Nikon L35AW – The Ultimate Everyday Film Camera?
An underwater 35mm camera from Nikon that's just as capable on land as it is at sea.
I'd been looking for a 35mm point-and-shoot for months when I stumbled upon the Nikon L35AW. Listed at a chill $99 on eBay with free shipping, it felt like a no-brainer. A totally waterproof camera sounded like a fun way to branch out and photograph subjects that my other film and digital cameras (i.e., super duper not waterproof) couldn't handle. However, I didn't expect how much I'd love this camera for every use case imaginable.
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First, a quick look at the specs. This fully waterproof brick has the same 35mm f/2.8 lens as its renowned cousin, the Nikon L35AF. At the camera's top, there's an on/off/timer switch and dial to select autofocus or zone focus. The zone focus option is available because the autofocus doesn't work underwater. On the front, you have an on/off switch for the built-in flash, and lastly, on the side, there's a heavy-duty film back opening switch to seal the film from water. That's it! No fiddling with the aperture or shutter speed, it's as simple as point and shoot.
As I've already alluded to, I bought this camera to shoot underwater film, but I have found many other use cases over the last few months of owning it. Let's unpack each of them:
In The Water...
Probably (definitely?) the most obvious – shooting it in the water! I half expected this to break the first time I fully submerged it, but to my delight, it worked perfectly. I can't explain just how fun it is to take photos in a body of water – it feels like I'm getting away with something that I shouldn't be doing in the first place. Access to this literal new territory has unlocked a new part of my creative brain.
However, because of the size of the viewfinder, it's pretty challenging to shoot this in the water. I had to jam my eye against the small window, and it seemed like every time I was about to fire, I'd get knocked over by a wave. The entire process took some getting used to, but in the end, everything still turned out perfectly usable, and it was an enjoyable experience.
In a Storm...
Very similar to shooting in the water, being able to take this camera out during a storm was an absolute joy. These images were taken during my vacation with my family in August, and they're so special to me. We were outside when the clouds opened up, and we raced inside to keep everything dry. As soon as we got indoors, though, we thought it would be fun to sprint back out, jump in the water, and dance in the rain. This moment was so beautiful and accessible; if not for this camera, I wouldn't have had any way to document it.
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I know, shocking, right? This camera can be used OUTSIDE of water, too?! Yep, works like a charm. The lens is a sharp 35mm 2.8, rendering colors beautifully. This camera fits into what I call the "macro lens paradox" – just because something is built for a specific use doesn't mean you have to use it exclusively for that use. Macro lenses can be used for portraits, and underwater cameras can be used for everyday moments.
This built-in flash is fantastic and adds even more versatility to this camera. When you've wrapped a day of shooting in the water, in a storm, or around town, you can still bring this thing out when the lights get low and are totally prepared.
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Why do I call this the ultimate everyday film camera? Because it can genuinely hang with me in every situation. It feels like the perfect utility camera – I don't have to baby it or worry about it getting wet, and I can use it in every lighting or weather imaginable. It's not the best camera in the world or the most prestigious. It's quirky and takes a lot of getting used to, but going on four months in, it feels like an extension of myself.