The Contax TVS, the most cost-effective walk-around camera

The Contax TVS, with its titanium exterior, was a high-end compact film camera that symbolized the era when the Japanese economy was booming.

It is a relatively unpopular camera, perhaps because of its zoom, middling photographic impact, and large size.

However, it is a model that can be recommended as a film camera for casual use because of its photographic quality that surpasses intermediate single focal length compact cameras and its modest price.

Contax TVS Specifications

Release date1993
Type35mm lens shutter AE camera
Lens28-56mm 6 elements in 6 groups Carl Zeiss T* Vario-Sonnar
Shooting range0.5m~∞
FocusPassive autofocus and manual focus
FinderReal-image zoom Magnification/0.38-0.68x, 83% field of view
camera shutter1/700 – 16 sec (in Program AE) 1/500 or less – 16 sec (in Aperture Priority AE. (Maximum shutter speed varies depending on aperture.) Bulb shooting is possible for 16 sec. or longer.
Exposure ControlAperture Priority AE/Program AE Metering Range 0.4 – 17EV Metering Method/External metering using SPD element Exposure Compensation/±5EV (1/3 step)
Photometric methodExternal photometry SPD photodetector used
Ranging systemPassive system with AF auxiliary light and focus lock mechanism
Finder TypeReverse Galilean viewfinder, magnification and field of view 0.5x 85% (3m)
self-timerElectronic, 10 and 2 seconds activation time, deactivation possible during the process
Battery1 x 3V lithium battery (CR123A)

Contax TVS Features

The best part is that it is a compact camera with a Zeiss lens 28-56mm zoom lens.

It can handle most everyday shooting distances, making it ideal for an everyday snap camera.

Depiction of Vario-Sonnar lenses

The TVS is equipped with a zoom lens called Vario-Sonnar, which is used in Contax’s T series (T2, T3, etc.).

TVS was released as an evolution of the T2, and its lens rendering is close to that of the T2, with good color rendering and softness.

However, it is a zoom lens, there are differences in the rendering of the lens depending on the focal length, but for a compact zoom camera, it can be said that the camera provides an enjoyable rendering across the entire range.

Although it loses out to high-end compacts with a single focal length, the descriptive quality is generally better than mid-range compact cameras such as the Bigmini and Tiara.

Zoom lever

Contax tvs film

Normally, when changing the focal length of a zoom lens, you would adjust the distance by turning the lens ring.

The TVS zoom is operated with a lever instead of a ring, but it is easier to handle than the ring type.

This lever also serves as the power source, so the operation until taking a picture is smooth and there is less chance of missing a shutter chance. (TVS2 and TVS3 do not have the lever type.)

Low used price

High-end compact cameras are too pricey to afford, while TVS, which are not compact and zoomable, are less popular.

Although the price is gradually rising, it is currently available for less than 50,000 yen. since T2 is 100,000-150,000 yen, those who are short on budget may consider purchasing TVS.

Viewfinder is dark.

The viewfinder is dark, which has been improved since TVS2.

Loud autofocus noise

The sound is only slightly louder, but it is a bit unpleasant.

Features and Habits of Vario-Sonnar Lenses

Vario-Sonnar lenses have a greater difference in descriptive performance at different focal lengths than typical zoom lenses.

If you use TVS without understanding this difference, I don’t think you will be able to get the best out of TVS.

Vignetting, thicker lines, darker colors, and lower resolution
High resolution, slightly thin and sharp lines, vivid colors, decent bokeh

Since TVS is a manual zoom (TVS3 is motorized), you can freely change the focal length whether it is 30mm or 42mm, but the closer you get to the wide side of the focal length, the more the 28mm feature comes out, and the closer you get to the zoom side, the more the 56mm feature comes out.

The 28mm is quite habitual, so I recommend using a slightly zoomed 30-32mm. This little zoom alone will stabilize the picture and give you the typical rendering of a Sonnar lens.

Contax TVS samples

The film used is Kodak’s PORTRA. Only the night shots are taken with Fujifilm ISO 800.

contax tvs samples

In forward light, the colors are rich and vivid, and the shadow areas also have a good resolution.

contax tvs samples

This is Machu Picchu. The altitude is high and there is strong light, but I think the overall image is well captured.

contax tvs samples

This was taken with a zoom of about 45mm. The color rendering is reduced, but the image is clearer and sharper than at the wide end.

This was taken on a sunny day with the exposure set to +2 for a soft breeze. The color saturation is also present, and the image is well resolved even though the white is blown out.

This is a situation in which Contax lenses are at their best. Shooting in soft light through a window gives a three-dimensional effect and a unique coloring.

This is a night, which film is not good at. It was a difficult situation with the night lights coming in, but I was able to get the picture to work as an overall picture, albeit with light colors, by shifting the exposure to + plus.

Comparison with Contax T2

Many TVS buyers may be considering T2, so we would like to compare the two.

I would basically recommend the T2 for those who do not need the zoom, but for everyday photography, the TVS is a very usable camera.

TVS is the successor to T2

The T3 is a legitimate evolution of the T2, but the difference in price is too great and the descriptive characteristics are quite different. the TVS is a zoom camera, but it has a zoom while addressing the dissatisfaction with the T2, and the descriptive trends are similar.

T2 is superior in resolution and color.

The T2 is a camera that has many fans for its colorful rendering. Since it is a single focal length lens, the resolution is slightly higher than the TVS, and the T2 has better color and atmosphere.

TVS is more usable near maximum aperture.

One of the weak points of the T2 is that the image rendering is too loose near the maximum aperture. I often feel that the image rendering is too loose not only at the maximum aperture of F2.8, but also at F5.6 or so.

On the other hand, the TVS has a better maximum aperture, and I think that the TVS will give a more stable image at f/3.5-5.6.

TVS can take better close-ups.

The T2’s minimum focus distance is 70cm; at 38mm, if you are more than 70cm away, you can’t get very close at all when you want to take a close-up of a person’s face. the TVS has a zoom, so it has an advantage in this respect and can take pictures with some blur.

T2 is smaller and cooler.

Compared to TVS, T2 is one size smaller and lighter. The design is to taste, but I think the T2 is cooler.

Photometric accuracy

This depends on how you use the camera, but the T2’s exposure metering is spotty. In other words, the metering range is narrow, so if you do not consider the exposure in the image properly, the metering will be incorrect.

This is not much of a problem with negatives, but when using positive film, it is difficult to use the camera as a casual snapshot camera. Conversely, the T2 can be said to allow for some serious exposure settings with the camera.

To summarize a bit roughly, TVS is capable of producing 70+ point photos, and T2 is capable of producing 90+ point photos, but also produces photos that score below 60.