The 167MT was my first Contax body. At the time, I wanted to put most of my budget for a Contax system into the Carl Zeiss lenses. I also thought and still think that the 167MT is the best value in the Contax line. This camera incorporates the basic Contax design philosophy, which is to provide the optimal camera for those who want automatic exposure control, but with an emphasis on efficient user participation in exposure determination. The difference between the 167MT and the other Contax electronic bodies is that the cost of producing the 167MT's body has been reduced while maintaining the same high Contax quality standards. As such, it does not have the over-engineered feel of the other Contax bodies, but it maintains most of the important functionality and is extremely usable.
The 167MT was the first camera to offer Automatic Bracketing Control ("ABC"). With this system, you can easily increase the likelihood of obtaining a properly exposed photograph, especially when shooting chromes or in critical situations. You simply set the control dial, and the camera will take a series of three exposures: over, normal and underexposed. The amount of auto-bracketing can be set at 0.5, 1.0 or 1.5 stops. By adjusting the motor drive, you can set the camera to take all three shots in a single burst, or expose one frame for each press of the exposure release.

The camera also has an exposure compensation dial in the location occupied by the shutter speed dial on most Nikon manual-focus bodies. The exposure compensation dial is extremely easy to use, and almost encourages the photographer to use it to fine-tune exposure control. The 167MT also has a very convenient auto-exposure lock built into the main switch. By turning the main switch, one can easily go from center-weighted average exposure to spot exposure and finally to spot exposure with AE lock. (Note: you cannot use AE lock with center-weight metering on this camera.) Unlike many Nikon bodies, there is no need to keep your finger on the AE lock while taking the photograph.

The drive mode selector allows a choice of single-frame motor drive, continuous motor-drive at 3 fps, or self timer with 10-second delay.

The metering system is excellent. By design, the 167MT does not incorporate any matrix metering system (the photographer is expected to make any necessary adjustments in each situation). However, the body does offer a broad bottom center-weighted pattern as well as a tight 5 mm spot meter (covering the area within the microprism focusing area in the viewfinder).

The shutter speed range of the 167MT is mostly sufficient. The camera can be set anywhere from 16 seconds to 1/4000 second plus bulb. One slight weakness is the fact that fastest flash synch speed is only 1/125 second. This can create some problems when using flash in high ambient light situations, but it is not far below the 1/200 actual maximum synch speed on most of the higher-end Contax bodies.

Exposure control modes are: aperture value or aperture priority ("Av"), time value or shutter speed priority ("Tv"), high-speed program ("HP"), program ("P"), low-speed program ("LP") and manual ("M"). All but the Av and M exposure modes can only be used with the newer MM series Carl Zeiss lenses. The three program modes provide sufficient flexibility in the program's algorithm while facilitating quick adjustment. M mode works fine, but the viewfinder display is not the best. You see a plus or minus mark until both go out when the exposure is set properly. I almost always use the Av or P modes. There is really no need to use the M mode because the excellent exposure lock switch allows you to set the aperture and shutter speed while turning only the aperture ring, lock the exposure without keeping your finger on the switch, and recompose for the photograph. You can even switch to other aperture/shutter speed combinations with the same EV value while staying locked on an off-center subject's exposure. The P mode is sometimes convenient for flash and other snapshot photography. The viewfinder display of aperture and shutter speed is clearly visible and changes in 1/2 stop increments. The exposure counter is also visible in the viewfinder as an added benefit.

Flash exposure works well with the 167MT, although it does not have the high-end features of some other Contax bodies. The through-the-lens ("TTL") automatic flash control determines flash output automatically using a relatively narrow center-weighted metering pattern. Balanced fill flash can be easily achieved by selecting M mode, setting the appropriate aperture and shutter speed for ambient light using the meter, and then adjusting down flash using the exposure compensation dial on the camera. The photographer can set one degree of compensation for ambient light and another degree of compensation for flash by further adjusting the aperture and/or shutter speed for desired ambient exposure manually.

There is a LCD display panel on the top left of the camera which shows on the outside of the camera slightly more information than visible inside the viewfinder. The camera's Operating Lever, which is used to set shutter speed, among other things, can feel strange at first, especially to those used to a shutter speed dial on top of the camera. However, one quickly becomes accustomed to easily pushing the lever to left or right and cycling through the available shutter speeds. The 167MT utilizes four AAA alkaline batteries. Because of the placement of the batteries, the tripods socket is quite a bit off-center on the left bottom of the camera. I removed the battery holder and replaced it with a slightly larger camera bottom (called Battery Holder P-5) which accepts four AA size batteries for more longevity (although other users have reported excellent battery life with AAA cells), and which also provides a centered tripod socket and better grippability. The camera accepts four types of focusing screens, two of which include a split-image focusing aid which also permits accurate spot metering (a feature not available in most Nikon and other autofocus bodies). The camera accepts a data back, but I would not want to use it because it only prints date information within the frame of the photograph itself instead of in the area between frames. Another useful accessory is a battery holder that connects to the camera by a wire and can be held in one's pocket to maintain battery operation in exceptionally cold environments (Power Pack P-6).

