Most Over and Under Rated Film Cameras in 2020

Most Over and Under Rated Film Cameras in 2020

In a world of hundreds of film cameras to choose from, there is a continuum of value for cameras. In this article I list out cameras ranging from most overrated to most underrated. 

To preface this list, I would like to say that I don’t exclusively make an assessment on price but it plays the biggest role. Perhaps for that reason, I should have used “valued” instead of using “rated” but since price isn’t everything, I kept it with “rated.” In addition, I will say I consulted with a buddy of mine on this list as he works in the film camera department at the local camera shop and tries out their new stock just about every week so he was more familiar with the current going rates of these cameras as well as a wealth more first-hand knowledge. That said, the world of film photography is quite small and it doesn’t always take first-hand experience to know when one camera is hyped up to a point that it just doesn’t make sense and isn’t worth it. 

If you recall from my article a couple weeks ago about film photography heading towards extinction, I argued that in film photography is in a bit of lose-lose situation at the moment. With nearly all film cameras being used and the majority of which are decades old, the finite supply will continue to dwindle until there’s little to nothing left at some point. Why then write an article pointing people towards different model cameras? First off, someone new to film may care to know which cameras are over-hyped/overpriced so they can stay away from them. Second off, because film is on the up and up and as such, more and more people have been making the move back to it – being pointed in one direction or another could be helpful. 

I don’t expect, at all, for everyone to agree with me. Quite the opposite. I expect that anyone with even a fair amount of experience in shooting film to disagree with at least one thing and I whole heartedly hope that you will share those disagreements with me.  

Most Overrated

This is the list I feel most nervous to put together. I believe in the list that’s been put together but I expect anyone with a camera on this list may well get a little bent out of shape. I would like for it to be noted that I’m not saying the following cameras and not good cameras to have and use. Indeed, I think all of these cameras are plenty nice. I’m just trying to say that I think they have become a bit bloated, over-hyped, and overpriced. 

  • Contax T2
  • Contax 645
  • Leica M3
  • Mamiya 7(ii)

It should be noted that the Mamiya 7 is a bit of a dream camera of mine. My experience with it, however, is very limited. I almost picked up a Mamiya 6 once and I regret not getting it when I could have. The Mamiya 7 seems next level though. It takes advantage of benefits of a 6x7 camera while not having the size that’s typically associated with a 6x7. They aren’t particularly great for studio work I don’t think but for that I have a Mamiya RB67 anyhow. So why if it’s a dram camera would it be on this list? Because it is exorbitantly expensive. A basic Mamiya 7 kit is easily $2,000 and a 7ii kit could easily reach $3,000. With the limited lens selection and the premium prices for lenses, it is not a camera I see myself ever getting. Alas, life will go on.

I was really tempted to put the Nikon 35Ti and 28Ti on the list along with the Minolta TC-1. Similar to the Mamiya 7, I have quite a crush on the 35Ti but I can’t imagine paying so many hundreds of dollars for a point and shoot 35mm camera. Great glass? Sure. Great metering? Sure. But those things are also available for smaller SLRs and other point and shoot cameras that aren’t surrounded with as much hype. So why did I leave these off but point the Contax T2 on the list? Because at this point it is the most status-symbol camera out there. It is not at all better than the cameras at the beginning of this paragraph (which are already a bit overpriced) and yet costs hundreds more.  

Right in the Middle

  • Hasselblad 500 C/M
  • Nikon F2-F5
  • Mamiya RZ67 
  • Mamiya 645 earlier models
  • Pentax 67(ii) and 6x7
  • Pentax K1000

This was probably the hardest list to put together and I’m certain that I’m missing many cameras that just didn’t come to mind at the time of writing. There are so many cameras that get the attention they deserve and are priced well to the quality of the craftsmanship. This is not at all a comprehensive list but rather the cameras that seem to get the most attention in my sphere of film photographers. 

On another note, if you're familiar with any of the above cameras, you'd know that they range in price from less than $100 to $1,000. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, while price plays a big roll, it isn't everything. Medium format cameras in particular command higher prices because they have a lot more to offer. 

Underrated Cameras

  • Nikon F100
  • Canon Elan 7
  • Pentax 645 (both models)
  • Mamiya 645 Pro(-TL)
  • Mamiya RB67

It was difficult for me to think of cameras that I think are properly underrated but I hope I’ve come up with a decent list. I’ve not yet written a review on the Nikon F100 but I’ve used that camera more than any other 35mm camera for the past year and a half. It is such a great camera – it can be bought for not much money and it takes advantage of an excellent metering system and autofocus. I also like the Canon Elan 7 but I don’t think that the build quality is quite on par with the F100. As for the Pentax and Mamiya 645 cameras, they don’t get much attention because of their format, being the smallest of the medium format line. As such, they aren’t much money and they both have a pretty extensive lens selection that are also available for not much money. And for those that have followed my film camera reviews, you probably know that I think very highly of the Mamiya RB67. It isn’t the fanciest camera of all time as it is pretty bare bones but it is 6x7 format and very affordable – you could actually get a RB67 kit for less than a basic kit of any of the other cameras on this list.

