- Johnny Wilson
Club Reloadable - Kodak Ektar H35
Not content to just rest on their laurels with the M35 camera, Kodak followed up in May last year with the second (or third if you count the M38) entry to their reloadable film camera library with the Kodak Ektar H35. Deciding to borrow the brand name from their professional grade print film and stick it in as a prefix for the model name here for... some reason... the latest entry came with a bit of a twist; the H35 was a half frame camera! Akin to the old Olympus Pen's of history and effectively putting itself in kind-of competition with Lomography's Diana Mini. Borrowing design aesthetics from the Kodak Instamatic cameras of old there is no denying that the H35 is arguably one of the nicest looking new cameras on the market - period. Digital or Film. Especially the brown and teal coloured variants. It has a very nostalgic and retro appearance but at the same time a minimal and contemporary feel about it. The effect sort of diminishes a bit once you realise it's all plastic... but to look at it from afar it looks like a really expensive, nice looking retro film camera. I wanted one of these almost immediately but I didn't actually pick one up until I was at London Camera Exchange in Colchester last summer and saw them in the flesh for the first time. I couldn't really not treat myself to one to be honest... biggest agonising decision I had was whether to buy the teal one or the brown one...
So uhh... yeah I went with the brown one. And fair enough, it's all plastic, but it still felt like it had an err of premium about it. The fake "leatherette" on the front is at least textured plastic to make it stand out a bit more although the silver finish doesn't extend around the rest of the camera and it's just black plastic round the back... but it looks good from the front! And it's incredibly lightweight and doesn't feel particularly flimsy despite being fully plastic. In terms of specs the H35 supports a 22mm focal length lens with a fixed f9.5 aperture and fixed shutter speed of 1/100. Pretty standard for a point and shoot camera. And features a built in flash powered by x1 AAA battery. I struggled with the dial at the front though, that you use to turn the flash on and off with. It was incredibly stiff and difficult to turn for me, so I mostly left it off and didn't bother with it. Owing to the fact it's half frame I got a incredible 54 photos out of a 27 exp roll of Kodak Ultramax and I think I was shooting with this thing on and off for about 6 months... I took it to the New Forest for a pre Christmas getaway, and around Leamington Spa, Coventry, Birmingham and just generally kept it on me whilst I was out and about:
Initially my results have been a bit of a mixed bag. I will confess that I struggled a bit with the viewfinder. It's square shaped with a rectangle kind of shaded out with 2 bars on the left and right hand side which are sometimes quite difficult to make out when you're shooting in daylight, or at least it was to me wearing glasses... I also made a concerted effort to try and shoot with it in native portrait orientation, something I'm not very used to to be honest and at times it was difficult to frame shots. I'm also pretty sure that the viewfinder and the lens don't quite correspond properly and there are quite a few shots where I framed shots in the viewfinder only to discover that the lens had captured a slightly wider angle than what I was seeing. This can be a good or a bad thing really depending on how you use it but for me, I like to get an almost 100% accurate representation on film of what I'm seeing in the camera and I feel like as a result there's a few shots I'm not happy with and haven't quite worked out how I like:
Otherwise though, the H35, even loaded up with film and a battery is incredibly light, unobtrusive, easily pocketable and comes in the box with a nice little drawstring bag to keep it protected to a... certain degree... It also comes with a quality wrist strap which found itself creeping in quite a few of my shots when I was too lazy to use it... but it's far more industrious than the cheapo ones you can pick up online for like £2. The point I guess I'm making is that the additionals all make for driving home the fact that it's a premium package you're getting here and at a slightly higher cost than it's competition of - at time of writing - circa £50 it is priced slightly higher than the other reloadable's that you'll find on the market.
The above being said though, at the end of the day this is just a fully plastic reloadable camera and although there is the illusion that it's a premium compact it ultimately isn't. It's a little bit expensive. And the results I've got out of it - I would say - are not any more premium than you are getting out of the other options. It's still a plastic lens and the resulting photos will have that aesthetic to them, which for me is fine because that's half the reason for shooting with these cameras, but the only real difference from a performance point of view is that being half frame you're going to get twice the amount of photos out of it than you would a regular full frame camera, and the compromise there is that you are halving the max resolution you can enlarge a photo to. But aside from that, in comparison with Kodak's M35 that really is the only difference.
And this all might sound negative, but to be honest I did like using the H35. It looks really nice. It feels really nice to use... mostly... I didn't like the viewfinder... but it feels like playing with an imitation premium camera so it has that little bit of fun mixed in with it I guess. It's light, easy to carry, nice wriststrap, comes with a little travel bag, it's a camera you can take around with you pretty easily and reliable enough that you can just point it at something and shoot and so long as there is daylight you'll get a photo. No settings you can accidentally mess up to miss a shot. Although that being said, you are going to want to remember to turn the flash on if the lighting level is low, like I didn't when I took these photos:
But that's a limitation with all these cameras, they are designed to mimic the pickupability of disposables so they all have fixed aperture and fixed shutter speeds. I enjoyed using the little H35 and at times I feel like I got some pretty decent shots out of it, but for me, I feel like I need a bit more practice with it as I don't feel fully comfortable with it yet and you may have the same issues. Switching to half frame makes its more challenging to compose your shots with the viewfinder and there's a chance you'll misalign some shots as a result. Compounding that you'll need to contend with the fiddly flash dial at the front when using the camera in lower light and whilst it looks really nice, I think a button on the top or the back would be better. That all being said though, I did get some nice shots out of it that I like and although I didn't really explore it much with this roll, you can take advantage of the half frame configuration to shoot diptychs:
I'm no stranger to half frame, I used a Diana Mini for years, I've got a Pen EE-3 - which I love - but this was the first time I've shot with a half frame camera for a quite a while and that is the biggest gimmick this thing has going for it really. That and just looking really nice. Aside from that there isn't really anything more special about it that you won't get from the other options elsewhere, even Kodak's own M35 to be honest. And if someone came to me asking me about it from an advice perspective I could only really recommend it to people who already have some familiarly with a camera first and I can't see this being the best choice for a casual purchaser. That being said, if you go into it cold, get used to the viewfinder quick enough, and don't need to scan your photos in to a ridiculously high resolution, it's a great little camera to keep on you and carry around for say, travelling, or something. And you'll get double the economy out of a roll of film.