This story begins with my beloved Canon A1. Shock, horror and snorts of derision echoing off your computer screen, ‘this is a trap, that’s not a rangefinder or a compact’ I hear you cry! But doesn’t the old saying go something like, It’s not where you’re going, it’s how you get there?…(or something else tenuous and misquoted).
SLRs to go
After completing my degree and thus drawing an end to 18 years of formal education, I felt some travelling was in order. Two months in Indonesia followed by six in New Zealand would just about do it. My camera of choice, an 80s classic – the Canon A1 SLR, sorrily accompanied by a now rather neglected Nikon d7000, exclusively for taking lots of uninteresting photos of interesting things. It was all going swimmingly, I had my assortment of film stashed away in the waterproof compartment of my hiking bag like some contraband carrying drug mule, the digi taking an appropriate back seat at the bottom of the pile. I snapped away a roll of Kodak Ektar in the first week, whilst summiting a 3726m active volcano, and a roll Fuji Neopan in the second whilst trekking through some indigenous settlements, unheard of speed for my usually frugal film usage.
I stood atop a rocky outcrop trying to capture the next front cover of Surfer Magazine when some big swell came rolling through and sucker punched me right in the camera. Thus began the untimely demise of my A1. Fatally wounded the LCD was no longer showing a pulse. Two days later out of mere desperation, the battery was reinserted… enter the magic camera. Despite the ON/OFF and the exposure comp. button now fused shut, the camera appeared to be functioning correctly and continued to do so through all the humidity, salt and sand that mountains, jungle and sea had to offer. Fast forward two months and 11 islands later to a very cold winter in New Zealand. I had trepidatiously received back all of my developments, to find that my photos had come out exceptionally; my best to date. The old girl had served me well but I had noticed the lens had began to delaminate and after a few hazy shots and some questionable metering I decided retirement was long overdue.
Olympus to the rescue
With the next leg of my journey fast approaching , cameraless and in a panic, I ended up being thoroughly ripped off on trademe, spending $100 on a rotten, fungus ridden Olympus SP, a RANGEFINDER…one step closer (bare with me). Unfortunately unusable, it made its way to a charity shop.
Karma was kind. Indirect, but kind. My friend stumbled across an Olympus AF-1 Twin not a rangefinder but a sturdy compact with full battery, a case and a strap for $3. I was nice enough to rescue it from his clutches, like a bully shaking an innocent free of their lunch money, swiftly beating him to the till, all those hours in the gym finally paid off. The functions seemed to be working and after a quick google I came upon a raving review of the little glass lens compact which gave me some confidence in its ability.
The last of my Ektar and Neopan was now spent. Setting off on another long road trip and a big hike with no colour film to hand and a limited selection of rural shops, I was back to scouring charity shops. An 11 year toy camera still in its packaging loaded with what turned out to be a rerolled 9 shot(?) Chinese film for $10. It was the best I could do. The film was repurposed into the superior Olympus and I was safe once again from the call of the digital camera lurking in the depths of my bag. A few days later I found a chemist selling Kodak Colorplus with the gloriously retro canister and I stocked up for the remainder of my trip.
It hadn’t really occurred to me at the time how much of a massive gamble this all was; taking nearly all my photos over several months on a camera I had never tested. Some how luck was in my favour and apart from getting my large fingers on the edge of a few frames it was a generally a successful and pleasant experience. Probably the best $3 I have ever spent.
Point & shoot travels
I love using an SLR, being able to manually focus and fiddling with the settings, it’s a big part of the enjoyment for me. But what really got me about using a point and shoot regularly for the first time since I was a kid, is how easy it is to just pull out and shoot on the move. I also found my composition earns much more consideration because of the lack of any other input to the camera. It led me to take some good photos of some amazing moments.
The Olympus AF-1 twin (mini) review
The Olympus AF-1 twin genuinely has two very sharp lenses a ‘biaxial optical system’ featuring a wide 35mm f3.5 and a tele 70mm f6.3, accompanied with a parallax correcting view finder (its actually two separate view finders that neatly switch place at the press of a button). Its a little chunky but has a weather sealed body. The 35mm is definitely the sharper of the two, the 70mm produced some slightly brittle images under more direct light. The colour rendition was exceptional and had some impressively good pop in the negatives.
It is exclusively auto focus and auto exposure, with the basic functions of a self timer, a broken flash (apparently a common problem) and continuous shooting mode which I was too precious about my film to use. If you see one, get one! They sell for next to nothing and with all the ‘popular’ compacts such as the Yashica T4 and Olympus mju 2 & XA’s massively inflating in price, you can’t go wrong.
My name is Dougie and I am a 23 year old design graduate from Surrey looking to begin a career in photography.
Next stop; Rangefinder.
If you want to see any of my other work check me out on;
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23 thoughts on “Olympus AF-1 Twin Review – A travel camera of (no) choice – by Douglas Pulman”
Hello Douglas, thanks for sharing your story – I think more of need to hear these. The subject matter in one photo is dear to an Aussie’s heart – the Ford Falcon GT. It’s something many dream of, like a fancy British or European car. This one is pretty basic but in one of it’s forms of the time was the fastest 4 door production car in the world. Got me with the story and surprised me with the photo – thanks.
