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Automatic for the People: Nikon TW Zoom

The second post in a series about ‘classic’ point and shoot auto focus film cameras



Nikon TW Zoom

I had no intention of buying an auto focus compact camera with a zoom lens. The intent was to buy two decent quality fixed lens compacts loaded with Kodak Tri-X to accompany me on a walking weekend on the South Downs. As it happens, I managed to buy three fixed lens models (oops!) and then this Nikon somehow managed to sneak it’s way into my shopping basket too. I figured a zoom extending to 80mm would give me more versatility than fixed lens cameras for capturing the landscape and other images I would happen upon. Well, it did, but with caveats.

The Nikon TW Zoom was Nikon’s first zoom lens compact camera. For that reason alone, this veteran from 1988 was worth the £6.99 I paid for it. The TW moniker seems to have originated from earlier models that featured two focal lengths with nothing in-between (telephoto and wide). It’s a chunky camera, with the boxiness of earlier auto focus cameras now beginning to give way to more curvy polycarbonate. It feels solid and tight.

Regrettably, this model does not use the ubiquitous AA cells, but a more expensive 223A lithium battery, which almost cost as much as the camera. Still, it’s now good for many a roll of film.

For some months now I have been using manual everything M42 screw mount SLRs with an external meter, so this auto everything camera for a few moments seemed like it was from the future; loading my film automatically and providing information by a generously sized LCD panel on the top.

The moulded plastic provides a reasonable grip, but it’s a bit slippy on a warm day when you are on a long walk.  The on/off switch is a slider. It slides the same way to turn on and off. That’s UX that wouldn’t pass muster these days. The slider is also quite deeply recessed into the top of the camera and not very grippy, so it can be pretty tricky to actually turn on with warm hands.

I do like the rocker switch for moving through the lens focal length though. It’s in just the right place for your thumb. The motor is quite noisy as it moves the lens. The LCD panel by way of primitive bars let’s you know approximately where you are between 35mm and 80mm.

There are 5 recessed rubbery buttons on the top of the camera which big hands might struggle with. Three of the button icons are familiar; flash mode, self timer and continuous shooting. The other two required a consultation with the manual. The middle right button is a mid-roll rewind feature. This confused me, as the arrows on the symbol are pointing forwards, not backwards, which is what I would expect from a symbol representing rewind. Then I remembered that for this camera, the roll of film is loaded upside down from the right hand side, not the correct way up from the left. The camera back hinges from the left, not the right. Technically, the symbol is correct, but it just feels wrong!


Top plate of the Nikon TW Zoom

The top right symbol represents something called ‘image size selector’, which allows you to take portraits at full body, half body and head and shoulder frames. This seems to be a very similar feature to the step zoom that allows you to change the lens focal length in steps rather than in a linear fashion.

There are other features which are reached by convoluted presses of various buttons. How about accessing exposure compensation via fiddling around with the flash button? No thanks.

I left the camera in full auto mode, eschewing the buried features. It proved to be very reliable with metering and exposure. Automatic flash did a decent job when required. The lens is sharp enough at the wide end, but rather slow (f/7.8) and ropey when fully extended. Detail is lacking in images taken at 80mm.

I enjoyed using the camera though, and it was mostly a reliable companion on the South Downs. We will see how it fared against the fixed lens Pentax PC35AF-M when I develop the Tri-X from that camera.

Here are some images taken with this camera. I used Kodak Tri-X developed in XTOL and scanned with my Plustek OpticFilm 8200i.

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Originally a blog about photography, I write about vintage cameras, the environment, clothes and anything else I feel moved to type about.

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