This year I’ve been doing a 365 on Tri-X film, so my trusty Contax Aria has always been loaded with it. Much as I love Tri-X, though, there are times when I wish I could put colour film in the Aria. But then I’d have to shoot the whole roll in a day, so I could reload it with Tri-X to continue my 365! You see the problem. But what if I had another 35mm camera to shoot colour with? It would have to be small, like the Aria. Even smaller, ideally. And with that thought I started to look into high-end compact cameras.
Compact cameras have a bad reputation, of course. They don’t have proper interchangeable lenses like SLRs do, and lack many other features. For many people, a compact camera (or “point and shoot”) is what they had before they got a “proper” camera (in other words, an SLR). Why go back? Because, it turns out, some compact cameras are actually rather good. At the high end they have impressive optics, as I discovered during my research. Eventually I decided that the camera for me was the Contax T3.
This is a compact camera with a cult following. It’s amazingly small, even for a compact, has a body made of titanium, and a Zeiss 35mm f/2.8 lens. In other words, it has first-class optics. It even has a shutter button and viewfinder window made of synthetic sapphire. Goodness knows why, but you can tell they weren’t messing around when they designed this camera. It is so sought-after that camera dealers still stock them. I found one at a dealer in London, and went to see it. I thought about it over lunch. And then I went back and bought it.
I’m glad I did. This camera packs an amazing amount of photographic awesomeness per cubic inch. I put some basic colour film into it and threw it into my bag. Like a smartphone, it’s small enough that you can take it anywhere—even places where you can’t take the diminutive Aria. Before long I’d shot a roll on it, so I had it processed and scanned. I also had 4×6 prints made, old-school style, with white borders. I love the results.
Sure, it forgets all your settings when you turn the power off, which is a bit annoying. But the meter seems to be quite accurate, and the lens is just stunningly good. It’s way better than the lens on any smartphone. If we’re fine about shooting with smartphones, why the disdain towards 35mm compacts? I have come to think of the T3 as my analogue iPhone. I can take it anywhere, slip it into a pocket, pull it out when needed and snap away. The fancy features of my DSLR are missing, just as they are on a smartphone. But if the best camera is the one you have with you all the time, then a compact camera like this might just be the best film camera for everyday use.
So if you’ve got an old compact camera sitting in a drawer, perhaps abandoned since the day you got your first SLR, you might want to dig it out and put some film in it. And if you haven’t, then can I recommend the Contax T3?