Working in a lab that sells cameras comes with a variety of perks. These include trying out new film stocks and testing cameras. This grants me the opportunity to gather a knowledge-base that wouldn’t be attainable without some kind of dream scenario where a certain person or entity bankrolled my affection toward film. After a good eight months, I can say I’ve shot most current film stocks numerous times, tested a huge array of cameras, and put a roll through a massive range of point and shoots. P&S cameras are, in simple terms, the sometimes-great, sometimes-horrible plug and play joys of the 35mm world. Photographing with so many automated analogue treats has taught me a great deal about photography, like what features matter the most, the least, and why more money has little (to no) correlation with better image quality. I figured I’d pen this article as a sort of list, outlining the cameras I’ve shot, my general perception of each one, then surmise it all into a neat paragraph on what I think makes a good quality point and shoot. Of course, this article is my opinion; nothing more, nor less. If it teaches you something, great. If it doesn’t, hopefully my next one will. I’ll begin rattling off my point and shoot journey in no particular order.
For each camera, I’ve attached one of the better images I could find taken using that particular model. Credits can be found directly under the image, and the photos should show you the capabilities of modern point and shoots, and perhaps make you reconsider how essential a pricy kit is to obtain the image you desperately want. I’ve decided to just write reviews (however brief) on cameras I’ve spent time with, then draw conclusions on what it all means at the end of the article. Hopefully reading this will help you decide whether or not you need a point and shoot, and if you do, what parameters you’ll follow to make sure you get the right one.
1. Yashica T
The original Yashica boasts a very competent Carl Zeiss Tessar 35mm f/3.5 T* lens, with a shutter speed range from 1/30 to 1/700 and the ability to manually set the ISO of your chosen film within the range of 50 to 1000, giving you the opportunity to push and pull at your will (something I very much value). The best thing about this camera is the world-class optics; Zeiss T* lenses are simply phenomenal, and every photo I took with this camera served as a momentary snapshot into the brilliance that goes into these works of art. Whether their in a relatively flimsy, plastic body like the original T, or they’re made fancy in the T5 (or T4 Super), they work, and they work well. For me, point and shoots place in my arsenal requires them to be a certain level of competent; there’s no need for them to exceed this level of competence, just as they shouldn’t fall short. For me, after owning the Yashica T, shooting it and loving it, I found it hard to believe there was an extra $400 AUD value in the T4/5 versions that were circulating the market. Unless, of course, Terry Richardson means something to you.
2. Fuji Tiara Zoom
I can’t stand zoom lenses. I don’t think it has anything to do with me being a snob, because if I’m honest, the level I shoot doesn’t grant me the wisdom to validate the pixel peeping benefits primes have over lenses with variable focal lengths. Sure, I know primes are better (and bulkier and pricier), but this isn’t the reason I shun their more dynamic brethren. So why do I hate zoom lenses? They make me lazy. I shoot fashion campaigns, and on the rare occasion I’ve been burdened with a zoom lens, I find myself getting the model to do the moving, adjusting the focal length and taking the majority of my photos within a very refined circumference. That’s not a good thing for a variety of reasons, and as such, I’ve always shot prime lenses in the common categories. I was given the Fuji Tiara Zoom mid-2017 to test out and I knew little about it. The first thing I noticed is it was an extremely pocketable camera: the combination of the clamshell and the rounded, box-like-body made it easy to slip into one’s jeans. Though a good point and shoot spends less time in your pants and more time in your hands, so I quickly passed by the ergonomics of the camera and did a quick checkup on the specs. It runs a 28-56mm f/4.5-7.5 Fujinon Lens with seven elements in six groups; even if you’re not a tech geek, that doesn’t sound too bad. Its shutter is restricted to 1-1/500 sec, and its DX code reads films between 50 and 3200 ISO, though I’m not quite sure what it defaults to if the DX code can’t be read or is non-existent. The ‘DL’ acronym that’s commonly attached to this model stands for ‘drop in’ loading, which is a convenient way of loading film, but I’d debate it’s worth in the title of the camera. Trivial bits and pieces aside, this was one of the most addictive, fun, intuitive point and shoot cameras I’ve used in a long time. It never missed focus, the lens produced a nice, colourful, contrasty image time and time again, and I grew to like the zoom, given I was shooting it in far different circumstances to my usual campaign work. This thing packs a serious punch and is worth every penny.
