5 Great Film Cameras on a Tiny Budget

You know I love film. Just shot my Polaroid 600E yesterday and loved it. Shot the Hassie the week before, and just loaded a roll into my Lomo ‘Sardine’. That said, seeing that damn near everything has (obviously and justly) gone digital, film cameras are dirt cheap. And whether you’re a seasoned pro or an iphone snapper, a good dose of shooting actual film would be good for you. Trust me on this. So that’s why I’ve taken the time to wrangle five great cameras for under $300 that you can use to re-invigorate your film shooting, even if it’s just for a little flirt with nostalgia. … (and I know that there are a lot of sweet cameras OVER $300…i’ve listed a few of my fav’s in the comments. Please share yours there too….)

Canonet QL17 GIII. Image courtesy Wikipedia

Canonet QL17 GIII. Image courtesy Wikipedia

This camera, in its heyday, was known as the “poor man’s Leica,” and with darned good reason. The fixed 40mm f/1.7 lens is sharp as all heck, producing images that, with the right film, will produce incredibly crisp negatives. My go-to setup has a 58mm step-down ring on the lens to accomodate a modern Canon lens cap (which is important as these old cameras don’t usually include a lens cap).

The nice thing here? The metering system still works on most copies you can buy today; all you need is a 1.35v battery (Wein Cell makes a nice replacement for the old mercury batts) and you’re good to go. You can shoot in shutter-priority only, and since the metering sensor sits directly above the lens and inside the filter ring, it compensates for ND filters if you use one.

Shot with a Canonet QL17 on Kodak Tri-X. Image © Sohail Mamdani

Shot with a Canonet QL17 on Kodak Tri-X. Image © Sohail Mamdani

The best part, though, is the price. Depending on condition, the QL17 GIII can be had for between $75 and $150. Mine cost $110, and is in excellent condition. Make sure you check the seals on the unit you’re buying, however, as these wear out easily and can cause light leaks (but are also easily replaced).

Price: $75-$150 depending on condition.
Where to Buy: eBay is your best bet on this.

Nikon F3

Nikon F3 with HP viewfinder. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Nikon F3 with HP viewfinder. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Though Canon, Nikon, Pentax, and other manufacturers made excellent SLRs, I like the Nikon F#-series of cameras as, in most cases, they have the most flexible lens mounts. This camera will take just about any Nikon lens made in the last several decades (with the notable exception of “G” lenses, which have no manual aperture ring). Plus it doubles as a hammer or a weapon if you’re in need. These things are tougher than dirt.

The F3 is a manual-focus camera, but has a metering system and allows for aperture-priority metering. It uses 2 SR44 button cells for power, which are easily available. Stick a 50mm f/1.8 lens on this puppy and you’ll be good to go.

Price: About $200 depending on condition.
Where to Buy: KEH.com has some great deals on them. You can get an Excellent-condition body for about $189 and a 50mm f/1.8 lens will set you back about $80.


Cameras in this category used to cost thousands of dollars — and still do, in some cases. But don’t let that dissuade you from experiencing the joy of holding a 4.5×6 — or larger — negative. Here are two cameras that will let you shoot those big, fat, negatives for an affordable price.

Mamiya C33 TLR

Mamiya C33 Professional. Image courtesy Rémi Kaupp/Wikipedia.

Mamiya C33 Professional. Image courtesy Rémi Kaupp/Wikipedia.

Though its younger sibling, the C330, gets all the attention among Twin Lens Reflex camera afficionados, the C33 is actually a very, very respectable body. Mine has travelled thousands of miles with me as I trek all over the state of California, and has helped me make some of my favorite images.

Bixby Bridge. Delta 100/Mamiya C33. Image © Sohail Mamdani.

Bixby Bridge. Delta 100/Mamiya C33. Image © Sohail Mamdani.

It’s also generally cheaper than the C330 (or the more famous Rolleiflex TLR), and has something pretty cool for TLR cameras – the ability to swap lenses. From the wonderfully sharp 80mm f/2.8 that sits on my camera, to a somewhat comically long 250mm f/6.3, these lenses are usually available for around $200.

Price: About $200–300 depending on condition.
Where to Buy: KEH.com had one until just recently for just under $300. Between the lens and camera, expect to spend around that. Mine was an eBay purchase for $187.

