There is a lot of talk about how expensive film cameras are becoming with their rising popularity and finite, dwindling availability.
Sidebar (Random Neural Firing): I am honestly baffled that some old school or new company has not created a new film body a la what was done with the new Polaroid cameras. No one asked for a plastic digital low fi knock-off Yashica in Electro drag. If Leica and Nikon can still offer film cameras for thousands surely there is space for more. If they keep the price reasonable I would definitely buy one. What would you rather? A wildly expensive online darling that could irretrievably pack it in at any moment or a brand new “old” film PEN F, OM-1, AE, FE, some brand rangefinder or the like. Look at this price range gap on B&H:
Somebody plug this with a viable retro offering. Please. As of this writing, there are more film large format options at B&H (35) than medium format (7) or 35mm cameras (11). I am no market expert, but I know I would buy one. And we are back to our main post in 3, 2, 1…
So bargain picks. I will use the format of a current InstaTwitFlicFace darling as a target example followed up by a bargain recommendation in my humble opinion. There are less expensive quality offerings, but many of those are still too expensive for someone just looking to get their feet wet. With that in mind, I will be focusing on dirt-cheap options that offer greater value than their price points would indicate.
Darling: Leica M3 (film Ms in general) – My blog post.
Analog excellence. Many less expensive options like the Bessa R2, less dear Leica CL, AF Contax G (a favorite of mine), and the like will not set you back thousands, but will still set you back hundreds. So what of the dirt-cheap variety?
FED 2 – My blog post.
As good? Heck no! Nowhere close. But it can be had for peanuts and it is quite capable. So much so that I did a tongue in cheek comparison with the M3 for KEH.
Started off as a joke, but the FED 2 fared far better than I expected. Here is one sample comparison between the two from the post (FED 2 w/ Jupiter 12 top and M3 w/ Summilux 35mm f/2 bottom. Here is the full back to back comparison album from the article.).
In the right hands, it is capable of great things. Got mine with a collapsible lens and Eveready case for way under $100, around $50 if memory serves. Even less for just the body and lens. There are other options like the Zorki 4 or Kiev 4, and I tried them both, but I prefer the FED 2.
Darling: Nikon F3 – My blog post.
Ok, there are so very many options for this. All of them will do. Minolta X-700, Canon AE1 Program, Pentax ME Super, and on and on are lower priced options. You can find a viable option at near any price point. All have reasonable nifty fifty lens options available. I would recommend my personal favorite, the Contax 137 MA Quartz, but the skins fail on those and they require some DIY love. My choice?
Olympus OM-10 – My blog post.
This is hands down the best SLR value I have stumbled upon and purchased. Many focus on the OM-1, which is a great option. But this camera costs far less, accepts the same lenses as the OM-1 and my copy w/ 50mm lens included cost me only $50 at my local camera shop. It loses a built-in shutter dial when compared to the OM-1, and some other niceties, but I picked up the optional plug-in shutter dial for $15 on eBay for those rare occasions where I do not feel like using the spot on built-in AE. But you are on your own exposure wise when you do use the dial.
So for $65 all in you can have a small, light, wonderfully built and looking SLR capable of this.
Compact Manual Focus Built-In Lens Rangefinder
Darling: Contax T – KEH Photo Credit
If you have been following film cameras you know about this camera. I won’t give a price estimate because it just went up now… and again just now. One camera option that comes to mind immediately is the Canon Canonet QL17 GIII at less than $200. But some might think this is too high so I’ll go even lower. Another darling would be the Olympus XA. Owned one briefly, but it and I did not get along all that well. Never clicked. Will take the blame for that one. Shot one roll and traded it on. Perhaps I was having an off week. I would suggest a Yashica Electro, but I have one and cannot recommend it with a clear conscience since I feel it may pack it in at any moment rendering it a brick with its auto only shutter. Instead, I offer a fully manual option.
Petri 7S – My blog post.
It is quite the looker. But the lens is nowhere near as good. The rangefinder has an odd green cast. The lightmeter is a light driven and will most likely not work… But my copy was less than $50, has a lightmeter that actually works, and created images far better than it has any business doing.
Compact Autofocus Built-In Lens Rangefinder
Darling: Contax T2 – My Blog Post.
Overpriced now? Most certainly. Capable? Sweet giblets yes. One of the most amazing cameras I have ever used. Kudos to the ones who picked it up before the price spike and the monied ones that can still swing it after the hype kicked in. But what if you are not a trust fund baby?
Konica C35 AF2 – My blog post.
My copy was $50 at my local camera shop. I think so highly of this camera that I wrote a T2 comparison without caveats. The only slight against the C35 functionally is its lack of manual overrides for focus and exposure. But if you shoot all auto you are set. The C35s Hexanon lens is one of the best I have ever used. Combine that with dead accurate exposure and you can make some wonderful images.
6×6 Medium Format
Darling: Hasselblad V Series – My Blog Post.
Everyone knows this camera. Moon camera. Storied camera. Worthy of all the accolades. Lovely to use and creates fantastic images. But very expensive. Could call out other less expensive contemporary contenders of various image size (I like the Pentax 645 and 645N… Fujica GW690 and GW690III… RZ67… and on and on.), knock-off 6×6 SLRs like the Kiev 60, but even they are getting into the hundreds nowadays. My recommendation?
Yashica MAT LM – My blog post.
If you cannot swing a Hasselblad do not fret. Yashica has you covered. I love this camera. Very capable and even quite compact. Easy to focus and the lens in sharp. I wholeheartedly recommend this camera without reservation. I picked up my very clean copy for about $120.
And that is it. Are there more options in each category? Certainly. These are the recommendations based on my personal experience. Your mileage may vary. So if you wish to put a toe into the film photography waters it need not cost a fortune.