So you want to shoot film but you’re not interested in manual focusing, exposure modes, aperture, ISO, and all that technical nonsense? Tired of heavy SLRs and cumbersome controls? You just want to throw a camera in your bag, go on adventures with your friends, and effortlessly shoot amazing pictures, right?
We get it, and so did every camera company interested in turning a profit during the 1980s. The decade of the DeLorean and Johnny Five promised high-tech wonders in a compact form, a promise that camera makers managed to deliver on year after year with their new point-and-shoot machines.
Yes, it was a great decade for pointing and shooting, and that means today’s shooter can find an astounding number of lightweight, portable, and perfectly capable point and shoot cameras for every budget.
Here are five point-and-shoot film cameras with performance that’ll knock off your hightops.
UPDATE : For more amazing point-and-shoot film cameras, check out Part Two of our list.
Low Cost / Good Performance
This little camera is a machine with which we’ve spent a lot of time. In fact we gave it a pretty thorough review not too long ago. It’s one of the best point-and-shoots of its era, and remains one of the best today. But why’s it so great? For starters, it’s pretty damn affordable. At less than $50 it’s one of the best values for money in vintage photography. If you love old cameras but need to stick to a budget, the L35AF won’t cause any friction.
Technically it’s a full-featured camera that’s superbly competent. A compact machine, it’s perfect for travelers, street photographers, and people looking for a camera that won’t get in the way. With full automation of virtually every feature, it provides the photographer with the opportunity to focus on what’s important; framing, composition, and having fun.
But its greatest strength is its phenomenal lens. An optical marvel, the updated Sonnar design by Koichi Wakamiya is something of a golden egg in the photography world. This lens is one of the most respected fixed 35mm lenses ever, and while vignetting can be a problem, there’s virtually no distortion and sharpness is beyond compare. The aperture isn’t the fastest out there at a max of F/2.8, but it does the job in all but the lowest light. Minor issues aside, this is one of the nicest lenses available in a point-and-shoot camera, and it makes the L35AF one of the best values in the photographic world.
To get the most out of your L35AF you’ll want to shop for the 1000 ASA version (which is a later model), or look for the newer Nikon One Touch (same camera, different name).
Did everything about the above L35AF sound good, but you’re not a fan of Nikon? Are you a dyed-in-the-wool Canon shooter? Well here’s a camera from that other Japanese giant; it’s the AF35M from Canon, and it’s pretty much an L35AF with a few technical differences. Older, larger, clunkier, and a bit less sophisticated than the Nikon point and shoot, the AF35M is still a completely capable camera that has its own unique set of charms.
We talked about the differences between the two extensively in this article, so give it a read for an in-depth look. But to summarize, the AF35M is a fully automated point and shoot with a decent lens that will produce consistently excellent images requiring very little work or worry.
It’s got some cumbersome design elements, such as the inability to gauge where it will focus until after the photo has been taken, which is foolish. But it also outperforms the Nikon in some respects, as in its far-better auto-focus system and it’s ability to use the flash selectively. It’s also decidedly more lo-fi looking, which will be an attraction for some. With its brick-like stance and retro style, decent-enough specs, and that famous brand name, the AF35M is certainly a perfect point and shoot for many photo geeks.
Yashica T3 / T4 / T5
So you want something a little more… luxurious? Maybe the average low-cost point and shoot just doesn’t pack the punch you desire? No worries. Not every point and shoot was made for the average consumer, and more discriminating photographers have just as many choices in the point and shoot game.
For the pinnacle of optical fidelity, sharpness, and ease of use, some of the best in the business come from the Yashica T Series. These cameras are nearly legendary among those “in the know”. They’re used by famous street photographers, feature unbeatable lenses adorned with the famous and illustrious asterisk, and they’re not afraid of getting caught in a thunder-storm.
The T3, T4, and T5 are all extremely similar cameras, the biggest difference being that the T3, while a bit older, uses a faster lens (35mm f/2.8) while the T4 and T5 favor an f/3.5 maximum aperture. All of the lenses benefit from Zeiss’ T* coating, meaning extreme sharpness, excellent contrast, and complete mitigation of nearly all optical artifacts (chromatic aberration, ghosting, flaring, etc.).
