Something quite special arrived a week ago. Brand new ultracompact. With actual automatic exposure and up to lens options built in. Oh ! and it’s British. Welcome to the half frame world of the Alfie Tych
For clarity, I bought this so unlike the prototype test reviewers I have had no favours from Alfie Cameras. They did very kind let me use their promotional images on my review of the half frame of ’22, the Reto made Kodak Ektar H35.
But that’s it, I’m not even sure they knew I was a backer.
If you exclude the lens barrel the Tych is arguable the smallest 35mm film camera in production being almost ½” less wide and only slightly taller without the removable finder than the VUWS. Quite a feat for a camera that full metering and other perks.
An all black design replaces the prototype 2 tone. That’s for both aesthetic but also practical reasons (less internal reflections). For me that’s for the better but I get some may have wanted the 2 tone retro charm.
It’s a mixture of anodised aluminium and high quality plastic. It feels well made and strong.
An exquisitely crafted camera unashamedly trying to be different. It has a softly angular look with a truncated octagon. The top plated OLED LCD display has a industrial feel with a porthole cover and exposed circuitry. The film door is held in place by a turn-able bolt. There is a removable viewfinder but the cold accessory shoe it mounts on is non standard.
Dave Faulkner, the brains behind this camera, worked in medical devices. And that influence is clear. It is very practically designed with a good sense of ergonomic for such small camera
-The Lens Barrel
We’ve had a skew of lo-fi camera over recent years but this ain’t just another one. We’ll come back to the metering and auto exposure later but the striking difference is the rotating, changeable lens barrel. This also explains the main difference between the base model featured here an the Tych+ premium.
The Camera lens barrel allows you to rotate into up to 4 different lens configurations a bit like those old multi lens turret style cine cameras
The base model gets 3 lens options with space for the the 4th
- 30mm 1:8 simple polycarbonate meniscus lens
- 28mm 1:125 brass plate pinhole
- 28mm 1:56 zone plate (TL:Dr bit like pinhole but softer images)
The 4th space is for the 33.3mm 1:8 4 element (2 groups) lens. This designed by Jason Lane of J Lane Dry plates and the chroma camera lens fame
“This design consists of 4 elements in two groups, with front and rear groups being the exact same doublet. The layout appears to be that of a classic Aplanat or Rapid Rectilinear, but the design corrects more like a 6/2 Double Anastigmat. A modern higher index, lower dispersion glass replaces the two outer glass-types of the classic D.A., and helps to correct over the wider spectral range (400-700nm) required for modern photography. “Kickstarter update on Alfie Tych
All are fixed aperture. You simply rotate the lens to the required setting and adjust the metering to match. Not that Alfie tell you, the lens barrel has a standard 46mm filter thread
The standard and premium lens have a focal range from 1.5m to infinity. The pinholes both have 0 to infinity range in specs.
–30mm 1:8 sounds familiar ?
The bulk of plastic cameras release in the last few years with the exception of the 2 VUWS lensed numbers from Reto, have one thing in common. Almost all of ’em have a a ~30mm 1:8 lens. The numbers vary slightly but all the Dubblefilm clones including the Kodak M models use it, As dose the Harman Reloadable which explains why it’s the best in the reloadable class optically (but sadly horrendous to use)
And here’s the thing as we’ll discuss later the Tych images are not dissimilar to image captured on the flash setting of these cameras (i.e f/8). They usually shoot on a smaller (f/11 ish) aperture. and as we’ll see that may be an issue on the Tych.
-Metering and exposure control on the Alfie Tych
An integrated coupled meter that controls the shutter. It has 4 modes – manual mode (no metering but manually set shutter) and 3 automatic modes measured against the 3 apertures (the standard 30mm and the premium 33.3mm both are f/8). The meter sensor sits beside the log beneath the viewfinder.
The OLED screen is reminiscent of many Chinese made accessory meters as does the control toggle switch. It looks great through the porthole but like many of these meters in bright light is hard to see
The toggle switch lets you add EV compensation (up to ±2EV in 0.5 steps). This sits behind the display on the rear.
Hold that toggle briefly to change metering modes but hold for 2 second gives access to settings. You can adjust the ISO (12-6400ISO), reset the shutter count, add a timer delay and finally set for flash or remote.
-Shutter, Power and accessories
The leaf Shutter rates between 30secs and 1/500 plus bulb (manual mode). In manual mode you go up in 1/3 steps but in automatic modes it seems to be stepless. In manual mode the shutter speeds have a * at speeds above 1/250 (e.g 1/400*) on display. the camera was mean to be 1/250 when launched on KS but managed above that on testing. I dunno if that means to read them as experimental.
A USB-C port charge the built in 3.2V lithium polymer battery. In the box, USB C to USB-A connector is provided. A USB C remote is available. But at £30, you kinda wish a mechanical cable point could have been included. A flash is promised but not available at the moment. It will need to be powered by the USB-C.
