DSLR - nikon - L35AF

When you look at this design, what do you picture? Are you thinking of an 80s car, VHS, or cassette player? If you picture any of these things, you wouldn’t be wrong. Whenever I see this camera, the song from Miami Vice, Crockett’s Theme, always pops into my head.  

The Nikon is probably the most underrated brand in this category of cameras. In 1983, Nikon released its first autofocus compact camera, the Nikon L35AF. The early models covered speeds from 50 to 400 ISO, but later versions were included 1000 ISO. In today’s market, the one with 1000 ISO is more expensive and desirable.

Let me take you down memory lane before I give you my honest review of this camera.

Brief History

This was Nikon’s first compact 35 mm film camera with autofocus. Released in 1983, shortly after Nikon’s competitors had opened up the market for point-and-shoot cameras.

Single-lens reflex (SLR) cameras were Nikon’s stronghold at that time. In an effort to keep up with the competition, Nikon released its own point-and-shoot camera. It was the trend of the new camera style which energized the entire industry. The camera was an immediate success thanks to its robust design and excellent specification. The L35AF was named ‘Pikaichi’ (meaning “top-notch”) in Japanese.

It has subsequently become a cult classic among collectors. The Nikon L35AD version came with an “autodate,” and in 1985, the Nikon L35AF2 followed. The lens was designed by Koichi Wakamiya as an update to the Sonnar formula.

Pre-camera use

Nikon’s L35AF has very few settings; it’s very easy to operate, regardless of whether you’ve used 35 mm cameras before or not. Here are some basic things you should know before using this camera if you already own it or are considering getting it:  

  • Check for any fungus or fogging inside the viewfinder or lens.
  • See if there are any damages or scratches on the exterior part or lens
  • Insert the double AA batteries and see if the battery door is closing correctly (very common problem with the camera)
  • Open the back door by pressing a small button on the back-door and see if they are any internal damages to light seals, backdoor, pressure plate and cartridge chamber
  • Turn on camera and press the shutter speed if it is working properly (Click here to hear how shutter click should sound – Starts at 4:15 min)
  • Check if the flash and self-timer are working properly
  • See if the needle inside viewfinder is moving
  • Once you have loaded the film, close the back-door and press shutter speed to hear if the film has been captured. The counter will change from “S” to “1”. (this option can be tested without the film)
  • When the film has finished, the shutter button will be locked. Verify that the rewind button on the bottom is rewinding the film by pressing button “2” and sliding number “1” right. (this is the only step that requires film inside)

How to use camera

After completing the pre-check and making sure everything is functional, let’s learn how to use the camera.    

Turning ON

The camera takes a double AA battery, which is really convenient to purchase anywhere. After you close the battery door, turn on the dial from OFF to ON and you will hear a sound that the camera is ready to shoot. Without batteries, the camera is inoperative. Before shooting, check to see if the batteries will need to be changed soon. When the batteries are almost worn out, both the film winding time and flash charging time increase. Using the flash frequently will drain batteries sooner.

Inserting film

When the batteries are inserted and the camera turned on, open a backdoor using a button that is located on the backdoor. Place the 35 mm film in the left cartridge and pull the film leader to the right-hand side (index mark area).

Click here and here on how to load/unload film.

Selecting ASA/ISO

The ASA/ISO ranges between 50-1000. Now, when the film is loaded properly, turn on your camera facing the lens and change the ISO that you wish to shoot on. You can do it by rotating the circle on your lens.

If you are a beginner, I would suggest using the box speed (The box speed indicates the ISO your manufacturer recommends you use when shooting your film; it will be listed on the film box or canister, and will typically be stated in the film’s name as well (for instance, Portra 160 has a 160 ISO box speed, meaning Kodak recommends using the 160 ISO setting).

Using Filter

This lens accepts a 46 mm filter, so it can be used for any type of photography. The perfect thing about this camera is that it meters through the filter, which is a very helpful feature. My go-to filter is Tiffen Black Pro-Mist 1/4 with the step-up rings.

Flash Photography

This camera features an internal integrated flash which works great. A pop-up and light (near the viewfinder) will indicate that the flash is ready. If the flash is not ready, the shutter button will be locked. In order to use flash in daylight, you will need first cover the lens and the flash will automatically pop up.

Backlight Compensation

This is a useful option If your subject becomes lighter just before shooting. To shoot subjects that are lit from behind, hold down the back-light compensation lever while you depress the shutter release button.

