Three Pocket Film Cameras

Phot of Panasonic C-625AF Super Mini, Minolta Freedom Escort, and Olympus XA-2

I had a yen to shoot film with a film camera small enough to slip into a jacket pocket. It would probably have to have a fixed lens. That is, not an interchangeable lens and not a zoom. Either of those would be bound to make a camera bigger and heavier.

Shooting film means slowing down, but I didn’t want to carry around a separate light meter, not even in an app on a smartphone. So the camera had to have built-in automatic exposure.

I guess I could have gone for something without a meter and used the sunny sixteen rule. Maybe I will get a camera without an exposure meter at some point in the future, just to get my eye in for judging brightness.

I have a Nikon FE, which has an exposure meter and interchangeable lenses. But it’s heavy and it won’t fit in a pocket.

Nikon FE

Three Cameras

I browsed several reviews and decided on three cameras to test and decide which of them I liked best.

  • Panasonic C-625AF Super Mini
  • Minolta Freedom Escort
  • Olympus XA-2

The Panasonic and The Minolta

The Panasonic and the Minolta are very similar. The look a bit different and I prefer the Minolta’s looks. Both are autofocus and both have one downside, which is that the default flash setting is ‘auto flash’. That means that if you are shooting in low light the camera will decide when the light is low enough to trigger the flash. But you may not want the flash to fire, and you can turn the flash to ‘off’ if you don’t want flash. But when you turn the camera off and and then turn it back on again, it will be set to auto flash again. In other words there is no way to set the flash to default to off.

Once you cycle through the options and turn it to ‘no flash’, the Minolta stays in that position as long as the camera is turned on.. The Panasonic is even more opinionated. It defaults back to auto-flash after each shot even when you keep the camera on ready for the next shot..

Both the Panasonic and the Minolta are battery powered. They take one readily available CR123A battery that lasts about a year, so I read. And they count the number of photographs taken and display them in the top panel.

The battery compartment on both cameras is accessed via a little sliding cover on the bottom of the camera. Somehow I managed to catch my finger against the battery door on the Panasonic and the door opened. That broke the electric circuit and when I closed the door the camera defaulted back to zero shots taken. When it reached the actual number of photos taken, rather than the number in the display, it rewound. So at least the rewind mechanism recognised it was at the end of the roll.

The wind-on and rewind mechanism on the Panasonic is noisy. The wind-on on the Minolta is much quieter. I was out on the street with the Minolta when it reached the end of the roll, and I had to hold the camera near my ear to hear the sound of it rewinding.

There may be a second downside to both cameras. A YouTube reviewer said that the Panasonic and the Minolta don’t focus when you half-press the shutter. They focus when you actually complete the shutter press. If that is so, then you cannot focus and recompose with either camera. If I get around to testing that out I will add an update here.

Olympus XA-2

Both the Panasonic and the Minolta have DX readers built in. So they know the speed of the film you put in the camera. The XA-2 does not have a DX reader, so you have to set the ISO of the film manually. And the XA-2 is not autofocus. It uses zone focusing and you have to memorise what the zone distances are, And of course you have to have an idea in your head of how far away your subject is so that you can assign the correct zone to it.

Zone Focus With The Olympus XA-2 is controlled by a vertical slider with three zones.

  • Two head and shoulders figures icon – near zone – 3ft to 4.5 ft (0.9m to 1.4m)
  • Two whole body figures icon – middle zone – 4.5ft to 9ft (1.4m to 2.7m)
  • Mountains icon – 9ft (2.7m) to Infinity
zones of focus on the Olympus XA-2

If you take a photograph of a subject that is close and then you take a photo of a subject further away you have move the slider.

Unless you have another shot in mind right away, most likely you would slide the lens cover across to close the camera. And when you close the lens cover the distance indicator automatically moves back to the middle distance zone setting.

Next time you turn the camera on you have to remember that the distance indicator is set to the middle zone. If the subject is in the middle distance then you don’t need to move the slider because it is already at the middle distance position.

But if not then you need to slide the zone focus appropriate for the shot you want to take. It’s easy to forget to do that, and because I wasn’t that familiar with the camera I somehow fixed in my mind that the mountain icon was at the bottom position in the slider. It’s not, it’s at the top.

Had I just looked at the front of the camera I would have seen which icon was in which position. But I didn’t. So the shots on the second roll I shot were mostly blurry until I noticed what I was doing. It was weird really because I correctly identified the position of the icons on the first roll I shot, and then simply didn’t look when I shot the second roll.

What I learned is that the Minolta is quieter than the Panasonic, and that all three cameras fail in one way or another. Zone focussing doesn’t build confidence. And assuming what the YouTuber said is true, then the lack of being able to focus and recompose on the other two is a limitation for the way I like to photograph.