Can a Contax TVS Digital be your only point & shoot?

One year later, I stopped buying 35mm point and shoot and stick with this Contax.

Posted by Davide Caniatti on Thursday, March 3, 2022

TOC

The first time I wrote about Contax TVS Digital was over a year ago. The discovery of this little digital camera was surprising to me. Not only does the technology of 20 years ago seem absurdly old, but above all useless. When I picked it up, I did it with an almost archaeological spirit, as if to reconstruct the functioning of a now-forgotten object. In fact, over time I realized that it is something much more: it works, and takes beautiful photos!

The author, holding a modern digital camera

This year, just as the market exploded, I shelved the 35mm point & shoot. Not that they are not beautiful, on the contrary. At the same time as camera and film prices explode, I asked myself: is it still worth it? It is certainly broader reasoning, but for me, 35mm is a format that is now too small and limiting, especially for works that I consider “serious”. A more playful dimension remains, where inserting the film and shooting retain their charm unchanged. Nonetheless, I tried to ask myself if this little Contax could completely replace an analog point & shoot and the answer was a little test.

The funniest disposable camera of my life was the one I used when I took a day trip to Paris in 2019 to see an exhibition. So I wanted to test the Contax in similar conditions: a day trip. The location this time would have been Venice, to be precise Burano and Torcello, two very particular islands of the Venetian lagoon. The rules are the same as always: shoot only one roll. I admit I cheated: the Contax is digital and could theoretically take an unlimited amount of photos. But I say theoretically because the only memory card is 20 years old too, with a potential memory of just 110 photos in JPEG. My camera is also in excellent condition, but not perfect, with a couple of dead pixels due to age.

The dynamic range is somewhat limited, so what?

Despite this, I decided to put it to the test and the results were thrilling. Attention, I say exciting and not perfect. The photos you can see here are not perfect. Most likely an iPhone of the latest generation can generate infinitely better files, for example in terms of dynamic range. At the same time, the TVS is capable of returning, with its CCD sensor, that magic that only film can sometimes bring out. You know all that frenzied post-production retouching on the phone to make the photo look “artistic” whatever that means? Well, Contax already does this at the moment of the shot.

However, a minimum of retouching is still necessary, as especially the more intense colors tend to lose some contrast in full sun. Even if you want, however, it is difficult to distort the photos, as it is not possible to shoot in RAW. At the same time, the user experience is a worthy middle ground between digital and analog: there is a live view, but also a couple of seconds to turn on the machine. Let’s say it’s not the tool I would use to take photos of a car circuit. Knowing its limits, however, can enhance the potential that has been smoldering under the ashes for 20 years now.

Resolution is 5MP, more than your Instagram can handle anyhow.

As you can see for yourself from the gallery below, I find the TVS the perfect compact car to take with us on short trips. The first reason is simple: you will not find a more beautiful compact camera than this one. Its sinuous titanium body is still at the forefront today. The rendering of the photos will be unique, although often imperfect, if you are looking for surgical precision, I just have to recommend the smartphone. If, on the other hand, you are looking for the unpredictability of film with one eye on your wallet and one on the environment, after a whole year, I can confidently tell you that this camera is for you!