Even in the age of Instagram, when a perfectly capable camera is literally always in our hands, film photography captivates our attention. There’s a depth to their images, right? It’s not just that they’re printed on paper. There’s something at once ethereal and sharp about the photos—a quality that’s hard to replicate digitally. A modern camera’s sensors simply won’t impart the imperfections and can’t really replicate the way different film stocks perceive and react to light and shadow. Then there’s the satisfying tactile nature of clicking an actual shutter and feeling the roll of film whirl in the camera’s housing. And the choosiness that comes with knowing you only have so many frames to shoot.
Of course, this isn’t some high-minded love letter to the art of photography. It’s more about the pleasure that comes with a new toy and how it has the ability to pull us away from what we’re used to doing. And that’s just what this resurgence of old point-and-shoot cameras is all about. If you haven’t heard, more and more young people are choosing compact cameras from the 1990s and early aughts to take their photos, rather than using their iPhones, or even a fancy DSLR. Some are digital, but the coolest ones are just lightweight, “shitty” plastic cameras. The kind that slapped an orange date and timestamp in the corner of the photo. And If your shots come out underexposed or slightly blurry that’s the point. I’m afraid to inform my fellow elder millennials that this vibe is, in fact, a vintage vibe now.
But that doesn’t mean we’re too old to appreciate the nostalgia. Or participate in the comeback, for that matter. In fact, I recently went on a hunt for a compact point-and-shoot myself and after a little research and a few conversations with much more experienced photographers, I decided I wanted to try the Leica Mini II. If you haven’t heard of it, I’m not all that surprised. This early ’90s point-and-shoot was made in Japan for the legendary German camera maker and was designed to be an affordable starter camera that was portable and easy to use.
For me, it’s the perfect option. First of all, it’s got an understated design and that iconic Leica red dot. And that’s an easy flex when you’re out shooting. But if you’re expecting a luxury camera, you might be surprised when you hold the Mini II in your hand. It’s lighter and smaller than you might imagine and the plastic body can feel a little chintzy. I guess you could say it lives up to the “Mini” name. But it’s also expertly shaped for a comfortable and ergonomic grip, engineered with the lens far enough from the right hand side that the lens doesn’t interact with your fingers when using it. The viewfinder is surprisingly large, allowing for easy framing and there’s a solid shutter button. It feels responsive, and has a proper half and full press.
Much like the cult-favorite Yashica T4, the rather unassuming looks of this camera often have it passed up on the secondhand market because most buyers don’t realize the quality this little point-and-shoot holds. The autofocus is responsive and exact, making it easy to grab focus and the small lens really does capture Leica-level images. Not as sharp as some of the Zeiss glass you find in other cameras, of course, but that’s the point here. What you do get is quality of image and depth—even the ability to take long exposure photos. But, the Mini II doesn’t have a retractable lens cover so be careful not to scratch it. Just have fun with it.