Camera Reviews

Kodak VR35 K40

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Kodak had some success with its lines of 35 mm cameras in the 1950s and 1960s, cranking out plenty of Retinas, Signets, and Ponys. But Kodak quietly exited the 35 mm photography business in 1969, I presume to focus on building the very popular Instamatic cameras that used 126 or 110 drop-in cartridge film. Then in the 1980s other camera makers introduced new lines of moderately priced, easy-to-use compact 35 mm snapshot cameras. Suddenly everyone could take good snapshots using 35 mm film, which had the cachet of “real” photography. It ate into Kodak’s Instamatic business, so they responded in 1986 by introducing the made-in-Japan VR35 line of 35 mm point-and-shoot cameras. Most VR35 cameras had fixed-focus lenses and I’m pretty sure the entire line set the film speed by reading the film cartridge’s DX coding. Many VR35 cameras had built-in flashes, several came with automatic exposure, a couple offered automatic focus, and a few offered motorized winding.

It set my mother back $83 when she bought me a VR35 K40 for Christmas in 1986 (that’s about $171 today). It featured a fixed-focus 35mm f/3.8 (I think) Ektanar lens, which was a little soft but not terribly so. It had a pop-up flash, motorized winding and rewinding, and an autoexposure system probably driven by a CdS cell. It operated on two common-as-pennies AA batteries.

At right is my old friend Gary (check out his blog about Web comics, Fleen) taking a picture of me with my K40 in 1988. I photographed him simultaneously with my backup camera, a crappy Keystone 110 (which I used to photograph the Berlin Wall five years before it fell; the low-fi photos that resulted feel somehow appropriate – check them out). Ah college days, where the excessive homework would make us loopy enough that photographing each other like this seemed like excellent fun. I also used the K40 to photograph a spring morning over the pond adjacent to my residence hall (see that photo), and to photograph the aftermath of an ice storm in 1990 (see some of those photos). My K40 was a reliable and easy-to-use workhorse, and did a fine job for the simple snapshots I liked to take then.

My K40 disappeared somewhere along the way, but I didn’t miss it all that much. When I started taking road trips and needed a camera, I spent $20 on a used Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 and never looked back. But I had a little time to kill a few weeks ago and stopped by a Goodwill store to see if they had any bargain cameras. Glory be, they had a K40 for just $5.

Kodak VR35 K40

There’s nothing to using the K40, starting with loading the film. Drop in the film cartridge on the left, pull the film across the back until it touches the yellow outline of the film leader, and close the back. The K40 winds the film to the first exposure and you’re ready to go.

Kodak VR35 K40

To take a photo, slide the lens cover out of the way, frame the shot, and press the button atop the camera halfway down. If the red light next to the viewfinder glows, pop up the flash by pushing up the slider below the flash. Then press the shutter button all the way down to get the picture. The camera’s winder is on the noisy side (but at least it’s quieter than the Canon AF35ML, another 1980s point-and-shoot snapshot camera I used earlier this year). When you’ve shot the roll, slide the rewind button (upper right on the camera’s back) to the left and wait until it stops. Easy peasy.

I dropped a roll of my go-to film, Fujicolor 200, into this camera and spent a lunch hour in Broad Ripple looking for things to photograph. This is my favorite photo from the day. In real life, the wall is a little more vividly blue. I also wasn’t thrilled with the unusually noisy scans I got from Costco this time. But after I posted this photo so my Facebook friends could see it, one fellow said that its imperfections are part of its charm. I suppose he’s right.

Colorful clothes

This is my second favorite photo of the day, simply because I like how all the lines converge. The fellow walking toward me on the sidewalk gave me a very funny look when he passed by.


Longtime readers may remember that I photographed this once before, in black and white, with my Canon Canonet QL17 G-III.

In Loving Memory

This mural is on the wall of a pool sales and service company. Notice how the frame darkens a bit in the corners.

Blue mural

I took this photo because I wanted to see how the K40 compared to my Canon AF35ML, which I also used to photograph this wall. The lighting conditions differed for the two photographs, which certainly matters, but I think the colors and sharpness are better on the photo from the Canon. I used the same kind of film for both shots.

