2021 Review – A Year in film & Vintage Digital Reviewed

So 2021 disappears like a used lateral flow test into the bin of history. Once again a certain little virus dominated the news and looks like being on 2022 list as well. But how was the world of film. Enter our annual 2021 Review looking back at the last 12 months with a tongue firmly in cheek.

The big photography new stories of the last 12 months

Death of the dSLR/SLR ?

Away from film the market looks to be moving from the dSLR to Mirrorless. In the dying days of 2021 Canon have confirmed they are stopping production of their Flagship 1D X Mark III and have hinted strongly about the move to mirrorless. Sony pulled the plug on its dSLR this year. And it’s telling the winner of any dSLR of the year contest was the Pentax K-3 Mark III. That’s not just because it is a pretty good camera but erm…. it was the only dSLR launched.

The dSLR of the year 2021 – Okay the only dSLR of 2021. The Pentax K-3 III. Product image by Ricoh -Imaging Company Ltd and used in line with their copyright restrictions

This impact us Film users in two ways. Firstly there has been a winding down of lens production, Canon stopped new EF lens development in 2020 and then started reducing the models in production this year. Nikon have also discontinued some of their line up. the second may be an issue for anyone building future film SLR. There is a move (arguably sensibly) to remove physical shutters in the upcoming mirrorless models. Now this won’t impact for some time. But once the big corps stop ordering 10,000’s shutters from Copal, it’s likely the cost will rise significantly even if Copal carries on making them. Shutter costs of course led to the effective demise of the Reflex SLR this year.

But there are some good news stories.

Films up and downs

it would be easy to gloomly sum up that film was also havinga rough time with Fujifilm discontinuing more film like Provia 400h and the big 3 hiking prices . But it’s more complex a picture.

The big 3 remain solid and both the next tier and boutique film makers have been busy. Orwo have teased a new colour 35mm film made from motion picture stock and ironically Cinestill gave us a B&W film. Polaroid gave us a new format and new versions, Lomography continue to make new film available. Smaller makes like Kosmfoto, KONO! & Dubblefilm gave us new films.

Agent Shadow Promo shot
Kosmo Foto’s Agent Shadow 400ISO B&W film arrives in 2022. Image courteay of Kosmo Foto

And those price rises. to be frank we had it very good from the mid noughties until a few years ago. Film was incredibly cheap. How you could make film that sold for quid was mind boggling

And it was a lot cheaper proportionally than it had been.

Argos catalogue film from 1991
1991 prices for film might seem cheap but when you take inflation into account

So perhaps this rise is a tad overdue IMHO. Togive a real world price change back in 1991 you could buy a 3 pack of Kodak Gold 100 36 exp from Argos for £9.49 on the British High street. Argos don’t sell film but Jessops do and although their bricks and mortar stores are a fraction, you can still walk in and buy the same (although in 200ISO) form for £22.99. If adjust the Argos ’91 prices the new price is only just over a quid more in a market where smaller volumes are sold and you’re buying from a specialist shop not a budget catalogue shop.

News Story of the 2021- Wooden Cameras

It’s not that last year’s light meter crazy has ended with new models from Reveni, Doomo, Negative supply, TTArtisans amongst others. But analogue film projects on Kickstarter and other launches had a much more organic odour this year.

Intrepid 4x5 Hardwood
Intrepid 4×5 hardwood with walnut finish. One of only 20 in this finish to be made. Image by Intrepid

Eco cred was not just on world leader’s minds at COP26 but in the camera world. And wood made cameras seemed en vogue. Intrepid’ s new 4×5, David Hancock’s large format pinhole 5119 models on Kickstarter and RealitySoSubtle gave us the 4×5 Z DIY large format pinhole. Intrepid upgraded their range with a new Hardwood 4X5 camera. If Budget is tight Chroma will sell you their 3D printed Cube for for 135 film.

Jollylook auto Square Promo images
Jollylook Auto Square promo images. image from Jollylook

For new media Jollylook inches closer to actual release of their wood bodied Auto cameras for instax mini and square.

But as we’ll see another won our award.

New Analogue Gear

2021 was not a dull year for new cameras and gear. The biggest area still seems to be with instant film. Fujifilm SQ1 hit the shops but I have say it was pretty obviously a cut down SQ6. Likewise their Instax 40 mini didn’t really push the boundaries but was a stylish addition to the range. Fujifilm seem obsessed with the hybrid models releasing both the Mini LiPlay & Mini Evo for the Instax mini format,

Polaroid Go by Kevin Dooley
Polaroid Go. Image by Kevin Dooley (click here for his stream). This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

Polaroid gave us a slighter more high tech outing with the Now + which updates the 2020 autofocus Now with Bluetooth connectivity for app control and a set of filters as well as that manual control element. Their second output the Polaroid Go was a touch more bizarre. This may be the smallest Polaroid in recent years but the new go film sits squarely between Instax mini and Instax square in size. This wasn’t a fight they needed to bring a the most common complaint about Instax was that even the wide format was still small in comparison. No helped by the fact the camera is pretty mediocre and outclassed by the SQ6 & mini 40.

