Suggestions for a beginner

Discussion in 'Classic Manual Cameras' started by alex_passapera, May 30, 2007.

  1. Hey guys, I am new to photography and Im looking for a good sturdy old camera
    to learn off of. I dont want to spend crazy amounts of money so top of the line
    camera's arent really needed. Just something that will turn out some beautiful
    photos. What companies/models do you guys recommend?
  2. You should probably get and SLR.

    Best buy is Minolta SRT and/or x-700, x-370 etc.

    No digital cameras use the lenses, so they are very cheap.

    If you want to use the lenses on a digital camera someday, then Pentax is the best choice. Probably a K-1000 or similar.

    Go to and you can see prices there. They are really cheap with digital taking over.
  3. With older slr's lens availability is important. 24mm & 28mm architecture or landscape, 35mm street, 85mm portrait,105mm and longer are telephoto for when you can not get close to the subject. Telephot f/stops tend to be slow. If you are going back to the early '70s or even earlier the variable focus lenses could be heavy and their optics not up to the performance of the fixed lens. 50mm lens is the standard which the camera was sold with and you can find it with f 2.0 or less relatively inexpensively. The point of an early slr is that you could change lenses depending upon need. Ascertain what you would like to take pictures of and purchase the accompanying lens accordingly. Remember a popular camera from that period will be more common as will be the lenses ergo more readily available and less expensive. And, check the internet for essays on lens quality. It is usually better to get the faster lens but not always sometimes the last or widest f stop is not sharp. And, batteries for meters (If the meters are still functional.) tend to become a problem as many of these cameras used the now no longer available mercury batteries and you will need to make the appropriate changes.
  4. Any manual focus SLR with aperture-priority mode and a Pentax-K mount should be just what you need. These cameras and lenses are inexpensive today and very common. I don't know if there is a list of all PK-compatible SLRs anywhere on the net, so you have to do your own research.
  5. Alex, you have just asked a dangerous question that can open a flood gate of opinions.

    Based on cameras I have used I recommend a Nikkormat EL, Olympus OM-1 or 2, or a Pentax Spotmatic. All of these are getting a bit long in the tooth but were top drawer way back when and still function very well if found in good condition. I currently have two ELs and an ELW that, while a bit homely, work great. They are a bit heavy and do not have all the bells and whistles of more modern cameras but I have as many photos on the wall shot with them as with my Nikon F or Leicaflex SL.

    There are a lot of cameras out there made by excellent manufacturers that I have never used or in some cases even seen and everybody has a favorite.
  6. I'd recommend a full manual slr. Pentax K1000 has been the standard student camera for ages. There's lots of them, Keh or other reputable used dealer should have more than several. The normal 50mm lens is inexpensive, well made, and has good image quality. Zooms are useful and convenient, but a normal prime presents challenges and learning opportunities for composition, as well as giving evidence about what other focal lengths you might want, or what range for a zoom.

    Learning the characteristics of combinations of focal length, shutter speeds, apertures, isos is the technical meat of cameras, and will serve you well, no matter what kit you buy in the future.
  7. Manual focus and (available) manual exposure is great for a beginner, and lots of older systems are pretty cheap. Of course, anything with a swinging door instead of an lcd screen on the back is pretty cheap at this point, so you have lots of options, even in autofocus (and I'm thinking of running for cover considering the forum in which I'm writing this). Over at you can get...

    1. A Canon EOS Elan 7 with autofocus and every bell and whistle you can imagine for $126 in ex+ condition. Add a 50mm 1.8II lens for $65 and maybe a 28mm f/2.8 for around $100, and you've got a heckuva of a starter kit (with lenses that are compatible with digital if you feel like going that direction someday - my heresy continues). You could even buy a cheap zoom if you wanted (hmmm, I think that crowd has pitchforks). Cheapy zooms are not great, but offer a large number of focal lengths to play with.


    2. A manual focus FD-mount Canon FTBN, which is solid as a brick, for $99 in ex. condition + 28mm f/3.5 ($31), 50mm f/1.8 ($17), and a 100mm f/2.8 ($39 in bgn condition). This kit is 30+ years old, but will probably last for another 30. There's nothing in the digital world compatible with FD lenses, so they're super cheap, but they're also super sharp and super plentiful (and there's about 6 versions of every focal length - check out the camera museum at