Glad to hear it John! My dad owned a ’67 Mustang so classic muscle always has a place in my heart, one of my favourite snaps from the whole trip.
I like your writing style and humour, and I also like the story of the Olympus just fell into your hands, rather than it being a camera you endless researched then specifically sought out.
I had the Canon equivalent, the Sure Shot Tele, which has 40mm and 70mm lenses. I got some great shots with it, and the slightly larger size (though all early 80s Canons are pretty chunky anyway) gave it assured handling.
I’m going to check out your own site, but hope to see you post more here in the future too.
I’m in agreement with all of the positive sentiments above – more please! 🙂
Very kind to get such a positive response, hopefully another in the future.
Thank you for the kind words, first time I’ve done any writing since school! I’ve seen lots of the sure shots on eBay, great to hear.
Yep, this “finger in the frame” thing is quite common with those Olympus compacts with the retractable lens shield, all the way to the mju-II. I have the AF-1 Twin but I haven’t used it yet. The plain AF-1 has a better 4-element f2.8 lens instead of the f3.5 three-element unit in this one which according to Camerapedia (or was it Camera-wiki?) was the first Olympus P&S with plastic molded lenses, so no glass lens here I’m afraid. I think that those dual focal length P&S compacts were better than the latter zooms because of better image quality from their fixed lenses, the longer lens is only occasionally needed anyway. I wish it used cheaper batteries though, 2x CR123 really bump up overall cost. If you ever feel like getting another dual length Olympus compact, go for the AFL-T which gives very sharp pictures.
My bad, I’ll keep an eye out for the AFL-T. I always felt like the full range of zoom is never utilised, the dual length is probably a pretty good compromise.
Is that perhaps the summit of Mount Rinjani we are looking at? Great pictures. Really liked the Ektar here.
It is indeed, Ektar and Portra have strongly become my go to! Such a picturesque place if you ignore the litter around the crater :'( Lots more photos of the mountain on my website.
Thanks for the report. I own an AF-1 bought as part of a job lot of compact cameras, but have never tried it. Does the top lens functions via a mirror? That might explain a degradation in quality with the 70mm.
It’s a cute looking camera from the days before zooms took over.
Definitely worth a roll or two, not sure about the top lens but in the right conditions you can still get some crisp results.
A very enjoyable read, and your A-1 photographs are great. I hope you can find another Canon as you seem to have been onto something with that particular setup.
Thank you, I’ve been trawling eBay for months now and finally just got my hands on a boxed A1 with all the goodies, cannot wait to get shooting.
If you have problems with the new A-1, I’d recommend dropping Miles at http://www.mwcamerarepairs.co.uk an email. He knows them very well and even has a (dwindling) supply of PCBs to remedy fine electrical faults. The second curtain sticks on mine if it’s left cocked, so I’m going to send it and my Pentax MX (nothing wrong with it, just bloody old) to him for a full CLA once I’ve got the spare cash.
I’m with John, great write-up but you stole my heart with the shot of the Falcon GT. Oh so nice 🙂
Fantastic write up about what seems to be a great camera and a brilliant trip! Funnily enough I did the exact same trip- Indonesia and New Zealand with a point and shoot. I know your pain searching for film shops in the rural South Island of NZ. I actually ran out of film at one point in Wanaka and the surrounding area! This year when I travel to Sri Lanka and back to NZ I’m stocking up before I go!
A friend gave me one she picked up in a box of cameras at an auction, looking forwards to using it especially after this review
Thats the best way to get one! I regrettably sold mine and in terms of compacts, I have now owned about 3 MJU IIs, 2 Rollei Pregos, 2 Fuji Silvis, a Canon af35m II and an Olympus XA and I still have not been able to reproduce photos I am as happy with than I did with the the AF-1 Twin. It may partly be due to the subject matter but there is still definitely something about the camera itself. Enjoy!
The famous problem of the AF-1 are the overheated batteries which happens only when the camera is turned off. It happens verry rarely and in worst case it ends with a smoke and destroying the camera. It is a common thing with all devices that use more than one cr123 battery, only when the batteries are for example one new and the other one is used. Though this doesn’t happen with the rechargeable cr123 batteries (the rcr123).
Late to the party, just got round to shooting with an AF-1 Twin picked up last year. Definitely an unexceptional, if not slightly ugly exterior hides two rather brilliant lenses beneath! Shot with bogstandard Kodak Colourmax 400, can honestly say don’t think I’ve ever seen colourmax colours rendered so richly (and yet not Over-saturated), and subjectively pleasingly. Indoor flash shots perfectly exposed. The 35mm is the better lens to use. Sorting through my gear now and based on the results the AF-1 Twin goes on the “keeper” pile.
Ahh man good to hear. You’ve made me consider getting one of these again. I sold my AF1 to contribute to replacing my A1 at the time. Since then , in terms of compacts I’ve had a MJUii, Fuji Silvi, Pentax Espio zoom, Minolta Zoom, Canon Af35m and a Rollei Prego. Looking back at my photos from New Zealand, I dont think I have ever had as consistently good photos with a compact since. Maybe it was just the light and the landscape but I shoot compacts a lot and even with the more coveted ones, the results dont seem as impressive to me in hindsight.