The Contax S2

Information about the S2 may seem out of place on a site about the 139 but, in fact, there are a number of similarities between the 139 and the S2, not least of which is that the S2 is built on a modified 139 chassis and shares some parts with the 139.

The S2 was introduced in 1992 and was marketed as a “new classic camera” with the benefits of “sturdiness” and “manual reliability” delivering “reliable, high precision performance even in the field under adverse conditions and heavy duty use” *.

The S2 uses a mechanical shutter that requires no batteries though the metering system does. The meter measures only from the area of the focussing screen split image and surrounding microprism ring so is essentially a ‘spot’ meter. Later, the S2B was introduced with a more usual centre weighted average metering pattern.

The body uses titanium top, bottom and front plates and is claimed to have improved sealing against moisture and dust.

The S2 is a basic, no frills, camera that was clearly aimed at the more advanced photographer who has no need of automation and would appreciate the superior quality and reliability. It was originally sold in the UK for around £1000 complete with a standard lens. In comparison, the Nikon FM-2, which has an almost identical specification, could be bought, with lens, for £500.

Links to the S2 brochure, repair manual and a S2 test report can be found on my documents page.

But what’s the S2 really like and was it worth the money?

There’s no doubt the camera gives the user the feeling of a quality product. The metal top and bottom plates feel superior to the plastic or polycarbonate equivalents of other cameras. They also give the camera more weight which adds to that feeling. But is there anything inside to justify the claims made? As I said, some of the parts are from the 139, there’s also some from the 159 and some from the Yashica FX‑3. All of which came out before the S2 and none of which were claimed to have the same benefits as the S2. The S2 shutter, made by Copal, was originally developed for the Nikon FM2n (Nikon originally used a titanium bladed version in the FM2 but then switched to aluminium alloy blades which are also used in the S2) and while it has proven to be reliable and able to withstand heavy use, it’s no better than the shutter in the FM2n which could be bought for about half the price. The chassis of the S2 appears to be constructed the same as the 139 with minor modifications but appears to be no stronger or better than the 139 chassis. The S2 does have a some extra dust seals and the main seals in the rear of the camera are a rubber material that, I assume, would be more resistant to moisture but it’s not a camera I would be happy to use in exessively wet or dusty conditions. The S2 has a top shutter speed of 1/4000th (same as the FM2n) but it's only one stop better than the last version of the Yashica FX-3 which was sold for a fraction of the price. I’m not sure the camera has any justification for the high price it was sold for or the relatively high price it still sells for in the used market.

The S2 still has a strong following. I know of people who have several of them. It gives confidence of getting the job done, reliably and without fuss. It feels good and looks good. I like the camera and understand why others do too. But I think a lot of the claims made of the camera are just marketing hype.

    Repairs

In spite of my reservations, the S2 appears to have very few weaknesses. It’s uncomplicated design helps. It’s fairly easy to work on and the shared parts with other cameras actually helps if spare parts are required. But parts unique to the camera are generally not available.

My one dislike of the camera is something that is relatively easy to fix. It’s not a repair as such, more a modification. What I don’t like is the sound. The S2s that I’ve handled have all had (what I call) the Contax/Yashica ‘ring’. It’s a ringing sound that continues after the shutter has been released. It’s actually caused by some springs in the mirror mechanism that continue to vibrate after the mirror has returned. The mechanism is common to the 139 and the FX-3 and the FX-3, especially, suffers from the same problem though the 139 tends not to due to the mirror damper which slows down the mirror return. It’s a fairly simple thing to improve by damping the springs. Some thick grease on the springs tends to work. Here's a before and after recording.


I’m able to carry out repairs and servicing of the S2 so don’t hesitate to contact me if I can help.

* Quotes from Contax S2 brochure.