Welcome to the second 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 an upcoming 35mm compact camera mega test spanning cameras made from 1990 to 2003 – arguably the golden age of these pocketable beasts. You can find the full list of cameras being tested here.
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.
Part one, which covered the Contax T2 is already up for you to check out, so let’s crack on with the next, my quick review of the Contax T3.
The Contax T3 is so cute and desirable! The problem is that the T3 is crazy-expensive. If you are not wealthy, look away now. On the other hand, if you a millionaire who wants to show you are hip enough to be shooting film, yet rich enough to be using a camera few hipsters can afford, then you have found your perfect camera.
The Contax T3’s 35mm lens is one of the world’s best lenses on a compact camera. Some people claim it is the best lens. However, after extensive testing, I felt the Nikon 35Ti and Ricoh GR1s matched it. At first, I did think the T3 lens seemed to offer a fraction more ‘pop’ than any other lens, but then I realized this effect is due to programming: the T3’s auto program mode is biased towards using f/2.8 more than any other compact camera.
To be precise, the T3 uses f/2.8 for any shutter speed slower than 1/160th of a second. That means it uses f/2.8 a lot. Contrast that with the Nikon 35Ti, which only uses f/2.8 at 1/60th or slower. Or the Ricoh GR1s, which never uses f/2.8 in program mode. This is important because it means T3 photos tend to have a shallower depth of field, lending a more three-dimensional look to the photos.
I love this look! However, you will not like it if you are a landscape photographer who needs maximum depth of field. The Contax T3 is one of three compact cameras to share a top shutter speed of 1/1200th of a second, the other two being the Canon Z115 and Z135. At f/2.8 its fastest speed is only 1/500th of a second (for reasons I discussed in my Contax T2 review, but even that is better than the fastest shutter speed of most compact cameras!
The Contax T3 also sounds nice. The lens moves out with a sophisticated whirring sound, not a strained grinding sound. There is a technical reason for this: the T3 has expensive coreless motors (as found in its larger sibling, the Contax AX). As far as I know, all the other cameras in this test have conventional motors, which sound strained as they age.
I feel the T3’s greatest strength is as the world’s best point-and-shoot. It has various other abilities, but these are accessed via the LCD rather than with physical dials. If you want to use a lot of features, you may find the Nikon 35Ti better. However, I suspect a lot of people think they will use a lot of features, yet end up shooting mostly in auto program mode.
The T3 is absolutely superb in program mode, a joy to use, producing breathtaking results. For anyone who has a T3, it might be worth pointing out that you can cancel the auto flash (so the camera always defaults to flash off) simply by pressing and holding the flash button until it blinks and then choosing flash off. Nice!
Also, the custom functions are worth setting. I like to leave the film leader out and set fast focusing, so I change “CF1” to B and “CF2” to B. Page 47 of the manual explains how to set custom functions.
I guess some people will be trying to choose between a Contax T2 or a Contax T3. They are very different cameras. The T2 is larger and more “retro”. It doesn’t even have an LCD panel (apart from the little film counter). In contrast, the Contax T3 is a tiny camera. It is rather bland looking – a featureless little titanium brick. I guess you could describe it as chic minimalism. It is very much a 21st-century camera, closer to the digital era than the film era. Apparently, there were over four times more T2s manufactured than T3s, due to the fact that digital was taking over during the T3 era.
In terms of performance, the T3 is supreme … but perhaps it doesn’t have as much ‘soul’ as the T2. I have decided the T3 is my favourite of the two, but I can see why some people prefer the T2. If you like the T3 but baulk at the expense, you might ask whether it worth the money. Of course not! Logically, no compact camera can be worth two Contax T2s or three Nikon 35Tis.
Only if you are wealthy would I say to you: Contax T3 – just do it!
Contax T3 technical specifications
|Camera name||Contax T3
(available in champagne silver, black and gold plated finishes)
|Camera type||Point and shoot|
|Image size||24 x 36 mm|
|Lens||Carl Zeiss T* Sonnar 35mm f/2.8
(6 elements in 4 groups, f/2.8-f/16)
|Viewfinder||0.5x (appx) combined viewfinder with projected framelines, macro indicator, digital shutter speed readout (minimal) and parallax correction|
|Shutter||Double between-the-lens shutter, electromagnetic control
180 - 1/1200s
|Focusing||External passive autofocus with AF assist light and focus lock function. Manual focus can be set by mode button. Dedicated AF lock button.|
|Metering||Aperture priority with SPD cell (EV 1 - 18)
+/-2 EV in 1/3 EV steps
DX-coded films, auto ISO (25 - 5000)
Non-DX defaults to ISO 100
|Flash||Builty-in flash only
Anti-red eye preflash option
Range 0.7-3m at lSO 100
Flash cycle 3s
|Loading||Auto - winds to first frame|
|Date/time stamp||Yes, with data back|
|Power||1 x 3V CR2 or equivalent|
|Weight||230g (without battery)|
|105 x 30.5 x 63mm (WxDxH)|
Contax TLA200 flash
Contax SA-2 flash adapter
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