So, you've decided to get into film photography! Congrats, it's fun, and exciting, and the quality you'll get is great. Awesome. Whether you're taking a class, or just became inspired, you're due to have a good time.
Now, your question is probably "What film camera should I actually spend money on – or at least look for?" that's where I'm here to run you through a few of the more popular options out there.
Now first of all, I'm going to reserve this section for 35mm format – mostly because it's the most popular format still around, and it contains the cheapest, most affordable cameras to get started with in film, and have a good time. Many of these systems are so affordable at the end of the day, you can buy them, decide later that you really don't have time for it, and not have a paperweight worth 3 months of rent just laying around the house.
I'm not going to go into detail on developing or how to shoot with film, that's for another thread, or your own research, this is simply to give you a rough idea of what film camera system you want to go with. I'm also going to stick to SLR systems, since honestly, you're probably not going to be going for a rangefinder system if you're just getting into film, as they tend to be a level higher when it comes to the price to get into a system there. You'll be spending at least 200+ and that's more for when you decide you've fallen in love with film already.
Now, today, there's a solid selection of digital camera brands out there... everything from Nikon and Canon to Leica and Fuji, but back in the days of our parents, and bell bottom jeans (or acid wash, if you're actually 12, and 'what is this'), there were even MORE brands out there, because film was universal, and companies just had to worry about mechanics, and optics – and sometimes either-or, or neither-nor! – this meant that there were a host of 35mm camera makers and brands from all over the world, with a ton of different mounts. I'm going to list some of these here.
Pentax – Both Screwmount (otherwise known as M42) and K-Mount (since 1975)
Olympus – OM mount
Nikon – F mount
Canon – FL and FD mount
Contax/Yashica – C/Y mount
Minolta – SR mount
Konica – AR mount
Fujica – X-mount (not the same as the modern incarnation)
These are generally the main mounts you'll find on affordable cameras from this day, There are several others, like the Leica-R mount, but you won't need this thread if you're going for a Leica-anything, so lets not talk about that. Additionally, I'm not going to go into any depth about the lenses and how they will adapt to modern cameras, consult Tijmen's "Ultimate Guide to Vintage Glass" for more precise information about these.
Now to note for you guys one big factor here when choosing a system: Pentax offered out use of their mounts to just about everyone, and hence the M42 screwmount and the Pentax-K mount are perhaps the most widely found lenses out there, climbing into the 2-million range when it comes to individually different lenses. To make matters even crazier, any M42 lens can work seamlessly with the K-mount via an adapter, so the whole system can be thought as the same exact system. Other Brands such as Chinon, Ricoh, Zenit, Praktica, Cosina, Topcon, etc used these mounts on their cameras (hell, even Olympus!), and these lenses will work across the entire spectrum, therefore, it can be said that a Pentax mount system could definitely be the way to go if you want to find a lot of different affordable lenses to try out. One could very well assume almost any lens you find in a thrift shop is likely a Pentax mount variation before you even inspect it.
So let's start with Pentax and get this doozy out of the way.
Pentax bodies themselves are pretty rugged and well built. Many of them work flawlessly today, and can be had for a fairly affordable price. The most widely known pentax film SLR, is the K1000 – widely said to be the "best student film camera". They're a great, well built camera body that is unlikely to ever die, and can be used in almost any weather. They're fully manual and mechanical.
They made this camera for 21 years, even into the late 1990's, so there are many of them, however, they aren't usually all that cheap. A K1000 in decent condition with a basic lens is bound to cost you at least 100$, as the body usually runs around 70-80 – which is relatively expensive for a basic film camera body.
There are many other cameras out there that may fill this same function for much much cheaper. The Chinon CM4 and CM5, for example, have mostly the same exact function as the K1000, only they are plastic bodied, and have an LCD array to meter with, rather than a needle in a viewfinder. They are less rugged, and because they are powered by electronics, there's a chance they can fail, but they can be had for nearly nothing – say, 10-20$ for the body, and you can spend the rest on lenses instead, and hope for the best.
That said, if you really like the rugged-nature of the K1000, and don't want some cheapo body, there is another alternative here, something like the Pentax Spotmatic-F. This camera, for all intensive purposes, is actually slightly better than the K1000 (has a better, brighter viewfinder) and for the most part has the same build quality, if not better. Same manual controls and layout as the K1000, but it uses the M42 mount.
