The wife and I recently took a 35-mile trip up the motorway to spend a couple of days at Salford Quays. The agenda was a wander, some retail therapy (not for me sadly – no camera shops), a coffee and later an evening meal and a few beers. A plethora of camera paraphernalia was definitely not on the agenda. So I packed very light, just a small(ish) point and shoot camera and a few rolls of film.
I’ve owned the camera for a while now but until this week have only ever used it for short walks and only ever used a single roll at a time. This was to be the first trip with just the camera, a red filter and half a dozen rolls of film in my bag.
Spoiler alert: I had a blast!
Did I mention filters? Yes, the L35 has a proper 46mm filter ring – a real boon for a black and white photographer who enjoys using contrast filters. The observant however will wonder why a red filter and not my habitual yellow or yellow/green filter. I couldn’t find it amongst the disorganisation that is my gear cupboard is the truthful and slightly embarrassing answer.
It turned out a good choice though as I found a roll of Washi Z in the bottom of the bag and I’d intended using it with a red filter so that was a bonus. Together with this rogue roll I took five rolls of Tri-X and a single roll of Kentmere 400.
Let us just dwell on that lone roll of Washi Z. It’s the lone sour note in an otherwise fabulous two days. I decided to load it on Friday morning as the route we were taking had plenty of greenery amongst the urban. It was the only part of the Quays that we were not traversing more than once too so these images would be unique. I spent a happy hour using all 24 frames, started up the automatic rewind and popped the camera into my bag. It takes 20-30 seconds to rewind and I used that time to get another roll out of my pocket and consult my phone. When I took the camera out of my pocket it had stopped whirring and so I popped the back to remove the roll.
You guessed yet? Yup, it hadn’t rewound. Roll ruined. Back at home I was to find, by measuring, that only one frame had been rewound. However, stood outside the BBC Studios, my immediate concern was do I load another roll? I did, it wound on correctly, and I proceeded to the wharf side to capture some gorgeous clouds. Click. Whirr. Click. Whirr. A vertical and a horizontal composition. So far, so good. But, on the next attempt the shutter wouldn’t release. There was the hint of movement in the focus indicator needle but other than that the camera was locked solid. On a hunch I popped fresh batteries in.
Click, whirr and the third frame was exposed.
So, the thing this episode taught me is that the batteries will become exhausted without warning. I always carry spares so wasn’t in a spot but that didn’t make me feel better. My take out from this is that in future I will keep the camera in my hand whilst it rewinds as there’s no warning when it runs out of juice.
Now, whilst this isn’t a camera review it would be remiss of me not to talk about how the camera handled and frankly how much fun it was. It’s a bit of a boxy, brick-shaped camera and not quite pocketable. I could slip it in my fleece pocket, just, but there was no chance it was going to fit in the pocket of my shorts like my usual “travel-light” camera, the digital Fujifilm X100T. It does have a neck-strap so I was able to walk hands-free when required.
Camera-handling is difficult to nail down in a sentence or two, not least because it is such a subjective and personal experience. I have bigger than average hands and this camera sits very nicely whether carrying or using the camera. There are very few controls on this mostly automatic camera but ergonomically they all fall easily to an appropriate digit enabling the camera to be used without removing it from the eye. Despite only using the camera occasionally I didn’t miss any images through fiddling with controls. The +2 exposure switch is easily found on the side of the lens and holding the flash down to prevent it firing is easy to achieve with just a slight shift in the way I hold the camera.
This is basically a fully automatic point-and-shoot 35mm camera albeit with a superb little f2.8 lens. Creating images with minimal depth of field is at the mercy of the prevailing light as the camera makes all the decisions regarding aperture, shutter speed, even focus point. However, it is possible to force the camera to focus where you want it to by placing the focus point over the desired object, half-pressing the shutter release to achieve focus, keeping the release half-pressed you can then recompose and complete the exposure.
Similarly, there is a back-lit switch which, when held down during the exposure, will add two additional stops to the chosen aperture/shutter speed combination. I used this a fair amount.
In conclusion, the camera delivers some lovely crisp images and is very easy to use. The control freaks won’t like the very limited amount of control they can exert but it is possible to be creative with some thought. However, if you are a fully manual kind of photographer this camera is best avoided. If, like me you enjoy photography and at times need to make life easier in order to preserve domestic harmony then this camera needs to be on your shortlist.
The proof of any camera’s worth though is the pictures made with it. Despite rather “meh” light over the two days it performed well. Five rolls, 180 frames, and it didn’t miss focus once. Exposure is perhaps a tad over but well within the latitude of the film I was using and could even be down to my scanning technique. It even handled the red filter well. Some people have mentioned a slight vignette but I didn’t find that a problem. There is a very faint drop off around the edges but it isn’t that noticeable and in fact I add a stronger vignette to many of my images.
Finally, and incredibly, this is the fifth blog post that I’ve squeezed out of our mini-break. However, all of the images here are from a single roll of Kodak Tri-X that I exposed on Friday morning. With another four rolls of film to work through don’t rule out another blog post or two!