Welcome to the first in my series of quick compact 35mm camera reviews. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be publishing a total of 12 of these articles as part of a 35mm compact camera mega test spanning cameras made from 1990 to 2003 – arguably the golden age of these pocketable beasts.

Here’s the full list of cameras being covered:

  1. Contax T2 (1990)
  2. Contax T3 (2001)
  3. Contax TVS III (1999)
  4. Fujifilm DL Super Mini (1994)
  5. Konica Big Mini (1990)
  6. Leica C1 (1999)
  7. Nikon 35Ti (1993)
  8. Olympus MJU II (1997)
  9. Olympus MJU Zoom 120 and other Mju Zoom cameras (1993-2003)
  10. Ricoh GR1s (1996)
  11. Samsung Vega 700 (2002)
  12. Yashica Zoomate 115 (2000)

I’ll be comparing image quality, durability, speed and overall performance for cameras ranging from the very high end of the 35mm compact camera world to the very low – or close to it. The final articles will cover my criteria and scoring in full. At over 12,000 words in total, it seems a sensible approach to break these mini-reviews out, rather than trying to cram everything onto a single page.

With that out of the way, let’s crack on with my quick review of the Contax T2.

The Contax T2
The Contax T2. Modelled here by @thelivfree.

The Contax T2 is the world’s most fashionable camera, apparently. Kendall Jenner uses the T2. Chris Hemsworth uses the T2. Various other celebrities I don’t know use the T2.

As a cynic, I might assume that ‘fashionable’ means ‘over-priced and under-performing’. Well, yes, the T2 is expensive and does have a few slightly annoying features, but it makes up for that by delivering results that have an undeniable magic to them.

First, the annoying features: the T2 doesn’t focus close enough. It doesn’t properly tell you what shutter speed and aperture it is using (but to be fair, out of all these cameras, only the Nikon 35Ti does that). Most of the time when shooting outdoors, the T2 lights up both the 125/sec symbol and the 500/sec symbol in the viewfinder. When I first saw that, I thought the camera was faulty. But no, it is meant to do that. It is trying to tell me that the shutter speed is somewhere between approximately 1/125th of a second and 1/500th of a second – which is silly, because I could already have guessed that.

All that and the T2 can’t tell me the aperture when in auto mode, not even a hint. I guess I’m supposed to be like Kendall Jenner and focus on getting the model’s hair adjusted right, not on getting the camera adjusted right. Which is actually fair enough, if you think about it.

Contax T2 - Test shot
Contax T2 – Test shot

The Contax T2 has auto mode and aperture priority mode, but it does not allow you to use f/2.8 in aperture priority mode. Surely the largest aperture is exactly what you would often want to select when using aperture priority mode? The Contax designers must have been on the sake the day they designed that ‘anti-feature’!

The T2’s fastest shutter speed at f/16 is 1/500th of a second, but at f/2.8 the fastest shutter speed is just 1/200th… Surely you would most want to use 1/500th at large apertures to enable you to get shallow depth of field in daylight?

Well, you can’t.

Here is the technical reason why: almost all compact cameras have a simple combined shutter/aperture. It takes longer to open up a bigger hole than a smaller one. So the larger the aperture, the slower the maximum shutter speed. They don’t tell you that in the advertising brochure!

Now to the good features of the Contax T2.

Number one: it’s lovely. It looks nice – totally premium with its titanium body. It feels nice, it has a certain heft to it (that titanium body again). It sounds nice, as though Contax spent more money on motors than the other brands did. I like the 38mm focal length of the lens – it is possibly a little more versatile than the 28mm lenses some cameras have (although different people will prefer different focal lengths).

The lens is excellent: one of the sharpest in any compact camera (although perhaps not quite the sharpest). More than the sharpness, this lens has that Zeiss magic. This camera simply produces gorgeous-looking photos.

Overall, the Contax T2 disappoints me slightly in some ways, yet is still a camera I really like. The T2 has ‘it’ – that magic that makes technical considerations superfluous because it somehow manages to be a really lovely camera that produces really lovely results. Art above science, if you like.

