On a hunt for a point and shoot camera? Here’s what you need to know!
Now that 35mm film point and shoot cameras are incredibly popular again, I think a quick buying guide is in order, to save you from all the trouble.
My first advice definitely would be to not spend a lot. Nowadays some models can cost very much and may give the impression that something like 200€ is a normal price for a 25 year old plastic camera. Even Olympus MJU II is relatively plasticy and it wasn’t designed to survive the test of time. Flea markets, junk stores, thrift stores and alike are in my opinion the best places to find these things. They usually have very reasonable prices, ranging anything between 1—10€. Even better that, you probably know plenty of people who have old cameras lying at the back of their cupboards. If you ask nicely, you can get them for free.
Some sought after models are equipped with a nice lens. A maximum aperture of f3.5 is pretty good standard for a fixed lens point and shoot, but some of the premium models have even faster lenses, that can open up to f2.8 and may even have the name Carl Zeiss written on them. If this is the case, lucky you, but even that doesn’t quite justify the outrageous (emphasis on the word outrageous) price difference between, let’s say Olympus MJU II and AF-10.
I wouldn’t, how ever, be too concerned with these numbers anyways, when buying a point and shoot. In practical terms, shooting a f3.5 vs f2.8 doesn’t make any kind of difference when you don’t have practically any control over the aperture or any other setting. If you’re worried about bokeh, a point and shoot camera might not be the best place to start out.
They’re plastic and may break easily
Most point and shoot cameras are usually made of very cheap materials that will fail over time. I can say this with experience. I love flea markets and I’ll usually buy a point and shoot whenever I stumble upon an interesting model, that seems to be in working order. None the less, 80% of them will have some plastic part broken.
Typical parts that fail are:
- battery cover
- or anything with hinges
- pressure plate (inside the camera)
- seams between panels
These aren’t necessarily the most critical parts and you can most likely duct-tape the battery cover back in place, as long as you don’t mind having a camera with half the pieces falling out. You can still most likely shoot it.
Point and shoot cameras have better electronics as often believed
To my surprise, I’ve noticed that most point and shoots actually have very good electronics and mechanics. I have never come across one that would have a failed film advance motor or auto focus mechanism for example. The mechanics are very plasticy too, but let’s be honest, they don’t need to withstand any great forces. I suppose even plastic gears can take that amount of wear and tear.
When the electronics how ever do fail, they fail hard, rendering the camera useless for eternity. The difference between an Olympus MJU II and a Nikon FE, which you could acquire with just about the same investment, is that Nikon FE can be repaired, while no professional camera technician won’t be bothered with the MJU II. These are cameras that aren’t necessarily designed to be taken apart and assembled back again. When products like these are manufactured by the millions, it really can’t take more than few seconds to snap the body panels together over at the assembly like. This is why I’d stress once again not to spend too much money on one.
When film photography started to gain popularity again about five or so years ago, there were much talk about running out of point and shoot cameras. New ones aren’t being manufactured and the fear was that the existing ones would break down in five to ten years. (Even the newest ones are now 20 years old.) At least now, after the five year mark, just about the same amount of working point and shoot cameras are still around and even more are still waiting to be rescued from your parents attics. I could be wrong, but based on absolutely no facts, I personally don’t see the world hitting peak point and shoot just yet. Maybe we should give a bit more credit to the build quality of these things?
Check for lens and battery
But okay, back to the practical tips. Now that you’re shopping around, there are few important things to look out for. The lens obviously is one of them.
The clever thing about most point and shoot cameras, is the automatic lens cover, that most models incorporate. This means the optics are usually in pretty good condition, but check them for scratches none the less. Small scratches don’t show up on the photos, so no worries if it has seen some life.
It is not uncommon to find a 20 year old battery inside the camera. Sometimes they may leak and corrode. This is something to check before buying. Slightly leaky battery probably won’t do much harm, but it might be annoying to clean up.
It is also very clever idea to bring some batteries of your own, when thrift shopping. Couple of CR2 and CR123 batteries are good to have, as they are very common in old point and shoots. Some cameras operate on AA or AAA batteries too. If you can find a nice camera, that takes simple AAA batteries, it is a very good find, since you don’t have to look no further than any old super market or a kiosk to buy fresh batteries. They’re much cheaper too. At the moment I’m carrying a very 80’s Minolta AF-E, which takes regular AAA batteries. This is a feature I value a lot.
Speaking of cleaning, people will treat their old cameras like garbage and they may be really gunky. After a very basic clean-up, the camera might actually look almost brand new. A dirty camera might be a good purchase. Luckily most point and shoot cameras were sold back in the day with a pouch. If it’s been kept in it, you’ll most likely have a very clean camera with very little scratches to begin with.
Do a quick test before buying
If at all possible, do a quick test before buying the camera. Assuming that you have those spare batteries in your pocket, see if the camera fires up and do few test shots without film. If nothing happens immediately, that’s just normal. I could be wrong, but I’ve noticed it can take up to one minute until the camera starts to react completely to the fresh battery. Make sure that the film advance motor and flash are working and the shutter opens up when firing. You can take a shot or two while the back door is open. Looking through it, you can see whether there’s light coming in while pressing the shutter. If the camera passes this test, there’s a good chance it is working perfectly.
Favour the cheap and cheerful — check out the lesser known models as well
Sometimes it is hard to understand just what is it about Olympus MJU II. Don’t get me wrong, if I’d stumble upon one tomorrow, I’d jump up and down out of excitement. There are so many good models out there as well though, so don’t pass if you find something else, that don’t have such a strong hype around it. If you’re really into just shooting film, instead buying a camera for an accessory, look into the lesser known models as well. I wouldn’t perhaps buy the utmost cheapest and crappiest models, as they can indeed lead into a horrible disappointment and render god awful images, but something like a generic Nikon point and shoot with golden accents and a zoom lens, probably isn’t such a bad camera for pointing and shooting.
In addition to my new Minolta AF-E I’m also experimenting with couple of Yashicas. I have a Yashica Microtec zoom 90 and Microtec zoom 120, that are both surprisingly good cameras, but both models are hardly ever talked about. They are made by Kyocera and have something of a premium feel to them. The electronics are really snappy and I just love the hi tech operating sounds. The build quality is amazing for a 90’s camera and the optics are just as good as any other point and shoot. (Sample images coming in later updates.) Yashica Microtec zoom 120 even has spot metering and extremely cool blue backlit command dial and LCD screen. Sure, the tele-end of these zoom lenses definitely aren’t the brightest, but I usually just leave them at the wide-end (38mm) for best results. Both these cameras were extremely affordable; the other was salvaged from my mother’s storage and the other came from a junk shop for just 5€. You’d be never ever able to tell the difference between the photos that came from these cameras, compared to the photos of Olympus MJU II or Yashica T4.
And that about wraps up this article. I really hope this helps in your hunt for a nice 35mm point and shoot!