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Tyre in sunlight on beach (Pic: Stephen Dowling)
(All pics: Stephen Dowling)

I’ve been very busy buying film compacts for my online camera shop Cameraburo recently – to the point where the draw they’re stored in is getting difficult to close…

I’ve spent the last few weeks rattling off film in a bunch of models which will come to the shop soon, but first I’m sharing results from a trio of cameras I tested when the days were a little shorter and the sunshine a little less intense.

The three models covered here all date from the 1990s, as far as I can tell, though information about some of these cheap and cheerful cameras is of course far less extensive than your Leicas and Hasselblads.

As ever, it’s enormous fun putting a roll through cameras like these, most of which end up on the shelves of Cameraburo.

Boots 502AF

Boots, for those who have never wandered down a British high street, is regarded as the leading pharmacy chain the UK, and were for a long time the biggest photographic developer in the UK as well. Many Boots stores had a photo lab and the chain sold so much film that it had its own-brand label selling pretty much any kind of film you can think of. It also rebadged a number of consumer-level cameras.

The 502AF seems, like a bunch of compact cameras Boots sold in the 1980s and 1990s, to be made by Ricoh. It’s very similar to the ELLE compact that Ricoh bought out at the end of the 1990s, albeit with a few cosmetic changes. It’s a small plastic compact with a 29mm “macro” lens and a top LCD display. It also has a “panoramic” setting with covers the top and bottom of the frame to give a panorama-style image. It is DX coded. Light and easy to use – exactly the kind of camera that might tempt Boots customers picking up a few rolls of film alongside the sunscreen and the insect repellent.

I’m a huge fan of Ricoh’s compacts, especially the robust FF family, and found this Ricoh-by-another-name delightful to shoot with. It’s not a particularly tough camera, but the lens is capable and the panoramic function, while (whisper it) obviously not a true panoramic perspective, it’s useful for those wide summer vistas.

Premier PC-645D

This camera is one of a bewildering array churned out of Far East factories in the last decade or so of film photography’s reign. By then, many Japanese and German camera manufacturers had moved production of their cheapest models to the Chinese mainland or to Taiwan; Premier was one of the Taiwanese companies which produced cheap and cheerful compacts for a growing middle class.

The PC-645D is typical of a huge number of cameras built in the 1990s – fixed focus, DX-coded, integral flash and with a motor drive to wind and rewind the film. The three-element lens is capable without being revolutionary, but the camera did come with something a little more “premium”: a data back to imprint the date on photos.

You’ll have passed cameras like this a hundred times and never bothered to pick them up, let alone shoot with them; I know I had. But I loaded up this PC-645D with some AgfaPhoto Vista 200 and had an oddly enjoyable time shooting it.

By this time in the film camera game, all but the very cheapest, rock-bottom-level cameras were capable of taking decent pics – we’re not talking Contax-compact quality, but certainly decent enough for the 6×4 prints people would pick up to remember their holidays. The PC-645D’s motordrive is snappy and relatively quiet (certainly quieter than the compacts from the 1980s). Yep, shooting into the Sun is almost guaranteed to produce bags of flare, but you can also suffer that with cameras with a far heftier price tag.

Yashica Zoomtec 60

Think Yashica compacts and your mind will probably conjure up visions of the Japanese manufacturer’s cult T-range. That was just the type of the iceberg. Like most camera makers, Yashica made a full range of compact cameras from the humble to the highly regarded.

The Yashica Zoomtec 60 appeared in 1990 – it’s the same camera as the Kyocera Zoomtec 60 (Kyocera bought the ailing Yashica in 1983). It’s a decidedly chunky compact, with an outsized battery compartment also forming a very comfortable hand grip. The Zoomte 60’s lens goes from 38mm to 60mm, which is hardly earth-shattering, but this camera was one of a range of Zoometc models with zooms going all the way up to 90mm.

The Zoomtec’s 60 chunky size and simple functional controls show this was a camera at the lower end of the price range, but its secret weapon is that lens; it has fantastic colour rendition and lots of contrast. I was deeply impressed by the pictures that came off this camera. What’s more, it runs off a pair of AA batteries, meaning no scouring pharmacies and electronic stores for expensive, esoteric batteries.

Who needs a Yashica T4, anyway?

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Stephen Dowling
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Tobias Eriksson
3 months ago

Thanks for a great read about resurrecting these neglected cameras! I made a similar inquiry a few years ago, with older models. Check out my blog – search for ‘crap cameras’.