For some years I’ve wanted to put a list together of some of my favourite compact 35mm cameras as they have been a source of great interest to me.
I had planned a little review programme where I would review them properly. However, they all without fail end up broken for whatever reason and then become a somewhat expensive disposable camera. The reason being that the parts for them are not in production anymore, so repairers will always tell you that it’s easier and cheaper to buy another good/used model than try and attempt to repair it. Much to my heartache.
However, upon the recent death of my 2 favourite compact cameras, I thought I’d write a little about them.
There is a much more rose-tinted list here but I wanted to talk about them in brief and in terms of heavy use. Examples from the camera below each description.
The Yashica T4;
Famously it has the 3.5 Zeiss lens and T* coating and providing you don’t get too close to your subject, its beautifully sharp (unless you're in a smog filled room like I was) always without having to have any skill in focusing, it has simple mechanical workings and keeps the electronics to a minimum. The bulb however is very temperamental, and it was the first thing to go on my camera. It has been a trusted bit of my kit for many years. Would I replace it? No, I don’t think so, the feel of it is by far the most practical of the compacts I have had, but the aesthetics are unfortunately replaceable. It is great at what it does and in many ways, it encapsulates the spirit of the snapshot/vernacular aesthetic well, for as long as it works, I was lucky enough to have used mine for 7 years. I think the likelihood of one being bought now lasting another 7 years is low and that’s why I’m in no hurry to get another. I say that with practicality as a jobbing photographer and photography lecturer, it just doesn’t seem to be the greatest investment. I used to advise my students to get the T3 if they were after that particular aesthetic, because when I began teaching that was the cheaper option with a great viewfinder too! But that’s also under the rubric of cult camera now and fairly expensive and also even more likely to fail due to its age. It now sells for around £200-£300.
FujiFilm Klasse W
This was my favourite compact camera, but it was the most temperamental and volatile. From the day I got it hissed and rejected all batteries, it was the biggest diva I had ever worked with. Over time it forgot how to count the shutters it fired, and I would never know how many images where left on the film, meaning it too never knew when to rewind, resulting in me losing a lot of shots I would have wanted, particularly on fashion shoots. It’s a camera very reliant on electronics, and the electronics are badly made. I have never been able to rely on this camera, I couldn’t take it out and have it as a sole camera as it would almost always fail – it was that elusive, that cool.
However, some of my favourite snapshots were taken with it, I’ll let the images speak for themselves with the Klasse and I did love that it had a date stamp!
I would like this camera to be fixed but I’m told now by several repairers that isn’t going to happen. It is now completely lifeless after about 5 years of me having it from new or more accurately – unused, it now sells for around £700, ouch!
Which leads me to the cheapest camera I ever bought, the Canon Z135 I think they go for around £30 now. I bought mine at a car boot sale for 50p and the battery cost me more money than the camera.
It fringes, its clumsy, very bad in low light, it functions much like an actual disposable camera but it's utterly delightful! It’s never failed me when the other more expensive options have, and it’s got a very distinctive low fi attitude to image making, making things that could look slightly cheesy or po-faced somehow look like a fly on the wall of something much bigger than the moment itself.
Anyway, I think about, talk about and use cameras all the time but rarely am I open about that, rarely do I feel in my comfort zone talking about them in writing. So, I hope this wasn’t too wooden or trite. I have many other types of 35mm cameras too (beside SLRs), rangefinders like the Contax G2 for example and the Leica M6 but I have a very special place in my work and heart for the compacts and I would love to hear your favourites.
And just for clarity these were all taken with Poundland bought film, Agfa Vista Photo 200 film that was tragically dropped last year in the UK.
This is something of a sample article for my Patreon page - I am thinking of adding one article a month about photography at the $10 tier, is this something people would be interested in?