Mamiya 645 1000s

Mamiya 645. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Mamiya 645. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

I know – two Mamiya’s in one article – it’s a bit lopsided. Gotta love Hassies, but Mamiya tends to deliver some pretty outstanding quality for the price, and the 645 1000s is no exception. It was built to be used with the ease of a 35mm SLR, and renders a negative 6cm X 4.5cm (hence the 645 moniker). You’ll need to buy three separate pieces for it – the main body, a viewfinder, and a lens. All in all, you can come in with all three for about $250.

The Mamiya 645 is set to take 120-size medium format film, which is the most common form sold today. Top it off with an AE prism (the viewfinder) with a built-in meter and you get aperture-priority operation, with a center-weighted pattern. Using one of these outfits, my friend Andrew Kim has done some outstanding street photography.

Street artist in NYC. Taken with a Mamiya 645. Image courtesy/© Andrew Kim.

Street artist in NYC. Taken with a Mamiya 645. Image courtesy/© Andrew Kim.

Price: About $250 depending on condition.
Where to Buy: KEH.com is the place to go for these. They have a lot of them, in varying condition.

Bronica ETR-S

Bronica’s ETRS will look somewhat familiar to Hasselblad owners, in that it’s a simple, modular box. I call this the Hassie Hack. Throw on a viewfinder, lens, and back, and you have a complete system for under $300, depending on condition.

Bronica ETR-Si system. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Bronica ETR-Si system. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

Introduced in 1979, the ETR-S will shoot 6×4.5cm film with a standard back, but you can also swap that back out to shoot standard 35 and panoramic 135-format film as well. There’s a wide variety of lenses available for it, both fixed-focal length and a few zooms as well – a rarity at this price range.

Price: About $250 depending on condition.
Where to Buy: KEH.com and eBay.

These are just five of the many options you have when considering a return (or a first-time visit) to the world of film cameras. What are your favorites? Sound off in the comments – you’ll see some more of my favorites there…

[thx for the research help Sohail!]

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Hussein Nabhan says:

Kiev 6c! Very affordable camera, and amazing pro-like photo outcomes!

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Francis says:

Can you do a review on Russian cameras such as a Zorki 4K and Fed 3 & 5B? Thanks

Dominic says:

My current film line up.
Kiev 88CM, great camera, dirt cheap and super sharp lenses. If it breaks I’ll buy a new one.
Nikon FM10, uses all the lenses I have for my digital, all manual, beat it to hell and if it breaks a new one is $20.
Canonet, (yes Chase, it’s an amazing camera,) and you can find them for under $75 if you look hard enough.

Ian Hamilton says:

Tme to dust off my old Nikon F4 and the “stealth machine” …… the Konica Hexar AF :)

Scott says:

Personally, my favorite camera of all time is the Leica M3. It single handedly cured my G.A.S. But for people wanting to shoot digital and film, the EOS 3 is a great little camera if you are invested in canon already. I got mine in mint condition for $200 dollars.

Juan Luis says:

olympus xa, fantastic, cheap and funny!

I like my Nikon FM3A for B&W.

ami siano says:

gotta love my old Mamiyaflex (prior to the C33) build 1956.
my first camera back in 1990
amazing quality still today

lens quality is absolutely stunning
price ? priceless
but probably cheap on Ebay.

Nathan says:

I bought a Rolleicord III about a year ago for less than $100. Its been great, especially for teaching myself to figure out exposure in my head since it doesn’t have a meter.

Also just got a Canonet from a relative’s estate. Sadly the meter doesn’t seem to be working, but still a nice compact little cam.

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Tiktian Chan says:

in the UK, used consumer film camera’s are dirt cheap, I got a nikon EM perfect mechanical really good cosmetic (except for some marks on the bottom) for about 15 USD, it’s the smallest nikon body (ever) and I must say I use it only a little bit less than my F5 or Hasselblad 500C/M

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Ashoke says:

Interesting!!! Never saw a film camera being used as a shower head!! … Should have Mirror-Lock-Up though …

Jeroen says:

Another affordable good money spend medium format 6×6 camera is the Pentacon Six TL, made in Germany

Ashoke says:

Was about to scroll down to the bottom and add a comment about the Pentacon Six … Want to own it one day … The cheapest medium format system camera out there!

Thanks for the article, Chase!

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shannon says:

If you’re curious about shooting film, but have hardly any cash… try your local camera shop. i work in a small shop & we have customers dropping off old kits all the time. We usually hang onto them & if a student or someone who’s curious asks, we will give them a camera. We mostly see old canons, and kodaks.

