The Minimalist Dream

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Contax 139 Quartz with Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens, Olympus LT-1

Currently I’m thinning down my camera collection, and it’s smaller than it’s been in a couple of years. 

I experience an ongoing internal tussle between the photographer who wishes to evolve and to do so feels he needs a very small, focused kit, and the camera collector that loves trying new (old) cameras at the rate of one or two a week.

If the photographer won out, and had just one SLR and one compact, this is what he would choose. This, if you will, is the minimalist dream.

Contax 139 Quartz with Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens

Discovering Contax as a brand was a revelation, and the first one I had was a 139 Quartz.

It’s quite simply my favourite SLR I’ve ever used.

The compact size, super smooth controls and spacious bright viewfinder put it in a different class to cameras I’ve previous tried.

I then bought another 139 as a back up, which had very tatty leather, and recovered it. This is the one pictured above. It feels like new.

Also soon after came a 159MM and a 167MT, and just this week I’ve purchased a 137MA. I also have a Yashica FX-D, a sibling of the 139 (Yashica and Contax combined forces under Kyocera to create both), which is simply the best SLR I’ve used that doesn’t say CONTAX on the front.

The Carl Zeiss Flektogon I managed to acquire in a job lot of stuff, and was lucky to find one in excellent condition.

The aperture blades were a bit lazy though, and I just got it back from being serviced (the first time I’ve ever had a lens CLA’d!) and it also feels like new.

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Yashica FX-D, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens, Fuji Neopan 400CN film

Whilst I’m most comfortable and experienced with 50/55mm lens on SLRs, the 35mm Flektogon instantly just felt right. I love its close focus (<0.2m) and it’s unbelievably sharp.

It feels the best made Zeiss I’ve had too, as in the past they’ve not been as smooth to use as something like a Takumar or Minolta MC Rokkor. This Flek is now in touching distance of those mentioned.

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Contax 167MT, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200

The colours are lovely too – the above and below photographs were shot with humble and very cheap AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200.

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Contax 167MT, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200

The keen eyed will have noted that the Contax 139 Quartz is Contax/Yashica (C/Y) mount, and the Flektogon is an M42 mount lens.

My arrival at the Contax bodies originally came mostly through looking for the best body available to shoot M42 lenses with, as after trying Pentax K, Minolta SR, Canon FD, Olympus OM and Konica AR lenses, I had already decided that M42 offered the most interesting and capable lenses at the most affordable prices.

Two M42 bodies remain in my collection – an Asahi Spotmatic F and a Fujica ST701. I shoot Sunny 11 with both of them, and they’re equally excellent.

But most of the time I’m more lazy, and wanted an aperture priority body, one that is lighter and more compact than the M42 bodies above.

The Contax 139 with a very simple M42 > C/Y adapter is an excellent option, and the adapter only cost around £12.

This set up also gave me an opportunity to use wonderful Carl Zeiss lenses, without paying the heady prices the C/Y Zeiss models seem to fetch.

I could have also chosen the Contax 159MM as my sole camera for this theoretical experiment, as it’s possibly even better than the 139, though somehow the latter has a greater charm for me. Maybe because it was my first.

Even the Yashica FX-D would serve me very well and cost less than half what the Contax bodies did.

Lens wise, the Takumar 55mm f/1.8 is gorgeous, still smoother to use than the Flektogon, and capable of wonderful photographs. But right now the Flektogon is my favourite.

Olympus LT-1

On the AF compact front, I recently finally “got” the Olympus Mju-1, after a few false starts. From that revelation, I discovered the same lens was used in a couple of other models, the LT-1, and AF-1 Mini, and bought examples of both.

The Mju-1 is an amazing compact and quite probably the purest AF point and shoot I’ve ever used.

Very small and streamlined, super simple to slide open and shoot, and once you find what it likes, the humble 35mm f/3.5 3 element lens is capable of quite superb results.

Oh and it focus closer than any other 35mm lens I’ve experienced in a compact – 0.35m.

The LT-1 though, might be even better. 

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Olympus LT-1, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

Essentially it’s the same lens, AF system and innards as the Mju-1, but in a slightly different shaped body, and dressed in leather. 

The round, pebble like shape is very tactile and comfortable to hold, and the leather certainly adds to the quality feel and assured handling.