Focus lock

To take a picture with your subject outside the autofocus frame marks, use the focus lock. Center the autofocus frame marks on your subject and depress the shutter release button halfway. This causes the focus indicator needle to move within the focus symbol area.

Continue to depress the shutter release button halfway, change your composition and depress the shutter release button completely. If you change your mind, cancel the focus lock by taking your finger from the shutter release button before releasing the shutter. Do not change the distance between the camera and your subject while using this feature.

Self-timer

The self-timer is ideal for group or self-portrait shots. To use the self-timer, you will need to pull the lever as far as it will go and depress the shutter button. This causes the self-timer to light up. After 10 seconds, you will hear that the shutter is released. To cancel, return the lever to its original position before the shutter release button is depressed completely.

Please view the full manual here if you would like more information: NIKON L35AF MANUAL

Photo samples

Pros and Cons

Frontal
It allows you to change ISO by turning the circular dial

Here are some better and weaker parts of this camera:

Pros
  • Robust design
  • Lens
  • It is designed for an ISO/ASA range from 50 to 1000
  • Tripod Mount for low light photography
  • Great shutter speed range
  • Backlight compensation
  • Producing excellent images in daylight
  • Filter thread
  • Self-timer
  • Great for beginner
Cons
  • Primitive autofocus
  • Price ($250-$350)
  • Battery door
  • Sound of the shutter release button and common issue of getting stuck
  • Cable release thread
  • The camera is too big for pocket

What films should I use?

Last picture
Nikon L35AF with Kodak Portra 400

The Nikon L35AF can only take 35 mm films. Fortunately, we are still seeing mass production in 35 mm, and with the recent resurgence of the analog industry, we are not seeing the end of film photography.

Here are my favorite films with this camera:

Similar cameras

Aviva stadium
Portra 400

Here are my suggestions:

  • Canon AF35M – by Canon Japan or the Sure Shot by Canon USA, was first autofocus 35mm lens-shutter compact camera. It was launched in November 1979. It’s old, noisy, and slow, but if you choose high-quality films, you’ll get sharp photos. You can buy this camera for approximately $100 in February 2022.
  • Konica C35 AF – This was an autofocus version of the Konica C35 Automatic. It included a fixed-aperture Hexanon 38 mm f/2.8 autofocus lens with a leaf shutter, a built-in electronic flash, and an automatic exposure system. The film advance was mechanical. Depends on the location this camera averages 80$ in February 2022.
  • Ricoh AF-5 – It’s larger and bulkier than its rivals from Canon (Sure Shot / AF35M) and Nikon (L35AF) but it can produce similar results.In February 2022, this camera will cost around $70.
  • Pentax PC35AF – This camera includes a flash, self timer, automatic exposure with manual compensation of *1.5 EV, and infrared autofocus system. It runs on 2 AAA-size batteries. Currently, this Pentax can be found on eBay for about $80.
  • Minolta Hi-Matic AF – was introduced in 1979. This camera was a step towards the modern compact camera for film. The camera lacked automatic film transport, film speed settings, and display, but it offered active infrared autofocus and automatic exposure. These are currently available on eBay for $50-$120.

Disclosure: This article does not contain affiliate links. I only recommend products and services that I have personally used or experienced. For the best prices, do your own research based on your location, budget, and needs.

Conclusion

Grand Canal on Portra 400

As film shooters/enthusiasts, we all want that perfect camera. As much praise as this camera has received lately, I do think it deserves it. It offers some features that only premium point and shoot offer, which I especially appreciate.

I bought a Nikon L35AF (1000 ISO) a few years ago for $140, which back then was a pretty decent price. But now, when I browse eBay, the cost has greatly increased. In February 2022, a mint condition Nikon L35AF can cost as much as $400. A good idea is to check when you buy whether you are buying the older version with only 400 ISO or the one with 1000 ISO.

Would I buy it today? Simply no! Why? The main problem with the camera is the high increase in price and primitive and unreliable autofocus. Despite holding my hands steady, the camera struggles a lot in the cloudy weather. I’ve missed so many shots and made a lot of my best photos using this autofocus.

This camera is not intended for those on a tight budget, but it is great for beginners who want to start exploring film photography, as well as more experienced photographers.

In the meantime, Stay Curious!

Did I miss something? If you have any extra tips, please share them in the comments below.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.