The only cameras I took on holiday, total cost £31 (excluding film).
When Hamish mentioned writing this article after a tweet I posted, I decided early on that it wasn’t going to be a review. More a fan letter to the cheap & cheerful, often overlooked, plastic point & shoot cameras.
I am old enough to remember when a celebrity was someone who was outstanding in their chosen field, not just someone who oils their arse and sticks it on the front of a magazine. So perhaps that makes me somewhat immune to the celebrity premium that certain cameras attract. But if you are reading this relishing a bashing of celebrity culture and film camera endorsements, best to move on now.
If you can afford the likes of the Contax point & shoots, and really, really want one, go for it. Whatever you use, & whatever the reason you bought it, another member joining the film community is something to be applauded. But it’s just not for me.
Given the fact that cameras released when I was in my 20s are now regularly listed as ‘vintage’ we have to face an irrefutable fact, they are old and probably getting close to, or past, their expected life span. As such buying any second-hand camera is like gambling on a horse, but you know very little about how it’s been looked after or what life it has had. So my approach is to only spend what you can afford to lose without particularly caring.
My other concern is that people who may be new to film are starting from the viewpoint that it’s an expensive hobby, and it really doesn’t need to be. If someone has spent a fortune on a ‘premium’ compact they may not have as much to spend on film and the money they have spent is going into a secondary sellers pockets and not the ongoing industry. Plus when the camera inevitably dies they may drift away from film photography altogether rather than spend another eye watering amount to replace their chosen camera.
That’s why I embrace the cheaper end of the market.
If I want quality, or more control over the variables, when capturing an image I would use my Nikon F4. But the majority of day to day film shooting seems to be destined for nothing bigger than a 5×7 print or sharing on social media.
As such are you really going to see the difference in a £1,000 compact compared to a £10 compact? I would defy anyone to explain to me how that difference, whatever they perceive it to be, is worth an extra £990.
I have been doing a photo blog since January 2008 without missing a day, it taught me an important lesson about what photography means to me. At first, I wanted to post the best shot I could each day but, looking back, the photographs that I am glad I took are the ones that stir memories not the ones that are more technically perfect, whatever that means.
I would rather have a less than perfect shot than miss a moment.
We need to stop comparing the output of cheap point & shoot cameras to shots from an SLR, or even from a ‘premium’ compact. I look at compact cameras as a cheap alternative to disposable cameras, but with much better quality.
With a cheap camera you don’t worry as much if an inebriated friend picks it up to take a shot or if someone drops it. So it can always be there on the table or in your hand ready to catch anything that grabs your attention.
The Canon Z135 I bought for £1, then loaded with a 36 exposure roll of Kodak Colourplus cost me less than a 24 exposure disposable camera. Even if you used ‘Buy now’ on the bay you can pick one up for between £10 & £20, if it dies after a few rolls it’s still comparable to the cost of disposables. But for the money you get a sharp zoom lens, autofocus, +/- 1.5 exposure compensation and spot metering. The fill in slow sync flash also gets some great results and has a great character to the shots.
Bang for your buck.
I think there can be a tendency to look down on 1980s and 90s plastic point & shoots but cameras like the Canon, Nikon and Pentax offerings are amazing value for money. When it was released in 1996 the Canon Z135s list price was 62,000 yen, at today’s exchange rate that’s around £450. It has always impressed me with its metering, so I decided to run my first roll of new Kodak Ektachrome through it. I daresay that a more expensive camera might have made a better job of the exposure when the light was a bit tricky and achieved sharper shots if I was blowing the images up to poster size. But the point is, because the camera was cheap it was always by my side. It sat there in 70F heat, it was dropped in the sand and got splashed when I was attempting to take a shot and entertain two Jack Russell’s at the same time. At the end of the day I was more than happy with the results.
If I had paid four figures for the camera it would have probably been treated with more respect, protected in a bag or kept safe until the time I decided to use it, and that’s the point. Having a camera you ultimately don’t worry about means it’s always there and the extra stage of getting it out is removed from the equation.
Every camera is unique
Point & shoots with a 28mm lens are less common, a lot top out at 35mm. The Nikon Lite Touch zoom shows why, the edges give a lot of distortion & smearing at 28mm, but even that is fun if you work with it, see it as a ‘look’ rather than a shortcoming. It’s a small price to pay for the extra width and tends to lessen in bright light, presumably as the lens stops down
In bright light it also has a tendency to underexpose, saturating colours and throwing some vignette into the mix. But sometimes technical perfection is a lot more boring than character.
Even if you move up the price scale to a more popular camera like the Olympus XA2 you are still spending less than a tenth of the price of a Contax Kardashian or Yashica Influencer. Mine has quite spectacular light leaks which I will probably get around to fixing with new seals at some point, but again it gives a unique look that works. That is partly the point of these cheap compacts, I can use the same film in different cameras and get very different looks.
It’s your money, if you think that a 4-figure price tag compact will make you happy, make your photography better, or a mix of the two, go for it. I really hope it does, but I know that to me it makes absolutely no sense.
It boils down to which would make the biggest difference to most people’s photography. Buying a £1,000 compact or spending the same money buying a cheap compact & working your way through dozens of rolls of film learning composition and how to see a shot?
So rather than bypassing cheap P&S cameras and then using the annoying shootfilmstaybroke hashtag, embrace their quirks, imperfections and cheapness. Think of the difference film stock can make to a shot, in colour rendition, grain & sharpness. Then apply that same criteria to the camera itself and see the look that a cheap compact can give as something to be embraced in the same way.
About me? – Just a chap who has always shot film, even when seduced by digital, and tries to remember it’s supposed to be fun, not a competition. I put whole rolls, even the duffers, on www.flickr.com/smithski and spend more time than is probably healthy on twitter @AS0151