There exists a persistent myth in the world of point-and-shoot 35mm film cameras that the only point-and-shoots worth owning are those which have been spotted in the hands of Zendaya and Oscar Isaac and Kendall Jenner, et al. That to be worthy of a viral TikTok, a point-and-shoot must bear the name Contax, or Mju, or Minilux.
While it’s true that the Contax T cameras are wonderful, and the fancy Yashicas and the svelte Olympuses are, too, the prevailing myth is just that – a myth. I’ve written plenty of articles to bust the idea that hose trendy point-and-shoots are the only cameras worth owning. In fact, the opposite is true. There are many other point-and-shoots that I’d rather buy, with apologies to the fourteen-hundred-dollar T3.
Last month I used a Canon point-and-shoot that seldom makes headlines. The Canon Sure Shot Tele is big and old and clunky, at least in outward appearance, but it’s a serious sleeper. A camera that does things that many other point-and-shoots can’t.
It has two prime lenses (one of which includes a fast f/2.8 aperture), a mechanically switched user-controlled flash, multiple exposure capability, a soft-effect filter, and exposure compensation at the press of a button. Most important and impressive of all, it makes excellent, surprising, SLR-quality photos.
Canon Sure Shot Tele Specifications
- Camera Type : Automatic 35mm point-and-shoot film camera
- Focus System : Near-infrared beam triangulation auto-focus system; pre-focus capable
- Lens : Two focal lengths – 40mm f/2.8 (4 elements in 3 groups) and 70mm f/4.9 (7 elements in 6 groups)
- Shutter : Electromagnetic programmed shutter and aperture; EV 6-18 at ISO 100; In 40mm config. f/2.8 at 1/8 sec. – f/22 at 1/500 sec.; In 70mm config. f/4.9 at 1/3 sec. – f/27 at 1/350 sec.; Built-in self-timer, multiple exposures capable
- Viewfinder : Automatically switches to selected focal length; Reverse Galilean VF with projected frame lines; 0.45x magnification at 40mm focal length and 0.72x at 70mm
- Viewfinder Information : Displays the autofocus frame, in-focus LED light, near-distance warning LED light, combined flash-ready and camera-shake warning LED light, parallax correction marks
- Film Speeds : ISO 50 – 1600 with DX code capability
- Flash : Built-in flash, guide number 10.5 (at ISO 100 in meters); Flash On, Flash Auto, and Flash Off modes are user-selectable
- Power Source : One 6 volt 2CR5 lithium photo battery
- Additional Features : Film frame counter on top-mounted LCD screen, motorized film advance and rewind, multiple exposure, self-timer, backlight compensation (+2 EV), built-in user-selectable soft filter, date printing with date-back model
- Weight and Dimensions : 400 grams (14.1 ounces) with battery; 134 x 79 x 62mm (5.25 x 3.11 x 2.44 inches)
The Canon Sure Shot Tele was first released in 1986. Known in Japan as the Canon Autoboy Tele, and in Europe as the Canon Top Twin, it was designed to be an easy-to-use point-and-shoot that also offered advanced user-selectable features and image quality comparable to that found with prime lens-equipped SLRs.
In addition to this generally high design brief, Canon fitted the Sure Shot Tele with a number of unusual, yet useful, gimmicks. It has a built-in soft-focus filter and a multiple exposure mode, which Canon lauded in their print ads of the time. And indeed these features weren’t often found on competitor cameras, especially those in the consumer-oriented point-and-shoot segment.
Their ad also focused on the excellent auto focus and accurate auto exposure, and promised that the Sure Shot Tele would make us “a hot photographer overnight.”
Wow! I can’t wait.
Ergonomics and Use
Holding the camera in the hands we find a top plate with just two buttons – a subtle burgundy shutter release, and a more surreptitious self-timer button (which interestingly acts as a shutter release button as well – just press the self-timer button once and the shutter fires ten seconds later). Next to that we find an LCD display which tells us our battery health and film frame number.
On the back of the camera we find the switch to alternate between the 40mm and 70mm prime lenses. Flicking the switch sideways toggles from one lens to the other. The flash controls are also positioned on the back via a sliding three-way switch for Flash On, Flash Auto, and Flash Off. This mechanical switch gives the added benefit that, when cycling the power off and on again, the camera retains our chosen flash settings. Users who own Sure Shot Tele models equipped with the Date Back will also find their date controls on the back of the camera, positioned in the usual spot, center of the film door.
The front of the camera houses the On/Off switch. This multi-purpose switch also opens and closes the lens cover, and when toggled further, fits the built-in soft filter over the lens. Next to the lens we find the buttons for multiple exposures (we can hold this down and take as many exposures as we like on a single frame) and the exposure compensation button (hold this down and our shot will be exposed with a compensation of +2 EV).
The lens block has a built-in filter thread which allows us to screw in any 40.5mm diameter circular filter. This is especially useful for black-and-white photography. And it should be noted that the camera’s metering cell is positioned within the filter area, so the camera will automatically meter properly when filters are attached.
There is such a thing as a perfectly-sized camera. For me, the Sure Shot Tele comes pretty close. It’s not ultra-compact, nor is it SLR-sized. It sits somewhere in the middle, in the Goldilocks zone where portability merges with usability.
The buttons sit where they should, the grip is large and sure, and the camera feels balanced and natural. It won’t fit into the pocket of your pants, nor will it disappear when not in use. But weighing in at under a pound means that it won’t give us a stiff neck if we leave it hanging by its strap all day.
