Pocketable film cameras
The purpose of a pocketable camera is not to replace a larger SLR, but
to complement it. It has to be small enough that you can actually slip
it into a pocket and forget about its existence until you need it. If it
is larger than that, you'll need to carry it into a separate pouch, in
which case you might as well carry a good old camera. So only the
smallest camera will do. This eliminates the vast majority of P&S
cameras, in particular those with a zoom. In my quest for this
perfect small camera, I have tried many.
I have owned, or still own, each of the cameras reviewed in this page,
and it is from experience that I comment. There are many other good
small cameras that I have not tried.
In short, the Rollei 35 is a
classic camera, mechanical and all manual, not very easy to operate,
the Olympus XA, and Minox GT,GTE are AE cameras which give you almost total
control but require you to open a cover,
focus, set aperture, and cock the shutter,
the Yashica T4 and Nikon Lite-Touch are P&S cameras with flash totally
automatic with no controls, and the Ricoh GR1 gives you the best of
the 4 previous cameras.
Manual exposure, manual focus camera (no focussing aid other than scale).
Dedicated or generic flash goes at bottom.
It is a classic 20 year old
mechanical metal camera which is known to be very well built and
rugged. That so many are still around and very usable says something
about their design. The body is all metal (although some Singapore
are said to have some plastic) and has a "classic" German engineering specimen
look and feel that is very nice. The lens barrel can be collapsed into the
body, a la screw mount Leica style. The shutter is of Compur type
shutter has B, 2...500 settings. Silent operation.
It is compact; the film
transport sproket spindle so common in most 35 cameras almost
disappearing into two sproket discs at the edge of the frame,
thus reduce the width of the body by an ingenius idea.
The film rewind crank is located at the bottom of the body,a distinct
German style design, a la Zeiss Ikon Contessa of the 50s.
The battery is
used only for the meter, not for the shutter, which can fire without
it at all speeds. In addition, the drain is very low.
You can control the shutter speed and the aperture independantly with
two dials. The lens does have filter threads.
It comes in many different flavors, with a large disparity
This camera is NOT a point and shoot. You have to pull out the lens
and lock it,
set speed and aperture (this cannot be done with you eye in the
viewfinder) and remember to focus the lens, by guessing the distance.
This works well for landscapes, but is difficult at close distances.
It is also relatively
heavy and thick. Because it has become a collector's item, the prices
can be inflated, especially for the german models.
- lenses by quality order
Sonnar 40/2.8 ("HFT"
marking means it''s multi-coated) or Tessar 40/3.5 or Triotar 40/3.5
Triotar lenses are generally
considered to be (far) inferior to the Tessar and Sonnar types.
Rollei was licensed by Zeiss to manufacture lenses.
- exposure indicator: Match needle or LED (35TE or 35SE).
35LEDs have light-metering said to be much too
insensitive to use in other than average lighting conditions.
With the needle-metering on top of the camera, you can meter the
without looking through the camera, which makes it easier
to set aperture and speed.
- fabrication: Germany or Singapore (this is clearly marked on the
body, and can also be infered from the designations 35T, 35S,
Singapore versions with respectively Tessar and Sonnar lenses ). there
seems to be no significant differences in quality of
materials or workmanship between them, but the German-made are sold at
- prices: from $1200+ for a new Classic to $200 used for
the lesser varieties, although it is difficult to find one for less
An aperture-priority, manual focus rangefinder camera, generally well
35mm/2.8 lens, quite sharp. iso setting can be
used for exposure compensation. Precise metering (good enough for slides).
Dedicated side flash. sliding cover for the lens.
This camera, long discontinued, is still a good choice for those who
want to be able to control the settings themselves on a small, light
(plastic) and relatively cheap camera (less than $150 used, not that
easy to find). The
rangefinder helps at close distance. Silent operation.
I didn't kept mine very long (the frame counter
was defective), so I don't have an extensive experience,
but I found that the rangefinder is pretty difficult to use because it is
small and dark. I personnally thought that the Minox was sharper and I
prefered its operation.
Don't consider the XAn for n=1,2,3,4, they have inferior
optics to the XA's 6-element glass lens, and offer less control over
Minox GT, GTE
Minox is a german camera manufacturer that started with miniature
cameras (spy-cameras) about 1950. They still build miniature cameras
(special 8mm film), called LX.
An aperture-priority, manual focus camera (no focussing aid other
than scale), 35mm/2.8 lens (Color Minotar, high quality 4-lens system,
replaced on the GTE with a Minoxar with built-in UV filter,
said to be even better),
standard flash hot shoe (letting you
connect a flash much bigger than the camera). iso dial can be
used for exposure compensation in addition to a +1 switch (useful on
snow and backlight). This camera is the smallest and
lightest of all, with lens folding into (plastic) camera body.
Dedicated or generic flash mounts on top.
the focussing scale is visible in the viewfinder in the GTE model,
which is helpful,
and there is a good dof scale.
Controversed reviews about their ruggedness,
but most agree that the lens is extremely good.
Precise metering (good enough for slides).
