The Fujifilm Klasse is an unsurprisingly popular camera within the cliquey Instagram film community. Propped next to a latte with the fade slider slid and splashed with hashtags, Insta posts featuring the Klasse get plenty of likes. Made with a metal-shelled body, user-selectable aperture, and superficially sharing the aesthetic of the unbearably trendy Contax T2, it’s a camera that gets people excited. But in the same way that Instagram convinces us that air travel is fun and that everyone is rich, the reality of the Klasse isn’t exactly as it seems.
As a point-and-shoot camera it’s outclassed by plenty of other machines (many of which cost one-fifth the price). In terms of build quality, it leaves something to be desired. And in simple functionality, it tends to annoy. All of these grumbles noted, the Fuji Klasse is a very good film camera – but it’s not quite good enough to warrant recommending it over some other similar cameras.
What is the Fujifilm Klasse
Released in 2001, the Fujifilm Klasse is the first in a series of “premium compacts” released by Fujifilm throughout the 2000s. Its key features include a compact metal body, a fast prime lens (38mm with an F/2.6 maximum aperture), auto-exposure in Program mode and aperture-priority mode, and auto-focus. There’s also the typical accoutrements included in most point-and-shoots of its era – DX coding, automatic flash with flash control modes, self-timer, etcetera.
It is, essentially, a point-and-shoot of the late 1990s or 2000s. Users who’ve shot any of this type of camera will feel immediately at home with the Klasse. It’s a machine that was built with point-and-shooters in mind, people who aren’t comfortable with an SLR or other more complicated camera types, though Fuji also attempted to include enough control for those of us who embrace photography with two hands.
The camera was also distributed via Rollei as the Rollei AFM35. It is functionally identical to the Fujifilm Klasse, with only minor cosmetic differences, almost all of which are branded paintwork and a different box. These cameras sell for approximately the same price as their Fujifilm counterparts, so buying one versus the other is a lateral decision.
My Fuji Klasse came to me in its original packaging (you can find yours on eBay using our affiliate link here). The sturdy presentation box that contains the camera makes a good first impression. Is this grey suede? Is this leather? On closer inspection, it appears to be some sort of soft-touch texturized paper wrapping a hard shell. Okay, that’s not quite premium, but it feels and looks okay.
Cracking the hinge, I expect to see a form-shaped bed of satin delicately cradling the premium point-and-shoot within, canting it slightly toward us as if in offering. That’s how it was with my Nikon SP 2005 and some of the Contaxes I’ve owned. But here we’ve got a camera floating in a box with a thin layer of packing foam. That ain’t fancy at all. But honestly, who cares about packaging? Let’s get to the machine.
Initial excitement and anticipation turn fairly quickly to, if not disappointment, then at least confusion. The camera I bought was never used; it is now as it was when it left the factory. And yet the top plate doesn’t accurately align with the central section of the body, and the curved end simply doesn’t fit with the curve of the bottom plate. Bevels and angles that carry from one section to the other don’t continue in an unbroken line. Screw heads aren’t sunk into recesses. When I press on the battery cover, it flexes loosely. Tapping various places on the metallic body results in an unsatisfying, hollow click. Opening the metal film door reveals almost entirely plastic innards. I paid five hundred dollars for a camera that feels like a sixty dollar Canon Sure Shot (one of the later made-of-metal models). This isn’t looking good.
But all is not lost. The camera sits in the hand with confidence-inspiring weight, and its handgrip is nicely applied and provides ample traction. The switches for aperture control and focus distance click into their detents with precision, and selecting P on the combination on/off/aperture dial brings the camera to life with a finely mechanical whirring that’s snappy and quick.
After five minutes of admittedly too-close scrutiny, I’m not convinced the Klasse is worth what I paid. There’s nothing here, at least on the outside, that justifies this camera costing any more than any other consumer-grade point-and-shoot of the mid-to-late 1990s or early 2000s. I could buy a Canon Sure Shot 115u or Classic 120 or a Nikon One Touch and get the same quality body, the same plastic innards, the same whirring motors.
The entire elevation of the approximately five-hundred-dollar Fuji Klasse over these other cameras, cameras that cost between sixty and one hundred dollars today, therefore depends on the things that we can’t see or feel or hear. The value of the Klasse depends on whether or not it is exceptional to use and to shoot, on the Fujinon 38mm F/2.6 lens, and whether or not it makes images that are superb.
Shooting the Fujifilm Klasse
The Klasse feels good in the hands. It’s large enough to be usable but small enough to be pocketable (if we don’t worry about unseemly bulges). All of the dials and controls are positioned well enough to be easily accessed and easily understood. The aperture control clicks from Program to user-selected aperture values in affirmative stops, and it’s placed in a way that makes it easy to adjust aperture without much trouble (though we’ll have to have memorized our aperture stop values, since the camera doesn’t show the selected aperture in the viewfinder).
The camera works predictably, simply, and with little objection if we don’t expect much in the way of control or information. In these ways, it’s a perfectly capable point-and-shoot camera that does its job. But in other ways, the Klasse is a real pain.
To start, and this will be a strike for plenty of readers who’ve lived and died by the point-and-shoot in a street photography setting, the Klasse is among those notorious ranks of point-and-shoot cameras which fail to recall their settings after powering off. Most commonly this complaint rears itself when we discuss flash, and it’s no different with the Klasse. To turn off the flash the shooter must press the flash mode button twice. And every time we turn off the camera and turn it back on we’ll need to repeat the process. The flash does not stay off after a power cycle as it does on other, better point-and-shoots. A small point, but an important one for those who shoot with available light (something the Fuji Klasse seems to encourage via its fast F/2.6 lens).