Taking a Fresh Look at the Contax 167MT
August 19, 2014

As an avid film shooter for my own serious photography, I like to periodically cycle through some of the classic camera bodies, based on the needs of the project at hand, features of the various major film cameras, and just what I feel like at any particular time. Recently I was preparing for a road trip where I expected to photograph some nice desert lake scenery. I was looking forward to shooting a few rolls of Fuji Velvia with two Carl Zeiss Contax mount large-aperture prime lenses, the 85mm f/1.4 and the 35mm f/1.4. I also threw in the 25mm f/2.8 in case I needed a moderate ultra-wide.

For this trip, I decided to pick the 167MT with the attached Battery Holder P-5. Although the 167MT was not one of Contax's latest design film SLR models, it was highly advanced, with production continuing even during the runs of newer cameras, as Contax's entry-level electronic body. Actually, when you say "entry level" regarding Contax, it has a different meaning compared with other brands. All of the Contax bodies are designed for sophisticated photographers who appreciate good quality equipment, know what they are doing, but want to enjoy modern electronic camera features. The 167MT is no exception. It offers almost as much control as the high-end RTSIII at a fraction of the cost and with less weight. The efficient camera user interface of the 167MT allows the adjustment of almost every feature while looking through the viewfinder.

One measure of the quality of a camera's materials and construction quality is how the camera continues to operate decades after manufacture. My sample of the 167MT looks and works virtually as well as the day it was manufactured. The control chips, knock on wood, appear to work fine, and there is no degrading of the exterior finish, unlike on some cameras where the rubbery finish over time turns into sticky goo. The interior of the camera and viewfinder appear dust-free. The camera back and all parts appear to be tight and work as smoothly as the day of manufacture.

The viewfinder is extremely clear and bright, especially with Carl Zeiss f/1.4 prime lenses attached. Although the viewfinder's image coverage is only 95%, its .82x magnification ratio makes focusing a breeze. While the 167MT does not have a a built-in adjustable eyepiece diopter, such diopter lenses can be found used on-line at low cost and work great. One minor quibble is that the rubber eyecup of the 167MT (like the S2/b) is not tightly attached and can fall off rather easily if one is not careful. The LCD display in the viewfinder includes sufficient information and is easy to read at all times. The display is reminiscent of that on the Nikon F3, except the 167MT shows the aperture value electronically and adds some additional exposure information. Like the F3, there is a LCD illumination light, but it turns on only as long as the shutter release button is pressed part way. The light works great and uses minimal power, although people in front of the camera in the dark can see the viewfinder light illuminate through the viewfinder's light receptor window.

The exposure meter of the 167MT is typically Contax, offering center-weighted and spot metering, but no matrix/multi-pattern metering (prior to the Aria). On the other hand, the 167MT offers three Program modes (Lo, Normal and High), along with Av, Tv and M. The camera's center-weighted metering sytem indeed gives relatively more weight to the central area, but also minimizes the impact of bright sky and falls off towards the bottom edges of the frame to give wide metering coverage. The spot metering mode is also very nice because its sensitivity area is a relatively large 5 mm, the same as a Nikon F4's spot area, compared with the smaller 3 mm spot on a Nikon F90X and multiple 4 mm spots on a Nikon F100. Or course, any spot meter is good, but I find that the large 5 mm spot, while perhaps less precise than a smaller spot, nevertheless allows me to work more quickly by measuring a slightly larger discrete area of the scene. The 167's spot metering system, therefore, works particularly in conjunction with the 167MT's exposure meter lock. In general Contax meter lock is better than others, such as Nikon, because Contax actually locks the EV, allowing the photographer to change to other aperture/shutter speed combinations with the same EV at will.

The 167MT, without the optional battery holder P-5, is a compact medium size SLR. With the recommended optional battery holder, the 167MT becomes a slightly large medium size SLR, but not as large or heavy as a pro-level full-size SLR. As such, the 167MT/battery pack combination is like a more portable baby cousin of the pro-level RTSIII, with similar heft and good balance with large-aperture Carl Zeiss prime lenses. Contax fulfills a special niche, even within 35mm film SLRs. The Contax niche is high-quality electronic cameras that are optimized for use with Contax manual focus prime lenses by knowledgeable and deliberative photographers. The 167MT is further unique in that unlike semi-pro models from some other manufacturers, its construction quality and durability has stood the test of time, and the cameras are still serving users today. The 167MT continues to be an excellent and sophisticated travel platform for the today's avid fans of classic Carl Zeiss prime lenses.
Copyright © 1997-2014 Timothy A. Rogers. All rights reserved.