    I'm a Canon guy, so those are my examples. A similar MF or AF Pentax, Nikon, or Minolta film kit will cost about the same. One nice thing is that older manual focus Pentax and Nikon lenses are often usable on new (even digital) bodies, depending on the body. That does make them more expensive than comparable Minolta or Canon FD lenses, though.
  8. Probably any good SLR with manual lenses would work, but even though I'm a Nikon F fan and could easily recommend old Nikons (huge glass resources!), Daniel Cytron has a point on Minoltas. Good cameras, cheap to buy and fine to use. The X700 is a wonderful camera with many high end features in additional to manual operation. I have an X-370, and although that's also a good little camera, it lacks a couple of features, such as a depth-of-field preview, which you might find yourself regretting after you've used it a while. On the other hand, it has the advantage of having been made for years and years, until quite recently, so it's not hard to find a nice one. Although you might have to look a little harder for interesting lenses, the common ones are easy enough to find, abundant, and often surprisingly cheap for their high quality. One drawback to Minoltas is that if you do ever decide to go to auto-focus or digital, the lenses are not compatible. Nikons have an advantage there, as even my 40 year old F can share many lenses with my wife's three year old F100.

    The KEH website is a great resource for research on cost and availability, and many of us are also satisfied customers.
  9. While I remain very frustrated that Nikon has, for me, all but abandoned the classic F mount by only offering metering of the manual focus lenses with their most expensive models, they still have a degree of backward compatibility that is matched only by Pentax, but the variety of older Pentax equipment readily available seems limited compared to Nikon. I will proceed with the debatable premise that Nikon offers the best range of semi-compatible lenses.

    For small, cheap but not so durable, but not terrible, I'd suggest a Nikon FG for maybe $150. For smallish, not real cheap, but fairly durable, I'd say an ex (not ex+) FM2n for $300. These are manual focus cameras for which there are a lot of great manual focus lenses available for relatively cheap.

    If you want the option of using some of the more modern autofocus zooms in a well made camera (but not very small) AND the ability to still meter with the great range of manual focus lenses, I'd say the Nikon N90S used is an amazing value at between only $130 for ex to $230 for ex+ condition at KEH. This is the last high quality Nikon camera that can be had this cheap that can both autofocus most AF lenses and also meter the manual focus lenses. (I believe the N90S can even work in program and shutter priority mode with the newest G type lenses which do not have an aperture ring.)

    The cameras I've mentioned were made in the 80s or 90s. Since you inquired to the classic camera forum, you may really want a camera with an emphasis on durability regardless of your future ability to use the camera or lenses you acquire with newer equipment, but the problem with the issue of durability is that a 10 year old plasticy camera may yet be more reliable than a 30 year old camera that was better built.

    As usual, your own possible future photography trajectory and ideas of what is affordable and what is durable make the question difficult to answer, but I hope this helps.
  10. Wow thanks so much for all the help, this is great info. I dod a bit of browsing and I think i might try the Minolta x-700. I can find a number of bodies on ebay in good condition for cheap and they usually come with extras like cases and flashes and some extra lenses. Are there any specific lenses that I should be looking for with the minolta, or just certain lenses in general that I should get for a beginner. I was thinking of getting the body on ebay and using for the lens. Thanks again!
  11. Lots of good suggestions there. If you want to cast an eye on the Canon line, then the EOS 5 (also known as the A2) is worth looking at. I got mine fairly cheaply (GBP 75, $150), intending it as a film backup to my digital 10D. I'm taken by how much camera I got for so little money. Although it has all the auto programmes, it's also got full manual control, and many extra goodies that mean it won't be exhausted easily. If you intend to move to digital at any point, your lens expenditure won't be wasted, as they'll carry forward. Your investment will have a future.

    For the sake of offering another alternative, though, don't overlook the bayonet-fit Yashica and Contax range. You can pick up the reliable FX-3 for a song (two of them if you're singing's bad and they want you to go away). It's fully manual, vertically-travelling metal shutter, with a battery only powering the uncoupled exposure meter. If you intend to stay with manual focus film cameras, it opens the door to a range of Zeiss lenses that are simply superb.

    This is not to dissuade you from the excellent recommendations you've already had. Merely a pointer to other directions. I'd certainly never part with my Zeiss lenses, they are the best I have ever used.
  12. One little point I'd like to make. Beatiful pictures do not come from the camera. When the shutter is fully opened there is nothing between the lens and the film. So basically what I'm saying is, if the shutter speed is correct, there's no difference in picture quality of one film body over another. The lens and the film make the photo. The body you choose should be based on the features and controls which best fit you needs. I would chose a film body based on the lens you can obtain.
  13. "Beatiful pictures do not come from the camera. When the shutter is fully opened there is nothing between the lens and the film."

    True, but there IS something between the subject and the film and that is the lens. And all other things being equal, the quality of the lens lens determines how good the picture will be. However, I agree with the person who said the photographer behind the camera has the most influence over picture quality.

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