Almost everybody nowadays owns digital devices from cameras to phones. However, even though we are thriving in the digital era, there are numerous advantages in filming and shooting photos in the traditional way using that old photography friend of ours, the film cameras.
Before digital technology entirely replaced film, film photography was the standard method in developing photographs. Cameras that are specifically designed for this unique photography use translucent strips of plastic known as film. During the process, the gelatin emulsion from one side of the film strip produces small silver halide crystals that establish the contrast and resolution of an image.
While finding one is still possible, getting a quality model of a film camera can sometimes be a challenge given that camera manufacturers are now focusing on the development of digital camera models. To help find them, we've put together a list of the best film cameras, as well as some pieces of advice from Evangeline Summers, a California-based professional photographer.
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1. Canon AE-1
141 x 87 x 48 mm
2 s to 1/1000 s
Canon FD breech-lock lens mount
AE-1 is probably one of the cheapest film cameras available in the market. This is particularly true because of the body of the camera that is mostly made of thick plastic material. This might cause you to frown but there are actually a lot of things to appreciate about AE-1, including its history.
"Introduced back in 1976," Summers said, "the Canon AE-1 made history for 35 mm SLRs, being the first camera to highlight a central processing unit (CPU). Along with a wide promotional campaign that included famous football and baseball stars, this AE-1 was a resounding success for Canon, selling over a million units through its ten-year timeframe."
Nonetheless, besides its CPU, the main selling point of this model according to Summers is its shutter speed-priority mode and the large viewfinder.
“Back in the early days of SLRs,” Summers started, “many companies producing those cams resorted to the use of aperture-priority exposure mode. The bad thing about that was users had a very limited view of info to see in viewfinders which resulted in disastrous shutter speed selection. So, yes, wasted films every single time which none of us would probably want. That was why AE-1’s introduction of shutter speed-priority exposure mode was an absolute boom!”
2. Canon EOS Rebel 2000
129.0 x 101.3 x 77.6mm
min 1/32 seconds - max 21 seconds
EF lens mount
The sweet thing about EOS Rebel 2000, besides being reasonably priced, is its great body. Just like Canon AE-1, its entirety is made of plastic material which makes it seriously lightweight. Nonetheless, this is nothing to be bothered about as it can still be a serious deal when it comes to its performance and features.
According to Summers, despite being lightweight, it can take all EOS mount lenses. This is one benefit that you’ll get in EOS Rebel 2000.
“This model from Canon is - without a doubt - practically cheap,” said Summers, “but this is one small camera with monstrous possibilities as it can use any EOS mount lens. Whatever your choice is, be it an expensive glass or what, it will do wonders.”
However, Summers underlined the possibility that there are some limitations in the EOS mount lenses you could use.
“Oh, yes, you could use any EOS lens you fancy but you still need to assess the ones to use. For instance, using lenses meant for APS-C sized sensors can cause vignettes,” she added.
Summers also praised the great design of the camera that, according to her, aims to simplify the use of the unit and to assure the beginners will have the best SLR experience possible.
“The film camera has a pretty small LCD on the top that shows you the basic settings. I like it and it is far better than Nikon F100's numeric custom settings but the biggest plus for me is its film rolling system,” Summers continued while observing the camera. ‘Here, the camera unspools the whole roll and puts them back in the cartridge frame by frame as you do your shots. This will protect your used films from exposure when you open the back of the camera. Genius!”
3. Pentax K1000
91.4 x 143 x 48 mm
1/1000 second to 1 second
Pentax K bayonet mount
Pentax K1000 is one of the most successful film cameras of all time. It is an ideal option for anyone looking to do well in photography because of its easy controls, sturdy structure, and great value.
“I don't think it's a film camera suited for a photography professional because it's an old model and isn't incredibly sophisticated,” Summers explained, “but if you're just beginning over and playing with photography, definitely this film camera is excellent.”
One important feature of the Pentax K1000 SLR Film Camera is that it uses the company's now well-established K mount, which gives users access to a wide lens selection. That is a huge plus as it means versatility for the camera. With this, most of Pentax's latest autofocus lenses can be used to K1000 in manual focus. Keep in mind however that Pentax's latest lenses without an aperture ring will not have exposure control.
