CI Photocommunity

Register a free account now!

If you are registered, you get access to the members only section, can participate in the buy & sell second hand forum and last but not least you can reserve your preferred username before someone else takes it.

Review Contax RTS III


CI-Founder feels like a rock...

General Remarks

The RTS III came out in 1990 and was a kind of sensation in the industry. It had features already, which the competition did not at that time. To name just a few: the fast internal motordrive of 5p/s. the vertical shutter-release, pre-flash-spotmetering and last but not least the Real Time Vacuum (RTV) mechanism.

With the RTS III Contax tried to put everything in a body, what could be important for a professionals. You will feel this, as soon as you take it in your hands. It feels like a rock. Extremely solid build. Very good handling and because of the durable construction the heaviest Contax so far (1150g without batteries). It gives you the feeling it would be undestroyable.

The design stayed traditional with the knobs and wheels, what the professionals preferred, because they were used to it. It has still a similar look as the older RTS II- and RTS I- Porsche design, although it is bigger and heavier.

The RTS III is still the top of the line Contax camera for professionals. For the N-system (new n-mount and autofocus), there is no camera for professionals out yet (as of 04/2002).

The RTV-System

The biggest surprise was the RTV-system, which was known before just in the aeroflight photography. Contax implemented in the RTS III a ceramic film pressure plate and an electro-magnetically controlled suction device. if you press the shutter release the camera sucks the film against the pressure place to insure extreme film flatness. But why this complicated technique you will ask.

The Research of Carl Zeiss in Oberkochen found out that the film flatness has in some circumstances quiet strong influence on the sharpness and contrast of a picture. Because of the design of a normal film cartridge, the film never stays for a long time flat after forwarding it to the next frame. That is why the industry tried to hold the film straight and flat with the filmschienen.

But still after winding to the next picture the film curls after a couple of minutes. This gets even worse in different temperatures, humidity and thickness of the film. The idea now is, that if you want to exploit really the potential of a very good lens, you should make sure, that the film stays absolute flat in the camera, even after a couple of minutes. 1979 (!) was a special article from Zeiss about that problem, which you can find in the download section. To make it short for this review, it is proved, that the results if you are using a fast lens at fully open ‘til aperture of ca. 2.8. with the RTV are significant better.

A quote: “...Flatness errors of this type suffice to conspicuously change the image quality of fast lenses. This pronounced defocusing. for ex&le, causes a drop in contrast in the 50mm Planar f/1.4 from 60 to about 20% at 20 cycles/mm. This phenomenon was more or less exhibited by the films of all manufacturers...”

Since this problem occurs even stronger in medium format, there is also for the Contax 645 an RTV backplate optional available.


I do not want to list all the features of the RTS III in this review. For specifications, please look in the “Contax body overview” sheet in the “news & info” folder. Just the most important ones at that time (remember, this camera was introduced in 1990!).

The spot-pre-flash-TTL-function. Very easy to use, very accurate. You just point the camera with the focusing-circle in the viewfinder at the main subject and press the pre-flash TTL spot meter lever (under the motor-speed-wheel on the right hand top of the camera). Now you can see the result in the viewfinder and by how many stops there is an over/underexposure in case there is no proper flash exposure given the selected aperture. You then can adjust the aperture and see the results in the viewfinder. The settings are automatically memorized and you can shoot immediately. Of course there is also the normal TTL flash capabilities with the RTS III.

The results have been always very satisfying for me. But I loved above all the easy and fast handling of it.

The normal features as shutterspeed of 1/8000 sec.-32 sec., second curtain flash, 1/250 sec flash sync, ABC Bracketing, 2sec. and 10 sec. selftimer, mirror lock up (up and down), 5fps, center-weighted average metering and spot metering (3mm/1% !), built in diopter adjuster, etc. I do not have to explain here, I guess. But for a camera designed in 1990 very impressive.

The viewfinder of 100% (0,74 magnification) is also remarkable. It is extremely bright and very good for people who are wearing glasses. But unfortunately the extreme brightness is also at the same time a disadvantage. Viewfinder indications appear as white letters and numerals against a lighted blue background. This is great visible in normal daylight situations or at night. But if you are out on very sunny day to make some shots against bright sunlight, you can not see the viewfinder information anymore, because the becomes is becoming so bright.

Sometimes this is even worse, once the camera is 5 years old or older. Then you will have these problems also with normal daylight shootings. The display is basically fading out after a couple of years. But then you should send it for a viewfinder display exchange. After that it is a lot better again. This costs you around 190 Euro In Germany incl. a total check of the camera, but it is definitely worth it.

Also a good feature is the standard databack of the RTS III. This will imprint date and time between the pictures on the frame! But no exposure information as with the AX, Aria or N1 and their optional databack. The RTS III runs with normal batteries or 2CR5, whatever you prefer. I like also the way of switching between spot and center-weighted-metering without leaving my eyes from the viewfinder. And that there is no coin for opening the battery-cover is needed.


I think the RTS III is a great camera. Contax achieved to mix state of the art features at that time with the classical “sexy” look of traditional RTS-Porsche design. The fact that even with its age, it is still the top line model of Contax shows you, how well Contax did its job with the RTS III – and Contax introduced in the meantime many other very good cameras.

