Contax TVS Review, the poor man’s Contax T2

Jun 14, 2018
7 min read

Today we are looking at the Contax TVS which I have been using for a few months, so I guess it’s time to share my thoughts about it.

When I started to look at Point and Shoot cameras, my eyes leaned toward the T2 and T3 but at this time I wasn’t ready to put so much money into a compact camera. After some deliberations with myself, I decided to go for this TVS as first point and shoot.

Since then, I have carried it to many countries and it has been a real pleasure to use but time has come to let it go. I didn’t want to leave it without sharing my impressions about one of the best point and shoot camera with a zoom lens. You may be wondering why am I selling since I liked it so much but I’ll explain later in this review why I am parting with it.

Quick disclaimer before we start: I don’t have much experience at writing camera reviews so I’ll share my opinion along with specs and a few sample images so you can have an idea of what you can expect from it.

Let’s start with the boring part and get it done with it so I can share my thoughts.

Contax TVs specs

I usually don’t care much about all the specifics of a camera. For me what matters most is the lens and essentials controls it offers but I know so of you want to know every details so here are the most important details you should know about the TVs:

  • Lens: Zoom 28-56mm
  • Aperture: F3.5-6.5
  • Shutter Speed: 16s – 1/700s
  • Exposure Control: Aperture Priority and P mode
  • Film Speed: DX Coded – 25 to 5000 ISO
  • Focus: Auto + Manual
  • Film Winder: Auto
  • Flash: Built-in
  • Exposure Comp: +/- 5 stops in 1/3
  • Battery: 1 x 3V CR123A
  • Size: 124 x 67 x 41.5mm
  • Weight: 400g with battery

Ergonomics & Handling

The camera feels good in hand and the build quality has nothing to by shy off when compared to the higher end of the Contax T family. Size wise, it’s about the same than the Contax T2 which makes it a great companion to put in your carry bag but not ideal for skinny jeans!

To turn on the camera, simply slide the knob up which will extend the lens and used to adjust the zoom length. Then select the aperture with the front dial or leave it on P mode, which is what people usually tend do with this type of camera.

Chances are that you’ll be using the autofocus most of the time but if needed you can also set your focusing distance with the dial on top. When it’s set on AF, the dial won’t move but if you set it manually, be careful to don’t move it by accident at the dial is a bit floppy.

The viewfinder will show parallax correction lines when focused at close distance which also adapt depending on which focal length you are using. However you won’t be able to see in the viewfinder what’s the camera focusing on so it’s a bit of guess here. Anyway, the AF has never failed me, or if it did that was probably because of an user error so I won’t hold it against the camera.

On the top you’ll see two LCD screens. The one of the right is used as the frame counter and on the left you will see the flash and exposure compensation settings. One thing you should know about this camera is that they tend to have leaks on the LCD, which mine suffers too. Not a big deal here as it’s still perfectly usable but keep that in mind if you are on the hunt for one of these and rely on exposure compensation or flash settings a lot.

One little thing I could complain about is the wheel to adjust the exposure compensation. It’s a bit hard to move and you may loose your nails adjusting it too often. You can also try spinning it with the tip of your finger but I find this a bit tricky.

The camera use DX coding to set the ISO and it can’t be set manually, however the exposure compensation allows you to set +/- 5 stops which should be more than enough to cover every pushing or pulling situations. In case your film doesn’t have DX coding, the camera will set it up as ISO 100 so you’ll need to adjust the compensation accordingly to match your film’s speed.

When taking the pictures, you half press on the shutter button to focus and can hold it to focus on your subject and recompose. The course is long enough so you won’t take a picture by accident like it can be with the Yashica T5.

One cool feature about this camera is the “fake” panoramic mode. On the back you have a switch that will cover the top and bottom of your frame to simulate the cinematic look. This can give you a taste of what it’s like to see the world through an Hasselblad Xpan!

Why I Sold My TVS

Now, you may be curious about the reasons that push me to sell this camera. Well it’s quite simple: the zoom lens is just not working for me. Since I moved to film (and even before), I have been mostly shooting with prime lenses and having a zoom is more of a handicap to me. Sure in some case it has been helpful to get a wider or closer shots, but I find myself distracted and it makes it harder to concentrate on composition.

I’d rather trade it for a fixed lens camera with a faster lens like the Contax T3 that I just got. It suits more my style of shooting and I also like the smaller form factor which allows me to slide the camera in my pockets more easily. About the lens, the variable aperture is also something that I’m not fond of. Shooting at 28mm you will get a maximum aperture of f/3.5 but as soon as you zoom in, the max aperture will be reduced up to f/6.5 when zoomed in at 56mm, which is clearly not ideal for shooting in low light!

That being said, it’s a wonderful camera that will cost only a fraction of the cost compared to the premium Contax T2 and T3. They usually sell on eBay from 200$ to 400$ depending on condition and if it comes with the original filter and lens hood.

Samples Images

Color shot on Kodak Portra 800

These are from the first roll I shot with using Portra 800. We can really appreciate the beautiful colour rendition and saturation thanks to the Zeiss T* coating! If this the kind of lens you are looking for on a point and shoot, you can find here a list of 13 compact cameras with Zeiss lens with some cheaper alternatives.

B&W shot on Ilford XP2

The next one was shot on Ilford XP2, which is a black and white film that can be developed in C41 colour chemistry. On this roll I played with the panoramic mode to see how it would look but that was probably the only time I use it and I didn’t wan’t my Xpan to feel like I was cheating on him!

Final Thoughts

So to recap, the Contax TVS is a great little point and shoot and if you’re willing to trade a few f-stops to get the comfort of a zoom lens, this is definitely a great camera to carry around. If you want to travel light on your next holidays but don’t want to be stuck on one focal then the TVS is made for you. Image quality is great but not at the level of excellence you can get from a T2 or T3.

Highly recommended for anyone who wants to get into compacts without selling a kidney!

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