Konica Recorder Half-Frame Point-and-Shoot Review

Everything-Auto (With Flash) Pocketable W/ Ultrawide Lens in Three Colours

15 min read by Dmitri.
Published on . Updated on .

Konica Recorder, a.k.a. Konica AA-35, is a 35mm film camera that produces double the frames (i.e., 72 instead of 36) on standard 35mm film. It features a wide 24mm 𝒇4 lens (36mm full-frame equiv.) with an electronic 60-250ths shutter in a pocketable 112mm × 77mm × 30.5mm 250g (4⅖” × 3” × 1⅕” 8.8oz) format. The camera comes in three colours: solid red, gold, and black.

This camera introduces a combination of modern features in the half-frame format not found on any other camera, such as autofocus, motorized film transport, and built-in flash. Its only competitor for the full point-and-shoot half-frame camera would be the Yashica Samurai, which is not pocketable.

Even the newest Pentax half-frame film cameras won’t have the complete set of features an AA-35 brings to the table.

In this review, I cover the effectiveness of AA-35’s features, camera design, and its unique lens qualities. I also share my thoughts on whether it’s worth the $200-300 it fetches in 2024 money.

About the half-frame format.

The half-frame format doubles the photos a single 35mm film roll produces at the cost of their physical size. Smaller frames mean that the grain will typically look larger on the scans. A scanned half frame’s resolution will also be smaller than that of a regular 35mm frame.

A comparison of developed full-frame negatives (left) and half-frame negatives (right). This image illustrates how half-frames take up exactly half the space of a full-frame exposure.

The depth of field on a half-frame camera will also be larger at the same aperture when compared to a full-frame lens with a comparable focal length. You should expect less background separation with a half-frame camera on a lens that has the same angle of view¹ as a full-frame.

Larger film grain is one of the reasons there’s a relatively small number of half-frame cameras produced in the past 100 years. It’s possible to try them all — something that can’t be said for the many thousands of full-frame 35mm film cameras out there.

The mid-century (1960s-1970s) advancements in film chemistry brought the promise of tighter grain, which Olympus attempted to capitalize on with their line of high-quality Olympus PEN half-frame SLRs suitable for professional application. But despite the format’s promise to save money on film without compromising the quality, half-frames never fully caught on.

Konica Recorder cameras were manufactured in 1985, representing the last few half-frame film cameras by a major manufacturer. They bought modern features, such as motorized film transport and autofocus as well as an ultrawide lens. Along with Yashica Samurai, AA-35s were the only point-and-shoot² film cameras ever made.

Scanned Kodak Aerocolor IV half-frame negatives, taken with Konica AA-35.

The half-frame format is enjoying a resurgence in popularity in 2024. Modern film photographers often seek out the grain, in contrast to the previous generations that associated it with a lack of resolution (which we now attribute to low scanner DPI). The rising film prices are another concern that drives the half-frame trend in the 2020s.

The success of the new Ektar H35N, Alfie, and the upcoming Pentax film camera demonstrates our renewed interest in the half-frame format. Indeed, if the film is fed through a high-quality scanner, the results may show just as much detail as a full-frame camera with a fine-grained film (which can get extremely well-resolving today).

¹ — Lenses on half-frame cameras need to have focal lengths that are about 1.4x smaller than on a full-frame camera to produce the same angle of view. For example, a 50mm full-frame lens is equivalent to a 35mm half-frame lens. Lenses with a smaller focal length will produce less background separation at all apertures.

² — This blog defines point-and-shoot film cameras as those that have motorized film transport, autoexposure, DX code reader, and autofocus. Combined, those features make picture-taking a single-button operation.

Solid red Konica AA-35, a.k.a. Konica Recorder, in its ready “unfolded” position.

Konica AA-35 design, portability, and ergonomics.

I think it’s reasonable to expect half-frame cameras to be smaller than full-frame cameras. They take exposures on a smaller area of film, after all. But that’s not the case: the smallest 35mm film cameras are all full-frame.

Still, the AA-35 is pretty small. It’s about the size of a thick wallet. The packed point-and-shoot automation features also make the Recorder one of the quickest film cameras I’ve ever tried.

Konica’s designers did not disappoint with their AA-35 controls layout and overall ergonomics. Their half-frame camera is very easy to use in both landscape and portrait orientation (whereas most other half-frame cameras force you into a vertical portrait position). It’s also easy to snap a few photos in a sequence, thanks to the camera’s automated film transport. While doing multiple takes can be expensive in full-frame format or on medium format film, the half-frame format in AA-35 lends affordable multiple shots to choose from later.

The rear panel of a Konica AA-35, a.k.a. Konica Recorder, in its ready position.

