Konica Big Mini BM-302 is a compact 35mm film point-and-shoot with an auto close-up feature. The camera’s sharp 𝒇3.5 35mm lens is supplemented with an auto-variable flash system for those subdued-light situations.
I love BM-302’s clean design, operational simplicity, and the results it creates, including those taken with the close-up (macro) lens.
In this review, I will go over all the features and the quirks of this little point-and-shoot to help you decide whether it’s worth your money or just to amuse you with some nerdy factoids about this capable cult classic from Japan.
Konica Big Mini BM-201 vs. BM-302.
Konica’s Big Mini series, which debuted in the ‘90s, is often praised for the quality of the cameras’ lenses. Japan Camera Hunter places it on the same level as Ricoh GR-1 — a highly-regarded, pricier point-and-shoot. This is despite BMs’ somewhat slow max aperture of 𝒇3.5 (except for the Konica Big Mini F, which opens up to 𝒇2.8).
Big Mini BM-201s and 301s come with a date back and more buttons — which aren’t found on 202 and 302s. I prefer the latter “x02” series as I almost never choose to print dates on my frames.
Date back feature aside: other than for the aperture, Big Mini’s 302 isn’t that different from other BM’s. The controls, the form factor, and, for the most part, the design is more or less the same. However, I found some significant improvements in BM-302, having tried it side-by-side with my BM-201:
The earlier model, BM-201, has an exceptionally noisy motor. It whizzes nearly as loudly as a battery-powered drill. But its successor, BM-302, is significantly quieter — not silent but at least in line with what you’d expect from modern motorized equipment.
Another improvement on the BM-302 is in the quality of its controls. Whereas BM-201 has a notoriously tricky shutter button — often complained about for not triggering the mechanism until pressed several times — the newer 302 has no such issues. Although I might’ve just gotten lucky.
When it comes to design, however, I’d say I prefer the earlier BM-201. There’s something very slick about a square lens barrel, a feature this camera shares with the incredible Minolta TC-1.
BM-302’s controls and ergonomics.
Big Mini is not a big camera. It’s just over 4.5” wide, 2.5” tall, and about 1” deep. It’s fairly light, weighing just 212g (7.5oz) with film and its CR-123 battery installed.
I also love how this camera has virtually no bumps or pieces sticking out from its sleek shell. It’s very pocketable.
One of the first things I’ve noticed about the Big Minis is the lack of any sort of protection for the glass element (i.e. the built-in skylight filter in front of the lens). Pocketing a thirty-year-old camera with no cap felt odd at first. But since there’s no way around it, I had to get used to it. So I just make sure there’s nothing else in the pocket but my BM.
The power and the shutter buttons sit next to each other on the top plate. I think that they are placed really well for catching a fleeting moment: power, frame, then click.
Pressing the shutter button halfway lights up the green light to the right of the viewfinder (it’ll blink if the camera can not find focus). If you hold your finger down in that position, the camera will lock the focus so that you can recompose if needed.
The camera’s flash will fire if the orange light to the right of the viewfinder is on when you half-press the shutter button. If the orange light is blinking, your flash isn’t fully charged, or the subject you’re trying to light up is too far (beyond 3.8m/12’5” or less with slower films).
The flash on this camera is smart enough to adjust its brightness automatically and can fire at all distances — even in the close-up mode!
Next to the viewfinder, an always-on LCD panel shows the frame counter, battery status, flash, and other modes. The convenience of seeing the frame count instantly without having to power the camera on is great; this is one feature that’s desperately missing from my beloved TC-1.
There are three small buttons next to the LCD. Unfortunately, all are very difficult to press; you may need to use something like a pencil to depress the tiny rubber bulbs into their tiny holes within the camera’s hard plastic back. Who tested this design?
The first button that reads “MODE/EV” lets you cycle through flash modes — auto, red-eye reduction, always-on (for backlit photos), and no flash. If you keep pressing the button, you’ll be able to add or remove 1.5 stops of exposure (EV).
Though your flash and exposure settings will reset whenever you power your camera off, you will be pleased to know that you can toggle them while your camera is turned off, and they will remain after you power your BM on.
So you can make your adjustments while the camera is off, pocket your Big Mini, then grab it out of your pocket when ready, power it on and take the shot with the settings you’ve selected earlier. But after you power your camera off, everything will get reset back to the defaults (and resuming the auto flash mode).
