Club Reloadable - Kodak M35
Continuing on the theme I started in January, talking about the Lomography Simple Use Cameras, I mentioned then that there was a whole plethora of reloadable disposable cameras that are now available in response to addressing the need for more sustainable alternatives to single use cameras. The Kodak M35 is one such camera. Released in September 2019, despite not mimicking the appearance of a disposable quite so much as the aforementioned Simple Use Cameras, the M35 takes the same basic approach with a 31mm focal length, a fixed f10 aperture and fixed 1/120 shutter speed together with a built in flash powered by a single AAA battery. I didn't actually acquire my M35 until Christmas last year, but my brother did good when he picked the yellow branded version as of all the funky colours available, in my personal opinion it's the flagship colour: Kodak Yellow!
But if you feel a different colour better represents with your personal identity then that is fine too because I've seen the M35 available in about 8 different colours depending on your geographical location...! There is a really nice white / grey variant but it looks like that isn't available in the UK... But there is no shortage of choice when it comes to deciding which colour you want! I got a combo package for Christmas as mine came pre-supplied with a roll of Kodak 35mm film, but I chose instead to load it up with a roll of Kodak Ektachrome E100 I had that expired in October 2020 and carried it out around with me for about a month shooting some photos:
The results I've got back were a bit of a mixed bag. The above photos being mostly fine but there was a good handful of them that look too underexposed, and this is kind of down to me as I decided to pair it with an ISO 100 expired roll of slide film which is less sensitive to light than it would be usually... and I also could have utilized the flash some more, but even some shots that I thought would have worked out ok without using a flash turned out underexposed, particularly ones where there are strong shadowy areas, so that's something to think about when using this camera.
Initial operation though, as it should be, is simple enough. You look through the little window, you press the little button and it takes your photo. Providing you don't put your thumb over the lens, there is very little you can do wrong! The flash is manually activated by flicking the little black switch on the front until a red LED lights up on the top. In operation I found the camera easy to use, although the viewfinder window is not the best, maybe it was just me with me wearing glasses but there is a bit of reflection on the left hand side that made it a little difficult to frame my shots sometimes. I also don't know if it was my film being stiff and \ or a few years old, but I found it a bit of a struggle to wind on from each shot and I was scared I'd end up breaking the take up spool! Otherwise the camera was dead light to carry around, comes with a wrist strap preinstalled and is chunky enough to have some weight but small enough to easily carry around in a jacket pocket.
From looking at my photos there is visible vignetting going on in the corners, even in photos shot in strong sunlight, but that's one of the things I like about shooting with these "lo-fi" cameras, and there is also a slight degree of blurring at the extreme edges of the photos but only slight and not to the extent that I feel it could potentially ruin a photo. There was the fair odd few occasions when I accidentally triggered the shutter, either whilst it was in my pocket or whilst it was in my bag, and there was a couple of times I wasn't immediately sure if I'd taken a photo or if I'd triggered the shutter just before taking the photo and I then walked away with nothing, so that is something you should be aware of. I also feel the viewfinder is not entirely accurate to what you end up capturing on film, it looks like the lens is more wide angle than what the actual viewfinder is, so sometimes shots framed filling the whole frame will actually transpire to be more wide angle:
The minor niggles, and the good degree of underexposed photos aside, I mostly enjoyed using the M35. It was a simple camera, with simple operation and an attempt at a 'catch all' range of settings with a decently wide focal length so as to make framing shots simple enough (in theory!) but not too wide as to start distorting things, and a straightforward enough aperture and shutter speed that beginners to photography could pick it up without even understanding what f10 1/125 means but understand that they need to treat it like a disposable: without the flash you aren't going to get good photos indoors or in the dark, but used in bright sunlight and you aren't going to get blown out photos either.
There isn't anything here that is likely to tempt you away from any other plastic point and shoot film camera you might already own, and anything with any degree of control over the aperture and shutter speed is likely going to eclipse this camera immediately, but that isn't really it's core market. It's core market is people looking to move away from shooting disposable cameras and buying into something more sustainable. It means having to source film sure, but in that respect the M35 is a perfectly suitable alternative. And it feels like a cool camera to use. It's visually appealing and comes in a rainbow of different colours which, genuinely does give it a little bit of an edge over some of the other options you might find out there. I liked it because I liked the Kodak yellow variety. It looked cool. And as ridiculous as that may sound to the more professional photographers, that is definitely going to be a factor when it comes to buying one of these cameras! It certainly looks nicer than some of the other options available. And that added brand recognition of carrying the Kodak name gives it the advantage ahead of some of the other competitors. I enjoyed using my M35 and want to use it more, but I'll definitely need to pair it with a much stronger film next time to really get the best out of it.