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Fuji DL Super Mini (Tiara) – an almost cult classic – Guest Review by Benn Murhaaya

In the spring 2014, while preparing for my two week trip to Japan, I was on the lookout for a new compact camera. I was thinking (I still am) about buying a Contax T3, maybe even buying it myself while in Japan. As the luck would have it, a friend of mine, also a camera freak offered me two cameras; Minolta TC-1 and Fuji DL Super Mini. Fuji being 1/5th of the price of the Minolta and considering my traveling expenses, I opted for the Fuji. Today, it’s almost a year and 18 films since I bought it so I might be able to share my experience. Mind you, this is not my main workhorse of a film camera. It was from the very beginning destined to by my handy traveling companion.

Benn Murhaaya - http://murhaaya.com

Tokyo as seen from Tokyo Tower, infinity focus. Drug store brand 400 print film

A bit of history

Fuji DL Super Mini or Fuji Tiara in Japan is one of those high end compacts that not very many people heard about. There is not much info on the web either. It certainly does not have the following of Mjus or Yashica Ts and it’s being overshadowed by other cameras from DL series (DL ZOOM for example). That is partly because of the way, how the DL Super Mini was introduced to the market. Apart from Japan domestic market (under the name Tiara), there was a very limited release in Europe, quickly followed by the DL Zoom. To this day, I haven’t found a copy of the user guide for the DL Super Mini online.

Benn Murhaaya - http://murhaaya.com

9 exposures left, focused to 1,2 m.You can see the whole range of buttons, except the shutter

Benn Murhaaya - http://murhaaya.com

Lens cover closed. With the button on the strap, I feel much more secure. Such buttons are now on all my P&S straps.

Ergonomics

There were in fact two iterations of this camera Tiara and Tiara II (Tiara II, if I am not mistaken is also known as the DL Super Mini in Europe) with the only difference being the eye for the hand strap. Tiara (the first one) had no eye for the strap and the strap was screwed in the tripod hole. Together with the sleek metal finish it created a really one gem of a camera. This eye candy form factor is also maybe one of its drawbacks. It is so unbelievably small, that holding it is little weird and I don’t feel that I am gripping it firmly. Compared to the Mju II, the Olympus is clear winner in the ergonomics department. What helped me, was putting a large ¼ in screw in the tripod mount. Now I feel that much more secure grip holding the camera. That is probably the price you have to pay for its size. While we are on the topic, the outer shell is completely made from metal except for the battery door that is plastic and can be felt protruding a little bit when the battery is inserted. I am also still a little bit too careful when carrying it as even though that is made of metal, it feels less rugged and more delicate than plastic Mju. Maybe it is partly because you can have Mju for next to nothing.

Lens, focus and exposure

Benn Murhaaya - http://murhaaya.com

Check out the blurred background. Pretty neat for 28/3.5 lens. Also check out the larger version for sharpness! Ilford PAN 100 at 200 in Rodinal

Now the main kicker in this Fuji DL Mini Super is its lens. I’ve been told that people adapt this lens (a 28mm f/3.5 Super EBC Fujinon) to Leica after their DL dies. It is exceptionally sharp. A look into the lens reveals those blue hues of multicoating layers consisting of 4 elements (two of them aspherical) in 4 groups.

Benn Murhaaya - http://murhaaya.com

Here a manual focus really helps. I have a picture from the very same mirror with mju and it’s garbage.Drug store brand 400 print film.

 

What also was a big turn on for me is that is has a four focus modes including a manual focusing. You see I quite often want to take picture through a window of a bus, of a train, of plane. Most AF cameras have troubles focusing through the glass (also they don’t want to focus on oiled latex, a common theme in my photography☺). They either have active IR focus, that will many times focus on the glass itself or it is a slow passive focusing. In either case it is hit’n’miss with more miss than hit. The focus modes of DL Super include auto, infinity focus (this also turns of the flash – YAY!), SNAP – everything from about 1 meter to 3 meters should be covered by depth of field with flash on auto and manual focus with reasonable steps from 0.35 m to infinity. It’s not all fun and games though. The focus mode reverts to the auto after a picture is taken. It results in slowing you down. It’s not a camera for quick street shooting style. It will shift the lens in place when the shutter is depressed completely further adding to reaction time. Even though, the manual focus is cumbersome (as it will always be in P&S) its benefits greatly overweighs its limitations. My extended arm is about 0.65 meters. When pressed against the mirror it’s 1.3 meters. In case you want to take an occasional selfie, you can rest assure that your face will be in focus even when not placed dead center in the frame. After the picture with manual focus is taken, the focus mode switches to auto but the camera remembers the last focus distance you entered so you just need to dial the manual focus in again. I also find that when focusing close, as for a portrait, the camera opts for larger apertures thus blurring the background.

