Review: Contax TVS Digital
Keller, DCRP Founder/Editor
Originally posted: April 27, 2003
April 27, 2003
TVS Digital is the first consumer digital camera from
the legendary German camera manufacturer (who is now owned by
Kyocera Optics of Japan). The TVS Digital is what's known as
camera" -- a "luxury" model. The TVS is
attractive, well-designed, limited in terms
controls, and expensive ($899 for the body shown,
$999 for the black body).
The two available colors. Image courtesy of Kyocera.
the heart of the TVS is a 5 Megapixel CCD and 3X Carl Zeiss
T* lens. Many of the TVS' features have an uncanny resemblance
to those found on the
Kyocera Finecam S5 (see
our review), not surprisingly.
more about the TVS Digital in our review!
in the Box?
TVS Digital has a very good bundle. Inside the box, you'll find:
5.0 effective Megapixel TVS Digital camera
16MB Secure Digital card
Li-ion rechargeable battery
including Pixela ImageMixer software and drivers
page camera manual (printed)
only thing holding me back from giving the bundle an "excellent"
rating is the skimpy 16MB SD memory card that's included. On
a camera at this price, it should have a 32MB card at the very
least. Consider it your mission to buy a 128MB or larger card
right away if you buy the TVS. It accepts both Secure Digital
(SD) and MultiMedia (MMC) cards.
else is good news. The TVS includes a Kyocera BP-1500S li-ion
battery, which is quite powerful at 5.6 Watt/hours. Contax estimates
that you can take about 285 photos per charge (50% LCD usage),
or spend 4.5 hours in playback mode.
spoken about the disadvantages of proprietary batteries like
this many times. The main issues are their price ($50 each)
and the fact that if you're in a bind, you can't just use regular
batteries to get you through the day.
it's time to recharge the battery, just plug in the included
AC adapter. It takes about 6 hours to fully charge.
gets major bonus points for including both a leather carrying
case and a wireless remote control in the box. The remote control
is very basic (it's only a remote shutter release), but it's
better than nothing.
TVS Digital's slick design includes a built-in lens cover, so
there's no lens cap to worry about.
its price, the TVS isn't an expandable camera. In fact, the only
accessory I could find was a fast external battery charger for
includes an older version of Pixela's ImageMixer software.
The version included is not Mac OS X native, so you'll have to
in classic mode. The camera does works fine with Mac OS X (iPhoto
and Image Capture), and Windows XP as
TVS' manual is quite thorough -- though it can be a bit hard
to find things at times.
TVS Digital has a classic design reminiscent of older Contax
cameras. The body is mostly metal, though some of the plastic
parts feel cheap -- a surprise given the cost of this camera.
The controls are well-placed and easy to operate.
camera is what I'd call midsize, quite similar in size to something
like the Canon PowerShot S45/S50. It can be operated with one
hand or two.
official dimensions of the TVS are 4.4 x 2.4 x 1.3 inches (W
x H x D), and it weighs just 210 grams (empty).
begin our 360 degree tour of the TVS Digital now!
TVS Digital the famous T* Vario Sonnar lens from Carl Zeiss.
This F2.8-F4.8 lens has a focal range of 7.3 - 21. 9 mm, which
is equivalent to 35 - 105 mm. The lens is not threaded.
the upper-right of the photo is the built-in flash. This flash
has a working range of around 0.6 - 3.2 m at wide-angle, and
0.6 - 1.7 m at telephoto. There's no support for an external
flash on this camera.
to the flash are three small circles, plus the optical viewfinder.
The circles are for the remote control receiver, self-timer lamp,
and light sensor. Unfortunately, there is no AF-assist lamp on
TVS Digital appears to have the same 1.6" LCD as the Finecam
S5. Although the LCD has only 85,000 pixels, I found it to be
quite sharp. The frame rate is very good as well. As with most
LCDs, it's difficult to see when in very bright or very low light.
One strange phenomenon that I noticed was that black areas on
the LCD often appeared posterized or dithered.
and to the right of the LCD is the optical viewfinder. It's a
little on the small side for my taste, though it does include
a diopter correction knob to adjust the focus. It displays 83%
of the frame.
the LCD are three buttons:
setting (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash off, fill flash,
night portrait flash) + voice annotation (30 secs)
- Focus mode (AF, macro, manual focus)
- Display - toggles LCD on and off, as well as the info shown
The TVS has a manual focus feature, where you can use the four-way
controller to choose the focus distance (which is shown on the
LCD). Unfortunately the camera doesn't enlarge the image on the
you can confirm
focus, like some other cameras.
the right of the LCD is the four-way controller, with four buttons
surrounding it. The four-way controller is used for changing
menu options. The four other buttons are for invoking the TVS'
various menus (more on this later), as well as for entering the
record review mode, which allows you to review and delete the
above all of that is the power button. To the right of that is
the zoom controller. THe zoom moves very quickly -- just open
second to cover the whole focal range -- but it's also easy to
be precise with quick presses of the buttons.
final item back here is the release for the SD/MMC card slot,
shown on the far right.
we are now at the top of the camera. On the let, you can see
something I really like -- an LCD info display. It shows several
of the TVS' current settings, as well as the number of shots
remaining. It would've been a nice touch had this display been
at the center is the microphone. Continuing to the right, you
can see the autofocus lock (AFL) and shutter release buttons,
as well as the mode wheel. Earlier I mentioned cheap plastic
parts, and the shutter release and mode wheel are the prime offenders.
don't like about the shutter release button is the amount of "play".
