Point & Shoot

The Canon Sure Shot AF-7/8: Simplicity is fun – Guest review by Christos Theofilogiannakos

A small introduction

Although I’m old enough to have most of my life’s important moments captured on film, it wasn’t until digital cameras became widely available in the early 00’s that I started taking photography a bit more seriously. Then about 4 years ago I came by a small inheritance of vintage film cameras, given to me by a close relative after his father (who was an avid camera collector) passed away. He kept the Leicas and the Rolleiflexes, but he was kind enough to let me have the Spotmatics, the Canonets and the Yashicas (among others) which literally changed the way I saw photography until then. I often fiddled with my Dad’s Trip 35 as a child (a camera I still have and use occasionally) but those beasts were completely different. It was love at first sight and as soon as I had some of them serviced and ready to shoot, my Nikon D90 found its way to someone else’s camera bag.

Why here?

I started following “35mmc” a few months ago and since then I’ve been visiting on an almost daily basis. I find Hamish’s approach to the whole project very interesting, especially his willingness to expand the blog by inviting other people to contribute. Since I started shooting film, a big part of my photos have been made with cheap, plastic point ‘n shoot compacts which exert a special attraction on me, equal to that exerted by the full-metal vintage SLRs and rangefinders I also like to use. Hopefully, sometime soon I’ll be able to contribute something to the M-Leica section, but for now I’d like to share my feelings for one of my favorite P&S compacts which also happens to be one of the cheapest and simplest film cameras I’ve used so far.

The Canon Sure Shot AF-7 (or is it AF-8?)

There is a little bit of confusion online regarding the actual name of this particular Sure Shot. My camera is clearly marked “Sure Shot AF-7”, but if you google that, you’ll most likely come up with a similar but definitely different-looking camera. Now, if you google “Sure Shot AF-8” my camera pops up. I have no idea how this mix-up came to be, my camera isn’t pictured at all on Canon’s online camera museum and I have found online pictures of it marked both “AF-7” and “AF-8” so be careful if you set out to buy one.

A spec sheet a little too thin

When setting out to review a P&S camera (or any camera for that matter) one inevitably starts by taking a look at the spec sheet, although I’ve come across several cameras with daunting spec sheets full of impressive features that would make a modern film SLR blush, but which ultimately felt completely bland during actual use.

If someone took a look at the spec sheet of the AF-7/8 they would surely be left unimpressed: The lens is a fixed triplet with a focal length of 35mm and a slow max. aperture of f4.5. The shutter speed range is pretty limited from 1/45s to 1/180 which combined with a min. aperture of f11, translates to a pretty limited exposure range of 10-16 EV.

Obviously this means that correct exposure will frequently rely on exposure latitude of the used negative film, in fact the instruction manual clearly warns against the use of slide film. Film speed is set automatically via DX coding and is limited to 100 and 400 only.  Despite the camera having been released during the late ‘90s, the AF system is pretty basic offering only 3 steps with a minimum focusing distance of 0.8m. A 3-step AF focus system surely sounds rudimentary, but with a max. aperture of f4.5, depth of field is unlikely to ever be shallow enough to embarrass it.

The viewfinder of the AF-7/8: Big and bright.

The little Sure Shot in use

So is there any point in going any further with this apparently very simple camera? Well, after shooting with nearly 50 different P&S compacts during these past 4 years, I have come to the conclusion that you should never write a camera off before actually testing it in the field, no matter how mediocre it looks on paper. Many plain-looking cameras have several aces up their sleeve that can neutralize any negative preconceptions and the Sure Shot AF-7/8 is one of them.

Picking the camera up, it feels really light. It is compact but not uncomfortably so, and the brick-like shape with the matte finish and the small ridge on the front provide a really steady grip. Nothing like the slippery “wet bar of soap” (© Dan James) feeling I get from the mju-II.

The viewfinder

Bringing it up to eye level, the little Sure Shot scores big as the viewfinder is simply AMAZING: Big and bright with parallax correction marks, it provides 80% coverage with x0,68 magnification and reminds me a lot of the fantastic VF of the Agfa Optima Electronic series. Towards the end of the film era, almost all manufacturers offered simple P&S cameras with big finders, probably aiming at older users with poor eyesight that were reluctant to turn to digital, but this one dwarfs any other camera I’ve used in that department. People that wear glasses will find the AF-7/8 very easy to use, as even with glasses on, the whole frame area is clearly visible.

