Point & Shoot

The Nikon L35AF – a mini review – by Giacomo Zema

I started shooting film at the beginning of last year when I picked up a mint Canon Eos 620 that I intended to use with my EF lenses (which were tired of my aps-c digital camera). Shortly after I felt the need to add another film camera to my collection, as the Canon felt clunky and the autofocus was kind of frustrating. This unbearable necessity overlapped with my all-time desire of a camera that I could keep in my pocket at all time and bring with me everywhere, so I started my search for a compact camera with a fixed lens. There I watched a big fat world of possibilities unfold before my eyes.

The most popular cameras of this category were the Yashica T4, the Contax T2, the Olympus Mju-2 and the Nikon 35/28ti. My problem with all of those was their price, way too high for my taste and not in line with the philosophy of «throwing it in my jacket’s pocket and forgetting about it.

As my research went on and I discovered many other beautiful cameras, I noticed that the Nikon L35AF was mentioned frequently here and there for the superb lens and the ease of use. Fortunately, this one wasn’t part of the gang of pricey compact cameras and I could find one on eBay for 40€ shipped, sold. Actually, once I got it in my hands I could see that the viewfinder was pretty cloudy due to some fungus, so I asked kindly for a partial refund through PayPal.

When, two weeks later, the seller didn’t reply to my friendly claim, I proceeded with a formal one and a few days later I received a message from him, who, with a very upset attitude, said that my claim was unfair but he would refund the whole price of the camera and didn’t care for what I did with it. Even if I only had asked for a 10€ refund, since the camera was listed as “in excellent condition”, but I guess at the end I got myself a free camera, whose only price was a weird sense of guilt about the way things went down with the seller.

Well, this is how I crossed paths with the Nikon L35AF, and it hasn’t left my pocket since. Perfection doesn’t exist, but there are matches between people and their cameras that work pretty darn well.

The L35AF looks like a brick, and I love it. It feels like a brick as well, in fact beneath the plastic exterior there is a sturdy metal structure that makes it feel very solid, it also weights a little bit more that you would expect which can be good or bad, it depends on your preference. The only thing I am not crazy about regarding the build quality is the on-off switch, it doesn’t feel right, it seems like something that is going to break at some point. On the contrary the shutter button is not bad and has quite a long travel distance, which is useful to avoid accidental shooting, unlike cameras like the Yashica t2, whose shutter button can be triggered by breathing near it. Another trait I really appreciate is the small grip, that gives your fingers a place to rest avoiding the risk of getting in the way of the lens.

Ilford HP5+ @400iso developed in ID-11

Even if the build quality is nice, what really earned this camera a special place in my heart are the results: man, that lens makes wonders!

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At this day I shot several film stocks with it and I was never disappointed, the micro contrast and the sharpness in black and white reflect my taste to the letter and the colour rendition with c41 film is great, I haven’t shot any slides with it, but I think that is not going to be the case for a while.

Fujicolor c200

It was in fact the lens to determine the success of this particular camera, nicknamed “Pikaichi”, meaning top notch. It is a Sonnar inspired scheme with 5 lenses in 4 groups, that many people are not afraid to compare with the one on the more expensive Nikon 35ti. Personally, I could only compare it with the Yashica t2, equipped with a 35mm T* coated Tessar lens, and I have to say that the results are very close with the L35AF slightly taking the edge in my opinion in colour performance and in some cases sharpness, it also is an f2.8 and not an f3.5.

Fomapan 400 @400iso developed in ID-11

Fomapan 400 @400iso developed in ID-11

Shooting with the L35 is great, it fits in my hand like it was made for it and performs smoothly. on that note the autofocus is fast and accurate, it uses wisely the aperture to control the depth of field, granting consistent results.

Ilford HP5+ @400iso developed in ID-11

Ilford HP5+ @400iso developed in ID-11

Ilford HP5+ @400iso developed in ID-11

If you got to this point in the article you probably understood how much I enjoy using this camera, but would I be happy using it exclusively? Here comes the limit of a compact camera: the automatism. It does pretty much everything for you, it does it very well, but sometimes you just want to control some of the variables.

For the same reason I wouldn’t ever take this camera away from my kit. In fact, I firmly think that a fully automatic camera like the Nikon L35AF and a fully manual one like my Olympus OM1n should coexist in a camera bag, as they embody two very different ways of shooting that are more complementary than opposites. If sometimes manually setting the exposure and taking my time framing to perfection makes me relax, some other times it doesn’t, I’d rather wander around my neighbourhood with my compact camera, snapping my way through a lazy afternoon.

