Gear

The 10 Best 35mm Compact Cameras Ever Made

It’s been a little more than a decade since digital more or less started supplanting film, and I still occasionally find myself in mourning.At first it was for the superior resolution and dynamic range of film, but as digital sensors improved drastically over the last 10 years, this became less of an issue. Regardless, while it was true that 35mm could technically out-resolve many sensors in the past, I could never afford to drum scan every roll anyway.

In the end, the convenient but ultimately mediocre labs I used ended up costing me a lot of quality in the scans, so film was (and remains) what I reach for when I want to have fun shooting.

So while I still pine for the individual character and colour profiles of many lost films, what really makes me want to continue shooting film is the great diversity of camera gear.

In the glory days of photography there were simply so many companies out there making cameras, each with their own philosophies and interpretations of what the best design was.

For example, purely in the compact camera market we had brands like Minolta, Konica, Rollei, Yashica, Contax, Olympus, Leica, and not to mention Nikon and Canon all crafting out iconoclastic, memorable, and distinctive models. Each camera had their own individual flaws, but some models came close to perfection.

Today, would it be a fair assessment to say that only Fujifilm dare to dream? This doesn’t mean technology-wise, where Sony is excelling, but certainly regarding camera design, which Sony continues to ignore.

The X100T has been pretty much the only digital point-and-shoot so far to capture the joy of shooting with a well-designed compact, so until the much anticipated upgrade comes out, why don’t you consider the following cameras?

*Arguably the 15 best point & shoots if we consider variant models. Please also bear in mind that the cameras are ranked only by release date.

10) Olympus XA (1979)

Image by Gene Wilburn / Flickr
Image by Gene Wilburn / Flickr

This is a truly pocketable little camera that defies the category of point-and-shoot a little bit because it’s more of a manual focus rangefinder, complete with a tiny split focusing screen. Forgive me, but its omission would be a crime. The minimalist design of the XA harks back to an era when engineers were allowed to experiment, resulting in one of the most gloriously elegant cameras in history.

I bought one around a decade ago and it’s still running well, although I haven’t used it too much in all honesty. It’s equipped with a sharp F. Zuiko 35mm f/2.8 and impressively allows users to manually select the aperture from f/2.8 to f/22.

Average price: $30-$60 USD

Find it on Amazon here.

One of my few shots with the XA , shot using Kodak 400CN.
One of my few shots with the XA , shot using Kodak 400CN.

9) Yashica T2-5 (1986-1995)

Image by Damiao Santana / Flickr
Image by Damiao Santana / Flickr

The Yashica series of cameras are like budget Contax T2/3s—they come loaded with laser-sharp Carl Zeiss lenses, but unlike the Contaxs, are housed in plastic bodies.

The T3 has the fastest: a Zeiss 35mm f/2.8, while the T2, T4, and T5 (often called the T4 Super) have a 35mm f/3.5. The lenses vignette a little, but many photographers love the quality that adds to their images. These cameras are the most recommended 35mm point-and-shoots to film beginners for their price, and are generally a good value. Their prices aren’t super low anymore since the secret has been out on these models for years, but they are still incredibly fun to shoot with. The Yashica T4 and T5 are the most expensive and favoured of the series, and all the models are auto-exposure and autofocus only.

Average Yashica T2 price: $35-60 USD

Average Yashica T3 price: $50-100 USD

Average Yashica T4 price: $150-$300 USD

Average Yashica T5 price: $150-$300 USD

Find the T2 on Amazon here.

Find the T3 on Amazon here.

Find the T4 on Amazon here.

Find the T5 on Amazon here.

Yashica T4 / Image by Jelle / Flickr
Yashica T4 / Image by Jelle / Flickr

8) Contax T2 (1990)

Yashica T4 / Image by Jelle / Flickr
Yashica T4 / Image by Jelle / Flickr

I’ve shot hundreds of rolls on my Contax T2 and it’s easily one of my favourite cameras of all time, but I’ll try to keep my thoughts on it short. Optically this is a beast, with an incredibly sharp 38mm f/2.8 Zeiss Sonnar. Photographers can use aperture priority mode and even manually focus using a distance sensor, allowing the possibility of complete control.

When not in use the lens retracts back into the body, although even with this feature the camera is certainly not the most compact. Still, it’s virtually indestructible, and the only reason why I’ve temporarily stopped using it after 8+ years is because I’m about to upgrade to the Contax T3. The autofocus is very good, but can sometimes be inconsistent and lock on infinity.

Average price: $350-$650 USD

Find it on Amazon here.

Shot with Agfa Ultra 100.
Shot with Agfa Ultra 100.

7) Konica Hexar AF (1993)

Image by Aurélien Désert / Flickr
Image by Aurélien Désert / Flickr

Konica’s Hexar AF is probably the largest camera on this list, but it’s also one of the most revered. It’s more accurate to think of it as a fixed-lens rangefinder than a point-and-shoot, although it is autofocus (justifying its inclusion). It came in black and silver versions, and the black ones had a “silent mode” built in, earning the Hexar AF a reputation as one of the quietest cameras ever made. Many silver versions have been updated to have this feature.

It comes with an absolutely beautiful 35mm f/2.0 lens although the autofocus is known to be a little sluggish. Take your time with this camera and you’ll get wonderful results.

Average price: $500-$1000 USD

Flashback to Kai with the M9 vs the Hexar AF!

