I first got back into film photography when I dug through some old boxes at home and came across my mom’s point and shoot camera. For those new to photography, a point and shoot camera is simply that: a camera that was designed to “point and shoot” without having to worry about technical settings. It was a no-name brand that wasn’t fancy but it looked good enough for snapshots. Its cheap plastic body gave me the comfort of knowing that if I dropped it, or even lost it, it would be okay! Sure enough, I ended up losing it!
However, all was not lost as I managed to put a few rolls of film through the camera. And a few rolls later I was hooked. Some sample images below.
I had such a good experience with that point and shoot that I went all in and bought the Fuji Klasse S, a premium point and shoot film camera from eBay. However, it was so nice that whenever I’d use it, I was a nervous that I might break it!
I wanted a 35mm film camera that I could carry around with me everywhere and not be as attentive to it as I would be if I were to carry my SLR, rangefinder, or medium format film cameras. The Fuji was really nice but I eventually ended up selling that camera (since then, the prices for the Fuji Klasse have skyrocketed and so has my regret!) and have been looking for a replacement that would marry the best qualities of my mom’s old point and shoot, with the quality of the Fuji Klasse.
Enter the Olympus AF-1. The Olympus AF-1 (also known as the “Infinity” in the US) was produced in 1986 and was the world’s first weatherproof camera with a very capable 35mm f/2.8 lens. When I stopped by Walter’s Camera Repair late last year to have a camera inspected, I spotted a point-and-shoot camera that I had not seen before. Henry at the counter saw me take a look and he let me know that this camera has the same lens as the one in the Olympus MJU II, a prized point-and-shoot camera among analog shooters. He even said that it was the store owner’s favorite point and shoot.
When I asked Henry how much the Olympus AF-1 was, I was pleasantly surprised when he said that he’d give it to me for $60 dollars! At the time of this writing, the Olympus MJU II sells for around $300 USD so a camera with the same lens at a fifth of the price sounded pretty great! Needless to say, I walked out of that camera repair store with an inspected camera and an unexpected point-and-shoot.
The moment comes with every film camera you try, when the hopeful vision of what could be becomes a reality. The Olympus AF1 did not disappoint. For the camera’s first outing, I took it with me on a trip to Big Bear Lake in California and shot a roll of Kodak Gold 200.
As you can see in the image above, the lens performs pretty well. Landscapes are sharp and well exposed. The lens resolves color well with the highlights and shadows being well balanced. Although this lens doesn’t compare with high end premium compacts like the aforementioned Fuji Klasse, it’s 90% of the way there and definitely more than capable of delivering on that vintage vibe that people shoot film for.
The flash of this camera delivers the candid look that has become popular again among analog shooters. Atlanta-born photographer Gunner Stahl uses this style of photography and has photographed artists such as Childish Gambino and Lil Uzi Vert. With that said, the Olympus AF-1 has an automatic flash that you can’t disable. I haven’t found it to be a problem since I’m not using this camera for fine art. I actually enjoy the fact that I’m taking a chance each time I take a photo.
While the flash is reliable, if the subject that you want in focus is not in the center of the screen, you have to hold the ‘focus lock’ button with your left hand, aim at the subject with the central box in the viewfinder, half press the shutter release button, hold it down, then finally release the ‘focus lock’ button to take a photo. It’s really worth reading the manual to understand as it takes some getting used to. I missed some shots because I didn’t know that the typical half-press of a shutter didn’t lock focus.
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Overall, the shooting experience is pretty straight forward. Simply slide open the lens hood when you’d like to start shooting and the camera will turn on. (You cannot fire the shutter when the lens hood is closed) Loading and unloading film is very easy and automated. It features a 12 second self timer and a threaded tripod hole if you’d like to use a tripod. It is made of sturdy plastic and is also waterproof so a little splash of water, dust, and even a bump or two shouldn’t be a problem.
Olympus AF-1 (Infinity) technical specifications and features
|Camera name||Olympus AF-1 (Worldwide excl US)
Olympus Infinity AF-1 (US-market only)
|Camera type||Point and shoot|
|Manufacturer||Olympus Optical Co. Ltd (Japan)|
|Lens||35mm - f/2.8-f/11
Four elements in four groups
|Viewfinder||Bright frame finder with 0.45x magnification
Battery check lamp
1/30 - 1/750 sec
Self-timer with 12-second delay
|Focusing||Active infrared single point autofocus (center) with focus lock
0.75m to infinity
|Metering||ESP (Electro-Selective Pattern) metering (spot plus center-weighted)
|ISO||DX coded film ISO 50-3200
ISO 100 default when unable to read DX markings
|Flash||Built-in with auto activation in low light/backlight
0.75-4.5m (ISO 100)
0.75-9.0m (ISO 400)
|Loading||Auto load and rewind
Manual mid-roll rewind
|Weatherproofing||Yes - weatherproof (world first, IEC 529)|
|Weight||227g (no battery)|
|Accessories||Optional case and wrist strap|
Who is it for?
This is a great camera for those who are interested in 35mm film photography and specifically want the experience of a point and shoot camera. The advantage of this camera is the automation and the built in flash. As of now, smartphone cameras cannot compete with the power of the flash in most point and shoot film cameras. This camera gives you the same “sensor” size as a full frame digital camera. This means greater ability to see the shadows and highlights. (the dark and light parts of an image) Can you tell which one is film and which one is digital?
In both of the image sets above, the photo on the left was taken on the Olympus AF-1. The digital photos were taken on the iPhone 7 plus and post processed using the VSCO app.
There is something very charming about the personality of this camera. It is not the best in any one category but its virtues are built upon a foundation of mini successes. It has a really good lens, feels solid in the hand, is aesthetically pleasing and affordable.
It’s not the perfect camera (no such thing exists) but it is a camera that produces more good shots than bad and gets me excited to see how the images will come out. After all, isn’t that the beauty of a film camera?
Thanks for reading and hope you take some amazing snapshots!
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