Mini Howl and Growl Review of the Contax N Digital

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 ISO Analysis Fill Flash

"A Carl Milles Sculpture in Dallas, Texas" Contax N Digital with 24-85 Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar Zoom Lens

Day 1:

Day 1: "Mrs. Cambell -" - Contax N Digital with 24-85 Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar Zoom Lens, TLA 360 Fill Flash, saved as a JPG

This shot has good shadow detail, with no blown highlights. The chair arms are reflecting both the 9 a.m. eastern sun and the TLA 360 flash. The morning sun was already quite bright and the flash was used to fill in the shadows.

Yesterday, I picked up what I'm told is one of the few Contax ND cameras in the U.S. Last night, I read the manual and charged the batteries, waking up early this a.m. (North of Dallas, Texas), to grab a few first impression shots. Check back in a few days for a more robust review, including specifications. Right now, I just wanted to get a couple of sample shots up and some comments.

I loaded a 64 Megabyte Simple Technology Compact Flash. I was able to write 12 JPG files and one Tiff to this card. The camera, is so similar to the N1 and to the old AX and RX that the handling is almost identical. Just a few more buttons that are well marked and very intuitive. I did have a false start loading the batteries. Initially power did not come on ... so I took the batteries out, checked their orientation (which was correct), and put them back in the unit. The ND then powered up fine.

The camera, unexpectedly, comes with two shutter releases and focusing buttons. The standard buttons for horizontal shooting and buttons on the side for vertical shots! A very nice surprise.

The body appears to be very well made. I set up a low end Slik tripod and pressed for time, set everything on Auto. ASA (ISO) 100, Auto White Balance, JPG 1 save format. I set up my model, Mrs. Cambell and took a few shots. No delays. No focusing problems. Worked like a charm. Placed the TLA 360 flash on the camera and took some flash shots. Took a few self portraits. And finally changed the settings for a Tiff save. Shot a picture of the house. The card was full.

I headed to the computer and tried to use my Casio software program and the SanDisk card reader. That software (which I also use for my Canon G1) could not see the files. So, plan B., I used a Digital Media Compactflash Simple Tech. Adapter. If you do not have one of these, they are great. They fit in the PCMCIA slot of a notebook, and make it look like another hard drive. (Thank you brother Richard for that gift). Looking at the directory structure of the compact flash, I could easily see why the Casio software could not read the card. Different directory structures!

The files were then copied to my image computer system and I made a quick pass using a $40.00 program called PhotoRecall to quickly enhance and crop a few shots. I think that this is fair ... considering if the camera were a film camera the photo lab would compensate for any negative exposure problems. Remember, this was my "first roll" with everything on Auto. My initial impressions, (as I have read elsewhere), is that the shots were slightly underexposed. I increased the brightness slightly with an "adjust by example" to the brightness and contrast. I then ran the program through the PhotoRecall "Publish to Web" to reduce the size of the JPG for this display. The JPG's started out at about 2.7 megabytes and the Tiff was 17.9 megabytes! Now they are reduced down to 38k JPG images. I cropped several images. Remember, that the viewfinder is only showing 95% of the image, so a tight composition may need some additional cropping for the unexpected.

In the next few days, I will sit up a link to show the unmodified JPG files, but until then you can see Mrs. Cambell (above). And this last comment for now - the viewfinder is great, unlike most consumer grade digital cameras. Taking shots is just like using a Contax N1, with the viewfinder nicely illuminated for composing a shot.

Additional lens information (exposure, etc.) will be posted soon. Also, I will be making comments on the print quality of some of these shots.

Day 2:

"Dallas Wall Mural" - Contax N Digital with 24-85 Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar Zoom Lens, saved as a Jpg

I head into the late Dallas afternoon sun after work, and plan on taking some street scenes. Two disappointments as I flip through the images is that even in open shade looking at the LCD finder on the back of the ND seeing images is impossible. This does not really pose to bad of a problem for me, as my usual mode of shooting is to shoot, and later review and delete images back at my office (or at the pub while enjoying a Guiness!). Another MAJOR disappointment is that I was hoping and expecting that the lens angle would be included in the exposure information. I have not loaded the Contax software to see if any of this information is available with the Contax software. YES!, the angle of exposure is available through software that reads the EXIF JPG information!

