Kodak Ektar H35 Half Frame Film Camera Review

Kodak Ektar H35 Half Frame Film Camera Review

2200 1237 James Tocchio

The Kodak Ektar H35 film camera is made for a very specific kind of customer. At just $45, it’s among the most economical ways to get into film photography. It further stretches our dollar by being a half frame camera, which means we spend half the money on film and development costs, since it makes two pictures for every one standard frame of film. It makes nice pictures with a lo-fi aesthetic, it has a charming, overtly retro design, and it comes in a variety of stylish colors.

That’s the good stuff covered. Here’s the bad.

It’s built to a price, which means that it feels (and is) cheaply made. The entire camera body is ABS plastic, and the lens is acrylic. As a result, using the camera never feels great and the images it makes are similar in quality to those made by a disposable one-time-use camera. This will inevitably disappoint photographers seeking to make traditionally beautiful, high fidelity pictures.

Specifications of the Kodak Ektar H35

  • Camera Type: 35mm film, half-frame camera
  • Lens: 22mm f/9.5 fixed-focus wide-angle optical grade acrylic lens; 2 elements
  • Shutter: Mechanical single speed shutter (1/100s shutter speed)
  • Viewfinder: Optical viewfinder
  • Flash: Built-in flash, user-selectable modes (On and Off)
  • Power Source: 1x AAA battery
  • Film Frame Counter: Yes
  • Self-timer: No
  • Film Rewind: Manual
  • Build Material: ABS plastic
  • Dimensions and Weight: 4.3 x 2.4 x 1.5 inches (110 x 62 x 39mm); 3.5 oz (100g)

What is the Kodak Ektar H35

The Kodak Ektar H35 isn’t a Kodak camera. It’s a Kodak branded camera made by Hong Kong-based company RETO Project.

RETO has made a name for themselves in the analogue photography world by offering good quality products at low prices. They resurrected the 3D film camera and the cult classic Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim point and shoot camera, and then made this new Kodak-branded thing. True to form, the H35 a simple, lightweight, compact, and cheap camera.

It comes in a vintage-looking Kodak package and comes with a nice wrist strap and a soft-touch carrying pouch, both Kodak-branded.

The Ektar H35’s key features are these: it’s a half frame 35mm film camera; it has a wide angle lens (22mm); it has a built-in flash; it has one shutter speed, so we do nothing but point and then shoot with this point-and-shoot camera.

Using the Kodak Ektar H35

To use the Kodak Ektar H35 is simple. We load the film as we would any standard 35mm film camera, advance the film manually with the little thumb wheel, look at our subject through the optical viewfinder, and press the shutter button. If we’re indoors or in low-light conditions, we can rotate the control ring surrounding the lens to activate the flash. Once it has drawn sufficient charge from the AAA battery, a flash-ready light illuminates and we are ready to fire.

When we examine the Ektar H35 on a more granular level, we see where its usability succeeds and fails. Let’s begin with the failures.

Everything feels crunchy and cheap. Advancing the film creates a hollow ratcheting sound, pressing the shutter release button feels spongy and weak, the flash selector ring is plastic on plastic, and feels that way, too. The camera is flimsy and fragile, with a finicky film door latch and a floppy film door. There’s no pressure plate to ensure the film stays flat at the film gate.

The film rewind lever is truly awful – tiny, weak, and destined to break. On my test unit, the screw that holds the rewind lever in place backed itself out and fell on the floor. I’ve spent ten years repairing scientific instruments in a previous job, so fixing the fault was a zero-point-three on the one-to-ten difficulty scale. Had this happened to someone with no mechanical aptitude, however, a fault like this could be enough to end their photography career (or at least end their time with the H35).

The shutter is limited to one speed, a relatively slow 1/100th of a second. In addition, there’s no way to adjust the lens aperture. Therefore it is imperative that we load an appropriate speed film for whatever the conditions may be in which we expect to be shooting. If it’s a bright, sunny day and we’re shooting outside, we should choose a slow film (low ISO). If we’re shooting indoors or at night, a fast film (high ISO).

The stark limitations on the exposure triangle means that no matter how diligent we may be in selecting the right film for the job, it’s inevitable that some shots on our roll will be under-exposed and some will be over-exposed. This camera simply doesn’t allow us any latitude or creative control. It’s just not there.

