Classic SLR suggestions

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by r s, Nov 21, 2006.

  1. r s

    r s

    I have slowly been lured over to the 'dark side' - which in my case means SLR
    cameras instead of rangefinders - and am considering adding an SLR in the next
    month or so.
    So far I'm drawn towards the Alpa cameras. <br>Good lenses and really well made
    bodies are the most important criteria. It should also be able to work fully at
    all shutter speeds without the use of batteries. I prefer manual focus.
    Would appreciate any suggestion for good 'classic' SLR's as I'm sure there a
    number of them I haven't even thought of.
    If it helps, my favorite rangefinder cameras are Leica M3, Leica III (F) and
    Contax IIIa. My one SLR is my Hasselblad 500C/M.
  2. i thought for several minutes before answering.
    I am far from a expert.

    but likely you would be best serverd by one of the big three canon, nikon, or pentax,

    olympus and konica and minolta all made cameras of good quality.
    buy buying a lens or accessory may be more difficult.

    the alpa is/was a excellent camera, but lenses and accessories?( forget it)
    look on the big 'bay. log in check on closed auctions and get an eduacation.

    many of the older cameras use a meter JUST for metering
    remember a zinc-air hearing aid cell can be used to replace
    the banned mercury call. You REALLY need to have a meter.
    You REALLY don't want auto focus or a full auto camera.
    I realize you want to avoid the need for a " battery or else"
    -- dead camera. many of the older cameras will work fine using the sunny 16 rule. and the battery and meter are a " built-in accessory"
    that you can use or ignore as you desire.

    the folks here will add their preferences and experience.
    - trust them..
    I have my own likes and dislikes and MY favorite camera is not lited above.
  3. r s

    r s

    Walter, thanks for your reply. I know Alpas and the lenses are on the expensive side. My upper budget is about 6-700 dollars for a body and a lens so you're right that the Alpa may be out of my reach - especially since I prefer the 10 and 11 bodies.
  4. If you have unlimited money, for purchase and maintenance, Alpa could be fun. For mere mortals, something like a Nikon F2 with a few nice non-AI lenses would serve you really well, and would be not too expensive to get CLA'd, which IMO is essential if you actually plan to use any of the old timers. If you have the cash and really hate meters, you could spring for a non-metered prism.
  5. I too would recommend the Nikon F2.
  6. While it may not be classified as a classic camera in being launched before 1970, Contax S2
    or S2B may be an option. Both manual, but with a light meter, and some excellent Zeiss
    lenses to fit. I also think there is a Yashica all manual camera SLR in the same mount, which
    should be very cheap.
  7. There's only one SLR to share the bag with your M3: a Nikon F...
  8. Why not stay with the brands you already have and like? I'd suggest a Leicafelx SL or, if you can find one, a Contarex Super. Both meet all your requirements, and as both have TTL metering they are quite usable. A Contarex is difficult to service, but those that have survived will propably survive more amateur use for a long time. I'd keep my hands off a Bullseye as a shooter unless you don't mind using a handheld meter because the selenium cell is not reliable even if it still works. Alpas have a reputation for shutter tapering and are also difficult to service, and a C'rex is much better value for less money - think of all those wonderful lenses! Doug Herr features the Leicaflex SL somewhere on PN so I don't have to describe it.
  9. H. P.

    That capuccino looks grate
  10. Take a look at an OM-1 or 1n. Compact, lightweight and reliable. Yeah, I am biased, my favorite SLR, but if your used to a RF form factor the OM body is about the same size with just a little prism hump and the usual SLR mirror box. Also has interchangable viewscreens, that can turn out to be very important if, like me, you can not abide a microprism and/or split wedge smack-dab in the middle of your field of view. Zuiko lenses are still common, and not too expensive. My standard setup is a 24 2.8, 35 2.8, 85 2, and 135 3.5, all w/lens pouchs will fit in a small kit bag.
    regards, John R.
  11. I agree that the Alpa would be a wonderful addition to the M, and the 11 series just exudes that special aura.

    That said, the Alpas are less practical than the Leicaflex or the Nikon F, or the Canon F
  12. Contarex has great snob appeal!
  13. gib


    Rich, it is all about the glass....

    SLR any of the M42 Pentax Spotmatic models, there are about6 or 7

    then invest in some M42 Pentax Super Takumar or SMC lenses

    for me, although slow, the 28mm and 35mm f3.5 lenses are a revelation of outstanding quality

    I like very much the 50mm f1.4, 105mm f2.8, and the 135 f 3.5, I have the 200 mm f4 but havent used it a lot.

