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Contax T3 Camera Review

by Gary Friedman, 2002


Girl playing a bamboo instrument Okay, hang onto your hats; this is not going to be an overtly glowing review.As a long-time owner of this camera's brethrens (the Contax T2 and the Yashica T4), I can honestly say that I'm not yet ready to give up this camera's predecessor, the T2.

Summary of Camera

  • High-end 35mm point-and-shoot
  • Lens: 35mm Carl Zeiss Sonnar T* f/2.8 – f/16.
  • Full program mode plus aperture priority mode; long time exposures to 3 minutes.
  • Size: About the size of an APS camera (105mm x 63mm x 30.5 – shirt pocket size if you wear big shirts)
  • Price: Ranges from $500 to $800

Summary of Review

  • Pros: Superb optics, small size, beautiful packaging, nice feature list.
  • Cons: Poor user interface; key features must be re-set after every exposure; autofocus gets confused easily; manual focus and long-time exposures a royal pain.

This is a camera that seems to have been designed by engineers based on well-researched input from marketing. It doesn't appear as if a photographer was ever consulted. I've created a table of easily implementable (via firmware) yet badly needed improvements at the end of this article in case anyone from Contax is reading this.

Details

girl in hat by window Let me start with the positives. Optically, the T3 is in the same league as the Nikon 35ti, the Ricoh G1, the Olympus Infiniti Stylus Epic, the Yashica T4, and (of course) the Contax T2 in terms of tiny cameras that do not compromise on image quality. This new, smaller form factor (about the size of a small APS camera!) has optics that pretty much beat any of my 35mm wide-angle prime lenses, and has more useful features per cubic inch than any camera I've seen.

And the difference in the optics aren't just noticeable when making 24"x 36" prints. As I rummage through vacation photos and family pictures taken over the years, I can ALWAYS spot the pictures that were taken with my older T2. Because of the lens' high contrast, they just have a different "look". (Kind of different. Kind of better.) Sometimes I get frustrated because my Nikon Coolscan LS-2000 can't capture all the detail that this camera can capture. The T3 is no different - its lens is as sharp as its reputation promises.

But being an avid photo.net community member, you probably already knew all of this. Let me tell you some of the things about this camera that you WON'T find from a product blurb.

For me, the most compelling feature that prompted this camera's purchase was the promise of a "pre-focus" mode, where the lens actually moves into position when you depress the shutter halfway. This theoretically leads to an extremely low latency time between when you depress the shutter release and when the camera actually takes the picture. Well, having been spoiled by the instant response of SLRs and disposable cameras alike, I can tell you that there is still a latency time of a few tenths of a second. (Probably harmless for snapshots, but I still find it disappointing and slightly frustrating when shooting children or even mild sports activities.)

building exterior

Other new features that I liked:

  • Much closer focusing than the T2 - down to 0.35 meters
  • Long exposures up to 3 minutes (manual or automatic) (The T2 had a "B" mode, but you had to hold the shutter release button down and be a mime. Not too useful.)
  • The camera doesn't "time out" when you've pre-focused and are waiting for the right moment to shoot. (One of the design flaws of the T2.)
  • Custom function settings include setting the default flash mode, film leader left out on rewind, whether a handful of select features should cancel after one shot or when camera is turned off. (They didn't go far enough with this - some options are settable via custom functions; others strangely are not.)
  • They actually included a depth-of-field scale in the instruction manual! Setting the lens to 3m at f/16 gives sharp subjects from 1.3m to infinity

What is missing that the T2 had? Two things:

  • The T2 had a more intuitive user interface. (I admit this simplicity is hard to maintain when you add more features.) Instead of nice knobs you have mode buttons you must press multiple times to get what you want, making it just like most other point-and-shoots on the planet.
  • The T2 had a very nice 1/30th of a second low-end flash synch speed, which maximized background burn-in and improved the quality of most indoor flash pictures. This feature was a double-edged sword; this one extra stop of exposure made my indoor flash pictures look much better than that of the average point-and-shoot; on the down side whenever I would give the camera to someone else to take a picture of me, the person inevitably had shaky hands which would always result in fuzzy pictures of myself. Anyway, this 1/30th of a second flash synch option is missing from the T3. Instead, the T3 offers a different kind of slow-speed flash synch, which cannot be used in as many everyday situations: it will expose for whatever the ambient light necessitates (up to 15 seconds) and the camera imposes mandatory red-eye reduction mode when shooting this way. So when it comes to slow-synch flash, the two cameras offer completely different and non-overlapping abilities.