Information in the viewfinder is minimal, there is only a green LED which lights up when focus is locked, a process that is really fast given the fact that the AF system only has 3 steps. Sadly, there is no proximity warning, i.e. the light doesn’t blink when the subject is too close, so be careful to respect the given min. focusing distance of 0.8m. At first I thought that the AF was faulty, but it is clearly stated in the manual that the LED doesn’t blink when subjects are too close.

Controlling the camera

The second feature that dominates the camera’s user interface is the big mode dial on the front. Yep, that’s right. A big, clicky dial controls all the camera’s functions. No tiny soft-touch switches, no faded LCD displays, no need for repeated presses of a multifunctional button to reach a hidden flash mode.

The mode dial dominates the front surface.

The mode dial dominates the front surface.

There are 5 positions the dial can be set to: The “OFF” position which keeps the camera turned off with the lens shield closed, the “Red-eye AUTO” position where the camera is turned on, the lens shield is retracted and the exposure system automatically decides whether the flash (which features red-eye reduction) needs to fire or not. Beware that in this mode, the minimum shutter speed is 1/100s, so it’s likely that the flash will tend to fire a lot when slow film is used under less than ideal lighting conditions. The third position is a “flash on” position which will force the flash to fire regardless of the lighting conditions (useful for backlit subjects).

The fourth position is the “flash off” position where the flash is turned off AND STAYS THAT WAY FOR AS LONG AS YOU LIKE. No need to reset the flash after each shot is fired, no automatic shut-down of the camera after a couple of minutes if you decide to keep it turned on in your pocket to avoid the flash resetting to auto. Pure, simple, mechanical control of the flash function, just like most of us want it to be. In this mode, minimum shutter speed is 1/45s so with 400 ASA one may be able to get away with the occasional indoor shot without resorting to flash. I must say that a LED warning in the VF for the need for flash to guard against underexposure under borderline conditions when in flash off mode would have been welcome . The fifth position on the dial is reserved for the self-timer mode which provides a shutter release delay of 10 seconds. The “other” Sure Shot AF-7 you may come across while browsing the net, does not have the mode dial at all, flash control and self timer being handled by two dreaded soft-touch buttons on the front of the camera.

Power

The power necessary for the exposure system and film advance and rewind is provided by two plain alkaline AA batteries. No need for expensive special lithium batteries, of which you always have to carry a spare, just two common cheap batteries available in the grocery store of the remotest village you may find yourself in. According to the manual, two fresh alkaline batteries will give you enough juice for 50(!) 24-frame rolls with the flash used for 50% of the shots, based on the “standard Canon measurement system” which I personally find very optimistic, but will probably never be able to actually test.

In the street

In practice, despite its chunky appearance, the camera can slip in and out of a coat pocket very quickly and securely with minimal risk of slipping from your hands. The big finder allows for fast aim, no need to lose time aligning your visual axis with a squinty VF that tends to black out at suboptimal viewing angles. The shutter button is big, rubbery and perfectly placed with two clearly distinct levels of pressure required to engage the AF system and release the shutter respectively. Shutter lag is very short, perhaps not as short as that of the Oly AF-10 Super, but much shorter than that of more popular and expensive P&S cameras I’ve used. Film advance is much less noisy than earlier film compacts, as by the end of the ‘90s camera motors had gradually become quiet enough to be easily drowned by traffic noise and the AF-7/8 is a good example of that improvement.

Performance

So the little Sure Shot ticks all my boxes in the user interface department, but at the same time its spec sheet certainly justifies some degree of hesitance among most experienced users, leaving image quality as the decisive factor tipping the scale in its favor or against it.

I’ve shot two rolls of film with the camera, the first one being a roll of Agfaphoto CT Precisa 100 slide film which was cross-processed in C-41 chemicals and the second one a roll of Agfa APX-100 B&W film which I developed myself in Kodak’s HC-110 developer. Both films were scanned with a professional Noritsu LS-1100 scanner at the local photo lab.

The images are there for you to judge lens performance, but I would like to add a few comments of my own: Firstly, I think the manual’s warning against the use of slide film should be respected. Despite the CT Precisa’s speed being within the ASA range of the camera’s exposure system, the slow top shutter speed of 1/180s and relatively large minimal aperture of f11 led to severe overexposure of many frames that were shot under strong sunlight. Exposure latitude of slide film is really minimal so the exposure range limitations of the camera became readily apparent, something that probably wouldn’t have been the case if negative film had been used. However, the well exposed frames were sharp and contrasty with minimal fall-off at the corners and good flare control, all consistent with the good optical reputation of most Sure Shots in the ‘90s.

The camera handled the Agfa APX-100 much better and I was really impressed by the little triplet: Sharp, contrasty pics with some corner smearing creeping up under suboptimal conditions (i.e larger apertures used) but really up there with most of my more expensive P&S compacts which lack all the ergonomic perks of this little shooter.