Readying the camera to take a shot is as easy as pulling on its sides to reveal the lens (this also reveals an ISO dial at the back).

If the camera determines that there isn’t enough light, an orange lamp will light up inside the viewfinder. The camera will still allow you to take an under-exposed shot if you ignore the warning. Or you can power on the flash by pushing a tab on the left.

The flash takes a few seconds to ready; a lamp on the top-left of the camera will light up once the capacitors are charged. The flash has a guide number (GN) of 12, which means it can be effective for a couple of metres with an ISO 400 film in absolute darkness.

The viewfinder is fairly comfortable. It’s perfectly usable with the glasses on (though you may miss the frame markings). It shows no parallax correction markings or any other information other than the low light warning.

Once you’re done taking your shot, you’ll need to pull down on the light-grey plastic tab at the back of the camera to close it. This tab will remain in the halfway position when the camera is closed, which means it’s holding the camera closed until you pull down on it, but you don’t have to pull it down if you want to open your camera quickly.

Loading film into Konica Recorder is fairly straightforward. However, there’s no quick loading mechanism; thus, you’ll have to ensure it’s secured by the takeup spool. I recommend firing 1-2 shots while the film door is open to ensure that the winding is working correctly.

If your AA-35 has a DX code reader (not all of them do), it will take priority over the manual film ISO selector. Thus, you should not load film with the DX code that does not match the speed at which you’re planning to develop it (for example, if you bulk-load your film at home). If you do find that your film’s DX code does not match the ISO you want, simply place a sticker over it and select your speed on the camera.

Manual DX code override makes AA-35s more versatile than many point-and-shoot cameras that do not allow film speed selection. This is very useful for films without DX code, like the Lomochrome Color‘92, which won’t work in many fully automatic film cameras. Unfortunately, there are only three ISO speeds you can choose: 100, 200, and 400.

Perhaps due to the lack of technology at the time or the will to implement it, Konica Recorder has an odd way of rewinding the film. Once you’ve shot all the frames that can fit on the roll, a small red bulb (prepended with “⎡R”) will start blinking next to the ISO selector. You will then need to pull the orange “R▶” tab at the bottom of the camera (when it’s opened) and wait for the film rewind to complete. You will need to listen for the film to start sounding as if it’s rotating freely and then disengage the orange “R▶” tab — it will never stop rewinding on its own. What’s even more strange is that if you do not rewind immediately, the red bulb will never stop blinking — it will do so until it drains your batteries completely.

Thankfully, this camera takes the common AA batteries. I recommend you get the rechargeable kind to save money and prevent some potentially toxic trash.

My Konica Recorder came with a data back that lets you print a small note on the film. Unfortunately, the clock does not allow printing dates in 2024 and beyond (looks like Konica never expected these cameras to be useful this far in the future). I still made it print the date as if it’s 1984 for fun (it’s very easy to remove with modern tools like Photoshop). You also have the option to print time, which works any year.

The date functionality requires you to insert a CR2025 3v battery that’s located underneath the film door (thus, you can’t insert it until you finish your roll of film). You will need a micro screwdriver to open the battery door.

I found the camera very easy to hold in both landscape and portrait orientation with just one hand. However, in the portrait orientation, there’s a risk that a part of your finger may obstruct the lens. This won’t show up in the viewfinder.

Black Konica AA-35, a.k.a. Konica Recorder, in its ready “unfolded” position.

Konica AA-35 build quality & variations.

Konica AA-35s/Recorders are beautiful cameras. They’re boxy, stylish gadgets that can be easily recognized as tools made in the 1980s yet not entirely out of place in 2024, thanks to their flat profile. They come in three colours with fun options like gold and solid red. Some models have a DX code reader; others don’t.

Unfortunately, the dye on those cameras is brittle. The vast majority of these cameras, even the ones sold as “mint,” have scuffs and scratches. I would not blame the user for this entirely (while these cameras are tempting to stuff in tight pockets or a purse full that can have keys or coins). The paint is very thin.

The aluminum trim on the sides of the camera is also quite thin. Expect some slight bulging on the sides and very noticeable dents if the camera is ever dropped.

Many of these cameras have a flaw that prevents the flash-ready light from glowing. Though the flash itself may work, you may not know when it’s fully charged, and this issue may cause you to miss some shots.

A few other issues plague the poor AA-35s, rendering a bunch of used listings as “parts only” for various reasons. See this guide on how to find a good, working copy of this (or any vintage) camera.

I’ve used my Konica Recorder for several months with no issues. I assume that the surviving copies are fairly reliable — but you have to watch out for the problems I mentioned above.

