I haven’t given much thought to the idea of Korean film cameras. Electronics, sure. Cars, OK. But cameras? I’m guessing there was some kind of domestic camera industry in South Korea sometime before the 1980s, when South Korean brands became noticeable in the US. But I can’t find much on the English web. Any time I try to search for “vintage Korean film camera” I get links to phone apps, articles about cameras made out of paper or candy, or a Korean cafe built to resemble a Rolleiflex TLR. (Which admittedly sounds pretty cool.)
The Korean film cameras that I have stumbled upon are all by Samsung. It makes sense: Samsung was/is an electronics powerhouse, so I’m sure that they wanted to get in on that camera action that the Japanese pretty much had locked up by the 80s. Samsung didn’t aim for the SLR market, only making one, the SR4000. Instead they concentrated on point-and-shoots. The most significant point-and-shoot they made in the 90s was the ECX1, a full-featured “dad cam” with a body design by, uh, Porsche(!). It wasn’t as over the top as the similar Konica AiBORG, but it was getting close. Samsung did produce smaller zoom compacts during this era that didn’t look any different than what was coming out of Japan. Samsung of course moved on to digital compact cameras, which did manage to compete with the Japanese big players. And now they produce probably more camera phones than any player that isn’t Apple. But their film foray nowadays is a mostly forgotten blip.
A while back a Samsung Slim Zoom 1150 found its way into my hands. I wasn’t particularly looking for this camera, I was just picking up a few dirt-cheap 35mm cameras for a project. And the cheapest halfway decent cameras I’ve been finding are these 90s through mid 00s zoom compacts, as no one seems to want them. But they are still very capable cameras, which is what I like about them.
The basics of the Slim Zoom 1150 are, well, basic for this type of camera: a zoom of 38-115mm, f/3.7-11 aperture range, shutter speeds from 1/3 to 1/400 second plus bulb. It bills itself as “slim zoom” but when this camera came out (I’m guessing) in the mid-90s, it wasn’t really slim at all: my circa 1994 Pentax IQZoom/Espio 928 is just as thick and slightly smaller.
The one thing I noticed about this camera is all the modes. There must have been a “features war” in the 90s amongst the various manufactures to see who can not just have the longest zoom but also the most modes and functions. Samsung seemed to really be aiming for the features. They are an electronics company, after all. Makers like Nikon and Canon could sell on their cachet alone, Samsung had no cachet. So they needed an “angle”. Might as well overwhelm with a bunch of features that’ll dazzle the customer!
I threw in 2 CR123A batteries and the Slim Zoom 1150 came to life. The LCD screen on top lit cycled through all the function icons on startup, which took a full four seconds. There are a lot of modes. There’s mode buttons on the top, mode buttons on the back, and a “landscape” mode button on the front (which I could never get to engage). These buttons are made of that squishy rubber, which meant a couple of them only worked if I used a pen to push them.
I basically used the Samsung Slim Zoom 1150 at its wide focal setting of 38mm and on auto. That seemed to go OK. I didn’t even bother to try out most of the modes, as the ones I wanted to use were landscape/infinity, which didn’t engage, or Spot Autofocus, which they didn’t bother to add to this camera. I wasn’t interested in the “fuzzy logic”, “portrait” or the various snap and interval modes, but I’m guessing someone else might. And there was also a bewildering amount of flash modes, because of course. To turn off the flash I had to cycle through six flash modes. In other words, I had to press the flash button six times to simply turn the damn thing off.
If you are guessing that I didn’t find this camera easy or fun to use, you are correct! I disliked the fiddly buttons. I couldn’t get through my test roll of Ultramax 400 (just 24 exposures!) fast enough. This type of camera fits my old stereotype of 90s point-and-shoots: unattractive and needlessly complicated, designed by engineers with little thought to the user experience.
But then I got back the results and was pleasantly surprised. Despite my grumblings, the Samsung Slim Zoom 1150 delivered in the photos department.
One mode that actually impressed me was “macro”, which got this shot of my bike bell. Unfortunately the camera likes to fire the flash in macro mode:
So the Samsung Slim Zoom 1150 can produce decent photos. But it’s not a camera I want to return to. I can find comparable image quality in other 90s superzoom point-and-shoots, and many of these other cameras are less of a PITA to use. I have to admit, the one thing I liked and found useful was that the LCD showed what focal setting the lens was at. I haven’t seen that on my other compact superzooms. But I can get by without it.
Thanks for reading! -Shawn
For more photos from my Samsung Slim Zoom 1150 check out my flickr album here.
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