Camera Geekery: The Nikon L35AF
Tina Kino guest reviews this classic little beastie for us. The wonderful Nikon L35AF. The lens on this camera is outstanding, and has a strong fan base. If you are not familiar with this great camera then read on a learn something new.
The Nikon L35AF – and some other 35mm point-and-shoot rangefinders
Two years ago I went on a mission to find the best 35mm point-and-shoot camera for me.
I bought a few, shot them alongside each other – and by now gave away most of them again.
So this is somewhat of a review of one I kept – my favorite one: Nikon’s “Pikaichi”, the L35AF – but more like a field report on the pros and cons of other models as well.
There are a few good dedicated reviews of this camera already that are easily found via google; very helpful for me was just reading the user manual (thanks mike!) that contains all essential information.
Also, for the nerds, there’s a nice, lofty article on the lens design by Koichi Wakamiya here.
After using a few cameras of this type for a while (namely the Yashicas T3 & T4, a Pentax Espio Mini, the Olympus Mju-II, and the (manual focus) XA) I now primarily use the Nikon – and I guess the reason for this is 50% due to image quality / the way the lens renders, and 50% due to the camera’s features, and the “I do want to take this and go shoot with it – factor” – which will be elaborated in this review.
..with added hood – the way I usually take it out to shoot
Let’s jump right in – the lens isn’t that prone to flare I’ve found, still I use a (cheap & cheerful) screw-in hood most of the time – because it just looks cool and also protects the lens – I like to avoid UV filters if possible.
Yes – especially the black and white shooters will appreciate this – there’s a 46mm thread you can use for filters – and (see the dot below the lens?) the Pikaichi meters through them – which is a very rare feature on a camera like this.
The fluted ring around the lens is a dial that lets you set the film speed, also there’s a +2EV backlight compensation lever on the side – which gives you some nice options to manually adjust exposure on this automatic camera.
One of the bigger, bulkier “compact” cameras!
There you see the little compensation lever (to the right of the lens). The other one on the top left (next to the red LED) is for the self timer.
No, the camera doesn’t fit in your jeans pocket like a Mju-II would – which isn’t an issue for me as I never leave home without some sort of bag or backpack anyways, but definitely will be for some.
That said I like the size for shooting, the grip fits my hand well, also the whole thing has more heft than you might think at first glance. It is a bit of a blunt, square “brick” actually – you either love it or hate it I guess!
I obviously like it, and I got quite a lot of comments from people that saw me shooting with it that loved the “old-school” eighties-style. There’s something simple and friendly about it, which I love.
…arrrrr, the dreaded on-off switch!
One of the two weak spots of the L35AF – the on-off switch.
If you find these on the used market in faulty condition most of the time it’s that switch. It just isn’t made as sturdy as it should be.
Also (as I never “turn off” my big Nikon either) I oftentimes leave this in the “on”-position as well, put it in my bag, where eventually the shutter button gets pressed a little – which (as it’s in a dark bag) pops up and charges the flash repeatedly – resulting in drained batteries.
Some words about the shutter button: this is quite different from most other point-and-shoot cameras – it feels very “mechanical”. This is due to the fact that it’s travel is very, very long – and you are pushing a “focus indication needle” (that’s shown in the viewfinder) in place at a half-press (that feels more like a “somewhere in between”-press).
It’s hard to explain, you have to try it… but it did take me some getting used to, to be honest.
It’s like the opposite of touching the shutter “button” of an Olympus XA – with this Nikon you feel like you’re pushing the button deep inside the camera body, so to say.
Bottom: tripod mount / 1-2 rewind, selecta / battery compartment
Tripod-mount is plastic, but hey.
There’s an idiot-proof two-way rewind mechanism (slide switch 1, then push button 2).
God bless: it does NOT wind the film all the way back in the canister, but leaves a small bit out. I so wish more compact cameras would behave this way!
Then there’s the battery door. Like the on-off button this isn’t stury enough to last for years. I guess I’ll have to Gaffer tape mine soon as it hardly stays closed. The good news is: the L35AF takes standard AA batteries (two of them), that can be had anywhere for cheap.
I have to change batteries a lot though – because I’m stupid, and forget to turn off the camera, but also the Pikaichi has got a rather strong motor to advance the film.
Flash “button” / status light, film & film advance window
So there is no “flash mode” button, basically – here you see the camera with it’s flash popped up and charged, as the camera decided it’s too dark – but if you do not “agree”, you do actually go to “flash off” mode by pushing the flash itself down!
There’s no memory for this, so you will repeatedly have this dialogue – camera saying “I want to use flash”, and you responding “but I don’t want you to”.
..and vice-versa: you can force the L35AF into flash mode by covering the meter with your hand and half-pressing the shutter.
This may sound daft, but in practice this works really well – and one huge benefit over most of the other point-and-shoots is: you will never flash people by accident because you forgot to turn it off – you will most definitely notice the Pikaichi’s flash popping up (*TSCHAKKK!*)
I wasn’t really able to see differences between the lenses of various compact cameras
by looking at JPGs on the internet (you have to shoot and scan some rolls yourself I guess),
but anyway, here’s a nice car shot with the L35AF.
The differences between cameras in this league are very subtle in my opinion.
I believe I can see that images from the premium models like Nikon Ti’s, Contax T2 or Minolta TC-1 are one level ahead of this, but I guess I had a hard time to distinguish images from the models I shot alongside in a blind test.
When looking close though I see that the L35AF has sort of a “biting” sharpness that’s typical for Nikon glass – I was very impressed with both the Yashica T3 & T4 as well but they’re different.
It’s hard to explain, but I just liked the images from the Nikon better after comparing a few rolls.
I like it’s character.
Both in terms of of the way it renders images, as well as concerning the aforementioned (and in my humble opinion super important) factor of “I like to take this with me, and shoot pictures”.
Thanks for this great review, Tina. A superb little camera.