My Favorite 35mm Film Camera I've Ever Used

My Favorite 35mm Film Camera I've Ever Used

There are literally thousands and thousands of 35mm film cameras that have been produced over the last 100 years or so, and more are being manufactured even now. However, there's one camera that sits at the top of the tree, at least for me.

The sheer number of 35mm film cameras is astounding. Thousands of brands and models have been made over multiple decades, and there are still new ones being manufactured to this day by companies like Lomography and Leica. They offered more affordable film cameras to the masses while maintaining a high degree of precision and accuracy in image capture.

Though some were big and bulky, there have been many variants that slip easily into the pocket. With such a wide range of 35mm flavors, it's probably impossible to pick the best 35mm film camera in the world. That's why I have to get subjective in my pick of the best 35mm film camera ever made, because it's what is perfect to me. I know a lot of others will agree with me and many more will disagree entirely, but this is my two cents.

The Nikon F100

The Nikon F100 is, for me, the best 35mm film camera ever made. With a range of features, multiple exposure modes, phase detection autofocus, and much more, it's great for a lot of photographers.

Like many 35mm film cameras, you can only pick up the Nikon F100 secondhand, as it was introduced in 1999 with a production run of seven years, ending in 2006 alongside many other Nikon film cameras. As digital started to slip into the camera market in the early to mid-2000s, film cameras were slowly phased out, and I believe that this period was the peak for 35mm film cameras, especially in the SLR range, because of modern manufacturing techniques and engineering refinement throughout decades of production. It's easy to forget that 35mm cameras have still been manufactured for many decades longer than any digital counterpart, and so, the engineering involved in these cameras was absolutely top-notch.

F100 Benefits

Armed with a magnesium body, the F100 is lightweight but still durable. It's a good-sized SLR that can be carried on a neck strap all day but also feels solid and legitimate in the hand.

The F100 was a high-end 35mm SLR camera, and as such, it was a little bigger than other types of 35mm cameras, (though certainly not the biggest). Compared to many of today's DSLRs, though, it will sit happily in a camera bag with no extra room required; in fact, it is slightly thinner than most modern DSLRs. Thanks to its compact magnesium body, it weighs in at 785 g without batteries and so will carry well, making it ideal for landscape, portraits, travel, and just about any other kind of work you need to do.

The F100 has four shooting modes, PASM, which are accessed via the mode button at the top of the camera.

It'll keep up with you as well, with Programmed Auto, Aperture-priority, Shutter-priority, and Manual modes being your main port of call. This makes it easy for beginners to get stuck in with the semi-automatic modes while maintaining the pro-level handling with manual mode for those more experienced. Although originally aimed at professional users, beginners will also find this camera accessible and easy to get good exposures thanks to its 10-segment Matrix metering system.

I love the optical viewfinder on the Nikon F100. It doesn't have the largest magnification of all viewfinders, but it feels big, wide, and really connects me with the subject or scene in front of me.

One of the big differences I found between DSLRs and the F100 is the amount of space in the viewfinder. It's not the largest optical viewfinder in the world, sitting only at 0.76x magnification, but it feels spacious, airy, and bright. It really allows me to connect with my scene and subject matter much more intimately. I cannot stress how much this changes the shooting experience; you're actually able to look around the scene with the same precision as the naked eye.

Choose your autofocus point (from a choice of five) using the selector switch on the back of the camera body.

The F100 uses the Multi-CAM1300 AF system as seen in its bigger brother, the F5, which gives the F100 the ability to choose between five autofocus points, and utilizes TTL phase detection autofocus for fast focusing and super-sharp results. Because of this, it has an autofocus detection range from EV -1 all the way up to EV 19 — not massive by modern mirrorless standards, but still awesome for its time. It shoots at 4.5 frames per second (and will go up to 5 with the additional Nikon MB-15 battery pack). There's also no winding of film due to the automatic film advance. There's a whole host of camera features here and plenty of automatic, electronically controlled modern conveniences to boot, including automatic exposure bracketing with two or three shots in steps of 1/3-, 1/2-, 2/3- or 1-stop increments.

You're also able to use a wide range of Nikon-mount lenses on this camera thanks to the compatibility with the F mount. Older lenses and newer lenses will work on the F100 with only a few specialist lenses not functioning properly or unable to be attached to the body, such as extreme fisheyes, pre-AI lenses, and AF-P lenses.

F100 Drawbacks

There are drawbacks to the F100, but I like to ignore them for the most part because this camera is just so incredibly good all around. However, it wouldn't be right of me not to mention them here. The first to highlight is the possible issues one might face with the body sealing. There's a lack of foam seals on the F100, and some users have reported that this makes it prone to dust and dirt entering the camera body, with regular cleaning and servicing needed. Personally, I've never experienced that, but then, I haven't lugged it through a desert or a hurricane. Perhaps these issues are more brought about depending on the conditions in which you use the F100, or maybe it's a lack of regular cleaning that you should be doing any way. However, it's important to point out that this is something others have found with the camera.

Body sealing is something that some users have reported as a problem, but I've never had an issue in this regard.

It doesn't shoot quite as fast as the F5, but then that's because it was introduced in a different class. It also has a different price bracket. Due to the reliability and incredible robustness of the F100, this is still quite pricey secondhand when compared with some other more budget-friendly options out there. It's currently on the market floating at around $200 for the body (and occasionally a lens depending on its condition).


