Konica Big Mini F Camera Review

Neither Over-Hyped nor Over-Priced 👌

16 min read by Dmitri ☕️.

Konica Big Mini F is the top-tier and the latest film camera in the series of mid-level Japanese point-and-shoots. It features a fast 35mm 𝒇2.8 lens, quiet motors, and an updated shell design.

This Big Mini sports relatively new mechanics, optics, and electronics, having been launched in 1997 (it’s only 16 years old!) As a result, it can fit in a pocket, focus as close as 35cm/1’1”, and do everything automatically.

Today, this camera can be found online for under $300. In this review, I’ll help you understand if it’s worth the price and compare it to the two earlier, cheaper cameras in the Big Mini series, as well as its expensive titanium body cousin: Minolta TC-1.

Konica Big Mini F rear panel controls.

Konica Big Mini F’s default film ISO.

Before you load any film into your Konica Big Mini F, you should know that it defaults to ISO 25.

This means you won’t be able to use this camera if your film roll doesn’t have a DX code (typical on hand-rolled and small-run film productions, including many Lomography films ).

An exception to this rule is an actual 35mm film roll rated at ISO 25 or something close to that.

Konica Big Mini F specs and controls.

Konica Big Mini F sports a relatively fast and lightweight 35mm 𝒇2.8 lens. It can focus as close as 35cm or 1’1” — which is nice for portraits and in line with what modern mobile devices can do. Of course, with its three coated Konica glass elements in four groups projecting onto a full frame, it can capture significantly more detail.

The F has a decent 1/450s top leaf shutter speed that can stay open for as long as four seconds. This camera uses automatic exposure and focus (with half-press locking) that can be nudged +/- 1.5 stops using the “MODE” button. It works with DX-coded films rated between 25-3200 ISO and uses a single CR123 battery to power everything.

In addition to the limited exposure controls, Big Mini F lets you switch flash modes, lock focus at infinity, use a timer, and set or disable the date printer. Big Mini will “forget” your settings (except for the date) after you power the camera off — which also retracts the lens to stay flush with the body.

The retractable lens mechanism would not slide any cover over the glass, contrary to most point-and-shoot camera designs of this type. In practice, it causes no issues — as long as you don’t keep your camera in the same pocket as your keys, coins, or nails (don’t!), there won’t be any scratches to worry about.

Big Mini F weighs just 180g/6.3oz without a battery (comparable to a modern iPhone), measuring 12cm × 6cm × 3.5cm (4.7” × 2.3” × 1.4”).

Konica Big Mini F in “ON” position with its lens out, ready to shoot.

Konica Big Mini F in use.

Big Mini F is simple to use. It loads, winds, and rewinds film automatically — all you have to do is to place your 35mm canister inside and stretch the film leader across. The small plastic tab, pulling which opens the film door, is on the bottom left side when you look at the camera’s back.

Though you’ll notice several controls on its back, there are only three buttons that need your attention for the majority of picture-taking: the power button that sits next to the shutter button and the “MODE” button to disable the flash.

This is the kind of camera you can hand to someone who’s never shot film — they’ll be able to use it without instructions.

Unfortunately, this also means that you can do little to override Big Mini F’s center-weighted exposure meter beyond the +/- 1.5EV settings, which are a few taps away via the “MODE” button and reset during power cycles.

The sole control button over the exposure settings and flash modes is still an improvement over the earlier versions of this camera — it’s much easier to press, although still not very comfortable. With my average-sized man’s hand, I had to use my nail with the “MODE” button as there was no way I could get it to work with the pads of my fingers.

The “MODE” button cycles through Auto ⚡️ Flash, Auto ⚡️👁 Red-Eye Reduction Flash, ⚡️ Fill Flash, No Flash, and +/- 1.5EV when the camera is turned on. Your settings will reset once the camera is turned off.

Kodak Ultramax with Konica Big Mini F (flash on). This photo was taken by someone who never used Big Minis and rarely shot with point-and-shoot film cameras. Yet, not only were they able to focus quickly and accurately, they were able to catch an important moment on their first try.

An occasionally-useful button on the back of the camera marked 🏔⎋ lets you force your camera to focus on infinity, set a 10-second delay timer, or combine the both.

The active autofocus developed in the 1990s sometimes has trouble with landscape images, where they would pick a focus distance closer than infinity and ruin some of the crispness. The 🏔 button can help with those shots.

I never needed to use this button with my Big Mini during my months with the camera. The only time it’d announce its necessity would be if I were to focus on a blue sky or a foggy water horizon, and the camera’s green autofocus light would light blink.

