Double feature: Olympus' AF-1, and Infinity Quartzdate

Double feature: Olympus' AF-1, and Infinity Quartzdate

A little back story.

If you've been following this blog — and I doubt anyone is at the moment — you'd have noticed that I'm currently working through, in some chronological fashion, descriptions of the cameras in my cheap camera collection. In each post, I give a very unconventional review of one of the cameras in my collection. I avoid getting bogged up in technical details, and instead talk about how I obtained the camera, and how I felt when I used it. Whenever necessary, too, I shed some light on how a particular camera affected my photo taking. To keep track of the information that I write in my posts, I do my best to take notes in this little notebook I always carry around whenever I shoot a camera for the first time. Interestingly, I had intended to use this notebook to keep track of the exposure settings as I took shots — like they tell you to. That chore, however, got boring really fast. It just felt natural for me to re-purpose the notebook for recording my observations concerning the camera, any peculiar issues I faced with the camera, and also any quirky behaviours the cameras exhibited.

Another back story.

So, while I was initially preparing to write this post, I pulled out the notebook, gathered the relevant negatives, pulled out the camera, worked up some inspiration, and wrote out a little draft. I was hoping to take pictures of the camera the following day, and put up another awesome post — with the hope someone will find it as an insightful read someday. Well, later that day, I popped into one of my favourite thrift stores, hoping — as I always do — to find a cool camera. To my surprise there was a camera that looked just like the one had been writing the review for earlier. I examined it, and it really looked like the camera I had back at home. The only differenecs I immediately noticed were that this model had a different name, and it also had a date back (for printing dates unto images). It also looked newer, and it was in a much more pristine physical condition. In a very excited mood, I didn't hesitate at all to buy it, and couldn't even wait to compare it with what I had back at home. As for the draft post, I shelved it, and wrote one about a failed attempt at developing film, to give myself an excuse to shoot through this "new" camera. Of course I also needed to shoot it so I could write a better post.

Now to the Olympus'.

For those who are yet to figure it out, in this post I'll be reviewing the Olympus AF-1, and the Olympus Infinity Quartzdate. These are two fully automatic point-and-shoot cameras Olympus made somewhere in the late 1980's. I first picked up the AF-1 some time ago from a flea market. Although it was very dirty, and covered in some sticky grimey-gunk, the camera really spoke to me with its boxy 80's look. Cameras with that look are actually yet to fail me. Another thing that got me interested in this camera were the specs I could readily see. By this time, I had come to know two things: Olympus makes great cameras, and point-and-shoots with 35mm lenses as fast as f2.8 are mostly well prized items. Although I couldn't test the camera at the flea market, because I didn't have the right kind of batteries on me, I still took a chance and purchased it. After a good cleaning, and some fresh weird batteries, this well worn, and heavily dinged AF-1 was back in action.

Externally, both the AF-1, and the Infinity Quartzdate appear to be the same camera. In fact, except for the dateback on the Infinity, and maybe the different model names printed on the cameras, you really can't tell both apart. One thing you can however tell, is how well built these cameras are. Even though they have an all plastic construction, both cameras feel robust and sturdy, and lack that cheap plastic camera look. The AF-1 unit I got seemed to have seen a hard time from its earlier owners; it's body was adorned with a myriad of scuffs, dings and scratches. I don't think I'll be wrong to say that other cameras may not have withstood the falls this AF-1 may have had. In addition to all this toughness, both cameras seem to have some minor waterproofing that makes it possible to use them in some minor rain.

As far as physical appearances go, both cameras are not small. You can easily fit each in your hand, even though they are quite thick and slightly heavy. Even thicker, is the infinidate; all the circuitry in the back for printing dates actually adds a few millimiters. In front of the camera, there is a little window covering up the lens and the autofocus sensors. Sliding that window, not only exposes the lens, but also opens up the viewfinder and turns the camera on. This such a lovely design choice when you think about it. For widgets and gizmos, there's a flash, and only four buttons on this camera. These buttons are your usual shutter release, a neatly concealed film rewind button, another button labelled "Focus Lock", and a self timer button. Of course, with the Infinidate, you have a few extra buttons on the back for setting the date and time. Sad thing was, the dateback on my unit was broken. But that's it! Just a few buttons. This camera doesn't provide any manual overrides.

These cameras are fun to shoot. I had expected them to be difficult to handle because of their boxy shape. But, they are extremely comfortable to handle. I really love the feeling of sliding the window to turn it on, and the sound of the shutter when you take photos. The fact that the window covered both the viewfinder and the lens was such a wonderful idea. I could not count the number of times I put the camera up to my face to realize I couldn't see anything because the camera was off. The view finder itself, though, is just a plain window that doesn't provide any extra information. You do not get to know what focus distance was chosen, or what mode the camera was in. Talking of special shooting modes, this camera has none. It's a full automatic camera with no manual overrides. If the camera feels it needs to use the flash wants to use the flash, it would use it, and there's nothing you can do about it. This was actually one of the things that bugged me the most about these cameras. For how wonderful they are, a simple flash override would have made these cameras totally unstoppable.

The photos I got from these cameras were very pretty. The fast 35mm f2.8 lens, which I believe are the same on both cameras, is spectacular indeed. Because of how flush the lens is to the face of the camera, I found out after my first roll that there were several shits in which my finger obscured the image. This may totally be my fault. I since became more concious of it, and it didn't happen in subsequent rolls. Using this camera is very easy. Film loading is easy, and when advancing film, it's quite silent when compared to other automatic point-and-shoots.

In all, I think these cameras are gems. Its lack of overrides may bother some, but for me, this is a camera I will take out on a hustle free fun outing, just to get some awesome snaps. It's tough, will take a beating, and takes great picks. Grab one whenever you can. They're awesome.