0002_###000030220002

0005_###000030220005

0013_###000030220013

0030_###000030220030

0030_9000012870030

0014_25000012870014

0016_23000012870016

0022_17000012870022

So, is it worth a try?

First of all, the Canon Sure Shot AF-7/8 is cheap. Mine was a freebie but I’m pretty certain it falls well into the “0.99 GBP” category on eBay auctions due to it being widely available and relatively unknown. If you give great importance to ergonomics like I do, then this camera has no equal, esp. at that price range. Fantastic VF, a simple mode dial controlling everything, permanent flash off capability, cheap batteries, fast (if simple) AF, minimal shutter lag and a very decent (if a bit slow) 35mm lens, all make up for a really great daylight street shooter and one of my favorite P&S.

There are some limitations exposure-wise, but using the right negative film under the right lighting conditions can easily overcome them, letting the photographer enjoy a film compact which is great fun to use but can also deliver great results.

Thanks to all for reading my review and to Hamish for hosting it on “35mmc”. Please feel free to comment or ask any questions in the comments section below.


Show your support for 35mmc – A message from Hamish

If you found this post interesting or useful, or if it helped you make up your mind about buying one of these cameras, then why not 

By clicking that link, as long as you buy, bid on or win an auction within 24hrs – at no extra cost to you – I will receive a little kick back from ebay to help keep 35mmc up and running.

Additionally, if you would like to contribute a post of your own to 35mmc, click here!

Thanks,

Hamish

Become a Patron of 35mmc


35mmc will always remain free for anyone to read. Patreon simply offers the opportunity for those who’d like to support me in the process of growing the site to chuck me a few quid a month to help out.

Think of it like a magazine subscription that you don’t have to pay, but if you do, the magazine will get bigger and better quicker!

Thanks in advance!

(there are also perks via Patreon for those who do support me)

Become a Patron!

Write for 35mmc: read more here, about how you can help build upon this ever growing resource
Subscribe/Follow: click here, to discover all the ways you can follow 35mmc

Buy me a coffee

Alternatively, if you don't want the commitment of a monthly patronage, but would like to buy me a coffee...

Advertisement

You Might Also Like

32 Comments

  • Reply
    Hamish Gill
    June 11, 2016 at 9:53 am

    Thanks again Christos – this is a great review and is representative of just the sort of view I take on these types of cameras!

    • Reply
      Christos Theofilogiannakos
      June 11, 2016 at 12:23 pm

      Thanks Hamish. Although simple, this little camera has a couple of interesting features that made me like it a lot, esp. the viewfinder and the mode dial plus of course the cheap batteries. There are a few things I would have liked, namely a higher top shutter speed, a LED warning against underexposure when in “flash-off” mode and a more extensive ASA range to be able to push B&W film for shooting in low light, but still it’s a great user camera, esp. given how cheap it is.

      • Reply
        Charles Higham
        June 11, 2016 at 6:19 pm

        An enlightening review Christos, and those photos are sharp. For example, looking at the shot of the gentleman at the cafe table you can almost make out the fine weave of the cushions we can see to the left. The camera’s mode dial option to disable flash reminds me of the Canon Sure Shot Sleek (aka Prima Mini II) which also has this mode dial function and which I have but haven’t put a film through it yet. It does possess a 32mm f/3.5 (3 elements in 3 groups) lens, but a downside I’ve noticed with the Sleek is that the auto wind sound is a loud as a tractor starter motor.

        • Reply
          Christos Theofilogiannakos
          June 11, 2016 at 9:23 pm

          I ‘ve often considered the Sure Shot Sleek myself, but it wasn’t meant to be I guess. The AF-7 is not silent, but it’s much less noisy than the early motorized P&S compacts like the Ricoh FF-90, the Nikon L35 or the first Sure Shot, the AF35M.

          • Joseph
            June 11, 2016 at 11:48 pm

            I’ve had the ‘sleek’ and the ‘max’. I like the Sure Shot Max, the Nikon AF250SV too. These light/tough things make great travel/festival/adventure cams, or for introducing kids to cameras.

  • Reply
    Frank Lehnen
    June 11, 2016 at 12:47 pm

    Hey thanks for making me spend 7£ on this camera on ebay just now.

    Flash always off an no squinty viewfinder made it for me.

    Ok, it’s a whirr whizz clack camera, something I really don’t like but I might change my mind.

    Let’s see when this thing turns up….