Again this is truly innovative but almost proprietary by nature of that innovation. And I really hate proprietary kit. But I give Dave a bit of slack with the flash. Older units run the risk of killing the metering circuit and would require a few protective components which there just isn’t space for. And trust me even if people were told to only use lower circuity powered dedicated unit, you betcha the return box was gonna be filled with lots of units fused out
The camera comes with a funky lens cap and wrist strap. There is a standard tripod mount and the viewfinder slides out of the non standard cold accessory shoe. The Tych + has a more premium brighter finder but to buy separately will cost you £99 !! The more reasonably priced folding sports finder is just £12.
Now here’s a though. Sell this with the premium lens but keep the finder. I do think a model priced at £350 up to £375 may be reasonable to get that lens.
Goodness this is small. You turn the bolt enough to open up the film door. Loading is straight forward with a pretty typical slotted take up spool. But bear in mind, the winder doesn’t cock the camera. The shutter ain’t coupled to the winder, meaning double exposures is an easy thing (intentional or otherwise). The winder will not mechanically stop between frames. It’s more like a roll film camera. You need to stop winding on when a small square appears on the back of the camera below the film plane. the winder is a thumbwheel type but sits near the base plate. You can access it on both rear side and front..
Once you are happy the film is advancing close and re-screw the door shut. Alfie recommend advancing just 2 frames. This is incredibly short (just one full 35mm frame of film). Whilst this runs the risk of light leaks , you do squeeze out a few extra frames.
Turn on camera with switch at front. Hold down the toggle switch for 2 secs to enter settings and adjust ISO. Hold down again to come back to metering. Lightly press in the toggle for exposure mode selection.
One issue I noted was when the camera meter indicates the shot is longer than 30sec, the camera shutter only briefly fires.
Alfie Tych in action – The Results
Many thank to Photo hippo for speedily processing my photos (posted Monday and web transferred Wednesday lunchtime). I used their medium resolution scan and they scan as pairs which will mean some of the edge of each frame will be lost
My test rolls got way more than I expected (over 100 on my P32000 roll). Bear in mind the camera only counts shutter depresses as frame count. a double exposure will count as 2 frames. And winding on without taking a shot won’t count
- P3200 (expected 82 – counter says 101 !!!!)
- lab scanned 72 actual frames
- Including 1 blank
- including 13 double exposure
- Total 85 frames on negatives (not all usable)
- lab scanned 72 actual frames
- Ultra 400 (expected ~58 counter says 66)
- Lab scanned 56 frame
- Including 0 blank
- including 7 double exposure
- Lab scanned 56 frame
The lab will not include a double blank frame and other poor qulity image. I suspect I lost a few frames at the start and end of the roll as the film sits so close to the gate. I also can’t work out if some of the double exposures are double or triple (some are certainly the latter)
35mmc’s Hamish Gill noted some issues about the metering on testing the prototype. Something acknowledged by Dave Faulkner in the KS campaign. Meant to be fixed but there is good news and bad news on test.
I ran 2 films through this. The kodak Ultra 400 was a typical autumnal test film of mines. But I wanted to push the metering. So in went the 2019 expired P3200 @ 2500ISO on the meter.
I checked metering using an accessory meter (V-201X), a smartphone metering app and EXIF data from matched images captured on my phone
With 400 ISO set the camera sat within ±⅔ of a stop of my modern multi segment matrix metering phone it performed similarly to my light meter app and the V-201X
But at 2500 ISO it consistently over exposed by around one stop compared to my phone and meters. This isn’t disastrous and as a rule always better to over expose if in doubt.
It as you would expect suffer from backlighting errors as shown here
This is a common issue with this metering set up and at least I could have dialed in +2 EV for compensation.
Another issue I found was using a 48-52mm stepping ring caused the meter to overexpose by ¼-⅓ of a stop. Adding a filter onto that ring does not affect it further. There is no impact from using a 46mm filter as you can see below in comparison.
-Lens performance – 30mm1:8
If ever I took one shot to sum up a lens up, this was it
So centrally things are not bad but not great. The TL;DR you use a disposable camera lens you get a cheap disposable camera images
Centrally this is soft but not awful. It is the most sharp from 1.5m to around 10m as the image below shows as well as the fact that you get parallax error closer up. The lens softens and aberrations worsen to wards the top and bottom of the portrait frame with comparative sparing to the sides.
I did seem to get clinically better images than Hamish Gill did with the protype suggesting some issues have been ironed out
There is is pincushion distortion but not bad, fringing and other aberrations exist esp when the lens weakens towards the top and bottom.
You need to respect the 1.5m minimum focal distance as things soften off beyond that. It is best a few meters out softening beyond slightly.
The image quality matches the dubblefilm clones when you shoot wide using the flash option (with flash disabled by removing battery). It does not match them in normal non flash use. And this I think is the problem. The Dubblefilm et al have two different stops. In normal use the lens is much sharper but the flash stop does drop off (as below).
And I think this the same issue here. There is at least some Lo-Fi sense to these in term of appearance
The viewfinder suffers from parallax error but is a reasonable representation of target at distance.
