Collecting Cameras, Film Photography

Operation Thin the Herd: Kodak VR35 K40

Lafayette alley

I knew as I loaded a roll of expired Kodak Max 400 into this camera that I wasn’t going to keep it. I was only shooting it one more time, for old time’s sake.

Kodak VR35 K40

My mom bought me my first Kodak VR35 K40 as a Christmas gift in about 1986. I used it heavily through college and in the first few years after. Even though it’s a simple fixed-focus point-and-shoot camera, it was the most capable camera I’d ever owned, returning consistently good results. Here’s a photo I made in 1989 of my brand new car parked in front of the Terre Haute, Indiana, house where I rented an apartment. It was a wonderful place; read about it and see photos here.

My first car

I used that K40 to record the glistening aftermath of a 1990 ice storm that shut down our city. That was such a great day! It was the first time I ever went on a photo walk, just me and my camera, alone, exploring. I wrote about that day here; it’s one of my favorite posts ever.

After the ice storm

I set the K40 aside after I married my first wife, who was a skilled photographer and took most of our family photos. It wasn’t until after we divorced that I started making photographs again. My K40 was nowhere to be found, so I bought a used Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80 on eBay and moved on.

Years later I came upon this K40 at Goodwill for a few dollars. I love cheap nostalgia. But it turns out this simple point-and-shoot camera is pretty good, returning bold color on consumer-grade film. Its lens is sharp enough for credible enlargements to 8×10. Here are some wintertime photos I made with it recently.

Whitestown Meijer

I’ve been up to Purdue a lot lately to see my son. This is a great little candy store in downtown Lafayette.

McCord's

This scooter seems always to be parked by my son’s dorm. I love how the K40’s 35mm lens captures so much context. It would be a fine film camera to take on vacation even now.

Scooter at Tarkington Hall

I suppose this camera qualifies as compact. After shooting a couple rolls through my tiny Olympus XA recently the K40 felt pretty large. There’s no way the K40 fits into any pants pocket, but it fits fine in my winter-coat pocket. It weighs next to nothing, but then it’s made almost entirely of plastic. This pocket park is on the block behind my church on Indianapolis’s Near Westside.

Pocket park, Hawthorne, Indianapolis

The K40’s automatic winder is pretty loud. That’s typical of point-and-shoot cameras of the day, but it really attracts attention now. Fortunately, when I made this shot in the foyer of my church, worship had not yet begun.

Stairs and window

I stepped outside on this frigid day for this quick exterior photo. I cropped to 4×5 to get rid of my finger, which got into the frame. A few of my quick outside photos were so marred. It’s not surprising: because the temperature was in the single digits, I was moving fast and not taking my usual care.

West Park Christian Church

You can see more photos from this camera in my Kodak VR35 K40 gallery.

I suppose I’m fortunate to have so many lovely cameras that one that performs this well doesn’t survive Operation Thin the Herd. But nostalgia isn’t enough to keep any of my cameras in the collection.

Verdict: Goodbye

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12 thoughts on “Operation Thin the Herd: Kodak VR35 K40

  1. Ron says:

    Being economically challenged, I bought one of these in the mid-80’s for my first trip to San Francisco. Not bad for a cheap Kodak, probably from Wards, Sears, or Walmart. I found it in a box a couple of years ago. I probably ought to throw a roll in it to see what it does..

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    • I didn’t know much about photography or cameras when I had my first one of these. When I bought the second one at a thrift store and shot it — by this time quite experienced — I was really surprised by how good it was. I mean, it’s no Olympus XA, but for being all plastic, probably even the lens, it returned credible results every time. Kodak really got this camera right.

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  2. DougD says:

    I think I’d vote goodbye on that one just based on the looks. That’s one butt ugly 80’s camera there. If you’re going to do cool vintage equipment it’s got to look the part.

    Is University agreeing with your son? My nephew is in year 2 of nuclear engineering, and when we ask him how a course is going and he says “Great!” that means “I’m not failing!”. Some of his courses haven’t gone so “Great!” but I can identify as a veteran of the 5 year plan myself. Not going for a PHD here, you just need to clear the bar.

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    • Yeah, 80s/90s everyday film cameras were unattractive in general. At least this one is merely nondescript.

      My son seems to be perfectly happy in school. I think he likes that he’s living a life he chose.

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  3. I sometimes look back through some of the family pictures that I took with those Kodak disposable cameras, mostly purchased on Main Street in Disneyland, and am quite amazed by the quality of the images they produced. Simple cardboard camera with a plastic lens. Considering how much thought I give now to my equipment and film, it is amazing that I trusted the recording of such important and fleeting family moments to the cheapest of gear–but they never let me down. “You take the pictures, we do the rest”…ahh Kodak! :-)

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    • Those things could do credible work for typical vacation-style photographs. I shot one all over Washington, DC, in 1994 when I was there semi-unexpectedly. It worked great.

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  4. Tim Carlson says:

    Dang! Look at that Beretta! Never owned one but thought they looked so great when I was a youngster. Really nice shots for a Goodwill find.

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  5. I do think that cameras of this sort don’t get enough respect. They did make it possible for the first time for most people to get reasonably good results from a camera without knowing much about what they were doing. They were quite a leap forward at the consumer level.

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