Joy In A Leather Jacket

Of the compact 35mm film cameras I’ve tried in the last few years, many have given decent results, but only one has combined quality images with genuine pocketability, and close enough (for me) focus.

That camera is the Olympus Mju 1 (or µ[mju:]-1), aka the Stylus in some territories. 

Well, I say only one camera. In truth, it’s not the last Jedi in this compact galaxy. No, Luke, there is another. Except it’s the same wolf. In different clothes.

Before my analogies become even more muddled, let’s introduce the Olympus LT-1. 

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On the functionality side, it’s essentially a Mju 1. Same cracking little 35mm f/3.5 lens with a close (auto)focus of around 0.35m.

Same compact size. (It’s a bugbear of mine to have had so many cameras that claim to be compact, but have the bulk of a small SLR. Very few have been truly pocketable, as in a trouser pocket, not the centre kangaroo style pocket of a very oversized hoodie. But back to the pros of the LT-1…)

Same ability to astonish when you get your scans back and wonder if you mixed them up with photographs shot with an SLR (especially when shooting colour film as black and white).

The main difference with the LT-1 is its shape and outer shell. 

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Left to right – AF-1 Mini, Mju-1, LT-1, all sharing the same 35mm f/3.5 lens

The Mju 1 is known for its curved, ergonomic shell, and the ease at which you can slide its clamshell cover open with a swift motion and be ready for shooting in an instant.

For me the original Mju perfected this, and where later Mju descendants tried to repeat the trick, they didn’t quite get it right.

The now ridiculously hyped Mju 2 (Stylus Epic) I found too small and too slippery, and if it wasn’t for the wrist strap I would have seen it meet a violent end against the pavement two or three times in just one roll of film. Way too pokey viewfinder too, but that’s another story.

I’ve had a couple of later zoom models in the Mju series and unfortunately the added bulk of the body required to house the zoom lens meant it was no longer pocketable.

Those curves, whilst near perfect on the original Mju, just made it even more uncomfortable when you did try to force it into your pocket, where a more typical smoothed brick shaped compact camera of the same depth would slide in and out with much greater ease.

The closest I’ve found was ironically another sibling in many ways to the Mju-1, the AF-1 Mini, pictured alongside its family above.

Same lens again, and a weatherproof body, but just slightly less pocketable than the Mju-1 – comfy in a coat, too tight for trousers. Oh and didn’t focus quite so close, more like 0.5m.

Back to the LT-1 and there’s (gasp!) no clamshell cover to slide open.

Instead we have a flip over leather flap that folds up over the lens, plus an on switch right next to the lens itself.

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Initially I was sceptical and expected this to be slow and fiddly.

But Olympus cleverly designed the lens so even when the camera is on and the lens housing protrudes a couple of mm, the leather flap can still be over the lens without touching the glass.

Which means by keeping it switched on, on a photowalk it’s virtually as instantaneous as the Mju-1 – just flip the cover over with your thumb, point and shoot.

When the flap is closed, it reassuringly relocates itself in a second, thanks to the magnetic clasp. A clasp that is magnetic enough to stop it flapping open unwantedly, but not so strong that it can’t be flipped up quickly with your thumb tip when you’re ready to shoot.

Unlike the shiny smooth plastic of the Mju-1, the LT-1 has a fancy leather jacket. Sophistication indeed.

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The shape is much more symmetric and rounded too, like a well washed pebble on the beach that you pick up and feels just right in your hands.

This curvy edged shape plus the extra grip of the leather surface make it handle at least as well as the Mju-1. 

These kind of details – the tactile leather, the on/off switch round the lens perfectly placed to operate with your middle finger, how the lens housing protrudes when switched on so the flap can be closed without touching the glass, and the perfectly weighted strength of the magnetic clasp – are not happy accidents.

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Especially given Olympus’s track record (not least of the Mju-1 itself and its father/grandfather/godfather, the original XA), we can safely assume these were features specifically designed to make the LT-1 a very easy, almost invisible camera to use, yet at the same time that leather providing a hint of luxury unusual in a compact, unless you want to pay many hundreds of pounds more.

