Chateau de Preuilly. The 21mm finder is designed for quick
use: if you peer into the corners, instead of just holding
it to your eye and taking a picture, you will see rather
more than actually appears on the film.
Lens Mount Musings
Which brings us back to the lens mount. It is willfully complicated. Apart
from the angle of rotation (and the even more arcane point that the lens
throat is very slightly larger in the original Contax than the Nikon,
though the R2S and R2C are the same), the mounts are to all intents and
purposes identical, so what follows applies to both.
There are actually two lens mounts in one, both three-claw bayonets. The
inner mount is for 50mm lenses only, which (in the traditional versions)
did not have focusing mounts at all: they were just a lens head, with
an iris diaphragm. It is an internal bayonet with a diameter of about
36mm: the lenses have protruding tabs that lock into it.
This inner mount has its own little spring tab to retain the lens; its
own focusing scale; its own depth of field markings; and even that bane
of ancient focusing mounts, an infinity lock. It is driven by a little
finger-wheel just in front of the shutter release, which is in turn equipped
with an infinity lock release, so that as you focus, the lock is automatically
released. Rather over three full turns of this wheel (!) rotate the lens
mount by 268Þ or 277Þ, depending on the mount. This focusing
wheel is also geared to the rangefinder.
The outer mount is for all other focal lengths--and it can also be
used for 50mm "standard" lenses if they are fitted with a
full focusing mount, instead of just being a lens head. As far as I know,
the Ukrainians were the first to take this route, with a 50mm f/1.8 toward
the very end of the life of the Kiev. The shortest lenses that I know
of for Contax and Nikon bayonets are 21mm (21mm f/4.5 Biogon, 21mm f/4
Nikkor, 21mm f/4 SC-Skopar) and the longest I know of (offered only briefly
in about 1936, before being withdrawn and re-issued for use with a mirror
housing) was the 180mm f/2.8 Olympic Sonnar.
The outer mount on the camera body is an external bayonet, over which
the lens mount fits. As lenses are fitted, a little bullet-shaped protrusion
at about 10 o'clock on the lens mount is pushed aside: this is the
infinity lock, which is disabled when the external bayonet is in use.
Rangefinder coupling is effected via a tabbed collar on the inner lens
barrel which engages with the inner focusing mount of the camera: as the
lens rotates, so does the inner focusing mount, thereby driving the rangefinder
(and the focusing wheel). The whole lens rotates, necessitating two aperture
scales so that one is always conveniently visible regardless of the rotation
of the lens. This also precludes anything but round lens shades and makes
polarizing filters problematical in the extreme.
Nor is this the end of the story. Before you mount a lens using the external
bayonet (the usual red-dot-to-red-dot arrangement, at about a quarter
to three on the body), the focusing scales on both the camera and the
lens must be set to infinity. If they are not, there is a risk of damage
to the camera or the lens or both. This risk is less with Voigtländers
than with either Contax or Nikon, because the spring-loaded rangefinder
coupling collar seems more willing to "skate" until it falls
into place, rather than jamming brutally and immediately.
Just to make life more interesting, when you remove a lens mounted on
the external bayonet, with everything set at infinity as recommended,
the lens stays at infinity but the body mount is dragged around to about
3 meters, from which it has to be reset before you can mount another lens
(again set at infinity). You can now see why I describe the mount as willfully
Traditionally, most people focused 50mm lenses with the focusing wheel
(though you could just twist the lens), and focused all other lenses using
the conventional focusing collars (with which they were all fitted). Using
the focusing collar on lenses with the external bayonet mount caused the
focusing wheel to whiz around and saw up your index finger a treat, but
generally, the focusing movement was so stiff that focusing lenses other
than 50mm via the wheel was infeasible.
This may however have been sheer old age and dry lubricants (in the case
of all the Contaxes and Nikons I have tried) or Soviet quality control
(on Kievs), because I found it perfectly easy to focus both the 21mm and
35mm lenses on the R2S using the focusing wheel. Indeed, I found this
more convenient than focusing with the standard lens collars, or even
with the plastic extension collars or "ruffs" supplied as
extras to make life easier. I shall come back to this later.
Other than the lens mount, the R2C and R2S are very similar to the Leica
bayonet-fit R2. They all have the feel and heft of "real"
cameras, thanks to the metal chassis, mag-alloy body work, and sweetly
machined bayonet mounts. At photokina, everyone who tried my R2 (with
the Leica M-mount) wanted one, and many remarked on what a far cry it
was from the original light and somewhat plasticky-feeling Bessa-L of
less than five years ago.
Functionally, all R2 cameras share the mechanical shutter speed of 1 to
1/1000 sec plus B, through-lens metering from EI 25 to EI 3200, and three-light
LED meter read-out. These are, remember, the first-ever production Nikon-
and Contax-mount rangefinder cameras to offer through-lens metering. Metering
performance appears identical to the R2; so does the rewind; so does the
body covering material; and the trigger wind base is fully interchangeable
between the two (I tried mine on both).
The most obvious visual difference, apart from the mount itself, is the
faceplates. The R2C/R2S models necessarily have an extra housing to accommodate
the connection to the focusing wheel, and the faceplate is also a slightly
different shape around the rangefinder windows, though the rangefinder
base (and essential mechanism) remain the same.
The shutter release on the R2C/R2S is taller than on the R2, probably
because there would be a risk of fouling the focusing wheel while releasing
the shutter if the R2 release were retained.
