CONTAX T Review

Jan 6, 2020
10 min read

CONTAX T Review

Introduction

In my quest of the most pocketable camera, without compromising on image quality, I’ve been lurking on the Contax T for a while. Even though there is already both, a Rollei 35S and Contax T3 siting on my shelf, I was looking for a compact camera with an easy way to manual focus, preferably with Zeiss glass, and that I wouldn’t worry too much about, unlike the pricey T3 😅. That’s why the Contax T was for me the perfect candidate to sit between the Rollei and my precious T3.

So back in October we travelled to Porto in Portugal to visit my wife’s relatives and introduce to the family the new On Film Only staff member. I expected that it wouldn’t be a regular holiday trip with visit and exploration as such. Add an awful weather forecast during our entire stay and you have the perfect recipe to depress any photographer in dire need of outdoors and wandering.

On top of that, it was the first travel with our newborn son, so you can imagine there was not much space left for my camera gear. Between diapers and baby bottles, sacrifices needed to be made, so I figured it would be the perfect opportunity to test and review this tiny Contax T recently acquired.

Quick Glance at the Contax T

You may be familiar with the T2 and T3 but the legendary T series began with, you guessed it, the first of its name: The Contax T.

Initially aimed at wealthy photographers in quest of an ultra portable camera, it shined with an excellent build quality, premium materials, and most importantly fine Carl Zeiss glass.

It shoots in Aperture priority mode with shutter speed going from 8s up to 1/500th of a second. When holding a Contax T for the first time, you’ll be amazed by its tiny size. With the lens cover closed, its sleek design makes it one of the best camera to slide in your jacket. Size wise, it’s very similar to the Rollei 35 except there’s no outgrowth, knobs, flash mount or controls braking those elegant lines designed by Porsche Studio. It’s also more ergonomic and has a built-in rangefinder which is a considerable advantage over the Rollei.

” faster to shoot than any autofocus camera “

Thanks to a real rangefinder finder packed into a really compact camera, the T stands appart from its two younger siblings. The trade off is that it doesn’t have autofocus, like one would expect from a regular point & shoot. The Contax T is more of a pocket rangefinder even though it can be faster to shoot than any autofocus camera if you’re using a simple but effective trick: Shooting at f/8 and align the zone focus green mark to get everything in focus from approximately 1.7 meter to infinity. Easy as pie.

What I love about the Contax T is its really compact design. This was made possible by having a separate flash attachment, which almost double its size when mounted. As I almost never find myself shooting in situations that requires flash, I didn’t get a chance to try it out (and probably never will), hence why I won’t make any mention of the flash in my review.

Contax T Specs

If you’re interested in specs, here are the key points you should know about the Contax T:

Contax T 35mm point and shoot film camera review with samples
  • Lens: 38mm Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* 5 elements/4 groups
  • Aperture: f/2.8 to f/16 with 7 aperture blades
  • Shutter Speed: 8 – 1/500sec 
  • Exposure Control: Aperture Priority 
  • ISO: No DX Code – 25 to 1000 ISO 
  • Focus: Manual 
  • Film Winder: Manual
  • Exposure Comp: +1.5 stop 
  • Battery: 2 x LR44
  • Size: 98 x 66.5 x 32.5mm 
  • Weight: 270g
  • Flash: separate clip-on auto flash (A14)

Contax T Pro & Cons

PROS

  • Ultra Compact – fits in a pant pocket without requiring lubricant to take it out!
  • Stellar Lens – 38mm f/2.8 Zeiss T* Sonnar. Only one that can compete within this price/format is the Rollei 35S
  • Built Quality – Titanium body, designed by Porsche, manufactured by Kyocera with only the finest materials
  • Accurate Light Meter – Spot-on exposures even in difficult light situation
  • Discreet – it’s really silent and unobtrusive, making it a great camera to shoot street photography
  • True Rangefinder – Manual focus is relatively easy to achieve with a fairly bright and large viewfinder
  • External Flash – This could be a Con for some, but I almost never use flash and prefer the T’s portability vs the bulkier T2

CONS

  • Flimsy Film Loading – Similar to the Rollei 35 with a flipping film pressure plate
  • Focusing – focus ring is awkwardly place and require some practice
  • Focusing Distance – minimum focus distance is 1 meter, whereas common rangefinders will focus down to 0.7 meter
  • No AE Lock – Even if it has a +1.5 stop exposure compensation, AE lock is missing in some situations
  • Lens Extension – Front cover can be a little difficult to open, slowing down the lens extension
  • Filters & Hood – Because of the lens cover design, it doesn’t have any tread to screw a filter or attach a lens hood

The Best Contax T2 Alternative

When it came out in 1984, the T was probably one of the finest compact camera on the market but since then, it has been out shadowed by its younger brothers and especially the Contax T2. Nonetheless, the Contax T remains one of the best kept secret among the whole T series along with the TVS.

