There are two things in particular that I love about the Konica Tomato. The first, is imagining the design meeting which must’ve occurred on the 47th floor of a Tokyo skyscraper populated entirely by black-suit-wearing executives in which the most important decision of the day was whether just one O or both O’s in the Tomato logo should be stylized to resemble little tomatoes. That they chose to stylize both O’s as tomatoes is the second thing that I love about the Konica Tomato.
It’s a stylish camera born to succeed in a decade obsessed with airy fashion and unashamed consumerism. It was released in 1985 during the heady days of Japan’s “miracle economy,” a decade in which Japan enjoyed an average annual economic growth of 5% fueled by a seemingly planet-wide demand for slick and simple-to-use Japanese electronics.
The Konica Tomato is itself simply a red tomato-branded version of the identical Konica Pop 10. This writeup, therefore, will apply to not just the Konica Tomato shown here, but to the Pop 10 as well. The only difference between the two machines, excepting the cosmetic differences already mentioned, is that the Pop 10 sells for approximately one-half the price what the Tomato does today. If you’re on a budget, try to remember that both models’ specifications lists are the same – and they’re short lists indeed. So short, in fact, that I can cover them in a single slightly-longer-than-usual paragraph!
The Pop 10 and Tomato are both point-and-shoot fixed focus cameras (focus-locked to 2.8 meters), with just one shutter speed of 1/125th of a second. This simple shutter sits behind a 35mm f/4 multi-coated Konica lens. There’s a built-in user-selectable flash and a flash close-up switch for shooting subjects from 1.5 to 2 meters (more on this switch later). ISO is selected manually by the user in sensitivities of 100, 200, or 400. The last luxuries on this sparse specification chart are a manual film advance wheel and manual rewind knob, film frame counter, and a simple light meter which does nothing except activate a tiny LED next to the viewfinder to warn of under-exposure in low-light shooting conditions. The camera can operate just fine without batteries, though a single AA battery is required to use the camera’s flash.
Shooting the Konica Tomato / Pop 10 Today
The Konica Tomato and its Pop 10 sister model were designed to be accessible, affordable (priced when new at about $40), and fun. This continues on today. There are few cameras as easy-to-use and to carry as this one. Weighing less than half a pound and with dimensions of 4.5″ long x 2.7″ tall x 1.7″ wide, it’s one of the smaller point-and-shoots ever made. The sliding lens cover protects the lens well and locks the shutter when closed. The overall build is plastic, yes, but it’s fairly solid for a plastic point-and-shoot of the era. I’d not like to drop mine, but I wouldn’t be scared to toss it in a bag or car’s console and trust it to survive a week or two on the road.
In the hand, the camera fits well. There’s a slight grip to the front, and the thumbwheel film advance provides an easy hand hold. A wrist-strap keeps the camera safe from gravity. Look through the viewfinder (a simple 0.42x magnification window with static frame lines), find a subject, and press the shutter. If the low-light warning indicator winks into life, flick the flash switch to its on setting. If your subject is closer than 2 meters away, hold the close-up switch and fire. That’s all there is to it. Except, actually, there’s a little bit more.
Yes, we can use the Tomato and Pop 10 this way, the way that the manual would advise, and we’d get decent photos some of the time. But if we’re the kind of photo geek who knows what’s happening when we make a photo, the Tomato’s limited controls actually offer us a lot more flexibility, a bit more opportunity to control the look of our final image. We just need to understand what’s actually happening when we use the overly-simplified controls, and then bend these controls to our whims.
With a single shutter speed, no autoexposure, and no metering system, the only adjustment we can actually make to our Tomato or Pop 10 is to change the size of our lens aperture, and even this isn’t necessarily illustrated on the camera. There’s no obvious aperture control, no switch that says “f/stop” or “aperture.” There’s just an ISO control, a flash switch, and a close-up switch, all three of which change the same setting – the lens aperture. This seems simple, basic, limiting, and it is. But there’s more than meets the eye here. By using the ISO adjustment, the flash switch, and the close-up switch in different combinations, we can change the way the camera renders many different types of images.
