New Pocket Heroes

22572347388_0a8b414cdc_cOne of my ongoing quests in photography is finding the best genuinely pocket sized cameras.

There tend to be three sizes of (film) camera that I’ve experienced.

The largest are any that are too big and bulky for even a coat pocket. This includes virtually all 35mm SLRs, and a surprising number of supposed “compact” cameras.

The next group are somewhat smaller, and can be comfortably secreted in your jacket pocket. Most compact 35mm cameras are in this category, and personally I prefer this option to having a compact dangling round my neck.

Lastly are the genuinely trouser pocket sized machines, those that can be slipped in a trouser pocket without causing you to either limp or burst the stitching, or simply held in the palm of your hand.

These are few and far between, and I rounded up the few contenders pictured above recently.

The tiniest of these, and arguably the best featured, and capable of the most impressive photographs, is the Olympus XA.

With its amazing level of creative control (manual ISO, manual focus, manual aperture) in a body small enough to smuggle even in slim fit trews, it’s hard to beat.

After a bit of further research though I’ve come across a new contender for the crown.


Yes, I am bending the rules, as it’s an APS camera, rather than 35mm. But even so it’s absolutely tiny, and smaller than most digital compacts.

But fortunately the little Canon IXUS L-1 is about more than size. 

For starters it features a fixed 26mm f/2.8 lens. This equates to a 32.5 mm lens in 35mm film format, so on the wider side of fixed lens compacts. And yes, that’s a fixed lens, not a zoom – rare in any consumer film camera made after about 1990!

Modes are pretty straightforward, including the vital flash off. And that’s about it, aside from the usual C, H and P image sizes/crops available on all APS cameras. It also has the usual two lights in the viewfinder, green for AutoFocus confirm, and red for flash required.

To be honest, at first glance I wondered if it was too small, too fiddly, too flimsy.

Reassuringly the L-1 has a fair bit of metal in its body and feels well made and robust. Added to this, Canon have cleverly added a curvaceous bulge at both the front and back of the right hand side of the camera, which fit in the hand very well. Without this, it would have been too thin to properly grip, even with my smallish hands, and fallen into the bar of soap handling category like the Olympus mju II.

Finally, another pleasant surprise is the viewfinder. It’s not vast but better than many late era 35mm zoom compacts, and for this miniature size of camera it’s more than adequate.

I’ve not shot APS before, but having found a guy via eBay who processes the film at a reasonable cost, I want to give it a try. 

Of course having been discontinued as a format for some years, the only film you can obtain now is already expired. Hopefully, with modern film, anything within about 10 years or so of expiry should give decent enough results, and I’ve managed to pick up a few different rolls fairly cheaply by Jessops (probably made my Kodak or Fuji) and Kodak and Fuji themselves.

Another appeal for me is the aspect ratio of APS.

There are three framing options – C, H and P – and in reality all shots are captured as the full frame size H (30.2 × 16.7 mm) and the film records whether the user has chosen to have prints as C or P and instructs the developer to print them accordingly.

I’m not going to mess around with different sizes, and shoot purely at the full size H frame, which is an interesting 16:9 aspect ration as opposed to the 3:2 of 35mm film that I’m so used to.

Essentially, it’s like watching a widescreen TV instead of an older more square format TV.

Whether APS and the Canon IXUS L-1 ends up as a brief fling or a lasting and treasured relationship, only time will tell. 

But for now, the camera’s small yet ergonomic size, quality feel, simplicity and promising lens make this new adventure an enticing prospect…


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