Technology is moving so fast that it is 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. Often times some of the most expensive camera gear in the world sits in closets, rarely making it out to the local park. In this article, we’re going to look at the best 35mm film cameras for you to get into the world of cameras and analogue photography!
Our world is becoming more and more digital, barely an hour of the day goes by without some form of interaction with a screen. Shooting film is a great way for you to just take the photo and disconnect from this digital realm. It has begun to make again in popularity over the past years, so much so that Kodak has begun making Ektachrome again! As a result, the second-hand film-camera market is in full swing.
The cheapest new full-frame DSLR will run you around $2000, a used Canon 5D (full-frame DSLR released in 2005) will cost you around $500. If you shoot film, you are able to get the same full-frame quality (including a few lenses too!) for around $100. While you do have to buy film and develop it, the skills and techniques that you’ll learn throughout this process will make you a much more efficient and thoughtful photographer in the long run.
But with so many options available where is the best place to start?
This article is broken into two parts:
- Part 1: The best 35mm film cameras (SLR, Rangefinder plus some Medium Format)
- Part 2: How to buy (without getting ripped off!)
So enough with this banter, let’s get on with the show!
In order for you to find the perfect camera for you, we have broken this section into the different types of bodies that you can choose from.
The best film-cameras are simple, affordable, and easy to use, produce beautiful crisp images.
It can be overwhelming to browse online and see how many different options for film-cameras are available, both new and old. If you don’t know where to start when choosing one, don’t worry! We’ve done the hard work for you.
So, just check out the list and see which one ticks all the boxes for you! Most of these (with multiple lenses) can be had on eBay or Amazon (used) for under £100 or $150.
Our Favourite 35mm Film Cameras
Our recommendations for the best 35mm film cameras are:
The Canon AE-1 was an unprecedented success from the moment it was released in 1976. There are no aperture priority mode, shutter priority or auto modes. You need to select your aperture setting, then look at the meter (in the viewfinder) and select the correct shutter speed. In terms of lens availability, there are thousands of Canon FD mount lenses available and therefore you are able to pick up a full focal range for a relatively humble sum. Overall, it is a well-made and well-regarded 35mm body that is probably the best budget camera out there.
You cannot look past 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 store. It has a huge library of lenses for you to choose from.
Nikon F E / FM
The Nikon FE and FM were introduced in the late 1970s as lightweight, lower-cost alternatives to the flagship Nikon 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, except the “G” series ones. See our review of the Nikon FM2 here.
My personal favourite is the Olympus OM-1, in fact, I made a whole video about it. It is an excellent choice 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 cameras with the dial located on the top plate.
Canon EOS A2 / A2E
At the time of its creation, The Canon EOS A2 (1992) was placed at the top of Canon’s EOS camera line. This one is larger than a lot of the others in this list but also arguably the most advanced. It has 2 dials with which you can adjust the settings for both aperture and shutter speed. If you are already a Canon DSLR shooter then you will no doubt already have a few lenses lying around. The great news here is that this camera uses the Canon EF lens mount. So all your new lenses will work with this one. One word of caution is that it requires 2 strange batteries, the 2CR5 6V batteries which can be hard to come by.
There are a lot of pros and con’s with using a rangefinder, especially when compared to a pro body but they do have some advantages. Rangefinder use a secondary focusing window through which you can line up and take your photo.
This means that you can generally focus your photo quicker, but what you see through the viewfinder isn’t exactly what you see through the lens (TTL). Great when taking candid photography shots, but terrible if you’re trying to line up the perfect composition.
Further, as your head is not directly behind the camera (usually off to one side or the other) you don’t come across as the creepy photographer as you do with an SLR and a zoom lens. Another reason these are perfect for candid photography.
If I was to pick a rangefinder, to begin with it would absolutely be the Contax G1. The Contax is coated in Titanium and is widely accepted as being one of the most advanced electronic rangefinders on the market. That was until the Contax G2 (see below) came around! These Contax cameras came complete with a Carl Zeiss lens, so the optics are second to none. They were designed to compete with Leica and Voigtlander lenses and have proven to do so. The G1 is on the market at around 5x less than the G2 so if you’re in the market for a deal check it out.
Canon Canonet G-III
No list of film rangefinders would be complete without mentioning the Canonet G-III. It was the best selling 35mm rangefinder of all time. It has a fixed mount lens and full manual control. But, further to this it has shutter priority and auto mode making it great for beginners. The QL stands for quick loading and the 17 refers to the fixed mount 40mm f1.7 lens that is attached. The photos come out beautiful and they have had nothing but exceptional reviews about the image quality.
Ricoh introduced the GR21 in 2001, making it the first compact camera to have an ultra-wide lens. You can take amazing shots with this one – it’s popular among street photographers in particular. When shooting like this, speed is essential, making a point and shoot camera the obvious choice.
The Ricoh GR21 has a 21 mm lens, a multi-autofocus feature, and automatic exposure control and compensation. This highly-rated model is pretty expensive now, but if your budget allows, it’s worth your investment. You’ll be wowed by the high quality, super crisp and clear images that it can produce. The wide-angle lens is second to none, and you get incredible, saturated, vibrant colours, too.
