Nikon L35AF – The Best Point and Shoot Film Camera Under $200?

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In the last few years, there’s been a significantly increased interest in point and shoot film cameras, reaching an absolute peak when Kendall Jenner and other celebrities were seen toting Contax T2’s, arguably causing a spike in sales (and price).

I was bitten by the point and shoot bug at a point where I felt completely uninspired to take photos and burdened by my SLR. Not only were compact cameras easier to bring with me, they’ve changed the way I think about photography and certainly impacted my photographic style. 

Some photographers may turn their noses at the simplicity and ease of point and shoots, but I find them an invaluable tool and always try to keep one within arms reach. 

Of the many point and shoot film cameras that have made their way through my collection, the longest lasting and most used would absolutely be the Nikon L35AF.

While there’s no denying that in 2021, the L35AF is no longer the hidden secret it was 10 years ago, I still believe that it is an incredible point and shoot camera, especially if you’re turned off by the price point of other comparable models.

Check out the full, hands-on review below.



Background Info

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. Camera models’ names weren’t too creative back then, were they?

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 I had to summarize this camera in as few words as possible, it’d be hard to get more succinct and accurate than “top-notch”. 


Different Versions

There are a few variations of the Nikon L35 that you may see if you’re in the market for one. 

Nikon L35AF and L35AD film cameras
An L35AF and L35AD

  • The L35AF is the original model, with a 35mm f/2.8 lens.
  • The L35AD is the same as the AF, with the addition of an autodate back.
  • The L35AF2, also known as the One Touch is the second version. Still a 35mm f/2.8 lens.
  • The L35AD2, also known as the One Touch Autodate is the same as the AF2, with an autodate back.
  • The 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.
  • The 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. 

I’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). 


Technical Information

If you’re interested in a thorough, detailed breakdown of all the cameras specifications, I’d recommend checking out the original user manual.

Lens

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. 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. 

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.

Focussing / Viewfinder

When you take a look through the viewfinder, you’ll see a few things. Firstly, the frame markings help you compose your shot, but can also be a great way to make sure lines in your image are straight. 

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. 

Metering

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. 

Flash

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.

Power

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. 

Film Speeds

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

The Nikon L35AF is a camera that I love so much, I bought a second after my first one bit the dust. Although my two models were slightly different from one another, I would consider all differences between the two to be miniscule. 

Nikon L35AF and L35AD film cameras

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. My model weighs just under one pound, with film and batteries loaded. 

This may be a pro or a con for you; I 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 I’ve owned, the L35AF is the one I feel most confident in taking out if I know it might get beat up. Mine have accompanied me to countless mosh pits, camping trips, and dizzy nights after the bars closed. Never let me down.  

Similarly, the size of the L35AF is 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 grip 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. 

*I, in no way, endorse storing your camera in any of your pockets, although I am guilty of doing so from time to time. 

Focusing / Viewfinder

What you’ll see when looking through the viewfinder of the L35AF

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 I don’t really ever have an issue seeing through the viewfinder, I sometimes have a tough time seeing the frame lines or focus indicators and have to readjust my 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. 

I find that I don’t have trouble getting properly focussed photos almost all of the time. I’d guess that one photo per roll of film I 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 the roll is new or used with the leader sticking out. 

Image Quality

I’m consistently blown away by the quality of photos that can be taken with this small, cheap point and shoot film camera. So much so that there have been numerous times that I couldn’t remember which rolls were from the L35AF and which were from my rangefinder (that cost over ten times as much) when getting scans back. 

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 (I say that with the warmest regards).

To me, 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 get me wrong, the photos look great, but I think 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 my biggest complaints about the camera, as well as some common problems that myself and others have experienced.

  • 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. Mine is held down with electrical 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. The first version I owned had this problem after years of use.

Who Should Buy This Camera?

If you’re interested in analog photography, I 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). 

Nikon L35AF and L35AD film cameras

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 (I’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.

Other Models to Consider

While I 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. 

My 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 my 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. 

