Our top six 35mm travel cameras (in completely random order).
Texts by Maxwell Finch
There’s something special about the camera that you take with you everywhere, on every trip.
Chase Jarvis wrote that the best camera is the one you have with you; clearly true. He was talking about iPhones, and yes, they’re cool, but they’re very boring to take photographs with.
Most of these 35mm travel cameras will fit in your pocket snug, look and feel fantastic in the hand, don’t need the latest version of iTunes to operate and are an exercise in patience whilst waiting for your film to get developed. Without a doubt more fun than an iPhone.
My first 35mm everywhere camera was a Nikon L35AF, it doubled as a brick and would only just fit in a jacket pocket. After I sank that Nikon to the bottom of a waterhole in Northern New South Wales I went through a whole bunch of point and shoot cameras. They have travelled with me everywhere in the jacket pockets, the bottom of the tote bags and would undoubtedly tell better stories than I. I guess they do, through the photographs they make… I found a black Yashica T4 on Gumtree for $150 and it was the beginning of a long and close relationship. We tried long distance, once after I misplaced it in a Tokyo bar we spent a year apart, but it always returned to me eventually. It’s now in the hands of a nifty young scallion who nabbed it from my pocket on a packed metro carriage at Barbes Rochechouart in Paris. I miss you Yashi.
There is a myriad of options to choose from and this list doesn’t intend to be complete, it’s just some of our favourites. To narrow it down, these 35mm travel cameras had to weigh less than 310g, have a built-in flash, fast autofocus and be able to handle a little beating in the jacket pocket when you’re off on an adventure.
In completely random order, Gobe’s top six 35mm travel cameras:
YASHICA T4/T45 (AKA KYOCERA SLIM T)
Carl Zeiss 35mm f3.5
Small, lightweight, speedy and with a sharp lens from lord Zeiss. A weatherproof point and shoot that will last the distance. Look out for the models with the waist level viewfinder, although small it’s quite usable and makes for great stealth street shooting and working those angles. Most often found in a stealthy black, I’m still hunting for the extra stealthy safari green model to add to the collection. A major downside for many is that the mode button is tiny and resets every time you turn the camera off, meaning it always opens to auto flash. Despite this, the T4 still holds a very dear place in many hearts as a speedy firing, crispy clean, memory making machine.
OLYMPUS µ[mju:]-II (AKA STYLUS EPIC)
Carl Zeiss 35mm f3.5
A mass-produced camera from 1997, apparently there was close to 4 million floating around the globe. That being said, they’ve risen to a cult-like fame recently and you don’t come across them as often as you used to. Said to be slightly slower than the Yashica T4, but by no means slow. Clever and easy sliding cover for the retractable lens which acts as the power button. I recommend using a film with an ISO of 400 or more to get the best out of the Stylus Epic as it seems sharpest when stopped down.
Some eBay auctions command ridiculous prices and someone on my feed just posted one for 200 pounds! I did find one last week in a tiny cluttered brocante in Paris for 10 euro, so keep your eyes out.
Carl Zeiss 35mm f2.8
A camera lauded by many as the world’s greatest point and shoot of all time, ever, period. The Zeiss lens is as sharp as you would expect, it’s light, it feels superb in your hand. Aperture priority, exposure compensation and focus lock confirmation make it more user-controllable than other cameras. Contax makes beautiful cameras, there’s no question about that, but are they worth the ever-increasing price? They’re worth what you want to pay for them. You’re going to pay a little more because it has Contax written on it and they are adored by many and have become very, very fashionable. Landing at around $700-900 USD or more second hand, but it’s also arguably the best. Buy it if you can afford it and look after it! Parts are getting harder to find and fewer and fewer people can service these beauties.
Nikkor 35mm f2.8
Ken Rockwell describes this as a “rich persons holiday camera”, which makes sense as it cost about $1000 USD when it came out in 1993. It is very much a sophisticated little beauty though. The “ti” stands for titanium, which envelopes this beautiful camera, so it’s certainly tough. One of the sharpest lenses in this lineup, it produces amazing quality images for its size. You have been able to get them second hand for $300 USD for years now. There is nowhere to put a shoulder strap onto this Nikon, so if that a clincher for you, shuffle on. They don’t have the cult cool status of the Contax or Epic Stylus, yet, I suspect that price will rise soon.
The cheapest camera on this list and a great entry level 35mm for a newcomer to film. This brick can handle a beating, it has a super bright pop up flash and a five-element lens which is sharper than a lot of Nikon’s new digital lenses. It has a proper lens filter thread unlike any of the other, more expensive, cameras here, so you can shoot proper BNW, use polarisers and protect your lens from the adventure dirt with a UV filter. It might not have the finesse of the Contax, the speed of the Yashica T4 or the cult cool status of the Stylus Epic, but it certainly holds its own for the price. This beauty can easily be found for less than a roll of Portra developed.
OLYMPUS TRIP 35
Another of the classic looking 35mm cameras, well built, easily pocketable and with a sharp lens. Very easy to use with zone focusing adjusted easily from the top of the lens ring. They do commonly suffer from an aperture assembly problem, the fix is often dead simple and can be found here. The Olympus Trip 35 also boast green energy points being loaded with a solar-powered selenium cell metre, this means no batteries to forget to bring with you on your epic adventure, which means no missed shot right when the Cheetah is leaping over the glassy reflective pond at sunset on the Savannah. Olympus made over a million of these 35mm travel cameras, so they’re still quite affordable and not impossible to find.
Good luck finding your dream 35mm everywhere camera. When you do, take it on an adventure, get lost in the desert with it and write all about it. If you think your story is worth sharing, get in touch with us here.