My camera collection over the years has changed pretty dramatically.
I started with some old Nikon FM series cameras, moved over to an automatic Nikon F100, then spent an arm and a leg on my first Leica. I tried out a number of medium format cameras with varying success, then landed on the Mamiya 7 as my long-term medium format shooter.
I then realized that these cameras were amazing for dedicated shooting trips, but for random walks around the city and everyday experiences, I wanted something I could throw in my pocket (kinda) and keep on me at all times with no worry.
I figured I’d be spending at or under $500 USD and get something amazing. I grabbed a Ricoh GR1V (find on eBay) and fell in love. But after the LCD died and the viewfinder went with it, it made it nearly impossible to reliably shoot that camera knowing that I’d get the results I wanted.
Then I saw it: the Contax T2.
It was more expensive than the rest but seemed to stand out above them as well. I shelled out the extra money and bit the bullet.
Luckily, I bought it when I did, because within six weeks of my purchase, the price shot up another few hundred dollars due to some celebrity influence.
Is it overpriced? Does it deliver on quality at cost? Let’s break down what makes the Contax T2 the most sought-after point and shoot film camera on the market, and see whether it’s actually worth the hype.
First, let’s start with the price – it’s pretty outrageous.
At the time of writing this, eBay prices for a Contax T2 sit around $1,000 USD at minimum (add on a couple hundred for the mint versions). At its peak, you were looking at a starting point of $1,300 for a mint version, and $1,500 if you wanted the sleek graphite color.
So what do you get for the cost?
Despite how expensive it is, you get an amazing, portable performer that provides a different shooting experience. It’s automatic, yet comes with functional manual controls. It’s small, but it’s a high quality and well-built titanium machine. It fits in your pocket, yet comes with a beautiful Carl Zeiss lens that packs a huge punch both in clarity and color. It has a lot going for it.
Let’s get this out of the way now. Would I buy it again?
That’s a tough question. I love the camera, and it’s done more for me than just taking some nice images. Every time I struggle with a creative block, I pick this camera up because I can take it anywhere and it’s really a joy to use.
That said, I know the Contax TVS exists and is, by all accounts, a great camera as well, so I don’t even think I can say it’s the best value-for-money Contax on the market. You can read more about the Contax TVS here.
Plus, there are plenty of other point and shoots that will produce nice images for a fraction of the cost (Ricoh GR1 (eBay link), Olympus XA2 (eBay link), Nikon L35 series (eBay link), etc.). But I’d probably still buy it again.
Now that we’ve set the stage, let’s talk about the camera itself.
Contax T2 Build Quality: A Well-Built, Titanium Monster
First, the build quality of the Contax T2 is unrivaled, especially in this category of cameras.
It’s pretty remarkable considering its size and function. It’s a beautiful all metal body. Made from titanium, it’s heavy and makes you feel like you’re holding an actual camera, not an all-plastic toy (looking at you Olympus XA2).
The on/off lens mechanism is smooth and easy. And if it matters to you, the sounds that the camera makes are beautiful. It brings back a lick of nostalgia and reminds you of the analog process happening inside this camera as you shoot.
A Minimal, Less-Than-Ideal Viewfinder
While the Contax T2 is a beautifully built camera, the viewfinder leaves a lot to be desired.
It’s tiny. Like, very tiny, and one that requires your eye to be perfectly placed in its center to see all of the information displayed. This is one of only two complaints I have (we’ll get to the second later).
If you can line up your eye and see everything it has to offer, the viewfinder is… fine. It displays some helpful information around its edges so you know what’s going on behind the scenes. For instance, it’ll show you the shooting mode, flash mode, shutter speed, and focus lock.
When the light is low and the shutter speed will be less than 1/30th of a second, “L.T.” will show (stands for “Long Time,” aka “get a tripod”). If there’s too much light and you’re looking at overexposure, it will flash 1/500th to let you know that the shutter speed can’t be set any faster.
All helpful, but only so if you can actually see the damn thing.
A Fun, No-Frills Shooting Experience
Not much else to say about actually using the Contax T2 (find on eBay) other than that it’s fantastic!
What a fun camera to use. Loading film is easy, since it’s an automatic take up. Pop in a canister of your favorite film, feed a little over, close the back, and you’re done. You’ll know it’s loaded if it reads “01” on the LCD.
As for actually shooting, there are really three moving parts you need to be aware of when shooting: the shooting mode dial, an exposure compensation… button?, and the aperture ring. Nothing fancy happening here, but you do get some manual controls that other point and shoot film cameras don’t provide.
The Contax T2’s shooting modes fall into two categories: autofocus mode (which is what I use 99% of the time) and manual focus modes.
When using manual, it can be shot at infinity, 5m, 2m, 1m, and 0.7m. Personally, I think the AF is good enough for most instances, but it’s nice to have the manual controls if you want.
Oh, and the camera does have a self timer if you care. I’ve never used it, but I’m sure Kendall Jenner has.
Half press the shutter button and it focuses then locks which is nice, so you can recompose without worrying about AF picking up another subject. Yes, it’s a basic functionality, but again is something that many other cameras in its category don’t do.
The aperture ring is another standout of this camera. It’s tiny and hard to maneuver, but again, nice that it’s there.
It has two flash modes (always-on flash or a dual flash mode for red eye reduction) and a number of aperture stops that you can manually use. The flash settings are actually usable and nice to have on the fly, albeit not necessarily something you need at all times.
Here’s my second complaint about this camera: if you select 2.8 on the aperture ring, know that you’re not manually selecting f/2.8.
This is actually aperture priority mode, where the camera selects the best aperture for your scene.
While it might shoot at 2.8 on its own (it will try to prioritize it), keep in mind that you will not always be shooting at that aperture.
If you select any other aperture setting, it will exclusively use that setting. It’s a quirk and may not seem like a big deal, but given all of the other controls of the camera, it’s a slight annoyance that you can’t shoot wide open whenever you want.
The color, clarity, contrast that this tiny Carl Zeiss lens produces are all amazing. Sure, there’s a bit of vignetting, but I think it’s part of the charm (and certainly not enough to get in the way).
Generally, I think “character” is an overused term when it comes to lenses, so I hate to use it… but this lens delivers.
It’s not quite a standard focal length, as it sits at 38mm. I actually think this is perfect and provides the flexibility that I need for the vast majority of compositions I shoot. Sometimes it’s a little tighter than I’d like, but nothing a single step backwards can’t solve.
In all honesty, there’s not much else to say here. Given its size, it’s really one of the best out there.
The Contax T2 is a Beautiful Camera… at a Cost
At the end of the day, the Contax T2 is an amazing camera. Is it a $1k+ camera? Probably not. But it performs in a way that many other point and shoot cameras don’t.
If you have an unlimited budget and want to spend it on a portable, very capable point and shoot film camera, I can’t recommend anything else.
Remember that it is an automatic camera with limited part availability. When it breaks (and it will someday), it’s going to be a very, very expensive paper weight.
Until that time comes, however, I’ll be enjoying every second I spend with it.