Sean Molin says:

If you’re a Nikon shooter, the F100 should definitely be on your short list. At ~$200 for one in good shape, it will meter and drive ALL your modern G lenses.

What a stuff of un-ambiguity and preserveness of valuable familiarity concerning unexpected emotions.

Luke Davis says:

A big up for the Mamiya RZ67 (or RB67) system. Way better value than the Hassy V system (even though I love that system) and a bigger negative to boot. Not the camera system for collectors, as it’s not nearly as pretty nor retro-chic. Plus, I’ve found the waist-level finder and bellows-based focusing system on the RZ make focusing – especially w/ wide angles – much easier than on the Hassy V system, but to each their own.

Per KEH’s most recent listings for the RZ67 system, a used RZ67 body in EX condition @ $265 USD + 120 Pro II back (6×7 format, compatible w/ both RZ67 I and II bodies) @ $99 USD + 65mm f/4 lens, provided you like wide angles (~32mm in 35mm format) @ $189 USD = $553 USD + whatever shipping option you choose. Not bad!

If you opt for the all-mechanical RB67 system, you can get everything for a good bit cheaper still…

Henning Ras says:

I still use my Ricoh KR 10 X for film photography and then I have a Kodak Rettinete Rangefinder , that is made of stainless steel and when I have my settings correct, scanned the images and you might think I used a point and shoot digital camera….

I plan to get a Nikon F5 so I can use it with my 24-70mm NIkon and 105mm Macro VR lens along my Nikon d700.

Best film I used so far is Fuji Reala ISO 200 boost up to ISO 800 but just inform the developers to develop it ISO 800 or you have dull images….

I love my QL G-III, but I have a bit of buyer’s remorse, as I bought the G-III 19, and not the G-III 17. The 17 apparently has a better lens. It’s still great fun, though.

I’d say definitely try to find one with the original lens cap – it’s metal! It’s really cool, and I love showing it off. It’s the only camera I use one of those lens cap tethers for. Don’t worry about the original leather case. Mine came with one, but it was falling apart and reeked of cigarette smoke.

The metering has died in mine, even with replacement batteries. However the hot shoe works fine, and I sometimes use my Canon external flash.

I get back last week from Cuba last week. With me out of my Nikon Digital SLR I had the Contax TSVIi with me. An excellent camera made in Titanium and with the Carl Zeiss optics. I recommend this as a relaible travel companion. Took 3 rolls of Tri-X.

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Ignuz says:

I just loaded a film in my dad’s 43 year old Pentax sp500. Hope there isn’t much light leakage. The light-meter and mechanics still work \o/

scott says:

Great suggestions. I have a bunch of film cameras around here. Curious though… if you guys aren’t developing your own film, where do you take it/send it to be developed? Do you get it scanned as well? Love to hear!

Sean Molin says:

I develop and scan everything myself. It’s easy to develop in your kitchen (especially B&W). Scanning is a different animal. Typically the operator is the most important part of getting a good scan and you have to be patient and willing to research and experiment for the best results (color, specifically). B&W scans really aren’t that hard. There are some good scanner options between $350 and $800. I find, though, that in order to get a scanner that is really good at BOTH 35mm and larger formats you have to spend a pretty penny… like $2000 or more.

scott says:

yeah, i’ve done both myself many times, but I feel like I don’t have the time (or the patience) to do it anymore. Looking to outsource.

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Very nice, Chase. Not only do I occasionally shoot film, I shoot using Minolta cameras that I bought new as early as 1982. Good article. Shooting film keeps you disciplined. When you have only 24 or 36 exposures to use and you have to manually set your settings, it makes you think. Great job as usual.

Paul Santos says:

Nikon F3 – not the best looking of cameras, but one of my faves!!

Byama says:

I think F3 looks pretty sick!

Denis says:

finished up a roll of HP5 on my Canon EOS1 with a Composer Pro lens yesterday at the Vancouver Pride Parade

Agha Abbas says:

The Olympus OM-1, still ranks as the best camera of all times and you can pick one up for around a $100 perhaps. I have owned (rather inherited), one since I was a kid and have loved every step of the way. The 50mm Zuiko on it is extremely sharp and treat to use.

Matthew says:

Instead of the Canonet QL17 GIII which are getting a bit pricey you could go for a Yashica Lynx 1000. Fully manual with a really nice 40mm Yashinon lens. I picked mine up for under 30GBP.