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In short, for those seeking a very capable, close focusing, genuinely compact film camera, it’s joy in a leather jacket. 

So would I crown the LT-1 as my AF king compact?

Well I certainly wouldn’t be upset if I was told it was the only compact (indeed the only film camera) I could shoot from this point on.

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Given its greater rarity, and the way those design features make me smile at Olympus’s intelligence and attention to detail each time I pick up, the LT-1 might just be my favourite compact, even trumping its older sibling the Mju-1.

Indeed my discovery of the Mju-1 , and then later the LT-1, feels very akin to being a teenage boy and finding a beautiful girl you spend a few months with and really start to think you might spend the rest of your life with her, gulp, only to discover she has an even cuter, quirkier and equally friendly younger sister.

In that irresistible leather jacket, of course.

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As a confused adolescent male in that situation, which sister would you run away with?

What’s your favourite 35mm film compact? 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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The Minimalist Dream

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Contax 139 Quartz with Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens, Olympus LT-1

Currently I’m thinning down my camera collection, and it’s smaller than it’s been in a couple of years. 

I experience an ongoing internal tussle between the photographer who wishes to evolve and to do so feels he needs a very small, focused kit, and the camera collector that loves trying new (old) cameras at the rate of one or two a week.

If the photographer won out, and had just one SLR and one compact, this is what he would choose. This, if you will, is the minimalist dream.

Contax 139 Quartz with Carl Zeiss Jena DDR MC Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens

Discovering Contax as a brand was a revelation, and the first one I had was a 139 Quartz.

It’s quite simply my favourite SLR I’ve ever used.

The compact size, super smooth controls and spacious bright viewfinder put it in a different class to cameras I’ve previous tried.

I then bought another 139 as a back up, which had very tatty leather, and recovered it. This is the one pictured above. It feels like new.

Also soon after came a 159MM and a 167MT, and just this week I’ve purchased a 137MA. I also have a Yashica FX-D, a sibling of the 139 (Yashica and Contax combined forces under Kyocera to create both), which is simply the best SLR I’ve used that doesn’t say CONTAX on the front.

The Carl Zeiss Flektogon I managed to acquire in a job lot of stuff, and was lucky to find one in excellent condition.

The aperture blades were a bit lazy though, and I just got it back from being serviced (the first time I’ve ever had a lens CLA’d!) and it also feels like new.

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Yashica FX-D, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens, Fuji Neopan 400CN film

Whilst I’m most comfortable and experienced with 50/55mm lens on SLRs, the 35mm Flektogon instantly just felt right. I love its close focus (<0.2m) and it’s unbelievably sharp.

It feels the best made Zeiss I’ve had too, as in the past they’ve not been as smooth to use as something like a Takumar or Minolta MC Rokkor. This Flek is now in touching distance of those mentioned.

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Contax 167MT, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200

The colours are lovely too – the above and below photographs were shot with humble and very cheap AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200.

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Contax 167MT, Carl Zeiss Flektogon 35mm f/2.4 M42 lens, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200

The keen eyed will have noted that the Contax 139 Quartz is Contax/Yashica (C/Y) mount, and the Flektogon is an M42 mount lens.

My arrival at the Contax bodies originally came mostly through looking for the best body available to shoot M42 lenses with, as after trying Pentax K, Minolta SR, Canon FD, Olympus OM and Konica AR lenses, I had already decided that M42 offered the most interesting and capable lenses at the most affordable prices.

Two M42 bodies remain in my collection – an Asahi Spotmatic F and a Fujica ST701. I shoot Sunny 11 with both of them, and they’re equally excellent.

But most of the time I’m more lazy, and wanted an aperture priority body, one that is lighter and more compact than the M42 bodies above.

The Contax 139 with a very simple M42 > C/Y adapter is an excellent option, and the adapter only cost around £12.

