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Contax RTS II 35mm SLR Film Camera Review

Film Camera Review: Contax RTS II

#FilmCameraReview - A very well-built and robust manual focus autoexposure 35mm SLR film camera with excellent and exceptional functionalities.

One of the most solidly built 35mm SLR film cameras and a delight to work with is the Contax RTS II. The camera was an updated iteration of the initial RTS (Real Time System) model first manufactured by Yashica/Kyocera in 1975. Barring its introduction as an update, the RTS II, launched in 1982, was almost a completely new model with many improvements over the predecessor, which includes quartz timing, a bigger viewfinder, TTL flash metering, and a titanium shutter.

Contax RTS II, Yashica ML 50mm F1.9

First designed by Prof. Dr. Katsuiko Sugaya, and styled by the Porsche Design Studio, the aperture-priority automatic-exposure SLR camera series incorporates a comprehensive use of electronics and was an extremely well-made camera encased within a very tough and robust body. The series was built with the C/Y lens mount system, used by both lines of Contax premium models and Yashica consumer-grade SLR cameras.

The Contax RTS II is fitted with a quartz-timed electronically-controlled horizontal-travel focal-plane shutter with a speed range from 16 seconds to 1/2000 second, a manual mechanical speed of 1/50 second, and a B(ulb) mode. Flash sync speed is 1/60 second. Metering is TTL (Through the Lens) center-weighted at an open aperture with an EV range from EV -1 (F1.4 at 4 seconds) to 19 (F16 at 1/2000 second) at ISO 100 with an F1.4 lens.

The camera accepts films with an ISO speed range from 12 to 3200. Exposure compensation is +2 EV ~ -2 EV on a 4X ~ 1/4X scale. The RTS II is also fitted with a 10-second delay quartz-timed self-timer.

Noteworthy features on the RTS II, not commonly found on other SLR cameras, include the AE-Lock system that allows the photographer to lock the exposure (EV value) for an unlimited time. Another feature is the manual shutter system which works independently of the electronic system. In the case of battery failure, the shutter can still be released at a speed of 1/50 second.



As part of the design to keep the film surface completely flat during exposure and to help spooled section from irregular curling, the RTS II is fitted with an extra-wide pressure film plate, a double-layered film-back, and a large diameter winding spool. A longer, double-construction rewind shaft provides smoother rotation, aided by rounded film guide edges and ball-bearing transport operation.

Basic Camera Features

Together with an aluminum diecast boy produced to very rigid standards, the RTS II is also endowed with an exacting electronic circuitry of exacting specifications. Metering is very precise and the electromagnetic shutter release system is faster, smoother, and more reliable than normal mechanical systems, a testament to what the 'Real-Time System' is all about This entails a slight deviation from the normal way you use a camera...

Contax RTS II, Front

Available only in black, the RTS II has a deceivingly simple front with the raised lens mount housing, slightly off-center to right, extending right up the pentaprism hump. To the left of the mount, from the top, are the integrated Exposure Check button within a concentric AE-Lock switch lever, the Self-Timer switch set, and to the bottom-left of the mount housing, the integrated Depth-of-Field Preview Button/Mechanical Shutter Release Button.

On the right of the mount, on the top is the Mirror-Lock lever, and towards the bottom-right corner, the Mechanical Bulb Release socket. Towards the top-right corner of the front is the capped X-Sync Terminal.

Contax RTS II, Top

On the top plane of the camera, from left to right, is the integrated Shutter Control Dial and Film Rewind Knob and film-back latch release, the pentaprism hump, fitted with a hot shoe, and to the right, the stack of pull-up and turn the crown Film ISO Speed Dial, Power Switch, Exposure Compensation Dial, Shutter Release Button, Film Advance Lever, and Exposure Counter.

Contax RTS II, Back

On the back of the camera, along the back of the top plane, from left to right, is the Shutter Dial Lock-Release Button, the Viewfinder-Blind Lever, the Viewfinder Eyepiece, and a capped Release Socket.