There is also a difference in the viewfinders. Each manufacturer has (or
had) certain "canonical" focal lengths: the speeds might vary,
and the designs might change over the years, but the focal lengths remained
constant. To a large extent, of course, this is a consequence of the need
to provide viewfinders for each focal length: it doesn't make much
sense to make (for example) both 85mm and 90mm lenses, or both 100mm and
The R2C and R2S adhere to the Contax canon, with switchable, projected,
parallax-corrected frames for 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm. The great advantage
of this is that all three appear as single frames, unlike the R2 where
the three settings are 50mm, 35mm, and 90mm simultaneously (and distractingly),
There is not much to say about lens or camera performance. The lenses
supplied for test were the 21mm f/4 and 35mm f/2.5, already well-known
in Leica screwmount and also previously tested for Shutterbug in S-mount.
The shutter, metering, rangefinder, and so forth are also of known excellence.
This is a system that can at all but the widest or smallest apertures
exploit any modern film to the limits of its resolution and beyond. All
that really remains to be discussed is the handling.
Here, the problem is that I'm the worst person to ask. I've
been using Leicas for over 30 years, and I've been using Leica-fit
Voigtländers since they came out. Once you're used to one system,
be it Leica compatible or Contax/Nikon compatible, the other system is
backward: the bayonet is clockwise to lock on a Leica, anti-clockwise
on a Contax/Nikon, and the focusing ring on the lens is clockwise to focus
a Leica closer, anti-clockwise to focus a Contax/Nikon closer. There's
also that setting-to-infinity rigmarole in mounting Contax/Nikon lenses.
But yet... The big advantage of the Contax/Nikon system is that because
of the enormous travel of the focusing wheel (over three turns, remember)
it is much easier to focus precisely. Paradoxically, this can be at its
most valuable in poor light, when you are dealing with precise adjustments:
if you are photographing musicians, for example, a few inches variation
in focus can make all the difference, and the 90Þ movement on a
Leica-fit Voigtländer lens can actually be a bit too quick. As long
as I stuck to the finger wheel, I was OK: as soon as I switched to direct
focusing, as described earlier, I started to get crossed up, because of
the "backward" focus movement. But if you still use manual
Nikon SLRs, and have never used Leicas, there is no reason why you should
not be perfectly happy with direct focusing using the collar.
There's also the point that because the whole lens rotates, changing
the aperture is also very likely to change the focus unless you have your
index finger firmly on the focusing wheel.
As for the inconvenience of lens changing, there's the point that
most rangefinder aficionados tend to favor one lens above all others,
and to change focal lengths fairly rarely, at which point the relative
sloth (as compared with a Leica bayonet) is of limited importance. If
I had an R2C, my old Zeiss 21mm f/4.5 Biogon would live on it at all times;
with the R2S, either the 35mm f/2.5 SC-Skopar or the 50mm f/1.5 SC-Nokton
would get the nod. Or I might just use the Biogon on the R2S anyway...
Take Your Pick
All in all, the three versions of the R2 probably have three completely
different buyer profiles. The original R2 appeals to those who already
use Leicas, or who always wanted a Leica but either couldn't find
the money or couldn't justify the expense. It's the best camera
in the series for rapid-action low-light photography, too, and it will
be even better when the new 35mm f/1.2 comes out, a lens I can't
wait to try.
The R2C will appeal to anyone who already has an original Zeiss lens outfit
from the late 1950s, or who is canny enough to assemble such an outfit
before the prices go up in response to the introduction of the new Voigtländer.
It may also enjoy a vogue as an ultra-exclusive "back-up"
camera for professionals and rich amateurs, usually with just one (old)
Zeiss lens that never gets changed--quite possibly the 21mm f/4.5
Biogon. It's going to be a major-league collectors' camera,
too, because it is unlikely that they will ever sell in vast numbers.
And the R2S? Well, it'll be a collectors' camera, too: probably
less so than an R2C, though a mint outfit, with all the lenses, is going
to be worth megabucks one day, and not too far in the future either. Obviously
it's a way to extend a Nikon outfit, which is probably a bigger
market than most people realize: probably (dare one whisper it?) most
or all of the lenses are better than 40-to-50-year-old Nikkors, too.
And with current Voigtländer lenses, an R2S is a more practical camera
than an R2C plus Zeiss lenses, while still retaining more cachet than
a plain R2. I have already met one photographer, a neighbor, who has fallen
hopelessly in love with the R2S in a way that he never did with the R2,
even the olive green R2. In fact, he supplied the illustrations for this
article: he was so desperate to try the camera (and he's such a
good photographer) that it seemed unkind not to let him.
Ultimately, falling in love is what the vast majority of camera purchases
come down to. This, I think, is where the R2S is going to succeed. Once
you get one in your hands, you'll realize that there are really
only two reasons not to buy an R2S: either you don't like mechanical
rangefinder cameras at all, or you do, but (like me) you prefer the R2
in Leica bayonet fit. Well, OK, three reasons: it's going to be
significantly more expensive than a "plain" R2, though still
a fraction of the price of a Leica.
To sum up, then, I'll borrow (and modify) a phrase from former President
Jimmy Carter: I have looked upon this camera with lust in my heart. Look
upon it, and you may feel the same.
For more information about the R2C and R2S, contact CameraQuest by phone:
(818) 879-1968 or web site: www.CameraQuest.com.
The street price for either the R2C/R2S bodies is $625.