To further charm modern shooters, and helpful to sneaky street photographers, the T series offers a weird and uncommon waist level viewfinder in addition to the standard viewfinder. This mirrored window, called the “Super Scope” by Yashica, allows surreptitious candids and provides easier shooting in certain situations. It could easily be considered a barely useful gimmick, but it’s there, so why not enjoy it?
The only less than ideal aspect of the T series is certainly the price, but you get what you pay for. If you want a point and shoot that makes nothing but outstanding images, the T series is it.
Highest Performance PLUS Creative Control
Nikon 35Ti & 28Ti
Though technically two cameras, we’re counting the Nikon Ti series as one entry in our list.
The Nikon 35Ti and 28Ti are fantastic cameras for those looking for a point and shoot that also offers a certain degree of creative control. This comes in the form of available manual focus. In line with the trend of higher automation, focusing is typically handled by an infrared autofocus system, but for people who want more control the cameras can be switched to manual focus mode. An excellent feature that’s hard to find in other point and shoots.
Manufactured from rugged titanium, the 28Ti and 35Ti feature the highest build quality and extremely high quality optics. Each camera comes with a 28mm or 35mm focal length F/2.8 Nikkor lens with Nikon’s “integrated coating” and ED (extra low dispersion) glass. What’s this mean for the shooter? Exceptional images in two versatile and interesting focal lengths, with the 28Ti in particular imbuing images with an effortless visual interest on account of its wider focal length.
Continuing to differentiate themselves from the competition, both cameras use a totally unique analog display positioned on the top plate. This mechanism uses needles and gauges to show the focusing distance, aperture, exposure compensation, and frame counter in a truly unique way. It’s a visually striking element that design-geeks will love.
These were made in limited numbers for discerning customers. As such, pricing today remains high but fair.
This final addition to our list is quite possibly the best point and shoot ever. It’s the Minolta TC-1, and it’s about as close to perfect as a point and shoot gets. This little wonder is made of titanium, has the highest build quality of any point and shoot out there, uses a manually controlled aperture, offers manual focusing modes (zone focus), has metering options and exposure compensation, and displays everything you need to know in the viewfinder as well as on a top-plate positioned LCD screen!
If it sounds like we’re gushing, it’s because we are. This camera is amazing. It comes from a time when Minolta was developing the most sophisticated machines in the world, full of features, completely capable, and adorned with outstanding glass.
Shooting in its constant aperture-priority mode offers a level of connection that’s tough to find in other point and shoots. The camera requires a bit more input from the photographer compared to the previously listed machines, but the TC-1 has struck the perfect balance between automation and manual control.
Optically it’s fantastic. The all-glass, multi-coated Rokkor lens produces unrivaled sharpness, contrast, and color with nary a hint of optical aberrations. Detail at every aperture is just jaw-dropping. Its use of perfectly rounded aperture discs (as opposed to blades) creates an organic feel to any bokeh highlights that may present in the out-of-focus bits of an image. The wider focal length is fantastic for street photography, landscapes, and for providing visual depth to the most ever-day subjects.
Aesthetically it’s gorgeous. The champagne colored body oozes class, and the retractable lens with its slick sliding cover offers a sophisticated, slim profile. It’s also among the smallest point and shoot cameras on offer. We know that everyone says that every camera is small, but trust us, this one is tiny.
Can you tell we love this camera? Because we do. We’re actually pretty obsessed with it, and you should buy one as soon as possible.
So that’s the list, and while it’s a solid list full of amazing cameras all worthy of ownership, it’s in no way a comprehensive list. There are so many outstanding point and shoot cameras that we could have easily populated a list in the hundreds (in fact, we’ve made another list!). The cameras shown here are but a small taste of what’s out there.
Shooting with a point and shoot should feel like an effortless extension of your very existence. The key is to find a camera that speaks to you on a personal level, and one with which you feel completely comfortable. By making a connection with an amazing point and shoot camera you’ll be enabling yourself to make exceptional images every single day, if only you carry it with you and keep your eyes open.