If like me, you love shooting film, whether slide film, negative film or black & white, you may have been looking into getting yourself a film camera.
What are the qualities you should be looking when buying a film camera? If film photography is new to you, it might be tricky to decide which camera to choose and for what reasons. In this article we’ll go through the best film cameras for beginners, that are easy to use to start your film photography journey with.
If you’re into the grainy, the smell of objects and the process of actually seeing your work being developed, you’re probably the person who’s ready to dive into film photography and never look back.
Indeed, it can be difficult to get started, if you’re not familiar with the cameras or the qualities they have.
We’ve put together the best tips to help find the right film camera for you.
Film camera tips for beginners
In this list you’ll find both 35mm point and shoot cameras and SLR cameras. Depending on what you’re looking for, you’ll be able to choose right camera for you.
Get to know yourself and your photography – do you like to shoot outdoors landscape or are you more intrigued photographing people ?
Point and shoot cameras are easy to carry, they’re compact and most of them are automatic, which makes photography even easier. For a camera like this you’ll need 35mm film; there are multitude of different film types differing in graininess, saturation in colour and sharpness.
In this list you’ll also find medium format cameras that will require 120mm type of film. The quality of the images is otherworldly but they film is also more expensive and you’ll only be able to shoot 10-12 frames.
Medium format cameras are not for snapshots and are not as compact as point and shoot cameras.
SLR film cameras will give you more opportunity to decide how you consist your image; you can swap lenses, you’ll have more options to play with shutter speeds and aperture and other photo settings , which point and shoot cameras do not provide.
Manual focus lets you also decide which details you focus on in your images, without it being automatically decided for you.
How much does a film camera cost?
That’s like asking how long is a piece of string – prices can range from spare change to thousands and everything in between.
The most common misconception is that the best film cameras are pricey, the same goes for digital cameras. You’d be surprised what imagery can be achieved with just the disposable cameras you can find at Target.
The best film cameras for beginners for an affordable price
1. CANON AE-1
Canon AE-1 is best described as typical of a Japanese SLR made in the mid-70s. It’s easy to see why the Canon AE-1 Program is still one of the best 35mm film cameras.
One of the most innovative features of this camera, especially when it was first introduced is its automatic shooting modes when used with Canon FD lenses. The camera features a fully automatic program mode and shutter speed priority mode.
In fully automatic mode, the camera will choose both the shutter speed and aperture settings based on the exposure reading. To use the camera in automatic mode, all you have to do is set your lens aperture to “A” and your shutter speed to “Program”.
In shutter speed priority mode, the camera will select the best aperture based on the shutter speed you have selected. To use your camera is shutter speed priority mode, all you have to do is set your lens aperture to “A” and select your shutter speed.
However, the light seals on the Canon AE-1 Program are known to deteriorate over time, which will cause light leak issues.
I ran into this issue first hand and actually didn’t know my Canon had a light leak issue until I shot and developed multiple rolls of film, so just trying to point out to something you might want to avoid.
To this day it still is the best beginner film camera one could start their photography journey with.
2. NIKON FE2
The ideal film camera could be exactly like Nikon FE2 – a compact, 35mm single lens reflex camera with aperture priority semi-automatic shooting mode, plus exposure compensation, a nice viewfinder, and with manual focus and film advance.
Despite not being the most capable camera that Nikon offered at the time, the Nikon FM’s combination of superb build, concise and focused design, and compactness struck a perfect balance for many photo-takers, and the camera became a massive success for Nikon. Both enthusiasts and professionals loved it.
The viewfinder is gorgeous. Big and bright, it gives us every bit of information we need to make a photo. On the left hand side we see the light meter reading and shutter speed indicator, represented by two needles.
On the top of the frame we can see the selected lens aperture. On the right hand side we can see whether or not the exposure compensation dial has been activated. At a glance it’s possible to see exactly what Nikon FE2 sees, or will see when the shutter is fired, and make our adjustments if necessary.
