Exploring analogue film photography: point-and-shoot cameras

I do weddings as well as event, portrait and branding photography (you can see my wedding work under my wedding brand, Art of Life Films and Photo), and I shoot both digital and film photography. I use both medium format and 35mm SLR film cameras, but I’d heard about a couple of wedding photographers using point and shoot film cameras and I  was intrigued. I love shooting film and I’m always looking out for new analogue film cameras to try out, as every camera has its ‘style’ or ‘tone’. But which camera, if any, would I enjoy shooting with, which would suit my wedding style.

From dismissal to discovery: point-and-shoots for weddings and events

I had always dismissed point and shoot cameras as ‘not being good enough’, as the cameras I had when I was a child lacked consistency and were made of plastic, and often had terrible focusing. The idea of a small film camera which I could throw in the bag, and for it to not take up much space really appealed, but there was no way I wanted to risk poor quality images. I also wanted to add a camera to the collection that I could use for teaching analogue photography workshops.

So I did what I always do when I’m looking for a new camera, I ‘googled’ point and shoot wedding photos and created a ‘moodboard’ of  images where I loved the style/tone of. And while doing that I made a note of what camera was used to take the photo  to see what ‘patterns’ would arise and if there would be a clear ‘winner’ for me.

Choosing the Nikon L35 AF2: discovering its limitations and surprises

It didn’t take long for me to see that almost all the images I ‘hearted’ came from the same camera – the Nikon L35 in its various forms, the AF, the AD and the AF2. They’re not cheap though. For what initially seemed like a plastic camera from the 70s that you might pull out of a (admittedly large) Christmas cracker, you can expect to pay upwards of £150 (2023) for a working L35 AF. Just by chance, I found an untested L35 AF2, without a case,  on Ebay and decided to take a chance on it for £50.

It arrived and I was first struck by how little there was to it. It was so blocky it felt like it came from a Lego box. But most of all I was stunned that it seemed to work okay after putting in batteries and film. It comes with a flash and this is the only thing you can sort of control; you can stop the flash going off by pressing down on it. The L35 AF2, the model I have, has an integrated lens cover and the camera starts working and metering using the battery when the cover is open. It can’t take filters and there are no interchangeable lenses. What you see is what you get.

HP5 film on the

Nikon L35 AF2

I always try out new cameras with Ilford HP5 black and white film because it has lots of latitude for dodgy light metering and offers a wide range of tones from dark to light. I know some people feel HP5 is very ‘vanilla’ but I’ve always loved it for documentary style photography, it’s clean and ‘bright’ and shows details pretty well. But it could be any film that you feel works well on a wide variety of cameras and which is fairly 'forgiving' if the camera might not be that great.

HP5 film as my 'control' reference for test shots

I have to say I loved using this camera, it was quite liberating to just take pictures with no real idea of what I was going to get. I took the Nikon L35 to Nottingham, where I went to Analogue Spotlight, and after using Ilford HP5, I then moved on to Kodak Ultramax, Cinestill 400D, and finally Cinestill XX (black and white). The Kodak Ultramax film was a gift from Analogue Wonderland as part of the Analogue Spotlight Sunday photowalk.

Other types of films with the Nikon L35 AF2

Grungy and warm and saturated colours for the Day of the Dead—Columbia Road, East London

I decided to use Cinestill 400D and Cinestill XX because I don’t think it could be more different from HP5 and my go-to Kodak Portra 400 for colour. These photos were taken in Columbia Road in East London, of the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations held there every year. I felt this film suited this event, with its slightly grungy but ‘other-worldly’ saturated and warm colours.

Using Cinestill films with the Nikon L35 AF2

Cinestill XX on the

Nikon L35 AF2

Because there’s no control over the exposure, I was worried I’d find Cinestill XX just a bit too contrasty for normal use for this camera, which it was for a lot of my shots. However I feel it worked really well on my skyscraper shots. These were also the sharpest in-focus shots; this particular camera seems to favour landscape shots but it’s not bad for portraits as well, as long as your subject isn't too close to the camera.

Cinestill XX—great for dramatic black and white shots

I think HP5 works really well for this camera because of the latitude for exposure, as you just don’t have any control over what you get. I probably got the most 'keepers' from this film. And the lack of control is the crux of it—I really enjoyed having to ‘let’ go and just see what I got. The minimum focus is just over 1 metre but I think I got my best results a bit further away than that.

