Welcome to the seventh in my series of quick compact 35mm camera reviews. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be publishing a total of 12 of these articles as part of an upcoming 35mm compact camera mega test spanning cameras made from 1990 to 2003 – arguably the golden age of these pocketable beasts. You can find the full list of cameras being tested here.
I’ll be comparing image quality, durability, speed and overall performance for cameras ranging from the very high end of the 35mm compact camera world to the very low – or close to it. The final articles will cover my criteria and scoring in full. At over 12,000 words in total, it seems a sensible approach to break these mini-reviews out, rather than trying to cram everything onto a single page.
You can check out the reviews that have already been published over on this tag page.
Holy guacamole! The Nikon 35Ti is a fantastic camera. I completely underestimated it when I bought it. I slightly resented having to pay almost Contax money for a boring old Nikon. I soon found out that the Nikon 35Ti is one of the most sophisticated cameras in this test.
Let me explain: the Nikon 35Ti is based on Nikon’s SLR technology. Nikon designed the 35Ti to be the world’s most sophisticated compact camera. I don’t think it sold very well. You could buy two Nikon SLRs for the price of one Nikon 35Ti.
In what way is this camera sophisticated? Well, it is the only camera in this test that can tell you the exact shutter speed and aperture it is using. The analog dials on the top are gorgeous, like a ten thousand dollar Swiss watch. The analog dials tell you the aperture, focus distance, number of frames taken and exposure compensation, with a simplicity and accuracy that no other compact camera can muster. It’s just a pity you have to take the camera away from your eye to see it. The shutter speed appears in the viewfinder, so you have to jiggle the camera to see both.
This is the only camera that has sophisticated matrix metering. It doesn’t get fooled by backlit scenes, it nails every shot. Marvellous! To be fair, the simpler centre-weighted metering of other compacts is just as good most of the time.
The Nikon 35Ti has SLR-quality 800 step focusing. It nails the focus every time. Marvellous! And it’s fast. Like an SLR, it focuses when you half-press the shutter button, so when you actually take the shot, it does it quickly. Marvellous!
The Nikon is the only camera in this test with a separate shutter and aperture, like an SLR. That means it can shoot at a true 1/500th at every aperture. Marvellous!
The 35mm lens is superb. I understand it is a copy of a Zeiss design – pretty much exactly the same as the Contax lenses. This lens was a match for the very best lenses in this test. What a lens!
The Nikon 35Ti has an amazing feature that no other compact camera has: program shift. In Program (auto) mode, you simply rotate the main dial to adjust the aperture/shutter combination. Brilliant! This is a win-win situation: I have the ease of program mode, yet I can alter the program to use any aperture I want. That is faster and easier than changing into aperture priority mode. Program shift transforms the way I use the Nikon 35Ti. Why do none of the other cameras offer this? It is so simple, so easy, so brilliant.
There have to be some downsides, right? Well, the Nikon 35Ti lacks the fashion credibility of a Contax. The Nikon doesn’t sound as good as a Contax – the Nikon’s motors sound cheaper! The Nikon 35Ti viewfinder has a minor annoying quirk: the frame lines disappear if you wear a cap (because the window to light the frame lines is on top of the camera, not at the front like every other camera).
The Nikon 35Ti is one of the larger cameras in this test, and it has a rather brick-like shape. This means it does not fit into a pocket nearly as easily as the sleekest cameras in this test. (In reality, it is exactly the same size as a Contax T2, but it looks larger because it does not have the Contax’s bevelled edges.)
For anyone who has a Nikon 35Ti, it might be worth pointing out that it has some secret custom functions. The two I change from the standard settings are 01-101 and 03-001. These cancel the auto flash, and delete the panoramic frame lines. Page 80 of the manual explains how to do this. It is ridiculously awkward, but worth doing.
Yes, the Nikon 35Ti has some downsides, but overall, I was amazed by how good it is. It is different from all the other cameras in this test, because it is almost like an SLR crammed into a compact body. It is probably not the best point-and-shoot camera, but it is a great all-round camera.
By the way, there is also a Nikon 28Ti with a 28mm lens. It is rare, and costs far more than a Nikon 35Ti. For much less money you could have a Ricoh GR1s or Fujifilm DL Super Mini, both of which have great 28mm lenses.
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