Usability

boy and birds at sunset I must say, the more I use this camera, the more frustrated I become. Why?

  • The autofocusing mechanism seems less robust than that of the T2; it gets confused often and gives a "can't find the focus" flashing green light when you try to focus-lock on items about 20 feet away. (It often fails in situations where the T2 has no problem.) Last night I was shooting a sunset and it couldn't find infinity. Not good.
  • The self-timer and the Long Time exposure modes automatically cancel themselves after one frame. Since these features are usually invoked when it is dark, bracketing long exposures purely by tactile feedback of the camera's controls is a very frustrating endeavor. Why couldn't they have provided the ability to keep these set until cancelled, as they did with other custom function parameters?? The self-timer requires a minimum of 4 button presses and knob turnings EVERY TIME you wish to shoot a frame. A 30-second Long Time Exposure requires 3 button presses and 11 clicks of the wheel for each frame.
  • Having a camera this small (which is quite a feat of engineering, I might add) sometimes can cost you in terms of usability, not unlike a pocket computer whose keyboard is too small to use. In low-light, no-flash situations where I am shooting vertically, I find it difficult to hold this tiny camera steady.
  • The camera also carries the T2's legendary (not in a positive way) condensed shutter-speed viewfinder indicator, where the only indicators displayed are 500, 125, 30, and LT (Long Time). This never bothered me as it has some other community members; for a point-and-shoot all you really need to know is the ballpark of where the shutter speed will be.

The manual focusing feature as implemented on the T3 I think is the camera's most poorly-implemented feature. Here's another area where the T2 was superior; on that camera you simply rotated a manual focus knob while looking through the viewfinder, and the camera would indicate when the subject was in focus. To achieve manual focus on the T3, you have to do the following: Lincoln Memorial

  1. Ascertain what the actual focus distance should be first (this can be done by pressing the shutter release button halfway, taking your eye away from the viewfinder, and reading the distance off the LCD.
  2. Make a mental note of the reading.
  3. Press the MODE button 4 times, then dial in the desired distance from memory.

In practice this is inconvenient and inefficient. Most T3 owners are probably yelling by now, "That's OK; because Contax added an AF Lock button - Just point, press the button for 3 seconds, and it will lock focus there!" Well, yes and no. It will work as advertised, but the lens will not move to its pre-focus position - you must still press the shutter release down halfway (assuming you have that custom function set - otherwise it won't move the lens until you take the picture). That takes away somewhat from the idea of putting it into manual mode to begin with: faster response time and less battery drain (due to decreased focusing motor activity).

What the camera's designers SHOULD have done (and I've written to Contax about this) was have the AF Lock button work the following way:

  1. Immediately put the camera into manual focus mode, set to the distance of the subject, and move the lens into proper focus position.
  2. Do not require holding the button for 3 seconds. (I'm sure they did this to avoid accidental activation.)

Another thing they should have done was to create a custom function that says "Don't worry about accidental activation of the controls". When in this mode, the camera's AF Lock button would respond instantly, and the +/- wheel (used in conjunction with the mode button to adjust everything) would have a default action of exposure compensation. (Currently there is no default action for this knob.)

The noise level of this camera has also been diminished compared to the T2, or at least the pitch of the whirring motor has been lowered. This results in the camera displaying a kind of wimpy, underpowered motor sound upon turn-on and turn-off that does not instill much confidence. I'm not sure if it's fair to compare the turn-on time to that of the T2 (it's slower), since on the T3 the lens has a greater distance to travel.

portrait of man with shadows Contax makes an accessory dedicated flash which has a larger guide number than the camera's built-in flash, but will only get invoked when the subject is out of range of the built-in flash. I'm not sure why they made that decision; if I invested a ton of money in a larger flash I would always want the benefit of the greater lens-flash distance, regardless of how far away the subject was.

Most of the deficiencies mentioned in this article could be fixed by modifying the camera's firmware, without increasing manufacturing cost or affecting the camera's point-and-shoot appeal. In the event that someone at Kyocera is reading this, here is a table summarizing these needed improvements:

So, in summary, I love the optics and the form factor, I love the enhanced features, but the user interface is unnecessarily cumbersome.   I will continue to hang onto my T2.


