Nikon L35AF – The Best Point and Shoot Film Camera Under $200?
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Looking for a point and shoot film camera under $200? The Nikon L35AF just might fit the bill. In this review, we’ll explore what makes the Nikon L35AF a great choice and help you decide if it’s the right camera for you.
The Nikon L35 features a fantastic lens and a compact, durable design. The camera couldn’t be easier to operate and produces great results even with inexperienced users.
But what sets the Nikon L35AF apart from other options is its relatively low price. Compared to other models with similar features, the Nikon L35AF is a cheap point and shoot film camera that doesn’t compromise on quality.
While there’s no denying that in 2023, the L35AF is no longer the hidden secret it was 10 years ago, we still believe that it’s one of the best budget picks.
Of the many point and shoot film cameras that have made their way through our collection, the longest lasting and most used would absolutely be the Nikon L35AF. Check out the full, hands-on review below.
Table of Contents
The L35AF was Nikon’s first compact camera to feature autofocus. First released in 1983, it was a little behind the times, as autofocus point and shoot cameras had been around for 5 years (the first being the Konica C35 AF).
At the time, it could’ve been described as the direct competitor to Canon’s offering, the AF35M.
The release of the L35AF proved to be well worth the wait – you may even see this camera referred to as “Pikaichi”, which means “top-notch” in Japanese.
If we had to summarize this camera in as few words as possible, it would be hard to get more succinct and accurate than “top-notch”.
There are a few variations of the Nikon L35 that you may see if you’re in the market for one:
- L35AF is the original model, with a 35mm f/2.8 lens.
- L35AD is the same as the AF, with the addition of an autodate back.
- L35AF2, also known as the One Touch is the second version. Still a 35mm f/2.8 lens.
- L35AD2, also known as the One Touch Autodate is the same as the AF2, with an autodate back.
- L35AW AF, also knows as the Action Touch or the One Touch All Weather is a waterproof version. This version still has a 35mm f/2.8, but it is a different, arguably inferior lens than all of the predecessors.
- L35TW AF, also known as the Tele Touch is a twin lens version. You can switch between a 35mm f/3.5 and 70mm f/5.6 lenses.
Aside from the gimmicky iterations (the all-weather and the twin lens), the other versions of this camera all functioned extremely similarly while producing very similar photos.
We’ve owned both an L35AF2 and an L35AD, but you can expect that what’s said will apply to whichever version you end up with (as long as it’s the AF/AD or the AF2/AD2).
If you’re interested in a thorough, detailed breakdown of all the cameras specifications, we’d recommend checking out the original user manual.
The lens has a maximum aperture of f/2.8, which is essentially the fastest you’re going to find on a point and shoot film camera.
Arguably the single most important part of any camera, the L35’s lens was (and still is) incredibly special. Most compact cameras at the time utilised Tessar style lenses, but the L35 was unique in its Sonnar style lens built with five elements in four groups.
The 35mm focal length remains popular in many types of photography, but it’s especially suited for the snapshot style that draws many people to this type of camera.
A unique feature of the L35 series is the 46mm filter thread on the lens. While DIY versions work, a true thread is definitely ideal if filters are something you use regularly.
This also allows you to mount a lens hood and cap, if you’re that meticulous about things.
Focusing / Viewfinder
When you take a look through the viewfinder, you’ll see frame lines used for composing your shot, but they also help achieve straight lines in your image.
At the bottom of the viewfinder, you’ll see a focus indicator that helps ensure you’ve locked focus before taking a photo. The needle moves to one of the three symbols once you’ve achieved proper focus.
The focus range for the L35AF is 0.8m (2.6 feet) to infinity.
Uniquely placed at the bottom of the lens, the camera’s meter is generally appreciated for its accuracy, even in some trickier lighting situations.
A nice feature is a lever on the side of the lens that gives you +2 stop compensation for shooting a backlit subject.
The built-in flash couldn’t be more straightforward; if it’s too dark for the camera to make a good exposure, the flash will pop up.
An indicator light shows you when the flash is ready to fire, and you need to manually close the flash once you’re done taking photos with it.
