Is Film Photography Still Affordable? Part 2

Here is the second part of my article on whether using film on a budget still an option in 2024 continuing with some more camera types.

Point and Shoot

What I mean by point and shoot cameras are automatic cameras with electronics in. They do everything for you! Load the film, wind it on, set the correct exposure and shutter speed, take the picture and have a built in flash for when it’s needed (like indoors: film was really bad at indoors).
They got more complicated and clever as time went on, resulting in pretty good pictures most of the time, with not very much effort. Make no mistake, these are proper cameras with focus, variable apertures and a range of shutter speeds, albeit with a modest-sized lens, but all the calculation is done inside the camera.

One downside of electronics is that when they break, it’s hard to fix them, so buying a broken one is rarely a good idea. Some won’t do anything without a film in, so it can be hard to test them. They also use batteries and not always common ones, so make sure they use ones that are still available.

The other downside is that with everything being controlled automatically, there isn’t much you can do beyond pressing the shutter, so even though the results are generally good, the whole process feels like you are involved less.
They will try to automatically detect film speed, so if you pick one outside of its supported range or use a film without the DX encoding marks (such as a boutique one or one you rolled yourself), it will use a default value which might not work well at all.

Some of the older models, such the Yaschica AutoFocus Motor and the Ricoh FF3 above have a film-speed selection dial, which lets you use custom films which don’t have the DX encoding. This can also be cannily used to deliberately under- or over-expose your films – a lower (ISO) number means a slower film, so setting it below what it should be will overexpose (make brighter) the film. This function later made a comeback as a +/- exposure compensation control. Of course, with film you also have to option to do this to some degree in the darkroom when you process your films.

As well as the styling changing over time, from black lump to shiny compact, the lenses also evolved. You’ll find the earliest examples had fixed focal lengths (that’s the amount of zoom, they still all had auto-focus). Later models had dual-lenses that were switchable and the newest all had fully-zoomable lenses.

It was seen as progress at the time and there’s no doubt that a zoomable lens is more flexible and certainly a better choice for taking pictures of things further away. However those zoom lenses are not very highly-regarded now, with the fixed-focal length, or prime lenses being much more sought after – because by simple mechanics of their design without a sticky-out “zoom tube” to look through, they tended to have much larger apertures.

Here’s what I paid for some of the above, I’ve put films through them successfully and they have proven highly competant cameras:

  • Pentax PC35AF-M (1984) – £2.33 (film pick-up broken), £5.98 (working)
  • Yashica AutoFocus Motor (1991) – £12.50
  • Rollei Giro 70WA (1998) – £4.24 (with an unused old film, which came out pretty well)
  • Ricoh FZ-70 (1999) – £8.40

Here are some prices from eBay today:

It wasn’t a massive challenge to find bargains in this category, all of these look decent buys. I own both the Canon and Yashica models, and they’re great. I bet that Samsung takes pin-sharp pics and that Chinon while not so well-known now were always a good brand – that’s a cool-looking camera, while the lens isn’t the widest, that yellow filter on the flash looks pretty interesting.

Compact Classics

In contrast, what I call Compact Classics are of the generation before the automatics and are an entirely mechanical affair. They are sometimes called Viewfinder cameras because that’s all you get – no focussing aids like an SLR or rangefinder.

They don’t do much for you and usually have to be set manaully, either by estimation, guesswork or with a separate light meter. Sometimes there isn’t even much to set at all, but don’t confuse these fine classics with the “focus-free” junk cameras that have no settings at all. While it’s fair to say that the quality is… variable across my little collection, these have proper lenses and a few controls to play with, and are regarded with… fondness, if not always respect.

I suppose I could be missing out a few in-between cameras out in my definitions: there were auto-focus cameras with manual winders and vice-versa, but I shall include some of those in the next section. The introduction of 35mm film instead of the larger formats used by older models meant that cameras could be smaller too. There were a few quite chunky ones of which the Kodak above is an example, that look suspiciously like they are a quick conversion job from the medium-format camera-version that preceeded them.

Here the prices I paid for some of the ones above, the Olympus Trip is sadly not one of mine – while they are great cameras and plentiful, they have long-been massively overpriced for such a basic snapper. Like the Olympus Pen (kind of a half-frame Trip) the names have been reused in later generations, adding to the brand recognition.

  • Kodak Colorsnap 35 (1963) – £5.98 (part of a job lot with an excellent Canon Sureshot and three obsolete Polaroid cameras)
  • Ilford Sprite 35 (1964) – £7.99 (part of a job lot of eight cameras, most of which were broken)
  • Hanimex 35hs (1986) – £4.94
  • Olympus XA2 (1980) – £8.74

Here are some eBay examples:

This was.. actually more of a a challenge than I expected. There’s quite a divide between the older and less-well-known brands and the more current ones that have perhaps been picked up by the new people getting into film photography that have beome more popular.
That Ilford is a new (2020) reissue of the old Sprite 35 with a new incorporated flash, which is oddly easier and cheaper to get hold of than the original, quite a nice buy for something modern but with that retro twist: it’s highly likely to give you better reliability than a camera made in 1964.

The XA3 was the DX-film-reading version of the XA2, this listing doesn’t guarantee its operation, but if it’s good one, then this is an excellent camera. Difficult to justify spending £50 on a camera you don’t know for sure is working, though. The XA range of cameras were always quite high – I took a chance on an untested on and got lucky. The XA2, XA3 and XA4 are all the same type of camera, viewfinder with focus distance selectable by rough range. The original XA was a rangefinder with selectable apertures and is highly sought-after. Don’t confuse it with the XA1 which was a more basic model with no focussing at all.

That’s all for part 2, expect a part 3 at some point where I will dig in to some other film formats and try to demystify the world of boutique cameras.

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