3. Olympus Mju II
The Olympus mju-II, also known as the Stylus Epic, is a cult favorite and easily the best point and shoot film camera that’s been increasing in both popularity and price over the past 10 years.
A relic of the late 1990’s it offers a sharp 35mm F2.8 lens, excellent metering and accurate autofocus, all in a highly-pocketable, weather-sealed package. Sounds pretty appealing I must say.
Sadly, the days of purchasing one these for bargain prices are long gone. What may have set you back $40 in 2013 will likely cost you 5x that much today, for a plastic camera that’s now 7-years-more degraded. Yet it’s still a great compact and small film camera to have if you are able to purchase one.
I actually found it much more ergonomically satisfying to shoot that the previous cameras. It has a large shutter button, that locks focus with a half press.
The MJU is DX coded from 50-3200 and lacks any user controls besides a self-timer and flash modes. So, if you are going to shoot anything expired, or over expose rolls, you’re going to need to hack the coding.
The shutter runs from 1/15 to 1/500 of a second, and I found it more than suitable for capturing images in various lighting conditions on a roll of ISO200 film. This is easily one of the best beginner film cameras out there.
4. The Holga 135
The Holga 135 was my first film camera. In comparison to other film cameras, the Holga has little to no settings. Its lack of functions encourage a point-and-shoot approach, which sometimes result in nothing more than happy accidents. Less is more.
This camera and many other basic snapshot cameras like it are most commonly distributed by Lomography, a company dedicated to a lo-fi philosophy of shooting intuitively, worrying less about settings and more about moments.
Unfortunately the Holga 135 has since been discontinued though you can pick one up on Amazon anywhere from AUD $50 to $150. Paired with almost any film stock, the Holga 135 and its light-leak prone build quality produce a painterly, romantic aesthetic.
5. Olympus OM1
Shooting with Olympus OM-1 feels like coming home. The OM-1 isn’t going to appeal to everyone (it’s a camera that has some potentially ruinous shortcomings) but for a certain type of photo enthusiast, shooting this Olympus will be as blissful a photographic experience as one can have.
To start, let’s get through the basics. The Olympus OM-1 is a fully-mechanical, 35mm film SLR first produced in 1972, though back then you’d never find an OM-1 on the shelves.
The OM-1 set new film SLR standard the year it was introduced back in 1971, making all other camera manufacturer follow suit. 43 yrs later it’s mystique still reigns.
That’s because in its original iteration it was called the M-1, named to immortalize its legendary designer Yoshihisa Maitani. When Leica discovered that Olympus had made a better camera than their identically-named and vastly inferior M-1 rangefinder, the boys from Wetzlar had a tantrum and “requested” the name be changed.
It’s also quite lightweight making it easy to carry around, and hold in one hand.
The ISO dial next to the shutter release allows you to set the ISO, as well as exposure compensation too.
6. Minolta XD
You might also see Minolta XD called the XD-7 or just the XD; those were this camera’s name in Europe and Japan.
This is the world’s first SLR to offer full manual exposure with both aperture-priority and shutter-priority autoexposure.
In automatic modes, that shutter operates as stepless — if 1/218 second is the right shutter speed, that’s what the XD chooses. The camera also features a mechanical self timer.
You choose the exposure mode with a switch around the shutter-speed ring: M, A, and S, each meaning just what you’d expect. You can set ISO from 12 to 3200; press the little button and twist the collar around the rewind crank.
Under use, the XD is light, smooth, and pleasant. The viewfinder is bright and gives a great view.
Its electromagnetic shutter button needs only an easy touch to operate. My only ergonomic complaint is that there’s no on-off switch. To stop the meter from operating and thus draining the battery, you have to cap the lens.
7. Olympus XA2
This tiny Olympus point and shoot film camera, but nonetheless a full featured rangefinder with aperture priority automatic exposure and a fabulous lens. The lens alone has been a marvel and a real headache for the optical engineers.