All of the settings, including a date stamp, show up on the two small LCD screens at the back — a standard design in the film point-and-shoots of the late 1990s.

The viewfinder on Big Mini F is relatively large and comfortable to use. You shouldn’t have much trouble with it if you wear glasses. There isn’t much information in it besides the bright lines with parallax markings and a circle in the middle to help you with focus and exposure lock. The finder is located directly over the lens, which makes taking close-ups a little easier, as nothing will be cut off on either side.

To the right of the viewfinder, a solid green light will show when you half-press the shutter button and the focus is acquired. A blinking green light means the camera cannot calculate the focus distance. A solid orange light will indicate that the flash is ready. A fast-blinking orange light indicates insufficient light. If your camera is set to use flash and it hasn’t charged yet, no light will show up and pressing the shutter won’t take the picture until there’s enough juice to light up the scene (a small ⚡️ icon will show up on the LCD’s bottom-right corner indicating that the flash is charging).

I was hoping to get a close-up photo of this skunk cabbage plant. Unfortunately, the camera missed the focus — even though it indicated that it would be able to get an image for me at the time with a solid green light.

The autofocus action on Big Mini F is remarkably fast. Contrary to the modern design where half-pressing the shutter button sets the focus distance, most point-and-shoots made at that time would not move the lens until you decide to take the picture. This creates a delay that may cost you to lose the moment during fast action. Thankfully, this delay is minimized to sub-second speeds.

Big Mini F shows superior autofocus performance compared to other point-and-shoots in this price range — except for when you want to take extreme close-ups. My copy kept assuring me with a solid green light that it’ll be able to take a sharp picture for me — but the results showed otherwise. If you’re using your camera to take macro shots, I recommend triple-checking your autofocus by half-pressing the shutter button a few times to ensure the green light is solid and you are no closer than .3m/1’1” to whatever you’re photographing. I also found that the camera does better with objects with strong contrast lines.

In hand, the camera feels a little blocky, but all the controls appear in convenient, easy-to-find spots. It is easy to hold with the right hand, and there’s even a rubber grip on the face plate to help steady the camera and avoid leaving fingerprints on its shiny metal surface. Taking pictures with Big Mini F with just one hand is easy. The shutter button feels good, although I found the spring underneath it a little too stiff, which may cause some low shutter speed photos to be smudged and an occasional tilt in a picture.

With practice, you’ll be able to whip your Big Mini out of your pocket, turn it on, and take a shot within two seconds. That is, as long as you aren’t taking your photo in subdued light that needs flash — which will need about four seconds to charge.

Kodak ColorPlus with Konica Big Mini F. Despite the above-mentioned macro-focus challenges, this camera can capture excellent close-up shots and render prominent, modern-looking bokeh.

Big Mini 𝒇2.8 35mm lens image quality.

Big Mini F’s 35mm 𝒇2.8 glass renders what I’d call modern-looking images. The lens’ perspective is wide enough for most indoor shots; there’s no swirly bokeh, no noticeable distortions, and no significant flaring. It can focus on objects three times closer than most cameras of the viewfinder/rangefinder type, and the resulting photographs tend to show high amounts of contrast.

Kodak ColorPlus with Konica Big Mini F.

✪​ Note: The high contrast in photos shot with Big Mini F is partially due to its meter’s tendency to slightly under-expose. This is the case with all the Big Mini cameras I’ve tried. This could be a good thing when you’re shooting slide film, though it may also cause you to lose some detail in the shadows.

Looking back at the pictures I’ve taken with my other BMs, the renderings I got from the F appear to have a recognizable “Big Mini lens character:” high contrast, cool greens, excellent colour saturation, and minimum flaring.

I found Big Mini F’s lens to be sharp, even when shooting things up close and wide open. Discerning viewers may find some minor vignetting and softness in the corners for some shots — particularly the ones shot at wider apertures. But you really have to look for those imperfections to spot them.

Kodak ColorPlus with Konica Big Mini F. Here, the camera shows its “Big Mini lens character” rather well: high contrast, cool greens (on a typically-warm Kodak colour emulsion), great colour saturation, and minimum flaring.

Big Mini F’s lens and light meter combo can take great advantage of the evening light:

Kodak ColorPlus with Konica Big Mini F.
Kodak Ultramax with Konica Big Mini F.
Kodak Ultramax with Konica Big Mini F.

Big Mini F’s fill flash works well with the lens, although some complain that it doesn’t flood the scene with enough light. I think this was done intentionally to give the scenes a more natural look. And given that this camera will have the flash on by default in even the slightest shade with a slow film, it may be a good thing.

Kodak ColorPlus with Konica Big Mini F and fill flash on.

