The popularity of film is still on an upward trajectory with no signs of slowing down. With the film world changing constantly, it’s time to update the list of underrated and overrated film cameras.
Before I get started, I would like to say that this list contains cameras that I’m aware of and know enough about to have formulated any sort of opinion about. With thousands of different film cameras that have been made over the decades, the overwhelming majority of cameras will not be on this list. You can expect, however, that if a camera is somewhat common and well known, I will try to include it. I would also like to say that this list is largely, if not exclusively, driven by a ratio of cost to quality and convenience. One could argue then that this list is based on the most overvalued and undervalued, not “rated” cameras. Lastly, the reason for needing this update is because the cost of cameras has not been linear across the board. Indeed, some of the more popular cameras have maintained their same price point since last year, but many have not (I don’t that any have become less expensive).
As mentioned above, this list is not going to be exhaustive. Indeed, it will only contain cameras that are 35mm and medium format cameras, but it will not contain large format cameras. In addition, I will not include special edition cameras, even if they’re special edition cameras of the same cameras on this list. Take, for example, the Nikon F2 Titan ,which sells for 10 times the cost of a normal F2. They both take the exact same photographs, but one is just considerably more expensive than the other. Since there are so many cameras and so many special editions out there, I cannot possibly cover them all. If I were to give any general advice, it would be to avoid special edition cameras if it’s a camera that you’ll be using regularly.
This list was not easy for me to put together last year, but I’m much more comfortable with it this year. Why? Because the cameras that made the list last year have only become even more sought after and expensive. In addition to the cameras on the list last year, I have several more to add that I feel even more strongly deserve being here. Their presence on this list is not to say that they aren’t fantastic cameras. Indeed, most of them are quite amazing and definitely worth a pretty penny. The question here is whether they are worth their going price, and to be on this list, I would say the answer is a definitive “no.”
- Bronica RF645
- Contax T2 & T3
- Contax 645
- Hasselblad XPan and XPan II
- Leica M3
- Mamiya 7 and 7ii
- Mamiya RZ67 Pro and Pro-II (review here)
- Mamiya 645 Pro and Pro-TL (review here)
- Minolta TC-1
- Nikon 28Ti and 35Ti
- Pentax 67 II
To start, it really pains me to put my favorite film camera on this list, the Mamiya 645 Pro-TL. It has been my go-to camera for years, so much so that I have continued to build out my lens collections for this system, and all I can say is that the price of it has gone far above what I think it is worth. And again, that’s coming from someone who has the camera and uses it on a regular basis. I would even go so far as to say that if it wasn’t for the Mamiya 645 Pro-TL, I wouldn’t be nearly as into film as I am. Still though, it is not worth the price that it’s going for today. If you were able to get a full kit with a lens that you’d like to use (excluding the 80mm f/1.9) for about $500 or less, I would say that’s a decent deal, but anything more and I would suggest moving on.
My thoughts on the cameras from last year’s list is still the same. I would personally love to have a Mamiya 7 or 7ii. I think they’re fantastic cameras. And I would love to have a Nikon 35Ti, as I think that they’re the coolest point and shoot cameras I’ve ever seen. I would also love to try out the Hasselblad XPan but can’t bring myself to even Google it anymore with as expensive as it is. Lastly, the camera that was the biggest tossup for me (and maybe it doesn’t belong on this list) was the Pentax 67 II. One of my closest friends has this camera, and I think it’s amazing. If I found one for $1,500 or less for a kit in good shape, I would snatch it up in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, I don’t think that day will ever come again.
Cameras Right in the Middle
- Fujifilm GA645 series (review here)
- Hasselblad 500C/M
- Mamiya RB67 (review here)
- Mamiya 645 (early models: M645, M645 1000S, M645J)
- Minolta SR-T series
- Nikon F-F5 (review of F2 here)
- Olympus XA
- Pentax 645
- Pentax 6x7 and 67
- Pentax K1000
- Yashica Mat-124 G
- Zenza Bronica ERTS
- Zenza Bronica GS-1
This list is, like last year’s version, a bit harder to write. The fact of the matter is that cameras can range quite a lot in their price as well as condition, so outright saying a camera is appropriately priced is impossible. Truthfully, any camera from the overrated list can be a good buy in the right circumstances, and any camera from this list or the underrated list can be a bad buy depending on the conditions. In general, these cameras average a price that is higher than they were last year but are still reasonable given the prices they are currently bringing. I would suggest that anyone looking for a camera to purchase look for a camera on this list or the list below.