If you’re a control freak you will hate this camera. But if you like the idea of a point and shoot that gives remarkably good results for its limitations, which allows you to focus on the picture itself, this is a wonderful little camera to have. A lot of it is luck though, I feel very lucky I just happened to buy a camera with a fully working light meter, and it’s pretty accurate on the whole.

I’ll definitely be hanging on to it. It’s so light and small and it has an incredible lens and the lens cover also shuts down the camera when it's closed. It really could go in a handbag (as long as it's not too small) but I decided to splash out on the official case for the camera just to prevent dust and other crap in my handbag getting in the camera. I also sometimes take it along with my digital camera as it takes up so little space in the backpack and gives a different ‘look’ from my Canon digital shots.

I’ll be honest; the price of these retro point and shoots, in particular, the Nikon L35 AF and AD have recently skyrocketed and feel absolutely ridiculous. Right now it feels like there’s a lot of profiteering on barely tested and defective but ‘working’ models of the Nikon L35. They’re nice cameras but at £200 or £250+, to me it would feel like I was being robbed blind. I feel I got super-lucky with this purchase, and it's a great camera that suits me. Are the Nikon L35 cameras the best you can get? Definitely not, and for every good image you'll probably throw away several.

Here are some other point and shoots which others have recommended and which I researched. I particularly wanted a camera that would allow me to set the ISO manually, and which I could use filters with. Again, some are cheaper than others, and some are crazy expensive—it's up to you how much you spend, but personally I would balk at spending more than about £80 on something that could give up the ghost tomorrow. I ended up compromising; the Nikon L35 AF2 doesn't have adjustable ISO options.

I'm not sure how much paying a huge price for a point and shoot camera would improve my shots; at the end of the day, the way I take street photos is unlikely to change that much from one point and shoot to another. It's a box with a lens and (hopefully) a working light meter; in my opinion, it's what you do with it that matters.

The Contax T2 is praised for its Carl Zeiss lens, build quality and various shooting modes, making it versatile for different lighting conditions. I’ve seen stunning photos taken with this camera. But…I’ve also seen some terrible photos with this camera. You can’t change the box speed of your film; this is automatic, but the camera does have an exposure compensation dial. However in 2023 you’d be lucky to get change from £900 for a working version.

This compact point-and-shoot camera is highly regarded for its sharp lens and overall image quality. It’s small and compact, making it convenient for capturing candid moments at a wedding. This one comes with a zoom so it could be more useful in some ways than the others. But DX coding is automatic, and you can’t override this. If I hadn't bought the Nikon L35 AF2, this would have been a possible contender. In 2023 prices are around £130 to £149+ for a fully working version

Said to be reliable and easy to use, this Canon camera offers a decent lens and automatic settings. If I hadn't found the Nikon L35 AF2, I would have bought this camera instead, as it feels 'good value' for what you get. You can set the ISO on the lens ring up to ISO 400 and it has a timer/prefocus lever that may help with focusing on off-centre subjects. It can't take threaded filters. It costs around £80 fully working.

The Yashica T3 boasts a Carl Zeiss T* 35mm f/2.8 lens, which is faster (wider aperture) than the T4. This faster aperture allows for better low-light performance and potential for more background blur in certain situations. It has a reliable autofocus system and it's reported to be well-built. You can manually set the film ISO up to 1600 and apparently it can also accept filters of 30.5mm, but you'll be paying around £120+ for a fully working version. Definitely worth a look if low light scenes are your thing.

This Nikon point-and-shoot film camera has a good lens, and the AD is the same camera but with a gimmicky looking data back on it. You can get wide and telephoto adapters as well as use filters on the lens. The AF comes in 400 ISO and a 1000 ISO versions, the AD offers up to 1000 ISO.

Would I have bought this camera instead of the AF2? Possibly, but only if I'd managed to pick it up at say, under £130. I really don't feel it's worth £200 or more, which is what they seem to be going for at the moment.

I've included this camera as it's a compact point-and-shoot camera that offers autofocus and a versatile zoom lens. In addition it has the option to adjust ISO manually to 3200, making it a good choice if you want this control. It's got a zoom, which could be useful, autofocus, apparently can take 46mm filters, and it's light and easy to use. And the best bit—it's possibly the cheapest of all of the cameras listed and it's possible to find fully working models for £60 or less on Ebay.