The wider 𝒇2.8 aperture of this camera has no problem producing good exposures on cloudy evenings with the right film (without needing the flash), i.e., Kodak Ultramax — an ISO 400 colour film:

Kodak Ultramax with Konica Big Mini F.
Kodak Ultramax with Konica Big Mini F.

And I am quite pleased with how the camera can take advantage of its close focus and wide apertures to create portraits in the slightly subdued light:

Kodak ColorPlus with Konica Big Mini F.

Konica Big Mini F build quality.

Big Mini F is a well-made camera; it features higher-quality components than its predecessors. But it’s not an ultra-expensive titanium shooter, so it’s at least 3x cheaper than the $1,000+ premium point-and-shoots from the 1990s (I will be comparing it to such a camera below).

The F is made with primarily plastic components (except electronics, some gearing, the lens, and the front plate). Still, it is well put together. Nothing feels loose, there are no cracks or large gaps, and the camera looks no worse than some of the best-designed point-and-shoots of the 1990s.

Konica Big Mini F with its lens rectracted in the “OFF” position.

Konica Big Mini F vs Minolta TC-1.

Minolta TC-1 is the most expensive point-and-shoot camera I’ve ever owned and used extensively. It feels even pricier now after having failed on me during a trip which ultimately rendered it unusable. With taxes, it cost me around $1,000 in 2020.

I thought TC-1 is a good candidate to draw parallels and distinctions from to Big Mini F. In essence, both cameras were made by the same company (Konica-Minolta, which became one around the time of their production). Both TC-1 and the F have the same objective: to be the best point-and-shoot camera possible; they share some top-notch engineering and design features but at different price points.

As you’d expect, TC-1 outstrips Big Mini F in almost all categories that matter: image quality, size, controls, and build quality. But there’s nuance and some areas, such as how loud the camera is, where the F comes on top.

Minolta TC-1.

Minolta TC-1’s 28mm 𝒇3.5 G-Rokkor lens is incredible: it uses perfectly-circular apertures to create remarkable contrast and sharpness across the frame. Many regard this lens as the best 28mm ever built, though its possible downside is relatively strong vignetting — more than that of the F.

TC-1 is the smallest full-frame 35mm film camera ever built. And even with its shell made of metal, it’s lighter than the Big Mini. TC-1 also features incredible build quality, on par with the best-made cameras such as Leicas Ms, Tontax T3s, and others that cost well north of a thousand dollars. But despite its masterful finishes, TC-1 is a loud camera with its autofocus and film advance motor making more noise than Big Mini F (though still quieter than BM-102).

And finally, the controls — which is where TC-1 truly excels over all Big Minis, giving the photographer a variety of exposure compensation options, two metering modes (spot and frame), real-time focus distance indicator — with zero delay focus-to-exposure time, manual ISO selection, and the settings that stay in memory when the camera powers off.

TC-1 even has coated glass elements in its viewfinder, though I think it falls short in size and brightness compared to a much simpler Big Mini finder.

You get what you pay for with these cameras — but neither is a bad choice. Neither suffers from being over-hyped or over-priced, considering where the used film camera market stands today.

Konica Big Mini F vs earlier Big Minis.

It’s easy to compare Big Mini F against its predecessors: it’s undeniably better in most ways.

The only consequential shortfall of the F compared to an older (and slightly cheaper) Big Mini model, BM-302, is the autofocus performance during extreme close-ups. The 302 appeared to be a little easier to get a focus lock at distances shorter than 1m/3’.

Konica Big Mini BM-201 (grey/metallic) and BM-302 (black).

Everything else, including the close-up lens performance, largest aperture size, build quality, and design, is a noticeable improvement on Big Mini F over BM-302 and BM-201.

With a budget that doesn’t quite allow for Big Mini F, I would go for BM-302 — it is usually cheaper and is a massive improvement over BM-201  in terms of the noise its motors make. BM-201 cameras can be found for slightly less and are a great choice if you don’t mind making a little noise and love their classic design, reminiscent of the most expensive camera discussed in this article: Minolta TC-1.

✪​ Note: BM-202 and BM-302 will not have a date back, whereas BM-201 and BM-301 will. I prefer cameras that do not have a date back for fewer buttons and a slightly slimmer profile.

How much does Konica Big Mini F cost, and where to find one.

As of June 2023, Konica Big Mini Fs sell between $250 and $500, depending on the condition. The black/charcoal paint version is rarer and usually goes for more.

When buying these cameras online, I recommend reading the full description and looking at the photos to verify there’s no lens fungus or excessive damage and that all electronics are working properly.

By the way: Please consider making your Konica Big Mini F camera purchase using this link  so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!