The dominant opinion on compact point and shoot film cameras is that the only ones worth owning are the ones with prime lenses. YouTubers say it. Reddit repeats it. And people believe it. But broad proclamations like these aren’t nuanced enough to be valuable. Prime lens point and shoots are sometimes very good, and sometimes they’re not. And sometimes, zoom lens point and shoots are best. We need context and details. But I’ll stop whining about the way the world (or internet influencing) works and get to the point – you shouldn’t ignore compact 35mm film cameras with zoom lenses. They’re great.
I’ve written elsewhere about the trajectory of film camera development throughout the hundred years between 1900 and 2000. For those who missed it, the trajectory was continually up. There was never a period of time where camera technology went backward for a decade as has happened at times in other industries, for example, the times when excessive government legislation has temporarily checked the U.S. automotive industry’s technical progression. Film cameras simply got better and better, year after year, until digital imaging technology disincentivized investment in film camera development by the camera companies.
For this reason, it’s easy and correct to say that the latest film cameras were (and remain) the best film cameras. And toward the end of film camera development in the late-1990s and early 2000s, compact point and shoot film cameras were the most popular and best-selling film cameras being made. They were, incidentally, also the class of camera which benefited from the greatest amount of research and development.
One of Nikon’s final compact 35mm film cameras, the Nikon Lite Touch Zoom 70 WS from the year 2002 enjoys all of the (significant) advances inherited by compact film cameras throughout the 1990s. I shot one for a few months this past year during a vacation to New Hampshire, and again during a vacation to Walt Disney World. Here’s a quick look at the Nikon Lite Touch Zoom 70 WS.
What is the Nikon Lite Touch Zoom 70 WS
I feel like you should know this by now, but for those who’ve not had their morning coffee… The Nikon Lite Touch Zoom 70 WS is an advanced and compact point and shoot 35mm film camera. As such, it’s made to fit in a pocket and be ready whenever you need to take a photo. And it’s made to make those photos with virtually zero effort from the photographer. It’s an auto-everything camera. Auto-focus, auto-flash, auto-exposure, auto-film advance and rewind, auto-ISO setting through DX coding. Surely you get the idea.
Load film, flick open the sliding lens cover (which doubles as an On/Off switch), point it at whatever it is you want to photograph, and press the shutter release button. That’s how we use it, and that’s how it works. Like many point and shoot film cameras from the early 2000s, the Lite Touch Zoom 70 WS defies flowery descriptors and excessive prose. It’s just another point and shoot. At least, that’s how it appears.
The main feature that sets the Lite Touch Zoom 70 WS apart from the myriad similar cameras which happily flooded the market (and occupied the fanny packs and purses of Disney dads and soccer moms of the ’90s) is the lens, which offered a better-than-average range of focal lengths. It was mostly this lens, capable of shooting 28mm wide angle photos on the wide end of its zoom, which made the camera special in its own day, and its this same lens which makes it a relatively uncommon and relatively desirable camera today.
- Lens – Coated Nikon Zoom Macro 28-70mm, f/5.6 – f/10 (5 elements in 4 groups)
- Focusing – Automatic
- Viewfinder – Real-image zooming finder with 80% coverage. Includes parallax marks and autofocus frame, LEDs for ready, flash charging, focus achieved
- Auto-exposure – EV 5-15 at 28mm, EV 6-15 at 70mm
- Self-timer – 10 seconds, cancellation possible
- Built-in flash with four modes – auto, suppressed, forced and slow-synch, plus red-eye reduction; Range of 3.3m at 28mm and ISO 100
- ISO Range – ISO 100 and 400 set automatically by DX coding. Non DX-coded and 200 ISO films will set camera to 100.
- Power – 3V CR2 battery
- Dimensions – 117x63x42mm
- Weight – 200g (without battery)
Controls and Ergonomics and Shooting
When the Nikon Lite Touch Zoom 70 WS was released almost twenty years ago, it would have been a sleek and capable camera among the very best point-and-shoots to ever grace a Circuit City camera department. The compact champagne body, the cutting-edge LCD display, the glimmering gold accents hinting that the owner certainly paid attention to their 401k when not listening to Enya’s Only Time. What a time to be alive and taking pictures.
And even though 2002 was a long time ago, I think this camera still looks gorgeous. It’s a charming camera that makes all the right noises and looks good doing it. It’s cute.