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      June 11, 2016 at 9:04 pm

      I hope you bought it through my ebay link Frank 😉

      • Reply
        Frank Lehnen
        June 11, 2016 at 9:06 pm

        Aw sorry… Forgot completely. I promise to do better next time.

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          June 12, 2016 at 8:17 pm

          Haha, thanks Frank 🙂

    • Reply
      Christos Theofilogiannakos
      June 11, 2016 at 9:32 pm

      I got mine a couple of years ago, together with an Olympus AFL which proved to be faulty and as the seller refunded me in full, I practically got this one for free, but I think 7 quid is definitely worth it. I’m sure you’ll find it a pleasure to use just like I did and the results will be very good if you respect the exposure limitations.

  • Reply
    Blinx
    June 11, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    An underrated camera, the 3-element lens is good and full of character and the viewfinder excellent. There’s also physically similar Canon Snappy LX, which is fixed focus and has the same lens.

    • Reply
      Christos Theofilogiannakos
      June 11, 2016 at 9:39 pm

      Yes, the lens is very good for this type of camera. To be honest, I haven’t come across a bad lens on a Sure Shot yet, I think Canon did a great job with the optics on those popular P&S compacts, contrast and flare resistance are very good, getting even better on the later models, presumably due to improving coatings.

  • Reply
    Elias Rangel
    June 11, 2016 at 10:43 pm

    Christos, I have a Canon Prima AF-7. It’s very similar in specs, except for the dial mode control. This AF-7 uses a rubber button to disable flash, and it needs to be pressed before AF engages. I think the Prima AF-8 had the dial control.
    Unfortunately my AF-7 might have developed fungus on the lens. I have yet to find some disassembly instructions for it.

    • Reply
      Christos Theofilogiannakos
      June 12, 2016 at 9:41 pm

      Yes, the European market equivalent is the Prima AF-8 which can complicate things even further regarding the name of this camera. Having the dial instead two buttons is a big difference and a main selling point in favor of this over the “other” AF-7, but they are otherwise the same camera as far as technical specifications are considered. They are so cheap and widely available that I seriously doubt that trying to disassemble the little lens to clean it is worth the trouble over just getting another one off eBay. As it uses two cheap AA batteries, it is easy for sellers to dry-test the camera, so there is very little risk (if any) of getting a dead camera.

    • Reply
      Christos Theofilogiannakos
      June 13, 2016 at 6:48 am

      Well, the dial control (and the VF) is what made all the difference for me, otherwise the “other” AF-7 is the exact same camera regarding technical specifications. You are right, this one was sold as “Prima AF-8” in Europe, which further complicates the matter for potential buyers. Unless your AF-7 has sentimental value to you, I think getting another AF-7/8 will be an easier solution than trying to disassemble the infested lens, the camera is dirt cheap on eBay.

  • Reply
    Dan James
    June 13, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    Christos, great to see you here on 35MMC, as you know I always enjoy reading your camera reviews on Flickr and they’ve resulted in me buying at least a dozen different ones over the last few years!

    I had one of these Canons, and the viewfinder is indeed brilliant, and that mode dial is great. The waterproof Sure Shot A-1 and the Sure Shot Classic 120 also share a similar dial, so kudos to Canon for using this with some of their Sure Shots instead of fiddly buttons.

    I also have a Minolta AF50 Big Finder, which lives up to its name and from memory I think is comparable in size and clarity to the Canon. Looking through it you almost forget you’re using a compact, and the Minolta overall is even smaller than the Canon.

    Ultimately I decided to sell the Canon and keep the Minolta as the 27mm lens was more unusual than the Canon’s 35mm (you know how many 35mm lensed compacts I have!) plus the Minolta also had a more interesting character to the photographs, in my experience with them both.

    Having said that, as always, you’ve created some really impressive images with the Canon. I like how the x-pro shots add more contrast and character, without being too extreme or altered in the colours.

    Oh and thanks for the mention re the mju ii! I had one for a while but lost count of how many times I nearly dropped it. I can’t ever recall dropping another compact. I really don’t understand why more people don’t struggle with the small size and slippery ergonomics. Maybe mine had a very well used and extra smooth cover!

    • Reply
      Christos Theofilogiannakos
      June 16, 2016 at 6:09 am

      No one has described how I feel when handling the mju-II better than you Dan, so I had to give you credit for the “wet bar of soap” thing 🙂

    • Reply
      Ken Hindle-May
      July 8, 2016 at 12:22 pm

      I must confess to feeling considerable ambivalence towards the Mju II. It’s ergonomically awkward in use, it’s easy to obstruct the lens with a stray finger, the half-press isn’t very well defined and the viewfinder’s like looking the wrong way through a telescope. Between the image quality and the weatherproofing, though, I’ve just had to learn to live with it. I haven’t dropped it yet.