Next up, is the T2’s bigger sibling: the Contax T3. Until then, thanks for reading,

~ Ray

Contax T2 technical specifications

ManufacturerKyocera Corporation
Release date1991
Camera nameContax T2
(available in champagne silver, black and gold plated finishes)
Camera typePoint and shoot
Image size24 x 36 mm
LensCarl Zeiss T* Sonnar 38mm f/2.8
(5 elements in 4 groups, f/2.8-f/16)
Viewfinder0.75x (appx) combined viewfinder with projected framelines, digital shutter speed readout (minimal) and parallax correction
ShutterBetween-the-lens shutter, electromagnetic control

60 - 1/500s
FocusingAutofocus and Program AE. Manual focusing option (zone focus)

MeteringAperture priority with SPD cell (EV 0 - 17)

+/-2 EV in 1/2 EV steps

DX-coded films, auto ISO (25 - 5000)
Non-DX defaults to ISO 100
FlashBuilty-in flash only
Anti-red eye preflash option
Range 0.7-3m at lSO 100
Flash cycle 3.5s
Date/time stampWith databack
Power1 x 3V CR123 or equivalent
Weight295g (without battery)
119 x 33 x 66mm (WxDxH)
AccessoriesSuede case

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About the author

Ray Rapkerg

I photograph people, including fashion photography, quirky portraits and art nudes. I feel photography is mainly about the images and the people in them, but secretly I am a bit of a gear-head as well! I like using a variety of medium format film cameras (current...

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  1. Hi Ray, thank you for volunteering this time and effort for the film community. I have enjoyed the T2 as a travel camera, producing some wonderful color negative and slide images in Sao Miguel, Acores last year. If the light is right and one has the thinking cap on, it delivers the goods. Curiously the price of good condition T2’s has dropped recently from the earlier stratospheric prices. I haven’t checked, but maybe Kendall moved onto the T3 or the Ricoh GR 21, after all money is certainly a non-factor for her! Many are cynical about her espousing the camera, but I applaud it. Anything that spurs the young to shoot film is good for gray hairs like me. Hopefully the interest will extend the life of film production by Kodak, Fuji, etc. A celebrity’s use of a product resulting in increased interest has been going on since the beginning of time. I look forward to the coming articles.

  2. The Fuji Klasse W / S also tell you exactly what aperture and shutter speed you’re using even in P mode. I gather you’re not testing these two because you mention cameras up to 2003, but for anything reading this article to decide what camera to buy, it’s worth considering the Klasse S/W.

    1. Hi Darcy, I used the Klasse S for a short time. It too produced beautiful imagery on par with the T2. In my opinion it is not on par with T2’s building quality. The Klasse is significantly lighter, being made from lesser materials, and overall much less robust. The lens is stellar. Mine unfortunately stopped working after only a few rolls, the error message appearing in the LCD screen (I can’t recall it) is a common failure. It stopped loading the film. It is not a criticism of this wonderful camera, we all take a risk purchasing and using older gear.

      1. I agree that the build quality is better on the T2 (I’ve owned two) but I don’t think this realistically affects reliability outside of withstanding potential abuse, drops, etc. In which case, even though the T2 might dent rather than break or crack, there’s nothing stopping the internals being damaged, lens misaligned, etc.

        If you aren’t clumsy with your camera there isn’t a noticeable difference in build.

        I own a Klasse (original), Klasse W, Contax T2, Nikon 35Ti and a Mju II.

        The Klasse W is my favourite by far.

        I actually owned two T2s – the first I sold because I didn’t like it enough. I thought the shutter was too sensitive and it lacks quite a large number of features I liked on the other models. I then got another T2 for free which had a much better shutter button, so turns out the half-press on my first T2 was just faulty.

        That first T2 is the only fault I’ve had on any of these premium compacts. So in terms of reliability from personal experience, it is only the Contax T2 that has failed, and in a way that the better build material makes zero difference.

        But I recognise that these things could happen suddenly with literally any of these models, although I hope perhaps the fact that the Klasse W is the newest of the bunch means it might last longer before issues arise.