I was pleased with the
results, and I didn't think that the lens was second to the Tessars of
my Rollei or T4.
Many accessories. Minox make
the cutest filters, lens hoods, tripods, gadget bags, to go
with their cameras.
GL 1979-81 + exposure correction switch (x2) on top
GT 1981- + self timer
some later models are derivates of the GT (Touring..)
PL 1982- low cost version, full auto exp. only
PE 1983- PL+ built in flash
ML 1985- different body, slightly bigger
center weighted meter
aperture preset + full auto exposure
MB ML without full auto exp.
Accessories for M-models are incompatible with the others (Minox flash,
Problems: fragile camera (the shutter of mine misfunctionned
once, ruining an extremely precious roll of film).
others have reported light leaks due to the folding lens and other
mechanical problems due to bad quality control. At one point
dealers said this was their "number-one repair camera", not
only seeing it returned to them too often but also suffering from high
repair costs. It could very well be possible that Minox improved their
cameras in the last
few years, and that the metal versions are more rugged.
You have to guess the focussing distance, which
works well for landscapes, but is difficult at close distances.
The price is high (more than $300 new).
A programmed exposure, active AF camera with winder. 35mm/3.5 lens +
The new version is weatherproof and comes with a waist-level finder.
This camera is very highly regarded, esp. in the US, mostly because of
a good exposure system and its Carl Zeiss Tessar lens, and many
it to be the best P&S under $200. Because it is a P&S it is easy to
operate just with one hand.
It is not as
compact as the other cameras mentioned in this page.
tends to rewind mid-roll (it has happened to me a couple of times,
so I always had to carry spare film),
the program favors high speeds and therefore
until 1/750s is reached the lens is wide-open, resulting in very
vignetting and also soft corners (a Tessar is not that good wide-open)
tends to overexpose a bit, noticeable on slide film.
others have reported that the lens cover tends to jam
A programmed exposure, active AF camera with winder. 28mm/3.5 lens +
Recently this camera can be bought for less than $100, which is a real
bargain. This camera does not have a particularly good reputation, but
it is actually quite good, is among the smallest of all, and has a
true wide-angle lens.
The range of shutter speeds 1/4 sec to 1/250 sec looks rather small,
but the fact that the top shutter speed is 1/250 will cause the
program to stop down the lens more than if it was 1/700 (like on the
T4), which is all benefits. Because it is a P&S it is easy to
operate just with one hand.
- panorama mode can ruin pictures (I have taped the switch)
cover quite likely to jam (I had to send mine to Nikon for service).
- lowest usable asa is 100.
A programmed exposure or aperture-priority, passive AF camera with
28/2.8 lens + flash. DX. Has many useful features among them exposure
compensation, two metering/autofocussing patterns,
focus lock (this can be used to simulate manual focus),
time exposure, sophisticated flash control, flash warning,
prewinding, and is the smallest of all automatic cameras (slimmer than
the lite-touch) with a simple and clear control layout
(unlike its more expensive competitors).
It is a metal camera, made of magnesium, which doesn't look as good as
titanium but is actually stronger.
The lens is great, probably equal to a good SLR lens. In
P&S mode it can be used with one hand.
In my opinion, this is the camera to get. True, it is among the
expensive ones, but still reasonable (I had no problem to get mine for
$435 at B&H when it came out, and believe the price has dropped since
then), especially when compared to its competitors, the T2, Nikon
28Ti, and Minolta TC1. For this price, you get a small and tough
camera which can
either be operated as a true P&S camera with all the automation (like
the T4 or Lite-Touch) or
give you almost total control (like a XA or Minox)
with good ergononics and optics.
The manual not very clear. Some points worth noting, which are not
mentionned, or written in a confusing manner:
- pressing the shutter half way will lock BOTH focus and exposure
- in auto flash mode, the flash will fire in low light in program
AND AE modes
- if you switch to the spot autofocussing mode (it is not called
this way) then the metering also switches to a form of spot metering.
how small is the spot is not clear, but I can say that it is
more concentrated than the default metering pattern. This appears to
be the only way to get spot metering.
- auto flash mode is NOT a fill-in mode (ie the background will not be
exposed properly). to fill-in you must use the flash-on mode.
Surprisingly for a small P&S camera with a fixed focal lens, it has passive
af. The passive focus system is much
better at distances than is the active style and works in special
situations (windows), but generally is more
likely to fail than active af, and requires an AF illuminator in low
light. A really good sensor is needed for passive af to work well (nikon
got it right only with the N90 !). In particular the GR1 needs
vertical lines (but so did the earlier Nikons !).
The viewfinder has plenty of information (speed, exp comp, parallax
frames, focus area + two warning lights) and is well-lit,
but the focus confirmation indicators at the bottom are not easy to
In general, the viewfinder information is hard to read in bright light.
For a camera of this class is it lacking
clever metering and relying only on center weighted / average ?
it is said in the manual that the camera
can detect backlight and fire the flash, but this is in program mode
only ? No control over the metering pattern (switches at ev6, why ?).