Next to the flash/exposure mode toggle is an infinity focus/timer toggle. Most autofocus cameras of the day have trouble finding focus at large distances; it is thus helpful to give your equipment a hint, which on BM-302, you can do with the button that has a mountain 🏔 icon. Curiously, the same button will switch to a 10sec self-timer after a second press and a combination of the timer and infinity mode on a third.
The tiniest button with “R” will rewind your film mid-roll. I almost never use this functionality on point-and-shoots. But for those readers who plan to test their Big Mini with a blank roll, know that the takeup spool will lock and not let you get your film out unless you close the door and hit the “R.”
The viewfinder on Big Minis is decent. Though it doesn’t have much of an eye relief — if you wear glasses, you’ll lose some of the stuff in the corners. But it’s very comfortable for those who wear contacts or don’t need eyesight correction. The frame lines with parallax marks are very helpful, especially for close-ups; I also appreciate the circle in the middle that marks the point of focus. All the markings are visible in dim light, which is an improvement over the black markings painted in many other point-and-shoots’ viewfinders.
Inserting the battery and loading film into Big Minis is, for the most part, unremarkable. However, after taking the last frame, BMs will not let you power off and retract the lens until they finish rewinding the film and you pop the back open and remove the used canister.
Lens operation and image quality.
At their best, Big Minis’ lenses render sharp images corner-to-corner with minimal visible distortions across the frame. Some chromatic aberration and smudging around the corners can be spotted occasionally, although you’d really have to look for these things.
Konica Lens will lose some overall sharpness in close-up mode (when shooting objects from 0.5m/1’ to 0.6m/2’ away), but that change is barely noticeable and reasonably correctable if you use a digital workflow. The nice thing about the close-up mode in this camera is that it just works; BM-302 does not even indicate that you’ll be taking a macro shot (which is what BM-201 does with a lit-up red flower icon 🌷 in the finder).
The images made with this camera have plenty of contrast. And there’s minimal flaring — which means more details in backlit and side-lit scenes.
However, I found that Big Mini’s light meter appears to have a slight tendency to underexpose images — which may be a good thing if you’re shooting slide film. But for negatives, you may want to use that +1.5EV setting in high-contrast scenes where you’d like to retain some detail in the shadows.
Despite its relatively slow max aperture, Big Mini performs pretty well in dim conditions. Mostly thanks to its flash and the ability to take DX-coded films with ISOs 25 to 3200. It may also help to have a fairly versatile vibration-free leaf shutter that can stay open anywhere between 3.6s and l/500s.
The flash on this camera is also very good. You almost don’t notice it in your images. But you have to stay close as it won’t work on subjects further than four meters (13’) away, especially if you shoot with a low-ISO film.
As I’ve mentioned above, you may need to set your camera into the infinity focus mode to overcome its autofocus limitation when taking shots of far-away objects and horizons. But for anything closer than 20 meters or 65 feet, Big Mini’s autofocus works really well, and it’s quite fast for a camera of this age (it certainly isn’t instant, but quick enough for most of the action shots I’ve attempted).
The photo of the snake (above) is an illustration of how fast I was able to grab my BM-302, power it on, frame the shot, have the camera find focus and trigger the shutter. All of this happened in less than five seconds, following which the little critter slithered away into the cracks.
Big Mini BM-302 is a well-made point-and-shoot with a black plastic shell. The camera feels nice in hand, with a little bit of heft.
The buttons are certainly lacking — the advanced controls are almost impossible to use without tools.
Big Minis are known to occasionally break down though they don’t carry a reputation as bad as some other ‘90s point-and-shoots that cost a fortune and brick unexpectedly with no repair options. Overall, my BM-302 feels like a well-built camera that can last a while.
Shopping for Konica Big Minis.
Most Big Minis you’ll find today will be coming from Japan. They used to be very cheap, but as the interest in film photography grew, they’ve been “rediscovered” by the point-and-shoot crowd.
Depending on the camera’s condition, you’ll be able to find one today (June 1, 2022) for anywhere between $150 and $350. As always, I recommend you read the description, look at the photos and ask all your questions (i.e., does the camera have any issues and how was it tested?) before buying on eBay — where most of these cameras are sold.
❤ By the way: Please consider making your Konica Big Mini BM-302 camera purchase using this link so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!