- Canon Elan 7
- Mamiya C330
- Nikon FA (review here)
- Nikon FE and FE2 (review here)
- Nikon F80
- Nikon F100 (review here)
- Pentax KX and KM
The film world has been experiencing some turbulent change as of the last year or two. Prices have gone up and up with no sign of them dropping any time. It is still difficult for me to believe the going rate for some of these cameras that are decades old with no warranty and limited chance to repair (or no chance depending on the model) should something go wrong. With the film world expanding as it is, the world is actually getting smaller. There are fewer and fewer cameras now that can be trusted to be dependable and don’t cost more than what one could expect to pay for a decent-to-nice digital camera. As such, take into consideration the dependability of a camera (put a lot of stock into all manual cameras) and the possibility of fixing the camera should something go wrong.
Do you have any cameras in mind that you think should have been added to one of the lists?
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As much maligned as Pentax is these days, the K2, the ME and MX certainly deserve to be on the Under Rated list. These were THE camera's to own in the '80s. And where is the Canon AE-1? Brilliant machine. It was even called "hexaphotocybernetic"!
Im surprised the canon a1, ftb, and the F1 are not on these lists. I grew uo during the 70s and 80s using the canon ftb and longed to own the F1 one day. That day came in 1990 when i bought it new and still own it. Perhaps a new list called hidden gems, that are cheap to buy and will last a long time.
I have Canon Elan 7. I love it more with every frame.
Among the overrated cameras, you forgot the Nikon FM2 and 3. Great cameras for sure, but overpriced, in my opinion.
And in the underrated, the Nikon FM. Cheap and fully manual.
The Nikon FA and FE might get some issues with their electronic.
I owned a secondhand Pentax ME Super back in the 1990's with a 50mm f2 and 28mm f2.8. Local camera shops were full of old manual camera gear and it was possible back then to pick up a whole bag full of lenses for about £5-£10 each, seeing as they weren't considered very fashionable - oh how times change!
Sadly, film cameras are like records (vinyl) and, bizarrely enough, cassettes in that the nostalgia factor pushes the prices up to 'whatever people are prepared to pay for them'. If only I could have known back then or was more of a photography enthusiast I would probably now have quite a collection. As it was I was only just starting out and really didn't know what I was doing. I had the ME Super and 50mm but said to my dad I'd like a wide angle which he bought for me and never really knew much about focal lengths, only that it made things in the frame look smaller.
Of course there are hundreds of possibilities for the underated, such as virtually all the German 35mm range finder cameras except Leica and Zeiss. These include Lordomat, Balda, Retina, to name just 3. You get sharp German optics and a leaf shutter which still has the lowest latency around. But the most seriously missing from the underated list are the many folding 120 cameras, these give you compact and cheap access to the undisputably superior film format, again with high quality optics.
I love it when people bicker on current prices for things... it is what it is. It’s the market and it’s sustaining those prices right now! Just because you can’t afford it doesn’t mean it’s overrated. A nice Mamiya RZ67ii with two lenses and accessories was close to $7k USD from B&H. That same kit now costs less than half. The prices dropping dramatically and then coming back up is an indication of the actual value of those cameras. They are sought after for a reason. The Mamiya 7/7II with the 43mm lens is an outstanding combo. That lens is out of this world and the whole system lets from 43mm to 210mm is compact, portable, and light. You don’t get anything like that. Is it worth $3k? Sure is!
Well, you could spend $3k on a used camera with no warranty and scant options to get it repaired if it fails or spend that money on a new camera. Of course value is only decided by what we perceive to be worth the money. Is an old $3k MF film camera with all that resolution and analogue character to the photos worth it over a brand new modern camera with, some say, more clinical results? I spent good money on a brand new E mount Voigtlander manual lens and some people think they are overpriced junk.
I just spent a day with my F-1 yesterday. It has been years.
What a pleasure to take out and use a truly professional classic.
I also took a collection several R, FL and FD primes.