This set up also gave me an opportunity to use wonderful Carl Zeiss lenses, without paying the heady prices the C/Y Zeiss models seem to fetch.

I could have also chosen the Contax 159MM as my sole camera for this theoretical experiment, as it’s possibly even better than the 139, though somehow the latter has a greater charm for me. Maybe because it was my first.

Even the Yashica FX-D would serve me very well and cost less than half what the Contax bodies did.

Lens wise, the Takumar 55mm f/1.8 is gorgeous, still smoother to use than the Flektogon, and capable of wonderful photographs. But right now the Flektogon is my favourite.

Olympus LT-1

On the AF compact front, I recently finally “got” the Olympus Mju-1, after a few false starts. From that revelation, I discovered the same lens was used in a couple of other models, the LT-1, and AF-1 Mini, and bought examples of both.

The Mju-1 is an amazing compact and quite probably the purest AF point and shoot I’ve ever used.

Very small and streamlined, super simple to slide open and shoot, and once you find what it likes, the humble 35mm f/3.5 3 element lens is capable of quite superb results.

Oh and it focus closer than any other 35mm lens I’ve experienced in a compact – 0.35m.

The LT-1 though, might be even better. 

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Olympus LT-1, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

Essentially it’s the same lens, AF system and innards as the Mju-1, but in a slightly different shaped body, and dressed in leather. 

The round, pebble like shape is very tactile and comfortable to hold, and the leather certainly adds to the quality feel and assured handling.

The leather flap that covers the lens, looks like it might get in the way and be a case of style over function.

But actually, typically for Olympus, it’s superbly designed. 

The flap has a magnetic button to fix it closed, which is strong enough both to locate itself securely when its vaguely near, as well as to keep it safely covered when in your bag or pocket. Yet it can easily  be flipped up with your thumb when you want to use it.

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Olympus LT-1, AgfaPhoto Vista Plus 200 desaturated to b/w

Whereas with the Mju-1, the camera is powered up by just opening the sliding cover, the LT-1 has a separate switch by the lens. Again, like the flap, at first you might think this is awkward and makes it slower to use.

But cleverly (again!), Olympus have designed to LT-1 so this switch is exactly where your fingers expect it to be.

Even more cleverly, even when the camera is switched on and the lens has popped out a couple of mm, because the glass itself is safely recessed, it’s still easy to close the flap securely.

Which means when out and about on a photowalk, I leave the camera switched on, then just flip the flap open with my thumb when I’m ready to use it, compose and shoot.

It’s just as quick and pure in its “point and shootness” as the Mju-1.

The Mju-1 is revered (rightly) for its excellent egonomics (whereas in my opinion its successor the Mju II handles like a bar of wet soap), but the LT-1 is even better.

The combination of the curved pebble shape, the leather body, the raised thumb rest at the rear of the camera, and the size and position of the shutter button, make holding it pretty much as perfect as I’ve ever experienced in a compact camera. 

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Olympus LT-1, Truprint FG+ 200 expired film

As you can gather, I love both the cameras I’ve featured here, they are as close to the ideal SLR and compact I have yet found.

It is very tempting to just stick with these two and sell off everything else I have to just invest in film and processing for the coming months and years. 

Whether that happens, or the ever curious and insatiate camera collector within me continuous to wield significant influence, only time will tell. I’ll keep you posted…

If you had to choose just one, what would your favourite SLR, lens and AF compact be? 

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

Mju Little Beauty

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Olympus made more than a few of the Olympus Mju 1, or to give it its full name, µ[mju:]-1, and over the last four years, I’ve had three of them.

The first two I enjoyed using but struggled to get any memorable pictures from them, and ended up selling them off, greatly disappointed.

My third example had similar beginnings, with a lacklustre test roll, so I was almost ready to give up on the promising little Olympus once and for all.

But something implored me to try one more roll, and though most of the shots were once again a let down, a couple were impressive enough to encourage me to experiment more. 

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After another roll still, the keeper rate (the number of shots I like enough to share online) has shot up vastly, and I’m sold on the charms of the Mju 1 for good.

