I’ve tried on multiple occasions to understand the hype behind the point-and-shoot set. Really, I tried it here. And here. And here. And here, too, to an extent. The conversation surrounding the hype and price of point-and-shoots is seemingly inescapable, and it’s admittedly ruined an entire genre of cameras for me.
But after finding a rather nondescript Nikon One Touch Zoom at my local thrift store for eight whole dollars and shooting it over the past month, I’ve been thinking maybe that angle, and maybe that entire conversation, misses the point. This camera has single-handedly changed my perception of the point-and-shoot camera genre as a whole, but it didn’t do it through being stellar at any one thing. It did it through being completely, remarkably average.
Befitting of the philosophy of expendability that defined consumer electronics in the 1990s, there’s not much history or information available on the so-called Nikon One Touch Zoom. It was released some time in 1997 to little fanfare, and can be seen as just another drop in the sea of blobby consumer point-and-shoots from the ’90s. A look at the specs of the Nikon One Touch Zoom basically confirms this.
It has a six-element in six-groups 38-70mm f/4.7-f/8 zoom lens that focuses down to 0.8m (2.6 ft). It’s controlled by some kind of autofocusing system and some kind of metering system, partially controlled by a DX coding system that supports ISO 100, 200, 400, and 1000 (sorry, 800 shooters). It has a built in-flash with (importantly) a built-in diffuser. Additionally it features an auto mode, a flash-always-on mode, a flash-off mode, a red-eye reduction mode, and it even supports mid-roll rewind if you wanna get freaky. It’s well-equipped, sure, but it doesn’t offer much more than any other point-and-shoot of the era.
The staleness of its specifications should look familiar to any avid Nikon user. Nikon has always eschewed using new tech in favor of stellar execution, and the same philosophy shows in this otherwise anonymous camera. The lens, although slow and prone to vignetting, is pretty sharp. Its zoom range is continuous, meaning that from 38-70mm, every focal length is available for use (great for me, as I am a 50mm die-hard). Its viewfinder zooms in along with the changes in focal length, something a Leica M wishes it could do. Even the somewhat pesky automatically-on flash system is stellar, and the built in diffuser makes even head-on fill flash look impressively natural (and I would say better than a Yashica T4). I’m convinced that, in the right hands, this camera can serve even a professional photographer well in a backup or vacation camera role, which is something I can’t say of some of the more hyped point-and-shoots out there.
It does, however, have its faults. The framelines in the viewfinder are hard to see in most lighting situations, the parallax correction lines doubly so. The AF is a little slow and the shutter lag is immense. The camera will sometimes even prevent itself from taking a picture if the flash isn’t charged, if the lighting conditions are simply too intense, or, in my experience, if it simply doesn’t feel like it. Its battery door isn’t the sturdiest, and the flexible ribbon that connects the battery to the rest of the camera is completely exposed, meaning that it could brick out if you’re not careful.
Perhaps the worst insult you can hurl at the Nikon One Touch Zoom is that it’s completely anonymous. It doesn’t have the capabilities, the looks, or the clout of the often Instagrammed luxury point-and-shoots, and is practically indistinguishable from its consumer-focused competition. It’s not some sleeper camera that’ll trounce a Contax T-series camera or render a Nikon F4 irrelevant, nor does it really punch above its weight. It’s just another little point-and-shoot that happens to make nice-enough images.
Herein lies the paradox of the Nikon One Touch Zoom, as well as many other faceless point-and-shoots – its anonymity is its identity. It’s truly just another camera. You touch a button, you get a picture. It’s that simple idea that makes point-and-shoots such great cameras in the first place, and what the Nikon One Touch Zoom AF gets so, so very right.
I’ve come to love the Nikon One Touch Zoom not because it offers anything different, but because it’s unremarkable. I’ve touched on this before with the Pentax K1000 – the beauty of a completely unremarkable camera is that you end up loving photography more than you love the camera. The lack of control afforded by a point-and-shoot encourages the shooter to just take casual, fun photos without any thought towards high art (although again, in the right hands, it certainly can make stellar photos).
What comes out on the other side are, more often than not, are memories distilled in their most basic form. When I got my scans back, I wasn’t overly impressed by the image quality (although the flash diffuser looked pretty good), but I was more taken by the memories this camera so casually captured. I remembered Tweezy the Vendor, the cotton candy vendor who heckled me for not having a bigger camera (to which I responded by holding up my F3 with a zoom lens); I remembered having dinner with my friends for the first time in over a year and singing “I’m With You” by Avril Lavigne with them at karaoke; I remembered developing cinema film for the first time in my friend’s girlfriend’s bathroom and getting grossed out by remjet runoff; I remembered taking my nephew to his first baseball game and seeing him smile when he recognized the field he saw on TV in real life. That little Nikon helped me document all of these moments without taking me out of the moments, as some complicated pro-spec cameras sometimes do. And at a time when happy experiences and memories are hard to come by, that’s worth everything to me.
I realize now that the simple joy of documenting life around you is the one thing point-and-shoots are best suited for, and the one thing I missed when evaluating them. Again, the point-and-shoot conversation online is so focused on market value (and capitalizing on that market value) that it’s hard to remember that we’re still dealing with cameras that, you know, take pictures. With this hyperfixation on cameras-as-investments, the conversation honestly starts to sound more like NBA free agency, trading stocks, or investing in crypto than it does photography. I know it’s important to acknowledge market value and that it’s a part of the hobby, but I hate that I’ve let that overtake my own enjoyment of these things as cameras or as things that could take pictures. Because when all is said and done, I’ve come to love this random little blob of a camera, no matter what it’s worth or will ever be worth.
So for those who need to know, here’s that value conversation: the Nikon One Touch Zoom cost me eight bucks at a thrift store. A quick search online has them at around twenty-five bucks. Will the price increase after the publishing of this article? I truly don’t know, and I think it would be arrogant of me to assume that it would, even though it seems to be the popular assumption in the comment sections. Nevertheless, if something happens, just find another zoom lens-equipped point-and-shoot. As James has pointed out here, there’s a billion of them. Find a working Pentax IQ Zoom, a Minolta Freedom, a Canon Sure Shot Zoom, or a Ricoh something-or-other. Doesn’t matter what it is, who shoots it, what it can or can’t do, what it’s worth or not worth. Just shoot it. Take photos of the people and places you love. After all, that’s what these cameras were made for.
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