The Best Part 

I hope that if you are familiar with film photography and have any thoughts/opinions about my list – be it that you agree or disagree with which list a camera is on if you think another camera should have made the list, I hope you’ll let me know in the comments below. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me completely and quite honestly, debate is how I and others that are reading will learn. Please and thank you.
 

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93 Comments

Andy Day's picture

Man, I need to get me a Mamiya 645 Pro one day. Thanks for this! 😊

James Madison's picture

That you do! The sooner the better too - they're getting more and more expensive.

marc gabor's picture

Nice compilation of cool cameras. I would argue that the Mamiya 7 is not over-rated it's just expensive and a niche camera. It's really a high-end product. The Mamiya 7 is geared towards refined documentary work and fine art photography. It's for photographers who want to print big with a lot of detail. Being a rangefinder it sucks for studio work and close up portraits but for landscape, documentary and environmental portraits there is not equal. There is no mirror slapping around so you can easily shoot handheld and get the maximum bit of sharpness out of the excellent lenses and big 6x7 negs/positives. Most of the time 35mm or 645mm is more than enough to tell a story and create evocative images so the amount of people who really benefit from using the Mamiya 7 is pretty limited.

Mamiya is for someone who works with only one or two lenses (usually the 80 + wide or 80 + tele), likes to stop down, step back, and wait for their shot. The focus throw is long so even though the camera feels like a big Leica it's not nearly as quick but it is much more precise.

If you told me you love the look of 4x5 but you like to shoot handheld and want a camera that you can easily travel with to shoot a project with big prints in mind I wouldn't say the Mamiya 7 isn't overrated I would say it's the only camera (limiting ourselves to film cameras).

About those lenses: the lenses are unique and remind me of large format lenses from rodenstock or schneider. There are a lot of quality lenses out there but the Mamiya 7 lenses are unique. They are sharp, clinical, almost boring lenses. 80mm is the "normal" lens for the this camera which is a little wider than the "normal" lenses for other 6x7 systems. I think this is because Mamiya really sees this as a camera meant to capture the environment. Full body, horizontal, environmental portraits are so satisfying with this camera.

James Madison's picture

Not sure if you caught the part of the article where I said I wanted a Mamiya 7. haha. I think the camera is amazing. It's definitely the one camera I would buy if money was no object. Money is, however, not something I have in large enough supply to warrant buying a Mamiya 7. For the really high price tag, I cannot help but feel it's not so much better than every other 6x7 format camera to justify the price difference.

All that said - if you or someone you know have one for a good price, let me know!

marc gabor's picture

Ahh yeah I got it, I guess I got thrown off by the "overrated" title. I think overrated applies more to a camera like the Contax T3 which is absolutely a lovely camera but there are plenty of 35mm cameras that will get you there for less money. My point wasn't really that the Mamiya 7 is so much better than other 6x7 cameras, it's just different and fulfills a pretty specific niche that only Plaubel Makina 67 (such a cool name, really cool camera but maybe not the most durable?) and the Fuji GF670 / Voigtlander Bessa III (crazy expensive) really come close to fitting into.

I had my Mamiya 7 for sale on ebay for a couple days so I took it out to shoot with one last time which reminded me what a sweet camera it is. I didn't pull the listing, I just raised the price to point that no one would buy it.

James Madison's picture

Sure sure. If you reread the beginning of the second paragraph I talk about how I struggled with differentiating between "rating" and "value." I think it's a great camera that I wish I had more experience with. It seems like the ultimate film camera to travel with. I just cannot justify the price tag.

I'm lucky enough to have picked up a Mamiya 7ii before the price blew up, and I will second Marc's comments. I've been able to get sharp images at 1/15 handheld thanks to the leaf shutters. There's simply no other camera like it out there.

James Madison's picture

You're quite fortunate! That camera has become prohibitively expensive as of late. Leaf shutters are definitely great.

Michael Holst's picture

I remember seeing them on craigslist for under $1,000... I wish I had grabbed a couple.

Stefan Zubal's picture

Great review of the camera! Adding to my wish list. :)

You don't even touch on Deardorff, Linhof or Sinar. All excellent large format cameras still in use by many. Sinar is probably the best buy in Large Format gear these days as one can now get a few thousand dollar outfit for less than $500 on the used market. Precision and adaptable. Linhof Technika is still a premier field camera and the venerable Deardorffs in wood are used by many and hold value well.

James Madison's picture

When I was looking into buying a 4x5, I looked into those cameras and have a lot of respect for them. Though I didn't touch on any LF cameras, you're right - they're fantastic options.

LF is really in its own category, and there's not much point in comparing them to smaller formats.

