Gear Review: Konica C35 AF2 35mm Autofocus Film Camera
The Konica C35 AF2 is the successor to the original C35 AF, history's first production autofocus camera. It uses the "Visitronic" passive autofocus system invented by Honeywell, which detects contrast inside the autofocus frame to achieve optimum focus--to put it simply. There's a lot of other science-y talk about it all over the internet so you can find that stuff elsewhere if you're interested.
The main difference between the original AF and the AF2 are said to be only cosmetic, and in use that seems to be largely true. The lens is a 38mm f/2.8, with a programed leaf shutter using three speeds: 1/60, 1/125, and 1/250. Exposure is fully automatic, and ISO sensitivities range from ISO 25 to 400. ISO speeds are set by turning a ring on the front assembly of the lens, and the set ISO speed will show in a small window at the bottom of the lens. The nice thing about being able to set ISO manually is that you can manually rate films differently from their DX codings.
Other more modern cameras will rate film automatically based on their DX codes--the silver/black patterns on the film cassettes. This can be useful if you're shooting with expired film, as I did in this test. I shot a roll of Kodak Max 400 expired in 2004--11 years beyond it's expiration date. The general rule is to overexpose one extra stop over the film's box speed to compensate for loss of sensitivity for every 10 years past its expiration date. So even though the film is rated at 400, I manually rated it at 200, and the results came out great. The negatives are a bit more grainy than fresh film, but this is to be expected with expired film.
The viewfinder has brightlines, and features an underexposure warning light (a red light visible in the upper right hand corner of the frame), parallax correction lines to correct for subjects that are closer than 1.1 meters (3.6 feet) It has a flash that is activated by a switch that pops up the the flash unit. Turning off the flash is as easy as popping the flash back down into place. The Guide Number of the flash is 14.
For some reason there is a warning inside the battery compartment warning against use of rechargeable Ni-Cd batteries, although when I tested the camera, I used rechargeable Ni-Mh batteries which seemed to work fine. I guess use Alkalines to be safe, and Alkalines will recycle the flash faster anyway. There is a self timer. It's about 14 seconds long. Not much more to say about that. So the exposure is automatic, the focus is automatic, and the two things keeping this from being a fully automated camera are the manually-set ISO speeds (discussed above) and the film advance and rewind mechanisms. The film is advanced by the classic lever that sits in the top corner of the camera that you ratchet with you right hand thumb. I personally love the tactile feel of manually advancing film. The lever is metal and feels sturdy, not like it's going to snap off when you ratchet it. The film chamber door is opened by a switch on the door with an indicator arrow of the direction to push the switch--simple.
Cosmetically unique in this camera is the film rewind lever--it doesn't have the protruding "wheel" dial as seen on many cameras with a manual rewind--the lever is recessed into the body and flips out to be turned when you're finished with the roll. It makes the top profile of the camera look fairly sleek, as far as late 70's design goes. The flash exposure works quite well, and I shot a few flash pictures that exposed nicely. Despite being new technology in it's day, the autofocus works quickly and accurately.
My one main nitpick about the camera is that there is no focus lock feature--you can't grab focus on something then recompose the frame. Focus will always been on what is inside the center autofocus frame. I show a picture in the test gallery that shows the background is in critical focus--but my daughter in the foreground, who is not centered in the frame, is slightly out of focus. It was daylight and the camera used a fairly small aperture, so most of the shot was in fair focus, but you can still tell where the camera chose to focus right in the center of the frame. The camera I found came with a full leatherette fitted two-piece case and was in great condition, overall a very nice thrift store find. It's fun to use and for folks interested in the history of what is, these days, technology that we take for granted like autofocus, it's a nice piece to have in the collection.