But the Big boys didn’t quite have the show to their own. Lomography AG gave us the LomoGraflok back for medium format cameras. that i mentioned last year. Mint gave us the Instax square version of their range finder the InstantKon SF70.

Best new Instant Camera 2021 –
Nons SL42 Mk II

Nons SL42 Mk II without NFE
Nons SL42 MKII and Pentacon 50/1.8 (without NFE)

The original SL42 was joint camera of the year in 2020 but it was far from the perfect instant SLR. The MKII took the good bits okay lets be honest a SLR that shoots instax film that you can mount your vintage SLR glass on and sorts out most of the issues. So you get a better focus screen, battery battery life and using the NFE extender less cropping. It’s far from perfect but for anyone who wants a Instant that can do more than simple party photos this is your best bet.

Arriving 2021 on the ack of a successful late 2020 KS campaign, this would be followed by the Black version Campaign in Mid 2021. Although sales are small on each of these there is clearly an appetite.

Beyond Instant gratification-
Other New Cameras 2021

No wonderous other cameras arrived this year. The rumoured cheap(er) Leica M series film body did not materialise and the Reflex SLR looks pretty much dead as a project

The biggest growth remain in lo-fi basic cameras. Kodak Alaris launched a single use camera Loaded with Tri-X. And the Swiss Ilford (they own the rights to the name but don’t make film – that’s harman) gave us their IlforColor Dispoable (loaded with a …erm a non Ilford Colour film)

Ilford Ilfocolor rapid promo image
Ilford Ilfocolor rapid promo image

The Same company alos gave us one of the legion of slightly more environmental simple use cameras although the Ilford Sprite 35II looks another one of the legion of Dubblefilm Show class clones. Agfaphoto joined in this market too. Harman came in with their EZ-35 which is the only new roll film camera on the market to my knowledge. But whilst a lot easier to live with than their earlier Harman Reloadable, it didn’t match up optically.

Budget Lo-Fi Camera of 2022 –
LensFayre Snap LF-35M

LensFayre LF-35M
LensFayre Snap LF-35M pre production model

Plucky Nottingham Upstarts steal the crown here, with their new camera. A Dubblefilm Rival but importantly not a clone. It’s a similar but different camera to the clones. Oh and it has fantastic eco cred. I

LensFayre now join Harman and intrepid as British companies selling their own cameras (okay the first 2 are Chinese made but).

But it wasn’t intepid that won our artisan Camera award

Minuta Stereo
Minuta Stereo

Provisional Artisan Camera of the Year –
Minuta Stereo

This arrived just as the year ended and too my shame I haven’t got it into the field but the sample images look great. On one level this is another wooden pin hole but this camera offers stereo imaging or you can switch to single shot. You can jump from 120 to 35mm to pano formats and it’s lovingly crafted too.

This award is qualified however as I’ve not shot. David Hancock was pretty complimentary about the prototype he had on his youtube channel. The camera is the brain child of Dominik Oczkowski and you’ve missed the chance to get cheaply on KS but you pick up as fully assembled from his site.

Unexpected Breakout Camera of 2021 –
Agfaphoto Analogue Photo Camera

Agfaphoto Analogue Photo Camera
Surpringly everywhere. The Agfaphoto Analogue Photo Camera (here in red)

Innovative as the Minuta and the other cameras on the list are none have had the surprise impact this little Dubblefilm Show clone has. It does nothing new bar a neat velveteen bag, But it’s the one that has had incredible market penetrance .

So granted you can buy online on ebay, amazon (I get commission from this link) or at Analogue wonderland. And if you lived in a city you can walk into Urban Outfitters and buy one. But for a period this camera graced retail shops that didn’t usually sell film gear. Mines came via Kaleidoscope part of the Massive Grattan empire (so think Very, Littlewoods et al). It even was rumoured to briefly turned up on Argos.

Visit Kaleidoscope et al now and it doesn’t exist but for brief moment it had put a non disposable 35mm camera back on the routine shoppings sites of Covid housebound Britain.

Now that is something.

