Everyone loves a little bit of luxury. The finer things in life. Not that surprising we then have a camera with gold trimmings like the Nikon Lite.Touch 140 Zoom ED AF. A camera that gives the feeling you are using something with leather seats and a top class gold finish. That is if you ignore the fact the camera body is all plastic, lightweight and all electronic.
There is a real surge in the world of compact film cameras at the moment, with some models commanding extraordinary prices. This is especially true on some models in demand with either known sharp prime lenses (e.g. Olympus mju) or even some zoom models which have a sought after brand name (e.g. Leica Minilux). The Lite.Touch 140, on the other hand, is available for quite low prices, which is where it is revealed as the luxury imitator. This can be reflected by the fact it was available for $US250 in 2001 when it was released. That equates to about $US370 in today’s value, which is a middle range price.
Luxury like finishes, price levels and shiny gold paint trimmings are all great, but in the end it is all about the image quality and the user experience. So let’s have a look at a bit of background and performance of the Nikon Lite.Touch 140 Zoom ED.
Nikon has a long and varied history, most well known for the introduction of the Nikon F in 1959. The Nikon F was previously reviewed here. For the purposes of covering this review, we will cover the introduction of the Lite.Touch series of compacts rather than a full history of Nikon.
Nikon introduced the Lite.Touch series of cameras with the Nikon AF600 Lite.Touch in 1993, which was right in the midst of the plastic compact camera craze. At that point the camera was in plain black and had a fixed 28mm f/3.5. It was also advertised as the “World’s smallest ultra-compact and lightweight 35mm format AF camera” and even had a panorama feature. From there Nikon then released many models until 2003, finishing with the Lite.Touch 100W Zoom, which by then had well established the gold trimmings in the series.
The Nikon Lite.Touch 140 Zoom ED AF was released in 2001 aimed at the mid-market, attempting to give users a quality camera mainly for travel, family events and general photography. This is evident with a large 3.7x zoom starting only at 38mm.
2001 was at the cross roads of digital photography effectively moving into the mainstream, so this camera had to be very versatile, produce very good results to counter the immediacy and convenience digital was bringing to the table.
The Nikon Lite.Touch Zoom 140 ED AF is a plastic 35mm compact camera, with a sliding lens cover which also activates the camera when opened or shuts it off when closed. It was also classed as “the smallest and lightest camera body in its zoom class (as of April 25, 2001)”, in the press release from Nikon. They considered it the top of the line compact camera in the series. Everything apart from the zoom is automated on this camera. A QD version was also available which allowed date imprinting on the photo and a panorama mode.
The zoom lens features a 3.7x optical focal length range, starting at 38mm through to 140mm with an auto selected aperture range of f/5.3 to f/10.5. The lens also features Nikon’s ED (Extra-low Dispersion) optics to combat flare etc. The zoom is controlled by a rocking switch at the back of the camera, labelled with a single tree for wider setting, though to a forest of trees for the full zoom. When the camera is opened and thus switched on, the lens extends to the widest setting ready for use. While zoomed, it extends out a considerable distance. When the cover is pushed to close the camera, whatever zoom setting it is set at, the camera will retract the lens allowing for the cover to be closed completely.
The zoom function is reflected in the viewfinder, which contains marks for the autofocus in the centre and parallax compensation marks for close up shooting less than one metre. The QD model also has masks for the panorama function. Two LEDs are present on the right side of the viewfinder. An orange one to indicate the status of the flash, blinking when charging, steady when ready. A green one is there to indicate the focus status, blinking when focus cannot be achieved and steady when focus is achieved. A slow blink indicates the subject is closer than the minimum focus the lens can achieve, 0.74m. One of the advanced features to be included on a compact, is a dioptre adjustment dial on the left of the viewfinder.
On the top plate, from the left is the pop up flash, a LCD panel, a couple of control buttons, a recessed rewind button and the shutter release, with the expected gold ring around it. The LCD carries a lot of information, including battery health, frame number, self-timer/remote control indicator, infinity mode selection indicator, red-eye reduction indicator, flash mode.
