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Contax TVS Digital review: Contax TVS Digital

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The Good Luxurious titanium construction; efficient menu logic; highly portable.

The Bad Expensive; unimpressive performance for the price; some cryptic icons and labels; poor LCD performance in low light.

The Bottom Line This pocket camera's stylish, solid design is appealing, but its picture quality and its performance don't rise above average.

Visit manufacturer site for details.

7.4 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7
  • Image quality 7

Review Sections

Intro

With the 5-megapixel TVS Digital, Contax aims to duplicate the success of its T-series 35mm-film cameras, luxurious point-and-shoot models with top-notch workmanship and pro-grade picture quality. The TVS Digital's 3X zoom lens bears the prestigious name of Carl Zeiss, and the camera definitely has the elegant look and feel of its film cousins. But its merely average performance and picture quality leave the TVS Digital seeming pale next to equally well-made, better-performing, and less expensive compact 5-megapixel competitors.

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The three buttons below the LCD let you change the flash and focus modes, record voice annotations, and activate a dynamic histogram.

The TVS Digital's traditional styling is clean and elegant. The body is made of champagne-toned titanium, which gives the camera a solid, luxurious feel, though that's partially undermined by plastic buttons and switches. At 9.4 ounces with batteries and media installed, the camera isn't a featherweight, but it's no burden to carry around all day, either. If you don't mind paying an extra $100 for it, Contax also offers this camera in a black finish.

The controls on the right-hand side of the camera's back are well placed, but the left-hand ones below the LCD can feel crowded under your left thumb. Four buttons surround the TVS Digital's main navigation rocker switch, and each accesses a separate subgroup of the menu commands. It turns out that this unusual design offers speedy, efficient menu access. We were occasionally flummoxed, however, by cryptic button and menu labels. A few minutes with the camera manual will be in order even for experienced digital photographers.

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The autofocus-lock (AFL) button can lock exposure, too. You can set it to unlock either after the shot or when you shut off the camera.

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Contax puts shooting controls such as metering and focus modes in the C (for camera) menu; file quality, color adjustments, and the other digital controls are in the D menu.
As with its T-series film cousins, the TVS Digital's feature set is aimed at quality-conscious snapshooters rather than pros. You can choose either program or aperture-priority exposure mode and any of three light meters: evaluative, center-weighted, or spot. Exposure compensation is fairly easy to access and can be set in 1/3- or 1/2-stop increments to plus or minus 2EV; you can also adjust the strength of the built-in flash with flash exposure compensation.

Though the TVS Digital offers no true manual exposure, it does have a long time-exposure function that lets you set discrete shutter speeds from 1 to 8 seconds. There's also a three-shot exposure autobracketing function and a three-shot white-balance autobracketing mode. Saturation (Contax calls the setting Chroma) and sharpness adjustments add some creative flexibility.

You can capture still images only as JPEG files, and there are two compression levels available. You can also record video clips with sound up to 30 seconds long at 320x240 resolution, and you can annotate still shots with voice recordings.

The TVS Digital's Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar 3X zoom lens covers a range from 35mm to 105mm in 35mm-camera-equivalent terms. Its f/2.8-to-f/4.8 variable maximum aperture is fairly standard for this class of camera, and with the closest focusing distance of 5.9 inches, it claims modest macro capabilities. The adequate but not exceptional manual focus system lets you set any one of eight focus distances by using the main rocker switch on the back of the camera. The lens will not accept screw-on accessories such as filters or wide-angle and telephoto adapters. Likewise, in keeping with this pocket camera's design, there is no hotshoe or sync terminal for an external flash. High-end touches such as its titanium body notwithstanding, the TVS Digital's performance is run-of-the-mill. Autofocus speed is about average, as is shutter delay, and shot-to-shot time is a tad on the slow side for this camera's class, at about 3 to 4 seconds. The camera's continuous-drive mode will take three shots at 2 frames per second (fps), but it pauses for more than 10 seconds to clear the buffer before it will shoot again.

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The small viewfinder has a diopter for adjusting focus as well as framing marks to aid composition.
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We were able to shoot for several hours over two consecutive days on a single charge of the proprietary lithium-ion battery.
The camera's 1.6-inch LCD uses a new technology that Contax calls DayFine, which is supposed to improve usability in bright light, but we rated the LCD just average in outdoor light. Curiously, in even moderately low light, the LCD won't display a useful image at all--a minor but still annoying drawback. The optical viewfinder, though small, is very sharp and bright. It shows about 84 percent of the actual image area.

The built-in flash has the usual range of shooting modes, including slow-sync and daylight fill. Its 10.2-foot maximum range is average for a digital point-and-shoot. A big part of the appeal of Contax's T-series film cameras is their professional-quality images, but the TVS Digital misses that crucial ingredient in the recipe. Its images are a definite notch or two less sharp and detailed than those of the best 5-megapixel point-and-shoot cameras, and they certainly don't measure up to the images from professional digital models. They're also a bit noisier than images from the best of the competition. At ISO 400, this camera's pictures, like those of many 5-megapixel point-and-shoots, are severely noisy.

Colors are quite saturated although not artificial-looking; the TVS Digital's images generally have a vivid, contrasty look. The automatic white balance worked well, even under indoor lighting. Both ambient and flash exposures were generally good, and we saw only mild digital artifacts such as color fringing. It's not that the TVS Digital's images are bad--they're just average. But average is not what most customers will be expecting from this relatively pricey camera.

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