Perspective: Contax G 45mm + Sony A6500

The camera and lens combination for this experiential review is my Sony A6500 mated to a Contax G 45mm f/2.0 rangefinder lens. Unlike other vintage lenses, this combination requires the use of a specialized mechanical adapter to provide a way to focus the lens. Where appropriate, I will share my thoughts on the adapters that I use as they do affect the “feel” of the lens. In this configuration, my A6500 is set up with focus peaking and in-body image stabilization.

I am not a pixel-peeper; I choose to use a lens to achieve a look that may arise because of the quality of the optics, defects in the lens itself and its interaction with the camera and sensor. In other words, this is my qualitative perspective and a subjective review; your personal experience with the gear combination may vary.

Without a doubt, the Contax G 45mm f/2.0 is my all-time favorite piece of glass — not just now, but over my decades of shooting. To be honest, I never warmed up to the Contax G rangefinders, so I missed using one within its native ecosystem. When I moved to mirrorless from a Nikon D200 to the Panasonic LUMIX GH1, it was one of the first unique lenses that I owned. Since then, I’ve used two different copies with multiple Micro 4/3 bodies (Panasonic and Olympus), a full-frame Sony A7 and now on an APS-C Sony A6500. The images that this lens captures are stunning. Case in point, I received “Best Photography” award for “Roundabout” (below) — and it was captured with this glass, handheld with no image stabilization in very low light.

So you may have picked up on the fact that I’ve used two different copies of the same lens. Optically, both lenses were identical and produced equal results. The reason for a second copy is that the first lens was a little sticky, which made it difficult to focus. For those who may not know, Contax G-series lenses are unique in that they were designed to be screw-driven without a manual focus ring. The camera body contained a focusing motor that coupled with a pin drive embedded within the lens mount. As a result, the only way to focus a G lens is to rotate the pin, which can’t be done without some creative engineering.

Back in the day, I used a custom thumbwheel-style lens adapter rather than the more common full ring adapter. The thumbwheel is really great for street work, but if the gearing inside of the G lens is sticky it becomes significantly harder to focus. While shooting on the streets of Chicago, the stickiness of my first 45mm became a problem, so I switched to an M-mount Voigtlander 40mm Nokton that was both quick and compact.

However, the Voigtlander Nokton is no Contax 45mm f2, so I caved to creative self-pressure, picked up another (less sticky) one a few years later, moved the Voigtlander along, and am using the 45mm today on my A6500. The Metabones full ring adapter that I’m now using makes it easier to focus, but I have given up speed for focus precision. Sometimes, you can’t have everything (but I’m still trying to figure out how to make the custom thumbwheel adapter work…).

Creatively, the Contax G 45mm lens is utterly spectacular. There’s a look to quality Contax glass and in this little gem images simply pop. Look elsewhere online for in-depth examinations and discussions of corner sharpness and microcontrast — what you need to know is that pictures that result from this lens are more often beautiful than average.

The image clarity is a dream. I could get tack sharp images on my old GH1, GH3 and Olympus m4/3 bodies without the help of focus peaking (not that I had a choice — it didn’t exist in those cameras yet). On the A6500, the focus peaking makes the shooting experience much better. By design, the separation between foreground and background not only creates great images but helps with handling, too.

The combination of T* coatings, optical design and the glass itself makes this lens one of the best and in my opinion, a must for any mirrorless shooter whether m4/3, APS-C or full frame. While slow to manual focus with a large full ring adapter, once you get the hang of it this lens will not disappoint. I recommend putting it on a bucket list of must try vintage glass for mirrorless photographers.

In short, this lens will always been in my collection of go to optics regardless of mirrorless format and the age of the lens. It is simply that good.

For those who may be interested, I did buy and try a Techart Contax G to Sony E autofocus adapter. It was horrible at autofocus and literally fell apart when I was in the field. Luckily neither the 90mm G lens nor the camera were harmed. It was a real pain trying to get the remains of the adapter off both without damaging the rear element and camera sensor.

My post mortem analysis of the Techart adapter incident revealed several critical design flaws that I can only attribute to trying to save a buck or two or to poor engineering. To this day, I DO NOT recommend using a Techart adapter. Manual focus on a Contax G lens with a good mechanical focus ring is faster, more accurate and safer.

The perspective that I have shared is based on my own personal experience with the lens + camera/gear combination, which has been influenced by my 30+ years as an amateur and creative photographer. At the time of writing, I personally owned the equipment described and did not receive any compensation for expressing my opinions.