The UnCompacts

What are the key features of a compact camera?

Surely there is one above all others. It’s compact!

In the few years I’ve enjoyed film photography and film cameras, I’ve evolved into enjoying two main types of cameras – the compact, and the SLR.

In the SLR world I’ve settled on Contax/Yashica bodies (mostly Contax) as my favourites, using both native C/Y lenses and M42 lenses via a simple adapter.

In the compact world, the range is still far wider. 

I’ve spoken recently with great enthusiasm about the mighty little Olympus Mju-1, and its siblings the LT-1 and AF-1 Mini. These three, especially the first two, have come to epitomise for me what a compact camera should be – small, light, fast to use, and with a very capable lens.

That they also focus more closely than virtually all other compacts is a major plus for my kind of photography too – 0.35m for the Mju-1 and LT-1, 0.5m for the AF-1 Super.

The capabilities of these little marvels have blurred the boundaries between the kind of photographs I can make with a compact versus an SLR.

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Olympus Mju-1 plus AfgaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film desaturated to b/w
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Olympus LT-1 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

Always contemplating how my core kit can be honed and improved, I started thinking about comparing something else between so called compacts, and SLRs.

Their compactness. Or otherwise.

Aside from the Olympus trinity, I have very few compacts this small. The Olympus XA, Minolta AF-C and Ricoh R10 are the only ones that come to mind.

Most of the 35mm lensed “compacts” I have – and have had – are simply far more bulky, and could only be called pocketable if you’re talking about spacious coat pockets.

There are dozens I could name as examples, but a prime example is the Nikon L35 AF, a camera that has had much written about it.

Here it is next to my favourite Contax SLR, the 139 Quartz.

contax139-nikonl35af_
Contax 139 Quartz with Super-Takumar 35mm f/3.5 M42 lens, Nikon L35 AF

The Nikon is typical in size of most 35/2.8 compacts of this era. In height and width, it’s within just a few millimetres of the Contax SLR.

The L35, with batteries, weighs 400g. The Contax with the 35/3.5 Takumar weighs 690g, somewhat more, but not hugely so.

In terms of carrying them around, the Contax for me is more comfortable and lighter with a strap across my chest than than the Nikon with a hand strap or in my hand, or swinging around my neck. 

If you wanted to go a little lighter still, with a similar set up and the same lens, the Yashica FX-3 is the same size as the Contax 139, but weighs a shade under 600g with the Takumar 35/3.5 lens. Across your chest, you can barely feel it.

yashicafx3-nikonl35af-2
Nikon L35 AF, Yashica FX-3 with Super-Takumar 35mm f/3.5 M42 lens

This kind of thinking has helped me make some decisions about paring down my collection further. 

If a so called “compact” is virtually the same size as an SLR, weighs only a couple of hundred grams less, can’t be stowed in a pocket, and is actually less comfortable to carry around and handle, then why use one?

You might put up a case for speed of shooting, and with an AF compact with AutoExposure, being able to point and shoot within a second or two. 

But with my Contax on Aperture Priority mode, and the Takumar 35mm lens set to f/8 and 5m (both conveniently highlighted in orange on the barrel) everything from around 2.5m to infinity is in focus and it becomes just as quick a point and shoot machine anyway.

(The DOF Master website shows that with a 35mm lens and f/8 the hyperfocal distance is 5.14m, at which everything from 2.57m to infinity is in focus. On a sunny day, use f/11 with the hyperfocal distance of 3.64m, and everything from around 1.8m to infinity is in focus.)

Which kind of makes a whole league of uncompacts like the L35 AF pretty much redundant for me, and only the true pocketables like the Olympus trinity and those other few previously mentioned being worth having.

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Olympus Mju-1 plus AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 film desaturated to b/w

What do you consider a compact camera, and when do you use them? 

Please let us know in the comments below.

Thanks for reading. Please share this post with others you feel will enjoy it too.

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8 thoughts on “The UnCompacts

  1. Compacts should be compact I agree. If you haven’t already try a Nikon lite touch 600af.
    Tiny, smaller than a mju I,
    28mm loveliness, f3.5-16 min focus 0.35m-infinity
    DX coded film 100,200,400 or 1000. Yeah it shoots ISO800 at 1000 for some reason. Af infinity lock, half shutter press focus lock, flash auto, red eye, off, on, and slow sync. Timer one or two shot timer. Flash GN 7 at ISO 100.