  • Reply
    russell swann
    June 13, 2016 at 8:47 pm

    I have one of these and like it. £7 ebay incuding postage. Not a compact P&S but good to hold and a great finder. The dial is a great feature, just turn to flash off and leave it ready. I tend to take out on wet days as the long strap goes over my head, the camera can then goes inside my coat. Not heavy or bulky. I don’t like the motor noise but I say that about all motor driven cameras.

    • Reply
      Christos Theofilogiannakos
      June 16, 2016 at 6:10 am

      Yes, a totally silent camera is better than the AF-7, but in terms of motor noise, I think this one does very well compared to other earlier P&S compacts.

  • Reply
    Frank Lehnen
    June 18, 2016 at 10:26 am

    OH MAN WHAT A VIEWFINDER!!

    I got my AF-7 (or 8) today and the first thing that came to my mind when I put it to my eye was….. what if I could wrench this finder out of it, draw 50mm framelines in it, glue a flash shoe to it and stick it on my Leica IIIa…

    First viewfinder I met that got me an easy, unobstructed view with my glasses.

    Would that be possible???

  • Reply
    Frank Lehnen
    June 18, 2016 at 10:28 am

    And by the way, this camera feels quite fine. I’ll have to clean it up a bit and put a cheap roll through it to check it out, but it seems pleasant enough.

    • Reply
      Christos Theofilogiannakos
      June 20, 2016 at 6:58 am

      It’s a cheapo plastic P&S, but with a couple of very interesting features. I want to shoot a roll of 400 ASA film with it to see how it will handle it, esp. in daylight, but I have a couple of cameras already loaded with film and my shooting pace has dropped significantly lately… If it can handle Tri-X, I’ll definitely get a second one!

    • Reply
      Christos Theofilogiannakos
      June 20, 2016 at 6:59 am

      What do you think of the motor noise?

      • Reply
        Frank Lehnen
        June 20, 2016 at 9:52 am

        As I said I don’t like those motorized cameras, but the noise is quite decent. People will definitely hear it in the streets when you’re near. But I’ve heard worse.

  • Reply
    Lawrence
    July 20, 2016 at 4:47 pm

    This particular varietal of Sure Shot is very underappreciated. The first I used was the Sure Shot Owl (dial variant, not the earlier type with buttons on the front) and the lens was superb. It was all I shot with for several months until it was stolen. Since then I’ve been exploring the Sure Shot line and not a single model I’ve tried has disappointed (although my personal favorites are the Owl and its variants, like the AF8). The lens is superb – sharp and with a pleasing vignette in certain conditions – flash gives me just the look I like and the layout of the camera is intuitive. Not to mention that viewfinder!

  • Reply
    Blinx
    August 23, 2016 at 9:00 am

    Mine died on Holkham beach : ( Uncertain whether to butcher the body for the finder (the Bessa L needs a 35mm eyepiece), or try for a fix in the winter months. The lens was a beaut.

  • Reply
    Joe Baker
    January 12, 2017 at 11:04 am

    I have an AF-7S from my uncle and it’s the film camera that I use the most. It’s lightweight, huge viewfinder and takes pretty sharp pictures. I have put electrical tape over the flash (in case I forget to press the button three times to disable flash each time I switch on).

  • Reply
    Neil
    February 7, 2017 at 11:14 pm

    This was my first camera which I received as a Christmas gift from Mr Claus when I was
    about 11 years old. I’d only ever shot a couple of rolls of film with it as I was a child with no money! I recently found the camea in a drawer in my parents house and began to do some research about it and came across this blog post. Thanks for the info! Can’t wait to try it again.

  • Reply
    Yorgos Papaioannou
    May 18, 2017 at 1:55 am

    Dear Christo, can you suggest a good lab for developing/ scanning in Athens?

    • Reply
      Christos Theofilogiannakos
      September 21, 2017 at 6:00 pm

      Hi! VERY late reply! No, I have no idea, I don’t live in Athens!

  • Reply
    A 35mm Accessory Viewfinder for the Budget Conscious / The Wonders of 3D Printing - 35mmc
    July 1, 2018 at 9:29 am

    […] is in fact a 35mm viewfinder made from the optics of a Canon AF-7. This isn’t the first time a viewfinder made from one of these cameras has been featured on […]

  • Leave a Reply

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

    By using this website you agree to accept our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions

    Pin It on Pinterest

    Share This

    Thank you for commenting

    ...now share the post with your friends?

    Advertisement