It’s no secret that high quality 35mm pocket cameras have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity. Cameras that were essentially worthless a few years ago have spiked in price, with the Nikon 35Ti leading the charge as one of the gold standards, currently selling for well over 500 USD.
I’ve always wanted a pocketable 35mm camera that can travel with me, but spending over 500 USD on anything 35mm these days is insane. So, I went on eBay and got myself a pile of cheap Nikon 35mm cameras to see if there were any winners.
One of the most promising cheapies I found on eBay was the One Touch Zoom 90s, so it’s first up to get the review treatment. This camera can be had for next to nothing, fits comfortably into a coat pocket, and even has some zoom capabilities. Seems perfect, but how does it hold up in actual use?
Long story short, this is a great outdoor landscape camera, but is far too slow to shoot people and anything indoors. Even with crazy fast 3200 ISO black and white film, this camera struggled to shoot anything outside of daylight conditions. However, when used for that purpose at objects far away, it can turn in surprisingly great pictures, with the zoom lens adding some excellent flexibility to framing.
As the name ‘One Touch Zoom 90s’ suggests, the headlining feature of this camera is the zoom lens. With a 38-90mm range, it doesn’t get very wide, but the telephoto capabilities are decent. The best thing about this zoom lens is that the viewfinder moves along with the lens, matching the field of view. You’re still dealing with a rangefinder, so it’s not super accurate, but is far better than nothing.
The camera has a small old-school LCD screen on the top that allows you to shuffle through a few different options, including macro, landscape, and flash status. There’s also a quartz date writer on the back of the camera that uses its own battery. I wasn’t interested in this feature, so I didn’t bother to test it, but some people might find it an added bonus when it comes to that retro look.
For as cheap as the One Touch Zoom 90s can be had, there’s a surprisingly robust amount of features, especially compared to something like the Nikon Funtouch 2 that is even simpler than a disposable camera.
So the big question is how well does this little zooming lens work? As I mentioned, it doesn’t get very wide at 38mm, but it does go all the way to 90mm, which isn’t bad. Keep in mind that designing a lens for a 35mm-sized ’sensor’ is far more complex than designing lenses for the tiny sensors that pocket digital cameras use. Even a ‘one inch’ sensor is a fraction of the size of 35mm. The range really works, and I’m impressed Nikon crammed it into such a small, light frame.
However, the One Touch Zoom 90s only has extremely limited focusing abilities, making it more like a fixed focus disposable than a robust autofocus camera. There are three focus modes that you manually select from: normal, landscape (infinity), and ‘macro.’ I found most success with the camera locked in landscape mode. Even in macro mode, close objects tend to be blurry and out of focus. I have a feeling that the camera leans on an incredibly deep depth-of-field created by a slow f-stop to keep everything in order, which naturally works best when locked at infinity.
There’s no getting around it: this lens is super dark. I can’t find the exact specifications, because I don’t think Nikon really wanted anyone to know how bad it is, but there is very little light getting through to the film. I knew this was the case going in, so I intentionally shot with 3200 ISO black and white film, the most sensitive film I could possibly get my hands on. It was barely enough. Even with flash, my indoor shots came out blurry.
However, outdoors in sunlight, I got well-exposed, sharp images. I did a shoot out in the snow, and I’m very pleased with many of the results. My macro shots failed, but the landscapes are perfect. This may not be the all-purpose pocket powerhouse I wanted, but it can serve as a great landscape photo companion.
Operating the One Touch Zoom 90s is similar to the experience of using a VCR. It spits up countless little symbols that have no meaning without the benefit of a camera manual. I had to do some research before I could properly understand what the camera was doing, and even then, I occasionally got error messages that weren’t even covered the manual.
There are two buttons that you essentially mash until you come up with what you want. The main thing to know is remember to switch modes to landscape/no flash mode by hitting the mountain/bolt button when shooting landscapes outdoors (the optimal environment for this camera).
Near the shutter there are two buttons to zoom in/zoom out, which are confusingly marked by some trees. The shutter is big, obvious, and works as expected.
I carried the One Touch Zoom 90s camera around for a month loose in my bag and shot it in the middle of a snowstorm, and through it all, the camera was just fine.
Usually the lens is the most delicate part of a zooming pocket camera, but it was the film advance and rewind mechanism in my model that ended up failing first. The space between individual frames is thin and uneven, and I had to fight the camera to wind my roll back up when it was done. Without multiple units of this camera model, I can’t say if it is just a failure particular to the one I had or endemic of the camera model as a whole.
This camera does unroll one frame at a time to shoot, then winds the whole roll back up when done. This is a bit risker method than what some other 35mm cameras do where they unroll the whole cartridge then wind it back in with each picture taken.
The camera uses one Lithium CR2 battery for power. I imagine that the camera will last a very long time on this battery, considering there are very little electronics to operate beyond the film advance mechanism and lens. Just remember to pop the battery out when storing the camera for long periods of time.
I would avoid putting anything slower than 1600 ISO in the One Touch Zoom 90s, which basically rules out most C-41 color negative films that only go up to 800 ISO these days (RIP Fuji Natura 1600).
Of all the pocket cheapies I’ve shot so far, this one is certainly one of my favorites. However, I’m not going to give up looking quite yet. I’d love to have a faster lens (even if it doesn’t zoom) and more dependable winding mechanism. Also, proper autofocus is always nice to have.
For people, parties, and events, a fixed-focal length flash camera like the Fun Touch 2 or Fuji Quicksnap disposable camera will work better than something like the Nikon One Touch Zoom 90s.
Otherwise, for now, the Nikon 35Ti will continue sitting on its insanely priced throne.
I got my Nikon One Touch Zoom 90s on eBay. When you use that link it helps me keep this site online through an affiliate program. Thanks!
Once you get your hands on a 35mm camera, you can check out my guide to how to scan film using the Nikon Coolscan V. Also, if you want to step up to a 35mm SLR, the Nikon F100 is one of my favorite camera, and also plentiful and relatively affordable to boot.
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