The Contax TVS on the Streets of Bangkok

The Contax TVS on the Streets of Bangkok

2400 1350 Daniel Rider

This story begins with a Rollei 35 and a Lomo LC-Wide being traded away for a camera that I’d long had a crush on, the Contax T. Recently a local shop posted an all black Contax T, no flash, but in very good condition. They took my beloved Rollei 35 – another pocket-able gem, and my similarly-pocket-able Lomo LC-W.

In fact I had owned a silver Contax T some time before this fateful trade, but that one had come to me beaten up, and I eventually sold it to a local shop in Hanoi, Vietnam where I’ve lived part time for the past four years. After 2 rolls, the T started taking audibly long shots in bright daylight with 400 ISO film. After the roll came back with some overexposed motion blur shots, I knew that there was an issue and brought it back to the shop.

They offered to let me trade the T for another camera, and I reluctantly chose the Contax TVS.

I had also previously owned a TVS – or more accurately, a TVS II. I loved the photos I made with it, and the camera seemed solid, but the manual twist out zoom lens felt a bit loose, as if it would break at any moment and leave me holding a champagne brick. So I sold that one, too.

But my newest TVS (the original one, this time) felt great. No loose bits, and it seemed to work right. A quick comparison between the two models follows.

The original TVS has a tab to extend and zoom the lens – love it. It lacks the built-in lens cover of the second camera, and mine came with the expensive-to-lose lens cap (which I did promptly lose at the airport). The TVS II has the ability to remember your flash choice while the original has its flash set to Auto initially. I forgot to turn it off and blasted a couple on an escalator, but usually I can remember to choose the setting when turning on the TVS. Besides that, they’re very similar things.

Rather than repeat information shared in James’ post on the TVS, I want to share some surprises about my experience bringing the TVS as my only film camera to Bangkok for an unwanted work-cation/visa run.

I was saddened at giving up the rare and desirable Contax T for the TVS, which is, as James’ article explained, the best value in Contax compacts – which also means that maybe it’s a little less prestigious to own. And mine has the databack. How uncool.

Prestige aside, there I was, a Contax TVS and a few rolls of film in Bangkok.

As mentioned before, this model has a tab to extend the lens while simultaneously turning on the camera. I like how this feels and it’s buttery smooth on my model. Shooting mostly outdoors, I turned off the flash except for a few times where it was needed for daylight fill. Over the past year, I’ve come to discover how much I’ve over-valued my input in choosing manual settings on cameras with great light meters/automatic EV. For this trip I wanted to be in the action, to experience the sights while quickly taking snapshots – only briefly pausing to compose a shot when possible. I left the TVS on P, or Program mode, and let it choose the Aperture and Shutter values. I was very pleased with the results, and as most shots were street photos, getting the subject in focus was a priority to subject isolation.

I wandered, often lost, through the back roads along Sukhumvit and other busy streets. When I could frame a shot, I did. But many times I didn’t raise the camera above my waist – I just took the shot blind.

The Contax T versus the Contax TVS

And what about trading the prime 38mm f/2.8 lens of the Contax T for the TVS’s 28-56mm f/3.5-5.6 zoom tab contraption?

It proved way more useful to have a range of focal lengths than the extra f-stop (or three, when zoomed since the TVS has a max aperture of only 5.6 when zoomed in). There were many shots that the subject wouldn’t have filled the frame or would’ve needed too much cropping without zoom. And the auto-focus hit almost every time. A put down of the manual-focus T, not hardly. But for general photos, the TVS is very sharp. Squinting in on scans at max zoom or for those with an enlarger, maybe shots from the prime-lensed T is sharper, but the TVS is fantastic too. It’s a Zeiss after all. And I shot with 400 ISO film in mostly well-lit situations, so the larger maximum aperture wasn’t that necessary.

And what about the TVS being more bulky, or less portable?

Yes, and no. Pop the flash on the Contax T and now it’s less portable/pocke-table. Also, not having a drawbridge door (no offense T and Minox lovers!) to fold out was great. I just moved the tab to extend the lens and bam! Photo Time.

Another great feature of the TVS and TVS II is that if you half-press the shutter button while looking at the film counter window, it shows the focal length the lens is set to. Want to shoot with a Zeiss 35mm at f/5.6? Go ahead! 28mm at f/3.5? Feel free! Tighter framing at 56mm f/5.6? Sure.

This review may sound like a battle between the Contax T and the TVS. Sort of. I may be biased after my beautiful black Contax T went wonky on me, trying to feel better about the TVS – with databack. ugh. Turns out, the TVS with databack has a better grip than the TVS without. It only adds 2mm of thickness, and is less prone to those ugly scratches on the titanium champagne back.

I digress.

Final Thoughts

After owning the Contax G1 with the 28mm, 45mm, and 90mm lenses, the Contax T, and the fantastic Minolta TC-1, I can say that I’ve finally found the camera that works for me. I’m a street and landscape photographer that likes portability due to a nomadic lifestyle. I want something (jacket) pocket-able that can do most of what I need (aperture setting, auto, flash, ev compensation) and the Contax TVS nailed it for me in Bangkok. I was shocked at how many photos came out decent, were perfectly focused and exposed, and were very sharp.

