It’s interesting that most of the point and shoot film cameras that I’ve reviewed, so far, have been prime lens film compact cameras. From what I understand about photography in general, prime lenses tend to be much easier to manufacture to a higher quality than zoom lenses.
Obviously, there are less moving parts and so it would be easier for manufacturers to achieve a certain level of quality with prime camera lenses, than it would with zoom lenses. It is also much easier to make prime lenses with a faster aperture, than it is for zoom lenses.
Then there is the issue of portability, or weight. Point and shoot film cameras were intended to be small and portable. Hence the term compact camera. Who would want to use a portable camera which was being weighed down with a large unwieldy lens? This would especially be the case with the older manual focus all-in-one cameras, such as the Canonet QL17 GIII or the QL19. I would also imagine that even some of the older autofocus cameras, like the Yashica Auto Focus, would have been very complex to manufacture, if zoom lenses had been in the specification (and possibly why switchable-lens-length oddities, such as the Ricoh TF-200, were produced).
Later on, when it became easier and cheaper to manufacture plastic point and shoot cameras, in much more compact sizes, there began to be far more zoom lens point and shoot film cameras produced. These generally had automatically retractable lenses and were often smaller than many of the earlier prime lens cameras.
Which is best? Prime lens or zoom, point and shoot film cameras?
Obviously, this is a personal choice. One reason that I tend to prefer prime lens compact cameras, is that I believe that there was a period when certain camera manufacturers produced some very high quality point & shoot film cameras. A sweet spot, perhaps. I’m guessing somewhere in the mid-to-late 1990s, when technology had advanced to the level where it was possible to produce very compact zoom cameras – although, in my experience, not always to a very high standard. But this also meant that it was even easier (and cheaper) to produce prime lens point and shoot film cameras to a very high quality, whilst maintaining the small form factor.
Obviously the popularity and usefulness of portable zoom cameras amongst consumers, has meant that these have remained the most popular. Modern day digital point and shoot cameras are almost exclusively zoom – often to a very high standard.
But my preference is still for prime point and shoot film cameras. I like the discipline that using a prime lens brings and I also find that the quality is better, even on very cheap cameras, like the Ricoh FF7/FF9.
I also worry that, especially with some of the more complex point and shoot zoom film cameras, that the more ‘moving parts’ and features there are, the easier it is for something to become faulty.
But, as ever this is just personal experience and everyone will have their own opinion and preferences as to which is the best point and shoot film cameras.