Quick Covid-19 Update: I’m sorry I continue to be away for lengthy periods. This is my new norm friends. I’m still working with Covid-19 patients although the list of infected patients today is much lower, thank goodness. I’m happy to report that, knock on wood, I’ve tested NEGATIVE for the virus and for the antibodies, multiple times.
But this is not the time to become too lax about this. Just take a look at what’s happening in Florida, Texas, Arizona, and California. Be safe, be vigilant, wear a mask!
Today on part two of our Rewind ’99 series we take a look back at the camera that arguably started the luxury compact camera revolution, the venerable Contax T.
Again, this series is about cameras that I was using in 1999 and in 1999 the Contax T was in regular rotation for me. Indeed, one of my most used cameras ever!
Apologies for the delay on this article. It should’ve been finished a long time ago around Christmas of last year but it was then that I came down with a bad case of the cold. And at the same time, I got a new job!
How can I afford to review these cameras for you guys? As I said in one of my videos…You gotta work son! 🙂
The Contax T was introduced by Kyocera in 1984. It is a manual focus, compact 35mm rangefinder camera.
It was one of the first luxury point and shoot cameras to be marketed. What is meant by “luxury?” Basically it means that it was marketed as a premium camera with hight build quality and high optical quality. And of course, high price too! 🙂
AS A CAMERA
The Contax T as mentioned above is a manual focus, rangefinder camera that uses 35mm film. The camera features a 38mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss T* lens. It has a shutter speed range of to 1/500 and an aperture range of f/2.8 to f/16. Minimum focus distance is 1 meter.
The camera is manual wind and manual rewind. It comes in either black or silver trim. The camera relies on two MS76 batteries to function.
For those of you who prefer a more “dynamic’ experience 😀
I don’t really enjoy making videos, but I do it for YOU! 🙂
HOW I CAME ACROSS THE CONTAX T
I bought the Contax T around 1996 or 1997. I can’t remember what got me interested in the camera but in those days it was most likely from either reading an article about it in a magazine or perhaps someone told me about it. During my free time, I hung out at camera stores quite often back then so that’s a very real possibility.
I do remember very clearly where I got it from. I got it from camera dealer Tamarkin. Now a lot of the general public may not know the store but I’m sure you old school hardcore camera lovers have heard of them.
It was Stan Tamarkin’s old store in Woodbridge, Connecticut. Today I believe they are out in Chicago. I believe they are now better known for holding auctions on rare, classic cameras. They are a good dealer, albeit on the pricey side a lot of times.
Anyway, I saw the Contax T listed in an ad in Shutterbug magazine, back when they had that cool oversized format.
In the mid 1990s the internet was still in primitive stages and most camera dealers did not yet have an online presence.
What the dealers did was to put their ads with listings of their inventory in the major photography magazines.
Whether or not the item was still in stock you could not really tell until you call them! It’s hard to imagine this today in a world where we can see right away whether an item is in stock or out of stock!
Some say “the good old days weren’t always good” and even though I’m a nostalgic fool, this time I agree with them! The online system of buying and selling is much better, but there is a charm to the old school way, almost like waiting for your film to come back and not knowing if you have any keepers 🙂
CONTAX T IMPRESSIONS
My first impression of the Contax T was one of awe at the feel and beauty of this compact gem.
There was indeed a feeling of “luxury” and that this camera was different from any other I had used previously. The metal was cool to the touch and it weighed more than it looked. Seeing “Carl Zeiss” on the lens thrilled me!
That first impression was in 1995 or 1996. And in 1999, I was still feeling the love for the Contax T. It was like my pride and joy in many ways 🙂
I suspect this is the way many people new to the brand feel upon holding their first Contax. It did give the impression that it was different from the typical Canon or Nikon camera. And in reality, it was and is different from many cameras, even today!
When in the closed position, the camera is small, neat, and compact. To turn it “on” you need to pull the clamshell down. Once you do, the 38mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss Sonnar lens comes out, and the camera powers on. And you can tell by the lights in the viewfinder and on the film counter which is the small top lcd.
There are people who love the clamshell design, and people who hate it. I would have preferred if it did not have this design. I feel it just makes it look less, how would I say this, neat maybe?
Nonetheless once you use the Contax T for a while you eventually get used to it. Once you realize that the clamshell protects the lens and turns on the camera when it’s in the down position, you realize it’s actually an integral part of the camera so you learn to live with it.
HANDLING AND IN USE
The Contax T without the flash attachment is small and compact. In fact, it may be small and compact to a fault meaning that it’s very easy for this camera to slip out of your hand so a case or handstrap should be considered essential. It’s not unlike a Minox or Rollei 35 in this respect.
Since the camera is primarily Aperture Priority there is not much in the way of controls, other than changing the aperture values on the lens. Even for my relatively small hands, it feels a little fidgety but not bad. I imagine larger hands may be more uncomfortable with it.
The viewfinder is small but usable to me. Inside the viewfinder, you will see three shutter speed indications, 30-125-500, basically 1/30, 1/125, and 1/500 but the camera will choose the values from its full range (8 secs to 1/500) automatically, depending on the exposure needed for the shot.