3. Contax T2
I still don’t really know how I feel about the Contax T2. It’s a precision instrument that feels more like a brick of gold than a camera worthy of holding. Every function on it travels along a plane, winds, clicks or retracts with such finesse you assume it’s the first time the freshly lubricated components have acted in such a motion. The specs on the T2 are obviously phenomenal: the breadwinner across these is the glass. A retractable Carl Zeiss multi-coated Sonnar 38mm f2.8 lens is the mantlepiece of this camera’s beauty, and it takes phenomenal photos time and time again. Unfortunately, I felt that the strength of this camera lied somewhere outside of what it was built for, or at least how I felt it should be used. I didn’t ever entirely get used to the flash, the DX automation and the limitations on exposure compensation (+/- 2) were minor hinderances, but the primary issue I had with the camera was that it was unnecessarily good in areas I didn’t really need it to be – like party snaps with flash. On the contrary, it performed at a rate I’d deem average in areas where I really needed it to shine.
4 and 5. Olympus MJU I & MJU II
I’m going to group these both together because despite how hungry people get over whatever is trendiest right now, there’s a striking resemblance between the two. Obviously, the Olympus MJU II (Stylus Epic) commands a far higher price tag, has superior optics and is ergonomically a more appealing machine, however I found myself gravitating toward the MJU I time and time again. As I sat wondering if I was an anomaly among more rational thinkers, I took to the internet and found that while very few souls debated the merits of the MJU II, many preferred the ‘I’ version for its hand feel and all the elements that are traditionally praised about the ‘II’. Sometimes sleek is too sleek (perhaps?), and when both versions produce phenomenally sharp images (particularly for their size), have great autofocusing and exposure capabilities and share many similar traits, the leap in price – for me, at least – becomes the deciding factor in debating a winner. For now, that remains the trusty MJU I, which can still be had for around $100-150 AUD.
6. Fuji Klasse
The Fuji Klasse changed my perception of point and shoots. I actually took it on a national campaign and came away with final images from it, which is a phenomenal feat given the expectations of such large jobs and the general limitations of point and shoots. Some may scoff at that comment, however those who do are surely far more talented in the point and shoot realm than I am. I like to have total control over every element of a scene, and the very beauty (and appeal) of point and shoots is relinquishing this. Thus far, this would be the best point and shoot I’ve ever had the pleasure of shooting. It gave me just the right amount of control in the areas I needed it, and its specs were absolutely phenomenal. All of this was stacked atop a body that felt sturdy and durable, was beautiful in hand, and ‘just worked’. For the tech heads, the Klasse (original, not the S or the W, which are even more impressive!) has a 38mm f2.6 Super EBC Fujinon lens, an aperture dial with program mode and variable settings, alongside a focus dial which lets you shift from autofocus and do the work yourself (I seldom used this function). This really is a beautiful camera and the Klasse S and Klasse W both have improvements that I wouldn’t look over if I had the extra dollars to spend.
7. Nikon 35TI (and the 28TI)
Aesthetically speaking, this is probably one of the coolest point and shoot cameras I’ve ever put a roll through. The display on the top of the camera is as genius as it is practical, and when combined with the ruggedness of the camera itself (the thing feels like a brick), it amounts to an intuitive hunk of metal that does the trick. The camera feels super dense, which makes it ‘feel’ like it could take a beating, though the price tag will stop you from giving it one. The lens is great and everything works as it should on this camera, and perhaps its biggest bragging right is the 3D matrix metering system. Yes, a P&S with Nikon’s famous, patented 3D matrix metering. Despite it only being a 6 segment setup, it still results in beautiful exposures and renders the 35TI as one of the most advanced point and shoot cameras on the planet as far as metering goes. Though a year after Nikon brought out the 35TI, they released the 28TI, which I’ve spent less time with, however I do actually like it more. Its lens results in slightly more vignetting, thought it’s got a more intuitive flash system and the finish is preferable (albeit trivial) in my opinion. For me, wider angle lenses (from 24mm to 28mm) are more enjoyable on point and shoot cameras, as this focal length range lends itself to street shooting, which is the very realm I see point and shoots most applicable in.
8. Nikon L35AF
Okay: number eight and number nine in this list of point and shoot cameras for me are going to share some distinct similarities. Technically they are quite different, though price-wise they’re in a near identical bracket and they both sit equally high on my ‘best of’ ranking chart. The Nikon L35AF has a five element f/2.8 lens with a focal length of 35mm, and it doesn’t muck around. At this point of the article it’s fair that I admit the ‘point & shoot’ category of cameras involves an ‘importance hierarchy’ that ranks lens type rather low. If the camera has made the cut in this list, it’s safe to say the difference in lens quality is rather negligible, and if you’re seriously considering purchasing one camera over another, it should be based on the price and additional features of the camera’s you’re considering. It’s these elements (along with the nice lens) that makes this one of the best bang-for-your-buck point and shoots on the list. This camera is so great, in fact, that is was given the nickname ‘Pikaichi’ (“top notch”) in Japan, and it was designed by Koichi Wakamiya as an update to the Sonnar formula.