    Pentax M42 - millions of them out there
  14. Due to the orphaned lens mount, the whole Canon line of manual focus SLRs and lenses are a steal. You can even use M42 lenses with the common Adapter P, and the oodles of cool Exacta and Topcon lenses with the uncommon Adapter E. There's also all the interchangeable mount lenses with Canon mounts (T-mount, T4, TX, Y-S, Unidapter, Uni-Auto, Adaptamatic, Adaptall, etc.).

    Of course, if there's any possibility that you want to migrate to digital with the same lenses, Pentax is the way to go. Now that you can pronounce Pentax DSLR model names, sales seem to be taking off.

    Well, theoretically Nikon, too, but Pentax DSLR's have viewfinders more suitable for manual focus. But you'll go nuts using Nikon and Leica, since all the knobs turn in opposite directions!
  15. Go with a camera that made history, that all pros used, that killed the German camera industry--- NIKON F...........
  16. James, don't you mean the Pentax Spotmatic? The "Nikon F as the professionals' choice" phenomenon was limited to the US.


  17. Its a pity thet you specified np battery, as an Olympus OM is my fave camera - but a few solutions that do meet your criteria: If you want solid and last for ever - Nikon F2 - a Nikon F but better, or if you want a sewing machine like smoothness what about a Pentax Spotmatic - both fine cameras, but with totally different 'feels'

    The 'wildcard' suggestion must be an older Leicaflex - but lens costs can soon mount up, and make certain you can get the batteries for a very early one.

  18. I've been very happy with this pair.

    Shame they're not classics, per the forum definition.

    <img src="">
  19. Pentax Spotmatic. The Super-Takumar glass is hard to beat, even today.
  20. Hi don't own either, but the Contarex and its lenses are gorgeous. And I've read that shooting with the Apla is "an acquired taste." Have you had a hands-on experience with one yet?


  21. The Pentax Spotmatic does everything right and the meter is still accurate with the batteries available today. It is way under your budget, too. The Nikon F is a beautiful camera, to be sure, but it is so heavy it almost never leaves the house.
  22. Add another vote for the mighty F. Of course that's my answer to must about any "what should I use" question. I just love them. A workhorse classic. If you're a purist and want something really rare and precious, you can get a pristine black one with a plain prism and put it on a shelf, and if you just want to go out and take pictures you can get a nice brassy FTn and just go out and take pictures with it, or anything in between.

    Not that I would spurn an F2 either. It just happens that none have come my way cheaply enough, and the F's refuse to wear out. If you're starting from scratch and have the choice, the F2 has some slight advantages in actual features which would make it a good choice for daily use, such as a better mirror lock and a less exotic taste in batteries.
  23. r s

    r s

    Mike Kovacs wrote:
    Contarex has great snob appeal!

    Mike, I hope you know that I USE the cameras I own.
  24. r s

    r s

    Thanks for all the idea-triggers.
    I hadn't even thought about the Leicaflex SL for instance.
    Between the Nikon (F) and Canon (F-1) I personally much prefer the Canon when it comes to appearance (I'm a hobbyist so I can 'allow' myself to let 'looks' be part of the decision as well).
    I do like the OM's - and an OM1 or OM3 will work without batteries if needed.
    Thanks again - I got some ebay browsing to do..
  25. Enjoy your browsing Rich. You know do not discount that suggestion about the earlier Contax. The MM/AE Contax Zeiss glass is amazing and going for a very nice prices for the most part.
  26. Rich, if you're going for an F-1, you should take a look at this thread:
    F-1, F-1 (later model), or F-1n?
    In particular, read Phil Aynsley's response near the end.
  27. Try a Nikon F or F2 and the superb zoom 35-70 -72 mm diam. and you`ll go every were
  28. Mike, I hope you know that I USE the cameras I own.
    And your point is? I see Alpa, Leica x 2, Contax, Hasselblad in your post.
    Clearly you want a top quality European camera and there's nothing wrong with that if you have the means. You won't find an SLR with higher build quality than a Contarex and its within your budget. Henry Scherer works on these if you desire to get one restored.
  29. r s

    r s

    Sorry Mike, I guess your comment about 'snob appeal' to me implied that I wanted a camera just to pose with.
    <br>I like using cameras that were well built and I'll look into the Contarex (a line of cameras I know very little about). Thanks.
  30. Hi!

    Why don't you try to find a used Leica R-Model in mint condition?
    They are not too expensive...