Benn Murhaaya - http://murhaaya.com

Not an easy light situation. Together with negative film latitude and good scanner it can easily deliver. Drug store brand 400 print film.

 

It allows you to select a handful of exposure/flash modes. As with almost all compacts it starts with default flash on and does not retain flash settings. (Why oh why, cruel fate?). It cycles through following modes: auto, red eye reduction, flash off, back light compensation (2 EV?) and night portrait mode. If you want to combine for example infinity focus with back light compensation, you need to first select the focus and THEN select the exposure mode. I find the flash is also much weaker than the Mju II has but I don’t feel like the flash pictures are being underexposed under normal conditions.

Benn Murhaaya - http://murhaaya.com

Sometimes the flash is not strong enough. Similar shots with mju are lit much better.Drug store brand 400 print film.

 

Exposure wise, the Fuji DL Super Mini won’t shoot anything longer than about 1/5th-ish of a second (my educated guess). It is able to shoot in very dark environments and has no troubles exposing in dusk or dawn light but it does not have a long exposure mode. Mju II would give you a few seconds exposure if it felt like it. Some may prefer the underexpose but not blur approach, I am more in favor of properly exposing no matter the blur (I don’t mind long exposure blur, especially when shooting grainy black and white film). It is something to keep in mind. But except for shooting in night and near darkness, it works flawlessly. I have some photos, where I was surprised, what came out regarding the circumstances.

Benn Murhaaya - http://murhaaya.com

I have no idea how come this came out. It’s my hand lit by street lamps through a rained down window of a car. The film is Fomapan 400 without DX code so the camera treated it like 100 and I developed it as 200 in Rodinal.

 

Tidbits

Regarding the other bits, pieces and quirks, the Fuji DL Super Mini has a date function. A nice touch I think, I don’t really use it that much but there are people who built their careers on dated pictures (Araki ☺). It also has a selftimer that takes one, two or three pictures for some reason. What stains this little gem is a panorama switch located on the top. Had it been flash auto/off switch, it would catapult this camera into the spotlight of compact fanatics, this way it’s just a switch I never touch. The viewfinder is small but not all that bad. I’ve seen much smaller on Nikon AF600 for example. It has a tiny LED on the right side of the viewfinder. It flashes red when you put your fingers in front of the flash. There is a proximity sensor below the flash. It is a nice touch but I can’t imagine holding such small camera with both hands. When the flash is ready, the diode lights up bright green. Together with the lack of AF assist light (it has IR active focus) this result in effectively blinding you when you are trying to take pictures in the dark. Whatever you might have seen in the viewfinder is lost in the green glow. What might be also worth noting is that when the film is loaded (drop in loading), the camera unwounds all of it from the canister and wounds it back as you shoot. The advantage being that if you accidentally open your camera, you will lose only the last picture. It will also result in reverse order of the scanned pictures from the lab most of the time. To be frank, I’ve never felt the real need for this approach. On the other hand you know exactly how many exposures do you have. This might be useful with handspooled films or for example with Foma Fomapans. So yeah, that can be useful. Dl Super Mini can squeeze out solid 37 pictures from Fomapans (with Canonet QL17, I pulled 40 solid exposures from Fomapans every time, with OM-1 I am shooting 38 clean pictures per roll of Tri-X 400 always while DL Super will give you plain 36).

Benn Murhaaya - http://murhaaya.com

Nagoya Dragons vs. Tokyo Tigers, go Dragons I was very pleased with how this one turned out considering the indoor venue. Drug store brand 400 print film.