    1. Hi Toby, thanks for your comments.

      Yes I’ve read a lot of good things about the Nikon, and seen some impressive pictures. The thing that puts me off is reports of an incredibly small and pokey viewfinder. I like cameras (even compacts!) with decent viewfinders and have discounted some otherwise very capable cameras (the Rollei Prego 90 comes to mind – worst VF I’ve ever seen on any camera!) because I just couldn’t bear to use them.

      What are your thoughts on the VF of the Nikon?

  2. Hi Dan, after reading your reply and question I checked and compared with a few compacts I have……laying around! 😁
    Compared to mju1, canon prima 28v, and espio macro zoom
    Yes the viewfinder is small. It’s similar to a Minolta rival 70w.
    Though real world shooting I have not found it a hindrance, nor had it detracted from enjoying the tactile experience of shooting with it….Which I love.
    Indeed I had not thought about it until I read your reply. In comparison though the difference obvious.
    Considering the comparative lack of choice at fixed 28mm, especially at this price point it’s worth the gamble.
    It’s so small tightish jeans pockets are no trouble even when seated…No digging in. It give lovely crisp images, and when the vignette is visible for me it enhances the photo. If you’re anywhere in the UK Midlands, I am happy to meet up to let you see for yourself.

    1. Toby, thanks for your offer, though I’m right down near the south coast.

      I’ve had a look at sold items on eBay and they seem to fetch quite a bit these days. I’ve set up a search so will keep an eye on what comes up.

      I wonder why it has multiple parallax lines, when it’s a fixed lens? Surely there are just one set for subjects closer than a predefined distance?

      1. One set of lines is for panarama framing I think so you can see what the frame would be. I also worked out why the VF doesn’t bother me. I use microscopes at work, if one gets too close to the eye piece optics you get shadows, in fact most have eyepieces designed to prevent getting too close. I wear glasses and shoot wearing them, that keeps my eyes away from a camera VF enough. I tried without glasses it and several others are terrible because ones eye gets too close to the VF optics….If that makes sense?!
        As for price mine came as part of a mixed lot of cameras off the bay, 6 working compact for £20, including the Nikon nearly mint. I had chased 2 others in September and October last year, I missed the auction end, but they went for high £20 low £30s…So percivere, they are out there. You never know what summer carboot sales will yield!!

  3. It great, a little odd and kinda reassuring reading your blog. Odd and reassuring as I seem to have arrived at a similar place photographically speaking to you. I have a deep love of Pentax cameras and especially the glass. A rather nice collection of K-mount M glass. Shooting digital they are pretty much all I shoot, with odd exceptions. I also settled on agfa vista 200 as my main stock film, but recently acquired a large stock of expired Fuji c200…which I believe is the same for shooting as black and white and delete saturating in post processing….Expired stock for desaturating to b&w in post processing….And to pull and push around abit

    1. Toby, I was a major Pentaxian.

      In the SLR range I’ve had the S1a (x2), Spotmatic SP, Spotmatic F, KM, KX, K2, K1000, ME, ME Super (x3 or 4), MV, MG, MX, Super A (x2), P30T (x2), P50 (x2), MZ-5N (x3), and MZ-6. Never realised before that’s about 25 Pentax SLRs!

      The lenses are excellent, yes I agree about the M (and to some extent A) range, I’ve had a number of 50/1.4, 1.7 and 2 lenses especially and they’ve all been brilliant.

      In compacts I’ve had quite a few too, mostly the excellent Espios.

      But everything changed when I first bought my Contax 139 Quartz. It was simply the best compact aperture priority camera I’d used, by far. And though my favourite M42 glass can be used on the Pentax M bodies, it just seems to work better on the Contax bodies (the original reason I tried a Contax – I knew they were easily adaptable to M42).

      But Pentax will always have a place in my heart, and remain the brand I’ve shot most photographs with, by a long way. Maybe in another couple of years Contax will have caught up!

      I nearly exclusively use M42 now for film and digital (with my Sony NEX), and am looking for ways to further bridge the gap between the two formats and the experience they give.

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