With premium point and shoots skyrocketing in price due to their scarcity, celebrity endorsement, and cool-guy factor, many people are searching for alternatives to cameras such as the Contax T2 (nearing $600, I sold mine for $325 about a year ago) and the also steadily-rising Olympus Stylus Epic with 35mm 2.8 lens (some asking prices near $2-300, but I have found more than a handful at the local Goodwill for under $4).
I frequently (almost daily) come across Facebook groups where someone is asking about the best quality point and shoot for the best price. Typically speaking, OP is looking for a camera with a sharp f/2.8 lens. In the replies, I always see the same answers; the Contax T2, Olympus Stylus Epic, Rollei 35, and Olympus XA usually round out the top of the responses.
One camera that I have never seen mentioned (nor did I know it even existed until recently) is the Minolta AF-C: something that looks like the long lost sibling of the Olympus XA series or the Lomo LC-A.
The Minolta AF-C is an interesting camera. By its looks, it appears as if the Lomo LC-A and the Olympus XA had a love child. The AF-C has a sliding lens cover and also sports a detachable side-mounted flash. It’s pretty slick looking, perhaps a bit too Robocop-looking for me personally, but it does remind me a bit of an 80’s Ferarri.
Starting at the top of the camera, the camera is ridiculously simple and minimalistic for better or worse depending on what you are looking for in a camera of this type. The camera only has a rewind knob, shutter button, and film counter on top. The film advance is also manual. To me, this makes the camera feel a little cheap. It makes me long for the advance tab seen on my Minox 35 EL. The front of the camera is just as simple. The AF-C sports a 35mm f/2.8 lens with a self timer switch to the left and an ASA dial underneath the sliding lens cover. The left side of the camera (looking at the front of the camera) has a small metal loop for a wrist strap while the right side of the camera has a connection for the EF-C flash which looks strikingly similar to the Olympus A11 flash. Finally, the bottom of the camera has tripod accessibility as well as a battery door and film rewind release.
Loading film into the Minolta is probably my favorite part about the camera. The take up spool has such a neat little mechanism that grabs the film tab as you load and advance the film through for loading. Be careful on used/abused cameras, because sometimes this tension clip loosens over time. My initial roll was compromised because I trusted that the clip was in working order.
When taking photos, the viewfinder is relatively bright. It has two LED lights at the bottom. A green LED to indicate successful autofocus and a red LED to indicate a low light exposure.
The camera is rather pocketable with the flash on, but much more so without it. Personally, I do not utilize a flash all that often, so I would probably leave the flash at home anyhow. I know we are talking about ounces here, but when it comes to portability every centimeter and ounce tend to count.
Shooting the camera is just as simple and as easy as it looks. Point, press half way down to be sure of exposure and focus, and slam it down for the shot. The lens is super sharp, and I consider it (and the camera) all too overlooked. Perhaps this will change as the popularity of point and shoots is on the rise and consumers searching for an affordable and quality camera will start breaking off from the soon to be unattainable Contax-branded cameras. The only downside I can mention is that you really have to trust the camera. It’s reliable, but some shooters really value their manual controls. Oh, that and ISO 400 is the highest setting on the camera. So, you have to adjust accordingly.
In the test shots below, I include both black and white and color film. The roll of Fuji Superia 400 I shot was a bit dated and wasn’t stored very well. It came out a bit underexposed, to say the least. You can still see the quality of the lens through the fade and haze of the expired film, but perhaps not a great representation of color and exposure. These aspects are seen best in the black and white frames provided. Those were shot by my buddy who I borrowed the camera from for the review.
All in all, the camera is solid for the purpose it’s meant to serve: to point and to shoot. It’s quick and produces quality results. It’s pocketable, and rather inconspicuous. It also performs rather well in all general conditions, which is nice for a camera you want to have on you at all times. However, if you’re looking for any manual control aside from setting the ISO, you might not enjoy it as much.