Technology is moving so fast that it is a difficult and costly exercise to keep up with all the latest gear. A lot of photographers fall folly to the belief that new gear will make them a better photographer. This means some of the most expensive camera gear in the world sits in closets, rarely making it out to the local park. What if I told you that there was a way to step away from this and let your photography speak for itself?
Film photography leaves you little to room for editing. Therefore you are usually forced to get it all right in camera. It has recently had a huge resurgence in popularity. As a result the second hand film camera market is in full swing. Think of it as the easiest way to get into full frame photography (or an even larger format) for very little money. But with so many options available where is the best place to start?
This article is broken into two parts:
- Part 1: What do I look for when buying a film camera?
- Part 2: Top top five film cameras for beginners
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Part 1: What do I look for when buying a film camera?
Before purchasing a new film camera you should consider the following:
How much do you want to spend?
When buying anything this should always be the first factor you consider. You can always spend a little bit more money for a little bit more functionality. Don’t be cheap, compare prices and be realistic about what you want and how much it should cost. Something that seems to good to be true is usually too good to be true.
Don’t forget to consider the re-sale value of your potential camera system. Sometimes buying cheaper gear will mean you end up with something you can’t sell if you change your mind. Buying camera gear with a high resale value can result in you trying out an amazing system and not losing money. But be careful! you can also end up with a bunch of really expensive camera gear!
What type of film camera do you want?
Are you looking for an SLR or a rangefinder? Perhaps you would like to get into large format photography. Just have a look around online and see what best suits what you plan on shooting with the camera.
What functions do you want?
Do you want a fully manual camera or would you like some of the exposure settings calculated for you? I prefer manual cameras as these have less reliance on batteries. The one function I would try to get is an inbuilt meter. This negates the need for a lot of guesswork with exposure settings. Unless you plan on buying a light meter.
How much do accessories cost?
I am an advocate for the one camera one lens policy as much as possible. This will help you quickly improve your photography by forcing you to move around to take in the scene. You then get creative by forcing you down low as opposed to standing up and zooming in. Sometimes when you change perspective the image becomes vastly different.
However it is important to know what accessories cost. Are lenses available, if so: how much do they cost? It all basically boils down to doing your research. Learn everything about the camera and the lens mount system that you can prior to purchase.
What condition is the camera in?
The number one killer with any camera or lens is mould. Keep an eye out for any mould and if you see it in the lens elements then do not buy it. Check the overall physical condition for signs that it has been dropped.
Make sure that all of the dials and switches work properly. Take a “photo”. Open and close the film loading mechanism to check that. Lastly I like to give it a light shaking to see if there are any obviously bad sounding broken parts inside.
So that is the list of important considerations. If you are not in a store buying the camera (buying online) then send some of these questions to the seller. Make sure that they are reputable and have a history of selling cameras to satisfied customers. Just do your research before pressing buy now!
Part 2: The top 5 film cameras for beginners
Most of these cameras (with multiple lenses) can be had on ebay or Amazon (used) for under £100 or $150. Remember to consider the tips above before buying the camera. Ask the seller questions to ensure you aren’t about to get ripped off.
- Pentax K1000
The first film camera that I would recommend is the K1000. This camera has long been a favourite for photography classes and beginners. It has all manual settings and everything you need to get started. You can find them on eBay/Amazon or any used camera store. Pentax has never changed their mount, this means there is a huge library of lenses for you to chose from. You can even use brand new lenses on it!
- Nikon FE/FM
The FM and FE were introduced in the late 1970s as light weight, lower cost alternatives to the flagship F2. The bigger and heavier F2 gives you removable viewfinders and very high build quality. There is only one primary difference between the two: FM’s are mechanical with manual exposure and FE’s are electronic with automatic exposure control. Most AF and manual focus lenses work on all these cameras, except the "G" series ones.
- Olympus OM-1
My personal favourite is the OM-1. It is an excellent camera, and is extremely small and light. It is an all-mechanical manual SLR with somewhat of a cult following. The through-the-lens (TTL) exposure meter controls a needle visible in the viewfinder which allows you to dial in the exposure. The shutter speed dial is located around the lens mount, which allows photographers to keep the camera at the eye between shots more easily than other SLRs with the dial located on the top plate.
- Minolta Maxxum 7000i
This camera has Program, Aperture, Speed, and Full Manual Settings, all customizable through a very simple menu consisting of three buttons (one for exposure settings, one for shot settings, and the other one for additional settings) and a little lever to select options. It also has an expansion card system, which allows the user to insert a card with a preset setting like Portrait or Landscape into the camera. A great little camera for both casual and professional users.
- Canon EOS 1N
At the time of its creation, The Canon EOS-1N was placed at the top of Canon's EOS camera line. It has multi-point focus and several metering modes including spot metering, which is important if you are shooting manually (you want to meter specific items rather than the entire scene). Like the newer professional canon cameras it has weather-resistant seals around buttons, dials and its Canon EF lens mount. automatic focusing, the camera used a 5-point BASIS autofocus system with the sensors arranged horizontally across the middle of the viewing area.
Bonus camera if you are interested in getting into Large format photography. It is a little more expensive at about £200 or $300 but the images produced are absolutely amazing!
- Mamiya RB67
This is a medium format system. It records images on 120 format roll. Each frame is roughly 6cm by 7cm. This is 5 times the imaging area of a full frame DSLR. The resulting images look different, especially portraiture with longish lenses. It is a beast of a camera at 2.5kg without any lenses on it. It was mostly used for studio photography but if you want to carry it into the wild you are sure to capture some very unique photographs!
So those are the best film cameras that any beginner should try to get their hands on if they have the chance. If you have any suggestions for your recommended beginner film cameras drop them into the comments below and we can build a database of great film cameras.
So pick yourself up one of the cameras above and get a few rolls of film under your belt. There is nothing like the excitement of getting a roll back from the lab and holding the fruits of your labour. Trust me you will love it. Remember #filmisnotdead!! Happy shooting everyone.