These cameras go for around 50 dollars for the body, but you have to use the screwmount lenses. This may actually be beneficial in some cases, as a lot of affordable, very good lenses come in the Pentax M42 screwmount, so as far as anything Pentax is concerned, If you want to start out here, I'd go with a Pentax Spotmatic, and a cheap standard lens like the 55 f1.8 Pentax SMC. Should run you no more than 75$.
Second on the list is Olympus. Now, Olympus these days is more in the market of making great, smaller, more compact digital cameras, but back in the day, they were one of the top SLR brands on the market.
The Olympus OM cameras were actually designed after the drooltastic Leica-M rangefinders of the day. They were actually originally the "Olympus M" until Leica caused a fuss and they went with the OM designation thereafter. These cameras started the 'compact SLR' revolution of the 70's-onward and really were probably the best designed SLR's of their day.
All the controls are very smooth (the lenses have the aperture rings towards the front of the lens, which is less awkward, and the shutter speed dial was placed where most brands put their aperture rings – so your hand is always ready on the lens and you miss less shots) the viewfinders were gorgeous, the sounds they made were relatively quiet, and to this day, if you find an OM, it's likely to work. They were mechanically fantastic.
Because of this, they do not come cheap. OM1's, the most basic model regularly go for 80-100 like the K1000, and for just one lens, such as the 50 f1.8 (a fantastic lens, I might add), it's going to cost you around 40-50$ more. Expect to pay around 125+ for an OM system, but if you're serious about getting into film, and you want what I'd honestly regard as the best all-manual film camera system out there, the OM1 is my choice. (The lenses also work flawlessly with Canon DSLR's, so pairing them works great – even better than Pentax K-mount at times!)
If you're dead-set on going with Olympus, but don't want to spend money on the camera body itself, there's always the Olympus OHMYGOD.
The OMG, which is an awesomely named camera in today's vernacular, is something you can probably find for around 40-50 bucks. While not at all as good of build quality as the OM series, they do give you everything you need in order to shoot on the Olympus system, including the shutter speed dial on the lens mount, and a compact size.
The Nikon F system is the SLR system that made SLR's the choice of pros that still runs today in photojournalism and sports. It's been around since 1959, and there's been tons of cameras that have come out for it. The main "F, F2, F3, F4, F5, and F6" cameras span 45 years worth of pro-cameras and were the way guys went for the longest time when they wanted a "pro-camera".
Nikon also made plenty of other, more affordable, but great cameras at this time. They've never changed their lens mount, and this means if you're already running a Nikon DSLR, you can still throw an old lens on there. It won't meter in the case of the cheaper 3000 or 5000 series cameras (they will on the higher-end stuff), but it will work great for video.
Unfortunately, because of this, vintage Nikon stuff is pricy... an older, all metal, mechanical SLR like the FM or something with some Auto exposure like the FE, can run you even steeper than the – in my opinion, superior OM1. The really nice stuff, like the Nikon F3, is all becoming very popular and sought after, so the prices just keep going up and up and up. That said, there are other options that you may be able to afford.
The Nikon FG, for example, has all-manual controls, in addition to Aperture Priority and Program modes. The build quality is slightly less, but still very good, and in my opinion, this is one of the absolute steals of the market as far as a manual film camera from Nikon. The meter is great, the viewfinder is accurate, and it was build in the early 80's before the plague of plastic during the 90's. They can be had for around 50$ in chrome, and along with the E-series 50mm f1.8, shouldn't cost over 70 or 80$. Good stuff. Very similar to the aforementioned OMG from Olympus.
If even that's too much for you, but you still want Nikon, fine... there's the N2000! 35bucks, plastic, allows for manual mode, but also can't really be used well with a tripod (the mount is way way off to the side so it will be ultra unbalanced) so I wouldn't recommend it to beginners outside of the bottom shelf price. The FG is a better camera and worth the additional 15-20$.