Here’s why I’ve finally realised why Olympus’s tiny AF wonder is such a beauty – 

Size

One of very few genuinely trouser pocketable compact film cameras out there. I’ve had dozens that can be persuaded (ie forced) into a coat pocket, but the only ones I would call truly pocketable are the Mju 1, its older siblings the XA and XA2, the Minox 35 range, and Minolta’s AF-C. The Mju 1 excels in its sleekly streamlined shell adding further to its compactness.

Yes, its successor, the Mju II, is as slender, but for me the handling is poor and for the brief time I had one I nearly dropped it every time I went to use it. For me, Olympus took the compact design too far, and failed. If you can’t use the camera effectively it doesn’t matter if it’s as small as a box of matches.

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Ergonomics

Which ties in with the small size. The killer curves of the little Mju, which are excellent when the sliding lens cover is closed and even better when its open, make it a joy to hold and shoot with. The combination of the curved rear thumb rest and shaped front finger grips are an inspired design.

When you want to photograph in a slower and more contemplative way, the Mju’s handling is just as reassuring. When shooting two handed and/or at awkward angles, I use my left hand with thumb and forefinger at right angles to rest the camera upon. It really could not fit better in my hands.

Immediacy

Or in other words, the “pure point and shoot-ness” of the camera. The Mju 1 is I think the only camera I can take out of my pocket, slide open the cover, take a photo then close it and return to my pocket in a matter of a couple of seconds. With one hand. In my book its exquisite design make it the definitive point and shoot compact.

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Auto Focus

First of all the AF seems very reliable. I can’t recall having a shot yet where the camera hasn’t focused where I wanted it to.

Second, the AF confirm light in the viewfinder is clear, bright and logical. If the camera has locked focus (with a half press of the shutter button), the AF light remains steady green. If you’re too close (or the camera can’t focus for another reason) it flashes slowly. Simple, but so many compacts don’t give you this feedback.

Thirdly, and probably best of all, the Mju’s little lens focuses down to just 0.35m, an absolute delight for someone like me who loves shooting up close, but where the standard close focus for compacts is 0.8-0.9m. The difference between 0.8m and 0.35m is huge in terms of how many more creative options are available, and how much more of the world it becomes possible to capture.

As much as I love the Olympus XA, and its lens is very impressive in the final result, I struggle hugely to focus with its tiny rangefinder patch, and half the shots I take seem to be slightly off in focus. No such frustrations with the Mju 1, meaning ultimately I’d reach for the Mju now ahead of the XA.

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Lens

Although there are a plethora of compacts with very impressive 35mm f/2.8 lenses, the Mju’s humble 35/3.5, 3 elements in 3 groups lens is very good once you find what it likes.

At my level of photography (enthusiastic amateur), and for someone who doesn’t make/need large prints, the best photographs I’ve made with the Mju 1 have been more than good enough to not make me want to ditch the baby Olympus and reach for a more sophisticated f/2.8 that’s two or three times the bulk.

The focal length of 35mm is pretty much perfect for a compact, allowing a decent depth of field when shooting wider scenes, but still, combined with the Mju’s aforementioned close focus of 0.35m, gives some pleasingly shallow depth of field. In fact it’s more capable of “SLR like” shots than nearly all other compacts I’ve used.

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Autoexposure range

Cleverly, the Mju 1’s shutter range is 1/15s to 1/500s. Which means you needn’t worry about camera shake, as long as you have a reasonably steady hand. I’ve shot handheld at 1/8s with SLRs without any problems.

The max shutter speed of 1/500s at f/16 is fast enough enough in bright sunlight and with ISO400 film, which is the fastest film I use. Mostly I use ISO200 or 100, so in the less than scorching UK the Mju with its smallest aperture of f/16 shouldn’t ever max out.

Flash control

I never use flash. So being able to switch it off is pretty important to me. The flash of the Mju can’t be permanently switched off like some of the early 80s compacts where if the flash isn’t physically popped up, it can’t fire. Neither is it like cameras like the XA series or Minolta AF-C which require separate flash units. Disabling the flash requires two presses of a fairly small button, and this needs to be done again every time you switch the camera on.

