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.
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.
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.
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.
What do you consider a compact camera, and when do you use them?
Please let us know in the comments below.
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