dante stella stories photographs technical guestbook

Contax T: Nice things in very small packages

Overview: Possibly the most enigmatic small camera ever made, the Contax T has developed a cult following and very high prices.

It is said that Henri Cartier-Bresson spent his last days on his photographic feet with one; it is known that Costa Manos walked into EP Levine's and bought the last six they had. There are good reasons for this. It simply blows the doors off the competition.

The Contax T was the first camera Kyocera built under license from Zeiss. It was designed by FA Porsche and is made entirely of titanium and heavy aluminum alloy. So no Canonet. The one thing that belies its Yashica heritage is the diamond-shaped RF spot.

Viewfinders: 0.75x (approximately) combined viewfinder/rangefinder with digital shutter speed readout and projected framelines. Very bright; possibly the brightest and clearest finder Contax/Yashica ever made. It's not parallax-corrected (you can't have everything).

Lens/Shutter: The lens is a unit-focusing 38mm f/2.8(16) Sonnar T* (5-element) with a seven-blade aperture. It is T* multicoated. Minimum focus distance is 1m. DOF scale for f/8; dot for hyperfocal distance. No filter thread. The shutter is a behind the lens type. All of this folds into the body. Exposure is aperture priority (8 sec to 1/500 sec). Self timer is on the camera body. Runs for years on two MS76 silver batteries.

Rangefinder and limitations: What limitations? With a 38mm lens, a rangefinder is the icing on the cake!

Interesting design features: The T is a tiny camera, barely wider than a film canister, a 35mm frame, and a tiny takeup spool. You take off the back to load, and the film goes under a swing-up pressure plate. Exposure counting is via a digital(!) display, even though winding is by hand. The wind crank is flush with the body when it is closed. Weirdest of all, the normal exposure sensor becomes the flash sensor when you attach the special flash (which makes the T not so compact). Not to be missed is the synthetic ruby shutter release.

Odd design limitations: you need to pay attention to loading the camera, or you will get frame overlap (tolerances are very tight). Film must be tight on the takeup. You get 1000 ISO max, and no exposure lock, but you do get a 1.5EV button for backlight (also works for other things).

In Operation: Very easy and fun to use -- small as a Canon Elph, more useful than a Rollei 35. The aperture and focus rings are both tiny, but for an anywhere cam, you'll live. It is very hard to find a camera whose optical qualities even come close:

How sharp? Click on the picture to go to the article with the full-size scan. This is 1m.

Balance/feel: Small as a pack of cigarettes. Lighter than a digital.

Bottom Line: Get one if you can. Get one that works. Contax doesn't fix them or even stock parts.