The buttons on the right of the LCD are to control some of the camera modes. The one closest to the front, allows selection of red-eye reduction mode, the self-timer and if you have it, the remote control. The button towards the back of the camera allows selection of the flash mode and infinity focus, which is great for shooting through a window. The modes this button specifically allows for are; auto-flash, infinity focus without flash, flash off, always flash fire and slow-sync flash. Do note that when the camera is turned off, the next time it is turned on it automatically resets to auto-flash. This is even when it powers down due to inactivity.
Loading the film is an easy affair, with the cartridge inserted on the right and the film traveling to the left, which exposes the film upside down. Underneath the camera is the tripod socket and the battery compartment. This camera takes the easily available CR123A 3 volt lithium battery.
You may notice there seems to be a plethora of windows at the front of the camera when it is opened. They are from left to right; the remote control sensor, the autofocus window, the viewfinder window, the auto exposure metering window and on the second row, the multipurpose autofocus assist/red-eye reduction lamp/self-timer lamp.
I had been looking at the Lite.Touch compacts for a while, mainly drawn to, in my mind, the garish styling. The more I looked at them, the more I needed something like that in my collection. I also had read that they are a bit of a sleeper in that the quality produced from these cameras is actually quite good. An opportunity soon afterwards presented itself for a Lite.Touch 140 Zoom, for only $18, so I quickly snapped it up.
When it arrived I duly slotted in a battery and opened up the sliding front. I forget sometimes of the fun noises these compacts make. The whirring as the lens pops out and makes an appearance, and then when you zoom. Trigger the shutter and the film advance sounds are fantastic unless you want quiet. I grabbed some Fujifilm Industrial (a Japan only negative film) and took the camera out for a test drive.
Straight away I was annoyed with something all these compacts seem to have and that is the auto-flash setting when you power up. I had to remember to turn that off and make sure it was not in infinity mode when I did that. I hope that if any compact is ever released again, that this is something that is not included.
It was fun using this camera, more than I thought it would be. Expectations were not high, so I just enjoyed shooting a family outing to a local festival. The festival itself was a pretty tame affair, but I was able to shoot easily, zooming in and out, and with nothing to worry about except tripping the shutter. The viewfinder, while small, was a treat to use. The dioptre adjustment is a fantastic inclusion, as I was able to adjust it perfectly to my needs. It is also great how it zooms in and out, giving you a real feel of what you are shooting.
One of the tricks I use to get the look I want is to usually set the ISO to 250 for ISO 400 negative film. This is for both my usual films Portra 400 and HP5+. I do this by adjusting the DX code on the film canister. Interestingly the limitations of the Lite.Touch 140 Zoom is that it limits the ISO it sets itself and since you cannot set it manually, it does not have an option for ISO 250. The camera only offers 100, 200, 400 and 800. Not much of an issue, I stuck on an ISO 200 label and called it good.
I carried it around for a few days and soon loaded it up with Ilford HP5+. It was a very handy camera to carry around, very convenient, which reinforces why people like to have a compact camera, and strive for the quality devices.
In regards to the image quality, this is where I was quite surprised. I was expecting significant vignetting and centred only sharpness, considering how much of a zoom is on this thing. There is some vignetting but nothing that is overbearing or causes the image to be spoilt. Sharpness is also quite well controlled with some fall off from the centre, but nothing that is significantly messy. I suspect this has something to do with such slow apertures, that it tends to increase sharpness across the image plane. Do not expect anything even close to bokeh on this camera though. Even no real evidence of the pincushion effect is to be found in straight lines.
Contrast was also quite good, without having the punch a prime lens would give. Still, it is respectable and nothing that can’t be handled in scanning or printing.
The auto exposure must be something Nikon have put all their experience into, as not only in bright conditions was the exposure correct, it was also good in backlit situations where there was a good balance between the dark shadows and light areas. I have to wonder if the scene recognition that Nikon exposure metering is famous for has in some part been used here.
For $18 I did not expect much, but as I used this camera I found that while the luxury touches were surface finishes, it was easy to use and produced results which were quite good. For a camera advertised for holidays and weddings, it fits the spec. It reminded me that the best camera is the one with you. Considering the price, convenience and results, if you come across one, give the Nikon Lite.Touch 140 Zoom ED, or any of the other Lite.Touch zooms a go.