 

My thoughts

I bought the Fuji DL Super Mini with some hopes and expectations. It lived up to and surpassed some of them while missed others. It started as a capable tourist camera but it became my main day to day carry on P&S. With the kind of pictures I take, I don’t mind the extra step of setting up the infinity focus or turning flash of because it delivers. It delivers outstanding quality, tack sharp pictures, properly exposed (most of the time). With the manual focus option, the proper focus is guaranteed almost all the time. I feel that the Fuji DL Super Mini might be with me some time. Maybe it will be replaced by Contax T3 or Minolta TC-1 (or maybe not). It is just a few electronic features that separate the Fuji DL Super Mini from those two titans. In terms of lens and build quality, it could match them. So far, I am more than happy with it and I haven’t really felt that the auto flash is limiting me in any real way and real life usage provide more than enough evidence, that this camera is a performer. Looking back at the pictures, I am now realising, that except few underexposed nightscapes and miss-focused pics of ladies in latex, I have nothing I can say against the Fuji DL Super Mini.

Some other pictures taken with Fuji DL Super Mini can be found at:
http://murhaaya.com/sessions/2014-08-23-japan/ (mix of Vivitar UWS xpro and Fuji DL Super Mini)
http://murhaaya.com/sessions/2014-09-26-shibari-1/ (from my Tokyo bondage photo session, definitely NSFW!)

Fuji DL Super Mini (Tiara) Instruction Manual

Benn Murhaaya - http://murhaaya.com

On my way from Nikko. Drug store brand 400 print film

Benn Murhaaya - http://murhaaya.com

Dusk at Akihabara electric town. A mixed light situation that turned out pretty well. Drug store brand 400 print film.


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32 Comments

  • Reply
    Hamish Gill
    March 17, 2015 at 9:52 pm

    Hey Benn, thanks for posting!
    You mention briefly the cameras desire to open the aperture that you notice when shooting portraits. Do you think this points to a program mode that generally favours and open aperture over a longer shutter speed?
    I’m intrigued as most of the fujis I own do the opposite, whereas the mju-ii (for eg) will favour a wider aperture.

    I’ve been so tempted by this camera so many times!

    • Reply
      Benn Murhaaya
      March 17, 2015 at 10:51 pm

      I do think so! Sadly, I am unable to find a manual on the internet that would confirm it. I went through my photos and put a few relevant in this folder – http://murhaaya.com/odd/ja/35mmc/dlsuper/ . The selfies are focused manually on 0.6 m with 200 ISO films but with plenty of light.

      For me, this is so far the holy grail of P&S for tourist snapping. Unless it’s an infinity shot that requires one button push, it makes you think for a bit. For example, dial in manual focus, then distance, then turn of the flash for example for those mirror shots. For anything else it’s pretty much just turn off the flash (that’s two clicks on flash button). But I don’t mind extra click here and there knowing, that my photos will turn out like I want them. I can take my time. But the constant checking of the back of the camera will make you look like you are chimping the shots 🙂

      Also considering that it can handle some really harsh light scenes like the one in the article or similar, sometimes with a help of backlight compensation I don’t have anything bad to say about it. Yes it won’t give you long exposure and the flash is weaker than the Mju’s but for normal indoor room size the flash is just as capable as any.

      Since my trip to Japan I won’t be lugging the OM-1 on any trip again. I’ve taken it to Berlin with me in the fall of last year and I was again amazed how much punch the lens packs.

  • Reply
    JR
    March 18, 2015 at 11:56 am

    I had a look through the album you linked to on your site, and I simply must know (even though it’s slightly off topic) what film you used for the Xpro VUWS shots. Those are stunning!

    • Reply
      Benn Murhaaya
      March 18, 2015 at 12:11 pm

      Hi, thank you.
      First few shots are from Kodak Ektachrome 100 and the rest is DM (Drogerie Markt, local drug store brand) Paradies DIA 100. But based on the markings on the film (CR100) I think those are Agfa Precisa CT100 as those have the very same markings and come out lookig like this as well. These Paradies DIA 100 have been discotinued in about 2010 and I’ve been using my supplies since then with about five films left now. It used to cost about two bucks a piece.

      But to be honest, those scans are lab scans. When I scan my xpro film now on Nikon LS-5000, the results are much closer to the classic print film and I have trouble replicating the exact same result the lab gives me. On the other hand, while experimenting with scans in DNG format, I was able to get some nic xpro looking results from plain old print film with crushed shadows, bumped contrast and saturation.