(Note: Pictures accompanying this article were taken with both the T2 and T3.)
Gary Friedman - www.FriedmanArchives.com

Article created 2002

Readers' Comments


Add a comment



Meryl Arbing , March 25, 2002; 10:04 P.M.

I certainly agree with the positives that you note about the T3. I haven't had the opportunity to use the Contax T2 and, perhaps, that does make a difference when you approach the T3. I can only compare it to the Yashica T4 and various digital cameras which I have owned in the past.

The T4 had little or no interface at all since there is little (aside from the flash) that you can set anyway and the digital cameras set everything through multi-level menus that were so cumbersome that I never bothered to set any of them. Compared to them the T3 interface is a wonder of direct and intuitive simplicity. For example, I can set the flash off on the Yashica T4 but it resets to default if I turn off the camera. However, I have the flash turned off by default on the T3 and it saves that because it is a custom function. Of course, I can turn the flash on whenever I need it with the push of a button.

I also set custom function to allow the prefocus to the shutter button to reduce shutter lag. I wish I had something like it on the Yashica and, compared to the digital cameras, there is no shutter lag at all with the T3. That said, I don't think I would consider the T3 my first choice as a sports camera. However, the ability to take long exposures is one of the most pleasant aspects of a camera this small. I can easily hand hold most of the (non-flashing) LTs and it is small enough to easily brace on almost anything.

I have the G2 as well and I also have the TLA200 flash that goes with it. The SA-2 bracket for the T3 uses this flash (only) and it certainly contributes to the usability of the flash system with lower speed film (ISO100 or less). With 400 speed film, the built-in flash is acceptable...like any point and shoot. One real benefit of the SA-2 bracket is that it gives you a cable release socket for a standard Contax L cable.

I found the autofocus to be as reliable as any and I haven't had any nasty surprises even in low light situations. Camera movement at low shutter speeds was a greater problem than focus

Like you, I found that the DOF tables in the manual gave hyperfocal distances. I tend to set mine to f8 and 5m distance which gives me 2.4m - inf at more reasonable shutter speeds. This is an approach that I use with the G2 as well.

As I mentioned at the beginning, not having a T2 probably meant that I "don't know what I'm missing" with the T3 and I yield to your experience in this matter. I think we both find the T3 to be a great little camera.

David M. Young , March 26, 2002; 01:12 P.M.

While I can't compare my T3 to a T2, and it would be redundant to discuss the outstanding optics, there is one thing I will say about this camera that I can't say about any other I've owned....

I carry it everywhere.

It's been on me 24/7/365 since I bought it, and I really do use it, putting 2 or 3 rolls of B&W film through it a month in addition to the rolls I put through my Bronica and a few sheets of 4x5 now and again. I've used it out and about, in the office, even in the bathroom of a 1920's era office-building up in Portland Or. when the light from a window was just dancing on the fixtures.

I think that's the key for any camera... is it getting used.

Joachim Hein , March 28, 2002; 04:12 P.M.

Gary thanks for the interesting review. I perfectly agree with your comments on the different user interfaces. Here the T3 is a clear disapointment compared to the T2, too bad.

I would like to add to your comment "The autofocusing mechanism seems less robust than that of the T2". Both cameras use totally different systems here. Each has its strength and weaknesses. Knowing about them helps you to cope with the short comings of the system you own.

The T2 uses an active IR system. There are two AF windows. Behind one of them there is an IR emiter, which puts an radiating IR dot on your subject, invisible to the human eye. Behind the second AF window is a small AF receiver, which measures the angle under which it finds this dot. Obviously your object has to have a decent IR reflectivity for the system to work. If the system doesn't measure any IR reflection it sets infinity. In my experience (Yashica T4, which employs a similar system), the system works very well when I point the AF area in the finder on the cheak of a person I like to be in focus. Dark woolen jumpers do not work, the reflectivity is too small and the camera focuses at infinity, way behind the subject. As should be obvious such a system can focus on a plain white wall with no structure, it actually really likes that. Distances beyond five meter but not far enough to be at infinity can be problematic here. Within the outlined caveats, this system works very well in complete darkness.

