Dan K’s Top 10 Manual Film SLRs

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Dan K’s Top 10 Manual Film SLRs
Dan K is back, with a great rundown of the best manual film SLR’s. Come and read, maybe you will learn something new, maybe you will have something to share. If you are new to film and looking for an SLR guide, this would be a great start.

Introduction and Selection Criteria

I started out compiling a definitive list of the top 10 film SLRs of all time and quickly realised it would be good for nothing but a protracted flame-war. Photographers rarely agree on matters such as this, because they have very different preferences and work in different ways. Instead, I’ll list my own favourites. It helps for readers to know that I am an amateur photographer shooting street and general photography. Therefore, I’m not too worried about how my camera will deliver 6 frames per second, or interface with multiple Speedlights or studio strobes. I want a small light camera that is quick and intuitive to use, subtle in terms of presence and sound, fast to set up for a shot and delivers good photos reliably under all conditions.

Therefore my selection criteria are:
- Great lenses – there are plenty of great bodies, but the selection of available lenses (and to a lesser extent, the rest of the system accessories) should be your first consideration in choosing a body, not the features of the body itself.

- Film – for my personal photography, film is my passion. However, it doesn’t hurt if the lenses can be easily fitted to a FF DSLR body.

- Small body – plus availability of compact lenses. I don’t want to intimidate my subject … or put a chiropractor’s kids through college.

- Manual focus – I am faster with AF, but more consistent with MF. With digital, I can catch my mistakes, but with film I cannot.

- Big bright finder – I don’t want to squint down a little tube with my eyeball pressed to the finder, wondering if the image is in focus. I want to shoot with both eyes open.

- Easy to focus – a finder with good magnification and coverage and eye relief also needs good focussing aids, like split prism, microprisms and a high precision matte for depth of fields.

- Judicious info in finder – I’d like to know key info, but not at the expense of clutter and visual obstruction.

- Manual film advance – film is cheap but it isn’t free. I’d like to fill my roll with keepers, not burn through a pocketful. Manual wind is also much more subtle for candid photography.

- Meter (preferably aperture priority AE) – it’s not strictly necessary, but I work faster when I’m not constantly guessing light levels.

- Metered manual – I want the control of manual exposure settings, but I also want metering while I do it.

- Robust – great build quality, reliability and good finish aren’t just pleasing, they give confidence.

- TTL flash – this is the last consideration as I rarely use flash, but it can help me decide between two closely matched camera bodies

I do own and enjoy more modern auto-focusing and motor driven bodies, such as a Canon EOS1V and Nikon F100. They are efficient. However, they’re big and bulky, they draw attention and their specialist purpose borders on the domain of a DSLR. So unless I have specific reason to want to carry a camera of this type, I’ll always reach for a manual focus and manual advance camera. Among this sub-genre, there are some stand-outs. I find them impossible to rank, so I’ll list them alphabetically.

My Top 10 SLRs

Canon New F1 – this is the best mechanical SLR in FD mount, with an AE finder. It was designed to take on and outdo the dominant cameras of the day, such as the Nikon F3. There are many great FD lenses and as they don’t adapt easily onto most onto DSLRs, they are good value.

Contax S2b – a basic, but high quality camera with 1/250s fast flash sync. My father had one till it was pinched and still misses it to this day. It has a fast flash sync, but the best thing about it is all the Zeiss lenses available.

Leica R6.2 – for many, this is the epitome of the Leica R series. All mechanical, beautiful build quality. It’s the perfect camera to use fabulous Leica glass, particularly the smaller lenses. Prepare to pay a premium price, but no more than you’d pay for an M3 or M4.

Minolta X-570/X-500 – its predecessor, the X-700 is one of my all-time favourite cameras. Think of the X-570 as an upgraded X-700 for even less money. It has a new meter display for easier metered manual and the ability to make slow flash exposures. the X-570 is the cheapest camera to make the top 10. They’re practically free in comparison to the other cameras in the Top 10.

Nikon F3HP – of all the professional Nikon bodies, this comes closest to my ideal balance of size and sophistication, with a gorgeous finder. If only it was just a little smaller and had matrix metering and a hotshoe it would be stellar (It would also be a Nikon FA). I am actively hunting for a good deal on a clean example.

