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.
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.
[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
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.
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