Film camera for beginners

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by andrea_ruelas, Mar 29, 2010.

  1. I've been searching all around town, from thrift stores to the camera store all the way in downtown, and I can't find any (vintage preferably) film cameras that work or are as cheap as most say they should be (camera store prices $200 and up).

    Before I can even begin to consider purchasing online, I need professional and experienced people to give me some advice.

    What (Exact type and model) film camera should I buy? I'm a beginner so I don't really know if I want a rangefinder or SLR...I'm just hoping that I'll get good suggestions that'll lead to a good (affordable) buy.
  2. SCL


    You need to make some decisions before we can give you honest answers which would be meaningful. Take a look at in their used gear dept. and see what appeals to you. You say you haven't decided whether you want rangefinder or SLR cameras. You haven't said if you want 35mm or medium format cameras (folders), or some intermediate sizes. Do a search for several postings by Gene M, who specializes in taking used cameras of all sorts and running film thru them...perhaps something in one of his posts will catch your eye.
    Not sure where you live, but where I live, within 10 miles are several thrift stores and virtually all of them sell used film cameras, often costing as little as $3-4 in working condition. I've even picked up a Nikon EM with a perfect 50mm lens on it for as little as $8 this way. Most of these cameras are 35mm point & shoot cameras but some are excellent picture takers with good sharp lenses and reasonable zoom ranges, but occasionally a folder shows up. Another venue you might try is garage sales.
    The biggest obstacle is that you haven't narrowed down your focus to what you're really looking for..sort of me saying I'd like a vehicle, but don't know if I'm looking for a bicycle, car, van, truck or Segway. Perhaps some reading on your own would help you come to a better understanding of what you want.
  3. is a reliable source for used equipment. If you look in its 35mm section, it has categories by manufacturer and in many of them there is a "camera outfits" section where you get a lens included. I'm doing a quick drill-down and seeing some good options. Under Canon Manual Focus there's a FTB with 50mm f/1.8 lens for $109, Minolta X570's with 45mm or 50mm lenses for under $110 and some decent prices on Minolta XD and XE kits (XD is newer than XE and both are better than XG). Nikons are more expensive but there are some options under $200. There are some excellent deals on Olympus OM10's with 50mm lenses. A Pentax ME Super with 50mm lens for under $140 is also a good buy.
  4. As Stephen said, it is hard to answer your question but I understand that you want an answer. So I say get a Yashica Electro 35 GSN, or GT. To recognize it, have a look at
    Good luck for treasure hunting
  5. Do some reading like Steve said.. see what floats your boat.. The cool thing with SLR is WYSIWYG so there's something to think about. What I like about Rangefinders is they focus fast..and are comparatively quiet. But really look around ... is it just that you want to use film? Well there used to be more kinds of film than you can shake a stick at... luckily this hasn't changed too much but you'd better know what you want and why... basic 35mm color print film is still everywhere. Have you looked at a Twin-Lens-Reflex (TLR) yet. (check out Gene M) That's one of those with one lens on top you look down into through a mirror, and the other lens on the bottom actually takes the picture. Kind of neat. You get to focus on a ground-glass like an SLR but the picture use a square format (6x6cm) 2 1/4 x 2 1/4 in. Get your feet wt and make an informed purchase, then you'll be likely to try other options rather than getting frustrated or disappointed
  6. I suggest a Canon AE1 SLR. Cheap, plentiful and easy to use. Feel free to contact me should you wish. I'm not into this for the money.
  7. Almost any of the film versions of current digital SLRs are good buys these days, if an SLR is what you want. Canon EOS film cameras, say, in working order may only be US$20-30. More desirable later models are more, but may be better buys. Ditto for Pentax, Nikon, etc. The older FD-series Canons like Gene's AE-1 have the advantage (of sorts) of being out of production and so the lenses are often very great bargains too.
    Some older cameras may take batteries of the now banned mercury type and can be more costly to keep in new, non-mercury batteries.
  8. I concur with Gene. You'd be hard pressed to find more camera for less money than you will with an AE-1, which typically sells for around $40 complete with an FD 50mm prime lens.
    JDM's advice to get an older EOS film body is also worth considering. The main advantage to doing that would be that if you ever wanted to "upgrade" to a later (even digital) body, the EF lenses that you had acquired would be compatible with it.
  9. For under $200 I would go with something like an Elan 7 and a 50 1.8. For more exotic you could get a Contax 167 and a 50 1.7. Keh and Adorama are goods place for used stuff if you are uncertain.
  10. The OP did say "vintage preferably" - so I'd say that if compatibility with DSLRs were a priority... a Pentax. Though at these prices, it's easy enough to recover the initial purchase price by reselling the camera later that I don't think futureproofing necessarily needs to be a priority
    1. Go to
    2. Browse into 35mm -> Pentax Screwmount -> Camera Bodies. Pick up any one of the camera body there. I like Yashica Electro over the Pentax Spotmatic actually because of the brighter viewfinder. Price should run around $60.
    3. Browse into 35mm -> Pentax Screwmount -> Fixed Focal Length Lenses. Get a nice 50mm f1.4 four around $80. The 55mm f1.8 should be around $50, if you want to save another few bucks.
  11. If good and cheap is what you want, look for an SLR from the 1990s. Today these cameras are unloved and therefore cheap. Too new and plasticky to collect, but new enough to still be working fine.

    I wouldn't recommend a classic (one within the scope of this forum) for a beginner unless he or she wanted a classic specifically. If that's the case, then as is stated above, there are lots of good choices. But, these cameras are old and may require a CLA.

    (Nearly everyone agrees that a serious beginner should start with film, rather than digital, but I always find their reasoning unconvincing. One could make a good argument for digital for a beginner, too. In ten more years this "film first" mandate will have run its course.)

