Contax has been one of the hottest camera brands in analog film photography forever, the expensive point and shoot cameras and the even more expensive Contax 645 system have been hyped for years. But not many people mention the Contax 35mm SLR system, also know as the C/Y mount system. For me this is my favorite 35mm SLR system and here is why.

Why and why not

There are quite a lot of 35mm film camera systems out there, but which one should you pick.

One thing to consider is SLR vs Range Finder. Range Finders are good for street and people photography, you can see a bit of what’s outside the frame you are shooting so you can see if a subject is to walk into your frame or not. SLR is for landscape or cityscape photography, you see exactly what you are gonna get, compared to Range Finders where your frame (depending on the camera) is often pretty small (especially for longer focal lengths).

Another important thing is the lens selection, a lot of camera systems died after a few years and didn’t have many lenses. Contax is pretty good here, the Zeiss glass is awesome (if the movie people love these lenses so much, there is probably a reason) and it has something in every focal length you need.

Then you should also look at if it’s a dead camera system and for how long has it been dead. I think this is probably the biggest downside about the Contax SLR cameras, they where produced for 30 years until the early 00’s, which is good. But can not compare to Canon EF (that was produced until recently) or Leica M (that is still produced). You can even buy a new Leica M6 camera and they will also service it.

Vesterport Copenhagen, shot on Contax Aria + Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f1.4 @ f5.6 + 1/1 sec on a tripod.

Is it sexy and do you get inspired by the camera system? For Contax SLR’s, big yes.

Reliability, is there a lot of problems with those kind of cameras? In my experience there often is problems with older SLR cameras, i.e. I had so many problems with every Canon FD camera I bought that I just gave up on that system. Problem will disagree with me, but I would say to stay away from the 70’s and 80s cameras, and get a camera from 90s or early 00s.

For me it comes down to Contax SLR’s , Nikon F, Canon EF (there is also manual focus EF cameras and lenses), and Leica M. For me I need an SLR camera for my cityscape photography, so Leica is not an option. I was never very interested in Nikon (even though back in the days they where the king), so for me it’s either Contax SLR’s or Canon EF, and I actually own both. Of cause there is a lot of other 35mm camera options out there, this is just the systems that have sparked my interest based on the things I mentioned above.

Contax Aria

My favorite camera for the C/Y mount is the Contax Aria. The camera is small, looks sexy, has a lot of modern features like auto rewind and a good light meter. It’s among the film cameras that was produced in the end of the 90s/early 00s, so a high chance of it still working if you buy one. It has a big lovely and bright viewfinder, makes it easy to nail focus and also inspires you to go out and shoot. It’s also the smallest of the C/Y cameras. This is the camera I would recommend.

Contax Aria + Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f1.7

I also tried the Contax RTS I + II. The I is from the 70’s and II is from the 80s, both more manual than the Contax Aria, but where supposed to be more pro models with ability to flip up the mirror and with better viewfinder coverage. To me they feel a bit too old in the design, but it’s a personal thing. Contax RTS II is more in the modern design of the Contax Aria, and has 100% viewfinder coverage (something only few film SLR’s have). On paper this is the perfect camera but in reality the camera is just too big and clunky. I made a video about the RTS III on Youtube you can check out.

I also tried the Contax 167MT, a camera that often comes up for sale for not much money locally where I live. It’s produced in 1986, and I far as I understand it was the first “electronic” Contax camera, and has a lot of the modern features the Contax Aria also have, but it’s bigger and more clunky to use, still a more affordable option than other Contax cameras.

Yashica also made cameras for this mount, and I was foolish enough to buy a Yashica 108 Multi Program (even after reading bad reviews online). It’s a electronic camera in a plastic body, features are extremely limited, but worst of all it kept having issues. I fixed a few of it’s problems, and ended up buying another Yashica 108 Multi Program for spare parts, but in the end I gave up on it. Not worth it. Not sure if you will get the same experience with all Yashica cameras for this mount, I see a lot of people using the older Yashica FX-3 so maybe that is worth a try.

Bremen Theater Copehagen, shot on Contax Aria + Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f1.4 @ f1.4 1/60 sec handheld

Japanese Tower in Tivoli Copenhagen, shot on Contax Aria + Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f1.7 @2.8 1/15 sec on a tripod

Mirror Slip Problem

A common problem for all the Contax and Yaschica cameras for this mount is the Mirror Slip Problems. The problem happens if the camera is stored somewhere warm, let’s say a warm attic, the mirror in the camera is glued to a metal plate, and when the glue is warm the mirror slowly slips down.

Online some people mentioned you can heat up the glue and move the mirror up. I tried that but like most other people also reported, this doesn’t work, after a few hours the mirror will move down again.

The only solution is to remove the mirror, remove the glue, and reapply a new strip of double sided tape. Try to google it, there are several guides on how to do this, and what tape to buy. I had mixed results with this, on some cameras it worked and on some the mirror was now back in place but the focusing was still off.

