for discriminating and professional users, and in that space it can and did (and will again) compete very well. Many people that use them prefer the cameras excellent handling and ergonomics, and the lenses -- especially wide to short telephoto -- which are superior to the big names (Canon ,Nikon, Pentax, Minolta) Expensive but worth it (but much less expensive than Leica optics of comparable performance). There are many pros using Canon digital today that would switch tomorrow just for the lenses if Contax/Zeiss produced a new pro-DLSR.
  • in the days of flim contax was on the mind of photographies,just not every one could afford them. if one could afford them and used them,one would not go back to another camera. everone talks about quility but few are willing to pay for it. i only wish i could afford the M digital back
  • Ended up in the medium format segment, which is smaller and smaller…
  • I am currently using a Contax 645 with a Phase One P30+. Firstly, this combination will record detail that is unsurpassed using any Dslr. Phase one software is getting better and better, the new 4.0.1 has excellent controls and is every bit as good as ACR. Capture One DB has a steep learning curve and is well worth the time spent, although 4.0.1 is my preference for most processing.
  • The thing I like about the Phase back is that there is very little to configure. 4 buttons on the back and it is so easy to get the right setting. The back has a readout that tells you iso, white balance etc. The menu system is not myriads of menus like my D200 which I dearly love. Combine the ease of use of the back with the traditional user interface of aperatures and shutter speeds of the Contax 645 and the joy of photography returns.Hope this helps
  • Image attributions
  • Christian Sandström is a PhD student at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg, Sweden. He writes and speaks about disruptive innovation and technological change. www.christiansandstrom.orgchristian.sandstrom@chalmers.se