The Nikon L35AF, commonly known as Pikaichi, is a compact autofocus camera. It is not called that because it is a Pokémon. The name Pikaichi means “Top Notch” in Japanese according to the Nikon website. It was coined due to the quality of the lens design by the Nikon team.
Compact cameras are very popular as I write this. Some of it has to do with celebrity usage, but in reality, it is the convenience factor which drives the popularity. Most people do not want to carry a big camera around but do like to have something which takes good quality photographs. Enter the 1980-1990’s and you see the heyday of compact camera design, where there were a lot of high quality options, especially in the 90’s. The L35AF was early in the 80’s, but that does not discount it as a premier quality camera.
This camera is larger than other popular compacts, not really a pocket camera. It is a matter of preference as some people prefer the small form factor, or like me, others prefer something a little substantial to hold. This is a well made camera. It does have a couple of weaknesses, but overall you can tell it has had some decent workmanship put into it.
The reputation the L35AF has gained though, is through the quality of the lens. Nikon went big with this lens, in the sense that they used some of their tried and trusted techniques, dipping into their strengths. Interestingly, rather than the usual Tessar style design this lens has a Sonnar design.
I had been wanting a L35AF for quite a while, but never seemed to find a deal which would be quite right. I came across this copy online where the seller was selling a Nikon F65 (N65 in North America) with a kit lens for the ridiculously low price these sell for now. Next to it was sitting the L35AF and was being thrown in for free! To say I hit BUY quickly is an understatement. Then I crossed my fingers and hoped it was working. Luckily, both cameras work perfectly.
The L35AF has become my go-to camera over the months that I have had it. It is a camera I have become very attached to. When I am wanting a compact camera, where I do not want to think about process much, it tends to be on top of my list. Why has this camera become one of my primary ones? Let’s find out a bit more about it and I’ll then explain why.
In the late 1970s the compact camera market started its trajectory into being the dominant camera form factor in terms of sales volumes. All the major manufacturers were selling them. As a form factor, some very unique designs were being manufactured. About this time, the market started maturing, with an established set of features.
Nikon came to the automatic compact camera market quite late compared to most the other manufacturers. Koichi Wakamiya completed the optical design of the lens at the end of 1981. The L35AF made an appearance in 1983 and was the first of a line of cameras coined the L series. This included the L35AD (autodate) and led into the .Touch series. There was even a waterproof version in 1986, the L35AWAF.
The L35AF was produced for 2 years until 1985 which is when the L35AF2 was released. Overall the L series continued for about 6-7 years, but that does not take into account the overall .Touch series.
Initially there was some concern and rumours that the lens on this camera was not manufactured by Nikon. It was because it did not carry the Nikkor branding. This was unfounded and incorrect. In fact Nikon went back to one of its most iconic lenses for inspiration, the 105mm f/2.5 original Sonnar. It was modified and adapted to a wide angle. Technically this was not suited for this focal length, but Mr. Wakamiya was able to adapt it to great success.
In recent years the Nikon L35AF has gained a bit of a cult status. As most compacts in that period utilised Tessar style lenses, the L35AF has a unique look to it.
The Nikon L35AF is a leaf shutter, auto focus, auto exposure 35mm compact camera sold in the early 1980s. It was manufactured with a full metal body, covered in black plastic with a moulded grip. A textured panel is on the other side of the camera, framed by the very classy red stripe.
The lens is a 35mm f/2.8 modified Sonnar design. It comprises of 5 elements in 4 groups. The minimum focus distance is 80cm. There is a 46mm filter thread, which is a bonus on a compact camera. This copy has a UV filter fitted.
The film ISO/ASA setting is controlled by a textured ring around the lens itself, which is inside the filter thread. ISO range available is 50 to 1000. The fully automatic CdS light meter also resides inside the filter thread, which allows for metering with a filter attached. It is capable of exposures from EV 6 to EV 17. That equates from 1/8 sec. with f/2.8 through to 1/430 sec. with an aperture of f/17.5 respectively, with the ISO set to 100.
On the left of the lens is the backlight switch for the metering. This adds roughly 2 stops of exposure. On the front right top corner is the self timer lever.
