The weird and interesting: Chinon Infrafocus 35F-MA

The weird and interesting: Chinon Infrafocus 35F-MA

While lugging around my Canon AFM35, I received a lot of compliments from folk who were just happy to see someone still shooting on film. Generally, it seems everyone has moved on and no one shoots on film anymore. This meant that, people had lots of questions along lines of: "do they still make film?", and "are the labs still developing?". For me, it was fun to respond to these questions. Somehow, I had the feeling that behind all the admiration and questions, most people were just wondering to themselves why I was putting myself through all the trouble. After all, digital cameras and even cell phones are much more convenient for taking photographs these days. Apart from the folk who were internally having pity on me, I occasionally bumped into others who appreciated my effort and understood exactly what I was doing. One such person was a friend who happened to be a retired photography enthusiast --- she now shoots photos with her phone. She was genuinely excited to see me with this camera, and she told me she had a similar one. It was apparently mixed up in her stuff, and she was going to let me have it whenever she found it. True to her words, a few weeks passed and she arrived at my desk with a little faux leather bag which seemed to be hiding some sort of compact camera in the grips of its tightly shut zipper. As soon as I started unzipping the tiny bag she said: "That's the CHINON camera I was talking about; the one that looked like yours".

The first thing i did after taking out the camera was to blurt: "Chinon?" I'd honestly never heard of such a camera manufacturer, and although I didn't know about their existence, I wasn't really surprised. There are so many things I do not know, and a lot has changed the past few decades. This manufacturer may have either gone under at some point, merged with some other company, changed its name, or may not even be making cameras anymore. Anyway, what was important for me at the time was the plastic brick in the leather bag. I took it out as fast as I could after the zippers gave way, and was amazed by what I saw. In several ways, she was right; it really did look like the Canon AFM35. But it also had its own distinct features that made it unique in its own right. For the similarities, they are both autofocus cameras that were designed in the late seventies to early eighties. They also have the same lens specs: 38mm focal length with a max aperture of f2.8. For the differences, the Chinon, for me, seems a little too elaborate in its design. The extra lenses for the autofocus are presented in a way that, I'm sure, may have looked cool when this camera was made, but is really creepy looking for modern times. My friend told me she had a pentax SLR as her main camera, but she bought the Chinon from a used camera store sometime in the 90's when she forgot to take her pentax on a trip. She said it was cheapest camera in the store that wasn't disposable. It's obviously served her well since she's been able to keep it all these years.

I still wanted to know more about this camera, and even with several Internet searches, I couldn't find much information about this camera. I had really wanted to know its year of manufacture --- you know --- just to see how it either influenced, or was influenced by the Canon AFM35. The few details I got were from a few blog posts written by people who tried also tried it out just as I'm doing. I also got a copy of its operation manual, although that didn't tell me much. With that said I can comfortably predict this camera to be from somewhere in the late seventies to early eighties. A few giveaways are its all plastic body, its full automatic operation, and its lack of DX encoding. The design also gives hints of an era where the level of experimentation was high, and different manufacturers were trying hard to stand out and appear innovative. With respects to its operation, it still feels like a regular camera. There is an ISO dial on the face of the lens (very much like the Canon AFM35), a popup flash for use in low light situations, and a multi purpose mode dial which doubles as a switch for the camera, a battery check button and the self-timer activator.

The processes of making pictures with this camera is very similar to that of a modern auto-focus camera. It has the --- now ubiquitous --- half-press autofocus feature, which displays the autofocus distance in the viewfinder with the help of the standard zone focus symbols. This is really a welcome feature for a camera where you have no way of knowing whether your shot's in focus until your films are developed. At this point I should also state that there is just a single autofocus point. Just like the Canon AFM35, this camera uses the light triangulation trick to compute distances to objects in the center of its field of view. The autofocus point is displayed in the view finder. The viewfinder itself is quite bright in my unit, and although it has a slight yellow tint, the frame lines, autofocus point, and zone focus icons are very clear. There are also indicators in the viewfinder that light up to let you know when a flash is required, or when the autofocus distance has been acquired. One other thing to note is that is camera is by no means silent. Since I've become a sucker for the sounds old cameras, this camera didn't disappoint me in that department. It delivers all the classic camera sounds, and it delivers them loudly.

To complete my evaluation, I had to ran a few rolls of film through this camera, and I must say, I liked its performance. The autofocus was very responsive, and since you could get a preview of the distance, you knew if a shot would work or not before releasing the shutter. The flash on my unit was unfortunately broken so I couldn't test it. With regard to the images this camera makes go, I don't think they are exceptional in any way, especially when compared to the Canon AFM35. They are decently sharp and details are mostly properly captured. One thing I noticed after reviewing my rolls is the tendency of this camera to randomly underexpose shots. This underexposure, whenever it occurs, also causes the colour reproduction of the shot to be totally off. I want to believe that this underexposure problem may have something to do with the age of the camera.

This camera is definitely a fun unit, and one that works as a great conversation starter. It's a camera I would love to take out when I have a roll of cheap, preferable expired film, and I just want to have fun. Regardless of its flaws, I really enjoyed this camera, and I appreciated the character of the photos it made. Knowing that my unit had obviously taken a serious beating over time --- including losing its nameplate while in my possession --- the results from it it may not be representative of the Chinon Infrafocus 35F-MA. Oh about the Chinon company, it became a subsidiary of Kodak, and that should tell you how things have turned out for them.