To manually use the flash when the camera doesn’t need it for a good exposure, it’s as simple as covering the meter and tricking the camera into thinking that the photo is darker than it really is.
This can create some interesting photos, especially with the L35’s flash sync going all the way up to the camera’s maximum shutter speed of 1/500.
The Nikon L35AF runs off of two standard AA batteries. Nikon estimates that this equates to roughly 100 rolls of film without using the flash, or 10 rolls if using the flash on every frame.
While almost all versions of the Nikon L-Series of cameras accept film speeds of 50-1000, some of the earliest versions of the L35AF/AD only accept 25-400. This is probably the most significant difference between models that you want to check for if you’re looking to buy this camera.
Performance and Handling
Here are our personal takeaways from many years using the Nikon L35. We’ve owned both an AD and an AF – you can expect that everything said below should apply to either model.
Size / Weight
One thing that you’ll notice in the first two seconds of holding this camera is that it is deceivingly heavy, especially when compared to other popular, comparable models.
This may be a pro or a con for you – we find the weight gives the camera a sturdier feeling without being cumbersome in any way.
The body is made fully of metal and coated in plastic, so they really are quite solid little cameras.
Of all the point and shoot film cameras we’ve owned, the L35AF is the one we feel most confident taking out if we know it might get beat up. Our L35s have accompanied us to countless mosh pits, camping trips, and dizzy nights after the bars closed. They can take a beating.
The size of the L35AF is also a bit bigger than some similar models (such as the Olympus µ[MJU:]-II), but that can really be a positive or a negative. You’re definitely not gonna fit this one in your jeans pocket, but with the right jacket, you’re in business.*
What you lose in portability, you gain back in an extremely comfortable position while holding the camera. The size, weight, and small grip protruding from the front of the camera make this feel like it was truly designed for maximum comfort while taking photos.
*Here at Lens Lurker we, in no way, endorse storing your camera in any of your pockets, although we are guilty of doing so from time to time.
Focusing / Viewfinder
If you’re coming to the L35AF from anything other than a similar, compact film camera, the viewfinder will take some time to get used to. Just like any other point and shoot, the viewfinder is small, and can sometimes be tough to use.
While we don’t really ever have an issue seeing through the viewfinder, it can sometimes be tough to see the frame lines or focus indicators and you have to readjust your view.
The autofocus is about as simple as possible, and the indicators are nice; not all point and shoot film cameras confirm that you’ve achieved correct focus before snapping your photo.
We find that we have no trouble getting properly focused photos almost all of the time. Maybe on average, just one photo per roll of film we miss focus with the L35AF.
Film Loading / Unloading
Film loading, advancing, and rewinding are all done automatically. Couldn’t be easier! One interesting feature is that when rewinding a roll of film, the camera leaves a small leader sticking out.
Shoot a roll, give it to a friend and have them shoot photos over yours and see what happens! It can lead to some interesting results (or crushing agony when you realize the photo you’ve been excited to see now has an out of focus tree in the middle of the frame).
Whatever you do, just make sure to mark your film when you finish it, because it’s easier than you’d think to forget if a roll is new or used with the leader sticking out.
We’re consistently blown away by the quality of photos that can be taken with this small, cheap point and shoot film camera.
Photos look fantastic whether naturally lit, or using the built in flash. When using the flash, the photos sometimes have a quality that reminds me of a disposable camera (we say that with the warmest regards).
In reality, there isn’t much use in nitpicking the image quality of a camera like this. The whole point of this camera is that it couldn’t be easier to use and, in theory, that means you’ll use it more.
Don’t worry, the photos look great, but the bigger draw of this camera is the fact that you’ll actually keep it with you all the time, and catch those moments that you probably would’ve missed with a nicer setup.
Taking a photo on the L35AF takes however long it takes for you to flip the switch located on the shutter, and find your focus. No waiting for a lens to pop out like some other compact film cameras, no adjusting your shutter speed, or even waiting for the electronics on your camera to “wake up”.
If you see a photo you want to take, it’ll be no more than three or four seconds and you don’t even need both hands.
Negatives / Common Problems
As with any camera, no matter how great it is, there are bound to be some negatives. These are our biggest complaints about the camera, as well as some common problems that are common.
