Unboxing a Contax 645 kit

What better way to end 2021 and wish everyone a happy 2022?

Posted by Davide Caniatti on Friday, December 31, 2021


2021 was a challenging year. Now that it comes to an end, it is right to give us a little treat. In this spirit, I tried my luck and bought myself a Contax 645. It is a bit of a gamble as these cameras are prone to problems and malfunctions. Unlike other past models, once broken there is no way to repair them. Or rather, there is a way to cannibalize other bodies to take the necessary parts, but it is never an actual repair, but at most a transplant. Nonetheless, I had been dreaming of this Contax for a long time, and when the opportunity presented itself, I was strangely unable to resist.

In this article, we will do a first actual unboxing of the camera. There will be more articles for sure later on how this wonder works. Launched in 1999, it is arguably the most advanced analog camera ever produced. Unfortunately, the arrival of digital was just around the corner and production ended a few years later. The starting price, $ 4,000 for the kit that we will see in this article, is approximately $ 7,000 today. We are talking about a very high figure, but the surprising thing is that this machine has substantially maintained its value over time, something more unique than rare. The Contax 645 is one of the latest analogs used professionally, especially among matrimonials. It is this basic kit that we are going to open!

First, you need to list what is meant by the kit. I was lucky enough to find one of the inaugural grand overture kits still intact. Inside we find the camera body, a film back, a digital insert, the AE prism, and the 80mm Planar f2. For the 80mm there would be rivers of ink to be spent separately, as it is the main reason for today’s high price and which we will certainly explore in subsequent articles. Already in this basic set-up, the camera promised to be fully usable, with a 50mm equivalent.

All the pieces are inside the boxes separately, ready to be assembled if necessary and stored inside them when not in use. This modular system was particularly popular in medium format systems of the time - consider, for example, the Rollei 6000 series. The advantage of modularity is lost a little in the Contax 645, where the 80mm was universally preferred to other lenses by the public. Today we could say that the camera body is nothing more than an extension to support this iconic lens in most cases. However, everything, even the boxes, has a premium feeling and is strongly ahead of its time. Think of the boxes made of recycled material: the theme of sustainability certainly was not felt 22 years ago as it is today.

In general, the feel of the entire package and components is premium, with every detail taken care of in-depth. Therefore, it is natural to make a historical consideration. Although the machine is called Contax and the lenses Zeiss, all components were made in Japan by Kyocera. The Japanese company was the owner of the Contax brand at the time and produced state-of-the-art cameras, still considered cult objects today. The fact that a company was able to produce the Contax G, the TVS, and the 645 within a decade and then reduce itself to fabricating printers is the best example of the Japanese decay of the last two decades. Thinking about the lost know-how and the impossibility in the future to repair these delicate electronic products causes great sadness, almost bordering on anger.

However, unboxing a Contax 645 under the tree, a question naturally arises: what am I doing with this? I know that I don’t want to make an expensive ornament out of it, so I will try to use it and test its limits as much as possible, obviously with due precautions. I think this custom-made analog still has a lot to offer today, as evidenced by the presence of several autofocus adapters for medium digital format. At the end of the next year, expired the guarantee, I will decide what to do with it. In the meantime, we only have to have fun, take lots of beautiful photos, and wish you a happy 2022!