It has come to the point in my life where I am the ‘camera guy’ to family and colleagues; I will not lie to you, I have brought this on myself, and knew it would happen. When Christmas or a birthday rolls around, I get camera-themed goods.
At work I’d previously been given a camera by a boss who was leaving: a Canon SURE SHOT Z135. Known as the PRIMA SUPER 135 in Europe and Autoboy S (Super) II in Japan, The Z125 is another former point and shoot flagship model. It came in a case, which has begun disintegrating during the six months that I’ve owned it – they fit perfectly into the larger late-era Olympus Trip cases, if you are wondering.
This one sat in a closet until I suddenly found myself with a raft of zoom cameras to use. I had a Yashica Zoomtec 165 SE, which answered the question ‘What camera has a date setting from ’00 to ’99?’, a tiny Pentax Espio 120Mi which felt beautifully made, and the Canon SURE SHOT Z135.
After checking the specs on these, the Zoomtec was the first against the wall when the revolution came – the lens was slow, and at 165mm, the far end of the zoom felt a bit on the long side for me. The finder was excellent, and it felt like it was made to a decent standard… but when you are not feeling it, what can you do? It was sold. The Espio 120Mi was kept not only for the sense of quality it exuded but because it was so small and well-featured. The viewfinder was the best of the three too.
Of the three cameras, the Z135 was the oldest (1996), but also the most feature crammed. Spot metering, continuous shooting, +/-1 to 1.5 exposure, a Sports Mode that selects Servo AF to keep (reasonably slow) moving subjects in focus, a ‘silent’ mode, a Night Portrait Mode that fires the flash but prioritizes a low shutter speed, a portrait mode, a macro mode, a self-timer, various flash modes….
Given the normal to telephoto zoom range of 38mm-135mm, and the f/3.6-8.9 lens, it looks like a complete package. But there is one point that sells it better than the others, and that is the top shutter speed, which is 1/1200 of a second. In bright conditions, that’s worth a full two stops over the other models, which isn’t a big deal for print film. But with slide films it could be the difference between blowing highlights and having an even exposure.
The camera can stop down to a maximum of f/36 at full zoom in super bright scenes, which seems nuts – diffraction must be absolutely insane by that point. It does show the what lengths this camera will go to get you the shot though.
In use, the Z135 is a mixed bag. Build quality is very good and the feel and chunky size of the camera leave no doubt in my mind it will work for a long time. Having stumbled across many examples of this camera over the years in charity shops, I can attest they have all worked perfectly.
It is possible people may have baulked slightly over the two CR123s it requires for power and left it out of use. At 375 grams with batteries fitted (over double the weight of an Olympus MJU II) some users could also have found it slightly too heavy for daily use.
Perhaps they were unimpressed by the user experience; the viewfinder is smaller, darker and more flare-prone than it should be, and some of the useful mode buttons are hidden by a fiddly plastic flap on the back of the camera. At least the winding mechanism doesn’t have the epic grinding sounds that Canon perfected in the 80’s – this camera is not silent, but it isn’t bad in terms of noise.
But the kicker is the lens. If you are looking for a secret bokeh gem, sadly, this is not the camera for you. The bokeh is even, unremarkable, and not especially smooth. The rendering doesn’t have a lot of 3D pop either. What the lens does have going for it is sharpness and lots of it. Paired with a medium speed film like ILFORD FP4 PLUS, it simply resolves, all day long.
Put another way, the lens of the SURE SHOT Z135 is the sharpest of any compact zoom I have ever used – the Olympus MJU III 80 and MJU V were are close, but there is a perceptible jump in overall image quality here. Past 90mm, that sharpness fades, but up to that point, you would need to be an experienced pixel peeper to notice the difference between this and an SLR with a good quality zoom lens.
So with eBay auctions for this model regularly finishing at under a tenner (unless you can’t let go of aperture and shutter speed control), there’s no reason not to give one a try.
Thanks for reading,
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