Joe Feldman's picture

As someone who owns majority of the cameras mentioned, I would say the Mamiya 7 is far from overrated. If I had to get rid of all of my gear, it would be one of the last I would sell. You definitely get what you pay for with it. I agree with the Contax cameras being on the too expensive side due to celebrity hype. Great build quality and Zeiss glass, but much better options out there for the money. A lot of the cameras you listed, you dinged for being expensive, but the reality is that they were expensive when they were new. Wouldn't make sense for them to be cheap now if film is having a resurgence.

James Madison's picture

I wish I owned a Mamiya 7! I completely agree with your last point there - they were expensive to start so it makes sense that they're expensive now. I suppose it depends on the availability of the camera and whether the camera model was succeeded at some point. The F2 cost as much as a good used car when it came out in the early 70's but is still quite affordable today.

Ben Coyte's picture

I just realized I have a Contax T2 that belonged to my wife's uncle. I didn't realize it was held in such "regard". I may stick a battery in it and try it out.

James Madison's picture

You only just now realized you have one? Haha. That's awesome. You should put a couple rolls through it and see how you like it!

marc gabor's picture

Put a roll through it and then cash out!

Gotta disagree with you about the Pentax K1000 -- it's a great camera that is *totally* overrated. The KX and KM offer more features and usually sell for less money. Shorter build run, but they never got the cheaper internals that made their way into the K1000. And you won't kill the battery if you lose your lens cap. :)

For underrated cameras, try the Ricoh manual-wind SLRs (and their Sears-branded counterparts), feature-rich cameras that take Pentax lenses and sell for a song. I never gave them a second thought until someone gave me a KR-10, and it's become one of my favorite cameras. Also, the Minoltas of the mid-late 1990s are undiscovered treasure. Maxxum/Dynax 400si/430si, 5 and 7 are brilliant 35mm autofocus cameras and the lenses have fantastic optics. Arguably better than their Nikon contemporaries and they sell for peanuts.

Aaron

Agree on the Sears Ricohs as total sleepers. The KS-500 is impossible to kill. Durable, lightweight and fully manual. I have purchased dozens off ebay for classes I teach and never have encountered an inoperable one. Even the meters all work. The 50mm Sears 2.0 (rikenon) the 135mm and 28mm macro (not the non macro 28 mc which is dreadful) are stellar, and for very little $ one can assemble a nice kit.

James Madison's picture

My first job was working for Sears selling cameras and TVs. If you had told me then that there were Sears branded cameras and lenses that were solid, I would never have believed you. haha. I'll have to look into those!

I felt the same way until I discovered that Ricoh. Now I can't get enough of those Sears cams.

James Madison's picture

While I agree the K1000 is overhyped, it's still quite affordable. I feel like the only people who hold it to such regard are people aren't yet shooting film. For being able to do the job at an affordable price, I still think they're solid.

I've not heard of the KX model nor any of those Ricoh or Minolta models. I'll look them up!

Why didn't the Mamiya 6, then, make it to the "Right in the Middle" list? I agree the 7 is "overpriced" (meaning I can't afford one, either), but the 6 is almost as good for a lot less money. And I say almost, because 6x7 in a small, light camera with the best lenses ever made like that is as good as it gets. But the 6 is a pretty good compromise, and I love and use mine a lot.

Jim Hofman's picture

I agree. I own (or have owned) most of the cameras on these lists. I shoot environmental portraits using the Mamiya 6 and just yesterday I thought I could sell all of my other gear and keep the M6 and the 3 lenses. Once I put the 50mm lens on the body last summer I never took it off. I’ve lusted for the Mamiya 7 for the last year, but the stupid-high prices keeps me away. Plus I’m a lens whore and would go broke buying-up all the lenses. Because the M6 only has 3 lenses it kept me away from bankruptcy.

marc gabor's picture

I don't see the 6 as a compromise. Some people really like to shoot square format and it's the only square format rangefinder I know of. Larry Fink used the Mamiya 6 for a lot of his work. He told me that the choice between formats was a choice of aspect ratio, not image quality. I think there's a lot of wisdom in that way of thinking.

James Madison's picture

Truth be told, that was likely an oversight. I love the 6 and would like to get one at some point. Their price is much more manageable for what seems like a very similar camera.

I understand there will be quite a few opinions on this but I've owned just about every camera on that list. Still own most of them. The only film camera I would consider using now is one I own that's not on the list. It is without a doubt one of the best film cameras I've ever owned and it's medium format. It's the Bronica RF645. Sure it was their last real camera, they only made 3 lenses but they are incredible. If you ever get a chance to shoot one of these don't hesitate. I sold most of my Leica gear and the Bronica stayed with me.

Andy Day's picture

Never come across one of these. It looks great. Findable and affordable?

Michael Holst's picture

Can be.. I've seen prices start to climb since people are looking for alternatives to the Mamiya7

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