Compact Film Cameras?

What is a compact camera? The Olympus OM1 is hailed as the most compact SLR, and it truly is. A marvel of haptics and function!img_0001-1

But is it compact, as in…. well small and pocketable? Certainly not.

Then there’s the Nikon and Canon compacts of the nineties. Ugly plastic bricks albeit with great lenses such as the Nikon L35AF series. Are they compact? No!

They are as big as the OM1 without a lens and perhaps just coat-pocketable if you have large pockets. But then the Kodak Vest Pocket Cameras from the beginning of last century were also pocketable in that sense, though only when folded.

As to my eyperience with compact film cameras, I can directly give a testimony about three of them:

The Contax Tvs – The Ricoh GR1 – The Olympus XA2

All three distinguished members of the select PCCC (Premium Compact Camera Club).


Well, the XA2 is perhaps the lowest ranking member of that club, at least when you consider the current prices. Both others command often at least 5 to 10 times of it’s price. Nonetheless it offers marvelous results from a tack sharp lens, provided you set the zone focus correctly.

Olympus XA2
It’s best point for sure is that it’s by far the most compact of them, and even when ‘turned on’ it’s size does not change. Just slide the cover aside and reveal the lens, voilà. Both others stick out their lenses quite a bit when turned on.

The biggest by far is the Contax, even though it’s lens, at least in the 28mm position does not protrude a lot. It will gain only about 1cm. The Ricoh’s lens scoots out quite a bit, but then again it’s the slimmest of these cameras. So it does not really interfere with your pockets.

The trio with lenses extended!
The Contax Tvs is a beast compared to the others. It’s both bigger and a lot heavier! It’s size makes it in fact barely pocketable. And the weight makes you notice it, even in a jacket pocket.

You can see how much the XA is chubby and likeable. Conforming to your hand, unassuming but still a bit heavier than the GR1. The Tvs is monstrous compared to both of them. Its heavy, and gives a reassuring feeling when you hold it. It screams: “I’m a bloody serious camera” whereas the Ricoh and above all the XA2 might pass for a toy.

As for the results, the GR1 is above all doubt the best, closely followed by the XA2. Marvelous lenses on both cameras and it just comes down to the preference of the moment, 28mm or 35mm. I enjoy both cameras equally!

Ricoh GR1
As negative point of the Ricoh is that for a street photography camera it’s quite loud – the winding motor makes a racket that easily gets noticed. A bit annoying. The Contax is very quiet, the motor noise apparently well dampened by the heavy camera body. The light Ricoh resonates with the winder.

Of course the XA, apart from the very quiet shutter click is noiseless! Wonderful.

In fact the only gripe I have with the Contax Tvs is that it’s a zoomer…. I sincerely prefer fixed focal lengths but was not willing to pay the high price for a Contax T2 (though I’d love to get one!!). Now that I have tested this jewel for some time I more than ever want a T2! We’ll see, perhaps one day I’ll find one not too expensive.

The results from the lens are far from bad, don’t misunderstand me here. The Zeiss Vario Sonnar is a great (zoom) lens, sharp and contrasty. All that it takes to make great pictures. It’s the zooming itself that bothers me, and the lens doesn’t zoom very smoothly, as if there was a catch at around 35mm. Perhaps just my copy!

161128 - Ilford HP5+ - Contax Tvs - 010.jpg
Contax Tvs – same view as the XA2 but a year later!
And another one from the Tvs – like the GR1 shot.

Contax Tvs
So where does that leave me?

I still love my XA2 and will never part with it! But the other ones have both their merits. The GR1 is the most compact, fast and sharp street shooter around. Though a bit loud for my taste, it handles like a dream and easily slips into a pocket, any pocket, even tight jeans.

Snap focus makes is blazing fast on the streets and of course it’s a real photographer’s camera. All the settings are easily reached, using it is just obvious. The flash is ruled by a hardware switch, no menu setting so no bad suprises when you want to work onobserved. Focus is fast enough, and the finder is nice.

The Contax is a great feeling camera but it’s big – it won’t be with my every day like both it’s colleagues. But it’s a great camera and I will certainly use it…. alot! It’s finder is a bit more cramped, not as bright too, but it does it’s job. Focus is fast and of course yoou have the option of manual focus.

As for the XA2, nothing much to say. It’s there when you need it, set the focus distance and shoot. It’s going to reward you with very good pictures, all for not  a lot of money. Definitely by very far the most economic of these cameras.

I will use al three, won’t and can’t make my mind up yet to choose only one. Let me see how they will behave in the coming months.

Thanks for reading!

6 thoughts on “Compact Film Cameras?

Add yours

  1. Hey Frank, great write up and fantastic shots! I have used most of the cameras here and you’re spot on in your assessment of these fine cameras. Keep up the great work!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bloody hell….. the Ricoh just quit on me!

    Won’t turn on any more unless I take out and replace the battery.

    Too much electronic stuff, too many whirring motors in those cameras…. I loaded up the Olympus XA2 and headed out with it. I love you, XA2!

    Liked by 1 person

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