But it still doesn’t take our coveted best camera overall

2021 Review NEW ANALOGUE CAMERA OF THE YEAR -Nons SL42 Mk II

Nons SL42
Nons SL42

The other’s picking up prizes are important but you’ll notice they sit within an established class. Nons kinda chucked the rule book out the window with their S42. It is a proper SLR but shooting instant film. The New model is a massive improvement over the original which was still ground-breaking and sorts out 95% of it’s predecessor’s issues.

Granted it not perfect but remains the most innovative camera of the year just by being better than 2020’s original


Vintage on test

Okay I personally have struggle to do many reviews this year meaning the field was a bit lacking. It’s not shooting new to me vintage gear hasn’t happened and the likes of my new to me Olympus PEN EE-S, Nikon F80 or Canon EOS 500N have been a joy but truth be told more frequently I’ve been carrying old favourites like my Konica EyE, Nikon FE and Dubblefilm clones.

Goko UF2
Goko UF2

But this goes by film camera on test So this weirdly actually puts the Protax Z855 in 4th place (trust me there are worse). It is a junk camera but unlike our worst cameras can take an image. It is of course trounced but the next 3. We have the Goko UF2 aa motor driven upgrade to the fantastic original UF. My models was a great for a fixed focus camera but just not quite a sharp as the original and has looks that only W.B Haking could love. Going up a Notch is the EXA 500, one of the best models in a series with a lineage dating back to the first production 35mm SLR. Too bad it was a bit dated, clunky and in my case semi Knackered. Which left some pretty futuristic design fun

Best Vintage Film Camera on test –
Ricoh Auto 35

Ricoh Auto 35
Ricoh Auto 35

Ricoh’s series of futuristic cameras are probably ironically better known for their Soviet Zorki Copies the Zorki 10 & 11. In fact this is the only camera the Soviets didn’t copy. The first of the 3 models, it only has a fixed focus lens unlike the rangefinder Ricohmatic and zone focus Auto 35V.

But this was an early P&S camera which is from the days when Japanese cameras were just starting their rise. And it it oozes space age style although it’s innards are not exactly rocket science. But it works well enough.

Worst Film Camera on Test

Again slightly narrower field here as shot a few passible lo-fi camera and better models but given the protax came in at number 4 you know we have some stinkers

I’ve held a few modern SLR that have been a bit wrong. Most of these have been interface issues like the Nikon F70 (see my thoughts in the last Camerosity Podcast 2021). But a special place in hell must be reserved for the Exec at pentax who green lit the the MZ-60. On one level just another 2000’s silver budget SLR. But this camera can’t use any older K mount lenses and many AF lenses as well as being crippled in other ways. Although quite capable of taking good pictures and to be frank leagues better than the Protax Z, I’ve put it worse than that trash camera as at least it does what it says it does.

Pentax MZ-60
Pentax MZ-60. Not exactly a high point

But 2 models stuck out. the more famous is he Meikai EL. These for some unknown reason are cult and the Meikai series are collectable but frankly have abysmal image quality for even a lo-fi camera. but it’s topped out by a sister camera

2021 Review – Worst Vintage Camera on Test – Corona 35R

Corona 35 R
Corona 35 R

Apt that Corona not only ruined the year on so many levels and had me isolating for 10 days, But this relative of the Meikai was pretty awful to review. It shares the awful image quality and is even worse made. The build quality makes my efforts at origami look like a Bentley

There are no redeeming features

Analogue High Street Supplier 2021 – Boots

No change in the last few years. Boots remains the only place in your average small to medium town you can actually buy proper film. Granted it’s likely to be Ilford or Instax but occasionally something colour drifts in.

But did the Agfaphoto camera show their may be some change. Argos now has an Agfaphoto disposable on it’s list.


Digital Testing

okay again I was a little lite on reviews this year but of the handful of cameras of a digital bent 3 stick out

Best Vintage Digital Shot 2021 Canon Powershot G1

Top plate View of PowerShot G1
Top plate View of Canon PowerShot G1

In 2000 film Film was still King and by and large digital cameras had not been that great with low resolution and other issues unless you could cough up the thousands for an early dSLR like the Nikon D1.

The G1 was massive warning shot. Sporting a then massive 1/1.8″ CCD sensor with good optics it produced images that bettered cheap digital for almost a decade. And still can outshoot many a smartphones today in optimal conditions bar it’s 3.34MP sensor. It struggles in low light and it’s dynamic range although good in it’s day is woeful by modern and film standards. But this is a camera I could quite happily pick up for a walk on a sunny day today. It just works.