Nikon 35/28 Ti
The Nikon 35 and 28 Ti models date back to the early 1990s; they’ve stood the test of time. Nikon first introduced the 35 Ti, following it the next year with the wide-angle 28 Ti camera.
You might be wondering what the ‘Ti’ means. Here, it refers to the titanium that Nikon and other camera manufacturers used for the first cameras. So while this camera is an excellent and durable choice, it does weigh more than some of the other cameras on this list.
The Nikon 35 Ti is kitted out with a 35 mm Nikkor lens, while the wide-angle 28 Ti has a Nikkor 28 mm lens. One of the top advantages of these cameras is that you can switch off the autofocus, allowing you to play around and get creative with your shots. Not many cameras will allow you to do this.
You’ll find that both these cameras are capable of producing fantastic photos, with a subtle grain, high contrast, and clear details.
Konica Hexar AF
The Konica Hexar AF is another brilliant vintage camera. If you’re into all things retro, you’ll love this camera! Not only does it look cool, but it’s super portable and lightweight. It resembles a rangefinder, but it’s actually a simple point and shoot camera.
While the Konica Hexar doesn’t have the full range of controls that a pro camera should have, it makes an ideal option for beginners or hobbyist photographers. The image quality is impressive, with very little distortion. The Konica Hexar AF is a versatile camera that you can quickly get the hang of and take anywhere with you!
This little point and shoot camera also dates back to the ’90s but continues to be popular today. In fact, the cost of the Yashica T4 and T5 has continued to rise over the years, making them some of the more expensive compact cameras around today.
The Yashica T5 might not look like much with its seemingly cheap plastic build, but it’s a great compact camera for street photography. With this model, Yashica introduced a cool feature that shows the view through the viewfinder on the top of the camera. This enables candid photographers to compose and capture amazing images from waist height.
The Yashica T5 has a fantastic 35 mm Carl Zeiss lens and faultless autofocus feature. It’s also weatherproofed, so you can use it come rain or shine. You’ll take crisp, high-quality images with this camera!
If you’re after a camera that can handle all the tricky focusing, aperture, and more, go for the Olympus MJU-II. Olympus carefully honed the automatic controls so that you can focus on what’s going on around you, and pick out those perfect moments to capture.
The lens on the Olympus MJU-II is excellent, capable of shooting in a range of situations and lights. Combine this with a fast maximum aperture and built-in flash, and the result is a very versatile camera. If you go for the Olympus MJU-II, you won’t waste time fiddling with buttons and end up missing that perfect photo. For photographers who want to spend more time taking photos, this is the one for you.
The Leica Minilux isn’t just a point and shoot for beginners – experienced photographers and even professionals will enjoy shooting with it. Durable, sophisticated, and offering extensive manual controls, this Leica is an incredible camera.
Although some die-hard Leica fans are put off by the fact that the Minilux was produced in Japan by Minolta, it performs like any other Leica. You’ll love shooting with this little beauty. It looks cool, with its streamlined, sturdy, and minimalist design. The exposure system is centre-weighted and performs well, making it easy and convenient to take great photos. The Leica Minilux is an all-round performer in the point and shoot range.
The Contax T2 is a solid contender for the best point and shoot camera. A lot of thought has gone into creating a smooth user experience, including a clear viewfinder and quiet shutter button. You also have the option of manual focusing, if you crave more control over your shots.
This camera feels weighty and reassuringly hardwearing in the hands due to the titanium build. One drawback to this one is that the lens is located very close to the right-hand grip – close enough, in fact, that you risk obscuring the lens with your finger. Other than this, the Contax T2 is a reliable, simple point and shoot camera.
The Olympus XA is that rare thing – a 35 mm film compact camera with a rangefinder. First introduced in 1979, the Olympus XA was created by the head of design at Olympus, Yoshihisa Maitani. With an all-new lens (for the time) and stylish design, it reached cult status among photographers. The XA was revolutionary and has influenced camera development over the decades.
If you’re looking for a point and shoot suitable for professionals in the photography business, the Olympus XA should tick the right boxes. It’s tiny, but without losing any of the functions a point and shoot should have. You can easily carry it anywhere with you, enabling you to take even more photos.
The Olympus XA was first introduced in 1979 and has reached cult status among photographers. While the Olympus Stylus Epic can shoot at higher ISO speeds than the Olympus XA, the XA wins for capturing candid images. It’s also better or when you want more DOF control.
Fuji Klasse S/W
The Klasse S and the wide-lens Klasse W are Fuji’s additions to the range of compact cameras available today. They bring point and shoot cameras firmly into the modern era, boasting an incredible EBC Fujinon lens, user-friendly viewfinder, and high-quality, durable build. Many cameras of this sort seem outdated now, but you can’t say the same for the Fuji Klasse S and W models.
The Fuji Klasse W has a 28 mm lens, while the Klasse S has the standard 35 mm lens. Otherwise, both models perform well and take clear images with superb contrast and detailing. It’s easy to switch from automatic mode to Aperture Priority mode.
