Price: £680 plus VAT
Patterned after the highly regarded Contax TVS 35mm film camera, this digital version is elegantly designed. Wrapped in a titanium shell, it has the solid, smooth feel of a finely crafted product, and it comes with a Carl Zeiss Vario Sonar 3x optical zoom lens, which is reputed to be among the finest optics you can find in a point-&-shoot camera. The camera’s controls have an unusual configuration: four buttons surround the navigation pad, and pressing them brings up discrete (that is, non-hierarchical) menus in the LCD screen. The menus are spaced along the bottom of the LCD – a format similar to that used by Sony cameras. Picking a category causes a number of choices to pop up, such as the level of bracketing, the type of white-balance control, and exposure-value compensation levels. Once you can remember which options fall under which button, changing settings is effortless. Clearly aimed at people who take their cameras seriously, the Contax includes some controls not typically found in a point-&-shoot. Examples include controls for flash output power; exposure and white-balance bracketing; and chroma (colour saturation) and sharpness settings. A well-made leather case, a wireless remote shutter trigger, and a diopter adjustment for the optical viewfinder are nice extras. At £680, the TVS Digital has to be the most expensive non-SLR on the planet – even £100 more than the forthcoming 5mp version of Canon’s top of the line G3. The only consolation is that it costs the same as the 35mm version. However, given the camera’s price and lenses, we were a bit disappointed by the quality of the Contax’s pictures. This is an instance in which the digital process for creating images defeats the camera’s fine optics. Our test photos had pleasing, generally accurate colour, with subtle shading – especially with our flash shots. But the images weren’t as sharp as we expected. Viewed at 100 per cent size on our monitor, the shots lacked crispness in fine details. Boosting the camera’s sharpness control had little effect. The bottom line is that the Contax can produce pleasing images, but if you’re a stickler for razor-sharp detail, you may be disappointed. The Contax’s only concessions to casual photographers is its fully automatic shooting mode, and its ability to take video clips with sound. It has none of the scene modes found in most point-&-shoots for aiding occasional users. On the other hand, it isn’t particularly well suited to the regular photographer of professional shots either, because it doesn’t have full-manual or shutter-priority modes; it offers only aperture priority and the ubiquitous exposure value control. It does, however, include an extensive set-up menu through which you define the default settings – a feature not typically found in point-&-shoots. This is a camera for a niche group of photographers: serious shooters looking for a well constructed, relatively compact and light camera that they can pack along wherever they go.