The T3 uses a completely different system. It has a passive AF system, which evaluates the contrast for the subject. Again there are two windows, but this time both are receivers. Both receivers look for contrast in your subject and determine the distance form the different angles a certain feature of your subject apears. It needs subject contrast. Such a system is most happy with a vertical line or edge running through the AF mark in the finder. I own a Contax G1 which employs a similar system (but more precise because of the faster and longer lenses available for the G1). When using a two step approach to picture taking, a) choosing a vertical line in the main subject and looking the focus on it then b) re-framing and taking the picture, I have very little problems with the camera signaling "can't find focus". For my picture taking this works quickly and swift. Such a system can't work if it is too dark. If it is dark or the contrast low, the camera projects a pattern on the subject. This pattern is clearly visible to the human eye (at least to mine). This helps the camera to focus up to 4m or so. Due to the projected pattern, in dim light the camera can focus on a plain wall, which it can't in bright conditions. The passive system is smaller than the active system of the T2. The passive system has no problem in dealing with distances which are far, but not far enought for an infinity setting. In oposition to the active AF of the T2 the passive AF can detect when there is a problem, the "can't find the focus" flashing you complain about.

So each system has its particular strength and weaknesses. Knowing those will help you achieving better results. It largely depends on your subject matter which system is preferable.

I hope this is regarded helpful.

Young Lee , April 02, 2002; 05:36 A.M.

I agree with many points made in the review, with bad experience on one particular problem - The focusing mechanism - I ended up getting total about 5 contax T3s, with my original needs for 2 - caused me to return/exchage one after another until I got the right ones. Many units seem to be mal-aligned.

The story starts like this - after I got my first T3, being very happy over the quality I got from an outdoor shot, I took some more of people about 6 feet away on my second roll. When I got the prints, I was surprised... Parallex???? NOT at 6ft, shots after shot all frames's focus locked on the wall 30 ft away - Which prompted me for th third roll with careful observation on where it focused.

I discovered subsequently each T3's been (often mal-)aligned differently and many do not focus where they are supposed to. The manual says the camera has multi focus sensor allowing immediate left & right to focus as well as the center. But in practice, usually the sensor is skewed to one side, usually far right, and anything immediately to the other side or sometimes even what's in the center sensor gets out of focus while the subject is still far beyond macro range. After 2 exchanges (you can imagine how unhappy the dealer was) the third one was the charm. It focused correctly where the previous ones failed. I bought my second from another dealer. It required one exchange. Then the second one was alright.

Well other than that I love the camera, I like the compactness, solidness, accurate metering, good color reproduction, and the lens...

joe faust , April 02, 2002; 11:44 P.M.

I like the T3 for its compactness and the quality of the lens. I have used mine for a few months. I have had bad experiences too - failure of the camera to function when shooting sunsets or shooting aerials.I get around this by using aperture priority and presetting the focus. Otherwise I get a blinking light and no operation. As others have mentioned, its portability is the main redeeming feature - I strap it on every morning (on my belt) like a pistol. Having it with me makes me more aware of picture possibilities. I generally don't use many of the options or custom functions because life gets too complicated and fussy.

Joe Faust Apr. 2, 2002.

Gary Friedman , April 03, 2002; 09:07 P.M.

AHA!!! Thank you, Young Lee and Joachim Hein, for helping to explain some of my camera's behavior! Now I understand that I should treat this camera the same as my SLR in terms of finding vertical contrast on which to focus (that explains why it couldn't find infinity during my landscape shots - no contrast to lock onto in the sky.)

Yes, the manual on pg. 24 says that the focus zone is actually a small horizontal strip extending through the (misleading) center viewfinder circle. Tests during daylight bear this out, but when I tried calibrating the camera's focus (a close pole with a distant background) in a darkened room, I discovered that the focus zone for my camera was actually to the right of the center mark, as Young had reported.

A little further investigation revealed that the near-IR focus-helping beam was the culprit - its illuminating vertical pattern would always hit to the right of the focusing spot. Thinking this might be an easy thing to adjust, I took the front piece off of the camera and started looking for adjustments. No luck. From now on I will just learn to place my subject to the right of the circle when I focus-lock indoors, and the camera will no doubt stop behaving unexpectedly.

Once again, the collective powers of the photo.net community triumph over poor consumer product designs! (I'm *still* going to hang onto my T2, however. :-) !!)