Fomapan 400 @320iso developed in Rodinal 1+50

Fomapan 400 @320iso developed in Rodinal 1+50

Fomapan 400 @320iso developed in Rodinal 1+50

If you want to see more of my work, here is my Instagram: giacomo_zema
And this is my website, where I try to upload every roll I shoot: myanalogphotography.wordpress.com

You can find another review of a (broken) Nikon L35AF here
And thoughts on this lens converted to m-mount here

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18 Comments

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Peter Tunon
    March 29, 2019 at 12:02 pm

    Nice review. Very inspiring! Thanks and I agree with everything you say about the Nikon L35AF. It’s a really good camera and for some reason it doesn’t seem to get the same respect as a lot of other compacts. I travelled the world for a couple of years in the 80’s with one of these. I left it behind in a separation many years ago, but bought one again last year. I haven’t used it yet, but this might just prod me to do that.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      giacomozema
      March 29, 2019 at 5:07 pm

      I am very happy to have inspired you, thank you for such a compliment!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Forrest Rogers
    March 29, 2019 at 3:44 pm

    Great article! I have the Nikon L35AW (aka the Action Touch) and can attest to the the lens quality of these L series cameras

  • Daniel Castelli
    Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    March 29, 2019 at 4:04 pm

    Ciao Giacomo,
    My grandmother emigrated from a tiny village northeast of Turn to the US in 1912. I hope someday to visit the area.
    Your review brought a smile to me. My father used an Argus C-3 for years, but got tired of shooting slide film. I bought him an L35AF back in 1983. He started shooting color neg. film (this was the era of one-hour film processing!) and took the camera everywhere. He could slip it into his pocket and became the de facto family & friends photographer. He delighted in giving away 3×5 inch color prints to people he snapped.
    After he passed away, my older brother used the camera for at least another 10 years. It was finally stolen from his car.
    Sharp lens, chunky in size but it was so much fun to use.
    My favorite shot of your series is the one of the street musicians with the women walking past. A nice, spontaneous photo.
    I wish you continued good luck in your photography.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      giacomozema
      March 29, 2019 at 5:05 pm

      Thank you for sharing your story, it really got to me. About the picture you liked, I have I little of a backstory. I was walking in the center of Turin and I happened to have the little Nikon with me when I saw these musicians playing and this lady enjoying their music, I did not take the picture then, as I had to go through that path again a couple of hours later and they were still plying and she was still there, then I thought they deserved a picture with thei biggest fan

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Marsi
    March 29, 2019 at 4:17 pm

    Great review! The Nikon L35 AF is my go-to point and shoot camera. The winding motor is comically loud, but one can easily tolerate the noise for the quality of the images that come from that sharp lens. Paired with Ektar 100 on a sunny day, it can make some perfect photos.

    • Avatar
      Reply
      giacomozema
      March 29, 2019 at 5:00 pm

      Hi, thank you! Yeah, the motor is quite loud, but at least you have the option of keeping the shutter button pressed down and release it when more appropriate. I have yet to try it with Ektar, it will surely be fun

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Dan
    March 29, 2019 at 5:26 pm

    Nice review of a great workhorse P&S. 40 euros is certainly a bargain, I can’t find one for under 100 (high ASA version, in working order..)

    • Avatar
      Reply
      giacomozema
      March 29, 2019 at 5:31 pm

      unfortunately the prices are rising, it seems to be the trend for many cameras these days. I found mine searching ebay every day for a month, maybe you can get some luck that way too

  • Avatar
    Reply
    George Appletree
    March 29, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    Yeah, close cousin to L35AWF (w for water), and that was really fantastic. That turning engine to move the film gave pass to ones like Hasselblad Xpan had, I guess.
    Happy without them, anyhow, but pretty to bring it here.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Hydrodynamica
    March 29, 2019 at 9:21 pm

    Love my L35AF. I’ve owned numerous of the more popular ones over the years but the L35AF Trump’s them all. The lens rendering is very impressive. Love the ability to see the focus point in the viewfinder, manual ISO and the fact you can use filters on the lens.

    However mine seems to have a weird problem where it almost looks like internal reflections on the negatives. I’ve seen examples in the Flickr group with the same markings and I can’t for the life of me work out what’s going on. It’s not so much a problem scanning the negatives as they can be cloned out in Lightroom but when making prints in the darkroom it’s a different story.

    You can see an example here

    https://farm8.staticflickr.com/7923/46544841652_8c8c6d0549_b.jpg

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Michael Kay
    March 29, 2019 at 10:23 pm

    If you think the L35AF is loud, try the AF3. Christ almighty, it’s even bloody louder!

  • Avatar
    Reply
    George Appletree
    March 30, 2019 at 5:45 am

    It seems rather a development failure. But, … it’s likely an original framing: your lab prints get now a lot of character! What else can you expect from an old camera?

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Stuart
    March 30, 2019 at 8:03 am

    Got one a couple of weeks ago, and like yours it has a cloudy viewfinder. I’m hoping it’s just trapped moisture somehow so put it in a sealed plastic box with silica crystal sachets and a tub of rice. In a week I’ll see if it’s cleared it.

  • Daniel Castelli
    Reply
    Daniel Castelli
    March 30, 2019 at 9:03 pm

    What a piece of luck to come upon the musicians & the woman two hour later. I’m glad you made the pic.
    My flickr account: flickr.com/photos/dcastelli9574.
    A few shots of Florence.

  • Avatar
    Reply
    Scott
    April 17, 2019 at 5:59 am

    Funny, I just found this camera at a thrift store for $35. Can’t wait to shoot a roll and see how it performs!

  • Reply
    Nikon L35AF – Pikaichi - Photo Thinking - Camera Review
    September 6, 2019 at 8:00 am

    […] 35mmc have a great quick read in The Nikon L35AF – a mini review  – by Giacomo Zema. […]

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