  12. A good, basic SLR is a Minolta SR-T, preferably the SR-T 102. It's a mechanical camera (the battery is only needed for the light meter) and it shows the aperture and shutter speed in the viewfinder. It also has mirror-lockup and depth of field preview. In addition to all of that, the lenses for this camera, the Rokkor lenses, are pretty cheap but their performance is outstanding. As Gene said, the AE-1/AE-1 Program is also an excellent camera as well, as is the Pentax ME-Super. These can be bought for relatively low prices. Lastly, the Olympus OM-1 is also a wonderful camera but prices vary and some of the lenses cost a little more than the other brands listed.
  13. Anything will do really. The best way to get a first camera is to get it from a relative ;-) I got my first camera, a Konica I rangefinder from my dad. Anything that takes 35mm film will let you experiment. If you tell us your price range and any particular photographic interest, we can advise you more accurately. KEH has lots of old but decent cameras for bargain prices before the era of autofocus.
  14. I've been searching all around town, from thrift stores to the camera store all the way in downtown, and I can't find any (vintage preferably) film cameras that work or are as cheap as most say they should be (camera store prices $200 and up).
    But thats the fun of looking and you never know what you will end up with: a lot of folks end up with winners some well they have good memories:
  15. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    Depending on your personality, what people recommended to me almost half a century ago, a twin lens reflex, might still be a good way to get started with film. If you want some internal metering, the cheaper Pentaxes, older F Canons, and such, as people have already recommended, are fine. Just do it. Once you have used one camera, you'll figure out where you want to go further. Your first film camera is unlikely to be your last.
  16. Andrea, if you're looking to shop local, you might try craigslist as well. That way you can check the camera yourself. However, if its your first film camera, you might have a more difficult time evaluating its condition, and a craigslist seller is probalby not going to be interested in offering you a warranty.
    There are lots of factors that might direct someone in the direction of rangefinder vs. SLR.
    • For macro/close-up the SLR has an edge because you compose and focus (and perhaps meter) TTL (through the lens), eliminating issues assocated with parallax error
    • For longer telephoto, the SLR has an edge because rangefinder viewfinders are generally not designed to couple & focus longer lenses, few lenses available > 90mm
    • Rangefinder usually a bit more compact with smaller lenses
    • With rangefinder, depending on lens in use, you often see 'around' the scene you're capturing, not just blackness for what's outside the frame. Also, the viewfinder doesn't black out at all (even temporarily) when the image is exposed. Some like this as it helps them capture 'the decisive moment'.
    • Interchangeable lenses. Most SLRs have interchangeable lenses, some rangefinders have a fixed single-focal-length lens, usually in the mild-wide to normal angle-of-view range.
    • TTL metering on SLRs also automatically takes into account changes in exposure with filters
    • Focusing on a rangefinder remains bright even with slower lenses or filters
    • Wide angle lenses can be easier to focus on a rangefinder. Conversely, telephoto lenses are easier to focus on an SLR.
    • Rangefinders tend to be quieter without the extra 'mirror slap'. Some (especially with fixed lenses) even use quiet leaf shutters that will sync flash at any shutter speed.
    • Interchangeable-lens rangefinders tend to be pricier, while most film SLRs are now available relatively cheaply.
    Some questions you might want to consider:
    • Metering--do you want in-body metering, or do you plan to use handheld meter or estimate?
    • If in-body metering, do you want autoexposure and/or manual capability?
    • Does the in-body meter handle the speed of film you intend to use? Older bodies' meters were designed before modern high-speed films were available.
    • Power dependence--what batteries (if any) does the camera take? For example, K-mount Pentax bodies take readily available alkaline or silver-oxide batteries, but lots of older cameras (especially pre-1975) including Pentax screwmount, Konica Autoreflex, etc. were designed for no-longer-available mercury cells so require more expensive, shorter-life zinc-air substitutes, or possibly somewhat pricey adapters.
    • How vintage do you want your camera to be? A Pentax ME Super for example in great working shape doesn't go for too much money, but its meter in the viewfinder uses LEDs, and its manual speeds involve pushing buttons. You might have something a little more classic in mind?
  17. (For what it's worth, I think Pentax Spotmatics might actually be able to use some modern batteries, but many cannot).
  18. mizore

    mizore A Gringa in Nicaragua

    Spotmatics and the Pentax spotmeters apparently had circuits built in to regulate voltage rather than relying strictly on the battery, so yes. I had an earlier Asashi Pentax as my first camera. I think first cameras should be something that you can get quickly, and as I said before, they're rarely the only camera anyone ever owns. Until someone begins photographing, what the best equipment for that person will be is Mu.
  19. My recommendation is to buy a SLR as your first film camera and you should look at a Pentax Spotmatic. The bodies and M42 mount lenses are readily available. Both the original Spotmatic and the later Spotmatic F will use silver oxide batteries. I use Energizer 357 silver oxide batteries in the Spotmatic F with a small O-ring to keep the battery centered in the compartment but use brown zinc-air hearing aid batteries in my original Spotmatic, again with a small hardware store O-ring.
    You should look for a camera that has a functional light meter, should not cost you more than $20-30 on Ebay,maybe $50 to $60 with the f2 55mm Takumar. I would recommend sending the camera to Eric Hendricksen for a CLA (clean lube, adjust). He is currently offering these at about $66 including return postage. I just had him do several cameras for me, great service.
    For your first lens, you should look for a Takumar 55mm f1.8 or f2. These are much more reasonable than the f1.4 lenses.
  20. you can probably find a friend with a perfectly good SLR that's been gathering dust on a shelf since they picked up that new DSLR or digital P&S ten years ago. i have a mint condition canon AT-1 with a 50mm and 35mm i got that way; and a few others as well.
    and check out estate sales, too.

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