The leather flap that covers the lens, looks like it might get in the way and be a case of style over function.

But actually, typically for Olympus, it’s superbly designed. 

The flap has a magnetic button to fix it closed, which is strong enough both to locate itself securely when its vaguely near, as well as to keep it safely covered when in your bag or pocket. Yet it can easily  be flipped up with your thumb when you want to use it.

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Olympus LT-1, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

Whereas with the Mju-1, the camera is powered up by just opening the sliding cover, the LT-1 has a separate switch by the lens. Again, like the flap, at first you might think this is awkward and makes it slower to use.

But cleverly (again!), Olympus have designed to LT-1 so this switch is exactly where your fingers expect it to be.

Even more cleverly, even when the camera is switched on and the lens has popped out a couple of mm, because the glass itself is safely recessed, it’s still easy to close the flap securely.

Which means when out and about on a photowalk, I leave the camera switched on, then just flip the flap open with my thumb when I’m ready to use it, compose and shoot.

It’s just as quick and pure in its “point and shootness” as the Mju-1.

The Mju-1 is revered (rightly) for its excellent egonomics (whereas in my opinion its successor the Mju II handles like a bar of wet soap), but the LT-1 is even better.

The combination of the curved pebble shape, the leather body, the raised thumb rest at the rear of the camera, and the size and position of the shutter button, make holding it pretty much as perfect as I’ve ever experienced in a compact camera. 

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Olympus LT-1, Truprint FG+ 200 expired film

As you can gather, I love both the cameras I’ve featured here, they are as close to the ideal SLR and compact I have yet found.

It is very tempting to just stick with these two and sell off everything else I have to just invest in film and processing for the coming months and years. 

Whether that happens, or the ever curious and insatiate camera collector within me continuous to wield significant influence, only time will tell. I’ll keep you posted…

If you had to choose just one, what would your favourite SLR, lens and AF compact be? 

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

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7 thoughts on “The Minimalist Dream

  1. Great article and some lovely images. At the moment my favorite SLR is the Olympus OM40 with Zuiko 24mm & 50mm lenses, for a compact it’s the Olympus XA but I’m sure that will change. :>)

  2. Thank you. I had an OM40 for a while – they’re the all black ones with the chunky rubberised body and green lettering? I liked it but didn’t keep it long as I didn’t have many OM lenses and wasn’t knocked out with the results.

    One day I’d like try an OM1 as everyone seems to love them!

    The XA is so nearly perfect but I just cannot get on with the focusing, it’s just too vague and hard to see.

    I end up going with f/8 and 3m to try and rely on depth of field but then it becomes an XA2 with a better lens and you lose the benefit of supposedly more precise focus and aperture control. Hence why the Mju-1 has surpassed it for me.

    I have a Minolta AF-C which feels very much like an XA with AF and therefore the focusing frustrations are resolved.

    The XA is a camera I never thought I’d sell but now I have the Mju-1 and AF-C I’ve started thinking about it.

    1. I have quite a few Zuiko lenses, the star for me is the 24mm f2.8, really sharp and contrasty. My OM2sp would be my go to camera but it’s broken and a CLA is £99. I have an AF1 Super which I have only put 1 roll through, the results were good think it’s due another outing.

      1. Wow, you can see why people don’t bother with CLAs with old cameras! I’ve seen OM1 bodies going for less than that…

        I had the AF-1 Super, and it was fun to use and gave really decent results… But… It was probably the loudest camera I’ve ever used! I’m not into candid photography but even so it felt like everyone within 200 yards could hear it wind on! The rewind was even louder! Is yours really loud too?

      2. Yes it is pretty loud, not so good for street photography. I have a Pentax Espio mini, bought it years ago, again only put 1 film through it, nice camera and not too noisy, but auto flash ! The XA with 400 asa film set to the orange distance mark works well for me. Saying that I would like an XA3 because of the asa it can go up to.

      3. I’ve been thinking recently about using my XA like that – f/8 or f/5.6 and 3m – because I so struggle to focus with the rangefinder patch.

        It’s seems a waste of having aperture and focus control though, and essentially it becomes an XA2 with superior lens.

        But then maybe that was always Olympus’s intention for how the XA was to be used, and of course that’s how it evolved with the XA2 anyway.

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