Cameras in Depth: Handling a Pocket Camera

2016-07-07 8

After two articles about viewfinder comparison, now I’m writing about ergonomics, providing some tips for choosing the camera that best suits your needs. Let’s begin with some popular pocket cameras!

The legendary Minox cameras series, together with the Russian copy Kiev 35A can be considered the smallest and lightest cameras ever designed. They are very convenient to stay in a pocket, thanks to their collapsible lens, protected by an hinged door that allows you to have a total protection from the risk of shock or lens scratches.

Credits: falsedigital & russian_camera

These cameras allow you many settings: in fact on the lens you’ll find the aperture and the focusing ring, both continuously adjustable (the aperture ring hasn’t predetermined positions): this allows you a more precise setting respect to focusing zone cameras and fixed steps aperture. However, these cameras don’t have a focusing aid in the viewfinder (there isn’t a rangefinder system), so if you need to use them indoors with the lens wide open, I recommend, you to use a small tape to measure accurately the distance between the camera and the subject. Outdoor, during daytime, choosing a narrow aperture, you can easily focus in hyperfocal mode.

I love my Minox GT-S for its high build quality, and also I appreciate the rough Russian copy. However I seldom use there cameras, because they don’t allow me to ergonomically work in a fast and instinctive way as needed for my favorite genre: street photography. In fact the aperture and focus ring are very small, so setting requires to turn away eye from the viewfinder. (Furthermore, setting is almost impossible if you wear gloves) .

I love the double-stoke film advance lever very much, it’s small and with a short run. The central shutter is fantastic, very quiet, virtually inaudible when you use the camera outdoors. So these cameras are wonderful to take photos during classical music concerts or theater performance (I think that the Minox is the quietest film camera). I also recommend you to always test the batteries before use it; because its silent shutter you may not be aware about batteries charge.

A little tip: due to the very small thickness of the Minox GT-S back (in order to reduce its size), when you advance the film, don’t hold the back with your hand: it is better to avoid any mechanical resistance. In fact, in presence of some small particles of dust on the pressure plate, your risk to scratch the film. Finally: these cameras are quite small and if you use it in chaotic or crowded environments is easy for a person who knocks you to damage the front door. Given their reduced size, they are also not so simple to hold firmly in you hands in these situations or when you are wearing gloves: to avoid the risk of falling I advise you to equip the camera with a strap with screw to be inserted into the tripod thread (there are no side hooks for a strap).

Here two photos I took with my Kiev 35A:

Credits: sirio174

And here some images taken with my Minox GTS:

Credits: sirio174

The Olympus XA2 , slightly greater than the Minox, is my “little lovely egg” for battles in the streets, due to its robust ellipsoidal plastic shell that protects the lens (it opens by sliding it sideways). The metal body is truly shock-proof, and allow you to attack a strap on the side of the camera.

Credits: vicuna & brandon-c

Thanks to its more robustness, I use it very often, despite I have to renounce to fine adjustments (the focusing is in three zones and you cannot set the aperture, this camera works in full auto mode). The zone focus is selected by a lever located alongside the lens and when you close the front shell it is automatically repositioned on the intermediate distance of about 3 meters, so when you reopen the shell you will find the lever in this position. This is a great advantage in the sunny days: if you use a medium-speed film (ISO 400) to work with small apertures, you obtain a great depth of field (from infinity up to few meters from you), a great setting for snapshots and for street photography! The other two zones are used for portraits (a distance of about a meter) and for landscapes (infinity). If you are a beginner I recommend you to turn away your eye from the viewfinder to check the lever position, otherwise you could shoot with a setting in the intermediate position (there are no focus information in the viewfinder). When you get familiar with the camera, after few rolls, you will be able to move the lever without turning away your eye from the viewfinder. However, as I explain later, I find the focus lever position less comfortable than in my Lomo LC-A and LC-Wide cameras).

