“The lens alone is worth the price.” Konica slogan.

There was a time before the great megapixel wars when photographers didn’t buy a new camera every three years. In fact camera manufactures had to convince people to buy a new camera by constantly improving their products in ways photographers couldn’t live without. Faster lenses, shaper lenses, faster shutter speeds coupled with large ad campaigns to spread the word. They would also make prestige cameras that were made without compromise, often costing thousands of dollars to showcase the aforementioned improvements.

A good example of this is the Contax G2. The G2 and its 45mm f/2 lens originally sold for $1,700 US dollars in the early 90′s ($2700 in 2011 money), but had some of the sharpest and most well corrected lenses ever produced. The ad campaign for these prestige cameras had to create a probably nonexistent demographic, the rich gentleman travler. You know the guy, spends all his time travelling the world with custom leather luggage, commenting on how he enjoys the distinction of owning one of the worlds finest cameras. This is the guy they built the Konica Hexar for.

This guy.

The Konica Hexar really is one of the worlds finer cameras.  With an excellent build quality and an almost magical lens.   When it first came out in Japen 1993 it sold for the equivalent of a 1000 US dollars. ($1550 in 2011 dollars)

There are a lot of good technical reviews of the Hexar on the web, here and here, so I am going to give you my impressions of shooting the camera.

 As I was lowering the Hexar from my eye, the lights behind her flickered to life. F2.0 at a 15th of a second. Thats the Bay Bridge on the right of the photo.

The camera shoots like a dream, Ive been shooting it in program mode, which on this camera means choosing the lowest shutter speed you wish to use and then choosing the aperture you wish to shoot at.  The camera will try to stay as close to your chosen f stop without going below your chosen shutter speed as the lighting conditions will permit.  This gives you an incredibly flexible program mode.  Ive been personally setting the lowest speed at a 60th of a second with the aperture set a f2.  This gives me widest widest aperture for any given lighting situation, softening the background while the relatively high shutter speed keeps the image as sharp as can be.    The mechanically adjusting  framelines are extremely acurate on the particular example I have, and the active infrared focus is almost preternaturally quick.  And finally, the silent mode is actually, literally silent.  If the camera is pressed to your face in an absolutely quiet room, you can sort of feel-hear the stepper motors advance the film.

If you had to shoot a film camera to photograph the secret police, this is definitely the one.

This camera makes images so good they inspire me to write bad poetry, ahem, “Spun in a dream and pulled into the waking world.”

All images taken on Ilford Super XP2, and scanned with a Nikon Super Coolscan 5000 ED

This is the point in the story where I usually go into the history of the camera,  so heres all the hard factual history I have, speculation will follow.

If anyone can translate this, they would have my eternal gratitude.

Due to how the lens was designed, (to be contrasty and very sharp even at f2), the focus is slightly different for every f-stop. Without the processor to compensate for this shift in focus, the lens would be unusable.

Speculation from here on out.

Rumor has it that when Konica stopped producing pro cameras to focus on point and shoots, they owed a designer a favor, and let him design this camera as a reward for a long carear .  I dont believe this.  If one man, or a small group of men designed this camera, the controls would be laid out better.  As it is, I think the body was designed by one team, then another team had to figure out how to squeeze a lot of command inputs out of basically two buttons and a switch.  This is probably why the commands are so bizarre.

2011 Make Festival. The 35mm f2 Hexanon has a quality that I call “its bite.”

I’ve also got a hunch that this camera was designed mostly for the home market in Japan.  First clue, It wasn’t really promoted outside Japan.  You could order it from B&H Photo in the States, but a camera repairman I know said he was a Nikon rep in the 90′s and he never saw a single Hexar in the large number of camera stores he visited.  In researching this article, I couldn’t find a single piece of advertising for the Hexar, nor do I remember any ads for it when it was being sold.  I am sure ads exist for it.  (If you know of any, please drop me a line.)  In fact the only place I regularly see the Hexar is on the pages of Tokyo Camera Style.

“Bite”

The Hexar should have been a popular camera, it should have influenced how “program mode” was implemented on cameras that came after it.  Its lens should have been a benchmark for other camera makers to aspire to.  But ask ten professional photographers about it and nine probably havent heard of it and the guy that knows what it is, saw it online.  I dont know why this camera was and remains obscure, personally I feel its one of the best photographic investments Ive ever made.  I plan to get another one, because one Hexar is right next to no Hexars and I wont let that happen, its too good of a tool to be without one.

(Update)

After some serious horse-trading I managed to turn three very large, expensive polarizing filters into another Konica Hexar.  This one is louder in both the regular mode and the silent mode than my first example. With that being said,  it’s still quieter than any other camera than Ive ever heard, just louder than my first example. (What I am trying to get at is that there can be variation in “quietness” between individual Hexars.)

The lenses on both of my examples are equally magical.

These are from a test shoot I did to see if the new Hexar works, it does.

Update:  If you have a Hexar AF in need of repairs, the Japan Camera Hunter can help you out.  (Look toward the bottom of the page.)

Cropped section of the creamy out of focus area of the image. (f2 at 250th of a second)

f2 at 250th of a second

More out of focus goodness at f2.

Out of focus area of the image at f5.6 with the lens at close focus.

f2 at 125th of a second with a 2 stop neutral density filter.

IMG1560

Ilford XP2

Ilford Delta 3200

I finally found an ad for the Hexar. If you know of any other examples, please message me.