Contax TVS Review: Or How I spent $400 on a Point & Shoot Film Camera by John Adams III

35mm film image self portrait - Contax TVS Review by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
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Written by John Adams III

Not even gonna lie to y’all, I used to hate point and shoot cameras. For real.

From my perspective back then, I was like what’s the point? I need to have control over my images! I need to make sure they’re in focus! Trust this camera to do that for me? Are you crazy?

I like to think that this was when I was young and dumb though. As I’ve made more and more photographs over the years, the gear itself has become less and less important.

I began to realize that it’s ultimately about the final image and the ease of which you got to that final image.

35mm film image of mountains - Contax TVS Review by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
Contax TVS (find on eBay) with Cinestill BwXX

What Led to Wanting a Point and Shoot Film Camera?

I do a lot of fashion and portrait work and realized that I needed a tool that would provide two things: speed while shooting and the ability to shoot with flash in dark environments (read: the paparazzi look).

I love my big, medium format cameras, but they can be limiting when trying to get a fast moving or non-posed shot on set.

Also, shooting with flash on most medium format SLRs is never as easy as pointing and shooting, if you’ll excuse the pun.

35mm film image of a store - Contax TVS Review by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
Contax TVS (find on eBay) with Kodak Portra 160
35mm film image of a house - Contax TVS Review by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
Contax TVS (find on eBay) with Cinestill BwXX

Why I Choose the Contax TVS

I did research on all types of cameras before landing on the Contax TVS (find on eBay). It was a long decision making process, and it didn’t help that there are a million automatic/semi automatic film cameras out there to choose from.

I narrowed down my search by asking myself what exactly I wanted out of my new camera.

I knew that I wanted the most amount of manual control possible with the added option of shooting fully automatic. This removed a lot of options as most point and shoot film cameras have no manual functionality.

I also knew I wanted a camera with the sharpest lens possible for my fashion work. This led me to a subset of cameras that have Carl Zeiss glass, which is widely known for its high quality.

This left only a few options to choose from.

The Contax TVS Point and Shoot Film Camera - Contax TVS Review by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
The Contax TVS (find on eBay)

Most everyone has heard of the Contax T series cameras. They’re high quality, beautiful looking, and grotesquely expensive.

How could I get the quality of the fabled Contax T2 without spending a mortgage payment on it?

Well as it happens, the T2 and T3 aren’t the only Contax cameras with that lovely Zeiss glass. Introducing my discovery of the Contax TVS.

There are a few reasons I chose to purchase the Contax TVS. Don’t tell the celebrities, but to my eye, it has nearly identical image quality to the T series cameras but at a fourth of the price.

I don’t have too much experience with point and shoot cameras, but the image quality obtained from the TVS still surprises me – I didn’t know point and shoots could have so much clarity. I’ve only seen the soft, grainy point and shoot snapshots from my youth, and was pleasantly surprised at the balanced, crisp results from this camera.

Find the Contax TVS at KEH Camera or on eBay.

35mm film image of birds - Contax TVS Review by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
Contax TVS (find on eBay) with Cinestill BwXX
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An Overview of the Contax TVS

Cosmetically, the Contax TVS is beautiful.

The T in TVS stands for titanium and this camera is solid as a rock. Complete with a classic champagne finish, the camera has a lux feel that I really can’t get enough of.

The shutter and exposure compensation buttons are flush against the body giving the camera a very clean, polished appearance.

The TVS is super comfortable in hand but can be a bit slippery due to its titanium body. My version has a nonworking data back on the back of the camera which serves no real utility, but makes for a great thumb rest and makes it comfortable to shoot with.

The TVS has a premium feeling weight to it, but is just short of being uncomfortably heavy for a point and shoot.

35mm film image of a cityscape - Contax TVS Review by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
Contax TVS (find on eBay) with Cinestill BwXX
35mm film image portrait of a woman - Contax TVS Review by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
Contax TVS (find on eBay) with Kodak Portra 160

The Light Meter and Viewfinder

The light meter on the TVS is very accurate. It uses a center weighted averaging center, and I have never encountered a mishandled image – even in high contrast situations.

The viewfinder is large, bright, and only shows the necessary information.

When shooting in full automatic mode (Program mode) a P will display at the bottom of the viewing area. When shooting in aperture priority mode, the viewfinder will display the shutter speed chosen by the camera to obtain a proper exposure.

A flash icon will appear to the left of the shutter speed if the flash is going to fire when the shutter is released.

If you are utilizing the exposure compensation function, a plus or minus symbol will appear depending on if you are over or underexposing your film.

A black circle appears to the left of the shutter speed when the subject is in focus. If the subject is too close to focus on, a right facing arrow appears and a left facing arrow if the subject is too far away. If both left and right arrows flash simultaneously, that means focus cannot be achieved at all on the selected subject.

35mm film image portrait - Contax TVS Review by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
Contax TVS (find on eBay) with Cinestill BwXX
35mm film image of mountains - Contax TVS Review by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
Contax TVS (find on eBay) with Kodak Portra 160

Aperture Settings

The Contax TVS allows the user to select the aperture from f3.5 all the way to f16 by a click wheel on the lens.