The button doesn't move very far down, and there isn't really
a "notch" at the halfway-pressed position. In other
words, it just doesn't feel right.
are just four options on the mode dial, and those are:
priority mode (Av) - see below
mode - for everyday shooting
priority is the only manual mode on this camera. You can choose
aperture values ranging from F2.8 to F6.7 - a fairly small range.
this side of the camera, under a plastic cover, are the camera's
I/O ports. These include USB, video, and DC-in (for included
the other side is the SD/MMC memory card slot. To remove the
memory card, you just push it inward and it pops out.
The included 16MB SD card is also shown.
here is the bottom of the camera, where you'll find the metal
tripod mount, speaker, and battery compartment. The tripod mount
is strangely located all the way to the side of the body.
included BP-1500S battery is shown on the right.
the Contax TVS Digital
TVS takes under 6 seconds to extend the lens and "warm
up" before you can start shooting, which is on the slow
speeds were very average, with the camera taking around one
second to lock focus in most cases. Focusing in low light was
challenging at times, due to the camera's lack of an AF-assist
The TVS did pretty well in terms of shutter lag, with minimal
delay when you fully press the shutter release button, even at
slower shutter speeds.
A histogram can be displayed in record mode, though its placement
could be better
speed was very good, with a 2 second delay between shots (assuming
the post-shot review is turned off).
here's a chart of the various image size and quality choices
available on the TVS Digital:
Images on 16MB card
you can see, that 16MB SD card is way too small.
TVS does not have a TIFF or RAW file mode.
are named KICX####.JPG, where #### = 0001 - 9999. The file
numbering is maintained even as you erase and switch memory
menu system on the TVS Digital is a little strange. There
are actually three separate overlay-style menus: one for
camera functions, one for digital functions, and another
for white balance/exposure compensation/ISO. The menus are
very similar to those on the Finecam S5. I'll go through
each menu one at a time.
Menu (camera functions)
- Self-timer/remote control (Off, 0, 2, 10 secs) - the 0
sec option is only for the remote control
- Focus mode (Wide, spot)
- Metering mode (Evaluative, center-weighted, spot)
- Auto Bracketing Mode (0.0, 0.3, 0.5, 1.0) - takes three
shots in a row with different exposure compensation values.
You can change the order in which the shots are taken in
the setup menu
- Drive (Single-shot, continuous) - continuous mode takes
up to 3 shots at 2 frames/second
- Longtime exposure (1, 2, 4, 8 sec) - this is the extent
of the shutter speed controls. When in aperture priority
(Av) mode, you get a limited manual exposure mode.
exposure compensation (-1, 0, +1)
Menu (digital functions)
(Color, black & white, sepia)
(2560 x 1920, 1600 x 1200, 1280 x 960, 640 x 480)
balance bracketing (on/off) - takes three shots in a row;
one normal shot, one with a slightly bluish cast, and the
other with a slightly reddish cast
(-1 to +3)
(-, 0, +) - for color intensity
compensation (-2EV to +2EV, 1/3EV increments)
balance (Auto, daylight, incandescent, cloudy, fluorescent,
(Auto, 80, 100, 125, 160, 200, 250, 320, 400)
up there should be self-explanatory. The TVS Digital has
quite a few manual controls, as you can see. You can tweak
some settings, but not to the same degree as other cameras
range (e.g. there's no way to choose a fast shutter speed).
TVS also has a pretty elaborate setup menu (accessed via
the mode wheel), which covers both the digital and camera
menus described above. The interesting options are:
- Setup Camera Functions
flash (Auto, auto w/redeye reduction, flash off, fill flash,
flash slow sync)
sequence (0/+/-, +/0/-)
lock hold time (1 frame, until off)
lock function (AF lock, AF/AE lock) - define what this button
compensation time (Until off, until cancel)
compensation steps (0.3EV, 0.5EV)
focus hold time (Until off, until cancel)
- Setup Digital Functions
- LCD brightness (+2 to -2)
- Insert date (on/off) - print date on pictures
- Digital zoom (on/off) - turning this on will reduce photo
- Beep (Off, 1-3) - annoying beep volume
- Shutter volume (Off, 1-3) - for the fake shutter sound
- Color select (Blue, purple, red, yellow) - choose the color
of the menus
- Startup screen (Contax, user setting, off) - use the Contax
startup screen, or use a photo
- Auto playback (Off, 2, 4 sec) - how long photo is shown
on LCD after it is taken
- Language (Japanese, English, French, German, Spanish)
- Video Out (NTSC, PAL)
- File numbering (on/off) - maintains the file numbers
- Mode reset - change settings back to defaults
that's enough menus for me -- let's move on now.
