“Damn it. This guy declined my offer again,” I say aloud with disappointment.
“Oh really?” says my soon-to-be wife. “Hey, can you help me finalize the seating arrangements? Also, please remember that we have to write a check for the florist and make the second payment for the photographer tomorrow.”
It’s about two weeks before our wedding day, and it’s obvious that she and I are focused on very different things. While she stresses about finalizing the details of the wedding, I have the self-directed task of searching eBay for an affordable copy of the Nikon Lite Touch AF (aka AF600 in Japan), a relatively un-hyped, fixed lens point-and-shoot camera, with which I want to capture the events of this important day.
Being a casual photophile, I wanted to document this momentous occasion for myself, despite already paying for a professional wedding photographer. And while I have a couple of good manual-focus film cameras that would have worked just fine for the situation, I wanted something that took the thought out of film photography for once—a compact, fool-proof device that anyone could pick up and use to snap the candid moments of my wedding. The Nikon Lite Touch AF, I thought, would fit that bill perfectly.
Since developing an interest in film photography, the point-and-shoot hype has always eluded me. Their inflated prices compared to their performance and reliability never really made sense. So, in my eyes, I was taking a major risk by trusting my wedding night to the Lite Touch; a 1990s camera with outdated autofocus technology and little to no user controls. But I was pleasantly surprised with the results. Not only did the photos come out better than I anticipated, this little camera helped me remain in the moment while organically preserving one of the most precious events of my life.
The Nikon Lite Touch AF is a very compact, fixed prime lens point-and-shoot camera introduced in 1993. At the time, it was considered the smallest and lightest 35mm point-and-shoot on the market. It’s so tiny that it gives the Olympus XA a run for its money. With a shape and size that’s very reminiscent of a bar of soap, it can slip in and out of any normal sized pocket with ease. And weighing only 155 grams, you’ll barely notice it’s there. Despite its minute size, it actually feels quite comfortable to hold. People with larger hands might have a different experience, but it feels natural in my hands, and I never felt like my fingers got in the way of the lens.
The build quality leaves something be desired. The body is entirely made of plastic, so it has a cheap-ish feel to it, but not so much that I felt like I’d break it with normal use. It’s comparable to other plastic point-and-shoots, and I don’t think any of those would survive more than a couple drops to the concrete.
There are very few controls on this camera aside from four operational buttons, all of which are rather mushy and rubbery. Two of these buttons are the on/off switch and the shutter button, which is capable of focus lock with a half press. One of the other two buttons cycles through a few different flash modes, including auto flash (default), red-eye reduction, flash on/off, and slow sync. The last button activates infinity focus or the timer modes. (This button is also used to set the date on the quartz-date version.) Unfortunately, the camera isn’t smart enough to remember your mode settings when you turn it off, which can be bothersome, but there aren’t many options to cycle through anyway.
There’s a small LCD beside the shutter button that displays the number of exposures left and mode settings, and next to that a tiny button that allows you to rewind the film mid-roll if needed or to stop the automatic rewind functionality. On the back, there’s a panorama switch that, when flipped, masks the top and bottom portions of the film plane to create a pano look. This is really just a gimmick, but it can be fun to play with when the composition is right.
Uncommonly for a consumer point-and-shoot, and the thing which makes it a more interesting point-and-shoot than most others, the Nikon Lite Touch AF sports a wide-angle 28mm macro lens, which extends from the body with a high-pitched, gritty whirr. The lens has an aperture range of f/3.5 to f/16, consists of 3 elements in 3 groups, and can focus down to a little over a foot (0.35m) (also uncommon in these types of cameras). From what I can tell, the shutter is a leaf type, though I couldn’t find any information on just how fast it can move (up to 1/250 or /500th possibly?). Film loading is completely automated and the camera is DX code compatible, so it sets the film speed automatically to 100, 200, 400, or 1000 ISO.
The viewfinder is basically a severely magnified pinhole that sits right above the lens. Because the viewfinder is so small, it can be difficult to use, especially in low-light conditions. There’s a sweet spot that you need to find with a bulging eye to get a clear view of the frame. And deviating slightly from the sweet spot can obstruct your view and even black-out the viewfinder entirely in some cases. However, at the right angle, the viewfinder is actually fairly clear and provides an accurate representation of the end result. Within the viewfinder is a busy array of frame lines that include parallax correction for close-ups, panorama frame lines, as well as the autofocus and close autofocus marks. In addition, there is an LED indicator next to the viewfinder that blinks to indicate focus lock, and stays lit when the camera intends to use flash.
