Film Photographer Gives His Opinion on Which Film Camera You Should Buy

If you think that there are too many options today when considering buying a digital camera, then spare a thought for those who are interested in buying a film camera. Thankfully, this video can give those who are new to the format a better idea of what's on offer.

There is a plethora of film cameras to choose from, because the technology hasn't changed much in the last 50 years, and old models are still functional. From ancient medium format to brand new 35mm rangefinders, the options are almost endless, and it's just another reason why the format might feel almost impenetrable to newbies. This video from Willem Verbeeck will hopefully clear up a few things for those who are a bit unsure, though. Even if you're familiar with 35mm, but maybe want to try out medium format, Verbeeck uses his own experiences to give an honest opinion on how someone could make a final decision on a new film camera.

Functionality, resolution, and depth of field aside, probably one of the most important things to consider is aspect ratio. As​​​​​ ​Verbeeck  explains in the video, he doesn't much care for square format, but it might be exactly what someone else is looking for. At the end of the day, however, if you're just starting out in film photography and you're on a budget, my personal advice would be to get a cheap 35mm to test out if you're really interested in the process, then you can think about medium format. And, for me at least, it is a process worth exploring. For all the pretentious debate on which is better (digital or film), my own view is that it's about your own wants and needs. Do what makes you happy; the rest will follow. 

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21 Comments

Deleted Account's picture

Such a personal thing, but for a first camera, I would probably recommend a Pentax Spotmatic with any of the cheaper M42 lenses (Super Takumar, Helios, Jupiter, etc.). You can use your phone as a light meter so no need for a working one on the camera. M42 mount is a good way to keep costs down while still getting the versatility of an interchangeable lens system while you learn. I think it's a better way to experience 35mm film photography than something like a compact which is less versatile.

Aside from that, these would be my picks based on format:

35mm SLR: Nikon FM2n
35mm Rangefinder: Leica M2
TLR: Minolta Autocord
MF SLR: Mamiya RB67
MF Rangefinder: Mamiya 7 or Plaubel Makina 67 (Good MF rangefinders are going to be expensive pretty much no matter what route you go).

All of those systems should give you all the capabilities you need along with good quality optics. You can certainly splurge on something like a Leica MP, Hasselblad ,or Rolleiflex, but diminishing returns hits pretty hard so that's a judgment call. Remember that film cameras, unlike digital cameras, are just boxes to hold your negative so your photos will not really improve from one Nikon body to the next or from one Leica body to the next. The main thing you're looking at are the lenses available within the system as well as things like shutter speeds or flash sync which may be important in you're considering doing certain types of photography.

I'm not too trusting of electronics when it comes to cameras this old, which is why you don't really see them on my list. I'm also not really much of a fan of the 645 format since I figure if I'm shooting 120 anyway, I'd rather extract all I can from the negative with a larger frame. I know some people love 645, which is why I would emphasize that there's a lot of personal preference that goes into camera choice.

Blake Aghili's picture

Here is what I finally settled with for analog after trying some other different setups:

35mm : Camera: Leica M7 - Lenses: Zeiss and Voigtlander
120: Camera: Mamiya RZ 67 Pro IID - Lenses: Mamiya
4x5: Sinar F1- Lens: Schneider

Akiva Shapero's picture

Crappy article. Vague new aggie comments. Get a Nikon FE and enjoy life.

Petr Harmy Harmáček's picture

As my DSLR is a Canon, when picking an analog camera to play with, I picked up a Canon EOS300 for like 40 bucks. It is one of the last film cameras from Canon, which means the form factor and controls are very familiar from my DSLR and in the Av and Tv modes, I always get a perfect exposure. But the main advantage is that I can use my Canon EF glass without adapters and the autofocus works perfectly.

Matthias Rabiller's picture

Assuming the question if aimed at beginners, what about these Chinon and Cosina SLRs, or Cosina 35 EE clones that can be had for really cheap and usually come as local rebrands (Porst and Revue in Germany, Hannimex, GAF... in other countries)? Not super glamorous and the chinon M42 SLRs are heavy, but they are normally are pretty dependable and sometimes actually pretty good. If you decide film is not your thing you didn't lose much money, if you like it you can always sell or give away that first camera and move on to something more desirable :).

Bernie Bros's picture

Nikon F6, still available brand new.

Andrew Eaton's picture

Mamiya 7 or Mamiya RZ/RB, stunning lenses and medium format.

Tony Clark's picture

After starting my photo career in the early 90's, my list of film camera is the Nikon F3 and Contax 645 or Mamaya RZProII. A novelty camera would be a Polaroid 600SE which I used to shoot Polaroids along with my 35mm system when I started shooting.

Erpillar Bendy's picture

No film camera for me, thanks.

Deleted Account's picture

No worries! More for the rest of us!

Erpillar Bendy's picture

Happy to give you more. I shot trucktloads of film, starting in the 1970s. Rolled my own, etc. I'm simply done with it.

Deleted Account's picture

OK thanks for sharing! If you happen to have any film cameras you're looking to let go of DM me!

Deleted Account's picture

If you can pick one up that allows you to use your current lens lineup it helps make the investment easier. Craigslist and FB marketplace have been great for me. Sometimes I find a gem at a garage sale too.

I personally love compact 35mm and have found that my Nikon L35AF2 I picked up for $20 takes great photographs. It's usually in my pocket and ready to go at a moments notice.

David Love's picture

Cool another squarespace sponsored photography influencer post pimping a product they endorse from all their world famous experience.

Deleted Account's picture

I don't see an issue with that. Care to elaborate?

Deleted Account's picture

You don't like Squarespace?

Matthias Rabiller's picture

Shame! [ding! Ding! Ding!] ... Shame! [ding!, ding!, ding!] ... Shame! [ding!, ding!, ding!] ... Shame! [ding!, ding!, ding!] ... Shame! [ding!, ding!, ding!] ... Shame! [ding!, ding!, ding!]...
;)

sam w's picture

I guess everyone has different ideas of their needs. I have 2 film cameras. a Nikon FM2, and a crappy build it yourself TLR I got on Amazon for like $30. both are used for fun, more than anything else.