Steve Purcell , April 04, 2002; 03:49 A.M.

Thanks to Gary for a well-written, accurate and fair review.

I have owned a T3 for a few months now. In that time I have come across all the quirks Gary mentions, and I still like the camera very much. Perhaps 10% of all shots can be inconvenient to set up using the fiddly controls, but the aperture-priority AE is easy to select, and the exposure override is also quick to set. Aperture-priority AE fans may be disappointed that the aperture selection dial doubles as the on/off switch, so aperture settings are lost when the camera is switched off; I do not find this particularly problematic.

I am slightly disappointed that the camera has no ISO film speed override; this can be accomplished by using a sticky exposure correction setting, but if one sets exposure correction at '+2' to rate ISO400 film at ISO100, no further exposure correction is available. Kyocera could remedy this by adding a further mode or custom function for ISO override.

The more features are added to a camera, the harder it is to fit them together elegantly, and the more changes people will want (just like with software). However, the bottom line for me is that I carry this camera with me everywhere. Build and picture quality are excellent, the size is a winner, the fancy features are there when needed, and the shutter and film advance are extremely quiet.

[disclaimer: I have not used the T2 or the T4]

John McCormack , April 05, 2002; 08:12 P.M.

The Contax T3 discussion thread at http://greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=005ic4 is growing long and cumbersome.

Anyone interested joining a discussion of Contax T cameras (T, T2, T3, TVS) and also Contax G and digital photography is invited to related to the following (non-commercial) site:

http://webxone.com/cgi-bin/YaBB/YaBB.cgi

Thanks to Kwen Wan for programming the site.

John McCormack

Ron Buchanan , April 09, 2002; 09:35 A.M.


Thanks for the review. Though I have not been troubled by any of the focusing problems mentioned (except for when I first started using the camera and kept putting a finger over the focus sensor), I too have been annoyed at times by the fiddly nature of much of the T3's interface. The additional Custom Functions Gary lists as well as ISO overrides that Mr. Purcell would like to see, make the top of my hit list for changes I'd like to have on the next version of this camera. If these changes were made, I wouldn't hesitate to purchase another copy of this camera despite the fact that the one I have is in perfect shape. (Are you listening Kyocera?)

Whatever the shortcomings of the T3, I still don't believe that there's another camera in it's class that can touch it in terms of performance or functionality (esp. when considered in combination with it's carrying convenience).

William Cook , April 18, 2002; 11:01 P.M.

Thanks to all for sharing T3 viewpoints! I think, however, that the greatest attribute of this camera is its ability to use filters! I shoot black and white and use filters a lot, being able to use them on this camera so that the feel of the photos is the same as my medium format shots is great. I would have kept my Minilux if it would have accepted filters, now with the T3 I am in hog filter heaven!

Charles Miller , April 26, 2002; 10:23 A.M.

"Thanks to Gary for a well-written, accurate and fair review. "

Ditto!

Ray Negus , May 05, 2002; 05:26 P.M.

Great listing of possible improvements. I think they all would make the T3 a much better camera. One thing I would add: Don't have the night mode be "Auto" mode. The flash does NOT always fire, very frustrating. If you put the camera in night mode, I think it can be assumed the photogapher wants the flash to fire. I don't know why it has to be a "Auto/Night Mode".

The flash is a little too weak also. The flash power of the Epic (a $80 cmera!) would be about right.

The way I've gotten around the poor design was to memorize the functions. For example, the 2 second timer (which I use a lot) is 2 button presses and 1 dial toward viewfinder. Infinity Focus is 4 presses and 1 dial toward viewfinder. Etc. This can be done in the dark just fine. It's still a pain though.

Gary Friedman , May 13, 2002; 02:35 A.M.

One other thing I can do with my T2 that I can't do as easily with a T3: Sneak it into a club and take pictures of the band unnoticed. (The T3 usually calls attention to itself via the bright focusing aid LED).

Image Attachment: Band at Roxy large.jpg

Dwight Looi , May 14, 2002; 01:01 P.M.

