I'm sure it won't surprise you that I have a few opinions about what cameras are best to start out with when getting into film photography. Some of the cameras that I recommend are on other's lists, but other commonly mentioned cameras are not on my list. Read on and you'll get my take on best cameras for getting started in film.
First, I'm going to step out on a limb and state that the best camera type for starting out in film is a 35mm SLR (single lens reflex). Here are my reasons for making that claim.
SLR Shooting Experience
With an SLR, when you look through the viewfinder you see what the camera sees. The image coming through the lens is reflected up to the viewfinder using a mirror and prism. You are seeing the image as it will be captured on film, not a rough approximation of it. An SLR viewfinder typically shows you 93% - 100% of the total image. I am a stickler for doing edge patrol on my frames, so an accurate representation in the viewfinder is extremely important to me.
The best values going on the used film camera market are 35mm SLRs. Even though film camera prices have increased with the resurgence of film photography, it's still easy to find good condition 35mm SLRs for under $250. Conversely, the prices on point & shoot and rangefinder 35mm cameras have increased to crazy levels.
35mm SLRs are among the most portable cameras available. Some of the more modern 35mm SLRs are beautifully compact, such as the Olympus OM-2n. The Nikon FE2 is another great example. Both these cameras are extremely well built, though, so don't confuse compact with cheaply constructed.
In their day, 35mm SLRs were super popular, and for the most part, they were extremely well built, so a good number of them are still working and available today. For example, the Nikkormat FT2, which was a brand of Nikon, is available for under $100 in good condition. If you're not completely comfortable with your knowledge in making a purchase, I'd turn KEH, a reputable online retailer of used cameras. If their rating says a camera is in excellent condition, you can count on it. You can also look on eBay, but you have to be more careful there. I've actually found prices to be better from KEH than eBay. Another good buying option is your local camera store. Most have an inventory of used film cameras. I bought my Nikon F3 from my local camera store, National Camera Exchange.
My camera recommendations are based on actual shooting experience. If I haven't shot a camera, I won't recommend it. I'm targeting my recommendations at the inexperienced film shooter. Here are my criteria for recommending cameras from among those I've shot.
My Camera Recommendations
I fully admit that my list is not exhaustive, and yes, there certainly is a Nikon tilt to my recommendations, since that is the brand I have the most experience with. There are a lot of fine brands I haven't shot, including Minolta and many other Canon and Pentax film cameras. I'd rather stick with my own personal experience when making a recommendation.
If you were to ask me to recommend one camera from all the 35mm SLRs I've shot, I'd go with the Nikon FE2, with the Olympus OM-2n a close runner up. If you're looking for the most affordable option I'd go for the Nikkormat FT2. Those can typically be had for less than $100.
A camera isn't any use without a lens. I recommend for starters you get a 50mm fixed focal length lens from the camera manufacturer. Generally, these are going to be f/2 or faster lenses. The 50mm lens was the standard kit lens in the day, so there are a ton of them available at reasonable prices. Once you've got the standard lens covered, then you can start expanding your collection. But for starters, it's hard to go wrong with a good old 50mm prime lens. If you're buying a Nikon film SLR, you need to be sure that the lens you're considering is compatible with the camera body.
If you have any questions or want feedback on a potential camera purchase, please submit a comment. I'll do my best to get back to you.
Take a Hike!
In these days of social distancing and now a stay at home order in Minnesota, daily walks have been my little sanity pill. I'm thankful that the snow has melted now and the trails are free of ice. Priscilla and I have been getting out for a two-mile walk pretty much every day. I'm also taking longer walks on my own, with a camera in hand. When out on our walks we can't help but notice the sounds of the birds. We can hear them so much better now that the traffic noise is reduced. The woodpecker drumming in the neighborhood sounds like an entire percussion section.
I'm shooting black and white film to document our lives during this pandemic. I'd like to move to color film as things green up, but the color development chemistry is sold out everywhere I've looked. At least with black and white I can continue to develop at home. Somehow black and white seems to fit the times anyway. I've got enough black and white chemistry to last me several months, plus I just took delivery of ten rolls of black and white film. That ought to last me a while.
I'm finding this time of forced isolation is a good opportunity to check out the functioning of my camera gear. I have amassed a bit of a collection of film SLRs (12 at this counting). A few of them are in need of a CLA (Clean, Lubricate, Adjust). I just got my Olympus OM-2n back from a CLA. A few other cameras are in need as well, but that'll have to wait until after the dust settles on COVID-19.
One project I just finished up is a Blurb photo book of our Paris 2019 trip. I included favorite film photos from that trip. Looking at those photos brings back such wonderful memories of our time there. Priscilla and I have decided that we're going back to Paris in the spring of 2021.
In this frightening time of the global coronavirus pandemic, I find photography is a calm place for me to retreat to. I can still get out for walks and make photographs, and I can still develop and scan my film in our home. As our boundaries tighten in around us, photography is still something I can do. I won't be doing any street photography, but I can still photograph around our home and neighborhood.
Somehow, black and white photography seems appropriate for this time. I've been experimenting with different films. Most recently I've been shooting with Ilford FP4+. I'd never shot with this film before. It quickly made its way onto my favorites list. I also tried some Bergger Pancro 400. Contrary to the FP4+, the Bergger film did not impress me and will not be a film I return to again.
I have a feeling an awful lot of my photos in the coming weeks will show us hunkering down, trying to stay healthy and safe. When we're on the other side of this awful contagion I'll have to put together a portfolio of the photographs I made during this time. It'll be interesting to see how they hold up as a body of work.