TVS Digital has a rather strange macro mode. Some cameras let
you use the full zoom range, others lock the camera at the telephoto
end -- but this one locks the lens at the wide-angle end. Why,
I'm not sure -- this is where barrel distortion is at its worst.
said, the camera did produce a nice rendition of our famous porcelain
mouse. The colors are nicely saturated and most of the subject
is sharp (with the exception of the ears -- some depth of field
adjustment would probably fix that).
focal range in macro mode is 15 - 60 cm. The maximum shooting
area is 76 x 102 mm.
macro test turned out exactly like it did on the Finecam
S5. The TVS'
shutter speed controls allow you to take night shots like the
one above. I don't care for the choices of 2, 4, and 8 seconds
though -- too limiting. The photo above came out well,
is too yellow. I suspect tweaking the white balance could've
made the color a little more accurate.
levels were quite low on this 8 second exposure.
redeye test shows a bit of this annoying phenomenon, but it's
not horrible. Redeye can usually be fixed using software. I should
add that this flash shot was a little noisier than I would've
liked. The cropped area was enlarged a bit so you can see the
distortion test shows the noticeable barrel distortion seen at
the wide-angle setting. Something else that sometimes pops up
here is vignetting (darkened corners), but I don't see any of
photo quality on the TVS Digital is quite similar to the quality
on the Finecam S5. In other words, the quality is good, but certainly
not class-leading. Noise can be seen in many of the images, reducing
some of the detail. Color and exposure were generally okay, and
purple fringing only
showed up a few times.
don't take my word for it though -- have a look at the gallery and judge the photo quality for yourself!
surprisingly, the TVS Digital has the exact same movie
mode as the Finecam S5. That means you can record up to 30 seconds of 320 x 240 video,
or 120 seconds at 160 x 120. Sound is recorded as well.
you turn on sound recording, the zoom lens cannot be used during
filming. You can use it beforehand, though.
are saved in AVI format, using the M-JPEG codec.
a quick sample movie for you. I really need to stop taking these
in windy places.
Click to play movie (1.5MB, AVI
view it? Download QuickTime.
guessed it -- the TVS has the same playback mode as the Finecam.
The basic playback features include slide shows, thumbnail mode,
DPOF print marking, and
usual "zoom and scroll" feature is here too. You can
zoom in 2X or 4X into your photo, and then scroll around.
other nice features include image rotation and resizing.
pressing up on the four-way switch, you can get more information
about your photo. Press the display button
and a histogram shows up, as you can see above.
TVS moves through images with incredible speed. It's instantaneous
as you move from one to the next. It does take longer than most
cameras to enter playback mode, but after that, it doesn't get
Does it Compare?
Contax TVS Digital is a nice camera that would be a whole lot
nicer if it was about $300 less in price. With a price of $899,
you're paying a big premium for the Contax name on the front
of the camera, which
is evident when you see how many features this camera shares
with the $599 Finecam S5. The fact that Contax charges $100 more
for a black-colored body doesn't help matters.
aside, the TVS does take good quality pictures, though noise
levels are higher than I'd like. Performance was average, except
in playback mode where the camera really shines. The body design
was very nice, though there were a few cheesy plastic parts,
as well as a shutter release button that I just don't like. The
camera lacks an AF illuminator, and there doesn't appear
to be any lens or
external flash options available. I wasn't a fan of the triple
menu system, and the LCD got a little strange sometimes (refer
to that section of the tour for details). Finally, I must give
the "thumbs up" to Kyocera/Contax for including both
a remote control and carrying case in the box with the camera.
you've got the bucks, the TVS Digital may be worth a look, but
currently there are better options that cost a lot less.
case + remote control included
fast playback mode
a few manual controls
I didn't care for:
than average noise in images
speed, aperture controls too limited
locked at wide-angle position in macro mode
images on LCD appear posterized
release button doesn't have enough "play"
located tripod mount
are some other small 5 Megapixel cameras to check out: Canon
PowerShot S50, Fuji
FinePix F410 (I suppose), HP
Finecam S5, Minolta
DiMAGE F300, Olympus
Optio 550, and the Sony DSC-P10 and DSC-P92.
always, I recommend a trip to your local camera store to try
the TVS Digital and its competitors before you buy!
how does the photo quality stand up? Check out the samples in
our photo gallery!
a few more opinions?
a second opinion on the TVS Digital over at Steve's
welcomes your comments or questions. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Due to my limited resources, please do not send me requests
for personal camera recommendations.