Contax TVS Digital Review
By Movable Type Admin
Contax and Zeiss have enjoyed a long partnership so it was no surprise that there's a Carl
Zeiss lens on Contax's first digital camera. The build quality of this camera is excellent
and is emphasized by its titanium shelled body. For a 5-megapixel, 3x zoom camera to move in
today's market it has to be competitively priced, unfortunately this one isn't. Kyocera/Contax
calls this a "boutique" item with a suggested retail price of $899 for the silver body and the
black finished TVS is priced at $995. Other 5-megapixel cameras with more features are going
for hundreds of dollars less.
The TVS is basically a point-n-shoot camera with Program AE and an Aperture-priority exposure mode. Menu options allow for setting the white balance, ISO speed, AE Bracketing, metering mode, drive mode, flash and exposure compensation, focus area, sharpening, saturation, color mode, image size and quality. The focus can be automatic or you can use one of seven preset distances or infinity for scenic landscape shots. The macro focus coverage is good and the flash throttles down so as not to overexpose subjects at close range. The focal length is fixed when in macro mode, the zoom cannot be used. The movie mode is mediocre with a 30- second limit on 320x240 size motion video clips. Sound is recorded but the quality of the motion video shows a lot of compression artifacts and overall it isn't very sharp or clear.
Performance-wise the TVS is about average for a 5-megapixel camera. It takes about five seconds from power on until it's ready to capture the first picture. Times are based on capturing the highest resolution 2560x1920 size images in Fine quality mode. In single frame drive mode it takes about three seconds before it's ready to capture the next picture and about nine seconds to fully process an image in the buffer. Pressing the REC REVIEW button brings up the last captured image in about two seconds. In Continuous drive mode the TVS can capture three frames with a ten second delay before it is ready to capture another frame and about twenty seconds to completely process the contents of the buffer.
The optical viewfinder has 83% coverage, dioptric adjustment and is fairly bright but it has a narrow viewing angle and requires you to keep your eye very close to see the entire frame. It's the first camera that I've used in a while where my nose didn't end up in the center of the color LCD screen. Unfortunately that's only good for those of us that are left eye dominant, you "righties" will find your nose in the LCD. Luckily it's easy to clean and somewhat glare-resistant although it does still reflect well-lit objects. Kyocera claims that this is a Dayfine color LCD with improved daylight viewing. In actual use out in the bright Florida sunshine it fared no better than any of the other cameras that we have tested recently using ordinary TFT color LCD monitors. When used as the viewfinder it provides 100% coverage and the refresh rate is near real-time even in lower light levels.
The ergonomics of the camera are good and I liked the menu buttons around the 4-way selector, they really make it easy to quickly get to the settings you need rather than wading through several layers of menu screens. I think the shutter release button needs some work though, it should be larger with better tactile feedback for the half-pressed position. The top-mounted monochrome data LCD is nice, it shows you important settings without the need to turn on the color LCD. The TVS is powered by a hefty 1500mAh 3.7v lithium rechargeable battery and even under heavy use of the color LCD and flash, it holds up well. I never managed to discharge it completely during our testing and would imagine that it does live up to the specs which claim 310 frames with the LCD off and 260 frames with the LCD on. The battery charges in-camera with the supplied AC charger and requires a maximum of six hours if the pack is fully depleted.
The bottom line is always the image quality. The TVS captures good but not great images. There's plenty of image control in the menus with variable sharpness and saturation but most people will probably be using this camera with the mode dial on "P" and most settings at default. This is the way that we shot all of the sample pictures and they should give you a good idea of the overall performance of this camera. The color and saturation is very close to the actual scene although maybe just a tad more red then it should be. The matrix metering did a good job in our bright and often highly-reflective outdoor shots, showing just a little tendency towards over-exposure. I did notice more than a few times that the auto focus indicated a good AF lock even though the main subject was less than sharply focused. The majority of the pictures were well focused so I don't think we have a "bad" camera. None of us are perfect and even with the best camera I still get plenty of so-so shots that get deleted later - that's the beauty of digital.
Taking the overall performance, image quality and price of the Contax TVS into consideration I can't really recommend it. Boutique item or no boutique item -- it's just too expensive given the competition is selling equal and better cameras for much less. Today's buyers for the most part don't know or care about the heritage of the camera maker. Those of us that are old enough to remember 8-track tapes probably do know of Contax, Leica, Zeiss and other famous photographic manufacturer's names. Unfortunately digicam buyers today are more familiar with names like Sony, Hitachi and Fujitsu. They buy for the features, image quality and price. And the price is usually the more important of those factors. For that reason I'd say to look at a camera like the Olympus C-5050 Zoom and put the money you save back in the bank.
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