Photo – http://www.flickr.com/photos/kitschiguy/7379655168/in/set-72157629749144535/lightbox/

Instead of the F3 I would choose either an FM, FM2 or FE2. Cheaper, smaller, lighter but just as capable. Everything you need and nothing you don’t.

Photo – http://www.flickr.com/photos/kitschiguy/8094912994/in/set-72157629749144535

Instead of the Mamiya C330 I would choose the C220. Again, it’s cheaper, lighter and does everything you need it to do and nothing you don’t.

Photo – http://www.flickr.com/photos/kitschiguy/8253986741/in/set-72157629749144535

Mamiya 645 1000s is a great choice but you can get an RB67 for about the same price.

Bronica too.

For modern AF Nikon film bodies the F100 and F90x are great value and awesome cameras. I don’t think it’s worth the extra money for an F5.

Mamiya Universal Press with the 100mm f/2.8 lens is just…. I love it!

Photo – http://www.flickr.com/photos/kitschiguy/8756492847/in/set-72157629749144535

Great article.


I own a Zenza Bronica ETRS and I must say it’s a great medium format film camera for its price. Here are some photos that were scanned with a dslr tohugh:


Also a cheap medium format is a KODAK Brownie. =)

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My brother-in-law gave me an old Canon F1 that had jammed up on him years ago. I set the self timer and pressed the shutter button. The self timer lever began to move, making that wonderful grrrrrrrrrr sound then the shutter curtains opened and closed and the mirror clacked back into place and it was working once more. I still had a few rolls of Tri-X in a drawer so I hit the street with it. I also found a 50mm 1.4 for it at a local thrift shop for $12. The guy who waited on me couldn’t figure out why I wanted that little lens when they had several big, slow, off brand zoom lens that to him were more impressive.


Dennis says:

I love this post. How I wish I have one of these. I love photography

Matt says:

My article is different but perhaps complimentary to this one. I shoot portraits with mostly old film cameras, but its more about “affordable or cheap cameras that do a nice job” http://www.mojokiss.com/my-favorite-cheap-old-cameras/

Robert says:

Two thumbs up to Canonet!

Nikon FM2n should also be on your list, bro.

Nice article.

Mike says:

As a person who has stuck with Canon because, well, I can’t afford to change all my lenses! I would add a couple of options to the fixed lens one given.

first: The venerable F1. A pro body in every sense of the word, and FD lenses are cheap, cheap, cheap these days. Always wanted that 135 F2.5? Saw one on eBay for $75. A nifty 50 f1.8? The shipping will cost more than the lens. The F1 body itself can also be found for well under $200.

Got a big collection of EOS lenses already? I’ve seen the EOS A2E for under $100 in good shape, and it comes with that wacky eye-control focus system that worked incredibly well for the day. Heck, that alone is worth the price of admission to play with, and you get to slap on your new 70-200 F2.8II too!.

I picked up a mint Elan 7NE last year for under $200. It has that eye focus system, which, yes, works really well. I thought it was just a gimmick, but I find myself using it. And yes, I use the 70-200 2.8 with it. :)

I never get a second look when using it … from a few feet away it looks like a standard mid-range Canon DSLR.

E J Haas says:

I’ll surely go along with Chase on the F3 & Canon. Also Yashica Electro, XA & Olympus infinity,
aka miju-1. Perhaps a bit more than $300, but worth it is the Konica Hexar AF with a sharp fixed
35mm f/2 lens. For MF there are many Fuji RF cameras in 6×4.5, 6×7 & 6×9. I do like the Yashica TLRs.
If buying a Mamiya or Bronica 6×4.5 get the prism finder as a waist level finder only works well in vertical
orientation, because for horizontal shots you’d have to stand sideways to your subject.


Great List!! Thanks for sharing!

Paulus W says:

Let’s not forget the mighty Canon T90, a camera I own and love. Brutally high tech for its time and to this day still sports a few tricks not seen in modern machines. Specifically its multi spot metering system. Sick thing!! Slow and deliberate, but sick!! Love shooting with it ….

FlashFire says:

As my kids would say, o.m.g., Upton, you must have been using some crappy equipment “back inthe day”.
And nobody is saying film is cheap, or cheaper than anything else, but it sure is different!
And that is what is good about it…gets you out of the box a bit, get the stiff stuff to loosen up a bit.
Everybody could use that.