It was refreshingly simple. This is a beautifully built professional film camera that once you use it you will be hooked. And price is very good on the used market but avoid abused ones as they were work horses that are pretty beat up on the outside.
Your title is misleading. Your wrote 'The question here is whether they are worth their going price, and to be on this list, I would say the answer is a definitive “no.”' It should be overpriced instead of overrated.
Canon T90 and A-1 I think we're far better than their contemporaries. The T90 existed just before the first EOS bodies and I had one in it's prime. The A-1 metering was amazing.
In the SLR world, the Ricoh K mounts are stellar value. the ones branded by Sears have a cool anonymity and of course the K mount platform allows you to do whatever you want optically. Nikkormats are underrated and he same thing vis the F mount platform. Echoing comment on the FM, vs the FE, though I prefer the latter. In the rangefinder world the Canon P is underrated. same 1:1 viewfinder as an M3 but you can shoot it with a 35mm lens and the Leica screwmount platform also is broad. I know it is overhyped, but the Oly RC is probably the best point and shoot I have ever used. the lens is sharp and contrasty with character. its just a hefty little brick.
Quite an article, Thankyou! I still have two Nikon F2 kits I used back in my Dark Ages with UPI in Beirut in the '80s Three bodies with MD2 motors. Two of each 20, 24, 35, 85, 180 and 300 Nikkors. Also have two Tamron 80-200 f2.8 and a 300 2.8 Adapt-all lenses. Still have an additional six F3 HP bodies with MD4 motors when I upgraded from the F2 cameras. I will be selling the F3 bodies shortly with their motor-drives. Medium format gear is as follows: three Pentax 67 bodies, Two each of the 55, 75, 90, 105, 135, 160, 300 and 400 lenses. Two Mamiya RB67 Pro-S bodies, Two RB67 Pro-SD bodies with Prism 2 finders on each. 22 Pro-SD 120 backs. Two of each 50, 65, 90, 140 SF, 180, 360 and three 100-200 zooms. One 500. Also have a C220 and a C330 with one each of the 55, 90, 180 and 360 lenses. Got the Para-menders too. I rotate my gear constantly and believe that's the reason they've lasted so long. I only shoot B&W. Half of my Medium Format gear was purchased between 2004 and 2006 during the Great Film to Digital era. All my MF gear and lenses are in Mint or near mint condition. A lot of it has gotta go as soon as my Covid-delaying house re-hab is done. My APSc Pentax Digital is good enough for what I've been doing since retiring anyhow. We're near a Pac-12 university that has a huge photographic curriculum. Quality film gear goes mighty fast and at a decent profit. I'm not looking to gouge folks either. My lighting and grip gear went almost as soon as it got posted on Craigslist. Keeping my location trucks.
While I love my F100 and Mamyia's and that brick of a Bronica S2A. The Nikon N6006 seems to get the most use out of any of my film cameras. I think it is mainly due to size and I keep a 28-70mm D on it. Grab and go
My brother has a 'Baby-Brick' system. The venerable ETRS with five lenses.
There are many many underrated 35mm SLRs... For example Chinon.
From medium format, I would add Mamiya 645E, not many people know it exists.
You don't seem to account for reliability. Putting the Nikon F series of cameras in the middle category is wrong in my opinion. They're built like tanks, while the Nikon FE and FA suffer from electronic gremlins.
As someone who has been repairing electronics and consumer goods (as well as HVAC) since the late 90s, repairing old film cameras is going to be a HELLUVA lot easier than mirrorless cameras in 10-20 years from now.
Mirrorless cameras will require very specific electronic components made by the manufacturer themselves. That's not even accounting for the situations where right to repair fails and companies start locking their equipment down and pulling an Apple (if you replace anything in newer iPhones & tablets/laptops, it bricks the machine making it impossible to use).
With older film cameras you can either pull parts from a non-working or broken model and replace them, or you can macgyver something to work (or even 3d print the part). If it's just a bad capacitor, it'd take 5 minutes to solder a new one in, and a few bucks for the part.
I guess the TL;DR of my comment is this: As someone who fixes electronics, I'd MUCH rather work on film cameras vs. mirrorless cameras.
Overrated: Voigtländer Bessa II folder