One December evening I happened to be browsing and, wandering over to 35mmc, noticed that Hamish was very generously giving away a stack of compacts. The only catch was that a review was requested in return. So as a lucky recipient, here is my review for your consideration. My initial request was for a compact with a fixed focal length lens, but sadly everyone else had the same idea and I was too late, so I received a zoom instead – the Nikon 310 Zoom. Here’s the low down:
Nikon 310 Zoom Tech Specs:
- 35-70mm Zoom, f3.5-6.5
- Focus range from 0.6 m to infinity
- DX coding 100, 200, 400 & 1000. Not sure how many 1000 rated films there are (or even were), so a little odd.
- Yup, that’s about it, though of course it has AF, a motorwind, and a flash. You can focus lock depressing the shutter button halfway as you would expect. There’s an infinity focus lock, and an option for slow synch flash.
- There is a 310QD version with panorama and data back, this is isn’t that version. Which is fine. Panorama mode just crops your 35mm frame, which you can do yourself with a full frame, and who wants dates embedded on their masterpieces? (not me.)
A few things stand out about the Nikon 310 Zoom before a photo has even been taken:
Pro – The camera itself is reasonably good looking. It shouldn’t matter of course, but it does! It is also reasonably small too. There are smaller out there, but there are larger too. It’s relatively slimline and fits in a pocket with no fuss.
Con – This is not going to be a subtle street photography camera. It is noisy, it whirrs away when you zoom. As someone who has mostly used primes (35mm or 40mm, typically) for the last few years, I’m thinking of shooting this with the lens maintained on 35mm side of the range. I’m in familiar territory and it will keep noise to a minimum. Perhaps for testing purposes I’ll take the odd shot on 70mm.
Con – The flash settings are not retained when the camera is turned off and back on again. Hamish would want to know.
Loading up the day before…
I popped a film in and made my first mistake. I inserted Fomapan 400 which has no DX coding (but there is DX coding on Fomapan 100?). On a compact with next to no control, this is a slight issue; the instructions tell me the camera will default to iso 100. There is no way to tell the camera it has 400 in which is irritating. My plan is therefore to pull process the film myself, guesstimating a shorter dip in rodinal and relying on the legendary exposure latitude of negative film. I’m sure it will all work out. With film loaded, noisily, the sublime delights of the British seaside await…
In use the Nikon 310 Zoom was ok, with a few quirks. The noise levels were not quite as distracting as I expected. In fact the size and innocuous looks of the camera offset the noise aspect and make this a rather subtle camera to use. I ended up quite enjoying the temptations of the Zoom too. As I mentioned earlier I have been using primes almost exclusively for a few years now. I’m worried I’ve been tempted to the dark side…
Possibly my only gripe is the shutter, a rubberised button offering little in the way of feedback. A few frames were taken inadvertently. On one occasion I found that I was pressing the zoom button which was already at maximum zoom, because those rubbery buttons just all feel alike. I also, of course, forgot to put the camera in resist-flash mode occasionally. Finally film completed, the motor wind made a pained effort to heave the film back into the canister and without delay I got my developing kit out of the cupboard.
The moment of truth…
Happy days, my pull process plan worked out just fine <mops brow>. The massive dev chart helped a little, 1+50 rodinal is 11 mins at 400, but it suggested 11 mins was also correct when rated at 200, which doesn’t seem quite right. Nothing was suggested for rating at 100, so you’ve heard it here first folks, 1+50 fomapan 400 rated at 100 is ok with a 9 min bath in Rodinal, with 10-15 seconds agitation every minute. Following scans with my Epson I-forget-the-number, and a little post-processing, the images you see in the review are the outputs. So, not too bad?
So… Is it a keeper?
Ultimately the test of the camera is, are there any frames in here that I am happy with? Yes, there are. So that is a start. I would say that a few photos were overexposed, but with the chilled out approach of film, there was enough detail in there to save them. You may of course think that the over-exposure was a consequence of my iso shenanigans, but given the photo on the next frame was differently exposed, I think the problem is more fundamental, although of course I can’t rule out that perhaps it is just this copy that has an issue.
I also felt the frames were a little soft too, so the lens is not the best, but equally it didn’t seem to lose too much detail in the corners, so not the worst either. There are of course cameras I am happier with and that is going to the be issue for this Nikon, its ok, but we would all prefer a T3, Oly Mju, etc. So all told, I’m holding on to it, but I would say there are other options I will be reaching for first.
Finally, thanks to Hamish for his generosity. I look forward to seeing some more of the reviews from the compact camera giveaway as I believe I am the first to submit a review. There were some good cameras handed out, so let’s hear about them please!