  • Reply
    Arachide
    March 18, 2015 at 10:30 pm

    Nice work as always, Benn. I love me a good p&s camera and the Tiara looks very interesting. The manual focus option is nice feature but it’s a bummer that it switches to auto-focus on the next shot. Fuji does know a thing or three about glass and your photos bear that out.
    I think you are wise to leave the OM-1 at home. I like mine but having to lug it around on vacation gets old very quickly, with the camera seeming to weigh 10kg by the end of the trip. A decent p&s can fill in quite nicely and won’t be a burden.

    • Reply
      Benn Murhaaya
      March 19, 2015 at 1:09 pm

      Thanks 🙂

      I will have it with me while in San Francisco so you can check it out 🙂

      Yeah, it comes short at times. It is treating the photographer as an idiot. Reverting to default because he is sure going to forget he has inifinity focus set when he tries to take a picture of his friend a moment later. The infinity focus is reverting to the default by itself as well after some idle time. The DL-500 Mini Wide does not do that.

      I had to think about the camera, while writing it, to put it in to words and I must say, that all those limitations in real life bug me only on a psychological level. They stain the mental picture of the camera I have in my head but it’s not like I missed some shots because of it. I actually was able to take some “quick here it comes, there it was” pictures while pushing the infinity focus button. But it’s definitely not designed for Garry Winogrand kind of staccato shooting.

      I am especially fond of the NSFW bondage gallery from Tokyo, taken with flash on… nice feel, nice colors, properly focused…

    • Reply
      Kai
      July 16, 2015 at 10:39 am

      Just in case this helps, got this is from the manual. This also applies to snapshot and manual focus modes.

      • If you want to use the Landscape Mode continuously, press in the Focussing Mode Button and hold it there until the Landscape Sign ([mountains]) in the LCD stops blinking. This will let you take as many Landscape Mode pictures as you want without resetting the camera after each shot.

      • If you want to switch off the Landscape Mode setting, press in the Focussing Mode Button three times or turn off the power (close the Lens Cover)

      • Reply
        Benn Murhaaya
        July 16, 2015 at 2:00 pm

        WOOOW! This is super useful! Thank you very much!!!

  • Reply
    Fuji DL-500 or Tiara’s older brother - Benn Murhaaya - NSFW
    July 13, 2015 at 7:24 pm

    […] may remember my review of Fuji DL Super Mini from a while back, that was something like a crown jewel at the top of the DL line. Now, let’s […]

  • Reply
    Thomas
    July 31, 2015 at 9:38 pm

    Thanks for this post. Nice to read good things about your old pal. =)

    If you want to I can scan the manual for you…

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      August 1, 2015 at 5:56 pm

      Since there doesn’t seem to be one online, that might actually be very useful!
      If you send it to me I will publish it here crediting you with the handy-work 🙂

      • Reply
        Thomas
        August 2, 2015 at 5:38 pm

        Did the manual arrive?

        • Reply
          Hamish Gill
          August 2, 2015 at 5:40 pm

          … I’ve not seen anything, where did you send it?

  • Reply
    Thomas
    August 6, 2015 at 9:37 pm

    I replied to the mail I got… (donotreply…..) Now I sent it to your mail… hopefully…

  • Reply
    Fuji DL Super Mini (Tiara) Instruction Manual - 35mmc
    August 9, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    […] Murhaaya recently posted a review of the Fuji DL Super Mini, or Tiara as it is otherwise known. Since publishing that post, a kind reader of the blog got in […]

  • Reply
    Nicola
    August 14, 2015 at 7:12 pm

    Hi, i found a used one in Italy (AB conditions) what its value is (USD)? Thanks a lot!

    • Reply
      Benn Murhaaya
      August 16, 2015 at 8:16 pm

      Hi, I bought mine with original leather pouch in near mint condition for 3000 czk that is around 125 USD. I saw one on some british site for 99 GBP (that is around 155 USD) which seemed to me to be a pretty fair price as well as I got a good deal from a friend. Hope it helps 🙂

  • Reply
    Jason
    August 23, 2015 at 10:54 am

    Nice little camera – been meaning to try it and it looks like it would be worth it.

    Love the shots at http://murhaaya.com/sessions/2014-08-23-japan/ – especially the second shot William Eggleston knockoff of the cup on the meal tray by the aeroplane window – one of my favourites of his.

