Quick abomination of a review with sample images

Summer came along and I felt like shooting some colour negative film for a change. What better way to do that than punching a roll to a point-and-shoot camera. I’ve been hearing some good things said about Konica Big Mini series and lucky for me, a friend was selling one. I have already given up any hopes of finding another MJU II from the flea market, so I had to settle for something a bit similar. My only criteria was a fixed focal length (no zoom) around 35mm and a compact size. Konica Big Mini fits these demands quite nicely with it’s 34mm lens and a really simplified design.

I’ve now been shooting with the thing for about a month. I wouldn’t be much of a blogger if I didn’t share some thoughts about it. I’m hesitating to call this a review, so let me just tell you what the experience has been like.

First reaction

Whenever there’s hype surrounding a point-and-shoot camera, I get the impression that it must be good. I like Big Mini’s design and from the pictures it looked quite nice. In real life, my initial reaction was a slight disappointment how ever, because the build quality seemed very compromised. I don’t know what I was expecting though. After all, it is a plastic point-and-shoot camera. I guess Olympus MJU II has raised the bar so high with it’s premium feel, that I was expecting something similar. It wasn’t though. It feels very toyish with it’s cheap materials. But what the hell — I wanted a cheap camera for some summer photos, not an anvil. 

After recovering from my first reaction, my mind started to change (at least for a brief moment). The actual shooting experience wasn’t too bad. I was surprised just how snappy the camera felt. When you turn the camera on, the lens pops out lightning fast and the operation just feels snappy. There’s even an auto-focus lock, that I value a lot. I found it to be an extremely nice carry with it’s light weight and really simple design. 

There are several versions of Konica Big Mini, of which I know next to nothing about. I happen to have the one with the slowest lens possible: the f4.3 version (SR BM-100) — which is, of course, a huge blow to my self esteem. Therefore it certainly isn’t the most sought after model of the line-up. I decided not to be bothered about it, but the actual image quality really did bother. There’s something about how it renders the photos that just isn’t very pleasing in my opinion. I didn’t exactly have high expectations to begin with, but I was still a bit disappointed. First of all it isn’t a sharp lens at all and it doesn’t render nicely in any other way either. It sort of has that plastic lens look and who knows… maybe it does have a plastic lens.

Edited sample photos

Here are few of my favourite shots, taken on Kodak Portra 160, but I’ll have to be completely honest. These are a far cry from original scans. I did some quite heavy edits on these, because the look-and-feel was just so far from what I was hoping. I don’t think the lens has very good coatings… if any, because all the images looked flat and lifeless. There wasn’t much contrast or punchiness.


An unedited sample

Here’s one completely unedited photo. Ok, it’s a very bad photo in every possible way, but I thought I’d throw it in, in case you’re interested in seeing what the camera produces straight from the box without any edits. This is shot also on Portra 160.

Disaster struck, but the Big Mini survived

I rarely drop cameras, but this time I did… two times in fact. I was on a paddling trip when a disaster stroke. To make a long story short, the Big Mini got a bit wet. After sort of dropping it to sea water, I dropped it to the ground as well, on a small rocky island. To my complete surprise, the camera was still fully functioning after such an unfair treatment. I even got some photos out of it. I was shooting Fuji C200, which apparently turns very sticky after being exposed to sea water. It was a bit tricky to unwind the film back into the canister, because there’s no way to do that manually or during mid-roll. When I got back home, I decided to save film by developing it immediately at home. I didn’t want to send a sticky and salty roll to a lab, so I improvised a stand development of whatever chemicals I happened to have at home. And if you’ve ever wondered whether you could do a D-76 stand development to a colour negative film, the answer evidently is yes.


Pros

  • Extremely light weight
  • Simple and nice styling — slips into a pocket smoothly
  • Will survive water damage
  • Didn’t break when dropped to the ground
  • Snappy operation
  • Has auto-focus lock
  • Cheap

Cons

  • Plasticy
  • Not exactly high quality optics. Do not even think about getting one as an alternative for Olympus MJU-II
  • Maximum aperture of f4.3 (this particular model)
  • Questionable auto-focus accuracy

Conclusion

With some heavy editing, I think I was able to get some quite nice photos out of the big mini, but I still feel that it lacked character. I wouldn’t be too interested in doing similar edits each time, because a major allure in film is the fact that the characteristics pretty much come with medium, without having to add it separately. 

All in all, I think there are much nicer point-and-shoot cameras out there. There are several other models within the Big Mini lineup and I’d be very interested in trying some other ones out as well. I really enjoy the design and usability, but this particular lens option does put me off slightly. I wouldn’t exactly recommend it to a friend. It’s a fun camera to shoot with but the results might just be slightly disappointing, if expecting that quintessential point-and-shoot look. Sometimes low-fi optics are just fantastic, but on this instance, I didn’t quite manage to transform it to my creative benefit (at least without dropping it to the sea).