I can’t wait to see what images come through this lens on the next adventure. While I love the Contax T, Lomo LC-W, and Rollei 35 that were lost in rediscovering the TVS, I’m not too sad about it.

Buy your own Contax TVS on eBay here

Get a film camera from our store at F Stop Cameras

Follow us on Twitter, FacebookInstagram, and Youtube

[Some of the links in this article will direct users to our affiliates at B&H Photo, Amazon, and eBay. By purchasing anything using these links, Casual Photophile may receive a small commission at no additional charge to you. This helps Casual Photophile produce the content we produce. Many thanks for your support.]

Daniel Rider

Daniel Rider grew up in Portland, Oregon and currently resides in Hanoi, Vietnam. He is a published drone photographer and uses digital and film for street photography. Favorite Camera: anything pocketable and wide.

All stories by:Daniel Rider
  • Is it possible to be wrong with a Contax ?
    Great images, great writing.
    I keep my Contax T, one of the camera a keep.
    Thank you.

  • May I ask you a question please ?
    TVS I, II, III what do you think ? I have the feeling that the difference is not so big ?

    • Hi Eric – Thank you for the compliment. The T is definitely sharper. I found that I really enjoy the Vario-Sonnar zoom lens though – and love the little tab as mentioned in the article. So personally for price and fun – I would go with the original. I haven’t tried the TVS III, it is a slightly different lens and very different camera, but has the cool fold down door and a neat F-stop meter on the inside of the door. I’m not over losing the Contax T. Enjoy yours Eric!

      • Thank you so much Daniel.
        I believe too. The prices for the last versus are too high : II and III
        The versus I has been used If I remember by many famous photographers.
        With a Zeiss for Contax this is a great choice.
        The T was a great camera. Sometimes I ask myself what about the Rollei 35 S or SE or the Olympus XA, all very good just a question of test I believe, and the Rollei is scale camera with a fantastic lens. Of course the zoom here is a great plus.

  • The TVS can remember your flash choice! I don’t remember how I did it, but it can do it.

    I have a slightly similar story. Ive had the TVS for about 4 years now. Used it for a year and found that it wasn’t really pocketable, mine had some CA, and I was yearning for a slightly faster lens.

    I ended up with a yashica T4. I’ve been very happy with the T4, it’s plasticky but slightly slimmer and much lighter, the lens is great but I hate the lack of any manual controls (in particular the lack of MF or exposure compensation, rare but they come in handy).

    About a month ago I took the tvs out to sell it. Dropped it. Cosmetically fine but decided to put a roll though it to make sure everything was actually okay. Big mistake. I fell in love with the camera again, the zoom is super handy, I don’t miss the extra half stop, I love the 28mm and the images were beautiful and contrasts and everything I look for in a lens. So now I’m keeping it… and the T4… and yes one of them will crap out one day, but that’s okay .

    • Hi Kozkay,

      I’m glad you got both. They do different things and the T4 seems fantastic. Thank you for letting me know about the flash memory setting. I will check out the manual online. The fact that you dropped the TVS and it still works is a good sign that it’s both tough and beautiful.

      Thank you,

  • Hey Daniel, the flash can be set to off automatically on the first TVS as well. just like you can program it to leave the film leader out of the cannister when rewinding if you developyourself. Just for your info and future convenience 🙂

    • Hi Lasse,
      Those are both settings I need. I’m going to look it up now . I shouldn’t have underestimated the engineers at Contax. This camera truly does everything I need.
      Thank you,

  • I side with Bellamy Hunt from Japancamerahunter on this one: don’t buy overpriced compact cameras that turn into expensive bricks because nobody will repair them. A compact camera you have to baby and protect like a glass trinket negates all the benefits of a compact camera.

    My personal rule now for buying any more film cameras: it needs to be working without a battery at all shutter speeds.

  • I am pretty sure too that I mechanical manual camera is the best for many reasons 😉
    Unlikely (the favorite word of WHO) your review does not stay long time in front page, …
    I have seen than great Kodak company will using their machines for making plastic for batteries, … I hope it will not have negative impacts on the film production of Kodak. Now, I stick on your review, for me It is really more interesting.

  • I can not remember the woman photographer who used a Contax TVS. Some of these famous women photographers were simply wonderful and I dont care about the gender. So from now, there are some articles I dont read and dont comment. Photography is about photography, just want to see images, I dont care by who they are made by, … If I find the name I will just write here, I do not think she was Diane Arbus.

  • I briefly had the TVS III. The way the camera opened really bugged me and made things slow. When you turn it on first the trap door folds down and then the lens extends. This seems to take forever if you are in a hurry! I was able to return mine though for a refund as about half the photos were out of focus.

    FYI if your camera has the notorious main ribbon failure, there is a guy in Portugal who fixes this. He often can be found selling his services on ebay.

Leave a Reply

Daniel Rider

Daniel Rider grew up in Portland, Oregon and currently resides in Hanoi, Vietnam. He is a published drone photographer and uses digital and film for street photography. Favorite Camera: anything pocketable and wide.

All stories by:Daniel Rider