No, it's not going to keep up with a modern mirrorless camera, nor is it the absolute peak of SLR technology when it comes to high FPS, autofocus points, or focusing technology. But it's a fantastic mid-point of cost, reliability, features, and accessibility for a range of photographers. The beauty of the F100 is in its modern conveniences, its size, its price point (even in the secondhand world), and that stunning optical viewfinder that just opens up the world to your eyes. That's why, for my money, it's the best 35mm film camera ever made.

Jason Parnell-Brookes's picture

Jason is an internationally award-winning photographer with more than 10 years of experience. A qualified teacher and Master’s graduate, he has been widely published in both print and online. He won Gold in the Nikon Photo Contest 2018/19 and was named Digital Photographer of the Year in 2014.

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My last 35mm film body was a Nikon F5, it did everything that I needed and more. It’s the RZProII that I miss so much with those huge Polaroids and beautiful transparencies it produced. However, I do not miss the multiple trips to the lab to drop off the rolls, judge clip tests and then the finished film.

I shot with a pair of F100s through 2003 when I made the switch to digital, an excellent camera, the best of its time. The film camera I have now is a FE2, just for the fun of it.

This will be one of those provoking articles - so here is my take.

Yes I loved those auto-everything Nikons - and yes I used mine until the switch to digital, and yes - I shot rolls and rolls of film in a day and loved its predictive focus and auto-metering. It was a fantastic camera - even reconfiguring its multi-pattern metering to compensate for the sky as I turned it from Landscape to Portrait !

But now, in the digital era, film is best used for "slow photography' - that is like the "slow food" movement where each shot is considered before I press the button. and where the special characteristics of film (smooth roll-off into highlights) pay back on the effort. I understand why Michael (below) likes an FE2.

My favourite camera now is manual-everything, has depth of field preview, has no powered film winder. This has brought my old Nikkormat back to life (learn how to use a simple diode and a rubber washer to convert from 1970's mercury voltages to modern camera batteries to keep the light-meter accurate).

The alternative I carry is a camera that I would never have looked at when it was new - is the amateur spec' Pentax P30. It was the last of their metal bodied cameras before polycarbonate took over. There are always plenty going cheap on eBay; it has a huge bright pentaprism viewfinder; has DoF preview; uses modern inexpensive button cells; has electronic control of a reliable metal blade shutter and an accurate centre-weighted light meter.

For buyers today, the advantages of such a camera (other than that it has all the key manual creative controls) is that it has a K-Mount - which means that a whole range of compatible interesting lenses are out there at prices well below Canon, Nikon, Minolta and Olympus.

So pleased have I been, that I have got another two more P30's almost mint at pizza-to-go prices to put away in case of mechanical failures to act as my potential replacements. Many of these models were bought by amateurs and used for a few rolls of film wrapped in soft leather cases for the annual holidays and then stored carefully away in their cardboard boxes with those little packets of Silica gel to keep fungus at bay; as a result many are in mint condition (unlike the hard working Pro-Spec Nikons and Canons). These 3 should see me through until the final demise of 35mm film !

best wishes to you all ! Paul in England

My favorite two 35mm cameras were the Pentax H3v and a Leica M4.

Both were butter smooth and a delight to use. No meter. No battery.
Just pure mechanical goodness that made abundantly clear one was using a fine tool that made brilliant photographs.

I am sure the F-100 is splendid but the bulk of the "improvements", while objectively good, deliver scant benefit to the joy of the instrument and the transparency of vision the old mechanical ones did.

I am not a Luddite. I shoot Canon R5s for my work and have been using Canon now for 25 years after switching from Nikon at the intro of the 10D. But they are all just tools that work great but are not a delight to shoot with in and of themselves.

My favorite was Nikon F4s. Still have it

The best film camera, IMO, is the Nikon F6. It's a beauty to behold and use. I still have mine.

I'm a collector of vintage Nikon cameras and although the F100 is one of Nikon's all time best, my favourite is still the F3 with the motor drive.

Glad you had such a good experience with a F3. My F3 was junk; I had to replace the system board 3 times and it never worked right. Just hated the camera. If you liked the F100, you would loved the F6 even more.

I used several SLR's in underwater housings over the years but the best film camera I ever owned is the Nikonos RS. The RS was my most used camera for over fifteen year before moving to digital.

It wasn't my last film body nor my most tecnologically capable film body, but my favorite will always be my first: a Konica FS-1 I bought used in 1986. I still have it.

My all time favorite is the original F-1. Pro build like a tank yet relatively compact compared to other pro cameras.
I still use it a couple of times a month with a wide range of R, FL and FD lenses (All native mount).
Easy to carry and operate. If one wants to load it down add a motor drive and Servo EE finder for a fully automatic body. Pretty good for a 1971 pro camera.

I owned two Nikon F100 bodies back in the day, which I used daily in a newspaper photojournalism role. I used them for everything from environmental portraits, to breaking news, to sports. I loved them. They were fast and rugged enough, without being as heavy to lug around as its big brother, the F5. The only gripe I had was that the rubber grip surfaces were constantly peeling off, since the double-sided tape that Nikon used to secure them just wasn't up to the job.

Praise be to the F100. I am still using it for film work and probably going to use it for years to come (as far as film allows it). BTW, I always thought it had weather sealing (never checked it the manual) - mine went through rain, sea, fog and sand (sand killed the lens, but camera was fine) and worked like a charm.

My favorite camera I've owned was the Contax RTS III. Favorite camera I've shot with was my issue F-3HP W/MD-4