I don’t know for sure, because I wasn’t there. But I’ll bet that when Kodak introduced its VR35 line of 35mm point-and-shoot cameras in 1986, it was after someone in the Eastman Kodak board room said, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. Point-and-shoot 35mm cameras had come on the scene, and they were eating into Kodak’s Instamatic business. Kodak turned to Japanese cameramaker Chinon for manufacturing help. Out came a capable, if chunky, line of cameras. The Kodak VR35 K12 was the second best camera in the series.
At the top of the line was the VR35 K14, which offered only a date back over the K12. Mike Eckman reviewed that camera at length on his site; see it here. This is a well-specified point-and-shoot camera with a 35mm f/2.8 four-element Tessar-design lens at its centerpiece. You can’t go wrong with a Tessar! It also features auto exposure, infrared auto focus, a popup flash with fill and night modes, and a motor drive. This point-and-shoot ain’t messing around.
The lens cover doubles as the flash, and because it opens so wide it separates the flash from the body for better results. It does look strange when open, though.
This camera is large, as point-and-shoots go. Its body is about the same size as an SLR, minus the pentaprism. But it’s far lighter than an average SLR. It’s also obviously far less complicated to use: just frame and press the button on the top plate. The camera does the rest.
The camera even winds the film for you with its loud winder. Loud winders were typical of the genre in the 35mm point-and-shoot’s early days. The VR35 K12 even does most of the work of loading the film: insert the cartridge and pull the leader across to the yellow mark, close the door, and lift up the lens cover. After a cacophony of whirs and clicks, you’re ready to go. You’ll know you’ve succeeded when the green FILM RUN light blinks. When you reach the end of the roll, the VR35 K12 rewinds the film for you.
The VR35 K12 reads the DX code on your film, but recognizes only films that consumers commonly used in those days: ISO 100, 200, 400, and 1000. If there’s no DX code, or the DX code is for a speed the camera can’t recognize, the camera uses ISO 100. You can’t adjust ISO or exposure.
Autofocus appears to operate in three zones: portrait, group, and landscape. I don’t know what distances those zones represent. Press the shutter button down halfway to focus and the rest of the way to fire the shutter. The camera focuses within the frame marks just above the center of the viewfinder. If your subject is not within those frame marks, place it there and press the shutter button down halfway to focus. Then holding that button down, compose your shot as you want and press the button the rest of the way. Also, in a rare and very nice feature, if the subject is too close the portrait symbol blinks in the viewfinder. I can’t tell you how many point-and-shoot cameras don’t have a feature like this and you are left to guess distance when shooting close.
If you press and hold the shutter button, the camera fires every two seconds.
The flash fires whenever the camera thinks flash is needed, and you can’t turn it off. I found its flash sensor to be pretty decent, only once firing the flash in a situation where I wouldn’t want it. There’s also a manual fill flash feature. When your subject is darker than the background, slide and hold the Fill Flash switch on the camera’s front while you press the shutter button.
The VR35 K12 doesn’t work without a battery. The camera was intended to use Kodak’s proprietary Ultralite battery, which is out of production. Fortunately, it also runs on a standard 9-volt battery. I had one in the fridge that I bought a couple years ago that was still well within its best-by date, but my VR35 K12 didn’t work with it. I bought a fresh battery and all was well.
By the way, if you like compact 35mm point-and-shoot cameras, check out my reviews of the Kodak VR35 K40, the Canon Snappy 50, the Canon AF35ML, the Yashica T2, the Olympus Stylus, the Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80, and the Minolta AF-Sv. You can also have a look at every camera I’ve ever reviewed here.
These cameras are meant for consumer color films, but I shot black-and-white in it anyway. I have some 12-exposure rolls of Ultrafine Extreme 400 that I use when I’m not fully sure of a camera’s functioning, because the film was inexpensive and I don’t feel like I’ve lost much if a roll doesn’t work out. I’m not sure why I felt hinky about this camera, but I did. I shouldn’t have worried. Here’s my wife and our granddaughter. Notice how the flash lights the scene evenly, even this close.
A few photos on the roll (that I’m not showing you) suffered from mild camera shake. I found the shutter button sometimes stiff, which probably caused the shake. Here’s an alleyway in Lebanon, Indiana.
The winder shrieks as it advances frames. That’s typical of point-and-shoots of this era but it sure is a jarring sound. Here’s the fountain in front of the library in Thorntown, Indiana. I developed this film in Ilford ID-11, by the way.
I kept going with a roll of Fujicolor 200. Check out that slightly blurred background when I focused on these potted flowers. This is about as close as you can get to a subject.
Ellison Brewery is a two-minute walk from my Downtown Indianapolis office and makes for a nice, colorful subject.
I made this photo inside my company’s offices with no flash. The VR35 K12 handled this available-light situation just fine.
My ideal walking-around point-and-shoot fits in the palm of my hand. That was so not the VR35 K12. Thankfully, its long strap let me sling it over my shoulder. It’s not heavy to carry. That’s my company’s building behind this Jeep Cherokee, which is always exactly right in this spot.
The lens delivers good sharpness and detail.
To see more from this camera, check out my Kodak VR35 K12 gallery.
I didn’t love the Kodak VR35 K12. The Kodak VR35 K40 I used to own had a slower lens and was fixed focus, but was a little smaller and easier to hold. I preferred it. Yet the VR35 K12 returned plenty of interesting images for me. In 1986, this camera would have been a great choice. It’s still not a bad choice, especially given that you can buy these for 20 bucks.
If you like old film cameras, check out all of my reviews here!
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