Hang out wherever people talk about film cameras and you’ll get the idea that shooting film is expensive. And yeah, it can be. But it doesn’t have to be. There are plenty of ways to lower the cost of shooting film without sacrificing quality. This is especially true when talking about point and shoot film cameras.
Yes, the Contax T3 and the Olympus Mju II and the Yashica T4 are expensive cult cameras (whether they deserve to be so pricey is an argument that we’ve explored in plenty of articles and reviews). But what’s important to know is that for every one of these expensive, hyped point and shoot cameras there are ten or twenty others that are damn near as good at one-tenth the price.
Here are a bunch of point and shoot cameras that we’ve experienced to be just as capable of making exceptional photographs as the big name cameras (in most situations). We’ve selected only reliable models that offer something special, and we’ve highlighted exactly what it is that makes each of these cameras worth owning today. Oh, and all of these cameras can be found priced between $25 and $99 on the used market. That’s value!
Minox 35 EL – The Minox 35 EL is the smallest 35mm film camera in the world, which makes it perfect as a second camera or a travel, street, or night out point and shoot. It’s also no slouch when it comes to image-making, offering auto-exposure, a fast 35mm F/2.8 lens, and creative controls by way of manual focus and aperture control. Its ISO setting is user-selectable from ISO 25 to 800, which makes the Minox a great camera for those who like to pull- or push-process their film.
Given its electronic auto-exposure and electro-mechanical shutter, concerns about longevity are valid (the same can be said about any Contax or other cult camera, remember). As with all electronic cameras, buy yours from a reputable seller who guarantees the camera to work, and it should do just that. For shooters who want the tiniest film camera with an excellent lens, the Minox is king.
[The sample image above was made by Theo Panagopoulos and is published here with permission]
Canon Sure Shot Supreme – This point and shoot from Canon is teetering on the verge of becoming another cult classic like the Olympus Mju II before it, and it’s gaining ground in the minds of photo geeks for the same reason as the Olympus – it’s got a fast and sharp lens. This four-element 38mm F/2.8 makes punchy, sharp images, even in low light (when loaded with the right film). Other features include a user-selectable flash, autofocus with available pre-lock, automatic ISO setting from 50 to 1600, a big and bright viewfinder, status LEDs for focus, flash, and low light, and a self-timer. These numerous features make it one of the larger cameras on this list, but its ergonomic curves make it one of the easiest to hold and shoot one-handed.
It uses a 2CR5 lithium battery, which means that it’ll shoot for a long time between reloads. While we’re on the topic of batteries, the battery door of the Sure Shot Supreme is large and attached to the camera with tiny screws, which is excellent, since flimsy battery doors are often the failure point of many plastic point and shoot cameras of the era. In 1986 the Canon Sure Shot Supreme was voted European Camera of the Year, and it’s just as good today.
Pentax PC 700 – Pentax made dozens of excellent point and shoot cameras all throughout the 1990s and early ’00s, and people tend to overlook them today. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Pentax IQ Zoom series on any list of the best point and shoot cameras (except for that one that we wrote last year). But guess what, these cameras never break, they take great photos, and they cost nothing. I’ve chosen the Pentax PC 700 for inclusion here because it offers something above the typical point and shoot – it’s weather resistant. Splash it, throw sand at it, toss it into a beach cooler, it’ll keep firing.
Though its lens is not as special as the lenses found in some other cameras on this list, it still makes perfectly good photos. Another plus – it’s dead simple. A true point and shoot camera. All these factors make the Pentax PC 700 perfect for the photo geek who wants to make snapshots by the pool or at the beach, or on summer road trips or mountain hikes, without worrying about exposure, focus, settings, or keeping things dry.
Olympus Trip XB AF 44 / Olympus Trip XB 41 AF / Olympus Trip XB 40 AF / Olympus Trip XB 400 – This similarly named and nearly identical range of cameras from Olympus share the same core design elements; a massive viewfinder, a sliding lens cover, fully automatic operation, and the most important and unusual feature, a wide 27mm lens. The Trip XB models with AF in the name are autofocus cameras, where the XB 400 is a fixed focus model.
Either model will make sharp images thanks to their unusually wide angle lens and the deep depth of field that this focal length brings. Built-in flash, automatic film advance and rewind, and self-timer round out the feature set of these simple (but surprisingly good) point and shoots. Being one of the cheapest ways to shoot a wide 27mm lens on film puts these models on the list. You can buy one for less than $20.
