Favorite Designs: Fujica 35-SE
Almost a decade ago now, I got (re)interested in photography and cameras, largely sparked by Instagram. I researched my options and purchased a Fujifilm X100S, which I still own and love to this day. It’s a wonderful camera. I also got the itch to play around with film photography. Film was all there was when I was a kid, and I remember having a few different point-and-shoot film cameras back then. I thought it would be fun to try it out again.
I didn’t want to spend a whole lot to get started, and I wanted a camera that was perhaps a bit unique—not one of the usual suspects I always saw showcased by film photographers. I also wanted it to be a rangefinder, since I just like that type of camera. They also mostly use 35mm film, which is still reasonably cheap & easy to come by. After some time trawling for interesting cameras at a reasonable price on eBay, I ran across the Fujica 35-SE, which ticked all my boxes.
There are a few really cool things about this camera design that drew me to it.
Instead of rotating a focus ring around the lens of the camera, focusing is done with a thumb wheel on the back. It’s a really ergonomically friendly approach; both hands can stabilize the camera body, and the side-to-side adjustment of the focus wheel minimizes the usual twisting movements that can mess with subject framing. There’s also a cool distance/depth of field scale tied to the focus wheel to make zone focusing super easy.
Bottom-mounted film advance lever
Because of the position of the focus wheel and the visual scale, this lever can’t effectively be in the typical position. It’s an unusual choice, but I like it. Even with a top-mounted advance lever, you have to pull your eye back from the camera at least a little bit to ratchet the film to the next frame. I haven’t found any significant loss of time or difficulty in the unusual lever position. There are also a couple dials inside the lever to document the film’s ISO and exposure count, oriented in the direction you’d naturally flip the camera body down.
Relational shutter speed & aperture
Film speed, aperture, and shutter speed are all set by dials on the lens housing. Setting the film speed locks the film speed and aperture rings together to set the relationship between aperture and shutter speed, and the settings are visible through little windows in the lens housing. Once you get the exposure correct, rotating the shutter speed ring will also adjust the aperture ring accordingly to maintain the exposure.
Side-mounted rewind crank
This is just a nifty bit of engineering that keeps the top plate uncluttered. It must have taken a fair amount of extra work to make that crank turn 90 degrees and rewind the film instead of just putting it on the top (or bottom) plate and making it a straightforward spooling crank. I admire the dedication to top plate cleanliness.
This original 1934 “medallion” logo is the best Fujifilm has ever had, and I wish they’d bring it back. It’s featured on the lens hood, and was on death’s door by the time this camera was released in 1959. I love the lettering swashes and the contour of Mt. Fuji. So much character.
There’s a little bit of post-production on these photos, and I shot all of these with Sunny 16 (the light meter doesn’t work), but I got some nice images out of this camera using some Ilford HP5 Plus 400. Not bad for a 60-year old camera.
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