Best Fun digital 2021 – Paper shoot (MkV)

Paper Shoot Camera
Paper Shoot Camera with Casette cover

Paper shoot cameras have been around for some time in Asia but have only just been picked up in the US (and not yet in Europe). Luckily for us Europeans folk like B&H will export from the US but it does mean you paying an import and P&P premium

This is brilliant Lo-fi camera with a 13MP smartphone sensor with a fixed focus lens, no LCD and bar 4 filters controlled by a physical switch no user control. But given the write situation it takes alright shots with a funky feel. It’s metering is ropey in less than ideal conditions however and you obviously have no contol.

and it has that retro lo-fi appeal with changeable Paper stone covers. My much more fashionable better half has taken it off to Rock festivals and the like. Yup her iphone takes better shots which you could filter to get the same effect but…

The Scam that isn’t that awful 2021 – Protax FHD

Protax FHD & lenses
Protax FHD & lenses

I must make it clear – I paid a fiver for mines and I think I got a bargain. But these are regular marketed as dSLR like or professional with 3 interchangeable lenses for somewhere upwards of £150 quid (often in th 200 mark)

in reality this is a smartphone sensor wrapped in a body resembling dSLR/CSC. The lenses are gimmicky and you don’t ned to attach (the standard lens is actually just a glass filter. The viewfinder isn’t TTL or a EVF. In fact you can’t use it until you flip up the light (yes that’s a light not a flash)

But that said Protax tells no lies. It makes no claim of being a dSLR or professional – resellers do that. And it delivers the advertised 33MP (but interpolated) from an okay but dated smartphone cam 13MP Sony Sensor. You can even shoot HD resolution video but not very well.

There’s an okay LCD & you can adjust things like EV comp and colour temperature. But it pretty much is an auto mode only camera.

And it takes shots that you would expect from a 5 year old smartphone sensor

So whilst it is sold scammily, it is actual what it says on the tin and you can get kinda okay photos. But sadly I suspect people who buy it might not realise for less money they could get a better smartphone camera or a compact.


Back To the Future

Vapourwear & Still Waiting in 2021

2021 began with news of exciting launches. Leica were touted to give us a more budget version of M series film camera. The year ended with no sign of that but a new M series digital with a 8K price tag. Ferrania were promising 127 film but given their track record of delivery I’ll take that with a Pinch of salt

Jollylook remain in COVID related delay hell but their much anticipated Auto series of instax cameras hopefully arrive in early 2022. Covid has in fairness hit quite a few we’ve mentioned with production delays.

But not Robert Hamm’s typing fingers.
His 2018 NuBox Kickstarter project remains silent with over 230 backers either frankly given up or still raging about the lack of communication on this project that was launched in 2018. Given Robert stopped communications with backers later that year and also with unfulfilled backers of Pinhole camera project, one has to assume this sadly is toast . But would you just please FFS be man enough to tell the backers rather than enjoying reviewing cameras on Youtube .

And what to come in 2022 ?

As we start 2022 things sound a bit exciting.

The VUWS is back !!!

Reto UWS
Promtional Reto Ultra Wide and Slim image. Image from Reto site

Reto the folk behind the Reto 3D (a Nimslo like camera) are back with a clone of the VUWS that should reach the sweaty palms of lo-fi fans like myself in Spring 2022. It’s unclear if the camera is rubberised like the last clone the Superheadz wide and Slim – but if so buy black as the lighter colour versions will go a bit mucky !!! Coming in under the $30USD mark on their site (watch out for import charges and P&P) or you can pay a little more to pre order from your more local camera gear/film suppliers.

Nons are going to launch the SL660, a Instax square version of their SL series SLR which is really exciting

Nons SL660
Nons SL660 Prototype with Pentax -FA 77/1.8 mounted via EF adaptor. Image courtesy of Nons

And hopefully I’ll finally get my hands on the Jollylook auto Square.

We also wait to see if Ferrania does bring 127 film to the table next year.

My personal predictions based on nothing but hunches are

  • Kodak Alaris will mot bring us a new film (sorry) unless they get on the CineStill action
  • The Budget film Leica myth will resurge later 2022 but evaporate
  • Lomography unsurprisingly will release new films but a new instax launch will come ? a LC-A SQ ?
  • Lots of Hipseters to buy Land Camera (can’t think why 😉) and then discover there is no film.
  • Someone will create a instax to Polaroid pack adaptor late 2022.
  • Somebody produces a wooden 35mm SLR body with which whilst basic (and likely 1 or 2 shutter speeded).
  • Fujifilm raises prices
  • Robert Hamm actually fulfils his backer’s orders (only kidding that ain’t happening)

One thought on “2021 Review – A Year in film & Vintage Digital Reviewed”

  1. Great site. I do think it is worth reviewing film slr bodies that actually work well , like the late prosummer EOS cameras. Cost about 20 quid and light and access to all the lenses. Full fram for much less than a dslr. Even cheaper are the Minolta bodies ( 500si) and lenses.

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