Buyer’s Guide to Semi-SLR/Pseudo-SLR 35mm Cameras

Pseudo-SLR, or semi-SLR, cameras are a type of camera which isn’t technically an SLR (Single Lens Reflex) camera, but has some of the same features. Most 35mm semi-SLR cameras have aperture/f-stop settings, a barrel-style lens, a hot shoe for attaching a flash, neck strap mounts, and a tripod socket. A few also have shutter speed settings, lever-type film advance, or other SLR-type features. The two major differences between semi-SLR and actual SLR cameras is that semi-SLR cameras don’t have interchangeable lenses and use a viewfinder rather than the more accurate method of photo previewing used by SLR cameras. Although it is more difficult to achieve the same results with a semi-SLR camera than a SLR camera, they are much less expensive than SLR cameras while offering some improvements over point-and-shoot cameras. They also are easier to use than SLR cameras, and don’t have as many settings to adjust.

While some photographers have lumped all semi-SLR cameras into one category – often without even trying any of them – the results from these cameras and their specific features actually vary significantly. Although dozens of different brand names have produced semi-SLR cameras, many are clones of one design or another. Because of this, we have been able to separate them into eight major groups. We have also included an “Other” group for semi-SLR cameras which do not fit in any of these groups and don’t appear to have been “cloned.” All of the cameras mentioned use 35mm film, and the cash values are for the cameras alone, without any accessories.

Group 1 – Low Quality, Compact: Cameras like the Impac 707, Akira TC-002, Quickshot X3000, and Meikai AR-4351KSN are all based on a single design which has a cheap appearance and no extra features aside from the aperture settings and hot shoe. Various other smaller brands, including Inoon, Generation, and Mikona have also sold cameras of this type. Other photographers have not reported any impressive results from these cameras. These cameras are valued at under $5. Photo examples:

Example 1 / Example 2 / Example 3

Group 2 – Compact Promotional: This camera style was used for Time Magazine and Sports Illustrated promotional cameras, as well as a small Ultronic semi-SLR camera and the original Meikai 4351. While otherwise the same, these differ as to where their viewfinders are placed (center or right), and even vary among individual Time Magazine cameras. These cameras can be worth $5-8. Photo examples:

Example 1 / Example 2

Group 3 – MX Series: This group includes the Capital MX-II, PhotoFlex MX-35, and Minaki 707. They all have four aperture settings, a hot shoe, and a somewhat more professional appearance than the cameras in group 1. The PhotoFlex and Capital are equipped for a shutter release cable, while the Minaki isn’t but appears to be the same otherwise. One version of the PhotoFlex MX-35 was different and may not have some of the same characteristics. These cameras have a value of $4-8. Some good-quality photographs have been taken with these cameras. Photo examples:

Example 1 / Example 2

Group 4 – 2000N Series: Cameras with a 2000N model name – including Akira, Image Master, Tashika, and Ouyama – are all based on the same design, along with a few others which have different model names. The Nippon AR-4392F is also the same, and the Benz-Gant HelioFlex 3000T is the same except for having a panoramic option. These cameras are fairly large, have four aperture settings, and have an expensive-looking appearance. However, some quality issues have been reported on individual cameras of this type, and their controls are rather “tight.” These cameras are equipped both for handle-mount and top-mounted flash units. The Akira 2000 (no N) is an older, but similar, version of this camera type. The value of these cameras is approximately $15-20. Photo examples:

Example 1 / Example 2 / Example 3

Group 5 – Sceptre/Ninoka: These two cameras, the Sceptre YN-800 and Ninoka NK-700, are identical except for their brand names. They both feature an unusual white square next to the viewfinder. They also have a back door which is opened by pulling up on the rewind knob, as do the cameras in group 4. They appear to be of good quality. Due to the design of the hot shoe, at least on the Ninoka, it is very difficult or impossible to connect some universal flash units, such as the Meikai DI-4379. Unomat Polo and Ninoka flash units do fit these cameras. The cash value of this type of camera is about $5-10. Here are two photo examples from the Ninoka NK-700:

