Film photography has made a comeback. After an enormous development of digital photography with techniques and a quality that is really impressive, many photographers have once again embraced the charm of the analogue camera and the well-known roll of film. But part of this group of photographers grew up in the digital age and is therefore completely new to the world of film photography. That is why in this article we recommend the 5 best and affordable 35mm film cameras for beginners.
5 Best Affordable Film Cameras for Beginners
Analog photography – also called film photography – has been around for a very long time and has therefore been the most important photographic medium for a long time. The range of film cameras and lenses is therefore enormous, which means that, especially as a beginner, you quickly no longer know where to look and what to choose. Because are you going for 35mm or 120 medium format film? Are you going for an SLR camera or a rangefinder camera? And which brand and type do you choose to photograph with?
Ask any number of film photographers and chances are you’ll get different answers. Everyone seems to have their own preferences. That doesn’t make it any easier to choose your first film camera. We therefore did some research to find out which film cameras (35mm SLR, because: the most popular) are mentioned most often. We scoured dozens of blogs, watched at least the same amount of YouTube videos and asked film photographers on social media via a poll. Based on the results, the top 5 below emerged, ranging from a affordable film camera for beginners to a more professional camera for those who already have some experience with photography.
#1 Canon AE-1 (Program)
Beginner to intermediate
Perhaps the most popular film camera is the Canon AE-1. This one was introduced in 1976 and quickly became a success with amateur photographers due to its low purchase price. The Canon AE-1 is a simple 35mm SLR camera with an automatic aperture and a few manual controls for more experienced photographers. Many of these cameras have been produced and therefore there is a large and relatively affordable range available. So it’s perfect if you are just starting with film photography. Do you have little experience with photography at all? Then it’s best to choose the Canon AE-1 program, which was introduced five years after its predecessor. This has a manual mode, but also a program mode that automatically sets both the shutter speed and the aperture for you. You then only have to pay attention on focusing your photo.
The advantage is that you can photograph in automatic mode with the Canon AE-1 program, but you can also set the camera manually. Both options give you a lot of freedom as a starting photographer and give you the opportunity to better master your camera and photography. A disadvantage may be that the Canon AE-1 works on the basis of shutter speed priority instead of aperture priority. With aperture priority you can set the aperture yourself, after which the camera determines the corresponding shutter speed. With shutter speed priority it works exactly the other way around and that can be confusing for those who are already used to photography (both film and digital) and who often photograph manually or in the A mode. All current cameras work on the basis of aperture priority.
#2 Minolta X700
Beginner to intermediate
A good alternative to the Canon AE-1 is the Minolta X700. This camera is also available relatively cheaply, just like the many available lenses. The Minolta you can photograph in automatic mode. This camera is also perfect for those who are just starting out with film photography. You can first photograph in automatic mode to get acquainted with film photography and then set the camera manually so that you can get to know the camera and the possibilities of photography better.
A major advantage of the Minolta X700 compared to the Canon AE-1 program is that it has aperture priority. For most people it is easier to photograph with aperture priority (as mentioned, all current cameras work on the basis of aperture priority) and with this option you can also determine the depth of field in a photo and the amount of light you need in certain situations. Another benefit is TTL (through-the-lens) flash metering, which automatically adjusts exposure and flash output to produce the perfect exposure. Furthermore, the Minolta X700 has a clear viewfinder, the glass of Minolta lenses is very beautiful and there is a wide range of accessories and lenses available.
#3 Pentax K1000
Beginner to intermediate
The Pentax K1000 is also an entry-level film camera that is perfect for beginners who want to learn more about how photography works. The Pentax K1000 was introduced in 1976 and, like the two previous cameras, was immediately very popular because of its affordable price tag. However, the Pentax K1000 does not have a program mode and is therefore a fully manual camera. Yet you can also see that as an advantage. It forces you to get to know how your camera works better and that ensures that you quickly become better at photography. And with only a setting mode for the aperture, shutter speed and focus, you are not overloaded with dozens of other settings that you as a starting photographer don’t want. At that time, the camera was therefore often recommended or even mandatory for students taking an art or photography course.
A disadvantage of this camera is that the makers equipped the Pentax K1000 with fewer functions than most other SLR cameras of that time to save costs. For example, the self-timer is missing. Furthermore, according to users, the search meter responds slowly and the information in the viewfinder is somewhat limited, making it more difficult to take photos. What many photographers really like about the Pentax K1000 is the small dot near the advance lever that shows whether the film is ready. This turns orange when the film is ready or black when it’s not ready yet, indicating that you need to continue turning the advance lever.
#4 Olympus OM-1
Intermediate to professional
The Olympus OM-1 is part of the Olympus OM system, with the first model being the M-1, which was introduced in 1972. However, the letter O was soon added due to a trademark violation, after which the camera continued as the OM-1, which was identical to the first model. The Olympus OM-1 is a fully manual SLR camera with a large viewfinder with interchangeable screens but a fixed prism. What is special about this film camera is the placement of the shutter speed button. Normally this is located on top of the camera, but designer Maitani has chosen to replace the shutter button with a setting ring and place it around the lens mount. This makes it easier for you as a photographer to monitor or adjust the shutter speed while photographing.
Also special about the Olympus OM-1 is the compactness of the camera. The camera was made for the semi-professional, but is more compact and lighter than many other professional 35mm SLR cameras from that time. This was thanks to the design team led by Yoshihisa Maitani, who had previously created the Pen and Pen F cameras, which are known for their compactness. The Olympus OM-1 therefore brought about a change in the previously larger and heavier SLR cameras for the professional market. Both the compactness of the camera and the relocation of the shutter speed dial were initially not appreciated by photographers, but that has now changed.
#5 Nikon F3 HP
Intermediate to professional
The Nikon F3 is a 35mm SLR camera that is made for the semi-professional market and is very suitable for use while traveling and outdoor adventures. The film camera, introduced in 1980, is known for its robust and strong build quality. Nikon was demanding and only the best quality mechanical and electronic parts were selected for the F3. For example, ball bearings were used to mount the shutter and film transport mechanisms and additional ball bearings were added to the film advance. This gave the Nikon F3 the smoothest feed lever ever built.
The Nikon F3 can therefore take a beating, so it’s the perfect film camera to use in extreme conditions. Furthermore, there are many accessories available for the Nikon F3, you can set the camera manually or use the A mode (you only have to set the aperture yourself) and the HP viewfinder is also a plus. The big advantage of this viewfinder is that it displays 100% (what you see is what you shoot) and that you can see the entire viewfinder image from a distance of 2.5 cm from the viewfinder. This also makes it easy to take pictures with this camera if you wear (sun)glasses.
A disadvantage is that the camera is somewhat larger and heavier than most 35mm SLR cameras due to its strong and robust build quality. The LCD screen in the viewfinder where the shutter speed and aperture information is displayed is also a disadvantage. Although an LCD screen was hi-tech at the time, it loses contrast over time and can become blurry, making it more difficult to read the information displayed. This has no influence on the operation of the camera, but can be difficult while shooting. An advantage is that F3s have been produced for over 20 years and have certainly not always been used professionally. As a result, there is a lot on offer, with sometimes even new F3s in the box, and they are relatively affordable for a semi-professional camera.