But it is difficult to express what a pleasure it is to use it. As with any camera you have to test it yourself – and not just 5 minutes in a store. Although of its weight, the handling is just excellent. The feeling of quality overwhelming.

I read somewhere in an online review of a RTS III user. “ feels like a rock..”. I could not have described it better.

Summary of most important points

Excellent quality
Excellent handling
Features still top class, even after 12 years
100% viewfinder
TTL spot pre flash
Different battery types possible
Many professional accessories
No Matrix metering
No Program mode
Viewfinder in bright sunlight difficult to read

Because of the last point “just” very good price/performance ratio (2499 Euro) - compared to other Contax models

Best wishes



I would endorse everything Dirk has said about the camera. If you don't want or need autofocus, then the combination of this camera with Zeiss lenses will give absolutely top quality results.

I would like Contax to put a lock on the exposure compensation - it has turned to +1 etc. by accident as I have taken it out of the camera bag - now I always check that it is set to 0.

Sometimes, I rewind a film part way through, and re-load it later for a different subject. If you want to do this, ensure the data back is off, when you put the film in for the second time. You fire blank shots with the lens cap on to get it to the correct frame, but the data information will still print - usually right in the middle of your previously taken images. You learn by experience!

Because of the solid construction, this camera is an excellent purchase secondhand.


I read a few discussion threads some time ago regarding problems with early RTS III production runs. Does anybody know at what serial number was this problem fixed? And what serial number series is the current production at?


I remember it stating electrical and/or shutter blade problems. But after a visit to the Contax service center for a circuit board change, the camera is fine. Though it shouldn't happen to a camera of this caliber.


Is it reasonable to presume that, like Canon and Minolta, the non-autofocus lensmount will soon be discontinued.


Bill Mitchell wrote:

"Is it reasonable to presume that, like Canon and Minolta, the non-autofocus lensmount will soon be discontinued."

Will they be discontinued? My answer is yes. And the reason is that it will not be profitable for Kyocera to direct their investments into this particular line of cameras and lenses. And if a business area for some years is not maintained properly - sooner or later it will die.

Will it happen soon? That's a very much different story.

When the old Zeiss Contaflex line of lenses were discontinued in 1972 - who would then have guessed, that most of lenses would be reborn with the Contax RTS system only two years later - and that most of these lenses would still be available today in the Contax 35 mm SLR MF-line of lenses - practicaly unchanged for 30 years? Even though technology have changed so much over these years...

That said - a lot is happening in different areas regarding lenses these days. Not only has AF been accepted now by most photographers. Digital photography has led to developments of new lenses that may soon surpass traditional lenses. And excuse me for saying so - especially lenses which in most cases were born some 20-30 years ago.

Will the 35 mm SLR MF-line convert into a digital future? Will Kyocera change their priorities and begin to seriously reinvesting in this line again? I think it s not likely to happen.

More likely Kyocera will keep providing one or two cameras for the 35 mm MF-lenses and provide them with a number of older lenses - trying to keep the line alive for as long as possible with as little investment as possible.

Will it be alive in five years? I think so. In ten? More questionable.

My thoughts - FWIW.




What is it about digital photography that has or will allow for a newer superior line of lenses over older traditional lenses?

Comment from the webmaster:

the following messages regarding digital cameras were moved to the Folder "digital corner"/general Q&A


Does anyone know if they will discontinue RTS III anytime in the near future. It came as quite a surprise when I came across the news that they decided to discontinue the Rx- just at a time when I just purchased one.


sorry about the blank post! I have a new (used) to me a RTS III without a manual. Could someone give me a quick run through so I can use it until I get a manual. Thanks dave.


i just bought a new RTS lll and gave away my old

is it OK that the metering system dos a high
frequenz "wistle" sound?

i hope everything is ok! i hate this!


Dear Mr. Albino,

the sound is absolutly correct. If you go to a higher light (and a shorter shutter speed in AV),
the blue light will get lihgter and the sound is getting higher.

With regards, Clemens Stenner


Just for your information: A Contax technician told me this sound comes from the dc-dc converter inside the camera.




I don't know about some problems. I have a RTSIII since january 1990 (S# around 009500)- no prblems yet.


has anyone tried to use his hasselblad lenses on a contax rts III. i really love the quality of the hasselblad images, but sometimes need a fast motordrive on the camera to shoot sequences. does it work to mount the 30mm lens for the hasselblad on the contax. ? how does the picture look like ?? i´m glad about any help and info i can get.


Take a 24x36 mm slide mount and place it over a Hasselblad 6x6 slide/negative. What you see is what you get ... ;-))



Im looking for new or used camera RTSIII. I use RTS I (wich works only in A mode) and 167 mt. Im absolutely fun about contax + optics. I need som advices about RTS III. how it suits for ekstreme conditions - wet, hot, snow, cold. is it any problems with electronics, how is with repair - service, which are the camera "bugs". thanks


I've only had my RTS3 a year or so , but no problems with heat etc [ I live in Africa] . Some people have mentioned difficulty with reading the display in the viewfinder in bright conditions , but I have to say I dont have any problems with this , and the sun here is BRIGHT!! Steve