The next annoyance is the lack of real exposure compensation. While the Klasse does have a limited exposure compensation mode (by pressing the flash mode button four times we reach the +2 Backlight mode), it’s a bit obtuse compared with other cameras’ dedicated exposure compensation dials. Even the next two versions of the Klasse, the Klasse S and Klasse W, replace the manual focus dial with a dedicated exposure compensation dial. My favorite point-and-shoots are the ones that allow me to quickly and easily compensate exposure in aperture-priority mode. In fact, all of my favorite cameras regardless of type tend to offer this feature. What can I say? I love shooting into sunlight and I’m experienced enough to know when a camera’s AE system just isn’t going to give me the results that I want.
The camera’s much-touted manual focus mode is terrible. The dial has a big central locking mechanism, which is annoying, and the dial itself is too small to be comfortably rotated. In addition to these less than ideal controls, the manual focus mode really offers no advantage in speed over using auto-focus. This is because even when the focus distance is set manually the camera still sets the lens at the point of shutter release. Press the shutter release in manual focus mode and the lens still whirrs into place as it would with auto-focus. Not good.
The last big problem for me is the viewfinder. It completely lacks the kind of information one might describe as “actually useful.” There’s a big green LED and a big red LED, and these either flash or steadily light to inform the user of focus (achieved or not) and exposure (too low or requiring a flash). That’s just not enough information in a camera that’s supposed to be premium. Other machines in its class show the selected shutter speed, or aperture, or both, or focus distance and other useful information. I need that in a camera that costs as much as this one does.
After shooting the Fujifilm Klasse intermittently for a month and then spending a full weekend using it exclusively, I was entirely convinced that the camera’s reputation and high price point are products of its stylish looks and influencer endorsements rather than its inherent merits or usability. It’s not the fastest premium point-and-shoot I’ve ever used, nor the best built, nor the one with the most features or one that offers the most control (or even acceptable levels of control). It felt at that time, to me, more like an Olympus Mju II than a Contax T or a Leica Minilux. It felt, in short, like a shrug-worthy, decent point-and-shoot. The following week, I packed my film into a bubble mailer and shipped it off to Richard Photo Lab for processing. A few days later, my scans arrived via email. And this is when my opinion shifted.
It’s hard to imagine a camera that could have made better images with such little effort. There are other cameras that could have done just as well, sure, but the EBC Fujinon lens that’s packed into the Klasse does indeed stand toe-to-toe with the best lenses in the business. The takeaway here is that by virtue of its image quality alone, the Klasse has blown my mind and made me completely reevaluate my opinion that it doesn’t belong in the same conversations with other premium point-and-shoots.
Shots are sharp from edge to edge at all apertures. Shooting wide open results in really organic and effective subject isolation, which when combined with the camera’s relatively close minimum focusing distance of 0.4 meters (15 inches) makes the Klasse a surprisingly capable choice for effortless portraits. The flash is perfectly balanced in all light. The auto-exposure system created predictable results across hundreds of frames. The AF failed exactly twice, and who’s to say I didn’t half-press the shutter release a second early or late?
It lacks certain controls that other premium point-and-shoots offer, but with an electronic brain as good as the one in this machine, there’s really no need for them. This camera is a point-and-shoot that actually can successfully point and shoot and still make amazing photos in any condition.
[Shots in the sample gallery were made on Martha’s Vineyard with Kodak Portra 160 and expired Kodak Portra NC]
Buyer’s Guide and Final Thoughts
We ended on a high note, but I can’t say my opinion of the Klasse has. The Klasse does indeed suffer all the flaws that I touched upon in the earlier spaces of this review, and it does indeed effortlessly create the exceptional images that I gushed about in the latter paragraphs. But for me, the positive doesn’t overbalance the negative. And this is true for one very specific reason; the very existence of the Klasse S, and for those who want wide-angle, the Klasse W (which is a 28mm lens equipped version of the Klasse S).
The Klasse S is the successor model to the original Klasse, and naturally it’s an improved camera. What’s stunning, however, is just how much improved it is. The Klasse S takes the best aspects of the original Klasse, which are essentially the lens, AE and AF systems, and the stylish metal body, and adds much more capability, improved controls, better ergonomics, and numerous quality of life improvements.
We’ll save the details for our full Klasse S review, but chief among the improvements found in the Klasse S is an increased maximum shutter speed of 1/500th of a second at F/2.8 (compared with the Klasse’s sluggish 1/290th of a second at F/2.6), an informative viewfinder that displays shutter speed and other information, an exposure compensation dial in place of the Klasse’s manual focus dial (manual focus with the Klasse S is handled via a menu system), inclusion of Fuji’s famed NP mode (which we discussed in our Natura Black F1.9 review), flash mode setting memory (a key function for candid shooters), and the ability to manually set ISO.
These changes may seem minor on the surface, but they are critically important in a point-and-shoot camera, and the fact that the original Klasse fails to have them is nearly reason enough to never buy one. In fact, the only reason someone should buy a Klasse instead of a Klasse S or Klasse W is if he or she can’t find room in their budget for the newer models. And that fiscal truth will be true for many of us. All of the three cameras are expensive, but the newer Klasses are exceptionally expensive – the original Klasse retails today for around $500 compared to the Klasse S at approximately $1,400 and the Klasse W at approximately $1,000. That’s a big difference in price.
All these caveats aren’t to say the Fujifilm Klasse isn’t worth owning. I’ll repeat that it’s a very good camera that takes very excellent photos with virtually no effort demanded of the photographer. The shots I made with it this past month are some of my favorite to ever come out of a point-and-shoot, in fact. But every time I really consider it, every time I hold the Klasse, I can’t help but wish it was a Klasse S.