National Panasonic C-500AF – The Little Plastic Camera that Could – by Tom Shappard

By Tom Sheppard

Recently I was gifted an old film camera, the National Panasonic C-500AF. Thank you my old friend Rob Smith for your thoughtfulness. It is branded “National“… and for those of us who can remember, this was the branding of Panasonic before becoming National Panasonic, then simply Panasonic in 1988.

Specifically the camera is a National C-500AF: Autofocus 35mm camera with auto exposure control, auto load, motorised film advance and rewind.
Lens 35mm f3.8 of four elements in four groups.
Shutter 1/30sec – 1/500sec @ ISO 100
ISO range 50-1600 with DX sensing

To say that I was excited by the gift was totally off the mark. Underwhelmed might better describe my initial reaction.

Here is the National Panasonic C-500AF, followed by some samples from that first roll.

It came complete with a roll of colour Kodak film of the era, that had failed to advance when the shutter was activated – essentially a brand new film from the 1980s that had not weathered too well in the intervening years. It was Kodak 400 colour negative film, which I took to be Ultramax. This film had been sitting in the camera for around thirty plus years, and had endured more than thirty Australian summers with guaranteed forty degree celsius (104F) days and weeks each year. Not the best of conditions for preserving photographic emulsion integrity!

How much fun could this be! Still not sure, but with nothing to lose, I thought that I would give it a go.

Two new AA batteries and an adjustment of the film leader and we were good to go.
The lens is a 35mm f3.8 – probably based around a Tessar design – in its well-proven four element layout. The famous Carl Zeiss Tessar has been copied by virtually every lens manufacturer, and is still the mainstay of mobile phone cameras today.

Wandering downtown with this old point and shoot plastic C-500AF and its ancient film inside certainly drew some looks from puzzled passers by.

Workmen were erecting new shade sails along the promenade of our Town Green.

Red sails photographed with National (Panasonic) C-500AF
Shade sails against a blue sky and white building – yes, the building is white!

I liked the colour of the sails, but could not have imagined the beautiful way the film would show the buildings and the sky behind.

Granny Graffiti clothes this palm

This coincided with a display of red knitting draped across many of the trees and fixtures – this as part of a Granny Graffiti project designed to boost awareness about dementia, in conjunction with a regional dementia conference hosted in our town.

Colour shifts and an aged emulsion – interesting

The colour shifts in the film were not natural but amazing at the same time. In these images you can see the beginnings of emulsion failure as well.

The emulsion is not holding up well, but my friend Terry says it makes him look younger.

I had forgotten how much fun it is to simply forget about all the technical aspects of image making, and to concentrate on composition and artistic expression. I regularly shoot black and white film and I am accustomed to careful, deliberate and thoughtful implementation of each shot. A roll of 135 with 36 exposures can take a month to complete sometimes.

I finished the roll of film in the National Panasonic C-500AF much faster than I thought I would – I was really having fun with it, and delivered it to the Kodak shop in our town for development.

Woman and statue photographed with National (Panasonic) C-500AF
It was a hot day – even the statue was thirsty

In the 1980s our then-much-smaller-town boasted seven full time photographic labs with same day service, and each of the more than twenty pharmacies (drug-stores) also offered film processing.

Today our little Kodak shop is the only one left, and the film is sent away for processing. A two-week turnaround is normal.

The sense of anticipation as I waited for the negatives shot with the National Panasonic C-500AF to come back, was something that I haven’t experienced for decades – and it was delicious.

rack of clothes photographed with National (Panasonic) C-500AF
Spots and scratches – age and character

The resulting negatives from the C-500AF showed all the signs of a film that hadn’t aged well – spots, scratches, emulsion degradation and lots of colour shift. But what a joy to view them. I felt like a kid in a candy shop.
The images reproduced here still show many of those flaws, but I kind of like them as they are a part of this film’s history.

Expired film photographed with National (Panasonic) C-500AF
Even though the colours aren’t quite right – what’s not to like?

Move over monochrome – you will be sharing the stage in future. Will I shoot colour film in the National Panasonic C-500AF again – you bet!

Now, where can I find some more Kodak colour negative film from the 1980s that doesn’t mind showing its age. The hunt begins.

Tom Sheppard

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About The Author

By Tom Sheppard
My photography is an inherently personal experience, and the joy of taking the image is every bit as important to me as the completed picture. I really enjoy photography outdoors, so I am drawn to landscapes and nature. The opportunity to “zone-out” and experience the moment completely – the smells, the touch of the breeze, the closeness of a humid sea-mist, the total stillness of a canopied forest, and above all - the silence …....... photography is an experience that nourishes my spirit.
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Tom Sheppard on National Panasonic C-500AF – The Little Plastic Camera that Could – by Tom Shappard

Comment posted: 22/05/2019

Thanks Ian. It is a great little camera. I have shot two different compacts since then and am awaiting the film processing - the lab has a pump problem so delays :( The ergonomics of the little National C-500AF are better than the Canon and Nikon that I have used and I guess that will be the subject for a future contribution. Happy snaps Tom
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Ian on National Panasonic C-500AF – The Little Plastic Camera that Could – by Tom Shappard

Comment posted: 22/05/2019

Hey Tom, this is an awesome review. I have one on hand just a different model but yet to scan the results. It's been a while since I posted my first contribution to the site seems timely to have it reviewed as well.
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crispin on National Panasonic C-500AF – The Little Plastic Camera that Could – by Tom Shappard

Comment posted: 14/05/2019

Beaut colours. I especially like the shot with the drinking statue - reminds me of old View-Master slides from the 80s. In particular a Peanuts themed wheel that had a similar colour scheme.
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Tom replied:

Comment posted: 14/05/2019

Yes Crispin, weren't those old 3d wheels done on 3M film? The colours here have aged nicely for sure. I am off this morning to collect another roll taken with this camera, so we'll see how that goes. Happy snaps Tom

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Roman on National Panasonic C-500AF – The Little Plastic Camera that Could – by Tom Shappard

Comment posted: 09/05/2019

Nice colourful capture of Port Macquarie.
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Tom replied:

Comment posted: 09/05/2019

Thanks Roman, Port is such a great town. So many beautiful locations locally

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Terry B on National Panasonic C-500AF – The Little Plastic Camera that Could – by Tom Shappard

Comment posted: 08/05/2019

What an amazing story. Given your known history of the film I'm quite impressed with the results and that you got anything worthwhile at all. Colour saturation has held up very well indeed and the only image that has turned out in a way I would have guessed given the age and storage is the one of the pillar. But the use of blue and red together comes out well indeed. I really like those two images. Lo-fi they may be, the image is everything, so the saying goes.
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Tom replied:

Comment posted: 08/05/2019

Thanks Terry, a totally enjoyable shooting experience

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CJS on National Panasonic C-500AF – The Little Plastic Camera that Could – by Tom Shappard

Comment posted: 08/05/2019

The film was amazingly well preserved for its age, and the effect is wonderful. You were very lucky! In my experience, any color film from before the late 1980s is very risky, with results ranging from dark and murky to darker and murkier. It was probably Kodacolor 400 if mid-80s or earlier, later 80s might have been VR400, if there was such a thing?
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Tom replied:

Comment posted: 08/05/2019

Yes, a very pleasant surprise. Thank you for your insights

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