But, crucially, the Mju tells you when it wants to use the flash. In the default start up mode of Auto Flash, when you half press the shutter button to lock focus, the red flash light comes on in the VF to advise you of its intentions. At this point, you can then release the shutter button, disable flash with the double button press, recompose and shoot.

In practice, as I shoot mostly in decent outdoor light, this rarely happens, so I can confidently shoot in the default Auto Flash mode without fearing I’ll be unexpectedly blinded at any moment, like with some cameras. Yes I’d rather have no flash at all, but having the camera intelligently warn you is the next best thing. Well done Olympus for giving us the best of both worlds.

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Of course, like any camera, as good as the Mju 1 is, it isn’t perfect. 

So what does it lack?

A big VF

The viewfinder isn’t the biggest or brightest you’ll ever find, and the early 80s compacts by Nikon, Canon, Konica, Pentax, Ricoh and Olympus themselves give a far bigger, clearer view. But they’re all two or three times the bulk of the Mju 1. And at least two or three times more noisy!

The VF of the Mju 1 is perfectly adequate for composition, and to set where you want the camera to focus. It also has parallax correction frame lines for when you’re shooting really close. Once you’re used to it, and you remember how small the camera is overall, the VF isn’t an issue.

Manual ISO setting

I use this mostly to overexpose expired film to get more saturated colours. The majority of film I use is ISO200, so I can either just shot this at box speed in the Mju, or if I want to overexpose a stop, simply put a piece of black tape over the DX code. Because for non-DX coded film, the Mju defaults to ISO100, so it’s an easy way of tricking the camera to overexpose ISO200 film a stop.

Yes ideally I like to shoot expired rolls of the beautiful Superia 100 at ISO80 or 64, but it’s not a massive deal, an if I was really concerned I could use/ make some DX code labels to fool the Mju to rate the film at ISO50, the only speed it has lower than ISO100 anyway. ISO200 film plus the black tape trick if and when I need it is just fine.

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Manual exposure

In truth, even with an SLR I stick around the same kind of aperture – f/5.6 to f/8. With the Mju’s strength (in my view) being closer shots (it focuses down to just 0.35m remember), at this distance the depth of field is going to be far more shallow anyway, and so far in using the Mju I haven’t been disappointed and thought “I wish I could get a more shallow depth of field”.

The autoexposure seems very intelligent, so much so that I can’t recall a single image where I wished the camera had used a great smaller or larger aperture. This is a tiny AF compact remember.

Having said that, considering it is a compact, the pictures I’ve been able to make are probably more SLR-like than any other compact camera I’ve used. So in practice, not having manual exposure isn’t really an issue at all, especially when the Mju as designed to be a pure point and shoot.

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All in all, once I’d made those couple of breakthrough images, the final piece of the Mju puzzle fell into place, and I realised how much of a(nother) little gem Olympus had created.

Right now, if I had to pick just one AF compact from my collection and put away the rest, the Mju 1 would be first choice.

So enamoured am I, I very recently bought an LT-1 (essentially a Mju-1 in a fancy leather jacket) and an AF-1 Mini, reputedly the same lens as the Mju-1, but in a lighter yet weatherproof outer casing. I’m hoping these two will bring as many smiles to my face in the coming weeks as their original sibling has.

If you haven’t tried one – or like me tried a couple of times with lacklustre results – please pick up a Mju 1 and have a(nother) go. Once you start to understand their beauty, there really is no going back, and those bulkier “compacts” start to look a lot less appealing…

Last Three Standing

Feeling somewhat overwhelmed recently by the extent of the cameras I’ve amassed, I’ve been thinking about the “rip it up and start again” approach.

If I lost all my cameras in a fire or flood, which three would I seek to replace first?

After surprisingly little thought (approximately 30 seconds) the candidates were obvious.