Mounted on the Contax T is a fantastic 38mm f/2.8 Sonnar T* that renders colours beautifully thanks to its magic T* multi-coating that made Zeiss lens legendary for its 3D pop. This lens was so good that CONTAX kept it for the T2 and is probably, after Kendall Jenner, the main reason behind the cult following of this camera. Hence why I consider it the best alternative to the outrageously expensive CONTAX T2.

This camera was so good when it came out that it became one of Henry Cartier-Bresson’s favourite in his last photographer days.

This unique design and conception is the first born camera from Kyocera, under Zeiss license, in partnership with the Porsche Design Group. Being a premium compact camera, they have used nothing but the finest materials at the exception of the plastic made external flash. The most obvious being its titanium body (common to all Contax T series cameras) but they also went into tiny details like with the synthetic ruby shutter button. Talking about the shutter release button, I’m not sure if this is only on my copy, but it’s a little spongy/wobbling and takes a bit of practice to activate the light meter without firing the shutter. Not a big deal, even though I would have prefer a button with a more defined course.

Prices haven’t gone completely crazy yet and you may be able to grab one in decent shape around 350€, though the black version is a little more expensive than the silver one.

Contax T Sample Images

Back to our trip – Because of the announced bad weather in Porto, my first idea was to shoot black & white with my Street Candy ATM400, but had an emergency roll of Agfa Vista 200 laying in my bag, which I was happy to find just before boarding to get this shot of Nice airport. So change of plan, I’ll also be shooting colour during this trip.

Colour Samples – Agfa Vista 200

Before being discontinued, Vista 200 was my favorite budget colour film and I was lucky to get my hands on one of the last batch made a few years ago. What stroked me about this film is how rich and vibrant the colours looked. It’s also fairly sharp and good at retaining shadows and mid-tones details without too much grain.

Since then, I have a little stash in my fridge for special occasions and use them parsimoniously with glass, that I know, will not disappoint. Hence why I didn’t hesitate one second to load it behind this 38mm Zeiss Sonnar!

Like I mentioned earlier, we were expecting some really bad weather during our stay and for once the forecast was right, except for one morning. After a quick glance outside, we decided to took a gamble and went for a walk to the city center of Porto.

As I was trying to shoot some portraits of my other half, the 1 meter minimum focusing distance kind of bugged me so I decided on trying something different and played with depth of field to blur out my favourite subject… hopefully she won’t hold that against me 😘

It’s like a reversed bokeh but the out-of-focus areas are soft and pleasing but with a 38mm lens and 1 metre minimum focusing distance, bokeh is not why you’d buy this camera.

In case you wondered, I did very little editing to these HD scans. When working with my lab Nation Photo, I always ask them to send me uncorrected .tiff files which leaves me more freedom in post. But here, there was not much to do appart from little contrast adjustment and light colour correction to remove a faint colour cast.

B&W Samples – Street Candy ATM400

Now let’s look at the second part of our short trip with some black and white samples shot on my Street Candy ATM400.

I started the roll with a few indoor portraits of the in laws which wast a great opportunity to test out the Contax T’s leaf shutter in low light. Even if a few shots came out with slight motion blur because of the slow shutter speed, most of them turned out ok thanks to the very little motion happening inside the camera when releasing the shutter. Similar handheld shots with an SLR might have turned blurry because of the mirror clap.

Then the camera stayed in my bag until the end of our trip to only come out at Porto airport while waiting to board on our plane back home. We had maybe 45 minutes free which gave me some time to explore this impressive terminal.

Light situation was not much better as it was the end of the day and still pouring rain outside, but that didn’t see to bother the Contax which delivered tack sharp images.

Unlike the color ones, I developed this roll myself using Kodak HC-110 with dilution E for 7.5 minutes. Scanning was done with my Pakon F135.

Final thoughts

At first I was a little annoyed by the ergonomic, especially because of the finicky lens door, but after shooting a few rolls with, this little Contax T has earned its place at the top of my shelf and will be the perfect replacement for my Rollei 35S.

Even though it relies on battery (which last forever apparently), the built-in rangefinder won my heart over the Rollei and its slicker design makes it a little easier to carry around.

Over the past 2 years, I’ve tried many compact cameras and so far the Contax T is one that I enjoyed the most shooting with and if you’re looking for a premium point and shoot, with a stellar lens, that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg, the Contax T is one you should look at before some celebrity pick one up!

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