The tricky part comes in that the camera automatically opens the lens aperture by one stop whenever the flash is activated. This means that there are only a handful of combinations of settings we can achieve with the Tomato. As examples, the only way to have the lens shoot wide-open is to shoot at ISO 100 with the flash activated, and the ways to get maximum depth of field is to shoot without flash at ISO 400 or with the flash and close-up switch at ISO 400.
This knowledge is a little bit obtuse, however it becomes more critical when we remember that the Tomato and Pop 10 are fixed-focus cameras. There’s no manual focus, no auto-focus. The camera is locked at a focus distance of 2.8 meters. That close-focus switch that I’ve mentioned doesn’t actually change the point of focus, it only stops down the lens aperture by one stop, which increases the acceptably sharp focus of a scene by increasing the overall depth of field. It essentially stretches the area of focus toward and further from the camera.
This oddly close fixed focus point is troublesome for a few reasons. For one, we can’t get an in-focus background unless we’re shooting with some combination of settings which closes down the aperture to its maximum value (f/16). So if we’re making a landscape photo, for instance, the entire landscape will be out of focus unless we’re shooting at ISO 400. Users who load up ISO 100 film, set their ISO to 100 and forget it, will get a bunch of out-of-focus backgrounds. And when using the flash at ISO 100 we can expect even close subjects to be out-of-focus too. It’s just a narrow depth-of-field. I’ve included some examples of images shot at ISO 100 below.
With the Tomato’s single shutter speed and its reliance on ISO (aperture) control to make a good, in-focus photo, it’s a good thing that today’s C41 color negative film has such great exposure latitude. We can shoot ISO 100, 400 or 800 film in the Tomato, and once we know just how dependent upon our aperture setting our final images will be, we can use that knowledge to squeeze the best possible shots from the Tomato. 800 ISO film shot without flash at the ISO 400 setting seems to yield the best possible results – punchy, sharp, and nicely exposed in most situations (in very low-light we’d be smart to pop the ISO control open a bit further to 200 or 100).
A high point of the Tomato’s and Pop 10’s predecessor, the Konica Pop that I reviewed last year, was that camera’s lens. It featured a punchy Konica Hexanon 36mm f/4, a lens very similar to the one found in this the later Tomato and Pop 10. Where the previous Pop’s image performance was let down was not by its lens, but by the camera’s tendency to leak light. The Tomato and Pop 10 seems to retain the earlier camera’s very good lens while rectifying the body’s light leaks. The Tomato and Pop 10 are far less prone. The result is a camera with a very good lens that gives predictable results. [Editor’s note – I know that the snapshot nature of the sample photos included here isn’t the best representation of a camera’s performance. I’ll add more sample photo scans as they return from the lab. I’ve found the best way to shoot this camera is to use 400 ISO film or higher, and keep the camera locked at ISO 400].
When shot wide open, images can be pretty soft, especially on the corners and even more so in areas of the frame that don’t fall within that magical focus band that seems to begin and end at 2.8 meters from the camera. But stop the lens down via the ISO control or by using the close-up switch when the flash is activated and we see a noticeable increase in sharpness across the field. So noticeable is this difference that I’d nearly recommend that users never shoot on any setting other than ISO 400, regardless of what film is loaded. Just rely on the latitude of film and hope for the best.
Inevitably, the Konica Tomato and its identical spec Konica Pop 10 are made for fun. They’re decent cameras, attractive cameras, cameras that can make pretty good photos some of the time and look stylish doing it. And for users who commit to the Tomato and learn the best ways to shoot it to achieve the best results consistently, a Tomato will be a joy to own. But they’re not cameras for those who demand the highest image quality or even an acceptable level of control. For users who want better image quality there are countless smaller, better, newer, and less expensive point-and-shoot cameras to buy. And for users who want a compact with more control, the Olympus XA is still the best camera.
But there’s no substitute for charm, and for me, the Tomato has it. I adore the design. I appreciate the way it looks and feels. I relish in the freedom of occasionally leaving my Leica R5 and my Nikon SP and my Minolta a7 on the shelf at home and instead carrying a simple, vibrant, fun camera that I truly do just point at things and shoot. The photos I get from it aren’t always great, but using the camera always is. I bought seven pounds of tomatoes when I decided to shoot the product photos for this review. I wanted to make the Tomato look good, because I really just love it. Maybe you will too.
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