Olympus XA2 has superb sharpness and contrast and being a small film camera, is compact to carry.
Smooth operation, near completely silent, and so small I can literally just have it with me to put in my pocket.
Image quality is also excellent. I’m not one to scan my negatives at a hundred and fifty thousand pixels per inch number and inspect every pixel with a magnifying glass.
This camera uses zone focusing, which is a step away from full automatic and a few steps down from rangefinders. By pushing the “zone” of focus, the lens will adjust the focus plane.
I prefer the mechanics of this Olympus film camera simply because of the zone focusing and ability to manually set ISO.
The cons would definitely be not being able to control the shutter speed. This means more blurred photos. Basically you have to shoot this camera in bright sunlight only, for the images to come out the sharpest.
8. Pentax Espio 105Mi
My gradual shift from shooting film to digital was motivated by a number of factors, but a significant one was the size and weight of cameras. Out of all the Pentax film cameras, some might even say this is the best point and shoot film camera there is.
So to restore some balance and sanity and reassure anyone looking for a capable, fun and affordable compact Pentax 35mm film camera, one of the favourite models is easily the Pentax Espio 105mi.
Compact in just 105mm wide, good handling with a rubber front grip, and all the functions you really need, including focus lock, infinity focus and flash disable.
If you do like to zoom, this one goes to 120mm.
Other Espios have more functions, but the 105mi should meet most needs, and is one of the most compact. As with all Espios, in the right conditions, it delivers an impressive photograph.
And looking at the price range in the rest of the cameras, this is easily one of the most affordable ones to start out with.
9. Leica M6
The legendary Leica M6 is an icon. Intuitive, compact and discreet, it allows you to get up close to the action – and to real emotions. Since 1984, it has been the camera of choice for many of the world’s best photographers, who have used it to create countless iconic images.
This fil camera has an incredible rangefinder and everything about this camera feels beyond sturdy and solid. From the shutter button to the film advance lever, it feels like you could drop it down a mountain and it wouldn’t skip a beat.
Perhaps this gets to the nub of why the M6 hits the pinnacle of film cameras: it doesn’t obstruct photo-making in the way an old view camera would, yet it refuses to automate the photographer out of the equation.
10. Contax G2
The Contax G2 is a beautiful, well designed and convenient camera that is fully automated – rangefinder type autofocus, auto film advance and rewind – it is quaint by today’s standards.
With either the 28mm or 45mm Carl Zeiss G lenses attached you will get superb photos – sharp, contrasted, wonderful color and exposure.
The G2’s light meter is almost supernatural in getting the exposure right. The AF is a little noisy but so far has been accurate. This film camera creates prints with texture and light that are almost 3-D.
11. Pentax 645
This medium format film camera Pentax 645 is designed for those who are not keen on going along the hype of the classic medium format cameras like Mamiya or Hasselblad. Pentax film cameras are known for their interchangeable lens technology. It’s simply a king of the hill camera that delivers the best image you would ever need to get.
Images are astounding and very rich. It’s dynamic range is truly unmatched and it feels like it opens up all new possibilities.
Clouds are a great example of where the this Pentax film camera shines. You can pull as much detail as you can imagine out of clouds with this camera. Now think of highlights in a different way.
With the 645z, you can shoot in the middle of the day, in open sun where super high contrast is always expected and still produce images with highlight and shadow detail every time.
12. Pentax K1000
The Pentax K-1000 camera is far one of the strongest cameras you can work with. And it’s probably the best beginner film camera to start with and what better way to start the basics than with this beauty.
If you are trying to decide on which 35 mm film camera to start with this is just as good as any. For an inexpensive camera you can easily try it out. The camera uses 12 shot rolls of film.
With such a limited set of features, the K1000 is nice and straightforward to use, though its fully manual exposure mode will be a bit of a shock to those coming from cameras that automate everything.
13. Nikon F5
The Nikon F5 is an absolute beast of a camera, designed when new for professional photojournalists. It was the last great professional camera of the age of film, and introduced many features we now take for granted in modern digital cameras.
But, with this camera you can let it do everything while you focus on your composition and getting the shot you want, or you have several automatic modes, and full manual.
Although you probably will never use it, the F5 can shoot pictures at 8 frames per second as well, if you need to shoot action on a film camera.
14. Mamiya RB67
This medium format film camera Mamiya RB67 is a large but capable camera that captures ten images in 6 × 7 format for one 120 film. Great lenses, the ability to turn the film holder from portrait to landscape without moving the body.
The RB67 is a fully mechanical camera with its own nuances, which definitely needs to be read before.
You get 10 wonderful film images from some of the most unique and beautiful lenses ever made.
The RB lenses use leaf shutters, allowing you to sync with flash or strobes at any speed. This makes it an incredibly versatile camera, both for studio work or for shooting in the field.
15. Hasselblad XPan
The Hasselblad XPan is probably one of the most desirable, but unusual film cameras ever made.
The Hasselblad XPan is a 35mm rangefinder camera like Leicas but comes in a titanium – aluminium body.
The XPan has a reasonably bright co-incident image bright-line focusing viewfinder.
The XPan has the solid (built like a tank) feel and build quality of a Hasselblad 500 series camera and the small form factor of a Leica.
The Hasselblad XPan however has panoramic mode (24x65mm) and shoots two 35mm frames side by side to make a negative almost two times larger.
16. Fujifilm GA645
This Fuji medium format film camera that shoots 120 and 220 film in a 645 format. It’s known for its impressive autofocusing capability and its relative compact size.
The Fujinon lenses are well-regarded for their sharpness even wide open. One of the many things that makes Fujifilm 645 such a unique film camera is that it shoots in portrait orientation when the camera is held in a normal position.
To take a landscape orientated image, the camera must be turned to what would usually be a portrait position.
If you’re looking for a more compact medium format film camera, this Fuji medium format film camera is for you.
17. Minolta X-700
The Minolta X-700 isn’t just any 35mm camera; it was the top model of Minolta’s most advanced and final manual-focus SLR series and has proved to be trendsetting ever since.
The core of the X-700’s success was its Program auto-exposure mode, which came with an exceptional light-metering system, intelligent microcomputers, and step-less shutter speeds.
Also bad for night photography on a tripod, one cannot use the self timer and the AE lock at the same time, since they are on the same switch.
18. Fuji GW690
Also going by the name Texas Leica, Fuji GW690 has advantages on it’s own too. Unfortunately they are not related to shooting portraits nor architecture, due to the rangefinder being clumsy and portraits can be shot from about a waist up.
This rangefinder camera shoots in the 6×9 format–which is one of the largest formats to use 120 film.
This camera is well built, but might feel somewhat plasticky at times. And one inconvenience is that there’s no light meter built in. You’ll either end up using the good old ‘measure with your eyes’-method, an external camera meter, or your digital camera to get an idea of what you need.
19. Canon Canonet QL17 G-III
Though probably the best selling fast lensed compact 35 mm film camera, today the G-III 17 mostly goes unnoticed and unwanted.
Yet, the G-III 17 has many features which current production cameras in its price range don’t have: a sharp fast 40/1.7 lens, user selectable rangefinder focusing, and flash sync at all speeds.
The G-III is very well finished, more so than you would expect from this class of camera. It has a feeling of quality about it that you have to feel to understand.
The process is manual, so a few strokes of the solid winding lever and making sure the rewind crank is turning backwards – you’re ready to shoot.
20. Leica M-A
Leica is known as the king of all film cameras and that’s for a reason. The M-A is photography in its purest form. There’s no light meter, no Leica logo and it’s only available in chrome or black paint.
The Leica M-A is far from cheap, costing £4,200 or $5,595 but it truly is one of the best 35mm film camera you can still buy new today, apart from its built-in light meter brother.