The viewfinder is large and bright, and the projected frame lines are highly legible in all shooting conditions. The useful focusing patch is clearly indicated, and the LED lights do exactly what they’re supposed to do. I never experienced any problems in messaging with this camera. If the light illuminates green, all is well. If there’s a flashing red lightning bolt, rethink your life.
Auto focus works beautifully, and a half-press of the shutter release button locks focus. This makes it possible to use the focus and recompose method of framing. Simply center the focus spot in the viewfinder upon whatever subject we want in focus, half-press the shutter release button to set focus distance, and recompose for the final shot. Works on my Nikon Z5, works here.
The lithium photo battery is housed in the hand grip. This is attached via two tiny screws, so changing out the battery will require a small screwdriver. While this is slightly less convenient than a flip-open battery door, bear in mind that the trade-off may be a net positive.
Most point-and-shoot film cameras from the era of the Sure Shot Tele possess weak, pathetic battery doors which break in a stiff wind. The Sure Shot Tele’s solution is stronger and more reliable, and per Canon’s manual, the battery should last five years of normal use. (This seems incredible. Look for my update in five years.)
One final positive note to end the battery conversation. The Date Back models, like mine, use power from the same lithium battery that powers the rest of the camera. Many cameras of the time opted to separate the Data Back from the main power supply, these instead running on a separate battery (often a CR2032 watch battery). I like the simplicity of the Sure Shot Tele’s single power source.
The Canon Sure Shot Tele’s Beautiful Prime Lens(es)
What really sets the Canon Sure Shot Tele apart from similar cameras of its era and beyond, is its lens. Or more accurately, its lenses, since it has two. And just as important as quantity, these lenses offer quality. This comes largely from an important design choice. The Sure Shot Tele’s lenses are primes (lenses of a single focal length), not zooms.
This detail should not be overlooked.
Zoom lenses, more common than primes in the point-and-shoot segment, bring compromise. For a zoom lens to be capable of zooming in our out to any focal length within their range, they must be optically complex. This complexity, especially true of the early zooms from the era of the Sure Shot Tele, results in a degradation in image quality. Additionally, zoom lenses often come with smaller maximum apertures.
Prime lenses, on the other hand, are formulated and optimized to provide the best image quality and the fastest aperture at their single specific focal length. This is why we photo nerds tend to love primes.
The Sure Shot Tele’s two prime lenses offer comprise a 40mm standard lens made of four elements in three groups, and when we switch to the 70mm tele lens, an additional lens packet flips mechanically into place within the camera’s body increasing the optical formula to seven elements in six groups.
This transforming prime lens is activated with the simple flick of a finger. We hear the lens clunk into place, the lens assembly extracts out of or retracts into the body, the accompanying viewfinder automatically slots into place, and we are ready to shoot one of our two glorious primes.
And it’s not hyperbole. These primes actually are glorious.
At 40mm, images are sharp and punchy. While we don’t have control over our aperture or shutter speed, the camera does a good job of selecting the appropriate settings for the scene. And we aren’t totally bereft of control. By using the backlight compensation button or by switching the flash off, for example, we’re able to coerce the camera into longer exposures with larger apertures. Stunningly, this point-and-shoot actually produces nice bokeh, something not common in the class.
At 70mm, things are similarly effortless, and the results are similarly beautiful. Sharp, crisp, and lovely. And even at a significantly smaller maximum aperture (f/4.9) close-focusing on subjects still produces lovely out-of-focus backgrounds.
It really can’t be over-emphasized. A point-and-shoot camera which costs less than $70 (average price taken from recently sold eBay listings at time of writing) should not be able to make photos this nice. It puts those cult-favorite point-and-shoots to shame.
[The following gallery of photos were made by Agni Ayushatya and are published with permission.]
[The following gallery of photos were made by the author, James Tocchio.]
[Photos in the gallery below provided by Nathaniel Kaufman and published with permission.]
Those Bonus Features
The camera’s bonus features, the soft focus filter and multiple exposure mode, work as they should, though in both cases results will vary from user to user.
The soft focus filter does what it says it does; it renders image with a soft glow. The effect was popular in the 1970s and ’80s, for some reason, and while I don’t necessarily understand it, I can say that the Sure Shot Tele’s filter works well. I recently shot the Canon Snappy Q, which featured a similar built-in “soft corners” filter. That one was pretty terrible, in that its transition from soft to sharp was too stark. The Tele’s filter, in comparison, is subtle and refined.
The multiple exposure mode works great too, as long as we know how to make good multiple exposures. I don’t, necessarily. I know how the technique is supposed to work, but as in many things, I lack true talent. Those photographers who live for multiple exposures, however, will likely have fun. Just hold down the multiple exposure button and fire away.
[I should add that I’ll be holding onto this camera for the summer, and will update this review with additional photos over time. Let’s see how I improve with multiple exposures, eh?]
I began this article comparing the Canon Sure Shot Tele to legendary point-and-shoot cameras like the Contax T3 and the Yashica T4. That’s stiff competition. And yet, I think the Canon Sure Shot Tele holds its own, and then some.
While not as compact or as luxurious as the many newer, sleeker point-and-shoots, and while it lacks the cachet that comes with being seen on the red carpet, this Sure Shot Tele quietly delivers.
Its two lenses make beautiful photos, the aperture is fast, the ergonomics are solid, it’s the right size, and returning to that earlier comparison, it costs $1,300 less than a Contax T3, $750 less than a Minolta TC-1, and $150 less than an Olympus Mju II. Even at double its average price, I’d still say it’s really good camera.
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