It’s a great feature and allows the tactile control I was after in a point and shoot film camera. This essentially makes the TVS an aperture priority camera, but it does also have a fully automatic mode.

Even though it has an aperture range of f3.5 to f16, you do lose some light as you zoom out to the 56mm end – I want to say it stops at f6.5

35mm film image of the ocean - Contax TVS Review by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
Contax TVS (find on eBay) with Cinestill BwXX

The Zoom Lens

This brings up a point of contention for some: the Contax TVS is a zoom camera. I find this as a benefit, but I’ve seen that many people online disagree.

The VS in TVS is in reference to the Carl Zeiss Vario Sonar 28mm-56mm 3.5-6.5 lens. This camera is my first time shooting with any sort of Zeiss glass, and I’m definitely a fan.

I’ve noticed some vignetting on the wider end of the lens, but I tend to shoot at the 35mm focal length. Additionally, any minor vignetting can be edited in post processing if that’s your thing.

In my opinion, having a zoom lens opens up the scope of things you can capture. Does image quality suffer in a zoom lens when compared to a fixed prime? Perhaps. But the difference is negligible in my opinion.

35mm film image self portrait - Contax TVS Review by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
Contax TVS (find on eBay) with Cinestill BwXX
35mm film image of a woman on a laptop - Contax TVS Review by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
Contax TVS (find on eBay) with Cinestill BwXX

The Flash and Focusing

The flash is clean, bright, and can be permanently turned off if you’re not into that look.

The camera also features the ability to focus manually. I haven’t used the feature too much, but it can be handy for zone focus shooting – set your aperture to 8 or 16, the lens to around 2 meters, and most everything in frame should come out in focus. I rely on autofocus 99% of the time, but it’s always good to have options.

One annoyance is that the manual focus knob is located where your thumb rests on the camera.

There’s been dozens of times where I accidentally switch the camera from auto focus to manual focus inadvertently resulting in an improperly focused image. I’ve learned to double check that the focus setting is definitely in AF before taking the shot.

35mm film image of an airplane - Contax TVS Review by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
Contax TVS (find on eBay) with Kodak Portra 160

One Thing to Note about the Contax TVS

A thing to note: I’ve read online in various sources that this camera, being fully electronic, is prone to failure and is costly if not impossible to fix.

To be fair, people told me the same thing about the Mamiya RZ67 before I bought one (still ended up buying one,) so I think it’s up to you to decide how much risk you’re willing to take when buying 30 year old cameras!

35mm film image of the view from a plane window - Contax TVS Review by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
Contax TVS (find on eBay) with Cinestill BwXX
35mm film image portrait of a man - Contax TVS Review by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
Contax TVS (find on eBay) with Cinestill BwXX

Final Thoughts

The Contax TVS (find on eBay) is slowly becoming one of my most used cameras. It’s a compact but powerful tool to have in your collection and has quickly become my daily carry.

While it wouldn’t be the only camera I’d have in my kit, the TVS is a great travel camera and provides excellent quality at the fraction of a cost of other point and shoots.

I’m excited to push this camera to its creative limits, and I’m happy to have a tool that will make “getting the shot” a lot easier.

35mm film image of a couple walking - Contax TVS Review by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
Contax TVS (find on eBay) with Kodak Portra 160
35mm film image of a house - Contax TVS Review by John Adams III on Shoot It With Film
Contax TVS (find on eBay) with Kodak Portra 160

Thank you so much, John! John is a regular contributor here at Shoot It With Film, and you can check out his other articles here, such as a 11 Amazing Film Photographers Share Their Best Tips for Shooting Film and the best light meter app for film photography.

You can also check out more of John’s work on his website and Instagram.

If you have questions about Contax TVS point and shoot film camera, leave them below in the comments, and you can pick one up for yourself at KEH Camera or on eBay.

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John Adams III

John Adams III is a regular contributor for Shoot It With Film. Find his other articles here, such as a review for the Mamiya RZ67 medium format film camera and the best light meter app for film photography.

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Blog Comments

The Minox ML can do everything the TVS can do except zoom. The lens is magnificent. And it’s cheap also!

Lovely article and so glad to see you have a working TVS and loving it. I got one and was head over heels before the fatal shutter error occurred. Because the zoom lens is attached to the shutter mechanics, turning it on and off too many times, it will eventually fail, which I didn’t know before I bought it. I am hoping I can get it fixed because it is literally the perfect camera. These images are amazing!!

I got a TVS after reading this article! It took some getting used to, and then I fell head over heels for it! I got 3 or 4 rolls through it before it crapped out and became unfixable. :/ I replaced it with a G2, but it’s not the same, of course. I want all the flashy, point and shoot, fit in your pocket goodness, but I can’t risk it again!!

Oh no! I am sooo sorry the TVS broke!

I owned the T2 and sold it around 6 months ago after putting around 20 rolls through it. The thought of it crapping out on me at any moment was enough impetus to sell it on (for $100 more than I paid for it a year before). I miss it dearly and am now looking at the TVS to fill the void at 1/3 of the price. If the image quality is 80% as good I’ll be happy.

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