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 an upcoming 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:
- Contax T2 (1990)
- Contax T3 (2001)
- Contax TVS III (1999)
- Fujifilm DL Super Mini (1994)
- Konica Big Mini (1990)
- Leica C1 (1999)
- Nikon 35Ti (1993)
- Olympus MJU II (1997)
- Olympus MJU Zoom 120 and other Mju Zoom cameras (1993-2003)
- Ricoh GR1s (1996)
- Samsung Vega 700 (2002)
- 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 mega test will cover my criteria and scoring in full. At over 12,000 words in total, this approach seems a little saner 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 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.
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,
Contax T2 technical specifications
|Camera name||Contax T2
(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 38mm f/2.8
(5 elements in 4 groups, f/2.8-f/16)
|Viewfinder||0.75x (appx) combined viewfinder with projected framelines, digital shutter speed readout (minimal) and parallax correction|
|Shutter||Between-the-lens shutter, electromagnetic control
60 - 1/500s
|Focusing||Autofocus and Program AE. Manual focusing option (zone focus)
|Metering||Aperture 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
|Flash||Builty-in flash only
Anti-red eye preflash option
Range 0.7-3m at lSO 100
Flash cycle 3.5s
|Date/time stamp||With databack|
|Power||1 x 3V CR123 or equivalent|
|Weight||295g (without battery)|
|119 x 33 x 66mm (WxDxH)|
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