It felt weird buying this camera. I buy old cameras, and this one just doesn’t seem old to me. But this Canon AF35ML is old, having been made in 1981. I was newly a teenager then, and somehow for me that’s when the Modern Era began. It’s a great dividing line in my life – stuff from before my teenagerhood seems old, stuff after does not. Black and white.
So why did I buy such a “new” camera? Because I got it and another camera (its older brother, the AF35) for $15. Autofocus point-and-shoots haven’t quite reached classic status yet. They’re just junk cameras and command itty bitty prices – at least for now.
The Canon AF35ML, also known as the Super Sure Shot, was among the first autofocus point-and-shoot cameras. Minolta, Nikon, and the other Japanese players all produced similar cameras at about this time, and they all had similar features – built-in pop-up flash, a CdS-based coupled light meter that drove a simple autofocus system, decent lenses, an electronic shutter, and an automatic film winder, powered by common-as-pennies AA batteries and wrapped in a plastic body.
What set the AF35ML apart from its competitors is its 40mm f/1.9 lens, of 5 elements in 5 groups. Most of its competitors used f/2.8 lenses, which don’t let in as much light. An f/1.9 ought to do especially well in low light.
The AF35ML is easy to use overall but it does have its quirks. It leaves an excellent first impression when you load the first roll of film. It couldn’t be simpler. Just lay the film across the spool, close the door, and fire the shutter a couple times. You’re good to go.
The impression changes the first time you try the on/off button. It’s fiddly. You press your finger onto it and twist it, but it’s hard to stop on the setting you want. Worse, when you try to turn the camera off, it’s too easy to sail past Off to BC (battery check), which causes the camera to beep loudly. I like knowing my batteries are good, but this is a bit much. My AF35ML has a ring around this button that essentially recesses it, which I suspect is to keep it from accidentally being moved. I’ve seen other AF35MLs without this ring.
With such a nice lens you’d think the AF35ML would be a great choice for street photography. You’d be wrong. Street photographers value stealth, and everything about this camera is loud. Not only does the camera beep on battery check, but it buzzes when you try to take a photo in insufficient light. When you fire the shutter, it clacks loudly – and then the autowinder makes a god-awful noise not unlike a single violin shriek. Used in rapid succession, the sound would set the right tone in a horror flick.
But like any autofocus point-and-shoot camera, all you have to do is frame the shot and press the button. You do need to hold the button down halfway for a second to let the camera focus. A red indicator – a head, a group, a mountain – appears when it focuses. Oddly, the autofocus system doesn’t always find something to focus on, so you might have to try two or three times. The focus mechanism uses a CCD (charge-coupled device) rather than an infrared system, which is more common today.
To rewind the exposed film, press the button on the bottom and then slide the rewind slider (it’s labeled; you can’t miss it) until it locks. Rewinding is loud, too, and it doesn’t stop on its own. You have to listen for the winder’s tone to change pitch after the last of the film comes off the takeup spool, and then turn the rewinder off.
The AF35ML is a good snapshot camera. I’d take it on a trip, I’d haul it out on holidays. But my collection offers many better (and quieter) choices for times I want to be artsy phartsy with a camera. For example, here’s what happened when I centered tulip blossoms in the viewfinder and snapped the shutter. Up close the camera delivers wicked parallax error and focuses just behind the subject.
I had a little better luck photographing this 1906 bridge’s railing. The colors are a little washed out in the searing noontime sun. I hoped the AF35ML would handle that better.
I went out to the church I shot with my Kodak Six-20. This fellow guards the main doors. The shot suffered from some parallax error, too, so I cropped it.
I gave up on getting in close and just backed way the heck up. That’s when the AF35ML started to shine. This is a house in my neighborhood. They need to cut their grass!
This is a pedestrian bridge over the canal in Broad Ripple.
I work in this anonymous office building. This side faces the sunrise, which was blunted that morning by moderate cloud cover.
Of all the shots I got from my test roll, I like this one the best. I’ll bet you could count every brick in that wall, and the colors are so good.
Do you like old cameras? Then check out my entire collection!