Here they are, and why –

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Pentax KM with Pentax SMC 50mm f/1.8 lens

Though I still have a couple of SLRs each from Konica and Minolta, after using a number of cameras in the last few years, Pentax have risen as my clear favourite for this type of camera.

I have eight Pentax SLRs, but if I had to choose one to use ahead of all the others, it would be the KM, with SMC Pentax 55mm f/1.8 lens.

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The KM is the pure essence of what an SLR (and indeed any camera) should be.

It has all you need, and nothing more, and despite its creative capabilities, every time I go back to use it, it feels a stripped down and refreshing experience.

The KM has an excellent lightmeter, with a simple needle on the right of the viewfinder.

When your exposure is good it rests horizontally in the middle. As it goes up, you’re overexposing, as it goes down, underexposing. No lights or numbers, just that needle. After a while you don’t even look at it, it’s just there, and you know when your exposure is on point.

Being a fully manual camera, you can of course ignore the lightmeter (or take the battery out) and meter with an external device, Sunny 16 or your own instinct.

The VF is a very good size, clear and clear, again with no frills. I love focusing with this camera.

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Essentially the KM for me is superb because it just gets out of the way and lets you focus and take pictures without any complications or fuss.

Whilst I have older cameras, without lightmeters at all (like the Pentax S1a for example), somehow the KM still wins with its reassuring and reliable presence.

Also, being a Pentax K mount, I can not only use K mount lenses like the excellent SMC Pentax 55/1.8 (optically identical to a Takumar 55/1.8 I’m informed), but with a simple adapter I also have access to a plethora of M42 lenses, like the Takumars, Helios, Pentacons and so on, if I want to.

In reality I’d be more than happy with the SMC 55/1.8, and have found it produces beautiful results as well as being super smooth to focus and having a beautifully weight aperture ring.

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In short, I’ve never had a more rewarding SLR experience than with the KM.

The MX is also fantastic, but sometimes I find it a bit overly fiddly with its LED metering instead of the needle, and a more tricky to adjust shutter speed dial. And sometimes too, bizarrely, it feels almost too short in height, whereas the KM feels just the right weight and size.

I also have a K1000, which I got before the KM, and they are almost identical, bar the KM having a depth of field preview lever (which I use a lot) and a self timer (which I never use). Otherwise the K1000 is just as brilliant.

I also have a Spotmatic F, which pretty much what the KM was when it was M42 mount, not K mount, and that camera is equally wonderful to use. It’s only the K mount and M42 mount option with the KM that noses it into the lead.

If I only had one SLR, the Pentax KM is all I ever need.

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Olympus XA (pictured right, above)

One of my first handful of 35mm film cameras was an Olympus XA2. To this day it remains one of the cameras I’ve taken and uploaded most photographs with, even though I sold the original one over two years ago.

The compact size, ingenious closing clamshell cover, and competent lens performance makes it a winner.

But then, I sold it.

Some time later (about two years!) I started looking at something with all the great features of the XA2, but with more creative control, and an even better lens.

Enter the XA.

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It has all the positive points of the XA2,  plus rangefinder focus (which after using the black square of tape trick becomes very usable), and aperture priority.

And an ingenious 35mm f/2.8 lens with six elements compared with the XA2’s 35/3.5 with four elements.

In many ways, although nothing like the Pentax KM, it is similar in that it has all you need, very intuitively arranged.

The aperture adjustment is a sliding switch on the front, and in the viewfinder you have a needle with the shutter speed scale, to give an indication.

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The focus is done via a tiny lever that protrudes below the lens. At first glance you think it’s far too small and fiddly to work.

But it does work, and its placed exactly where the tip of your forefinger can focus from less than 0.85m up to infinity whilst barely moving a centimetre.

If you’re feeling you crave the point and shoot simplicity of the XA2, just set the XA’s focus to the 3m mark (conveniently coloured orange on the scale above the lens), your aperture to f/5.6 (also coloured orange), or even f/8 or f/11 on a sunnier day, and you’ll get the vast majority of shots in focus and with a decent depth of field.

