I bought my Contax G2 after selling off my entire Canon EOS 1v system, opting to go for a smaller and lighter kit that would allow me to pursue a more candid style of photography. I kept it for about 4 months, then let it all go at a loss. I do miss the camera, but had to sell it for various reasons. Would I ever buy another one given the chance? Probably, but it is definitely not high on my list of photographic desires.
From the moment I first handled the G2 I knew I liked it. It is a solidly built camera, with good ergonomics, and a decent heft to it. The raised plastic in the back for the thumb rest fits my hand perfectly, and the smooth surface of the titanium body is a joy to feel. The dials and switches work smoothly, clicking into place with an amazingly precise feel. All in all you get a good feeling of craftsmanship and accuracy when holding this camera.
The noise is a problem for me. At first it didn't seem so bad. I was an SLR user before the G2 so it seemed quiet in comparison. I had, however, bought it for more discreet candid shooting, and though the size and weight are just fine, the noise is a bit too much. When focusing, the lens makes a zipping noise back and forth, quite a departure from my USM lenses. It parks itself at infinity when not focused, which is the subject of many complaints from users, but I think that it's necessary due to the design of the focusing system, which although automatic, is still rangefinder based (it's not through the lens). Then there is the shutter and motor wind, which although at first I thought sounded very neat (as in quick and precise), became quite a nuisance in quiet situations. So, when I would try to take a quick shot of a candid moment, I usually ruined it with the initial sound of the focusing, which distracted my subject. If that didn't get them, then the sound of the shutter and film advance did, so any subsequent shots were out of the question. This was actually one of the 2 main reasons I unloaded the kit.
At first the viewfinder didn't seem all that small to me. Yes, it's not nearly as large or bright as my 1v's was, but I could still see clearly through it, and the automatically cropping frames were nice. My opinion of course changed after I looked through the viewfinder of a Bessa R, which was the first manual rangefinder I have ever handled. The viewfinder shows a focusing scale, which is helpful in determining whether or not the focus is WAY off, but not for exact measurements (which are displayed in a small window on the top of the camera). It also shows the shutter speed and if you are in manual exposure mode, it has 2 arrows indicating over, under or correct exposure. There are also indicators for exposure compensation and flash. All in all a decent display of information, but I was used to the 1v, and would have really liked to see the selected aperture too.
All of the cameras controls and dials seem well laid out to me. I never had to search for anything, the layout was very intuitive. The focus lock button on the back is easy to use, and with a little practice, you can use the focus lock button to select the focus, then twist your thumb with a little help from your forefinger and select manual focus mode, which will automatically store the point of focus you had selected. The only gripe I had with any of the controls was the drive selector, it would always get turned when being put in or taken out of my Crumpler bag, causing me much frustration when I started making double exposures during the next use.
I never had all the problems that others report with the focusing of the G2. Perhaps it is due to my experience with autofocus SLRs, but I found it to be quite accurate and quick, and had very few focusing mishaps, that were usually the result of me forgetting to take the camera off of manual focus.
In use, the camera really excelled in some areas. Thanks to the autofocus you can shoot without looking through the viewfinder, and with the 21mm Biogon this was an easy way to shoot candids on the street. I soon tired of the Lomo-esque "shoot and pray" style of photography, though, and decided that looking through the viewfinder was the way to go if you want decent compositions. For those occasions when you don't have the luxury of being able to compose with the viewfinder, the autofocus system is invaluable. Carrying the camera body, TLA200 flash, 21mm, 45mm and 90mm in a Domke F803 bag was great. The intire setup was small and light, and changing lenses is as fast as with any SLR, except that you need to get used to the fact that only part of the lens rotates as you bayonet the lens to the camera, part of it stays still. There was still enough room in my bag for a Bessa-L w/ 15mm for those rare times when 21mm didn't cut it.
Image quality :
What can I say that hasn't been said a thousand times before by those much more qualified than myself? Nothing. The images I got from this camera were superb. Crisp, sharp and well defined. The lenses are much better than me and my poor technique, so I never even got to see their full potential.
Contax Service :
This was the second of 2 reasons why I got rid of my G2. Shortly after I bought my used G2 system, I found that the 90mm had a problem. When shooting with the metal hood on and in portrait orientation, the lens and entire camera would vibrate and make this horrendous noise every time it was focused. At first I though the gears were somehow grinding, but after careful inspection and a bit of patience, I figured out the problem. The inner lens barrel had somehow become a little loose, and in portrait orientation would hang downwards just a little bit, and a bit more with the heavy hood on. It hung so low that it would actually touch the outer barrel, and as the lens moved back and forth and rubbed against itself it would vibrate. I was concerned about this and I sent out a few emails on some Contax G mailing lists, and found there there were a few others out there with the same problem, they had all jsut decided to live with it. I wasn't prepared to take the same pacifist route and instead sent the lens to Contax with a description of the problem, only to receive it back 6 weeks later with a note saying "No problem found". I was quite upset at this response, and found that I didn't feel confident with the camera after that. Although it is quite likely that my experience with Contax service was a rare one, it nevertheless left a bad impression on me that I have yet to shake.
So, my judgement is that this camera is great for certain types of shooting. I think it makes a good street photography camera, and would make a great vacation camera, due to its size, easy of use and the great quality of its lenses. Unfortunately, if you want to be more discreet, especially when noise is a factor, you may want to do what I did and consider the Leica M6, or even a Konica Hexar, which has a reportedly amazing little 35mm f/2 lens, and is supposed to be even quieter than a Leica M. Although a great little camera, the G2 was just not for me.