The Bungalow Inc

It was lunchtime in Broad Ripple. It was unseasonably chilly, so everybody was eating inside.

Today's specials

Finally, it’s not every day you see a Rolls-Royce parked in Broad Ripple. As usual with a point-and-shoot camera, the K40’s viewfinder shows much less than the lens actually sees. I cropped many of the photos from this roll to compensate. I cropped this one much more aggressively because frankly I misframed it.

Brown Rolls, brown brick

I had fun on my K40 lunch hour. Even though my Canon AF35ML is a more capable camera, I think the K40 is more pleasant to use. I’d have a hard time choosing between them for an afternoon of easy shooting.

See my entire VR35 K40 gallery here.

Do you like old cameras? Then check out my entire collection!


26 thoughts on “Kodak VR35 K40

  1. ryoko861 says:

    I could have sworn I left a comment on this post! I mean how can I not comment on that beautiful Rolls! I’ve noticed that too that certain lens show less than what’s in the viewfinder. And it’s usually farther away. But the camera takes a decent picture. The colors are vibrant! Then again you shot some pretty cool scenes that were colorful. Kodak always made a nice, cheap camera for everyday use.


    • This post was feeling lonely, so thanks for commenting on it! I used my first K40 as my primary camera for a long time and frankly (a) if I still had it and (b) digital hadn’t taken over, it might still be my go-to point and shoot.


  2. Richard Flad says:

    I have a Kodak VR 35mm K40 still in the original casing never been used.I also have a Kodak CameoEx 35mm still in the original case never been used. I have a Kodak Cameo35mm zoom plus that has had some use and all are for sale if someone is interested.


  3. Paul says:

    So glad I found your blog! Amazing write-ups. Question: What is the ISO range on the VR35 K40? I just picked up one from a thrift store ($4.03). (Also, great Berlin Wall photographs. The lo-fi is very faithful to the spirit of the scene. Or perhaps convinces us of the desolation.)


    • Paul, the K40 handles 100, 200, and 400 ISO film. It uses the DX coding on the canister to set the speed.

      For many years I regretted taking that cheap 110 camera with me to Germany. But at least for the Berlin Wall shots, you’re right, the lo-fi shots are just right.


    • This camera is really meant for the family snapshooter to use films available at the drug store. I’d think you’d get unsatisfactory results with that fast film.


  4. Brandon Campbell says:

    Oh man, this was my first 35mm camera ever! I did feel limited by the lack of zoom or any manual controls, but it was with me for so many awesome memories! Also do you remember that “Hollywood movie film” they used to advertise, that you mailed off to get developed and they’d send you back slides and/or prints, and another free roll of film? I used a lot of that stuff as a kid. Dang I miss the smell of film!


  5. Mike says:

    This is great fun to read about this old camera. I bought one new back in the 80’s and took many photo’s with it when I was in the army. I just dug it out of an old box with film still loaded. I changed the batteries and took a few shots. I have no idea whats on the rest of the film, about 19 frames worth.


    • In its time, this was a decent enough point and shoot. Even today it does good enough work. Have fun with the photos you get, especially the 19 from the past.


  6. Daniel says:

    I recently was given one of these cameras and an old pack film polaroid and I used it with black and white came out decent of course compared to my other cameras it’s pretty basic. But I love film in all it’s forms


  7. Maura says:

    I know this post is over 4 years old but I am a young person taking my first solo road trip from Missouri to Austin Texas next month. I have never owned a film camera and stumbled upon this model for cheap and decided to do a little research to see if it was something I could easily use and operate to document my little adventure. When I googled, your blog was the first link I clicked and your review swayed my decision to purchase it! I can’t wait for it to arrive so I can test it out around town before I set off on my trip. Thanks again!!


  8. Max says:

    I bought a brand new K80 at a flea market this summer. I was about to load an expired film when it hit me: This camera read DX code on films to set the ISO, you can’t overexpose to compensate for lost sensitivity. Always load a fresh color film in your VR35.

    PS: I favorited your blog *thumbs up


  9. this is one of my favorite point and shoots, but find that the flash always gets stuck aand then will have to buy another. anyone have any idea on how to fix the broken flash? thanks!


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