The lower half of the camera back is occupied by the hinged interchangeable filmback with a film memo tab attached. The film-back is opened by a latch released by the pull-up Film Rewind Knob.

Contax RTS II, Bottom

On the bottom plane, from left to right, are the Battery Compartment Release Cover, Film Rewind Release/Multiple Exposure Button, Film Drive Coupling, Tripod Socket, and Motor Drive Coupling Terminal.

Contax RTS II, Film box

The film box is a normal configuration as found on most SLR cameras, with the film canister chamber to the left, followed by the shutter window, sprocket gear, and take-up spool. Innovations with the take-up spool, film pressure plate, and double-layered back are mentioned earlier.


Film Loading and Rewind

Contax RTS II, Real Time System

Film loading of the FTS II is done with the Power Switch set to ON, while the rest are standard steps with the film tab pulled across the film-back, the tab end inserted into the catch plate on the take-up spool, tensioned, and the film edge perforations aligned to the sprocket gear before the back is closed.

The two blank shots routine on the RTS II is done, until the film counter reaches '1', at a designed pre-set shutter speed of 1/60 second. The film is wound emulsion side down, i.e. with the take-up spool turning the same way as the Film Forward Lever is cranked.


Film rewind is done by first pressing the Film Rewind Release/Multiple Exposure Button, and cranking the Film Rewind Knod in the clockwise direction until the film roll is fully wound and taken out for processing.

Viewfinder Readout

The RTS II, which has been commented to have the brightest viewfinder on any SLR, is fitted with the standard FS-1 Microprism Screen with 97% screen coverage as the factory option and is interchangeable with seven (7) other choices.

Contax RTS II, Viewfinder readout

The readout includes only a single red LED display of the lens aperture opening and '+' or '-' when exposure compensation is set. The display is below the viewscreen.

On the vertical on the right of the screen, a display of only the shutter speed selection, with flash ready and overexposure LEDs when detected. Keep the finger pressed on the shutter button after each shot to review the lens aperture and shutter speed setting used.

When doing Exposure Check, for example, the viewfinder will display only the lens aperture opening and only the shutter speed, between the range from 1/2000 to B at which the shot will be taken. An intermediate speed will be used when two shutter speed LED lights up one above the other.

Lens aperture values are fixed at 1.2, 1.4, 1.7, 2.0, 2.4, 2.8, 3.5, 4.0, 4.5, 5.6, 6.5, 8.0, 9.5, 11, 13, 16, 19, 22, 27, and 32. Lenses with different aperture openings will be indicated by the nearest numerical but will still be measured at their true aperture value.

Shooting in 'Real Time' Auto and other modes

Shooting in 'Real Time' Auto means setting the Shutter Contro Dial on the RTS II to Auto, pre-set a lens aperture opening you want to work with, bring the camera up to your eyes, frame and focus the image, and the shutter will release soon as you put a bit of pressure to the shutter button. This is fast, and the shot will be taken even before you realize it.

Contax RTS II, Exposure Check

Take the formal approach, bring the camera to your eyes, frame and focus the scene, press the Exposure Check button to review the aperture and shutter speed setting (which will be displayed for about 16 seconds), adjust the aperture opening for a better depth of field if you need to, and release the shutter. This is a bit more leisurely, and the shot is taken on your own time.

Intermediately, you can use the Depth of Field Preview/Mechanical Shutter Release Button method for a more creative approach with the objects in the image pre-set with an out-of-focus fore- or background, or both. A very simple approach really. Set Exposure Check on, place the middle finger of your left hand on the preview button, press and hold, and use both the index finger and thumb to manipulate the focus and aperture rings of the lens.

Contax RTS II, AE-Lock

The AE-Lock way, frame and focus the scene, press the Exposure check button to review the aperture and speed settings, flip the AE Lever up to lock in the exposure setting, and shoot the next few frames with the same exposure values. When you are done, flip the lever back down to release the lock, and continue with the next scene.

