10 November 2008
Background Just before decent digital technology trickled down to compact cameras, 35mm was the dominant platform for amateurs and professionals looking for portability. Contax, among others, marketed a range of compact cameras to suit the discerning photographer. In the 1960s and 1970s, there were a number of quality compact cameras available with top notch optics and manual exposure. Some including the classic Rollei 35 were capable of excellent results in the right hands. By the mid 1990's the market was totally saturated with plastic auto-everything point-and-shoot zoom compacts with very little to offer the enthusiast.
The Contax T3 The Contax T series compacts were in a small group of elite cameras that successfully combined automation for those who want it with quality and controllability for the serious photographer. The T3 was one of the last in the series.
Camera Design and Features The T3 has a minimalist appearance. The outer casing is made out of matt finished titanium (black or natural). The lens retracts into the body when not in use, and the lens blind automatically deploys. The viewfinder is glass and the shutter release is sapphire, this really is a beautiful camera. The top plate controls include the selector dial to switch between automatic and aperture priority, flash and camera mode and auto-focus lock buttons. The settings include manual focus, exposure compensation, self timer and long time exposure. Flash modes include auto, fill-in and night time portrait. The shutter release has two stages, partial for exposure/focus lock and full for shutter release. The top plate LCD display show information on frame number, battery power, flash mode, and camera modes. It also shows the auto focus distance after a half or full depression of the shutter release button, or use of the separate AFL button. Inside the viewfinder you have a shutter speed readout and and various indicators to show flash and camera modes. An auto focusing status light is also provided. Shutter speeds of up to 1/1200 in program and 1/500 in aperture priority mode. Aperture range is from f2.8-16. The Carl Zeiss Sonnar 35mm/2.8 T* lens is the jewel in the crown.
The T3 in action First impressions count and the T3 oozes quality. It isn't perfect though, and the main problem is it's user interface. You need to scroll through several options to find the more advanced settings. This can be extremely annoying the first time you use the camera, its just not intuitive. Persevere and you'll master this little beauty after a few rolls of film. The lens is pin sharp and you'll be amazed at the results in aperture priority mode. The long time mode can be used in conjunction with the self timer, just attach to a compact tripod for some fantastic night-time photography.
Accessories The T3 can be used with screw-in 30.5mm filters with the special Contax adapter. There are a number of 30.5mm filters available, but take care as some are too thick for the 35mm lens. Polarizers in particular will cause dark corners in your images. The proper Contax hood is also worth sourcing. This can only be used if you have the 30.5mm filter adapter. There are other accessories including a data-back and flash bracket for a larger flash unit. The standard leather case is fine but you may be better off with a water resistant after market case.
Buying a T3 These cameras have a good reputation and are very expensive second-hand. They can be hard to find. Accessories can be found at reasonable prices if you shop around. For UK buyers, T3 kit is most expensive from Japan and Hong Kong. UK, German and US sellers are more reasonable.