Now, Nikon still uses it's same lens mount, so you can effectively use many lenses today on most of the old cameras, but If say, you pick up a 50 f1.8G, you can't actually use this on the old film cameras because they lack an aperture ring (G= no ring)... You can however, pick up something like a Nikon N80 (or F80) for around 50$ instead, and use any of your full-frame DSLR lenses with a 'G' or 'D' designation. It will work awesome with these, as well as give you the feel and function of a solid DSLR. I have one and it was a great accidental investment. This camera came out in 2000 and wont work with the vintage lenses, but with any autofocus lens, youre solid.
Canon, of course, has the same situation, as they've used the same mount since the late 80's and their autofocus film cameras still use the same lenses as your 5D, T3i, etc (unless it's your EF-s lenses, but at least your 'EF' 50 f1.8 will work). Some of these are ugly, loud, whiny, plastic hulks, but the Elan IIE is one that can be had for around 25 bucks, and offer you the same feel and function as any Canon DSLR – only it shoots film and has an ancient AF system. But, It can use your L-glass if you have it, or your basic nifty fifty and give you the same quality look you'd get from that 5D you wish you could afford! Hell, you could even go CRAZY cheap and find an old Rebel G for like 5 bucks, hope it works, and will work with your lenses as well.
Unlike Nikon, however, Canon did not keep it's old mount, and in the 80's, ditched the FD mount for the EOS system. If you would rather get an old camera from Canon, nothing can be more known or recommended than the original AE-1 of the 1970's. It's got manual, and shutter priority modes, and it works like a damn charm. They can be found for around 60-70$ with a basic 50mm, and even though the lenses won't adapt to canon like the other three brands I just mentioned, they will take great photos, and the glass can actually be had for cheaper, so you may build a great set of lenses for the same price as ONE old Nikon lens.
As a means of offering you a couple more options, the Canon FTb is a great older camera that can be had for possibly 10 or so bucks less than an AE-1, all while being slightly better built, and a little heavier, but just as good, really. I learned to shoot 35mm on my dad's old AT-1 – the all-manual version of the AE-1. If you can find one, they should go for another 10-15 bucks cheaper than the AE-1... I now own two, somehow. Note that the Canon A-series cameras like the AE1 and AT1 both take a 6v battery instead of the button cells like many others do.
I'm going to get this out of the way and say, like the Leica-R, you're not buying a Contax RTS... they're too expensive, and the Zeiss glass to pair with them is the priciest (and best) manual focus glass out there for 35mm... however, Yashica, a basic Japanese brand like all the rest, paired up with them to come up with the mount, so it's worth noting here.
The camera that I recommend from them is the FX-3 Super 2000. It's got a fast, 1/2000 max shutter speed, and you can pick up a body for around 40 bucks, with a lens for around 30 or less. I've seen them on ebay go for 40-50$ and thrift stores sell them for pennies because "wtf is Yashica". They are not the best made camera, and the leatherette (the leather looking thing that wraps around a film body) is extremely prone to coming apart... but holy shit. Cheap, lightweight, the lenses adapt to canon flawlessly, and holy crap, you can buy a new custom leatherette for them for like 15 bucks and pimp yours out like everyone tends to with their FX-3's. Awesome, cheap choice, and if you ever get ambitious, you can buy some Contax Zeiss glass for them down the road.
Alright. So, enough with the beating around bushes, lets get to my top choice for beginner camera. You know how everyone else thinks the K1000 is the best beginner camera? Screw that. I suggest the Minolta SRT 101. You know what SRT stands for? SUPER ROBUST TANK... or at least it should. These things are beefy, clunky, chunky, and were made by the bucketload. They nearly always work, they're pretty to look at, theyre classic, and because the Mind of Minolta is now owned by Sony and the name doesn't exist in photography anymore, you get the same benefit as Yashica and the random Pentax-mount brands in that THEY COME CHEAP.
Now, I know I'm not the only one to discover this cheapness as of today, but 2 years ago, when I was on internet sales websites all the time with a bad bad case of Gear Acquisition Syndrome, I found the SRT. I already had several other film cameras at the time, but holy shit. 6$ for a sweet looking camera body? Sure, why the hell not.