  31. Rich, before you go looking for a Contarex, you should know that those cameras were problematic and ended up a disaster for Zeiss Ikon. You can read about them on Henry Scherer's website: (link)
  32. HS is a good marketer of his services. All doom and gloom eh?
  33. I have done a lot of picture taking and camera collecting in the last 35 years. I consider myself a user-collector with the emphasis on user. There is a difference between owning a camera because it is attractive to look at or is of historic interest or has an odd feature or two and having a camera which can be made to work properly and which is reliable. The fact that a particular camera or lens is heavy does not necessarily mean that it is well made. It just means it is heavy. To my way of thinking there are several cameras which are somewhat classic yet are easy to use and can still be serviced. These would include the Nikon F and F2, the Canon F-1 and F-1n, the Nikkormat FTN, FT2 and FT3, the Canon FTb, The Minolta SRT-101, Pentax Spotmatic F and a few others. I own two Canon F-1 bodies. You can find these for less than $100. It will cost you about $150 to have an overhaul done by a competent repair facility like Essex Camera Service. This will give you a very solid system SLR with a reasonably sensitive light meter. It will also allow you to access a wide range of excellent Canon lenses. Although I have sixteen Nikkormats of various types I don't yet have any Nikon F bodies. I have handled the original F with several different finders but I prefer the layout of the Canon F-1. An Alpa SLR might be quite heavy but I don't believe it would be more reliable in use than an overhauled Nikon F, Nikon F2 or Canon F-1. What about the lenses? I have seen test reports from the 1970s of the Kern macro Switar lenses. For what they cost you can get, for example, a 50/1.8 AI Nikkor and a 55/2.8 Micro Nikkor and have a lot of money left over. Will the Macro Switar be sharper than these two lenses? I don't think so. For a few hundred dollars you can get a reliable overhauled semi-classic SLR with several very nice lenses. The Alpa SLRs are quirky, very expensive and not very friendly to use.
  34. Do you want a camera to look at and handle or one to use. If the former, get an Alpa and look at it; if the latter, get a Nikon F2 or F3 and some Nikkor lenses (I like the 85mm and 105mm). Nikon offered every accessory you could want or dream of. You can even find obscure things like eyesight adjustment diopters on Ebay.
  35. r s

    r s

    Do you want a camera to look at and handle or one to use. If the former, get an Alpa and look at it; if the latter, get a Nikon F2 or F3 and some Nikkor lenses (I like the 85mm and 105mm).

    As a hobbyist/amateur I can afford to consider both 'looks' and 'use' to be important factors in my decision making.

    Thanks to everyone who provided suggestions. I am finding that I really like the Canon F-1 the more I read about it. I also got a chance to handle one about a month ago at a camera fair and liked how it felt.
  36. gib


    Rich, Rich, Rich, do try handling the simple, elegant Spotmatics.

    I have a Nikon F2 and other F models (FM, FM2). Never did get into Canon.

    I don't know how much flash photography you do, but the Nikon F2 is a little complicated to use with a flash, see the Malaysia Nikon encyclopeida site for the details.

    The FM2 or FM2n handle flash well. Faster synch speed.

    If you go Spotmatic some models need an accessory flash shoe that clips onto the pentaprism roof. I have two.

    There are lots of days when I regret being seduced over the years into buying into the advertising siren songs about newere and better. I would have been well served to stick with a Pentax Spotmatic and a few lenses. Oh, well.
  37. gib


    Mir site page on the Canon F1

    you can back up to the Nikon pages from there as well
  38. r s

    r s

    Thanks, for some reason I never 'got into' Nikon and was a dedicated Canon SLR user for about five years before I ended up getting into rangefinder cameras and got out of touch with SLRs.
    Canon or Nikon preference seems to have similarities with how PC and Mac users 'defend' their system of choice. I think in many cases it's just what you started out with/grew up with.
    Thanks for the link to the mir-site, I know about it from before and it has an incredible wealth of information on a number of cameras and lenses.
  39. gib


    one last thing that might help

    Baldur Birgis (Iceland) is a pn member who shoots F1n almost exclusively

    see his work at

    you might drop him an email line - he might shed light on any warts the camera has
  40. Any of these would do as a nice classic slr for serious work. Show me a modern 35mm camera that can seriously outperform these! If there is any truth in what HS writes about C'rexes I can't confirm it from my own experience - both my C'rexes are great shooters, the shutter is reliable and precise enough for me; only the Bullseye's meter is somewhat unreliable, so I'm using the camera with an external meter.
  41. Several people mentioned the Pentax Spotmatics but no one mentioned the K mount Pentax. There are two models that may fix your needs; the Pentax MX is an excellent all manual camera, very small, very well built, elegant, feels great in the hand. The KX is larger, also all manual, with the added bonus of mirror lockup.

    K mount lenses are not as old as screw mount lenses and therefore are less likely to have fungus. (I have lots of experience with both.)