My advice to you is to check your Contax camera as soon as you buy it, shoot a roll through it quick, develop it and see if you can nail focus with the camera (try to shoot some focusing tests), otherwise return it to the seller.

Neon sign at Nørrebrogade in Copenhagen, shot on a Contax Aria with the mirror slip problem. A reminder to all to always check the focusing ability of your camera before you go out and shoot epic photos 🙂


One of the biggest highlights of this camera system must be the lenses. These Zeiss lenses are legendary and there is a reason why so many cinematographers love them for video and movie making. I’m not much of a video producer, but I did try to use it for video and it really does add a lot of the high quality video feeling (check out this video I uploaded to Youtube where I compared the Contax Zeiss 50mm f1.4).

The lenses I would recommend are these:

  • Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f1.7 – I like this lens because it’s pretty small, so a good walk around lens. Some people claim it’s sharper than the f1.4.
  • Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f1.4 – for me this lens is the ultimate lens, good for shooting low light handheld, and also great adopted on digital cameras for video work.
  • Carl Zeiss Tessar T* 45mm f2.8 – not my favorite focal length, but this lens with the Contax Aria basically makes it pocketable, a great little lens.

I was looking for some wide angle options, but wide angle lenses was more rare back in the days and the Zeiss options are pretty pricey, so I ended up buying 3rd party options:

  • Tokina RMC 17mm f3.5 – Not that sharp wide open, but I still like this lens, ultra wide lenses can actually give some cool images on analog film.
  • Sigma MF 28mm f1.8 Aspherical ZEN – The Zeiss alternative was too big and expensive, this is pretty small, also fast aperture and cheap.

I also tried a few of the Yashica lenses that came with the different cameras I picked up, they are not as sharp as the Zeiss lenses, at least wide open, I would go for the Zeiss lenses.

The C/Y flange distance is not that long, which mean you can adopt some other lenses. I got a M42 adapter, since I already had a few M42 lenses. The downside of using an adapter is that it doesn’t stop up and down the lens when you focus and shoot, so you will manually have to open up the aperture to focus and stop it down when you shoot. Besides that this is a cool and cheap thing to add to your Contax collection. My favorite M42 lenses are the Helios 44-2 58mm f2 (for it’s interesting bokeh) and the Carl Zeiss Jena Tessar 50mm F2.8 (for it’s 3D pop rendering).

I have a theory which I have not yet tested, that older low contrast lenses (like these Contax Zeiss lenses) have more dynamic range than modern lenses (i.e. Canon EF lenses). I just noticed when shooting film with my Canon EF cameras and modern EF lenses that my shadows and highlights was more often blown out than i.e. photos shot with my Contax cameras and Zeiss lenses. I plan to do a test on my blog in the future.

Nørreport Metro Station, Copenhagen. Shot on Contax Aria + Tokina RMC 17mm f3.5 @ f5.6 1/15 sec handheld


If Contax is not for you, then what other alternatives do you have? Like I also mentioned earlier, a fun option is actually the Canon EF mount, you can get good Canon EF auto focus cameras but there are also the full manual option with the Canon EOS EF-M (split prism, manual dias and everything). And the cool thing is that because of the even shorter flange distance you can even adapt Contax lenses (C/Y) with a tiny adapter or the M42 lenses, meaning this camera has a huge lens selection. Update: after writing this I have read that not all C/Y to EF adapters work, (camera will not fire), and nobody knows why some adapters work and others don’t, therefore probably stay away from adopting lenses on the Canon EOS EF-M.

Canon EOS EF-M camera: you might laugh at me but this and the Canon EF system in general is a great for analog photography

There are many lenses that was made until just a few years ago (I still think some of them are in production) and many interesting 3rd party lenses like manual focus Voigtländer lenses (i.e. the tiny pancake Voigtländer 28mm f2.8 Color Skopar or the Voigtländer Ultron 40mm f2, very cool lenses) or the manual focus Zeiss lenses (the Zeiss Planar T* 50mm f1,4 is supposed to be the exact same lens design with updated coatings). Personally I really like to have an auto focus 35mm camera (and there are many great Canon EOS cameras for that), and then for manual focus I would like to not to have to buy another set of lenses just for that, and for that the EF mount is great.

Nikon also offers the exact same thing, both auto focus and manual focus SLR cameras. But I did read that there are many comparability problems with never Nikon AF lenses on older Nikon AF film cameras. And I also heard that Canon’s auto focus was superior to Nikons back in the film days. And for those two reasons I would pick Canon EF over Nikon F.

Car parking house at Jernbanegade Copenhagen, shot with Contax Aria + Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f1.7 @  f8 2 sec on a tripod.


Video that mentions most of the things in this blog post, if you like to watch it as a video instead.