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.
I really appreciated your article on the Nikon L35. I have had one for years and every time I see it in my Nikon point and shoot collection, I really want to take it out and use it. It Just feels good. Now I definitely will. Need more articles like this.
The L35AF has a neat trick up its sleeve as well, a full fledged “quiet mode”.
If you shoot a picture but you keep pressing the shutter button the camera will not advance the film until you fully raise your finger. In this way you can be stealthy-er because you can shoot a picture of a subject and wait to rewind the film until he’s gone or you put the camera under your jacket to cut down the noise.
And you’re certainly right that the lens has character, after all it’s a Sonnar, my all-time favorite optical scheme. I shoot on different formats of film and on FF digital, but 3/4 or more of my lenses are Sonnar or Sonnar-schemes; I didn’t do this on purpose, it just happened after many years that the lenses that got “culled/sold” were almost always the non-Sonnar…
That said, I hate the shutter button of the L35AF, as I find it too “mushy”. My favorite shutter button of all compacts I tried during the years, as of now, is the one of the original Olympus XA. It was a real hair-trigger! Really useful for catching the right moment.
And I really really wish there was a physical switch to disable permanently the darn flash!
Great review, thanks! One more thing to add… if you’re shopping for one of these, Nikon made two different models. The earlier one only goes up to 400 ASA. The later model goes all the way to 1000 ASA.
Hi , nice 2 read interesting review =) here is my cameras shelf https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.467215296690440.1073741828.467165093362127&type=3
Thank you for the review of the L35. Reading it brought back bittersweet memories.
My father bought one after my Mom passed away. When we were growing up, my father used the Argus C-3, aka ‘the brick.’ When my Mom became ill, he stopped taking photos. After her death, he bought the L35AF, and became a picture taking machine. He taught himself how to make furniture, and he was forever going into furniture stores and snapping pics of pieces. He’d go home, and reproduce the items. He’d snap pics of the people he encountered (mostly the deli girls at the supermarket), our family, etc. He took the camera everywhere. It was loaded with 100 speed color film, usually bought at the local pharmacy. He’d loved the 1 hour photo shops; double print orders so he could pass around pics of his furniture or extra copies of the portraits of people he encountered. At the time, I had a Nikon F3, but he had more fun than I did with his photography. Even though I was an adult, I learned to lighten up and have fun taking photos. After Dad passed away, my older brother inherited the camera, and used it until the battery compartment broke off. The final roll of film he was shooting when he died contained shots of our daughter, various pics of tables, and a nurse from his doctor’s office.
Now I’m 65, retired, and use a 50 year old Leica M2 much like my Dad used the L35AF: just go out, and shoot for the joy of taking pics. Thanks for your review.
This camera misses focus too much for me. Other than that, it’s well worth the money!
@Bellamy – you spelled my name wrong ;-)
@Tom Higgins – thanks, glad you like it.
@Luca – yea, the ‘stealth mode’ …hardly ever use this though as the sound it makes even before releasing the finger / advancing the film isn’t really quiet in the first place..
@James Thorpe – thanks for adding this, I forgot! Yea, good to try and find a ISO1000 one – even if one doesn’t shoot that high it means it will be a newer camera (well, slightly)..
@Andrej – thanks.
@Dan Castelli – that’s a very nice story, thanks for sharing! Glad you like the review.
@Anthony Perez – strange, I have two of them, both focus very reliably.
I have a shot of that very same car parked right there.
Just bought a nice L35 AF yesterday and can’t wait to use it. Your article certainly convinced me I made a very choice!
Picked up an L35 AF about an hour ago at an estate sale for $10.00. The Rolleiflex I went there to buy had been pulled from the sale, but I still came away happy with the Nikon. Gotta run out and get a roll of Tri-X B&W film and some AA batteries and fire up this bad boy. Can’t wait to see what I get.
Hey Jim, hey Richard –
glad I could inspire you – have fun with these!
Cheers from Berlin!
Just rebuilt one from parts and it feels great and works a treat, just missing the battery cover, have to find one, looking forward to using it.
I have been lucky enough to pickup an af1 for £1 from a charity car boot and an af2 from a charity shop for £1 . Both shoot beautiful deep colour sharp images using a cheap standard iso 200 Fuji film or Kodak. There’s a little vignetting in the corners that’s adds to the character. These are by far my favourite film cameras and I always carry one with my dlsr just to compare images. The 35mm pictures always have something nicer about them than digital. If you’re lucky enough to find one keep it.
Very curious where you picked up the fluted hood…? Any recommendations?
Cheers, great article!
Great article, has anyone had any issue with light leaks with a camera whose seal has perished?
Sorry for the late reply, but here goes –
@John Silvey – the hood is just a cheap thing I found on eBay. Works a treat though, finish is nice, and it screws in the 46mm thread on the camera side, and the front end is threaded as well (55mm iirc) so you have even more options of using filters etc.
@Andrew – no, the seals on mine hold up very well. The first thing that breaks is usually the battery door or the on/off/shutter button.
Actually I think I have an old carcass of a L35AF somewhere, if I find it I can send you the battery cover for the one you built up!
I just Got a Nikon L35AF. FOR 20$, it look fine but with new AA battery in it I foundation our that something wrong with the selftimer – it all time work , what coudt Be wrong.
I believe this was the article that convinced me to buy an L35AF, so thank you for that. 1 year and a few dozen rolls of film later, it’s been my go-to pocket cam, and possibly on of my favorite cameras I own. As you said, it really has it’s own character.
Enjoyed your review. I bought one off eBay for $1.00 with a broken battery door. I fixed it by jamming a piece of toothpick where the hinge is. This worked for some time (years) but ultimately the battery door did it in. The pictures look different because it uses a different design than most point-n-shoots — a “sonnar” where nearly all others use a simpler “tessar” design. However, the lens vignettes more than others.
If you like point-n-shoot cameras the one I’d recommend is the Pentax PC35AF. This was a pro point-n-shoot in its day. No motorized film advance to break. Quiet for street/candids. Not motor to break. Made of metal and surprisingly small. It’s my all-time favorite point-n-shoot. Also it doesn’t cost a fortune but is a little hard to find.
Great article! The link to the camera and lens has changed. It can now be found here: https://imaging.nikon.com/history/story/0033/index.htm
the Pikaichi’s isn’t small though… its really bulky just like Tina said. I have it around for 2 years with me until suddenly the re-winder broke, this happen because I haven’t use the camera for maybe 3-5 months and it happened when I’m in Japan for traveling, the first roll… lol…, so for this kind of camera with automatic winder/re-winder you have to use it as often as you can, but at some point it will break, what can I say its an old camera.