    Besides Pentax, I second the opinion for the Leicaflex SL too.

  42. Topcon Super D, RE-Super, or DM. Interchangable finders/screens and backs, fabulous lenses from 20 to 500 mm, motor capability if you want it, excellent metering system (in the body, not the finder, unlike Nikon F). Tank-like ruggedness, aesthetically cool, and smooth-as-silk operation. AND, not everybody has one. I've used Nikon, Canon, and Topcon, and I'll take my 2 Super Ds any day. Just my minority opinion. They turn up on Ebay quite frequently. Google Topcon Super D, and choose the first selection. Its a very informative website that will tell you all you need to know.
  43. Peter - that's some heavy metal you have there ;)
  44. Another vote for the Contarex. I got one almost by chance, just out of brand loyalty. But now I can really say that it is the best 35mm I have ever handled. The precieved quality is extreme, out there with F Rolleiflexes. And, incredible as it sounds, it is one of the more user-friendly cams for me. I have but one lens, the 55/1.4 Planar, but it will blow the socks off any other lens I own for 135 format.
    Only rant: it weigths a ton.
  45. How about an OM? They are smaller than most any other 35mm SLR (about the size on an
    M3), built like a ton of bricks, and have superb lenses.
  46. You have some very nice cameras. I have been using "classic" slrs since they not considered classic but new. The Nikon F/Nikkormat line are currently inexpensive and easily available in many choices for experimentation. The Pentax Spotmatic with the super Takumar lenses will also give to you that classic camera experience comparable to your current repertoire. However, since the Spotmatics were not as good a seller as the Nikon line they are not as readily available nor is there the large choice of lenses that the Nikon line has to offer. Also, the Takumar lenses are rarer and their prices are approaching those of Nikon. Also, keep in mind that the early Nikon lenses will not match the later AIs for the F3, which in of itself is becoming a classic. Now to really throw a curve ball at you...How about an old TLR...Rolliflex without a meter...make you feel right at home with your lovely Leica IIIf and Hasselblad 500C/M. (I love these old cameras. They are a challenge to use and even harder to get a good picture.)
  47. r s

    r s

    I happened upon a Pentax Spotmatic today in good condition with a matching motordrive, grip and 50/1.4 lens - for $500
    I'm still contemplating maybe getting it as it was a great looking camera and 'felt good'. Need to read up on the lenses though.
  48. I would estimate that a Pentax Spotmatic with f1.4 lens would cost on the order of $75 to $150 in today's market. There are a lot of good choices in the classic SLR field. Be sure to consider Minolta SRT's and XD'x and XE's. All in all, I think I would go with a Canon T90 and the FD lenses.
  49. r s

    r s

    Thanks, do you know if the matching motordrive for the Pentax spotmatic is rare - and hence the higher price?
  50. The Spotmatic has that stop-down metering, doesn't it? I know you can shoot at full aperture, but darkening the viewfinder to take a meter reading, especially to f16, would drive me nuts; I tried it several times with a friend's Spotmatic, and never could get the hang of it. Or was I doing something wrong?
  51. Rich, I have a Leica M6, and it is my daily user camera. I also have a Nikon F and used it for over 20 years. Although the following is not a classic yet, and although it is not built like a Nikon F, the FM3a must be mentioned because of how well it bridges the gap between modern technology and also a classic approach to photography in a camera that can still (with some searching) be bought new. It has aperture priority, 1/250 sync and TTL flash when you want it, but it has a hybrid shutter such that it will operate at all shutter speeds with dead batteries. It will not take the pre-AI lenses from before 1979, but it has the look of a plain prism F, but with the built in meter when you want. It is extremely handy and versatile, and tough, but I admit, it is no F, for better and worse.
  52. I had heard of Alpa before, but I didn't know they made a 35mm slr, and after just reading up on the Alpa 11si, if that is the kind of body quality you are after, I regret mentioning the FM3a, as much as I like it for certain things. Good hunting.
  53. The Spotmatic F does not require stop down metering with appropriate lenses.
  54. r s

    r s

    Thanks for the continued suggestions.<br>
    The ones I'm looking into the most right now are;
    * Pentax spotmatic with motor (,<br>
    * Canon F-1N with motor,<br>
    * Leicaflex SL II (or Leica R3), and<br>
    * Nikon F2
    Thanks for the suggestions - it gave me ideas of cameras I wouldn't had thought of. Now it comes down to getting to try some of them out and then fitting it into a 500-ish dollar budget.
  55. I'd suggest the Leicaflex SL and SL2 for their exceptional sensory feedback and viewfinder,
    the reliability and nearly-indestructible construction, readily available service from Leica
    and from independant repair technicians, and because you can use nearly all Leica-R
    lenses made from 1965 to many of the current lenses when retrofitted with the Leicaflex
    metering cams. If you like how the M3 feels in your hands the SL will feel very
  56. I don't believe that Dennis had to remind me about the amazing Topcon SLRs! After years of shooting with a Canon AE-1, an FT-QL, an Olympus OM-1, and a Nikon FE, I found a Topcon Super D at a yard sale, and took its 50/1.8 standard lens out for a spin.