    • Reply
      Benn Murhaaya
      September 7, 2015 at 8:36 pm

      Hi,

      thanks. I don’t call it a knockoff, I call it an homage :). I am quite a fan of William Eggleston (not enough to remember there was a stirrer in the glass :))

  • Reply
    John Hill
    September 7, 2015 at 8:28 am

    I recently picked up a Fuji Tiara 2 and was really enjoying it for a couple months but recently I’ve had this odd problem while shooting. Basically what happens is that at some point while shooting the roll the camera seems to lose the ability to wind the film back, the exposure counter just flashes the same number, shutter doesn’t fire, rewind doesn’t do anything. Letting it turn off doesn’t do much of anything, removing and replacing the battery sometimes makes it work but causes it to advance about 5 frames. Also I just replaced the battery, does anyone have any ideas/suggestions?

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      September 7, 2015 at 2:39 pm

      Sorry top hear that. I don’t have anything useful to suggest unfortunately – at least short of new batteries, but I guess you have tried that?

    • Reply
      Benn Murhaaya
      September 7, 2015 at 8:39 pm

      Hm… tough call. I don’t have a slightest idea 🙁

      The only problem I have with mine is it very rarely does double exposure. It happened to me twice so far out of about 30 films. It does not advance the film. It won’t move it a bit and the shots overlap perfectly.

    • Reply
      Ken
      December 13, 2015 at 9:14 am

      Hi john

      I have the esxact same problem, just bought mine and looks in really good condition but film got stuck on 4 frame and the counter just blinks now! Changing battery does nothing, so ended up winding film back into canister. Did you manage to find a fix?

      Cheers and fingers crossed!

      Ken

  • Reply
    Geoff Thompson
    November 23, 2015 at 3:15 am

    Hi Ben, thanks for your very good review of this camera. I was at a “trash and treasure” sale at a school fete yesterday and there was this neat little
    camera sitting there. No battery but in very good to near mint condition.Paid a $1 for it.Also sourced the online manual through this site as well.
    Have now got it going and can’t wait to test it out. Thanks again. Geoff Thompson, South Australia.

  • Reply
    David
    November 23, 2015 at 11:43 am

    You were wondering about the DM film?

    There’s a 6 digit number under the bar code on the cassette body. Enter the number in the obvious place here and you might get the answer: http://dexter.pcode.nl/

    Regards, David

  • Reply
    Fuji X70 Review - A Photographer's Camera - A guess post by Benn Murhaaya - 35mmc
    April 26, 2016 at 8:19 pm

    […] of view is equivalent to 28 mm – too wide for someone but just right for me. I was shooting Fuji Tiara which has 28/3.5 lens and I’ve upgraded that to Minolta TC-1 which has the same paper specs of […]

  • Reply
    Lawrence Braun
    May 18, 2016 at 11:53 pm

    Hi Ben!

    I’d love to know if you have the ability to change the film rating (iso) in this camera to push film? I can’t find any information about that.

    Thank you. Love this website.

    • Reply
      Hamish Gill
      May 21, 2016 at 8:12 pm

      I’m not sure Ben has spotted this – the manual is here – if that helps 🙂

  • Reply
    sebastien
    July 8, 2016 at 12:22 pm

    Hi everybody.

    I’m from France and i’m buying one of these beauty.

    Contact me for me informations

  • Reply
    joseph saunders
    July 19, 2016 at 4:57 pm

    would love one of theses guys

  • Reply
    David Kassnoff
    August 12, 2016 at 2:32 pm

    Hi, I have a FUJI DL SUPER MINI (TIARA) which has developed an annoying problem. So I’m asking for advice. Every frame of my negatives has a severe horizontal scratch running across the photo. I’ve opened the back of the camera, and found a thin silvery metal pressure strip (looks a bit like a butterfly) that appears to be the cause of the scratches. Over time, I believe it’s become warped and no longer serves its purpose without scratching the negs.

    My question: I’m skilled enough to remove the metal pressure strip. But do you think its removal would cause any other problems with the camera?

    • Reply
      Mila
      October 14, 2016 at 2:54 am

      Hi David! Have u try ? How it’s work now? I have same problem with scratching

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