The Contax T is capable of excellent, even superb results. The 38mm f/2.8 Carl Zeiss Sonnar lens is the same, or similar, to the lens on the T2. Some people might say they are different lenses because the T2 can focus closer at 0.7 meters vs the 1 meter MFD on the T but I think they just tweaked the lens on the T2 to focus closer. If there are any differences between the lenses, I’ve never seen it in the pictures.
Below are some samples from the Contax T over the years. It is probably best viewed on a computer and not on a phone. The images are not optimal as my scanner has broken and I’m using an iPhone to scan most of them. I’m not making excuses, it is what it is!
I give credit where credit is due and as I said before the Contax T has been my most reliable T series Contax. I bought it used in 1996 or 1997 and it still works! But it hasn’t been exactly flawless and there are a few issues to look out for.
First let me address the common issues which are just cosmetics, superficial, Watch for the rubber front grip to come loose and eventually fall off. That’s what happened to mine after prolonged use. It happened years ago, maybe more than ten years ago. I lost the part but it doesn’t really bother me so I never tried to replace it. But with the T being so diminutive and slippery, make sure you have a hand strap or case. It’s very easy to slip out of your hands!
The body scratches with use, especially if you carry it around in your pocket like I did or don’t keep it in a case. Again, it’s just cosmetics but if you like your cameras pristine, take some precautions.
The rangefinder spot on mine is now so dim, it’s getting harder and harder to focus with it. A trick you can do is to put a tiny dot of ink or a tiny black dot on the rangefinder window, superimposed over the place where the rangefinder patch would be. This helps increase contrast making it easier to focus the rangefinder.
I don’t know who came up with this, but I remember reading about it from a Tripod page from one of the early internet camera site pioneers, the great Rick Oleson. I give credit where credit is due! I hope you’re still out there and doing your thing Rick, I really enjoy your writings!
The more serious issues, like most Contax/Yashica cameras has to do with aging electronics. From my own experiences, these camera acts more unpredictably if the batteries are not fresh or have been sitting in the camera for a while. I’ve seen this in two T cameras.
The most serious issue is a shutter that begins to sound “weak” like its dying and changing batteries don’t really help. This is happening on my first T. Check my video for an account of what happened to my camera.
It doesn’t mean the camera will die soon but it might. If buying one make sure you buy from a place with a good warranty or return policy. Check our trusted affiliates.
PRICES AND AVAILABILITY
The Contax T is not a common camera but still easily found. If seeking one of these, prices are trending between $400-600. Compared to its sibling the T2, it’s a bargain that will offer you very similar pictures in a more compact (without the detachable flash) but manual focus package.
The Contax T was the first in a dynasty of T series cameras that has fascinated photographers and camera collectors for over thirty years.
Yashica, the manufacturer of the Contax T, were an amazingly innovative company that pushed boundaries and thought outside the box to give camera lovers very different, unique and high quality cameras with their Contax brand.
While the Zeiss Ikon Contax brand may have been the original Contax Camera Legend, they were unsuccessful at topping Leica for the camera king crown and one could argue that when Yashica took over the Contax name, they had a much more successful run.
When people think of Contax today, the Zeiss Ikon Contax is usually not the first thing they think of. Most people will think of Contax/Yashica and the Contax T with its diminutive size and super sharp optics led the way.
It could be argued that if the Contax T was not successful, there would not have been a T2, T3, TVS, etc, etc.
For many people the Contax T is the Camera Legend that introduced the high end, premium compact 35mm camera to the world. It made people marvel at what could be accomplished with a small, high quality camera design. It was equipped with a superb Carl Zeiss 38mm f/2.8 Sonnar lens that takes wonderful photos and does so in a small and pocketable form. After the Contax T, small compact cameras would never again be restricted to being “just a point and shoot.”
And yes this author can testify that the Contax T is the first camera he truly fell in love with!
I posted this photo to places like Pbase and Flickr in 2009 in tribute to Yohihasa Maitani, the brilliant Olympus camera designer and a true Camera Legend who passed away in that same year. Today, I post it for the “death” of Olympus cameras as we know it.
I’m sure by now that most of you have heard the news reported on June 24, 2020, that Olympus will sell off their camera division to a group called Japan Industrial Partners. The deal is expected to be finalized in September of this year.
Now it seems the common sense thought would be that Japan Industrial Partners will continue to make and sell cameras to continue the Olympus name. However, I’m not so hopeful about that.
Why? Because this is the same group that bought the rights to Sony VAIO. Now I don’t know where you live, but here in the States I haven’t seen a Sony VAIO computer in ages!
Olympus was one of my favorite brands in the early days and indeed to this day. They made great cameras and they knew how to make top notch optics. Thus this is very sad news for me! I will have more on Olympus in future postings. But for today, let’s have a moment of silence for the passing of a true Camera Legend, Olympus, indeed a giant in the world of cameras.
2 thoughts on “Rewind ‘99 Part II: The Contax T Review”
Excellent review! Not a one-roll review like so many (including many of mine) — this is one from deep experience!
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Hi Jim you’re too kind! I have many one roll reviews too, but this camera I did keep a lot longer 😀 Many thanks for your kind support as always 😎📸🙏🏻