Example 1 / Example 2

Group 6 – Higher Quality Compact: The Bentley BX-3 and Windsor WX-3 are very similar, and a number of photographers have reported good results with them. They are smaller than many semi-SLR cameras. The Bell & Howell 35J, which has fewer aperture settings (three) is the same size and has some similarities. They have regular wheel-type manual film advance and counters which have to be manually reset. These cameras are valued at about $5-12. Bentley BX-3 photo examples:

Example 1 / Example 2

Group 7 – Older Motorized: Several camera models of this type, including the Akira 7000 and Meikai AR-4367, have been produced. In addition to the regular semi-SLR features, they have motorized film advance and were often sold with large handle-mount flash units. They run on 2 “AA” batteries. One drawback of this type of camera – as with most motorized cameras – is that they will not function without batteries. They have a professional-looking apperance, especially when used with a flash unit, and the flash units they were sold with seemed more “solid” than those being sold with the cameras in group 8. It doesn’t seem to be possible to find any photos taken with these cameras on the internet, and comments about them on a few websites and forums are inconclusive. The value of these cameras is approximately $15, or $25 if the handle-mount flash unit is included.

Group 8 – Newer Motorized: These include most Olympia and Nikkei cameras, as well as the Akira 7000DVT and a number of others. While based on the cameras in group 7, they appear to be of lower quality on closer inspection. Unlike the cameras in group 6, they have a timer function and some include other additional features. Customers should avoid confusing “Olympia” with “Olympus”. This type of camera includes a number of other brand names with the model numbers “DL-2000” and “DL-9000.” While they are sometimes sold for more, the actual value of these cameras is about $12, or $20 with the handle-mount flash unit that is often included. It is difficult to find any photos taken with these cameras, but one Flickr.com photographer has posted a number of photos he took with an Olympia DL2000:

Example 1 / Example 2 / Example 3

Others: Many other semi-SLR cameras exist which don’t appear to fit in any of these groups. They have a small number of clones, or are entirely unique. These include the Weston WX-7 (has shutter speed settings and lever-type film advance), the Meikai EL (older, has three aperture settings), the Cortland CX-7 (has lever-type film advance) and a rare Akira semi-SLR which has a built-in flash (unusual for any semi-SLR or SLR to have). Lever-type film advance allows for the film to be advanced by pulling a lever which automatically returns to its former position after being pulled. This makes advancing the film easier and faster without using batteries. While semi-SLR cameras are usually black, a bright yellow one is available from Suntone and red generic or Kalimar semi-SLRs can occasionally be found. While it is difficult to find any photos taken by the cameras in this section, I know from personal experience that the Weston WX-7 can take very good photographs, and here are some photos taken with the Meikai EL:

Examples (All on one page)

Comparison With Point & Shoot Cameras: If you are deciding whether to purchase a semi-SLR or regular point-and-shoot camera, a number of issues should be considered. First, if you buy one of the better semi-SLR cameras, it is quite possible to produce higher quality photos than you would with most point-and-shoot cameras (including those made by Vivitar or Minolta), because of the ability to adjust aperture settings. It is also easier to replace the flash on a semi-SLR camera, because it isn’t built-in. Most semi-SLR cameras also allow you to use accessories such as a neck strap or tripod, while many point-and-shoot cameras only allow for connection of a wrist strap. On the other hand, semi-SLR cameras aren’t as compact, and it is possible to accidentally take photographs without removing the lens cap. You can also take photos more quickly with a point-and-shoot camera, as you don’t have to think about the aperture setting or removing the lens cap.

Finding Semi-SLR Cameras: These cameras can be found most frequently on eBay (search for “Meikai”, “Akira Camera”, “2000N”, “Ninoka”, etc.), but can also be located at some yard sales, thrift shops, and a few discount stores. Some other websites also sell them. You are unlikely to find them at department stores, which usually only carry point-and-shoot cameras.

Overall, pseudo/semi-SLR cameras can be a good, easy-to-use and inexpensive option when purchasing a camera, but should be selected carefully.

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