    I was shocked to see that its images seemed to be noticeably better than those from the others. After that, I also started to notice Topcon Super D's stacked in the equipment pillars attached to exam chairs in eye doctors' offices. So I guess that if they are goood enough for scientific work, they are indeed worthy classics!


  57. Hi Rich, I'm a reader of your blog and a fan of your pictures. I know that you like Olympus rangefinders, so I'm sure you've researched about Oly SLR's also.

    To me there's no other SLR that redefines the word "classic" than the Pen F cameras. It "looks" classic and it takes "classic" half-frame pictures whose qualities I found stunning.

    I have 4 Pen-FT bodies and 3 different lenses (I may be a bit of a fan :) Feel free to check out my Pen-FT Set on Flickr-sphere:

    Now if you want to appease your "hunt for the rare" appetite, Olympus FTL or a pristine OM-3T would be more up your alley.

    And of course, you are a Leica user, so I second/third the OM-1 recommendations (no batteries needed for selenium-implanted photogs out there).

    Happy hunting!
  58. Alpa's are really cool (especially if you are left handed), but the repair stuff is tough. Contarex the same way. I love mine, but it is a brick (but what lenses!). I've gone the Leica SLR route and it gets a tremendous workout and I'm very pleased with the camera and lenses. The other great suggestions have been the "obsolete" Canon and Olympus systems. If I were starting a new "vintage" SLR system, that is where I'd spend the money. Great optics and great values. have fun.
  59. I have a couple of suggestions too. I shoot Leica muself and love Rolleiflex, so we
    might have similar tastes. After years I started investigating SLRs too. In my opinion
    they are very different in handling, appeal and usage, but will yield quite similar
    results. I never had an Alpa in my hands and although I read good things, there are
    some details that leave me perplexed and anyway, way out of budget. When I went
    into SLR I did it also for expermenting with some equipment that is not easy or even
    impossible to have on a rangefinder. Thus I left leixaflex / leica R out of the game
    too, even if they are not that expensive.

    Bear in mind that you have your leica and contax and will continue having them, sinc
    eyou don't seek a replacement, you can look for something which expands your
    horizon and not a a something which provides you wool, milk and eggs.

    A nice thing, and pretty a bargain, are Canons. I love the original canon FT, the father
    of the F1 and updated FTb. A professional camera, sturdy with craftmanship up to
    german standards, really. Although many choices differ in design and optimizations.
    Mine has a noisy shutter, but it is SLR anyway. Mirror lock-up. Nice feeling. Wonderful
    lenses, witha touch of leica feeling sometimes. FL lenses were great and you can
    mount FD without trouble, but FL have that "old feel". 50mm 1.4 and 1.8 are both
    excellent lenses, different in taste (think a bit about summilux vs. summicron). The
    135/3.5 is a splendid sonnar type.

    Then I'll get into more exotic choices, that nobody mentioned.

    Exaktas. They are wonderful. You often find some with troubles unfortunatley, so
    better get them from a store, not 'bay. Test the shutter, some are old and have
    wrinkled, other were badly serviced. It has a unique feeling, but it fits well, doesn't
    vibrate. Tons of lenses available. Extreme flexibility, macrophotography to
    architecture, portrait and microphotography. The waist level finder is a good school.
    Unique sound of a mechanical shutter with up to 12 seconds.
    They aren't really fast shooters, not in today's sense at least. Back then, Gianni
    Berengo Gardin started doing street with one of those. I would advise a postware
    model, but with the classic body shape (not the 1000, but it is taste). The VX has
    almost the original exakta look and the Varex. The Varex IIb is a very beautiful and
    unique camera (same actual features of the VX), unfortunately mine broke. These are
    the european names, I'm not so well informed about some renamings that happened
    in the US.

    THen another choice which many left out: Miranda. Early models look sexy, the
    Sensorex series has everything you need, very good lenses, solid body, nice finish
    and a shutter that is reminescent of germany. Reasonably fast to use too, battery for
    meter only. The Automex has an non-ttl selenium meter but coupled the same way,
    lenses are compatible, no battery at all. And they both quality as pre-1970.

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