As far as cameras, I have shot with Nikon products since 1963 or so, and have a few from each “era”…
and a big collection of lenses…so I still shoot Nikons…digital…today. Although I love the “F”s , like the F-3-HP,
I think the “slickest package ever” for 35mm film is the FM series…FM-2, etc. Cheap, rugged, mechanical, fixable,
and compact but not so silly-small as to be hard to use. For Medium-Format, look at the Bronica SQ-A…mint copies can be had for really bargain prices, nice lenses, very modular, and again, very fixable.

What a nice thread this is! THANKS!

Curt Clayton says:

Great article, but the photo is not of a Mamiya 645 1000s. The 645 1000s (like the M645 and the 645J) did not have interchangeable backs. Your photo is of the Mamiya 645 Pro.
All the best!
Curt Clayton

tom upton says:

Tight budget? Shooting film? SERIOUSLY?? Factor in film and processing and scanning and THEN do the post. Who is kidding who? Client will ask you to recalculate.

Good luck holding onto your “but I am an Artist and artists shoot film” line. I am tired of the Photogscenti Pundits telling me shooting film is “good for me” I am embarrassed when I revisit the resolution of the 35mm images I used to deliver to clients in the 80s and 90s compared to even today’s entry level digital sensors.

Kitschy headline though, I must respectfully digress…

Ryan says:

Honestly, I think it’s all the same…and totally dictated by how you most enjoy shooting. Big sensors help you make big prints. Case in point: the Leica DigiLux 2. It was 5MP and made beautiful images, but you’re probably not printing murals!

I switched over to the RZ because I wanted to slow down and I wanted the ability to make huge prints. It wasn’t a cost thing at all, and I’m scanning 120 film at 65MP equivalents with satisfying fidelity. It might not last forever, but I’m loving the process.

To your point, there are definitely ongoing costs associated with shooting film, especially medium format. What I think Chase is getting at here is the fact that shooting film is FUN, and it can be done on a budget. That doesn’t mean it becomes your whole workflow. In fact, commercial photographers may have a tough time finding clients who are willing to wait on film.

In the end, what matters is your enjoyment of making the images you want to make.

Sean Molin says:

I tell people all the time that film and digital really cost about the same (for a given quality level). It’s just that digital’s cost is all up front, and film’s you pay for as you go along.

With that regard, it’s a lot easier for most people to afford nicer film gear. Funny that I know people who plunk down $3000 on a digital body… but SCOFF at the idea of a Leica M6 and a lens or two for the same money. And that Leica has actual value and isn’t going anywhere in 5 years.

Cheryl says:

Well I own 2 out of your 5 choices. The Nikon F3HP and the Bronica ETRS. Bought them both when I was in photography school. I was thinking of selling them, but now this article has inspired me to dust them off and use up some of that film that’s been sitting in my frig crisper for __ years! Hope it’s still good.

Matthew ( says:

Great article! I’ve wanted to shoot medium format for awhile and have always figured the equipment was out of my reach. Now I see that it’s not. Now my question is though, does anyone know any good places to get medium format film developed? Online or local (Chicagoland area)

Deshamer says:

Great article Chase, one addition from my end: Olympus Trip 35!

I remember I used to play pretend photographer with my dad’s Yashica, some 30 years ago, but I never really picked up photography until about 6 years ago with a digital SLR. Since I’m not familiar with film, can somebody please answer a question for me? When it comes to digital, the quality of an enlargement pretty much depends on the amount of pixels that a DSLR has, I know there are some other factors, but you get my point; so in film, is there any relation between enlargement size and “anything else”, or can I just enlarge the photo to pretty much any size? Since I do a lot of panoramics, I’m looking to get something that gives me the flexibility to do big prints without the garbage/noise or digital. I don’t know much about film cameras, so please be kind with your answer ;) Thanks, and Thank you Chase for reminding me of the beauty of film once again.

Rabi says:

It’s not really anything special, but one of my favorite film bodies is the Minolta SR-T101. It just feels great. I got mine for free, but you can pick them up super cheap.

Mark says:

Great to see the Canonet QL17 GIII here, great camera for peanuts. I’d replace the F3 with the FE2 and Bronica with the RB67 though.

Brian Wilson says:

Mamiya RB67, wanted one so badly in the 70’s, now just $250. I love my Mamiya pro645 with motor drive. I got a mint Nikon F4s for $160. And most recently, my first camera was stolen in 1979, replaced this weekend- Nikkormat FTN. It was only used a few times, came with all manuals, caps, white sheets, etc for $125. Yay film!

Now if I can only make myself stop looking at the back of the camera to review the shot…..

Keith OMuiri says:

whilest they’re not all on a tiny budget, I love my collection and shoot em all, I gave my son an AE1 for his 9th birthday, he’s on his third roll


keeps me basic

Simon says:

Olympus OM series are also interesting : hyper compact (my OM40 is not larger than a EOS350d) and their zuiko 50 1.8 is really good & compact.

Today loads of good film camera systems are cheaper and cheaper (I bought a Sinar F2 + 90mm optic + loads of accessories) for €400 (about USD475) a bargain…

Graham says:

I shoot both 35mm and MF regularly. It’s really improved my digital shooting.
I’ve got a Asahi Pentax SP2 that I picked up of eBay for $10 (yep, $10!) that I shoot with a 50mm f1.4 Super Takumar lens that I paid $100 for.
I also shoot a Hasselblad 503CX with a few different backs, traditional 6×6 and also a 645 back, when i want to squeeze a few more shots on a roll.
I develop my own negatives at home in the kitchen using a Paterson tank and then scan them to get the images into a digital workflow to edit and share.

faisal says:

Some times its difficult to find good examples.

Brett says:

I shot with a Canon EOS5 when I was a Pro Photog….still LOVE that camera (hate buying that damn battery tho!)

Ive been shooting with this little plastic canon lately: http://bretts.tumblr.com/post/48991968389/sweet-dumpshop-score-im-gonna-shoot-some-film

I also love my mju1.

I have a couple of cheap medium format tlrs but I am getting a hankering for a decent medium format setup.

great post Chase. you were funny as heck on digital rev too btw

Will Austin says:

Love this post Chase! It really inspires me to break out my Pentax 67 or my Yashica 124-G. Also love the Yashica rangefinders, I was able to score a mint black Electro 35 CC with the 35mm f/1.8 lens. The Oly 35 SP is also great!

Edgar Praus is a great mail order custom lab based in Rochester, New York (he does Kodak’s testing BTW). He has customers worldwide and can do any color or B&W process. Check him out at http://www.4photolab.com. Thanks

i absolutely love my Canon AE-1 (35mm). you can also find that one under 300,-. i was lucky enough to find my black one for 120,- in perfect condition. of corse i also love the hasselblad 500CM (not under 300,-) and i still do a lot with my polaroid SX-70. (shouldn´t be more than 150,- these days.

Josh Rose says:

I’ve got to ad the Yashica 124g. I picked mine up for $90 locally, but they go for anywhere around $130-300 based on condition. Love that little camera. Much smaller than the Mamiya C33 as well.

Darrell Noakes says:

I always loved the Canonet when they were current, but couldn’t get my hands on one. Instead, I found a used Minolta AL-F. It was my go-to camera for more than a decade, until I finally sold it to a friend in the mid 1970s. He still has it. I’m thinking of buying it back from him. I found my old Pentax Spotmatic, one of the first generation models, in my parents’ attic earlier this year and look forward to putting a roll of film through that. I can’t believe that a camera considered large for it’s day (bigger than an OM1) is so much smaller than most average digital SLRs now. No wonder I can’t use my old camera bags!

But my favorites right now are the Mamiya 645 1000S and RB67 Pro S that I picked up for a song last summer. I love the lush quality of the negatives and transparencies they make. They seem to be showing up everywhere now, so they’re a great deal. The RB67 in particular is great for building your biceps.

Victor Reynolds says:

I had the C-330 S back in the 90’s. It was a great portrait and fine-art camera. Sold it in 1993. Damn I miss it!

Ben A says:

I’ve been using a Nikon FM2(n) again for the last couple years. Lately it’s seen way more use than my DSLR. Compared to today’s DSLR’s, it’s super compact, and is way less of a theft magnet, making it a no brainer for travel, or to just throw in my bag as I’m heading out the door. It’s fully manual with a built in light meter, and apart from the meter is fully mechanical, so (sans metering), it works even without a battery. Throw on one of the classic manual focus wide angle lenses, like the (still shipping!) 28mm 2.8 with DOF markings and it’s great for street and travel.

For $100-150 used, it’s hard to beat.

Another nice benefit is rediscovering the great character you get out of film choice, even with the more limited selection we have these days. Just shot some Velvia in Nicaragua, and man, the color!

I’m using a Kodak Box brownie for a personal project at the moment. Great fun fully automatic in that you can’t change the settings and it only cost me about $2.

c.d.embrey says:

I had one during the 1950s. It cost about $2.00 new 8-) Easier to use than a digital P&S, and NO batteries needed.

Have you tried the disposable cameras made by Fuji and Kodak. About the same as a Box Broie, except they have a built-in flash. Rollei also makes a disposable B&W camera if you like monochrome.

c.d.embrey says:

If you have either Nikon or Canon DSLRs here are two great modern film cameras that use the same lenses.

Nikon F100. Works like a digital camera, but takes Film instead of a memory card. Five point auto-focus, 3D matrix metering. etc. Can even use the AF-G lenses.

Canon EOS Elan 7n is the Film version of a 20D. 7 point auto-focus, etc. All lenses except EF-S.

Way less than $300.00 for either in good/great condition.

G Allard says:

I’ve got 7 film bodies but my favorite has to be the 2 Mamiya m645s I have. One has the metered prism, the other a standard viewfinder. With the 85mm 2.8 it’s an incredible portrait setup. Got everything for under $250 on ebay (separate auctions).

Favorite film has to be Ilford Delta 3200 for BW and Kodak Portra 400 for color.

Some of my favorites are:

Holga 120N – Paid $20 for it. http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-qLOrA5_8pVk/ULBRM2710OI/AAAAAAAAFOw/DiKk9K8glyM/s640/05970005_small.jpg

Minolta XG-1 – Paid $80 for it with a bunch of lenses and accessories. http://roeschphotography.blogspot.com/2013/05/review-minolta-xg-1-35mm-slr.html

FED 5c – Paid $40 for it with a fantastic lens. http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8392/8610701528_0ef2e95d2e_k.jpg

I have a handful of others, but these are the ones I reach for the most.


Austin James says:

Hey Mr. Jarvis, I really appreciate the article, though I might suggest a few alternate choices for your list. I have only recently started shooting film again but am constantly astounded how such a simple chemical process can produce such outstanding creations. Thanks for contributing to film’s survival and growth as an artistic medium.

tommy d says:

1. The Yashica Electro series 35mm rangefinders have awesome ap-priority metering and a dead-sharp lens as well.

2. Zeiss 6×9 folders for the cheapest negative per square mm ever! And you can carry it in your pocket. Crazy.

3. The Olympus OM-1. Small, great glass, and soooo beautifully designed.

4. The venerable Diana; when Instagram isn’t enough.

5. Olympus XA. Because it’s the iPhone camera w/out the phone. ;-)

chase jarvis says:

ah yessss. the yashica with the zeiss glass is a classic.

Joel Björk says:

Popphoto.com ran a piece a few years back with recommendation for film cameras:

Been keeping an eye on e-bay for a medium format film camera for some time now but it’s hard to find a good deal.

Joel Collins says:

My all-time favorite film camera is the Bronica RF645 medium format rangefinder.

Ian says:

Loving the Mamiya Universal at the moment. Basically a Polaroid 600SE with easier to fit bits. Mixing it up with a Polaroid & 6×7 back. Lovely portrait camera. Also been taking the little Lubitel up into the mountains with me for some lomograaphy personal work. Love the fact the thing barely seems to weigh much more than a roll of film. Finally if it ever comes back from repair the Contax G2.

Nice lineup here, thanks Chase, i just listed mine Nikon F3 with lenses on ebay, grab it while it last:

G. Edward Jones says:

You can get good condition Minolta rangefinders (with working metes) for under $100 all day long on eBay. I think mine cost $45.

I still love to pull out my Pentax 67II and use it for my landscape work. Loaded with Fuji Velvia, I get beautiful results and am still delighted to view film on a light box. You can find this camera on EBay for a great price.

Philip says:

I was fortunate enough to find one of those Canon’s for $25 at a Flea Market, case and lens cap included. I also shoot a Mamiya 645 that I purchased off of ebay for $150. My favorite film camera to shoot though, is a Voigtlander Superb. They’re hard to come by, especially in working condition but they shoot 120 film which is readily available (thanks to holga’s and the like) and the design of the camera is noteworthy, considering Voigtlander had to go through some design tweaks so as not infringe on Rollei. Cheers everyone.

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Paul Reid says:

Not as “retro-y” as some of your choices, but I loved my Nikon F100, and you can pick them up super cheap. Fantastic camera! I get this one out once in a while – A Yashica Lynx14; a weighty rangefinder with a 45mm 1.4!

Ani says:

I’ve picked up a couple Nikon’s for under $100, the FE, F2 are great cameras for the play into nostalgia and I got mine both in great condition with the 50mm lens. I make myself shoot a couple rolls a month since it cost only 3 bucks to develop and I can scan at home.

chase jarvis says:

@ ani – do you have a fav place to have film developed?

Luke Davis says:

FYI, The Darkroom (www.thedarkroom.com) out of San Clemente, CA will develop a roll of 35mm or 120 for $10 per roll, including scans – for better scans add $5 a roll. I just got about 15 rolls back and they do a great job, quick turnaround, and cheap to boot.

The Mamiya 645 system is one that I want to get as well as the Mamiya RZ67; I’d use the 645 with the 500mm lens for when I wanted telephoto distance.

For 35mm, I’m looking to add a Canon F1N to complement my 30 year old Canon A-1.

chase jarvis says:

the polaroid 600E camera that I love is actually based on the mamiya platform body, etc. great camera. brick shithouse of awesome. can pound nails with it if need be.

The film SLR I recommend to everyone is the Canon AE-1. I got mine in stellar condition off eBay for like $110 plus shipping and I have fallen in love with it. If there only were a more accessible place to develop my rolls nearby, I would shoot it more than my 5D Mark III.

I will second the AE-1, I found mine locally for $70 via craigslist.

Michael says:

The closest place to develop your rolls is probably your bathroom. Developing film is neither complicated nor expensive and allows for much greater control (especially with b/w film).

Agreed. I recently pulled my Canon A-1 (basically the same camera) out of retirement and spent the afternoon shooting with it yesterday. I didn’t even take my 5D II out once.

Chase says:

Some other favs that will run you more than $300

Hasselblad 500C or 500 CM

Polaroid 600 SE

Leica M1

Nikon F5

…..and i’ll keep thinking. YOU?

here are my favorites:

35mm format:
Agfa Super SIlette. A great range finder from the 50’s. I got mine for $15 and that was in perfect shape. http://camerapedia.wikia.com/wiki/Agfa_Super_Silette

Kodak Pony 135 (first model from early 50’s). Although it uses zone focusing and is made of Bakelite, these cameras are super quiet leaf shutter cameras. I got mine for around $10 and it was in mint condition. http://camerapedia.wikia.com/wiki/Kodak_Pony_828/135

120 format:
Kodak Brownie Flash 20 and it’s little brother the Kodak Brownie Flashmite 20. These are awesome toy cameras because they have THREE different EV settings AND THREE different focus settings. All for a $5 camera.

Nate says:

Why the M1? Do you mean the M series of cameras? The M1 is a weak point in the M line up (not including the MD series which did a better job at what the M1 was trying to do).

I’d have to add the Yashica 124G to the list. Great bang for the (under $300) buck!
Love the adapter tele, wide, and close up lenses. They’re exquisitely imperfect.
I shoot landscape and portrait with this camera.

Love the Canonet too!

Tobias W. says:

This is what’s sitting on my shelf, ready to shoot:


Rollei 35 LED – because it’s super small and fun to shoot!
Minolta XD7 – one of the best SLRs ever made, great to learn with

“A bit more money”

Leica M3 – the eternal camera, best 35mm M body around
Minolta CLE – smallest and lightest Leica body, Aperture priority mode and TTL
Konica Hexar AF – stealthy, quiet, razor sharp wide open
Contax G2 – one of the best 35mm cameras ever

Swade says:

I think you missed the price range of the cameras he posted: $75-$300. Your first one is more than double the most expensive camera on there. The second, just as much as the first. Your third is more than the first and second, and that doesn’t even include a lens. Those are not “tiny budget” cameras. Irrelevant to the topic at hand. Sorry, but not sorry.

Hans Mast says:

@Swade: Actually Chase said, “and I know that there are a lot of sweet cameras OVER $300…i’ve listed a few of my fav’s in the comments. Please share yours there too….” ;-)

Mark Hannah says:

For 127 film I love my Yashica 44, I think I got it for less than $100 on Ebay, which is a lot cheaper than the Baby Rolleiflex and takes beautiful pictures.

Ken says:

The very first camera I had in the early 80’s was a Pentax ME-Super. Small and lightweight. I regret ever selling it but just purchased one complete with a 50mm lens for $50. I have yet to shoot it, but will someday soon.

Phong Nguyen says:

I don’t know those cameras cuz I have never used them before. I’m curently using Nikon FM10 and I think it’s a great film camera. Between Nikon FM10 and Nikon F2, which one do you think is better? please let me know, Thanks!

Photobury says:

Canon F1 – also tougher than dirt…

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