Furthermore, as per Summers, Pentax intentionally kept it easy with the K1000. “Showcasing a fully mechanical shutter system that means you can comfortably shoot the shutter without even any batteries, just like the Nikon FM2 that was introduced in 1982. However, keep in mind that it may need 2x 1.55V SR44 or 1.5V LR44 batteries to operate the metering system,” she ended.
4. Nikon FM-10
139 x 86 x 53 mm
1 to 1/2000th second
Nikon F Mount
This Nikon FM-10 SLR Camera is a fully mechanical camera, which means you don't need to use batteries. The built-in light meter, however, requires 2 LR44 type alkaline or 2 SR44 type silver batteries to function. The mechanical shutter allows speed from 1/2000th to 1 second and Bulb mode. Flash sync, on the other hand, comes at 1/125 of a second.
According to her, Nikon currently owns only two film cameras, the Nikon FM10 being one of them. "It's the newest enthusiast-level Nikon film camera," she revealed, "and it's right next to the professional-level F6."
An even more great feature of the Nikon FM-10 SLR camera is that any Nikon F-mount lens with an aperture ring can be used with it. As a result, all NIKKOR AF-D, AI-P, AF-I, AI-S, and AF-S lenses can be used.
"The FM10 35 mm SLR Camera with 35-70 mm lens will allow you to understand the value of photography in an old way," Summers explained. "You can load, advance, and rewind the film manually. This is a great unit to teach the younger generations the very basic concept of photography, indeed."
5. Holga 120N
7.1 x 5.15 x 5.05"
60 mm f/8 design
While vignetting is being despised by many digital photographers, Holga 120N made a remarkable name out of it. By using it as part of its trademark, it delivers dream-like soft images with some light leaks which will give you a total retro feel.
“Vignette is not for everyone but this is the main attraction when it comes to Holga. It makes the stills of this camera very distinctive as it uses the vignette to bring the focus to the center of the printed photograph,” said Summers.
Furthermore, you’ll also be able to enjoy other features its sibling, Holga 120S, has been offering. They include the use of 120 roll film for 16 - 6 cm x 4.5 cm frames per roll and the hot shoe flash sync. Nonetheless, it also comes with some other helpful additions such as a standard tripod mount (1/4-20) and bulb selector. Also, the format arrow located at the back of the unit has been improved for smoother sliding between 12 and 16 exposures which is great. With all this, you can still enjoy the magical aura of a Holga camera in this model called 120N.
Best Film Cameras - Buyer's Guide
The shutter speed dial on most film cameras has multiple shutter speed settings. They'll typically read 1-2-4-8-15-30-60-125-250-500-1000-2000-4000 and probably more in sequence. Please keep in mind that these figures do not equate to full seconds. While 1 equals 1 second, 2 equals 1/2 second, 4 equals 1/4 second, and so on. As a result, a shutter speed of 1/125 would allow more light into the camera than 1/500, resulting in a longer exposure. This is critical because a slow shutter speed can result in blurriness due to the subject’s movement or the user's hands are moving the camera slowly. Every shutter speed slower than 1/60 should be used with a tripod to avoid blurriness.
The size of a film is referred to as its format. The most known and widely usable formats are 35 mm, medium format, as well as large format. Other less common formats, such as 127, 110, and APS, are usable but they are harder to find since their supplies are very limited on the market. The size difference between the formats has a significant impact on the final picture. The smaller the format, the greater the grain is noticeable. On the other note, the large format film provides more clarity and less grain, but it also limits your options. As a result, deciding which film format is best for you is an important step in selecting the right camera.
If you want to get the best out of the film camera you are going to purchase, it will be better to have the one that accepts a wide variety of lenses. Make sure to check the lens mount of the unit and the lenses it accepts. For instance, the Canon AE-1 has the Canon FD breech-lock lens mount that allows any FD or New FD (FDn) lens to fit. This will give you the versatility you need if you want to explore the art of photography more as your skill advances.
Best Film Cameras - FAQs
There are numerous distinctions between film and digital cameras, including the sensor, the shooting angle, the capacity, the quality, and the degree of flexibility. Moreover, as the name implies, a film camera saves a photograph on film while a memory card is used by DSLR cameras to store images.
Approximately $10 and $50 seems to be a reasonable price for 35 mm or medium format film. While a large format 4x5 camera costs between $300 and $2000.
It costs about $5 to develop and scan one roll of film to approximately 3000 pixels wide.
The price of a film camera varies greatly. Keep in mind that the price of a standard film camera ought to be around $75 and $800.