I have been a Yashica/Contax user since my teenage years. Currently, I own a Yashica T4, a Contax S2 and AX, as well as a small collection of Zeiss SLR lenses. I had used, though not necessarily owned, the original Yashica T, Yashica T2, Yashica T3, Yashica T4, Contax T2, Contax TVS and the Contax T3

I must say the biggest flaw of the T3 is not so much the unintuitive controls, but the fact that they chose a Passive AF system. Personally, I don't understand why they did this. The only reason is that it can focus through glass, but that is not a big advantage as far as I see it. Passive AF is used in SLRs mainly because its the only simple way to allow the AF system to work with a whole range of lenses, to have enough range to reach out to the working distances of many SLR lenses and to do TTL focusing. A 35mm P&S does not need the range, it does not need lense interchangability. A passive system is in every way inferior to active IR beams as far as speed and the ability to focus on uncontrasty subjects, or in dark areas, is concerned. This is made worse by the fact that Kyocera's passive AF implementations are not world leading like Canon's is. In fact the only way to focus in a dark place with a passive AF camera is to use some form of focus assist beam -- one of the frequent reasons I pull out my Yashica T4 is because I can't see well enough to manually focus my SLRs and I don't want the AX flashing away with its focus assist strobes (a sure way to alert someone or something that you are taking their picture).

I believe that P&S compacts should always be actively focused. The system should default to infinity mode if it doesn't get a return signal from its beams. That is good enough. Also, the main thumb wheel should always default to focusing unless some mode button is press, then it may serve as apeture selector or in some other uses. It should always start at AF. In AF, if you turn it one way nothing happens, turn it the other way and it goes from infinity down to 0.35m. And it should stay at the selected distance until you shoot the frame then it goes back to AF. If the finder shows only if its in AF, the LCD shows distance, thats OK. I'll use the in-focus indicator this way -- continuously lit means in focus, flashing means either infinity or under minimum focusing distance. In either case, the camera will still fire if you depress the shutter and shoot at infinity or minimum focus. If its in program mode, it'll also divert from the normal program exposure map select the smallest apeture that still allows proper exposure with 1/60sec shutter or more, if possible, in either case.

Lastly, but not least importantly, I find the T2 more solid than the T3. For one thing, the T3 has this polycarbonate (aka plastic) frame that is exposed on the side -- very apparent in the titanium colored version. If I am paying $650 for a 35mm P&S I don't want to feel, or see anything, plastic. Showing off its plastic construction kind of defeats the purpose of using such exclusive items as the sapphire shutter button.

Andrew Hall , August 15, 2002; 07:46 A.M.

The recomputed Sonnar lens of the T3 has virtually no light fall-off, an improvement over the T2 (which isn't as bad as some people say). However, this lens has only 5 iris blades and out-of-focus highlights are pentagonal, apparent especially in night scenes. The T2 has a near-circular aperture with 7 blades.

Wee Keng_Hor , November 11, 2002; 05:19 P.M.

I read all over that the lens does not suffer from light fall off at all apeture. However my experience is otherwise. I also see light fall off in many pictures taken by other T3. See all the above pictures and you can see that vignetting is very apparent. Check the following sites as well:

http://myalbum.ne.jp/cgi-bin/a_menu?id=ac473797

http://www.dpgallery.com/resource/t3/t3gallery-andrea.asp

Martin Tai , December 27, 2002; 11:14 A.M.

* The infinity lock on T2 is missing on T3, this makes focus at infinity unreliable.

* The lock button on aperture control wheel is entirely not necessary, it makes switching from P mode to manual aperture selection awkward, result of over engineering.

I find that T3 deviates away from the tradition of simple elegant philosphy of Contax T and T2 and become just a Nikon 35Ti with Zeiss lens

Martin Tai , December 28, 2002; 03:13 A.M.

The best feature of T3 is the 6 element Sonnar lens( T2 Sonnar 5 element)

Popular Photography had a test report on T3 in July 2001 issue. The key points on T3 lens test:

  • Flare none at all aperture, rating outstanding
  • Vignette: nearly undetectable at all aperture, outstanding
  • Distortion, nearly undetectible
  • Lens rating: "Outstanding" "a stunning improvement over the T2's already pretty darn good 38mm f/2.8 and would comfortably outrank the other two cameras tested in our...September 94", "we care comfortably calling it the best p&s lens we have so far tested"
  • Lens test results

    f/2.8 center 76 outstanding, corner 38 lpmm very good

    f/4 center 76 outstanding, corner 38 good

    f/5.6 center 85 outstanding, corner 42 very good

    f/8 center 85 outstanding, corner 48, outstanding

    f/11 center 76, outstanding, corner 53, outstanding

    f /16 60 excellent, 48 excellent

  • Noise: much quieter than average
Note: one of the camera tested by POP in 94 was Nikon 35Ti.

jake mecklenborg , May 09, 2004; 02:36 P.M.