But there are some nice things as well, and some of the camera’s weaknesses can even be seen as strengths, depending on the user’s perspective.

It’s made of plastic, which I’ve complained about enough already. However, it’s also MADE OF PLASTIC! Which is great, because it keeps the camera light and mobile. We can pop the H35 in a pocket or bag and never notice it until the moment we want to make a photo.

The flash charges quickly and gives enough light to illuminate subjects at ten feet or closer.

There’s one button, which simplifies things.

The lens is interesting, in that it provides a fairly wide angle of view (which makes me think of the time I examined the shifting “standard” focal length, and how it may be widening as a result of the proliferation of smart phone photography). In fairness, images made with the right ISO film and in the right conditions (for example, bright sunshine, well-lit places, etc.) can look traditionally nice, well-exposed, and pretty. For the other times, the lo-fi images that it makes will certainly appeal to an entire generation of photo nerds who are accustomed to perfect digital photography.

It shoots 72 images on a standard roll of film, which cuts down on how many rolls we need to buy and develop. This can be a benefit and a fault – getting 72 shots on a roll is great for the wallet, but it can take a long time to find 72 things worthy of making into a film photo.

But truthfully, beyond the conversations around spec sheet, user experience, and image quality, the most interesting thing about the Kodak Ektar H35 is its price. We can buy the camera and a roll of film and get started on our analogue photography journey for under $60. That’s great! And at $45, I’m not too worried about breaking or misplacing the camera. It becomes a perfect launching place. I can easily imagine someone using and loving the Ektar H35 for six months before graduating to a more serious camera.

Image Quality

Images from the Kodak Ektar H35 are lo-fi (or low quality, depending on your perspective), with heavy vignetting, softness across the frame, extreme softness at the edges of the frame, flares, ghosts, and severely diminished contrast when shooting into sunlight. Essentially, the lens on this camera commits every crime that optical engineers have sought to eradicate from photography for over a hundred years.

For many new or casual users, these optical aberrations and flaws will be irrelevant and may even be desirable. Lomography has made an entire business out of selling lo-fi camera gear. There’s space for this sort of imperfection in this hobby, and the H35 adds to that space.

Interestingly, RETO has just released a new, improved(?) version of this camera called the H35N. This new model adds a built-in user-selectable Star Filter, a socket for using a shutter release cable and Bulb mode (for long exposure shooting), and most importantly, a glass lens. They say that the glass lens has improved image quality. I’ll test this, of course, but given that it has a single element, I can’t imagine that it’s much improved over the acrylic lens in this camera.

Additionally notable, the new camera costs $22 more. So the H35 (original) remains a better choice for those buying their first film camera or for those seeking to try a new film camera at the lowest possible cost.

[Color film sample images in the gallery below were provided by Rebekah Gregg and are published here with permission. More of Rebekah’s photography can be seen on their website and Instagram page.]

This shot by Rebekah aptly demonstrates the limitations of the H35’s lens. The lens’ optical simplicity and generally low resolving power create an image that’s softer and dreamier than would be achieved with a more advanced film or digital camera.

This shot by Rebekah illustrates another form suited to the half-frame camera – Diptychs, two images presented as a single piece of work, often to tell a story or present some observation which could not be easily achieved in one shot.

This shot by Alex McKenna (published here with permission) demonstrates the flaring that’s common with the H35’s plastic lens.

[The interesting “panoramic” image below was made by J. David Tabor, and is published here with permission. Tabor has used four half-frame shots to create a panorama of a foundry. More of their photography can be seen on Instagram.]

Additional Samples Gallery Below by the Author

Final Thoughts

The question one inevitably asks, if one is experienced in the art of freaking out over camera gear, is this: Why should I buy an Ektar H35 for $40 – 45 when I can buy a far better camera for the same amount of money? After all, a Canon Sure Shot from 1999 will come with dozens of modes and features and a much better lens. But then, we’re missing the point. There is a very reasonable answer to the question.

The Kodak Ektar H35 is easy. It has one button. It looks nice. It costs nothing. Importantly, I can walk into a Target and buy one. This ease of adoption is valuable and should not be overlooked. People like things that are easy, and the Ektar H35 is just about the easiest way to get into film photography today.

And for most people, the cheap build quality won’t offend. The lo-fi image quality will be welcomed as a charming quirk of shooting film. The retro aesthetic will be interesting and unique. For people like these, the H35 is a great camera and an important stepping stone within their photographic journey.

