Of all the film cameras I've used for so-called "street shooting" over the years (many -- Konica Auto S3, Yashica CC, Oly XA, Yashica T3, a FSU something or other with attached Summar, a few Ricoh FFs, etc). My favorite is the Pentax PC35AF -- with a slight easy mod. Since there is not a lot of information about this camera, and with prices of point-n-shooters becoming truly laughable (No -- just don't. Spending 100's on any of them is fool's errand. These are aging and fragile beasts made during a time when the Japanese abandoned fantastic build quality in favor of electronics... They all die sudden deaths) I thought I'd do my part to inflate the price of a somewhat overlooked one for others who may be interested, since I already have a minty used sample.
The Relevance and Practicality of Film Point-n-Shooters in the Digital/Cell Phone Era
Full frame in your pocket. I don't like small sensor cameras for the same reason I didn't shoot 1/2-frame and APS film. Blech. And it's not due to noise. The small film/sensor plane puts everything in focus at every (or nearly every) aperture. Photos lack depth and subject isolation. This is not the same as "bokeh". A little out-of-focusness in the foreground and background please. Not much, but some, imo improves a pic. There has yet to be a FF camera as small and as light as many (not all) film rangefinders or nearly all point-n-shoots.
Rangefinders v. Point-n-Shoots
For film, I've come to prefer point-n-shoots over rangefinders. Smaller, lighter, and (if you get the right one) stealthier. I've come to not care so much about bright lenses (to a point) and manual control for this style of shooting as I once was. I want to quickly take a photo with -zero- futzing with focus and controls. The street shooters of yesteryear used the "sunny 16/f8" method since their rangefinders did not have AF or internal metering electronics. They effectively used their rangefinders like point-n-shooters because the electronics of point-n-shoot cameras didn't exist until decades later. By this point, those who were still around were set in their rangefinder-y ways. With a point-n-shoot you are able to capture the "decisive moment" as quickly and more accurately in terms of focus and exposure as "sunny 16/f8" shoot from the hip methods. Improvement in high speed films and integrated flash units made bright (and large) lenses unnecessary for this style shooting
Many, many ^2 were made over the years. But only few have the specs that meet my
criteria for street shooters, which are:
1. No "power on" gears grinding, lens moving in and out, with a second or two wait time. It must be ready to fire in an instant.
2. Manual film advance. No motors! These were noisy beasts. That disqualifies them for street shooting. Plus? The motors always go on these things. (They usually sounded sick right out of the box.) And it drains batteries. As Brother Manyard said about the number 5 -- motors are RIGHT OUT!
3. And a fixed f2.8 lens. Not 3.5. Slower? Perish the thought! 2.8 enables indoor shooting without a flash. If you want to coax some DOF effects, set your film speed slower than box by a stop or two. Speaking of which...
4. Control over the flash! Yes, I'm willing to give up most manual control. I can get -some- back by controlling film speed, but for the love of God and country, I
want to control when the flash fires, please.
5. No DX only film speed. No. I want to control that, thank you very much.
6. Cheap. You will die a sudden death. You were made like crap to begin with and you are 90 years old in human years at this point. I don't want to drop dosh on a camera that will kick the bucket at any moment. To do so is madness.
So. Given the above this dwindles the point-n-shoot cameras down to a mere handful. These are the ones that I know of:
1. Minolta AF-C
2. Konica C35 AF and AF2
3. Minota Hi Matic AF and AF2
4. Yashica Auto Focus S
5. Pentax PC35AF
These are the only ones I am aware of that meet my sensible criteria for a street shooter point-n-shooter. (I think there are one or two maybe FSU ones too that meet the criteria but am too lazy to research this right now...) They were all early-80's 'tween models before the Japanese went nutso with auto-everything. That brings the gazillion point-n-shooters down to seven models by four manufacturers.
Why the PC35AF -- modded?
Where to start? Firstly its beautifully crafted clam shell design sexy in black. Way better than Hi Matics, Konicas, and Yashica which look like free-with-subscription Time-Life cameras. It is a solid and understated classy truly "Leica-like" design. There is some heft to it, it is a very well made camera especially in contrast to its rivals except the AF-C (which I've never owned or even seen). No garish "AUTO FOCUS!" lettering, just a tasteful "Pentax" over the clam shell. It's also smaller. Not too small like the XA arguably is -- its size and weight is in the Goldilocks zone. It's a beauty. You don't look like a dork walking around with this thing. Quite classy.
Next the 35/2.8 lens is a cut above, rivaling the XA from which it unabashedly aped. Five element, five group (not the usual 4/3) with a beautiful purple-y coating. It takes nice contrasty sharp images with decent microcontrast.
Unlike some of the others it locks focus easily -- just keep the shutter 1/2 pressed after focus. And, it shows you what zone you're focused on in the viewfinder prior to firing the shutter. A weird "not to be taken for granted" nicety.
The stupid red shutter release is known to jam and seems to be made of cheapo plastic. Why, Pentax? Why make such a great camera and stick a terrible shutter button on it? Why didn't you spend an extra $0.15 in production costs and make a more durable one?
The camera has a thumbwheel film advance like the XA. It is rigid and doesn't exactly glide to the next frame. I always feel like the film isn't properly loaded. This, again like the XA, was a concession to keep the size down. Forgivable but a downside nonetheless.
Closing the clam shell. It springs open with a little red release button -- no problem. Closing it takes more elbow (or in this case "thumb") grease than is should. I always feel like I'm breaking the thing every time I close it.
That annoying low-light beeper! Uggh! Why, Pentax? Why? That said, an easy fix. See "the mod".
Other flaws that most of these cameras have -- film counter barely readable. Suspect battery door.
This has an annoying "danger Will Robinson" low light beeper (along with a red light in the VF) when the shutter speed is too long. This would have rendered this camera useless as a stealth camera if not for a simple fix. Get yerself the proper common screwdriver, take off the top plate, and remove the *$*% thing. Takes five minutes.
In summary. The modded
Pentax PC35AF is, hands down, all things considered, one of the best film street shooters ever made. Period. Also, forgot to mention, it also has a 1.5 stop backlight adjustment button. This is an unexpectely refined camera and great photographic tool for film photography.