These outstanding cameras compare well to even the latest digital cameras and are a perfect choice for street photographers. Lightweight and portable, you’ll get amazing results with the Klasse S or W. If you’re after advanced controls and features, you’ll find them here.
Best Medium Format Film Cameras
If you are interested in getting into medium format photography. It is a little more expensive but the images produced are absolutely amazing!
Yashica MAT 124 TLR
There are a number of Twin Lens Reflex cameras on the market, but the Yashica MAT 124 is by far the best value for money. It basically is a copy of a Rolleiflex almost right down to the controls, but not the cost. It can take either 120 or 220 medium format film and has all manual controls. If you would like to try to shoot square format film, or scratch that medium format itch, this is your camera.
As we move through our knockoff cameras we inevitably arrive at the Kiev 88. It is a Ukrainian copy of a Hasselblad which retail around the $600 mark. This set-up can be had with a lens for around $250. They have a bit of a bad reputation for being poorly made, and easily broken but they produce some amazing results. Like the other medium format cameras, they are a little heavy but the quality of the shots is worth the pain.
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. The Mamiya RB67 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!
What to look for when buying 35mm film cameras?
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, but this doesn’t directly translate to a better product for you. Compare prices and be realistic about what you want and how much it should cost. Something that seems too good to be true is usually too good to be true.
Don’t forget to consider the resale 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 with the ability to sell it again and not lose any money. Look at the Leica cameras if you want to go for the top end, with the best chance of resale. For your first film-camera, I suggest you keep reading and look at something a little more friendly on the wallet.
What type of film-camera do you want?
Are you looking for an SLR or a rangefinder? Perhaps you would like to get into medium format photography? You need to begin by deciding on what type of photography you’ll be doing with your new (old) camera. As 35mm film cameras are generally pretty cheap you can pick up a rangefinder for candid photography or an SLR for landscape photography. There are so many options around the $100-200 range that you can find something that best suits your need.
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 of a reliance on batteries or technology. Old camera batteries are notoriously difficult to find! The one function I would try to keep an eye out for is an inbuilt meter. This negates the need for a lot of guesswork with exposure settings or fiddling with an exposure app on your smartphone.
How much do film camera 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. Starting with one camera and one lens to ensure you get more consistent results over time.
In saying this, it is important to know what accessories cost. Are there many 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 purchasing.
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 to satisfied customers. Just do your research before pressing buy now!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Here, you’ll find the answers to the most common questions people have about 35mm film cameras!
Is the Pentax k1000 a good camera?
The K1000 is a good camera, especially for a beginner. It is fully mechanical, fully manual 35mm SLR camera that was quite common. This means there are a lot of lenses and accessories. It was popular for students and beginner photographers.
What is the best vintage film camera?
The best vintage camera depends on what you are intending on shooting with that camera. A rangefinder is great for candid photography, a large format is good for shooting models. See our full guide to see which camera will best suit your need.
Which camera is the best?
To find out which film-camera is the best for you, first, you must decide exactly what you are intending to shoot and what is your budget. Try one of these!
Do professional photographers still use film?
Yes. A number of professional photographers use film today. While there are relatively few reasons to use film over digital, most have long term projects that use a particular film stock.
Are 35mm film cameras still being made?
Only a few 35mm film-cameras are still being made and are able to be purchased new. The Nikon FM-10 is one of these cameras. But, there are plenty of used cameras in excellent condition that are able to be purchased.
Are film cameras making a comeback?
Film-cameras are making a comeback. The backlash from millennials has caused a resurgence in the number of film manufacturers producing 35mm and medium format film stock for vintage cameras.
Are film cameras better than digital?
Film-cameras are better than digital for some reasons, but in most cases, they are not. If you are learning photography, film cameras can be a great way to force yourself to learn the basics of exposure accurately.
What is a point and shoot camera?
A point and shoot film-camera is designed to be simple and easy to use, producing prints rather than digital images. Although film cameras are less common than they used to be, shooting film photography is a great experience. Anyone can use a point and shoot film-camera thanks to helpful features like the autofocus and automatic exposure settings.
What is an automatic camera?
An automatic film-camera is just another term for the point and shoot film cameras that we have featured in this review. They automatically select the correct exposure and focus. All you have to do is point your camera, click, and capture the moment forever!
What are the best film cameras?
There’s a wide range on the market, ranging from the simple shoot and point 35mm camera to the more complex SLR camera. Wherever you are on the spectrum from beginner to pro, you’ll be sure to find the right camera for you.
Some of the top regarded camera manufacturers include Canon, Nikon, Leica, Lomography, and Olympus. You won’t go wrong with any of these well-respected brands.
Here at Cultured Kiwi, we are huge believers in analogue photography. We have just completed a full Canon F1 review and a review of the best 35mm film on the market, check them out. But, for now, we’ll continue with the best cameras.
We have since done an article teaching how you can develop your own film at home. This helps you get a much faster turn around time from shooting film to seeing results.
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.
Ben – Cultured Kiwi