Get your own Kodak Ektar H35 from B&H Photo here

Shop for the Kodak Ektar H35 on Amazon

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • Thanks for the review, James. I’ve been intrigued by this camera, but not intrigued enough to get one, especially since I have an Olympus Pen EES-2. I do agree that one can find a better camera for this price, as there’s plenty of 90’s point and shoots that fly under the radar. But there’s few half-frame cameras that match that price point, and yeah, some people would rather have a new camera vs. used regardless of quality.

  • I think you have to be a bit careful with the criticism. I’m sure some of the poorer image quality is due to the lens, but you must also remember that you only have half a 35mm frame as a negative. When I got my first roll back from my Olympus PEN I was initially a bit disappointed with the results. Then I remembered that, what works moving from 35 mm to medium format, i.e. improved image quality, works in reverse when moving from 35 mm to half frame, i.e. more grain and less resolution.

    Still, we have to hope that, if it’s a sales success, that it will one day inspire them to launch something that is higher quality.

  • Hmm 70+ shots on this or a $600 Polaroid camera which produces worse results… apples and oranges but it is interesting seeing these two articles posted one after the other 😉

  • Charming and somewhat surprisingly appealing.

  • I don’t know what I think about the Kodak Ektar H35. I completely disagree with the notion that at $45, it represents a good value. Maybe it’s a good value for people who don’t know any better. Maybe it’s a good value for people who can’t wait to spend $200 on a Canon AE-1 Program. Maybe it’s a good value for people who are likely to be careless with their camera gear. But for less than $45, there are multitudes of cheap, used SLRs out there, that come with decent lenses, that are well-built, and that offer all the versatility and flexibility of a real, grown-up camera system. Clearly I am not the demographic that RETO and Kodak are targeting with the H35.

  • I think I paid for my Canon Demi EE17 about the same price last year, only a tiny lightseal around the viewfinder needed replacement, and it works great with hearing aid batteries. Of course not new, but half-frame, and with a good lens, and manual or semi-auto (which means in sunny condition basically auto. I used for now expired ISO200 color films @ISO80, in sunny conditions I rarely had to adjust the shutter speed), and with a full-information viewfinder. The results are great, and I keep some old 24-exposure films for the halfframe fun, this gives me about 50 shots, 36×2+x would be a bit too long for my taste. I guess when they are used up I just bulk-roll a few shorter rolls (and I guess I should use something fine-grain… once the Foma 100 is out of the loader, time to try that Panatomic-X…)

  • Thanks for sharing the images and perspective! I think I fell in love with half-frame due to an article on your website, https://casualphotophile.com/2020/08/28/olympus-pen-ft-review. It was early (now) in the pandemic, and formative, because I was reaching for something beyond myself, and I have come to love half-frame, and diptych photography. I am an enthusiastic consumer and user of both old and new film photography stuff. Stuff is an inadequate word, but on the individual stuff, I want to support the peeps who are keeping film photography going, beyond the used and expired markets (which are also important). I bought a Kodak M35 and an Ilford Sprite IIC, a few Lomography cameras, and later a Reto 3D camera, and then at the end of 2022, the Kodak H35. Thank you for helping me figure out what used film cameras to buy, and then, when I was a member of your film club (hope that comes back), learning more about film. I come to your website for reviews, but also inspiration, and for good writing and good photography.

  • Just saw this review. I have the same camera – even down to the same colour! First off, the bad. It costs $45, and I literally just bought two Nikon N80s for that. I like the N80 so much I use it more than my F6. But then the good – try buying a new film camera. $45 is actually reasonable for the market place. And it makes a really nice gift – in the box and all. So there is that.
    My biggest complaint is the rewind crank mechanism. I can see a newbie breaking this immediately as it is the flimsiest little thing. When I load the camera I make sure to push out the crank from the inside, so I am not pulling on that spindly arm if I don’t need to.

    As for exposure? Well on sunny days use ISO 200 film and everything will be fine. Cloudier/other days use 400. Or even shoot 800+ if you want to push (literally) and explore what you can do. The results I get out of mine are much better than I thought they would be, so still am happy with the purchase. And as James mentioned, it is so small/lightweight that packing it is zero effort.

    Using the flash:

    100% crop from above showing how sharp the lens is:

    Sunny shots with it:

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio