Photo by Dmitriy Nushtaev on Unsplash
You may be wondering why to shoot with film in this age of digital cameras. Good question, since many of the current digital cameras beat out film in several ways. From the ease of stitching together panoramas or HDR exposures to the capability for ultra high resolution images, digital has a lot to offer.
Film photography has a lot to offer, too. One of the best things about film photography for beginners is that it teaches the fundamentals of photography at its most basic level. Understanding film photography makes you a better digital photographer.
Where to Find Film Cameras
Admittedly, there aren’t many 35mm SLR film cameras being made today, but there are still a few. Plus, we have options in another film format, 120 roll film. We found several different film cameras available brand new, but the majority of them are professional models that are quite expensive and probably not well suited as the best film cameras for beginners.
These brand new cameras can be found from a variety of retailers, including major online camera stores.
A great option for many wanting film cameras for beginners is the used market. One place I have used successfully for purchasing the best film cameras for beginners is Lensfinder. You’ll want to use a place that has good consumer protection and a wide variety of cameras and lenses.
Check your local camera stores, too, but you will find that a large online used camera store often has great prices and great selection.
Best Film Cameras for Beginners - New
One of the best 35mm film camera lines in recent years came from Nikon. In the 1970s through to recent years, such cameras as the Nikon FE, FM, FE-2, FM-2n, and FA were near the top of many lists for advanced users and many pros. They had relatively compact size and weight, were very rugged and dependable, and had lots of usable features and accessories.
The current version is the Nikon FM-10. It has the Nikon F lens mount, so plenty of new and used lenses will fit. Note that the lens will need to be for FX format and have a way to mechanically set lens aperture. New DX lenses won’t cover the film format and any G or E lens won’t have any way to set the aperture on this body.
Everything is manual on this 35mm SLR. Focus, shutter speed, aperture, and film advance. There is a built in light meter to aid in setting exposure values. It comes in a kit with a 35-70mm lens. Brand new, it costs what many entry level DSLRs cost, maybe a little more.
Voigtlander Bessa R4M
Also an all manual camera, this model is a rangefinder, as opposed to an SLR, and accepts lenses in the Leica M mount. It is a bit more expensive than the Nikon FM-10 and you will need to provide a lens since it doesn’t have one.
What you get with this camera is a throwback to a way of taking pictures that many beginners in 35mm photography learned as a matter of course. Even if all you were doing was taking snapshots, you still had to know something about rangefinder focusing, manual exposure, and other aspects of photography.
With adapters, you could use lenses made from as far back as the 1930s. For anyone wanting a way into classic lenses, this camera may be among the best film cameras for beginners.
Lomography Diana F+
You can find this camera brand new for amazingly low prices. Beware, though, it isn’t an SLR, has no meter, it doesn’t even have a rangefinder to assist in focusing. The biggest difference, it uses a totally different film format, 120 roll film.
What you get is a huge film frame and a whole lot of fun. For lovers of minimalism, this may be the perfect hipster film camera.
Best Film Cameras for Beginners - Used
High school photography classes everywhere used this camera as the basic 35mm SLR to learn the basics of photography. While it hasn’t been made for several years, it can be found at many places, including online at stores like Lensfinder.
It is all mechanical, all manual, and uses the Pentax K lens mount. Not only are many samples of the camera available at super low prices, you can also find lenses just about anywhere for very low cost.
This camera line debuted in the mid 1970s and it set amatuer photography on fire with its combination of ease of use, low price, and tons of dedicated accessories like automatic flash and motorized film advance auto winder. Focus is manual, exposure automation is shutter speed priority (you set shutter speed, camera choose lens aperture) or fully manual.
Using an older lens mount system, the Canon FD/FL mount, this 35mm SLR is a popular choice for best film cameras for beginners. Lightweight, compact, but full featured, it’s still an awesome camera for any film user.
Long ago, in a far away galaxy, the tag line “From the Mind of Minolta” meant that Minolta designed and produced amazing cameras.
From the mind of Minolta came many innovations that are in use in current digital cameras, such as autofocus and through the lens flash (TTL) off the film plane (OTF) exposure automation. Photographically, Minolta’s mind still lives on in Sony digital still cameras.
This camera is a 35mm SLR with full exposure automation, TTL-OTF flash automation, motor drive, and other accessories. It uses the Minolta MD/MC lens mount, so scores or hundreds of lenses will fit. Prices for the camera and its lenses are very reasonably priced on the used market.
Still one of the best film cameras for beginners, back in the day, this was one of the top line choices for adventurous amatuer photographers.
Few cameras caused as much excitement when first introduced as the ground breaking Olympus OM-1 and OM-2 cameras did. What made them special was that these were professional level full frame 35mm SLRs that had a compact size and weight that were virtually unthinkable at the time they came out.
While the Olympus OM-1 has all mechanical, all manual exposure control, the Olympus OM-2 has an electronic shutter that can be controlled by a TTL-OTF meter. That meter may have been a Minolta innovation, but Olympus was the first to use it (fully licensed) in a professional level camera.
Using the OM lens mount, users quickly found out that the OM-2 was great for astrophotography through telescopes as well as imaging through a microscope. Flash automation was extremely accurate and simple as well.
The OM-1 and OM-2 are a little bit higher in price, but still extremely affordable as some of the best film cameras for beginners.
Since we’ve broached the subject of higher prices, let’s look at this premium 35mm rangefinder film camera from Leica that was introduced in 1954.
Before Leica was legendary for extreme quality and very prices in digital imaging, they developed a reputation in 35mm film cameras for extreme quality in their cameras and lenses. Quality commands high prices, then and today, these cameras are expensive. The fact that they are sought after by collectors also drives up prices.
Still, if you have the finances, these cameras are arguably some of the best film cameras for beginners or any level of photographers. Their mechanical precision is superb and the optical quality of the lenses is virtually perfect.
Current M mount lenses will fit and work on this 50 year old camera, plus there are many fine lenses available used. Everything about this camera is mechanical and manual. Shutter speed, aperture, focus, film advance. There is no meter, so that requires either some tried and rules such as the Sunny 16 Rule or a handheld meter.
All things considered, what makes this one of the best film cameras for beginners is that you will learn something every time you use it. Plus, you will be using one of the all time great 35mm cameras that helped make photography what it is today.
Minolta Maxxum 7000
From the mind of Minolta came one of the earliest autofocus 35mm SLR camera lines, the Maxxum. The Maxxum 7000 makes its way onto the list of the best film cameras for beginners because it is a great camera, very high quality.
Also because it is among the first to have everything available as either manually controlled or on automation. It has programmed automatic control of both shutter speed and aperture. It has autofocus. It has motorized film advance and an easy load system for the film. It has fully automatic flash exposure.
The Maxxum 7000 introduced the Minolta A mount, now known as the Sony A mount, for interchangeable lenses. So, you could find full frame format lenses brand new for it. Plus, a huge array of used lenses.
Used pricing of the cameras and lenses from an online website such as Lensfinder is very reasonable. A fabulous choice as one of the best film cameras for beginners if there ever was one.
While Minolta may have gotten there first with their AF Maxxum series, Canon really hit it out of the ballpark with the EOS system of 35mm SLRs.
The Canon EOS system of 35mm SLRs had all of the same features and functions of the Nikon AF cameras such as the N2020 and N90, and the same as the Minolta Maxxum 7000 and 9000. What Canon added was their EF lens design.
Canon EF lenses didn’t just use a new lens mount, they changed the basic operations of lens controls from external to internal. The only external control was the focus ring for manual override.
Other manufacturer’s AF lenses were driven from a motor contained in the camera body. The Canon EF lenses each had their own built in focus motor. A motor in the lens was employed for aperture setting as well. There were no moving parts connecting from camera to lens at all, it was all done electronically.
That method of lens control is the general standard used by almost every brand today for their digital camera lines.
While the EOS 620 was a great camera, too, it was the EOS 650 that was considered at the time to one of the best film cameras for beginners, and it still is. It is also very affordable as a used camera. Current lenses for full frame EOS DLSRs will fit and work, plus there are a plethora of used lenses available.
Best Film Cameras for Beginners - Other
There are many used cameras out there that use film. In addition to 35mm SLRs, there were compact rangefinder cameras with a fixed lens, and small AF point and shoot (P&S) cameras, many of which can be found for around the price of a nice meal at a chain restaurant.
Other options include 120 roll film cameras, such as folding cameras and TLR style cameras. You might even find a nice Polaroid or two! Be sure to find out if there is new film for whatever format you decide on.
Whatever you choose as your own best film camera for beginners, enjoy the camera, enjoy the experience, and see if you can find one on the cheap by visiting Lensfinder.