The argument for buying a T3 in 2004 weakens with every advance in digital P&S's. For this reason there might never be a T4, meaning this will be the best film P&S ever manufactured...

With the T3 you have the *potential* to take high quality photos -- photos that equal the image quality of the best SLR lenses. The lens itself does not make every image stand out as our author purports. Don't expect all 36 photos from a roll to be keepers, let alone have a 3-D quality. Don't expect an overnight improvement of your photography. A 3-D effect and rich tones ARE possible with the T3, but it takes a bit of time to learn what this camera is best suited for.

A few comments: The autofocus is fine. After using it for 10 rolls, you should be fine, but just the other day I handed the camera to someone and they couldn't get it to focus. I've had that happen several times. With use you simply figure out how the AF works, avoid bad situations, and adjust your framing so that the AF will work correctly. For those of you who rarely center subjects it's going to be more difficult.

But the AF can be spectacular -- I have taken many photos of moving subjects (i.e. dancers, musicians, fans) in near complete darkness (i.e. dance clubs, bars) and had them focus *perfectly*. I can't say that for most AF cameras and it's tough enough with manual focus in those situations. Look to avoid getting finger prints on the AF sensor -- it will stop working until it is wiped off.

The 2.8 is to the T3's advantage, since so many people cower with 2.0 or 1.4 in low light (even when using a flash), and pay for it with countless out-of-focus shots. This is not the best tool for low-light photography without a flash, so you are going to be disappointed if that is what you want to do with it.

The flash is underrated. I don't know what you guys are expecting, but for what I do, this flash is terrific. It doesn't mow through batteries, as has been reported, and the exposures are alway dead-on, assuming the AF is (when the AF focuses past a subject, the subject will be blown out). When I read criticisms of this flash I feel like I'm reading about another camera. I have never used the flash attatchment, but it seems like a complete waste of money.

I have only shot a few color rolls with the T3, but I suspect that it's errors are tougher to fix in color printing, especially commercial printing. Doing your own black & white developing and printing makes a big difference, and not only with the T3.

Some advice for frustrated T3 users: Quit switching your film types, quit switching from color to bw, and learn how to shoot, develop (in the case of b&w), and print from one type of film. Buy 20 rolls of a particular type of film and don't change until they're gone. When switching film speeds, brands, and from color to b&w and back again, there are simply too many variables to pinpoint the cause of both errors and successes.

I would advise using 400 speed all the time in this camera. If you always keep 400 in there (and the same type, like I mentioned above), your mind will hard-wire its association of this camera with 400 speed. If you are looking to do serious landscape work, forget the T3 and get a 4X5. If you are looking to take a lot of slides, you should be using an SLR. In short, if you are looking to do anything that isn't up 400 speed's alley, another camera will do the job better.

But there is no point-and-shoot camera out there that can match the T3's combo of portability, versatility, and image quality. The defunct Yashica T4 was a great camera, but its build was weak and it was not as versatile as the T3. The Leica Minilux is much larger than the T3 -- you cannot take it with you everywhere. The T3 lens is fantastic. I have made two dozen 16X20 enlargements of T3 images and they equal the quality of SLR's. You absolutely can make gallery-quality images from this camera and I have in fact exhibited photos taken with this camera. But don't expect it to happen right away -- dark room skills have as much or more to do with image quality.

There have been some complaints about the 5-bladed aperture. I agree that a 7-bladed aperture would produce finer out-of-focus areas, but rarely do I consider the appearance of out-of-focus areas from the T3 a problem.

Technical Notes: As mentioned before, nearly every roll to run through my T3's has been Tmax 400. D-76 developing looks fine but for the past year I have been using Ilford Perceptol and Microdol-X 1:3 and have been getting great results. Images taken with the flash look great on Forte graded papers. This paper has a natural copper tone that at times appears metallic. Graded Oriental's bright white base looks better for daytime shots, where as Forte's tone becomes muddy. Oriental's white base does not work as well for most night shots. In developing Tmax films it is important to agitate them much less than with other films. I never got good results with them until I started agitating for just 5 seconds at the beginning, then just one gentle inversion every 30 seconds.

