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Nikon L35AF (Pic: Lucy Lumen)
The Nikon L35AF; an affordable alternative to overpriced compacts? (All pics: Lucy Lumen)

A long time ago I dreamed of owning a Yashica T4 or maybe even a Contax T2. This is a shared camera dream, one that has become more like a fantasy in recent years due to the ever-increasing popularity and price of these aspirational point-and-shoot film cameras.

In my dream I would be taking the perfect photos, cruising around with my portable, lightweight, easy-to-use camera. Organising shoots with friends and producing these Terry Richardson-inspired evocative portraits that would obviously inevitably shoot me to photographic fame and worldwide recognition. Vogue would approach me and musicians and celebrities alike would flock to me so they could say: “I was shot by Lucy”. If only I could get the money together to buy one of these damn cameras.

In reality I was waitressing full time, earning a pittance, paying Contax T2 prices for a room in a shared house in the inner north of Melbourne and shooting film on a Nikkormat EL with broken electronics, a sub-par lens and an ache in my shoulder from lugging a hunk of metal around. Most of the time I would open the back and either the whole roll of film hadn’t actually wound on, or I would wind too far and it would come out of the canister. I was constantly presenting myself in the framing shop that also developed film on Smith Street smiling sweetly and saying, can you help me please?

Nikon L35AF (Pic: Lucy Lumen)

I entered a competition at the CCP (Centre of Contemporary Photography) that happened to be right opposite the restaurant where I worked at the time. I had seen a flyer for it when I was checking out their latest exhibition and thought “wow” imagine having your work on a wall, like in a show, in a gallery? So, I enlisted a friend to pose for me and I shot some Ilford Delta 400.

I read all the rules of the competition and for the first time in my photography non-career I got my scans done in high resolution. I picked out a shot of my friend lighting a cigarette with my zippo that had engraved on it “you’re so cool”, the words from one of my favourite films ‘True Romance’. This was it, this was the image, the one that would get me into this gallery show. I submitted it and paid the admission fee, I had no care for the prizes I just wanted to be in the show and… validated I guess??

I never got an email, I never won anything, and I didn’t get shown in the exhibition like I had hoped.

I did however work on the opening night of the exhibition.

As I laid the tables ready for dinner service, I stared despondently out of the second-floor window, looking down longingly at the many people spilled out on the street, laughing and drinking. A few young guys skateboarded up and down with their Yashicas and their Contaxes slung effortlessly, whilst I brewed with bother putting forks next to knives on tables. I couldn’t believe I was dumb enough to think MY image taken on MY crappy camera would even be considered amongst these others.

Nikon L35AF (Pic: Lucy Lumen)

Time went by and I would sometimes get all the money I had for rent that month and think “should I just blow this all on a camera?” I didn’t. Instead I researched. I came across an article on budget point and shoots. It listed about six or seven cameras, one of which was the Nikon L35AF. I read it so intently, taking note of each feature and pro and con and feeling like this was something I could actually seek out and most importantly afford! I looked on eBay and online but I’d had bad experiences with cameras not working or something being not what I had expected. I wanted to find one in the wild. But how?

Turns out I didn’t have to move mountains to get to what would be my one true love in camera form, but I did have to cross state lines. A birthday trip took me to Newtown, Sydney, where I was mostly excited to visit old haunts and buy records. The day of my birthday I strolled through Newtown markets and came across a middle-aged man with a trestle table full of cameras neatly laid out with little gold price tags attached to them. I quickly spotted the letters and numbers L35AF, then the red stripe running down and the gold price tag flickering in the sun. I was scared to look. I turned it over, revealing a price…$40!!!!

Nikon L35AF2 (Pic: Lucy Lumen)

I was elated, to say the least, I quickly got my purse out and made what I would now call the purchase of a lifetime. I bought some really overpriced film in a camera store nearby and loaded it up as quickly as I could. I was so excited, I bored my mum with how I had just read about this camera recently and it’s worth more than this and how I was so lucky and how I couldn’t wait to use it and it was the best birthday ever, the joy I was feeling, what a find!

I took about three photos before the whole camera seemed completely broken. I was devastated. Happy Birthday, I don’t think so.

I felt so cheated. I did try and fix the camera to the best of my ability but this was before the days of how-to-fix YouTube videos on how to fix things and to be honest I was kind of over always running into trouble whilst just trying to take pictures. I kept my Nikon L35AF on a shelf and with it my dream of owning a cool and decent point and shoot camera.

I continued to shoot film, dipping in and out of love. When times were tight with money, I wouldn’t shoot much at all and when I was a bit more flush I would binge rolls through my more reliable acquisition, the Nikon F80, black, plastic, ugly, uncool and with more features than I needed, nor knew how to use. More on those another time though.

Years went by and I moved through share houses, back home, into share houses again, travelled overseas, more share housing and then finally back to square one, home. They say home is where the heart is, home is where I found my true love, in person form, and that person also fixed my Nikon L35AF.

All those years it sat unused and all it needed was some foil to help the batteries connect. Sometimes connection is all you need; we can learn lessons from our film cameras it appears.

So, I finally ran my first actual successful roll through this camera and the results were unbelievable. Sharp as a tack, so much character and edge, vignetting in a good way, poppy colours and that flash… it just made everything look so much cooler than it did in real life. I waited so long for these shots and they defiantly did not disappoint.

I have since acquired many of these cameras in all different versions and if there was some kind of disaster, I would grab my son first, obviously, and second, my Nikon L35AF collection.

Richard Hell once sang “love comes in spurts” and I would agree. The story of how we came together was a long and trying one with little glimmers of hope here and there, love spurting and dying, but we got there in the end. I love you, Nikon L35AF.

For more on this camera and other adventures in analogue photography, check out my YouTube channel.

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