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.
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.
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.
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.
This mural is on the wall of a pool sales and service company. Notice how the frame darkens a bit in the corners.
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.
It was lunchtime in Broad Ripple. It was unseasonably chilly, so everybody was eating inside.
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.
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!