Simple Pleasures - The Travelling Canon AF35

Credit goes to Hamish at for the inspiration behind this post and project.

Hamish is running a photo competition to win a Leica M4, the idea is to buy or use a camera worth less than £10 and produce an image that transcends the camera's value and stands up as a 'good'  image. He's yet to judge the competition but I'm certainly happy with some of the images from my £8 camera; enter the Canon AF35J/SPRINT.

So, what does your £8 buy you? 

A boxy little 1989 Canon point and shoot, with very few bells and whistles but in pretty much perfect condition is the answer. It fits well in a jacket pocket and is nicely self contained with the on/off switch also operating a cover for the lens and focusing lens, so no case is required.

The top trumps stats are as follows: the lens is 35mm F3.5 - F11, minimum focus distance of 0.9m or 0.45m with forced flash, shutter speed of between 1/40 and 1/250. It will accept DX coded film of either 100 or 400 ISO. That's about it, no self timer but can be attached to a tripod with plastic thread in the base. Oh yeah, and the strap is 45cm long, letting you judge your close focus distance to perfection, low tech but useful. I shot three rolls of 400 ISO film through it, two Kodak Portra 400 and one Kodak Tri-X 400, most of the better shots were in subdued light or low evening light but it worked fine in bright sunlight too. Film loading, wind on and re-wind are automatic and motor driven, it's not the quietest motor ever but not intrusively loud either.

Focusing with the horrible squashy shutter button means focus / recompose technique isn't the most confidence inspiring; there isn't really a distinct half press position and the focusing is silent so it's hard to judge if it's working. That said I don't think I took one out of focus shot over three 36 exposure films so it must work reasonably well!

The specification is truly nothing special and were it not for the challenge criteria I would have never bought this camera, it just looks bang average on paper and in use apart from the horrible shutter button it's pretty average. And this averageness is it's greatest strength, with no knobs to twist or controls to think about you are free to concentrate on the real crux of photography; composition.

I've not shot a lot with a 35mm focal length before so that is new but apart from that I am used to getting good results from most camera's I've used but looking through my scans (thanks - great scans!) I found a far greater proportion of keepers and had far fewer repeats of similar shots with different settings than is normal for me.

I shot at locations I've been to many times before and shot subjects I've shot before and yet, somehow, ended up with a load of unique shots. Weird, who would have thought this uninspiring camera could be so inspiring.

Simplicity isn't something that I've ever looked for in a camera, in fact most of my camera's are massively more complicated that this dull little plastic brick, but the little Canon AF35 takes a pretty reasonable photo!

Free yourself from thinking about one hundred settings and the process of taking a picture changes, it's more contemplative and it's more fun.


So now I'm sure you'll be interested to try it for yourself, this little Canon AF35 is going on a trip, I've loaded a roll of Portra 400 and she's ready to roll.

She's going to travel the world one roll of film at a time. (I hope!)

If you're interested in getting involved with this travelling camera project then please get in contact, I want to send it on a trip and I need you guys to get involved to make it work.

If you want to be the first recipient of the camera let me know your address and I'll forward it on, shoot the whole roll and replace it with another 400 ISO roll of your choice then send it to the next address on the list.

Once you have developed the roll I want to send me your best three shots from the roll and any comments about your experience with the camera which I will them publish here.

How does your photography change when you concentrate on composition and timing alone?

Update 01/07/16 - Thanks for everyone that has got in touch to be involved so far. The camera has 13 recipients planned so far.

Where the camera has been:

  1. Gavin Wares - London, England -
  2. Dimitri - London, England

Where the camera is going:

  1. Hamish -
  2. Mal Pryde - Fife, Scotland
  3. Rob Edgerly - Bern, Switzerland
  4. Tina Kino - Berlin, Germany
  5. Michael Francis - New York, USA
  6. Ritchie Greenhill - Dundee, Scotland
  7. Aimee Smith - Fife, Scotland
  8. Mikael Carlsson - Gothenburg, Sweden
  9. Sarah Mears - Mulgrave Vic, Australia
  10. Theo Panagopoulos - Sydney, Australia
  11. Dan Polacek - Farmington MO, USA


Why Shoot Film?

'Why shoot with old film cameras, when modern digital cameras are so capable?' I hear you ask.

Well I guess I shoot film because it's different, it's fun and it's challenging. It makes me slow down, think about what I want from a photo and how I'm going to achieve it, before I press the shutter release.

I don't know if the word authentic really means anything (except I'm a hipster) but I do think the colours and tones seem more 'real' on film than if I create the same effect in post processing with digital negatives. I also enjoy the delayed gratification of not seeing the shots immediately, it is a rare thing in the age of instant everything so I guess perversely, I like the fact it's a bit awkward.

Anticipation of the prints is another major reason I love film; the excitement of a pack of prints coming through the letter box is truly something special even if the initial excitement sometimes turns to disappointment when I find out I missed the focus, exposure setting or left the lens cap on (yes this has happened!)

To be totally honest, the hit rate on my first few rolls of film (shot on a £12 Ebay Minolta 35mm SLR) was pretty poor! I'd been spoilt by high ISO capability, instant focusing and image stabilisation; I didn't actually know how to take a photo, despite my eBay Minolta being a pretty advanced SLR in it's day.

All this means that when I do get a 'hit' it is all the sweeter and I'd say my hit rate has gone up considerably since those first rolls of film.

Greg at the bar

Real black and white film is another reason to shoot film, knowing you're shooting B+W rather than converting shots with blown highlights in post makes you think differently about light and texture. I shoot a lot of C41 B+W white film but love a bit of Kodak Tri-X when I can find it, which is another thing about film photography, at times film feels like ancient treasure, it almost seems a shame to open it sometimes; especially if it is out of production.

Then there is medium format, 6cm x 6cm negatives full of detail, paper thin DOF, and an awesome glow to the shots. These can be scanned to very high resolution and have a beautiful quality that is hard to describe. I've only recently acquired a medium format TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) camera and it's a fussy bit of kit to use but the results can be beautiful.

St Andrews harbour

I think often people look better on film, it hides blemishes and is just a bit more forgiving than digital can be, especially with the shallow depth of field that a fast prime lens can give on 35mm camera. Some of my favourite portraits I've taken have been on film and they are hard to recreate on my digital camera.

Then there is the colours, every film has a different look, Poundland Agfa Vista is super saturated greens and reds and and I love this for summer time shots. Then there is Portra 160 and 400, both give great skin tones and pastel colours, great for evening light. Fuji Pro 400H does amazing greens and has a cooler look, good for landscapes.

I already knew I was a becoming a film geek but writing all this down is proof to myself that I really have become obsessed with film. I should have realised this when the top shelf of the fridge was converted from food storage to a film storage area; pass the Portra!

If you want to get into the world of film photography, then check out my friends at Photoghost in Aberdeen for all your development, scanning and prints.
If you are already a film lover then head over to shootfilmco and check out their range of stickers and badges to show the world film is alive!