Now, let me begin by saying that I'm the kind of person that takes photography very seriously. Indeed, I see nothing wrong with toting my entire Mamiya system around in a 30+ pound LowePro Photo Trecker up and down the Appalachian Trail. Indeed, there have been times where I have elected to not bring such needless items as food and water so that I could bring an extra lens that I may need. The quality is worth the backache, I'd tell myself. Despite this prejudice, there are certain situations where 30+ pounds of photographic gear may seem unnecessary if not excessive. For example, on occasion it is my habit to take my family to Washington, D.C. to partake of the National Zoo, Smithsonian, and various National monuments. After wandering around in 90+-degree heat and 90+% humidity (for which Washington is infamous during the summer) with a set of children, a stroller, a diaper bag, etc... it does not take long for 30+ pounds of camera equipment to seem heavy and unnecessary. For these reasons and others, I decided that the purchase of a smaller, more portable camera might be in order.
Sunset from Humpback Rock - Sunset in the Blue Ridge #2
I also considered the purchase of a compact 4- or 5-megapixel digital camera. My reasons for eventually deciding not to purchase a digital camera are too lengthy to describe in detail, but suffice to say that I had a hard time purchasing a camera that would not produce an image as good as a well-scanned 35mm slide/negative. Combine that with the fact that just about any “digital point and shoot” will be essentially worthless in 18 to 24 months, and the advantages of digital seemed minuscule. In a recent review of the new Nikon 5700, Michael Reichmann explains many of the shortcomings of the current state of the art in compact digital cameras.
Given my desire to have a camera I could put into my pocket, I quickly decided against any current 35mm SLR as well as a 35mm rangefinder such as the Contax G series or Leica M series.
Given my desire to have a camera that would still allow some degree of manual control over exposure as well as a lens that would still have a relatively large aperture at all zoom focal lengths, I narrowed my search down to either the Contax TVS III or the Leica Minilux Zoom (at right). Advantages of the Leica include a built-in hot shoe for a shoe mount flash and a slightly longer (70mm vs. 60mm) lens. Advantages of the Contax include a slightly wider (30mm vs. 35mm) lens and a faster maximum shutter speed (1/1000 vs. 1/250). After reading many, many reviews of each camera system and handling both cameras, I decided that neither camera possessed a clear advantage over the other. I eventually decided on the Contax given the fact that the Leica was about 100g (33%) heavier and I was interested in true “pants-pocket” portability.
Univeristy of Virginia #2
The viewfinder displays some 88% of the image *plus* information on subject's focus distance, the shutter speed, a flash indicator, and an exposure compensation indicator. It is unusual to find a P&S camera that provides the user with this much information in the viewfinder. The viewfinder even offers diopter adjustment!
There is a dedicated dial on the top of the camera for internal exposure compensation. The camera includes a built in data-back (not unique in the point and shoot arena) where one can choose to imprint such information as the date and time onto each photograph. There are dedicated buttons for flash selection as well as a self-timer on the back of the camera.
The camera allows for six customs functions, allowing the user control over a variety of camera functions. I've found the most useful to be CF1 and CF4. Activation of CF1 tells the camera to leave the film leader out of the cassette upon rewind--almost a must for anyone developing their own film. (This also allows the possibility of "re-using" a partially exposed roll after a mid-roll rewind). CF4 tells the camera to remember the last position of the lens and the exposure setting just before the camera is turned off. Turn the camera back on again and the lens slips back to its previous setting.
The red eye reduction works by firing the flash once to constrict the subject's iris, and then firing again with the shutter about a half-second later. I've found this to occasionally be a problem as the "pre-flash" often forces my son to close his eyes and/or look away from the camera; however, as all point and shoot camera employ similar programs to reduce red eye this problem is not likely unique to the TVS III. Obviously, red-eye can be easily removed with the photo editing software of your choice.
One thing that really drives me crazy about the flash, is that it always reverts to "auto-flash" whenever the camera is turned off. If you are wandering around outside for several hours and plan to use the flash for fill, it can be a bit of a pain to continually be changing the flash mode each time the camera is activated.
Contax makes a Flash Adapter SA-1 that allows for the use of a shoe-mount flash with the TVS III. This would no doubt prove useful to extend the flash range of the camera as well as *eliminating* red-eye.
Winter in Wyoming #1
It is important to realize that the zoom does not technically offer a continuous range between 30mm and 60mm. There are five focal length options: 30mm, 37.5mm, 45mm, 52.5mm, and 60mm. (This is similar to Fuji's GA645Zi, as described above). The zoom is electrically operated by two buttons on top of the camera ('T' for tele and 'W' for wide). There are some who would complain about this lack of total control; however, as someone normally used to fixed-focal length Mamiya lenses, this mini-zoom with five focal length "stops" is perfect.
Do I find the range (only 30-60mm) limiting? Not at all. As noted above, I'd have gladly settled for a fixed 50/3.5 normal lens and thus any additional range I see as a bonus. Also, a longer zoom would certainly have meant some sacrifice in telephoto aperture (i.e. 38-105/3.5-10.5)--and that would be a major loss.
Really, my only complaint about the lens is the fact that it will not accept a filter. I don't normally employ a lot of filters in my photography (especially that which I would plan to do with a point and shoot camera), but it would be nice to, at the very least, protect the lens. I understand the TVS I and II provided for a 30.5 mm filter, I'm not sure why this was left off the TVSI III.
I conducted an informal test on the sharpness of the lens. The photograph of the newspaper spread below was taken with Fuji NPH and scanned at a non-interpolated 4800 dpi with my Minolta Dimage Scan Multi Pro. I took the photograph with the camera securely mounted to my Bogen 3021 tripod and used the self-timer to avoid any possibility of camera shake. I used the 52.5mm lens setting. To avoid any confounding variables, the image was not sharpened.
Just to give you an idea of big a magnification this is, these sections below represent approximately a 1 by 1.5 inch section of a 14 by 18 inch 300 dpi Lightjet print.
The performance of the Contax lens is superb, even wide open at f/3.7! I performed the same test at the wide 37.5mm setting and obtained similar results.
The Mamiya images were scanned at 3200 dpi using my Minolta Dimage Scan Multi Pro as above. Now, I'm sure that some readers are already crying "foul." How can I possibly compare medium format scanned at 3200 dpi to 35mm scanned at 4800 dpi (50% more dpi)? Well, the answer is that I always scan 35mm at 4800 dpi and medium format at 3200 dpi: In reality, this is the maximum resolution possible for each format using the Scan Multi Pro. Sure, I could drum scan the medium format images to 4800 dpi (or more) and blow the Contax out of the water, but it is not habit to do that, especially with the casual images I plan to take using the Contax. So, in "my reality" this is a fair comparison.
Center Magnification (both cameras at f/8):
I will post updates and images as they beceome available.