- The camera pulls from the battery whenever it’s on. The power switch is flimsy and easily turns on in a bag, draining the battery quickly.
- The battery door is flimsy and prone to breaking. Ours is held down with tape.
- It’s easy to accidentally press the shutter fully when trying to focus.
- The hooks to attach straps force the camera to hang vertically.
- Nosier than some other comparable models.
- The focusing mechanism can fail. We’ve lost a few to this.
Who Should Buy This Camera?
If you’re interested in analog photography, we think that a point and shoot film camera like the Nikon L35AF should absolutely have a place in your bag (or on your shelf or, ideally, around your neck).
The L35AF might be particularly well suited to you if the following is true:
- You prefer a solid, durable camera, even at the expense of a few extra grams.
- You want something simple to use with limited settings but great results.
- You like taking photos with a built-in flash.
- You like the vintage ‘80’s aesthetic of the camera (we’ve received ten times more questions and compliments about this camera than any other).
- You like shooting with a 35mm focal length.
- You don’t want to spend more than a few hundred dollars.
While many cameras have circulated in and out of our collection throughout the years, the Nikon L35AF has maintained a permanent position.
For us, this camera is the perfect blend of durability, image quality, and affordability. Do we wish that we had a Contax T3? Sure, why not! But more importantly, do we think that a T3 would get used as much as an L35AF? Not a chance.
Some other compact film cameras may produce marginally better photos, but for us, a point and shoot pretty much exists for the times that a bigger, more manual camera seems like a burden.
This isn’t the camera we take out when we need to make sure the lighting is perfect, or the focus needs to be absolutely precise. This is the camera we take out when bringing a bag or manually metering seems like a hassle.
Our Nikon L35AFs have been around the world and captured some of our memories. If you decide to give this camera a try, yours just might do the same.
Maybe most important of all, you’re probably wondering what photos taken on the Nikon L35 actually look like. We’ve gathered a handful of great shots from a variety of photographers.
Other Reviews / Resources
Other Models to Consider
While we love the L35AF, there are plenty of alternatives that are worth considering. The world of point and shoot film cameras is vast and filled with many interesting options.
Our Favorite Point and Shoot Film Camera Under $100: Canon AF35M
Many of the most popular compact film cameras were easy to find for under $100 ten years ago. But with an increased interest, a finite number of cameras available, and the most basic understanding of supply vs demand, you can guess what’s happened…
That said, another one of our favorite point and shoots, the Canon AF35M can still be found for around $100. As mentioned above, this model was the closest competition to Nikon’s L35AF and probably the most similar.
Film Speeds: 25-400
Size: 132 x 77 x 54mm
Lens: 38mm f/2.8
Battery: 2 x AA
Shutter Speeds: 1/8 – 1/500
PRICE ESTIMATE: $
Our Favorite Point and Shoot Film Camera Under $200: Olympus XA
If we were going to choose my next favorite point and shoot (behind the L35AF) around $200, it would likely be the Olympus XA.
Whereas the L35AF is somewhat bulky but has a solid feeling, the XA is small, lightweight, and incredibly easy to bring wherever you want to go. You might even forget that it’s hanging around your neck.
Film Speeds: 25 – 800
Size: 102 x 64.5 x 40mm
Battery: 2 x SR44
Lens: 35mm f/2.8
Shutter Speeds: 10s – 1/500
PRICE ESTIMATE: $
Our Favorite Point and Shoot Film Camera Under $500: Ricoh GR
While we have a definite love/hate relationship with the entire line of Ricoh GR cameras, the pros still outweigh the cons.
Prone to a whole mess of problems, the GR1S (as well as the other members of the Ricoh GR family that we’ve tried) are a dream to shoot when they are functioning properly. Few cameras have ever felt so natural for snapshots, and a Ricoh GR is a great choice for street photography.
Film Speeds: 25 – 3200
Size: 117 x 61 x 26.5mm
Lens: 28mm f/2.8
Battery: 1 x CR2
Shutter Speeds: 2s – 1/500
PRICE ESTIMATE: $$$