Finally: the film advance is made rotating a wheel: it is not as rapid as for the Minox. If you are outdoor as a street photography hunter, you should always advance the film just after you have taken a photo to avoid to miss the next decisive moment.

This is my preferred pocket camera for street photography, as for my trips and vacations.

Credits: sirio174

The final parts of this article is dedicated to three legendary cameras that made and continue to made the story of the Lomography movement: the Lomo LC-A, the LC-A+ and the super wide angle LC-Wide. As the XA2, they have a very nice lens cover slide, perfect to protect the lens, but even faster to open respect to the Olympus camera, thanks to the opening lever located under the front shell of the camera body. As the XA2, they are equipped with a similar strap attachment, and have a similar wheel to advance the film. For these camera we can apply the same considerations written previously. However, it is important to note that the focusing lever, placed to the left to the lens, is ergonomically superior and faster to set. If you push down it you are focusing to infinity, and each click upwards corresponds to a shift of one zone. Furthermore, in the old LC-A this procedure is facilitated by the focus information in the viewfinder (which, however, I never used, the procedure described above is sufficient to avoid mistakes).

Credits: poepel & -walsh-

In the bottom part of the LC-A+ and LC-Wide body you can find a small lever to cock the shutter without advancing the film, allowing you to made double exposures in an easy way. The LC-Wide has also a lever to select the frame format (half or full frame), that I never used, preferring always the classic 24×36mm full frame mode. In the old LC-A there is another lever, placed to the right to the lens, that allow you to select the lens aperture (in this case the shutter time is fixed at 1/60 of second). This lever is very useful for indoor photos with flash (if you know the guide number and the distance from the subject you can choose the right aperture to avoid burning or underexposures). I use it seldom: however it is very useful when I work with my Colorsplash Flash. This camera family is for me very interesting both for its inimitable optical performance (high contrast and vignetting effect), and for its excellent ergonomics (the best one between the camera analyzed in this article). Surely the uncommon optical performance is not suitable for some kind of photos (for example in architecture, when a vignetting effect or a barrel distortion of the straight lines might be annoying and unwanted), but for me is always a pleasure to use a camera like these ones: simple to set up and intuitive to use they allow you to shoot in a creative and funny way!

Here some photos I took with my LC-A:

Credits: sirio174

And here two images taken with my LC-Wide:

Credits: sirio174

In the next article I’ll write about the ergonomics of some small size cameras (rangefinder) before passing to describe some SLR and medium format cameras.


Cameras-in-Depth_ is a series dedicated to a comparison between film cameras, illustrating some hidden details to help you to choose the right camera for you! The previous article was about Plain Glass Viewfinders and SLR Viewfinders.

written by sirio174 on 2016-07-07 #gear #review #olympus-xa2 #minox #lomo-lc-a #kiev-35a #lomo-lc-wide #regular-contributor #minox-gt-s #ergonomics #camera-comparison #cameras-in-depht #pocket-cameras
translated by sirio174

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8 Comments

  1. pan_dre
    pan_dre ·

    Thank you @sirio174!

  2. lomographysoholondon
    lomographysoholondon ·

    love this

  3. andrus_n
    andrus_n ·

    Great piece @sirio174 ! you could have included also the Rollei 35 in here.

  4. sirio174
    sirio174 ·

    @andrus_n I don't have this cameras, so I cannot write about this item

  5. willmaes
    willmaes ·

    I own 2 Minox35's one the EL and the ML with Color Minotar lens. I'm very happy with the sharpness of the lens and use it for street and city photography. BTW very nice article

  6. lorrainehealy
    lorrainehealy ·

    Love, love, love your results with the Minox!! Also that shot of "Lucy's Vintage": fantastic. The whole article is really great, @sirio174, just exactly what one needs when weighing which camera to experiment with next. Grazie, amico

  7. guanatos
    guanatos ·

    I've always wanted to try an Olympus XA2. Now I want it even more :)

  8. swmpykee
    swmpykee ·

    What an informative piece of writing.
    Most interesting.

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