And that’s really all there is to this camera. Functionally, the Lite Touch isn’t anything special. It’s just a simple point-and-shoot camera. But the simplicity, size, and focal length are what make this camera a true winner in the right circumstances.
The Use Case
When shooting film, it’s easy to get caught up in the process—controlling your camera, metering the light, and setting your exposures just right to get the most out of each frame. Consequently, this level of control detracts from the moments you are capturing. And while that might not be a huge deal in certain circumstances, there are times when you want to remain in the moment while capturing it. This is especially true for personal experiences, special events, and time with family and friends. The special moments that require your presence and make you feel happy to be alive; moments that you’ll surely want to relive in the future. These use cases are where point and shoot cameras like the Nikon Lite Touch AF excel.
To say the least, this was one of those occasions for me. I didn’t want to overthink my photography process on my wedding day or honeymoon. I just wanted to enjoy the experience with my new wife, family, and friends instead of worrying about camera settings, compositions, or bad exposures. I picked this camera with one goal in mind: to remain present while documenting the fleeting moments as they took place on one of the most important days of my life. And that’s exactly what the Lite Touch allowed me to do.
The size and weight of this camera played a large part in what made it so fitting for the situation. I was able to tuck it in my slim-fit pants pocket as I mingled with family and friends at the wedding reception, drank too many old fashioneds, and danced with my beautiful wife. On our honeymoon, the Lite Touch came with us everywhere and never once detracted from the intimate nature of the trip as we explored the California coast as newlyweds. The wide-angle 28mm lens was wide enough to capture all of the action, yet able to focus close enough to isolate details when needed. Despite the slow f/3.5 aperture, the tiny, on-board flash unit allows you to capture the good times in less-than-optimal lighting. I’m not one to use flash often (if at all) in my photography, but I found it liberating to not worry about having enough light to take photos, and I felt comfortable letting the camera evaluate the scene to decide whether or not flash was required.
Exposure-wise, I’ve heard really good things about the metering system Nikon developed in the ‘90s, so I never felt concerned about the Lite Touch’s ability to create a proper exposure based on the lighting conditions. However, giving up control of the focusing mechanism on this special day felt like the biggest risk for me, as I wasn’t very confident in the accuracy of ‘90s autofocus tech. But in practice, it made being in the moment much easier. No need to mess with focusing distances, just aim the AF point at your subject(s) and press the shutter button. In addition, the Lite Touch locks focus with a half-press of the shutter button, which provides options when it comes to frame composition.
For my use case, the Nikon Lite Touch AF delivered exactly what I wanted; simplicity in a small, non-intrusive package. I think these qualities alone make this camera an ideal tool particularly for those special occasions when you just want to be more present and take photos without obsessing over the process. Despite my initial skepticism for the reliability of point-and-shoot film cameras, I was happy with the usability of my Lite Touch AF and pleasantly surprised with the results.
These days, it can be easy to overlook a camera based on the amount of love it receives online (aka hype). Currently, the Lite Touch has not received much attention among the hype beasts. I could barely find any substantial information for this camera online, let alone praise. With that said, I had very little expectations for this camera when I bought it. I basically made the decision based on its form factor and timing. Despite this, I can honestly say that I’m glad I took the risk. I’m actually surprised there aren’t more film photographers talking about this camera, because this little thing packs quite a punch for its size.
Sharpness of the images produced by the Lite Touch surpassed my expectations. The photos produced by the Lite Touch are plenty sharp across the majority of the frame, though if you’re looking hard enough, you’ll notice a bit of softness in the corners. For the most part, I’d say my results are on par with the shots I’ve taken with my Olympus XA. And, to my eye, I’d even venture to say the lens on the Lite Touch has comparable resolving power to that of more sought-after cameras like the Olympus MJU series, Nikon L35AF, or Konica Big Mini. While its lens sharpness lags behind more premium cameras like the Contax T series, Nikon 35/28TI, or Minolta TC-1, the Lite Touch is a cheaper alternative that is capable of some impressive results.
In addition to sharpness, the Lite Touch renders images with more detail and contrast than I expected. And when used with flash, you get that signature point-and-shoot character that you see in your parent’s 1990s-era photo albums. The onboard flash unit is small but it can illuminate a scene quite evenly without completely washing out the details. The camera’s metering system is also on point (as expected of Nikon). In the multiple rolls of film I’ve shot with this camera, I don’t think there was one badly exposed photo out of the bunch, despite making the mistake of using 400 ISO film for a portion of our honeymoon in the extremely bright California sun.
