The Nikon TW2 is often quoted as the world’s first point and shoot with zoom functionality, but is it any good? I take this quirky little camera through its paces with a one-roll review. While more attention is given to its more famous cousin, the L35AF, if you’re unwilling to fork out the £150 price tag for one of them on eBay, maybe this is one worth having a look at.
Give it 32-years or so and I doubt you’d struggle too hard to find information about current-day flagship phones on the internet. You’d probably be using some super AI web search from a mind-controlled device, but thanks to the herculean efforts by the Internet Archive (https://archive.org/), what gets put on the net, invariably stays there in some form or another. From product pages to reviews, I’m sure that pending nuclear annihilation, accessing information about the Galaxy 10, Pixel 4, or iPhone 11 wouldn’t be too difficult.
But for products released pre-world-wide-web, especially those outside hipster fads, information about them can be scarce – even for products once considered flagship models. Which is where I found myself after discovering an odd-looking thing called a Nikon TW2.
This 1987 point-and-shoot was sat in the bottom of a box of commonly found junk cameras in my local charity shop, but it had that classic late 80’s or early 90’s style. It also had bi-focal lens, two lenses, but with no constant zoom function. It also had a soft-effect filter. I’d never seen something quite like it. I had to figure out what the hell this thing was. £2.50 later and the camera was in my bag.
After taking it home, finding information about it was somewhat more difficult. You can’t simply Google a review up, because they weren’t any. To find out about this camera I had to really search for it. Books, old magazines, and trawling through old archives to dig up any information I could. Much of the information was often conflicting. Even Nikon’s website has no real information other than a model number. The only manual I could find was in German.
So Here is what I found out.
The Nikon TW2 (and it’s data-backed version TW2D) was released sometime in 1987, marketing itself as the thinnest camera in the world. Which is almost laughable today for something that measures 4 and a half centimetres thick.
Also known as the Tele Touch Deluxe in America, it was fitted with an odd bi-focal lens system – two lenses in the same camera, rather than one zoom lens more commonly found today. An 3.5f/35mm Lens, and a bigger 6.8f/70mm. This was a method of zoom considered horribly outdated in the 90’s onwards – but has some similarities to how phone cameras started adopting a similar method to get different focal lengths. In this instance, the zoom system however works by a motor which extends the lens outward. There was also softener effect within the unit that is activated by twisting the front ring of the lens barrel, to get that 80’s glamour soft blur. Surely saving countless individuals the trouble of having to smear Vaseline all over their lenses.
The camera was released in a time when camera manufactures were clawing at ways to get people to move away from their current point-and-shoots, of which most users felt little inclination to upgrade from. Especially from the early autofocus cameras that came out at the beginning of the 1980s. To many, there was little reason to move away from units such as the Konica C35 (1977), Canon AF35M (1979), or Nikon L35AF (1983). To get sales of new cameras up, designers started to create cameras with more interesting features and gimmicks. Like the aforementioned soft-focus lens, duel lens system, DX auto-iso, and claims of being the world’s thinnest camera. The camera also came with a welcome timer function, continuous shooting mode, and a small LCD at the top displaying current settings and number of shots left. For those willing to spend a bit more, there was also the data-back, which allowed users to burn in the date into images.
But did new design tempt users to dump their old cameras?
One might on first glance assume that this methodology was flawed. This wasn’t the first attempt at a duel lens camera by Nikon, the first being the TW AF, released a year earlier. This ended up having terrible sales numbers and was not long removed from sale. However, this was put down to the unconventional, and quite frankly odd-looking appearance of camera. A slight redesign and the release of the TW2 saw much more successful sale numbers – with the duel focus zoom system being the biggest draw to consumers. At least until continuous zoom systems entered the market.
Getting to grips with the TW2
The first thing you’ll notice when holding this camera is ergonomics. Or rather lack of. There are some serious similarities with holding this camera and holding a brick. They’ve made a small attempt at moulding in a small grip, but in my opinion, it doesn’t fit well in my hand. The TW2 is not something I’d personally want to walk around with all day. At the same time, it feels solid and well built. The TW2 also has a good weight to it heavy enough to not feel like a flimsy bit of cheap plastic *cough* Holga *cough*. At 310 grams, it might feel heavy for some, but then again, I’m used to a Nikon F4, which makes this feel almost featherlike. However, weight in cameras is a preference, it works for some, for others not.
One area of this camera I’m not particularly keen on is the small rubber buttons on the top of the unit. While the shutter is forgiveable, the auto-flash, timer, and focal length selector all feel deeply indecisive – with minimal travel distance and a squishy feel that means the only way you know if you’ve successfully pushed it is an alert on the LCD, or the lens barrel extending.
This brings us nicely back to the best feature of this camera, the lens. A simple press of the button activates a motor which extends or retracts the lens in a deeply satisfying way. I wont lie, when I first got this running, I probably sat there for a good few minutes wearing out the battery. When switching focal modes, other areas of the camera change too. The flash defuser changes to accommodate, and the view finder also gets a new lens too – so you do get an accurate idea of what is in frame when switching modes. 10/10 would press fun button again.
If you don’t have a fresh battery, it won’t be long until you find yourself slightly annoyed that you’ve ran the unit flat and that this thing can be expensive to run. It takes a CR-P2 6v type battery, which run at about £4-5. Which is a little frustrating when you could probably buy a few TW2’s for the price. But of course, that’s not an issue unique to the TW2. There are a plethora of cheap old point-and-shoots that take weird and expensive batteries.
What’s it like to shoot?
I loaded the camera up with a roll of in-date Kodak Gold 200. Overall, I’d rather have used the film in something that wasn’t rubbish. The viewfinder is tiny. Granted at 1.3cmx1cm it’s bigger than some of the other cameras I’ve played with, such as the Trip 35. But as someone who has to use glasses, there is nothing worse than having squish the camera’s view finder up against your lenses to get a good view of the shot.
The Auto-focus can be somewhat unreliable. For instance, in shooting the back of my car – which was in the centre of the frame – the camera decided to focus on the background. It also seemed to be tricked by running water, which resulted in a number of annoyingly out of focus images. And while the camera has a “Macro” lens, good luck trying to get the damn thing to focus on anything close up.
(*edit April 2021. I have since learned that with this generation of AF, water and other optics such as glass as well known to cause issues with focusing. This is due to the infrared beam struggling with transparent or reflective surfaces. Learned this from a YouTube comment - who says they're all bad eh?)
But credit where credit is due, for landscapes there is nothing particularly wrong with this camera. The one thing I really like is how this camera deals with extreme contrasts in lighting conditions. The camera seems to expose for the brightest sections if the image, which creates quite a nice stylistic choice – provided that’s what you’re after.
My major issue after playing around with a number of cameras and lenses now, is that when something isn’t as sharp as you’d expect, it really shows. Maybe this is fine for people who’re after that 80’s point and shoot feel, but for me, I’d rather take something a bit bigger, a bit sharper, and something without an unpredictable autofocus!
Should you get one?
So overall, what’s my verdict? It’s ok, especially for £2.50 (+battery). And it was worth that to shoot with such and oddly-functioning camera that only could come out of the 80’s. Would I use it on a daily basis? Nah. But then again, I’m not the biggest fan of these types of camera’s AF. But if you’re into the aesthetic, don’t want to spend £100 on playing on similar cameras that have been picked up by the latest hipster fad, I say give it a shot.
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