Checking the histogram information for the 25 shots taken on Tuesday, there seems to be a pattern. A histogram is a mathematical representation of the image information captured in three areas: shadow, mid tones and highlights. The shots taken without a flash have histograms reflecting great shadow and mid tone detail, while the flash pictures also have the highlight detail. The flashless shots seem to have similar histograms whether the shot is in full shade or full sun. Even thought I used the EC dial to increase the exposure on all of these shots, I still am "hitting" each shot in PhotoRecall with some more brightness and contrast. But that is OK. I takes me about 30 seconds per shot and unlike my film scans I do not have to struggle to remove dust and scratches! My workflow speed is already increasing tremendously. And as long as the data for shadow detail and mid tone changes is stored in the image, changes do not damage an original TIFF. They do make a minor change to your Jpg files. Each time a JPG is saved (a lossless format), certain information in the original image is lost. So, remember, make all of your changes to your original Jpg once. Do NOT keep making changes, reopen the Jpg and make more changes! A good workflow routine is to save your original Jpg as a TIFF, make changes, and then if you need the smaller Jpg to E-mail a friend, etc. then save a final copy of your corrected image to a Jpg.

The image below is simply a crop from the above Dallas Mural Images original 2.8 M.B. Jpg file. The amazing clarity is a good testimony to the high end Carl Zeiss Lenses. This image crop represents about 8% of the original Image!

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Keep in mind that these images posted are 38K representations of the original 2.8 megabyte files! A few images I took with shutter speeds of 1/20th or less had to be discarded due to camera shake. These were handheld shots. With the 24 to 85 zoom I used, I just did not get any successful shots with the slower shutter speeds (not surprising). My lower limit seems to be 1/40th of a second for practical purposes.

The shots below is included to represent the extreme depth of field the digital perspective includes. The shot (taken as a 24 MM. wide angle) shows the keystone effect of vertical lines which would be similar to the films N1 counterpart.

"Downtown Dallas by US Mail Center" Contax N Digital with 24-85 Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar Zoom Lens, f8 at 1/180

The battery after nearly 50 shots is still performing, but as I precaution, I removed the batteries at the end of the evening for recharging with the Contax supplied Sanyo recharger to prepare for another day of shooting. Spare batteries are on my shopping list, and I'm looking forward to printing this weekend the 2.8 JPG files. I'll print some 13 by 19 Super A3 prints on my Epson 2000P to see if this camera really sings. More shot samples are included at this link: Day 2 - Shot Portfolio

Day 3:

Day 3 - "Flowers with Rooster" - Contax N Digital with 24-85 Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar Zoom Lens, f5.6 at 1/2

The Contax ND was set up to take a still life. Rapidly approaching was my greatest discovery. The critical mass of the discovery was the realization of how important instant feedback could be to the photographer. As the sun set, I set up the above Flowers with Rooster shot and took a few snaps. I then decided to EC the exposure an additional two stops due to the strong backlighting. I was in a hurry to catch the light, and took a few more shots. Just before I started to disassemble the tripod, I checked the images. They were ALL way off. My "best educated guess" was wrong. So again, I setup for the shot. But this time my exposure calculations were more deliberate and more strongly exposed for the shadows with great care not to let the strong backlight hit the meter area.

My point is that if I had been shooting with film, the shots would have been wasted, as both the original metering and my exposure intuition were fooled by the strong backlighting. The digital feedback allowed me to save the shot by fine tuning my exposure calculations with instant feedback from the LCD. This is a really tough image to photograph, with a dark rooster next to the light water vase. The Contax ND did a great job of maintaining detail in both objects. And those darn Carl Zeiss lenses ... they are so good they picked up the water spots in the window!

The best exposed shot from the series was "tweaked" in Photoshop and printed full frame as a 6.7 by 10 inch print on Epson Archive Matte paper using an Epson 2000P printer. Wow, what a beautiful print. I was very pleased. A time constraint kept me from jumping the image size up to a full A3, but that project is next on my list. In shooting some additional shots, I did have one late night scare. After shooting 3 or 4 shots of a friend, the camera would go dead. I would turn it back on, and would be able to shoot several more frames. Again, the camera would go dead. This happened 4 or 5 times. When I really studied the situation, the NIMH batteries were very low. Remember, I had re-charged the batteries after Day 1 (25 shots) and now I was up to a total of about 60 shots. I believe that my problem is that the Sanyo recharger that comes with the ND has no "full discharge" capability. Hence, charging partially charged batteries creates a partially charged battery. You really need to completely discharge the batteries before charging, or put out some money for a charge with a full discharge (dump) feature. I did purchase two additional sets of batteries for spares (4 batteries to a set) at a cost of about $11.00 per set. Charging a set of batteries on the Sanyo Quick Charger takes approximately 7 hours! The good news is that having now shot about 75 exposures, I have saved approximately $75.00 in film, developing and scanning costs.

The Contax N Digital (ND) was purchased at: www.competitivecameras.com

Call (972) 768-7469 coyote@outbackcoyote.com

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Photo of the Month August of 2001

Photo of the Month May of 2001

Last Modified 06/6/03.

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