Canon Snappy S – Undeniably lower performance than every other camera on this list, I love the Canon Snappy S for just this reason. It’s utterly simple, and comes from that Canon design school where the chief brief must have been “make it look cool.” The rotating lens cover and the available color options speak to that (the Snappy S came in black, yellow, green, and red options). The Canon Snappy S is a low-tech camera with a decent lens, one button operation, and a built-in user-selectable flash.
The 35mm F/4.5 lens is undeniably slow, but it makes punchy photos in good light and the flash helps when things get dark. It’s a fixed focus camera with automatic film advance and rewind. Aside from that, there’s not much else to say. It’s included on the list because it looks cool, takes charming lo-fi photos that will be good enough for most people, and costs, like, $20 on eBay. Worth a shot? For sure.
Nikon Lite Touch AF Zoom – People tend to automatically exclude zoom-equipped point and shoots from the conversations around the best point and shoot cameras. Yeah, zoom lenses have slower maximum apertures, which makes them trickier to use in low light. But in most shooting situations, and by loading the right speed film and properly using flash, a slower apertured camera can still be an excellent camera.
Nikon’s Lite Touch Zoom AF is one of the best zoom point and shoots I’ve used. Capable of zooming from 35mm to 70mm, it covers a wide enough range of focal lengths to handle everything from snapshots and street photography to portraiture. There’s a macro mode, settings for focus distance and flash, and a self timer. The sleek, black body is slim, and the retracting lens allows us to stow it away in a jacket or pant pocket. We often have these for sale in the shop, but you can find them on eBay as well (just buy one that’s guaranteed to work).
Pentax IQ Zoom Series / Espio Series – The reason the IQ Zoom / Espio series ends up on this list is because there’s a model for every need, and nearly all of them cost less than $35. Truly, the number of different IQ Zoom models is stunning, and it’s not uncommon for one to look nothing like another. There’s the super slim 835, the weatherproof WR90, and the IQ Zoom 200 (which has an astonishing 48-200mm zoom lens). Some of the cameras in this series have SMC glass and aspherical lens elements, impressive features more common in SLR lenses than in compact point and shoots.
The best part about this series, however, is that they just work. In six years of selling cameras in my shop, only two IQ Zooms have come through as non-functional. Compare this to the literal hundreds of other point and shoot models that are dead on arrival and you’ll see why I’m so impressed by the IQ Zooms. Oh, and they make good pictures. Just search for Pentax IQ Zoom on eBay, and scroll until you find one that you like.
The Final Range of Canon Sure Shots (80U, 90U, 115U, etc.) – By the late 1990s and early 2000’s, the big camera companies were cruising. Film cameras had reached their peak of technology and power, and the shift to digital was on the horizon. Point and shoot film cameras made during this period of time packed more features and technology into their tiny bodies than pro-spec SLRs did a decade earlier. And the final range of Canon Sure Shot point and shoots are some of the best ever made – tiny, fast, quiet, capable, and pretty.
In fact, I’ve given my daughters (aged 4 and 2) Canon Sure Shots of their own and they continually astonish me with the quality of their photos. These are essentially babies shooting excellent photos – if you can’t do the same with one of these cameras, it’s not the camera’s fault! Like the Pentax IQ Zoom series mentioned above, there’s plenty of models to choose from. Scroll along eBay and take your pic.
Olympus Infinity and Infinity II (North America) / Olympus AF-1 and AF-1 Super (Japan) – Think of the Olympus Infinity and Infinity II as the precursors to the Olympus Mjus. In fact, the original Infinity (known as the AF-1 outside of North America) was released in 1986 and the Infinity II released in 1991, the same year as the original Olympus Mju.
However, the Mju featured a slower 35mm f/3.5 lens compared with the Infinity and Infinity II’s fast 35mm f/2.8 lens. While the Mju and Mju II feature much better and faster autofocus systems, the original Infinity and Infinity II’s AF is no slug. These cameras shoot fast enough, work well, and make images that rival those from their more popular (and much more expensive) Mju descendants. There’s also a version called the Infinity Twin, which features two lenses at 35mm and 70mm focal length. Neat.
[The sample images above were made by Tommy Ernst and are published here with permission]
Got a cheap point and shoot camera that you love? Share it with us and your fellow readers in the comments section below!
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