-And the other lenses ?
Look I need to work on those. The camera arrived and I went out shoot and the Scottish weather closed. Not pinhole ideal But I lugged a light tripod out last Sunday and hit under a tree in the drizzle and took these
Yup I got shake with the pinhole (note the 2 flagpoles) and the zone lens was just soft mush. I tried indoors but got much the same. That said I never used the timer. I need to work on these. The zone plate image is probably better than standard pinhole but I just haven’t had dec ent conditions to give these a go.
I can’t in fairness comment on the deluxe lens and at 200 quid to upgrade I doubt I ever will. You can see sample image on Alfiecameras’ website here. They look clinically better than the standard lens.
In fairness I wanna shot some more with this and I will come back later. I don’t often use expired film as a key roll nor one as fast so shooting XP2 on this would be good. However I do use a lot of Ultramax 400 and the lab have had experience of processing half frame shots before for me.
Some thoughts on the Alfie Tych
There is nothing on the market quite like the Alfie Tych. Well built and a clever design abet with some niggles. A camera with up to 4 lenses to pick from, automatic metering, full manual override and a novel USB-C accessory path.
Alfie has given us the most individualistic roll film camera in years. Design wise it is revolutionary. The closest camera I can think of is the bemouth that is the Nons SL660. But that another format and lacks the auto control here.
Oddlythe Alfie reminds me of the earlier Nons SL42. A revolution but flawed. I feel this an important step but the MKII might be better still.
There is a a lot to like but at £299 for the base model you are buying a stylistic camera that you’ll likely mainly use with a disposable lens.
Perhaps the best way to understand it is to discuss it against the opposition.
That lens is okay for what it is. It is easy to blame that half frame for the weaknesses but it does lag behind some plastic fantatic half frames.
I feel the Kodak Funsaver, Lomography Lomo ‘Apparat and the Kodak Ektar H35 are better but these do all have slight more advanced lenses.. I’m suspicious it has the same lens as the Dubblefilm crowd. And the reason it doesn’t match the similar lensed Agfaphoto half frame in quality, is that it’s hooting a stop wider. The Agfaphoto can be source for less than a tenth the cost of the Tych. And there is a updated H35 just round the corner. They also all have built in flash.
But these are just plastic-fantasic cameras.
None have metering and the lens swap potential. You can shoot it with high speed film in (relatively) lo-light but continue to use in daylight and when it gets too bright screw on a ND filter. With AE or manual shutter control this really stands out. The meter is not perfect on test. And whilst I’m sure that the Alfie Flash will arrive at some point, it is likely to be pricey
But I suspect the plastic lens may be deal braker for some at the price and the Half a grand cost to get the glass option is likely a jump too far.
So what sells for near the same price ?
Out Lomo’ing the Lomo ?
The base model sits just 50 quid shy of the Lomography LC-A wide and about £40 more than the base LC-A+.
I’ll focus on the wide here as it also does half frame (switchable) . It was before the Tych, the last auto exposure 35mm camera created. It offers a better zone focus multi-element glass lens, standard accessory paths and switchable full frame/half frame masks. Oh ! And the aperture as well as shutter speed adjusts.
But it is more mass produced and has only one lens. There is no manual option, EV compensation and less ISO range. The build quality isn’t as good as the Tych.
But lens makes the LC-A wide and + better options alongside their more stable (abet uncontrollable metering), accessory path and overall image quality for most on a straight points fight. But that’s not to say that the Tych does not have quite a few tricks up it’s sleeve.
So The Alfie Tych in conclusion ?…..
The fact I’m seriously comparing it to the Lomo legends tells you a lot of how far the Alfie Tych has come. It’s an incredibly well designed camera with changeable lenses, a impressive if slightly flawed metering/exposure system. It is also one of the best Built new cameras I’ve held. The standard lens is little bit of let down but I suspect if a f/11 stop could be used it would sharpen up to give them Lomo boys a true run for the money. Also the premium lens version is just a bit too pricey
But it’s an incredible effort for a new camera. I need to shoot it some more I think.
Hang on what about a Vintage ‘alf frame
The closest rival to this is arguably the BeLOMO agat 18 & the revised 18K. Made in Belarus in the 80’s into the 90’s when half frame was becoming unfashionable. It’s hard to describe these FSU plastic wonders but they basically are the size of a fag packet with a Industar lens. This is configured like many BeLOMO cameras. You set the film speed which locks a shutter speed and then adjust the aperture to match a series of weather pictograms. It is focusable and oddly is a rarity as it encourages you to shoot half farme in Landscape not portrait. Reviews can be found at Photothinking and Kosmo Foto. Image quality varies.
For Fixed focus there are a few but the Olympus PEN EE models are hard to beat with fantastic lenses and (EE mark II onwards) the same/similar exposure system to the Trip 35. But that really isn’t a fair comparison. The PEN EE is a true early travel camera not a innovative approach.