Also, I have had three T3's: the first one was stolen, the second one was destroyed at a rock concert, and I have been using the third one since May of 2003. I bought all of them used off of either KEH or B&H for roughly $450, and all of them have worked well. My guess is that many companies give T3's as gifts to clients and retirees, and these folks turn right around and sell them because they aren't digital, don't have a zoom, or they don't need a camera to begin with. So there are great barely used T3's out there.

There definitely were differences between each, aside from them each coming with a slightly different leather pouch and wrist strap. They each sounded a little different while autofocusing and advancing and at times sound like they're about to die while rewinding.

T3 #1: The lens cap blades occasionally stuck on this camera. You would turn it on to take a photo and one of the blades would just sit there like an idiot. This happened once or twice a month. Also, this seemed to be the camera with the most focusing problems, although it might have been my lack of experience as well. In October of 2002 this camera sustained a direct hit from a 16oz beer and lived to tell about it. It wouldn't turn on for five minutes, then after I had given it up for dead, like a phoenix it rose to take several more rolls before its tragic theft in Jan of 2003.

T3 #2: I bought this one a month after the above mentioned theft, and it only lasted two months before being destroyed by the lead singer of a Stooges cover band. This time a mouth full of beer was spit directly at the camera, which was at that instant turned on with lens extended. The lens was ruined by beer stains and beer actually got in the gap between the lens barrel and camera body and a day later the camera completely froze up. It came back to life a week later, but both the lens shutter and frame advance malfunctioned. It only advances the film a quarter inch with every exposure, and exposure times seem to be locked at roughly 1/4 second.

T3 #3: This is the best of the three. It is the most reliable and has taken many great photos. Unfortunately it has a nagging frame spacing problem -- one or two frames will slightly overlap on about 1 out of every 5 rolls. Oddly there seems to be some sort of calibration in the T3 so that when there is an overlap, the next spacing is wider to get it back to where it would have been had the preceding frames not overlapped.

It should be mentioned that I have carried these cameras in my back pocket most days for the last two years. They have been exposed to frequent temperature changes in the winter when walking in and out of buildings and have been bumped (although I still haven't dropped one) many times. The leather cases are high quality and I estimate would last two years if used daily, and so would last forever under normal cirumstances. If you have any reservations about getting this camera, put them to rest. It's a serious tool. You can carry it with you any time a SLR is prohibitted or distracting and potentially get SLR quality results. However, with the improving Digital Elph and similar cameras, the argument for using the T3 is weakening, as I mentioned at the top. I have seen great 11X14 images printed from the Digital Elph. Its lens and overall image quality is decent, and it has a big advantage in capturing ambient light for indoor and night shots, as well as auto white balance. However, I am skeptical that its lens quality is in the same neighborhood as the T3, and if you're like me and prefer a fixed focal length lens, you're out of luck with digital. That said, when my present T3 stops working or is stolen, I'll probably make that switch to digital.

On the example photo below, the corner blur is the result of a poor scan of the negative. The actual image, as are all correctly focussed and processed T3 images, is sharp and tonally rich corner to corner.

Image Attachment: slide-12.jpg

R Cheng , November 17, 2004; 10:11 P.M.

I have SLR cameras, Nikon F601 and the FM3A, Both are bulky. My wife always complains me carrying a clumsy camera bag when travelling. Therefore I need a point and shoot. I have done a lot of research and figure out 3 machines: Ricoh GR1S, Leica Minulux and Contax T3. All are the top ones. Ricoh is cheaper with a 28mm lens. Good for landscape shot. Leica is most expensive with a 40mm lens. Good for portriats. I chose T3 because 35mm is more suitable for me in taking both landscape and portriats. Picture quality is no complaint. The pre-focus system takes time to adapt and that's for sure. No problem for me. I just finished the first roll and I believe that it is perfect. What do you expect for a camera of this size? I have no regret to buy T3 even though DC is getting more popular nowadays.

heavenornirvana . , October 02, 2006; 02:42 P.M.

There is no alternative P&S Digital camera to T3!!!


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