Despite the production issues and the mostly plastic body, the AA-35s feel fairly solid and relatively well-made. To put it bluntly, there’s a world of difference between a Recorder and a plastic camera like the Ektar H35N. However, the Recorder isn’t nearly as exquisite as the thousand-dollar titanium-bodied Minolta TC-1.

Kodak Aerocolor IV with Konica AA-35.

Konica Hexanon 𝒇4 24mm lens and image quality.

The AA-35 is tons of fun to use. It’s quick and portable. But the lens on this camera takes getting used to.

None of the 147 frames I’ve shot with my Recorder in various lighting conditions with ISO 400 and ISO 100 films show background separation:

Kodak Aerocolor IV with Konica AA-35. The exposure seems to be metered from the shadows. Assuming that the camera sets its shutter to 1/250s, an ISO 100 film would probably need an *aperture of 𝒇5.6 or wider* to get an image that looks like this.
Kodak Aerocolor IV with Konica AA-35 (Hexanon 𝒇4 24mm).
Kodak Aerocolor IV with Konica AA-35 (Hexanon 𝒇4 24mm).
Kodak Aerocolor IV with Konica AA-35 (Hexanon 𝒇4 24mm). The closest cherry blossom flower to the camera is out of focus (foreground separation is still fairly obvious on this lens), even though I expected it to be sharp.

I found it a little hard to tell where the focus lies in the image at first. Later, I realized that the autofocus feature on this camera may be lacking. The viewfinder does not have the crosshairs to indicate which area of the image is most likely to appear sharp. Combined with the lack of focus confirmation, the presumably stepped-focus³ system made it easy to miss focus entirely:

Missed focus. Kodak Aerocolor IV with Konica AA-35 (Hexanon 𝒇4 24mm) with the flash on.

Unless shot at a wide aperture at a very close focal distance, a 24mm lens would not show much background separation. AA-35’s max aperture of 𝒇4 and nearest focus of .9m/3” ensures that most images you take will remain entirely in focus, even if the camera guessed the distance wrong.

Note: I found that scenes with reflective surfaces, like open water or a shiny car, may trip up the autofocus on AA-35 often.

Kodak Aerocolor IV with Konica AA-35 (Hexanon 𝒇4 24mm).

The 24mm Hexanon is well-corrected for chromatic aberrations and barrel distortions. It renders medium-high contrast and appears to be good at preventing some flares. But I can see vignetting, swirl, and coma aberration in the corners.

The lack of an appropriate amount of light does not stop the Recorder from taking a picture (it will only warn you with an orange light inside the finder). This can lead to missing some shots (the light isn’t that noticeable if you’re in a rush) but may also yield images that work out better than expected:

Kodak Aerocolor IV with Konica AA-35 (Hexanon 𝒇4 24mm). Without flash, this camera proceeded to under-expose the image whereas many point-and-shoot cameras would attempt to take a long exposure, which would often ruin the image by adding unnecessary exposure (when the focus is the sky) and large amounts of motion blur.

Large-grained film, such as the new Lomography Lomochrome Color’92, will look exceptionally coarse on this camera (as one would expect). Danilo called it clusters of discrete dots in his namesake photo essay about half-frame film cameras. Combined with the lens’ enormous depth of field at all apertures, this can produce an interesting effect:

Lomography Lomochrome Color’92 with Konica AA-35 (Hexanon 𝒇4 24mm).
Lomography Lomochrome Color’92 with Konica AA-35 (Hexanon 𝒇4 24mm).

Understandably, this won’t work for everyone.

³ — Stepless focusing means that the camera can focus its lens at any distance past its minimum. Stepped focusing was common in early autofocus cameras that would set the lens to one of the few (typically 3-4) exact distances and rely on hyperfocus to fill in the rest. Fewer steps could mean that the camera is more likely to miss critical focus.

How much does Konica AA-35 cost, is it worth the money, and where to find one.

In 2024, Konica AA-35/Konica Recorder cameras go for $200-300, depending on condition.

These cameras are your only option today if you want a half-frame shooter with a wide lens that’s fully automatic, comes in fun colours, and is pocketable. They’re also pretty, with excellent ergonomics and a decent finder. The AA-35 may be your best bet for a portable rapid shooter, though its top shutter speed will make it challenging to get an image free of motion blur if you’re photographing fast action.

AA-35s won’t show bokeh and will occasionally miss focus. If this is important to you and you don’t mind giving up some automation, consider the Olympus PEN SLR with the E.Zuiko pancake lens (which makes it pocketable) or go for Ricoh Caddy or Canon Demi as a more affordable/less sophisticated option.

By the way: Please consider making your Konica AA-35/Konica Recorder camera purchase using this link  so that this website may get a small percentage of that sale — at no extra charge for you — thanks!