Go fully manual. Press the Shutter Control Dial Lock-Release located on the back of the top plane just below the Shutter Speed Index to release the dial from the A setting, frame, and focus as you have done it before, use the Exposure Check button to view and adjust the exposure setting (lens aperture opening and shutter speed setting) for the image, before releasing the shutter.

Self-Timer

Contax RTS II, Self-Timer

To activate the self-timer, push the lever of the self-timer (which is at rest in the 6 o'clock position) anti-clockwise until the 9 o'clock position. This will line up the white index mark on the lever concentric to the one at the top of the circular frame of the timer.


The timer is actuated when the button on the axis of the lever is pushed, and the delay is indicated by the red pulsating LED. The shutter is released automatically at the end of the delay. Press the button again to abort the sequence, if necessary, and push the lever back to its rest position after the shot is taken.

Multiple Exposures

Setting the RTS II for double exposure shots is straight and simple. Press and release the Film Rewind Release button once, cock the shutter, and you are ready to go.

Mechanical Shutter

Contax RTS II, Mechanical Shutter

The manual mechanical shutter of the RTS II, which fires at a speed of 1/50 second, is independent of the camera's electronic system and functions on its own.

The shutter is released by a two-step process using both the Mechanical Shutter Release Button and Depth-of-Field Preview Button, located on the lower-left corner of the lens mount housing.

To actuate, first pull the Mechanical Shutter Release Button all the way out until it extends out horizontally. Next, push the Depth-of-Field Preview Button in and the shutter will release. Push the Release Button back to its original rest position after the shot is taken.

Focusing Screens

Aside from the FS-1 Microprism Screen, the standard supplied with the camera, the RTS II can be adapted to an additional range of seven (7) types of viewfinder screens, a range which will cover the need of most subject genres:

Contax RTS II, Viewfinder Screens
  • FS-1 - Microprism Screen
  • FS-2 - 45ยบ Split-image Screen
  • FS-3 - Horizontal Split-image Screen
  • FS-4 - Split-image/Microprism Collar Screen
  • FS-5 - Matte Screen
  • FS-6 - Sectioned Matte Screen
  • FS-7 - Cross-Scale Screen
  • FS-41 - Horizontal Split-image/Microprism Collar w/Data Position
Note: Due to the difference in viewfinder sizes and screen coverage between the RTS II (97%) and the initial RTS model (92%), the focusing screens for the two models are believed to be of different sizes, and come with the tab located differently, and is incompatible with each other.

Interchangeable Film-Back

The film-back of the RTS II is interchangeable with the dedicated Data Back Quartz D4, which records the date and time (year, month, day, hour, and minute) on each image frame of the film negative.

Battery

The RTS II requires the use of a 6.2-volt Silver-Oxide (Eveready 544, Ucar 544, Malory PX28, or equivalent), or a 6.0-volt Alkaline-Manganese (4LR44 or equivalent) to power its operations. The battery should last a year or more under normal use.

Camera Body Weight

The Contax RTS II camera's body weight is 735 grams without a battery.

The Presence

When the RTS II was launched in 1982, the professional 35mm SLR market also saw the presence of the Nikon F3 (1980), Canon New F-1 (1981), Pentax LX (!980), and later Olympus OM-3TI (1985), and OM-4TI (1986) as strong competitors each aiming for a share of the market. The RTS II, however, is a steed of its own, and a share of the limelight is definitely in the making.

The RTS II, however, is a different steed. It is uniquely singular, an extension of the original RTS philosophy, which was to create a camera and lens system that was focused on optical excellence, and flexibility, built to exacting standards and specifications.

Contax RTS II, Yashica ML 50mm F1.9

Shocks and vibration are well-damped, metering is sharp and precise, and shutter actuation and mirror flaps are sharp and sure. Film wind is smooth and sure, and images, even with Yashica ML lenses mounted, are sharp and clear.
Still a good keep today, the RTS II is definitely a camera you want to try on and enjoys photography with. A good working copy will get you going for a few more years, and while the values of vintage film cameras keep on rising, you just keep on shooting.




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