The flash is located on the left side and is fixed in place. It has a guide number of 10 (ISO 100, m) and has a range of 0.7m to 2.5m through to 4.0m depending on the film speed.
On top of the camera is the on/off switch and shutter release button. The on/off switch is considered one of the camera’s weaknesses as it has been reported to break by some users. Next to the switch is the frame counter, under a clear window.
On the back of the camera is the flash readiness indicator. Also, under a very handy thumb grip is a little window with a red stripe which moves when film is advanced. This helps confirm there is film and it is advancing. The viewfinder according to the manual is a Reverse-Galilean Albada-type bright frame viewfinder (what a mouthful!). It has 85% coverage with 0.52x magnification.
There are frame markings for parallax compensation, a focus spot and focus distance information indicator. The latter is presented as a person, two people, a group of people and a mountain for infinity.
Loading film is by opening the back, inserting the 35mm cartridge and pulling out the film leader to the red mark. Closing the back, press the shutter button and watch the window show you the film is advancing. Frame advance is automatic after each frame is taken.
Unloading is initiated by a two step button/switch process at the bottom of the camera, next to the tripod thread. The L35AF rewinds the film, but leaves the little leader out, which is fantastic if you would like to try and do some double exposures.
The battery compartment is also on the bottom, with the camera powered by two AA batteries. The cover of the compartment is the second weak spot of the camera, in that it is well known to break off or just not close.
I got the Nikon L35AF as a bonus when I bought another camera. I knew of the forums where there is a following due to the rendering of the lens by being a wide angle Sonnar design. Putting all that together, I was quite excited to load it up and start using it.
The first roll I used was Kodak Pro Image 100, a film at the time I had to specially order as it was only available for the South American market but still inexpensive. Loading the film was quite easy. I wish I could say the same about the batteries. They insert easily enough, but the compartment feels like it can open or break very easily and takes a bit of effort to get it to stay in place. I put a spot of duct tape to as a precaution and have not had an issue since.
The first results with that film reinforced what I had read. The sharpness is fantastic, though it does have some drop off as you move from the centre of the frame. I was hooked on this camera. The L35AF became a constant companion every day including business trips to New Zealand.
There is quite distinct vignetting, a by-product of a lens design not really aimed at wide angle. For me though, it really adds to the look. It is not specifically strong and has a subtle graduation, but if you are looking for edge to edge constant exposure, this may not be to your taste.
It is a very easy camera to use. I love the little focus indicator at the bottom of the viewfinder, it is heaps more fun that a boring green light for focus. Not having to think about any settings is also great, especially when I take it out for a walks during my lunch break.
Film after film, I have been impressed with the results. The hit rate with the focus is actually really good for such an early auto focus camera. Exposure has been very consistent. The meter has been able to handle most conditions including fog in the morning. I have used the backlight compensation on a couple of occasions, and this has also helped in the strong sunshine in Sydney during the day when shooting upwards.
The viewfinder is bright and has quite a bit of room around the frame marks. I found this to be quite handy in being able to see what was just outside the frame and prepare for someone walking into it. Pre-focusing by half-pressing the shutter release works quite well too. The button is very easy to feel where it is focus locking, which is a relief as some cameras I struggle to find it and accidentally shoot the frame when I am not ready.
The Nikon L35AF may not be the most advanced compact camera. It is not the smallest. Not even the quietest (not even close). But for some reason it has become the compact that I have become most attached to. I reach for it whenever I have an occasion for a compact which I want to rely on. Between its striking boxy looks, the great results from the reliability of the exposure meter and the look from this lens, this is a camera I can recommend anytime!
James Tocchio of Casual Photophile has written a very enjoyable review in Nikon L35AF – Japan’s Pikaichi Point and Shoot.
35mmc have a great quick read in The Nikon L35AF – a mini review – by Giacomo Zema.
In Camera Geekery: The Nikon L35AFis a profile of the L35AF on Japan Camera Hunter.
For a review of a camera which is a direct and close descendant of the L35AF read Mike Eckman’s review of the Nikon One.Touch AF3.