How to Set “Quartz Date” on a Vintage Film Camera

What Does “Quartz/Auto Date” or Data Back Do and How to Use It

7 min read by Dmitri.
Published on . Updated on .
The rear panel of a Konica AA-35, a.k.a. Konica Recorder shows the “Auto Date” controls.

What is an “Auto Date,” “Quartz Date,” or a data back?

Some vintage film cameras, from certain fifty-year-old copies to nearly modern early 2000s models, can stamp the current date and/or time in a corner of your photo. This is a film-only analogue metadata embedding solution meant to help you remember the time and date a particular image was taken.

Stamped dates on physical film frames are significantly more resilient against loss or tampering than digital metadata. The dates are part of the image, which made them historically difficult to hide.

The date on this photo (bottom-right) says March 9th, 1984. However, it was actually shot in 2024, but the date function on my Konica Recorder can not go past 1999.

However, modern digital editing tools, such as Adobe Photoshop, make erasing date stamps easy without having to crop the photo. In rare cases, this can cause issues in the image, but 99% of the time the job is as easy as selecting part of an image and choosing Edit » Fill » Content-Aware Fill.

Many manufacturers of the time did not expect their products to be still in use in 2024. This is why you may find cameras that would not let you set a calendar date past December 31, 1999 — or another arbitrary date, like 1987. But some still work today. You can check this list of a few cameras that have dates which work past 2020.

Date stamps don’t have to be accurate to be a creative device. For example, they may be set to an earlier date to give an “aged” feel to the photographs. Alternatively, if the date on your camera can not be set to the year you like, it may let you use a clock timestamp instead (which can be correct but will omit the calendar date — may be less useful).

A fancy-looking date stamp made by Pentax Espio Mini.

How to set the date/time on any vintage film camera.

You shouldn’t need a manual to set the clock on your vintage film camera. It may seem a little tricky at first, but most share common functionality and are quite easy to set up.

As I’ve mentioned above, some data backs won’t let you set a current calendar year — something to keep in mind. You should also know that many point-and-shoot cameras of the era used a separate battery for their data back (I cover this in further detail below).

There may be as few as two tiny buttons that let you set the date; they may be so small that you’ll need a pencil to press them — this is often on purpose to avoid accidental resets. The labels on your buttons may not be in English, but you can use Google Translate or a similar tool to figure out what they say.