By Toby Van de Velde
I recently bought nine cameras at auction (not eBay), with the total cost working out at £4 per camera.
To be fair, four are non-runners, but I’m cleaning up and testing the other five.
I wanted to find out for myself if this was true, or an unkind slight. So I loaded up some Ilford Kentmere Pan 400 and took the one with the slightly-less-stiff lens-movement out for a spin.
The 35X is a small camera, it is very snug in the hand, but it weighs far more than it looks like it should. It tips the scales at 550g to be exact, my Olympus 35RC by comparison weighs 410g, and the two cameras side by side look exactly the same size.
It is one solid metal lump.
This camera was made in Hong Kong from 1959 onwards and has “Empire Made” stamped onto the base. I assume this was to trigger patriotic photographers into buying one – maybe dreaming of the Leica it mimicked in design, if not in function.
I have a stable of 20th-Century cameras and one thing about using them I enjoy is the challenge. They all have limitations that technology has bred out of more modern cameras, less choice when it comes to shutter speeds and aperture are two examples. Hardened lube causing stiff lens barrels and dicky shutter curtains are also examples of how cameras that are 50, or 70, or 100 years old can challenge you.
I find that the challenge of a “difficult” camera forces me to get to grips with my photography. Being a commercial shooter I spend my day using an “easy” Nikon D810. You don’t need to put much effort into handling this model, and the range of shutter speeds and apertures available, plus the option of bouncing the ISO like a basketball as your lighting situation changes, means it’s a doddle to shoot with.
A classic/vintage/old camera, such as the Halina 35X, is a different kettle of fish, however. As film shooters, we are all used to choosing our emulsion and working with that ISO. Compared to a modern camera, balancing a restricted choice of shutter and F/stop against your film speed can be a challenge. But one that I find helps refine my photography skills.
Using these cameras is as much a part of my enjoyment of photography as seeing the negatives as they come out of the dev tank.
So what is it like to shoot? I actually enjoyed the user experience.
In essence this is not any more difficult than other vintage cameras. There are a couple of foibles to work with, but they just lend themselves to the shooting experience and I have quickly become fond of the 35X. I intend to shoot this one regularly, and to shoot the second one at some point as well.
An interesting thing about shooting with this camera is the three motions you need to go through to take a picture: wind on the film, cock the shutter and press the button. Usually the wind-on and the shutter cock are done in the same action, and having a shutter cocking lever on the lens barrel as a separate function is quirky.
I have a couple of light meters, plus a phone app, so the lack of TTL is no issue to me, and zone focusing is something that comes with practice. The 35X also has a very handy indicator on its lens barrel that indicates what depth of field you are getting with your chosen f/stop. This is a feature that appears on a few of my older cameras and something I notice modern cameras lack.
This helps me – and could help you – to get a sense of what will be sharp in your images when you focus on your subject.
All in all, this is a challenging camera, but I have a few of those and it doesn’t phase me to use any of them. Challenging is part of the fun I get from this hobby.
I wouldn’t pay any attention to the ‘worst 35mm camera ever made’ slur if I were you. If you find one in decent working order then I recommend that you buy it and give it a go yourself.