The autofocus system of the Lite Touch was surprisingly accurate as well. Like I mentioned a few times already, I was skeptical of its accuracy, seeing as I’m used to manual focus or the significantly more sophisticated autofocus and phase detection of my digital cameras. But I was happy to see that the Lite Touch could hold its own as long as you were adept enough to point the center mark in the direction of your subject.
Despite being a wide-angle lens, I didn’t notice any inherent distortion in my images. I’m sure there is some, especially when shooting scenes with straight lines or while close focusing, but I didn’t notice anything significant. However, there is notable vignetting in the corners of the frame, especially when shooting in bright conditions. But it’s similar to the vignetting I’ve experienced with the Olympus XA. Besides, I feel like a little vignetting adds to that signature 1990s character of the camera.
While the Lite Touch might not be one of those highly-praised, premium point and shoots, it more than exceeded my expectations and delivered exactly what I wanted—impressively sharp, detailed photos made with little to no effort.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the Nikon Lite Touch AF. However, my overall pleasant experience with this little point-and-shoot does come with a few drawbacks.
For one, the tiny viewfinder is probably the most frustrating aspect of the Lite Touch. It can be really annoying to have to find that sweet spot every time you bring the camera up to your eye. And the build quality is a bit suspect, as the lens cover has gotten stuck a few times already, and I don’t know how long I have until it stops working entirely (which seems to be a common problem with old point-and-shoots). Additionally, though the LED next to the viewfinder indicates focus was achieved, there’s no true indication of whether your subject is actually in focus. This is especially of concern when close focusing. There’s also no indication of whether the camera will expose the scene correctly or not, nor is there an option for exposure compensation. So, when you’re shooting with the Lite Touch, it can feel like you’re working off faith. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you’re documenting something special like a wedding or a honeymoon.
The Lite Touch might not exactly be the best in class, but it feels like it was made for situations where working off faith helps to keep you in the moment as you document it. Weddings, honeymoons, baby’s first birthday, holidays with the family, backyard BBQs with old friends, once-in-a-lifetime festivals and destinations. You know, situations you’ll want to be fully present for, but still be able to look back on as the grey hairs start to grow in.
If I had to describe this camera in one word, it would be effortless. I shot multiple rolls of Ilford XP2 on my wedding night, and the Lite Touch did exactly what I demanded of it without so much as a hiccup. It automatically advanced frames and rewound them back into the canister with ease as I drunkenly fed it roll after roll. I didn’t even fiddle with the flash modes. I just left it on default and let the camera do the work. In fact, this camera functions so effortlessly that I lost track of it at some point during the reception and later found that it was passed around to various drunk family members, and yet each frame came out perfectly. The effortlessness of the Lite Touch continued into our honeymoon in California. With its minute size, wide angle lens, and simple functionality, I was able to capture the feelings and intimacy of each moment without missing a single second of it.
The Lite Touch allowed me to be present during this special time in my life while simultaneously creating a body of personal work that my future family and I will use to relive those moments just as they were captured. There’s something to be said about giving up photographic control to capture the feeling of a moment on film with little to no effort. In my opinion, that’s a priceless quality to have in a camera. And for this reason, the Nikon Lite Touch AF has inadvertently become my go-to film camera for documenting those special moments in my life.
All that to say, if you’re a point-and-shoot skeptic like I was and you stumble across a clean, affordable copy of the Nikon Lite Touch AF / AF600 (or any other half-decent point-and-shoot camera for that matter), don’t hesitate to pull the trigger. Have confidence that giving up control will serve you well in the situations that matter most and provide you with the ability to freeze those unforgettable moments on film.
“So, are you ready to look at these photos?” I ask my wife as I make my way to the couch with my laptop in hand.
“Yes! Let me pour us some wine.”
It’s been a few weeks since our wedding celebrations, and I’ve had six rolls of film developed and scanned at my local lab. As I plug the USB drive into my laptop, my wife eagerly scurries over to the couch, hands me a glass of wine, and sits down next to me. “Wow, it’s hard to believe we’ve already been married for a month,” says my wife as we browse through the rolls and recall the frozen moments in each photo. “I’m really happy you bought that little camera. These photos came out better than I thought.”
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