You won't find these for 6$ online anymore, but oh my god.. for a whole 20$ I bought an SRT201 (same as the 101) and a 50 f1.7 and this became one of my absolutely most treasured pieces of camera gear. They're heavy, they're loud, they're clunky, but they're classic. They're basic. They force you to forget about this and that and the other bullshit you don't need to think about and instead, just click the shutter button. This is the ultimate camera for beginners to pick up, and for a measly 40-50$ for the set, you're done. Go shoot photos. I gave mine to my cousin who's starting to take photography courses.
Because Minolta gear is cheap and cool, I'll give you one more option, the XD-5. Gives you Aperture priority and shutter speed priority in addition to manual, and more information in the viewfinder. Comes in a smaller, lighter, more compact body, and will cost you about 40-50$ - so around 65-70$ with a 50mm lens. Great camera, but more distracting than the SRT - what with the extra functions.
Sony still makes DSLR's based on the Minolta Autofocus mount - like how Canon and Nikon use the same AF lenses as their film days. If you want to use your Sony lenses with a film camera, buy a Maxxum 5000 or 7000 for 10-20 bucks and call it a day.
KONICA AND FUJICA
I'm going to finish up with these two, because honestly, I don't know much about either of them and have never used them, so I can't honestly be the expert here telling you about them. What I do know, however, is that they are both pretty good quality brands, and also made film (Fujica = Fujifilm, which is still around, obviously – Konica died in the mid-2000's when Sony bought them out along with their merge-brother Minolta).
Konica had wonderful glass, and actually for a while made some pretty ridiculous awesome cameras, namely the Hexar-RF M-mount rangefinder, and the Hexar-AF Auto point and shoot, which has one of the sexiest lenses for street shooting. Their SLR's however, I just don't know much about. The one I've seen people using a lot is the T4, which seems like a basic, all manual, slightly plasticy SLR from the 80's. I'd imagine their earlier stuff is more robust, but either way, it looked quite competent, and being that their mount was from the 60's, there's plenty of glass for it.
Fuji, of course, is still around today, and from what I know about their glass, holy shit they had some stupid sexy lenses for these things – which makes sense as the stuff they put out today on their mirrorless stuff is gorgeous, and their professional video lenses sometimes cost more than a small house. The early Fuji SLR's used M42 mounts from what I know (Like so so so so so many brands, as I previously stated), but the later stuff used their own proprietary X-mount... not to be confused with the modern incarnation of the x-mount found on the X-series mirrorless cameras of today.
Like the Pentax K-mount, it's easy to adapt the M42 lenses to Fuji's mount. I know via a girl I used to bone that the Fujica's gave away whether they were a screwmount or not by if they had an X in the name.. so like STX and ATX. No idea what prices these are going for... People on Ebay are just listing them for random prices, so I'll let you do your own research here if you really want to find out, I suppose.
This is just a list I've compiled to give you guys an idea of what to look for and so you're not completely blind when you go on ebay and type in 'film camera' in order to prepare yourself with a camera for a photography course. There are a ton of other ways you can get into film photography, and this is simply highlighting some things to know about pricing and a few models and brands to look at.
I know people who started out with, I shit you not, a JC Penny branded SLR (probably made for them by some random Japanese brand) and took some pretty impressive photos before they 'upgraded' to a 'better' film camera.
And that's the thing... really. Whatever you get is going to be great. It's going to take photos that can be scanned super well and blown up huge. You're going to get that "Full Frame" bokeh, and you'll be hard pressed to find an SLR prime lens that's truly a piece of junk. Zoom lenses, yeah, of course the old ones were never so great, but the primes like the 50mm, 28mm, and 135mm's were rarely of poor quality, and a system of all three can be put together quite cheaply on many of these brands (It cost me a whole 50$ to put together a 3-lens system on my Minolta SRT201... a 56$ investment on everything involved.)
Hell, I just checked Ebay and I'm seeing a few of the Konica T4's going for 50$ or even less, which I'd reckon is a pretty sweet deal for a simple beginner SLR. Honestly I can't tell by any personal experience with it of course, but if you find ANY WORKING SLR for under 20-30 bucks with a lens? jump on it! It's probably great, and even if the body fails, the lens is probably worth at least that much.
Really, all you should think about is picking up an affordable film camera that works (IE: it meters and fires), with a lens – probably a 50mm, and spending the rest of your money on film to shoot with. Take photos, make stories, have fun.
**This thread was edited on Oct 24th 2014 at 1:28:52pm