Everything about this camera’s function is nonstandard. I had to puzzle over the manual to begin to know what to do, and even then I struggled.
For example, to change the shutter speed on this shutter-priority autoexposure camera, I always had to take the camera away from my eye and hold it at an awkward angle to see the markings on the lens barrel. It slowed me way down.
Ten shots in, the battery died. To change the battery (a banned 625 mercury cell; I used an alkaline equivalent) I had to open the camera, which ruined a few frames of film.
Rewinding the film was maddening. Film winding and rewinding is controlled by a spring-loaded knob on the camera bottom. You wind it all the way and the camera automatically advances the film for 20 shots. To rewind, you wind the knob and then press in and twist an awkward, recessed rewind button on the camera’s side, repeating until the frame counter returns to 0. Except that it didn’t work well, and when I opened the camera some film was still stretched across the back. A few more frames were ruined.
Prolonging the misery, the Dial 35-2 is a half-frame 35 mm camera, meaning that you get 48 exposures from a 24-exposure roll of film. So I got to not enjoy this experience for twice as long as normal!
Well, almost. For some reason, I couldn’t get the camera to advance past the 40th frame. It was a relief.
Half-frame 35 mm cameras were all the rage in the 1960s. Olympus created the market with its Pen series, which buyers snapped up because of the small cameras the format made possible. I imagine some thrifty people really liked getting double the photos from a roll of film, too.
Canon wasn’t about to stand idly by, so in 1963 it issued the original Dial 35. The Pen series’ conventional design led to portrait-oriented photos by default. Canon wanted to be different, so they designed a vertical film transport for landscape-oriented photos. The Dial’s resulting unusual looks carried to the slightly improved Dial 35-2 when it was released in 1968.
I’ve been curious about the Dial family for many years, but high prices kept me away. Then late last year I bought this one for chicken feed because the eBay seller misspelled its name as “Dail” in the listing. Tip: Proofread your eBay listings before you commit them!
I shot my go-to color film, Fujicolor 200. As I dropped the roll off at my neighborhood CVS for its good, inexpensive one-hour processing, I expected to immediately relegate the Dial 35-2 to the box of unloved cameras I keep under my bed.
But then I got some really delightful images back from the processor. Yes, they’re grainy; you’ll have that with little 18 x 24 mm half-frame negatives. But just look at how the Dial 35-2 rendered that delicious light reflecting off this swing seat. The colors, though muted, are true.
The Dial’s focusing lever is awkwardly placed, but because the viewfinder shows the focus you’ve set on a typical portrait-group-landscape scale, it’s not too bad to use. The viewfinder also shows the aperture the camera selected.
The Dial 35-2 fit into my coat pocket, so I carried it everywhere for several weeks. The Dial’s f/2.8 lens, which is coupled to a Seikosha shutter that fires from 1/30 to 1/250 sec., let in enough light even on the grayest winter day.
I even got some decent available-light indoors shots with the Dial.
I took this photo of light falling on my laundry hamper minutes after I took a similar shot with my Polaroid Automatic 250.
Because I didn’t enjoy using the Dial, I just wanted to get the roll over with. My “what the heck” attitude led me to take photos I might otherwise not have, not caring much whether they turned out or not. Several of those worked out just fine, such as this sunset shot. The puddle in which the bare trees reflect is left over from a giant rainstorm that had passed through a few days before.
These are the best shots from my test roll. If you check out my gallery of Dial 35-2 shots on Flickr, you’ll see I uploaded only 21 images even though I took 40 – the other 19 simply weren’t worthy. I’m sure that if I kept at it I’d learn the Dial’s weird ways and have more consistent success. But that’s not going to happen. Life’s too short to not enjoy the photographic journey.
Do you like vintage cameras? Then check out my entire collection!