The perfect point and shoot camera? Maybe so... Or maybe not. It's all relative, anyway.
It's an age-old argument that has been discussed for decades. As most shooters know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that's exactly how I hope to approach shooting with different film cameras. I'll be the first to admit that I am a sucker for Contax bodies as there is certainly a signature look that they achieve. Most of that look lends thanks to the T* coated lens lineup. I'd like to discuss my thoughts on shooting with a Contax T3 and how I feel it compares to a close contender, the Olympus Stylus Epic.
Contax T3 (Black)
35mm F/2.8 Zeiss T* lens
Kodak Pro Image 100
Fuji Frontier SP3000 Scanner
I picked up my T3 from a seller I found on Instagram. As with most T3s, at some point in their lifespan, this one needed a new film take-up spool to be installed. Unfortunately, they are built with a plastic spool that has a single tooth that wears down with usage and eventually renders the body useless until repaired. I had the camera sent to Nippon Photo Clinic; one week and a $250 parts-and-labor repair later, I had a perfectly functioning T3. Time to shoot!
Holding the camera feels great. It feels well-built, solid, and easy to use. It is definitely a body that I want to protect from scratches or markups of any kind so I was happy to have purchased it with a neck strap that wraps the camera in a leather half-case holder. Shooting with it is about as straight forward as you'd want a point and shoot to be. Flip the switch to "P" mode and take your shot. Simple is great for a small camera like this. Another aspect that I really appreciate about this camera is it's manual control. If I see a shot that could use certain depth of field, or a subject to be metered darker or lighter, I have that ability. Lock in the lens at F/2.8 and you've almost obtained total control over your portrait session. The one thing stopping that is its shutter speed is still counter measuring against the F-stop setting you are using. The best way to get around this is to utilize the T3's exposure compensation feature. To understand more about exposure compensation, it's very handy to learn about the F-stop range on the aperture scale, lighting ratios, and metering. This, of course, develops along with your shooting style over time.
Keep in mind that there is no easy, efficient way of seeing exactly where the T3 will be focused (more on this in a bit) so be sure to lock in on your subject or point-of-interest at the center of the frame. I'd say that around 80-90% of my quick shots were in proper focus. No focus system is perfect, especially with the older technology in most of these cameras. At a half-press of the shutter, the T3's display will show the distance that the lens is focused and ready to release. If you're skilled in US-to-metric conversions, this should be easy enough to understand – lucky you! For others, it may not make much sense to know how far 5 meters is, and by then the moment may be lost. If you're locked in place and anticipate the distance of a subject, say on a fashion runway or walkabout street-style scene, you can program the T3 lens to focus at varying focal lengths – which is handy, but a time consumer to switch back and forth when you need to. In the end, this is still just a point-and-shoot experience, so you're generally expected to shoot it as such.
VS OLYMPUS STYLUS EPIC/MJU
Prior to owning and shooting with the T3, I had been using an Olympus Stylus Epic DLX (gold and black versions) for a few years. Both cameras produced tack sharp images that compare very similarly to the T3. The major difference, for me, is the color rendition. There's always something to be said about Zeiss glass, but that's not to say the Stylus Epic renders poor color. It actually renders out fantastic color, and it works for the majority of scenes that I've shot it with. Maybe it's the placebo effect, but I feel that the T3's overall image is more consistent, smoother, and "perfect" in detail, color, and resolution. I don't have a single issue taking the Stylus Epic through dirty situations, whereas I feel that I need to treat the T3 like a nice pair of boots or luxury car. I hate to see it dirty or suffer through a dust storm – it's just too nice (and expensive) of a body to risk having it damaged. Both cameras are top choices for me but the Stylus Epic falls behind in a very close second.