The Leica M-A is a modern take on the traditional 35mm film camera, which the company produced more than 60 years ago. However, certain aspects have been fine tuned and refined to make it the mechanical perfection that it is today.
21. Olympus Ace-E
This film camera Olympus ACE-E is an exceptionally nice mechanical camera and offered for the first time interchangeable lenses with bayonet connection.
The camera has a very bright viewfinder and rangefinder patch, the viewfinder only displays the frame lines and the focusing patch and not much else.
While in other Olympus ACE serie cameras where the meter is externally placed on the top of the camera, the Ace-E was a later version that added a built-in meter.
BONUS: Canon EOS 630
The Canon EOS 630 is the most versatile sub-$100 film camera for Canon digital shooters. This camera allows photographers to reliably use all of their EF lenses and flashes with autofocus and manual exposure controls. At the price, an EOS 630 is the best way for Canon shooters to try film photography.
This film camera has manual metering, aperture and shutter priority AE, Program AE with Green Zone full auto mode.
Built quality is beautifully superb and the size and the weight makes it a really stable camera to hold. It feels like you are holding a professional camera.
And it seems this model is one of the few EOS that doesn’t run the battery down when you hold the shutter open for long periods.
Frequently Asked Questions
We also answered some questions you might have when thinking of getting into film photography:
Why Are Film Cameras So Popular?
Think of something handmade versus machine-made. You know that the person that handmade it put thought and effort into it; there is a certain amount of craftsmanship for which you are willing to pay a premium price.
And in this digital age, more and more people are looking for nostalgia and something tangible, which film photography can provide.
Film can capture a dynamic range (the difference between lighting and shadows) that digital struggles to render. There is a certain depth in film images that you don’t see in digital photos, and that is just one of the many reasons why professional photographers now offer to shoot with full-frame cameras.
Can Film Cameras Go Through Airport Security?
Film cameras on their own can go through airport security, but the real question here is whether you can take the precious film through the X-rays.
Checked baggage often goes through equipment with higher energy X-rays, but X-ray equipment used to inspect carry-on baggage uses a very low level of x-radiation that will not cause noticeable damage to most films. The high-dose X-ray scan on checked baggage can damage film immediately and corrections can’t be made at the processing lab.
If you do want to check film in your luggage, you can buy specialized film bags for X-ray scanners. To read more about flying with film cameras, this article can help.
Are Film Cameras Waterproof?
No. Camera equipment for the most part are somewhat fragile and not water resistant unless expressly marketed as such. Moisture can greatly affect the cameras mechanical mechanisms and the lenses.
You can always get a disposable waterproof camera if you want to try film photography near humid environment. Or you can keep a plastic wrap on hand to protect your prized imaging devices.
Can point and shoot camera also be a 35mm film camera?
Yes they can and usually is. They are called point and shoot cameras to better distinguish the difference between the new modern models of 35mm film cameras and the real vintage ones.
35mm film is the standard film size for the vast majority of SLRs, mirrorless cameras, and point and shoots. The standard has carried over to digital cameras as well – most digital cameras are designed around the aspect ratio of 3:2 that 35mm film produces.
It’s important to note that when we’re talking about 35mm film cameras, we’re not talking about lens size. This is confusing because there are 35mm lenses as well. You should know if you’re a beginner to film cameras is that we are talking about 35mm film.
Point and shoot cameras usually have these qualities that lend to their ease of use. These features can vary depending on your camera manufacturer, but the following list can be found in the main ones:
- Modern look
- Built-in viewfinder
- Fixed or Variable aperture
- Zoom and superzoom
- Small and compact
- Quick shutter
Some of the most popular point and shoot cameras are Olympus Stylus, Olympus Mju II and Pentax Espio which can all be found in this article. Film cameras like Canon AE-1 and Nikon F2 are 35mm cameras, but not point and shoot cmaeras.
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