Key Specifications of the AF35M

Year Released1979
Lens38mm f/2.8
Film Speeds25-400
Shutter Speeds1/8 – 1/500
FlashBuilt-In
Size (mm)132 x 77 x 54
Weight (g)405
Other Names / AKACanon Sure Shot

If you’re interested in the Canon AF35M, I’d start by checking out eBay.


My Favorite Point and Shoot Film Camera Under $200: Olympus XA

If I 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.

Key Specifications of the XA

Year Released1979
Lens35mm f/2.8
Film Speeds25-800
Shutter Speeds10 – 1/500
FlashSeparate Flash Available
Size (mm)102 x 64.5 x 40
Weight (g)225

If you’re interested in the Olympus XA, I’d start by checking out eBay.


My Favorite Point and Shoot Film Camera Under $500: Ricoh GR1S

Photo by Zebrio (CC BY-SA 2.0)

While I have a definite love/hate relationship with the entire line of Ricoh GR cameras, I’d be lying if I said that there’s another compact film camera around $500 that I’ve enjoyed using more. 

Prone to a whole mess of problems, the GR1S (as well as the other members of the Ricoh GR family that I’ve tried) are a dream to shoot when they are functioning properly. Few cameras have ever felt so natural for snapshots, and one of my Ricoh GR’s is usually what I grab for street photography. 

Key Specifications of the GR1S

Year Released1997
Lens28mm f/2.8
Film Speeds25 – 3200
Shutter Speeds2 – 1/500
FlashBuilt-In
Size (mm)117 x 61 x 26.5
Weight (g)178

If you’re interested in the Ricoh GR1S, I’d start by checking eBay.


Final Thoughts

While many cameras have circulated in and out of my collection throughout the years, the Nikon L35AF has maintained a permanent position. I was more than happy to spring for a new version when my original stopped working. 

For me, this camera is the perfect blend of durability, image quality, and affordability. Do I wish that I had a Contax T3? Sure, why not! But more importantly, do I think that a T3 would get used as much as my L35AF? Not a chance. 

Some other compact film cameras may produce marginally better photos, but for me 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 I take out when I need to make sure the lighting is perfect, or the focus needs to be absolutely precise. This is the camera I take out when bringing a bag or manually metering seems like a hassle or I’m worried that someone’s going to spill beer on me. 

My Nikon L35AF has been around the world with me and captured some of my favorite memories. If you decide to give this camera a try, yours just might do the same. 

If you’re interested in the Nikon L35AF, you can find the best deals here.


Photo Credit (From Left to Right)

Photo of a bus, from a bus, in Dakar. by Cristian Leonardo, ( CC BY-ND 2.0 ), Taken on a Nikon L35AF2 on Kodak Portra 400 film. 

WAR, TERROR by Pete, ( CC BY 2.0 ), Taken on a Nikon L35AF on cross-processed Fuji Velvia 100 film.

Lake Windermere 1/2 by ExpectGrain, ( CC BY-SA 2.0 ), Taken on a Nikon L35AF on Kodak Portra 400 film. 

Senegal – November 2018 by Cristian Leonardo, ( CC BY-ND 2.0 ), Taken on a Nikon L35AF2 on Kodak Portra 400 film. 

Headlight by Ryan Murphy, Taken on a Nikon L35AD on Kodak Portra 400 film

Architects by Pete, ( CC BY 2.0 ), Taken on a Nikon L35AF on cross-processed Fuji Velvia 100 film. 

Lake Windermere 2/2 by ExpectGrain, ( CC BY-SA 2.0 ), Taken on a Nikon L35AF on Kodak Portra 400 film. 

People about their daily activities. Taken from a bus window. by Cristian Leonardo, ( CC BY-ND 2.0 ), Taken on a Nikon L35AF2 on Kodak Portra 400 film. 

Waves by Ryan Murphy, Taken on a Nikon L35AD on Kodak Portra 400 film

Costco Run by Ryan Murphy, Taken on a Nikon L35AF2 on Kodak Portra 160 film


Other Reviews / Resources

Original Manual

History of the Lens from Nikon

Ken Rockwell’s Review

Photos Tagged L35AF on Lomography

Photos Tagged L35AF on Flickr

Nikon L35AF Group on Flickr

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