703.608.0975 rick@warrenworks.com

I gave this camera to my wife, Coralie, as a present for Christmas one year back in the mid 1980s, which prompted her to issue the following ultimatum that still holds to this day: “Do not, I repeat, do not buy me a gift that you really want for yourself!” I honestly believed she’d love it as much as I did, but I digress…

What immediately attracted me to this camera was its sleek, compact design. Remember, this is the 1980s I’m talking about. It sat in the display case nestled like sleeping beauty in its satin-lined box. I picked it up and held it in my hands gently as the salesman explained its features: range-finder, manual focus, aperture priority, auto exposure…I bought it on the spot. Back then I was a U.S. Navy enlisted man and as I recall, its $525.00 price tag was, to me anyway, quite a wad of cash. It would cost over $1,000.00 in today’s dollars. It’s a purchase decision I have never regretted.

This is my preferred street photography camera. In fact, in my opinion, it is the perfect discrete street photography camera. It is unassuming, silent, and inconspicuous. I rarely raise the camera to my eye, but when I do, it remains inconspicuous. It’s quieter than a Leica range finder. Much quieter.

The way I usually roll with the Contax T is to wrap the strap around my wrist. This places the film advance lever right at my thumb, and my index finger rests comfortably on the shutter release button. Here are a few pictures…

Holding the Contax T

Holding the Contax T

I generally use black and white film with this camera, and can’t recall shooting any color film. That’s something I’ll need to rectify one of these days.

What I like best about the Contaxt T is the manual focus, especially for street photography. I set the aperture anywhere between f5.6 and f8, and set the lens to infinity. This puts objects in focus anywhere between 4 to 6 feet away from the camera all the way out to infinity. Perfect for my style of shooting. I’m talking running and gunning. I can slow down and compose a deliberate photograph if I want to, but I usually don’t want to. But sometimes I do, like the image below which I call “Acrobat Man“…

Acrobat Man – Leidseplein Square, Amsterdam (June 2005)

In this case I composed the image to capture the crowd’s nonchalant reaction to the acrobat performing in the background. The following image, which I call “Street Pig“, was taken on the move, shot from the hip as I walked along a New York street just off of Times Square…

Street Pig, New York, NY (2001)

I prefer running and gunning, with the camera held down by my side. I simply aim in a general direction. I like the off-kilter framing. People have no idea a camera is even in their midst, so their defenses are lowered. They reveal more of themselves.

I believe photographers who walk around with big cameras to their eyes shooting street photography are barbarians. I feel uncomfortable photographing people that way, and I would feel uncomfortable if a photographer approached me and took my photograph on the street in such a fashion. This may sound duplicitous, but it’s not the image taking I’m protesting, it’s the way in which the image is captured. Discretion is the better part of valor, as an old college professor of mine was fond of saying. I like discretion. Discretion reveals more of the truth, or the authenticity of the scene.

The aperture priority auto-exposure yields interesting images in low light. Take the following image for example…

Blurry Subway, New York, NY (2001)

The low light requires more exposure, which can be used to creative advantage. After all, the word photography means drawing with light. I believe this image conveys more of the truth of my experience, that is, the trip in a crowded subway, bodies crowded together, jostled by the train’s rhythmic movements. The shutter fires the instant I press the button, and the shutter remains open, allowing the capture of a sense of movement and motion.

The image below is taken with the Contax T and is one of my favorites.

Times Square, New York, NY (2001)

As I recall, I was riding one of those red, double-decker tourists buses, and as we passed through the intersection, I held my hand over the rail and snapped this picture.

I visited Amsterdam again in March 2007 and took along the Contax T.

Rain Walkers, Amsterdam, NL (2007)

Is the Contax T really the perfect street photography? Well, for me it is, but it all depends on your style. I don’t know of a comparable digital camera equivalent, one that is compact, discrete, and comes with manual focus and aperture priority. Still, if such a digital camera existed, I’m not sure I’d use it. I like the revelatory experience of unwinding a freshly developed roll of film off the spool and looking at the wet negatives. I like the fact that each shot is precious. All things considered, for my style of street photography, this camera just can’t be beat.