9. Canon AF35ML
The Canon AF35ML isn’t all that different – as far as user experience goes – to the Nikon L35AF. It uses a 40mm f/1.9 lens to capture brilliant images that are comparable to the Nikon L35AF, and like the Nikon, it doesn’t feel like it’s a rare gemstone you shouldn’t be using. It’s for this reason both the Nikon L35AF and the AF35ML are some of my favourite point and shoots to use; they feel like they should be used. They both focus well, feel good in hand and are pretty to look at (trivial, I know). Small things seperate the ‘Autoboy Super’ and the L35AF, however they both take AA batteries, produce great images, are relatively cheap (as far as many other cameras on this list goes) and are known to be durable. The Canon AF35ML is also the latest incarnation of a camera that won a design award for its intelligent layout and functionality.
10. Konica C35 AF
I don’t have all that much to say about this camera. I feel like it’s Konica’s replica of the above two cameras – and I can’t blame Konica for trying to jump into the same ship – however it’s simply not as good in my opinion. I hate to draw conclusions without worthy justification, but for whatever reason the Canon and Nikon simply outperform this camera. Perhaps it’s just the way the cameras operate or feel in hand, or maybe it’s something more. As I’ve already mentioned, lens quality is a rather irrelevant topic in the point and shoot sphere, so we won’t blame it on optics. In the end, I simply know I’d choose either of the two above point and shoots over this one any day of the week.
11. Olympus XA2
While you’ve got a just argument saying this isn’t a point and shoot camera (given it’s a predominantly manual, zone focusing, rangefinder), the size and the ease of use lump this in with everything I’ve listed above and below. The XA2 for me, was simply amazing. When it works, it works very well. It produces extremely sharp images and it’s absolutely silent, making it an absolute weapon in the street. It’s a candid photographers dream, and if you find no use for the flash unit, it’s so insanely tiny you could point it in someone’s face, take a photo and still get away unnoticed. The addition of the flash doesn’t make it a whole lot bigger and it performs reasonably well with a slight amount of customisation.
12. Konica Big Mini A4
This is a cool camera. It’s insanely sleek and its coating means it will slide into your pocket easier than a creepy dude will into your DMs. The macro function on the camera enables extremely close up photos with great detail, and the retractable lens further benefits the portability of the camera. To be honest, the best things about this camera are its ergonomics. Its lens is great, though it’s not a dividing factor between the A4 and other cameras in its class, and its functionality is plain and simple, easy to navigate and neither a hinderance nor a bonus. For me, the A4 was a good camera worth the roll I put through it, but I’m not sure I’d have a whole lot more to say about it.
13. Konica Hexar AF
The Konica Hexar AF is an interesting camera. I’ve heard it was originally used for courtroom reporting, which justifies its silent mode – a element of the camera which allows you to take a photo without so much as a peep of sound. Outside of that, it’s the proud owner of a fixed sharp, seven element, six group 35/2 lens, which holds up incredibly well. The camera can function in both Aperture or Programmed exposure mode, while offering both AE and AF lock for the user. It’s fastest shutter speed is a mere 1/250th of a second, which is part of a leaf operation system that helps decrease noise and allow shooting at extremely low shutter speeds. It boast a number of features that are welcomed among those who enjoy slightly more customisation in their point and shoots. Firstly, the automatic DX code reads from 50 ISO to 5000, however allows the user to set the ISO manually up to 6400. The ergonomics of the camera are phenomenal and the grip feels natural from the moment you touch it, while the extremely bright viewfinder makes it easy to capture sharp images time and time again. There’s a lot of elements to this camera, and a whole lot to love.
A Conclusion of Sorts
I’ve given rough overviews of 13 point and shoots, despite having shot well over 50. In all honesty, I feel like this article only had two requirements for it to reach a satisfactory level: discuss the variety of elements in each point and shoot, and talk about both high and low ranger offerings in the category. I’ve done both, from the $1,000+ Contax T2 to the $150 Canon AF35ML, I’ve broached the P&S world with wide arms and managed to pull everything inward just tight enough that I feel I can make sense of my own ramblings. First and foremost, at the upper echelon of point and shoot territory, you need not worry about the lens. Unless you’re truly pixel peeping, whatever you choose will serve you well. The decision, instead, should be made on what features the camera may or may not have, the durability of the product, and the price comparative to your budget. If you find a well balanced camera within this triangle, you’ll rest easy knowing that your pocket rocket will serve you well. However, forking out excessive amounts of money on a camera that provides performance well above your needs is likely something you’ll regret. If I were to call it right now, I’d say the Nikon L35AF would be my budget choice, the MJU I my midrange choice, and the Klasse my big spender option. Why? They’re what I like, and they do everything I need them to.