Held in the hand, it fits well enough. A bit thicker than the Olympus Mju II, a bit smaller than the Nikon L35AF. It weighs so little that users won’t notice it, even after an eight hour hike up a literal mountain.
The top of the camera is as simple as they come – there’s a shutter release button to take a photo, a zoom toggle to zoom in and out, a mode button for flash control and another for red-eye reduction and self-timer settings. The only mode adjustment that I ever seemed to make was to turn the flash off whenever I wanted a longer shutter speed or to not blind my subjects who may have been too close to the camera (such as when I was on a lake with my family in a tiny, leg-powered paddle boat which, for some reason, only I was paddling).
The buttons actuate nicely. They’re not as spongy as some other point and shoots, and we know for certain whenever we’ve pressed a button. The LCD readout is large and bold, and ensures that we always know what’s happening in the camera before we take a photo. The zoom actuation is fast and fluid and precise.
The back of the camera features nothing, in regular models, and on Date Back models it features some data controls.
The viewfinder is small (show me a late ’90s and early 2000s point and shoot whose viewfinder isn’t). But it gets the job done. The viewfinder zooms its perspective in real time along with the lens, so that if we zoom in or out the viewfinder coverage keeps up, rendering an accurate (enough) representation of what our final image will be. There’s parallax correction lines and a focus dot, and LEDs tell us when focus is achieved, when the flash is charging, and when the flash is ready to fire.
Snapping the camera up from a pocket, sliding the lens cover open, and taking a shot is rapid and effortless. We can go from lounging on a mountainside rock to shooting a shot of a distant lake in about two seconds. And the shot will turn out pretty great.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Using the Nikon Lite Touch Zoom 70 WS
I can make this pretty easy. If you want a wide angle-capable point and shoot film camera and price is no concern, sure, go and buy a wide prime compact. They’re great. Cameras like the Ricoh GR1 pack an incredible 28mm f/2.8 lens into a tiny body, but it’s an expensive camera. The Fuji Natura does the same with an ultra-wide and ultra-fast 24mm f/1.9, but it’s an expensive camera. The Nikon Lite Touch AF is one of the smallest cameras with a 28mm lens attached, but it’s (you guessed it) an expensive camera. In a used market which over-values prime lenses and under-appreciates zoom, these relatively rare and very good wide angle-capable prime lens-equipped point and shoots are going to be expensive.
If you want a wide angle-capable point and shoot film camera and price is, in fact, a concern, skip the primes and look at the Nikon Lite Touch Zoom 70 WS (or one of the few other wide zoom compacts that exist). The Nikon that I’m writing about today is cheap. The images it makes are very nice. They’re sharp enough, and punchy, with some interesting “vintage” qualities which we film shooters tend to gravitate toward. It’s a stylish camera that looks great. It fits comfortably in the hand or in a pocket. It works quickly and effortlessly, and offers versatility that users will eventually come to appreciate.
The camera does demand some compromise. Being capable of zooming from 28mm to 70mm means that the lens is more complicated and less optimized for each individual focal length than would be a prime lens. It has to perform well enough at all focal lengths, which means that it never excels at any one focal length. So sharpness takes a hit compared with point and shoots which have a 28mm, 35mm, 38mm or any other focal length prime lens. That said, the compromise isn’t terrible. By 2002, Nikon had pretty effectively figured out how to make a zoom lens work as well as a prime. The elements are coated to reduce flares and ghosts and other unwanted aberrations, and the optical formula does whatever magic it does effectively enough that I can’t really complain too loudly about image quality.
The ISO range (DX coded canisters set the camera ISO to 100 or 400, with 200 ISO and non-DX coded canisters defaulting to ISO 100) seems limiting on paper, but it’s really not. 400 ISO film will handle nearly everything you throw at it, and in other cases we’re just overexposing or shooting with the flash.
For what this camera does, it’s a great value and I certainly value it as a photographic tool when I’m away on vacation or running into the city to pick up some food from the North End, or playing around in the yard with the kids. It’s a great camera. The only real problem is this – the year after Nikon released the Lite Touch Zoom 70 WS they released the last compact film camera they’d ever make, the (frustratingly rare) Lite Touch Zoom 100 W. And that one goes from 28mm to 100mm. Damn!
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Worth noting the manual says film speeds valid for automatic settings are ISO 100 and 400 (using ISO 200 or non-DX coded, the film speed is set to ISO 100)