You also of course still have the shutter speed scale/needle to glance at if you want to make sure you’re not shooting too slow – though with the hair trigger shutter and minimal internal parts, you can shoot at a stop or two slower with the XA than with an SLR, and still have crisp shots.

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I love that the needle is horizontal at around 1/30s, ie the speed at which most people can still shoot handheld without any camera shake, so you don’t even need to look at the numbers, just the needle’s position.

Fantastic design in a camera that’s packed with it.

And that, aside from the almost unbelievably compact size (this is an aperture priority rangefinder camera too remember), is what makes the XA such a joy to use.

It feels like every last detail was designed by someone passionate about cameras, someone who wanted the end user, ie the photographer, to be delighted to use the XA.

For a size to features to lens performance ratio, I don’t think I’ve used anything better. An essential.

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Konica C35 EF

Another of my first half dozen cameras was a bright blue Konica Pop, a camera that was great fun and very simple with its fixed focus, fixed shutter speed and fixed aperture lens. You just set the ISO – 100, 200 or 400 (which actually changed the aperture size) – then pointed and shot.

I got some surprisingly good results with it, and it’s one of the cameras that once you get to know its parameters (for example its focus was fixed at 2.8m I believe), was really rather capable with its little Hexanon lens.

It was in seeking out a replacement a couple of years later, I stumbled across what at first glance I thought was a black Konica Pop.

It was instead the C35 EF3, its more sophisticated sibling, with autoexposure, shutter speeds between 1/60s and 1/500s and a 5 element 35mm f/2.8 Hexanon lens.

The focus options were greater than the Pop too, with four zone focus settings – 1m, 1.5m, 3m and infinity.

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Whilst the simple Konica Pop’s lens impressed me, the EF3’s left me gobsmacked.

When you got the focus right (which is much easier than some people tend to think with zone focus), the results were really special, especially for a cute little plastic compact that cost me less than £10.

Much like the other two cameras I’ve raved about above, the C35 EF3 does all you need and nothing more.

Everything is simple – you don’t need a rangefinder to focus, or the ability to set the aperture when the camera performs so well.

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I’ve used more compact cameras than any other kind by far (maybe 50, compared with say 15 SLRs, and a mere half dozen rangefinders), and the EF3 is the one that rises above them all.

I think it offers that sweet cocktail of tactile and sensory satisfaction with its manual ISO dial, wind on lever and zone focus around the lens.

Combined with the simplicity of the viewfinder, the charming, almost toy like design, and that delightful and unexpected gem of a Hexanon lens, the EF3 makes me grin every time I look at it, let alone use it.

Konica have made some very special cameras, and Hexanons have never disappointed, and this compact king is one of the best, in my book.

It’s so good I bought another (red) one as a back up in case the black one fails.

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Any one of these three cameras could be my sole shooting machine for years and bring a great deal of happiness.

The three combined as a super streamlined (for me!) collection offer even more potential delights…

So, that just leaves about 30 other cameras I need to sell…

The Smiling Camera

The Smiling Camera

Not one for endless analysis, poring over the fine detail of tech specs, or pixel peeking, I prefer to judge a camera’s worth (and whether I keep it or not) by my response to two simple questions – 

1. Does it make me smile when I’m using it?

2. Does it make me smile when I see the final photographs?

A Yes to Q1 but not Q2 and it will likely get another chance to see if I can produce some better final images, or just for the pleasure of using it again.

Yes to Q2 but not Q1, and it will likely be on the way out pretty soon. Life’s too short to waste time and film on cameras I don’t love using.

Yes to both questions of course is the holy grail of the photollector.

For me, there are a small group of cameras that have excelled in these areas, including the three above –

Konica C35 EF3 (the only compact camera I have two examples of, and even think about buying a third)

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Canon Sure Shot A1

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Olympus XA

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I plan to use these two simple questions more to weed out the mediocre and the maybes and get my collection down a handful of glistening gems…

How do you judge a camera and whether to keep it or not?