Image by Richard Whitesell / Flickr
Image by Richard Whitesell / Flickr

6) Nikon 35/28 Ti (1993/94)

Image by wolf4max / Flickr
Image by wolf4max / Flickr

Nikon came out with the 35Ti first in 1993, before following up with a wide-angle version called the 28Ti. Naturally, the 35Ti featured a Nikkor 35mm f/2.8, while the 28Ti had a Nikkor 28mm f/2.8. The Ti in both these cameras stands for titanium, which all the premium camera makers were using back then for their flagship compacts. This made them quite hefty, leaving them on the larger side of cameras on this list.

Aside from the stellar lenses, the best part of these two cameras is that they both have Nikon’s famed Matrix metering system, which allows both cameras to expose transparencies very well. The only problem would be that the autofocus has been known to be relatively loud and slow.

Average 35Ti price: $250-$750 USD

Average 28Ti price: $380-$650 USD

This fantastic shot sums up the 35Ti: excellent metering, but slow focusing / Image by Richard P J Lambert / Flickr
This fantastic shot sums up the 35Ti: excellent metering, but slow focusing / Image by Richard P J Lambert / Flickr

5) Minolta TC-1 (1996)

Image by Lordcolus / Flickr
Image by Lordcolus / Flickr

The Minolta TC-1 is one of the most admired compacts in the used market for its durability, razor sharp Rokkor lens, and design. This is a truly pocketable and intuitive camera that many hail as one of the best models ever made.

It’s an aperture priority camera as the image above shows, which does allow some flexibility. The lens is a highly acclaimed 28mm f/3.5, and the body is made of titanium just like the Nikon 28Ti and Contax T-series. The TC-1 is a bit of an oddity and a bit of a rarity, but certainly something that causes no small amount of camera envy in compact enthusiasts. It does seem to have a fearful vignette however at all apertures.

Average price: $500-$1000 USD

Find it on Amazon here.

Image by 8 Kome / Flickr
Image by 8 Kome / Flickr

4) Olympus μ[mju:]-II (1997)

Image by Sarah Joy / Flickr
Image by Sarah Joy / Flickr

The Olympus μ[mju:]-II is effectively a modernised version of the XA, complete with autofocus and metering. It remains slim, but is longer and sleeker than the XA, although it retains the iconic sliding lens cover of the original.

This is a cult classic that many photographers have favoured for years due to the excellent quality of the 35mm f/2.8 lens at a very reasonable price. The other cameras from this series often featured softer, slower zoom lenses, making the μ[mju:]-II, or Olympus Stylus Epic as it was referred to in Western markets, the cream of the crop. The main drawback (although some would see this as an advantage) is that the camera has no manual functions, making it quite the basic point-and-shoot.

Average price: $50-$120 USD

Find it on Amazon here.

Image by Alexander Farley / Flickr
Image by Alexander Farley / Flickr

3) Ricoh GR21 (2001)

Image from Wikipedia
Image from Wikipedia

With the GR21, Ricoh became the first camera company to slap an ultra-wide lens onto a compact. It remains quite a remarkable sign of both engineering talent and ambition, meaning that it’s still quite expensive nowadays.

The GR21 features the same body and design as the GR1/GR1s/GR1v, with the main difference being that the other 3 Ricohs have a 28mm lens, while the GR21 uses a 21mm. These are some of the best street cameras around, and even the digital versions are fantastic.

Image by Jarvist Frost / Flickr
Image by Jarvist Frost / Flickr

2) Contax T3 (2001)

Image by tomohisa suna / Flickr
Image by tomohisa suna / Flickr

Then we have the Contax T3, which arguably is the finest film point & shoot ever made. It combines the best of almost every model listed here and crams them all into one single titanium body. Contax spared no expense in making this an extremely durable and reliable camera, attached with a Carl Zeiss Sonnar 35mm f/2.8 gem of a lens that can focus closer (up to .4m) and more quickly than the Contax T2.

This is a camera without any kinks; there is little vignetting past 2.8, the functions are limited but essential, and the metering and focus are accurate. Sure it’s pricey, but to be fair, second hand T3s have rarely fluctuated in cost.

Average price: $700-$1100 USD

Find it on Amazon here.

Image by Ivan Constantin / Flickr
Image by Ivan Constantin / Flickr

1) Fuji Klasse S/W (2007)

Image by Mika Ho / Flickr
Image by Mika Ho / Flickr

The Fuji Klasse W is one of the more recent point-and-shoots made, and it was introduced alongside the Fuji Klasse S back in 2007. This film camera remains relatively unknown due to the rising popularity of digital, and also the fact that it was only released for the Japan market.

The Klasse S is equipped with a 38mm f/2.8 Super EBC Fujinon lens, which many photographers have noted is quite similar to the legendary Zeiss on the Contax T2, while the Klasse W has a 28mm f/2.8 Super EBC Fujinon lens, which is also excellent.

As you can expect from two modern compacts, they have a good list of features including autofocus with the option for manual. Already however they’ve been discontinued, but they are still relatively widely available on Ebay, and worth a look even though classics such as the Contax T2 or Ricoh GR1v are arguably better.

Average price: $250-$500 USD

Find it on Amazon here.

Image by Sai Mr. / Flickr
Image by Sai Mr. / Flickr

Honourable Mentions

Rollei 35S (1966)Added in for you guys!

Minox 35GT (1981)

Leica Minilux (1995)

Cover image shot with a Nikon 35Ti by Flickr user Miguel.

Read more about Compact Cameras: http://www.digitalrev.com/article/panasonic-unveils-two-4k-cameras