After getting bit by the compact point and shoot bug with the Leica Mini I was left with wanting more. I started looking around for something with more features and better build quality and I was looking at Ricoh GR's and Contax T's and even the Minolta TC-1 but I couldn't fathom spending that kind of quiche on a point and shoot. I wanted something a bit more sophisticated that I could put around my neck or just carry in my had when I am going somewhere that doesn't really demand a "big" camera and I just didn't want to break the bank. After digging around the internet and trying to find a camera that some what fit the criteria I came across the Contax TVS line. These cameras where just like the Contax T's but they had zoom lenses and where a third of the price and I settled on the TVS i the first of the three models for a few reasons but really it came down to a fantastic price. Lets just say it doesn't hurt when you lose out on a item on eBay to reach out to the seller and let them know that if the winner doesn't pay you'll buy and it just might work! The one that I need up getting was in mint condition with the felt /satin display box with metal lens cover, lens hood and uv filter. This was so close to a full set but unfortunately this set was missing the strap and regular plastic lens cover, soft carrying case and manual.
The Contax TVS i is a high end zoom aperture priority compact point and shoot camera that Contax put out that is highly over looked compared to the other Contax point and shoots. One of the reasons it's over looked is because its a zoom lens point and shoot with a Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar T* 28mm-56mm with a F/3.5-6.5 when zooming, also there is 6 elements, 6 groupings. So it coined as not being as sharp as the fixed Contax T's. But I can vouch for this camera that it is in fact tac sharp at 28mm and when you zoom to other focal lengths. Sticking with the lens of the camera, what really drew me to this camera is the way you zoom the lens with a what I want to call a "dive knob" that controls the power of the camera and the zoom of the lens. On the lens you have an aperture ring that ranges from P and F/3.5-16 that is very ridged and very satisfying when adjusting the aperture. On the front of the camera, there is a built in flash that is quite good but obviously it has its limits with it being a point an shoot. Next to the flash is a tiny circle that is for the self timer light, next to that is the light sensor, followed by the viewfinder, and then focusing window, and finally the AF assist beam emitter.
Now we find ourselfs on top of the camera and the layout of the top of there camera is extremely minimal and very functional. Starting left to right we have a small LCD screen that displays flash sooting modes and a button next to it to program the flash. Just a little bit more on the flash is that it's defaulted to auto but you can change that to always off by a few different button pushing and holdings. Just under that we have the exposure compensation dial or wheel, that helps if you want to push film since this camera sets the ISO by DX coding. Across the top you find the sexy Contax logo you find the self timer and above that is the shutter button that you half press for focus and exposure lock. Finally we have another LCD screen that is the exposure counter and that is always on even the camera is off, which is a nice touch. Also that LCD screen displays the lens focal length when the shutter button is depressed halfway which is quite nice. Lastly you have the focus dial that has AF and then different distances in meters that you can use for manual scale focusing, and the dial is pretty sturdy when locked in AF but has been bumped a few times then I was shooting.
Now the back of the camera is a little different because i have a data back on it and I don't even use it and haven't bothered trying to because it doesn't interest me . But the plus side of having the data back on the camera is that it has a better thumb rest than the stock back, unfortunately the back does make the camera a little more bulky in terms of girth. Now this camera has a "panorama" mode and its not a real panorama mode because it just masks off the top and bottom of the frame but it is fun to have and use.
The bottom of the camera there is the standard tripod socket and the battery compartment that takes a DL123a or a CR123A battery. Then right next to that is the rewind button for manual rewinds.
The viewfinder is a really interesting part of the camera and it takes some getting use to it to understand what it's displaying. In the middle of the viewfinder is the oval which I believe controls the focus and metering as center weighted, below that is a green aluminated bar the displays the shutter speed and weather you are in program mode or not. Then there are a series of arrows and circle that tells you whats in focus or whats not. I will be inserting two pages from the manual to clear explain this because it is some what confusing.
The handling of this camera is quite good, and I touched on some things about handeling in the over of the camera but I want to go in-depth about it here. First of all the camera has a really nice weight to it and it should since its built out of titanium ! In the overview I talked about the camera having a data back with a bigger thumb rest which gives a good grip when caring it around in hand all day. It also has a small indent on the from the the camera where your others fingers will hang out and it is a different material and it does provide some good grip when your hand is sweaty. The shutter button is in a perfect position for your pointer finger and your thumb is in a great spot to adjust the manual focus .
Operating the aperture is pretty easy but sometimes annoying that your fingers some times get in the from so I suggest changing it before putting it up to your eye. Now the manual says for changing the focal length is to use the textured ring around the barrel of the lens but I prefer to use the drive knob because you can use it with one finger and your had doesn't block the viewfinder.
With all that considered the camera feels really great in the hands and it is a joy to use and shoot. I feel like its a great upgrade from the Leica Mini.
The Not So Good
I always post this in every review that I do because it's important to know a cameras flaws since no camera is prefect and I want to give a well rounded review.
Now with that being said lets get to the cameras flaws. First of all the auto focus is really slow and wicked picky on what it wants to focus on and shooting in the streets with a fast pace and having people walking towards you it's a bit frustrating but the camera is old. A work around the slow auto focus is using the manual focus . The second thing that is the auto advance, it is pretty loud and there is now way to have it from not adanvancing after a shot. What I mean by that is the Leica Mini is bloody loud and when you took a shot and still held down the shutter button the camera would not advance the from until you released the button. Now that is a fucking cool and simple feature that I wish this camera had, but you can't have them all. The viewfinder is a bit small for me since I wear glasses but its not awful but the amount of stuff in that viewfinder sometimes is quite distracting. The biggest one is how careful you have to be with theses camera since Contax isn't around anymore, but there is a company Nippon Photoclinic that will repair them If they do break but again they are fragile. Lastly the manual focus dial is a bit lose and sometimes can get bumped but if you make the habbit of checking it before shooting you will be fine.
Now I have shot a lot of film with this camera since i have had it for about a year now and i can say it can handle any film. So far i have shot some Tri-x with it and Portra 400 and Fuji Acros with it and they have all come out stunning. I did just shoot a roll of slide film with it a week or so ago and when I get it process I will add it to these.
Honestly I think this is one of my favorite cameras I have bought and I don't think I could sell it because its a great camera to take with you for a quick trip or a long trip, it is really up to any challenge. I really think its a solid camera that gets over looked by a lot of premium compact cameras and I think it should be up there with them. You can get them for a song on the second hand market and they will last you if you treat them with love. The only reason they go unnoticed is because its a zoom lens and not many people are too keen on that but fuck them, this camera is amazing. If you are in the market for a fantastic point and shoot and you don't want to break the bank for a T2/T3 or Ricoh Gr look at the Contax TVS line and you surely won't be disappointed.