Nikon FA – this is the only camera that will matrix meter with AI and AIS lenses. If you shoot slide film, this is very useful. I am seriously impressed with this camera from a technological standpoint, but it is also a fantastic user. I use it a lot.

Nikon FM3A – a fantastic package overall. If I had to take one camera on a long trek this would be it. When I take one camera to the grave, this will also be it (sorry kids!) A late model to market, many consider this camera to be Nikon’s manual film SLR swansong and they went out on a very high note. Nikon took all that was good about the famous Nikon FE and FM series and combined it into one camera. I prefer the meter needle to a digital readout of the F3 and FA as well. FE/FM/FA/FM3A finder magnification and coverage isn’t quite as good as the F3, but not by much.

Olympus OM-3T – this is an incredible mechanical camera with a fantastic finder and metering system. Its rarity value exceeds its practical value, but you’ll be the envy of users and collectors alike. This is by far the most expensive camera mentioned in this review. I am looking for one, but my limited budget means I will need patience and luck.

Olympus OM-4T – not only has this camera one of the best ever viewfinders, it also has one of the best metering systems with multiple spot metering. It’s very intuitive as well. My uncle is a lifelong avid photographer and this is his only camera. I recently acquired one myself.

Pentax LX – unquestionably the ultimate Pentax of this genre, the LX is of professional spec. Rugged, battery independent, DOF preview, MLU, TTL, a choice of screens and finders, it has one of the best OTF light meters for accurate low ambient light exposures.

Honourable Mentions

I have come across several noteworthy SLRs that didn’t make it into my top 10. Again in alphabetical order:

Canon A-1 – if the F1 is too much, then maybe the slightly less sophisticated prosumer A-1 is called for. The shutter is fully battery dependent, though. This camera sat at the top of my shopping list for years, but I was drawn into the Minolta system instead.

Canon AE-1 Program – it’s not quite as beautiful to my eyes as an A-1, but similar or better in many ways. Simple yet sophisticated, it shoots in program, shuttered priority and metered manual modes. Look for one with a clean finder, unoxidised mirror and smooth shutter.

Leica R9 – this is essentially an R8 with minor revisions and both are a complete departure from the Minolta-related earlier models. This camera feels and operates like an “ultimate camera”. It oozes electronic sophistication, yet remains great for manual operation. If it wasn’t so big and heavy it’d have made the top 10 list. This is a good choice if you are balancing heavy lenses. If you can afford an R8 or R9, you can afford a R6.2. Which one you choose comes down to which lenses you pick.

Leicaflex SL2 – friends insist I include this camera for its legendary viewfinder. I find it big, heavy and noisy; I could still use it if it offered a waist-level finder, but the viewfinder is fixed. It has a poor reputation for reliability at 1/2000s and on some versions the mirror is incompatible with rear-projecting lenses.

Minolta X-700 – this camera has a special place in my heart, being my second manual SLR since I returned to film and a hard act to follow. The finder is one of the best ever on an SLR. I have two and use them more than any other camera mentioned here.

Nikon F2AS – it has extreme build quality and an excellent finder, but I work too slowly with it and lack the energy to carry it. I am sure to be berated by readers who consider this to be the ultimate SLR of all time. It’s a purist’s camera.

Nikon EM – the smallest Nikon SLR, I carry it with a Series E pancake lens in a suit pants pocket. Its size and bargain price belie a big and bright viewfinder. If you shoot in aperture priority and don’t need to set a full range of manual speeds, this is a highly underrated Nikon body. I actually own two of these and when the first was lost in storage, I went straight out and bought another.

Nikon FE2 – if you like the FM3A but have no need to be able to use all shutter speeds without batteries, you may as well just buy an FE2 for under half the cost of an FM3A.

Nikon FM2n – likewise, if you like the FM3A as a battery-independent mechanical camera and don’t need auto-exposure, buy the FM2/FM2n and save yourself a bunch of money.

Olympus OM-2N – predecessor to the OM-4/OM-4T, the OM-2 has a big, bright finder, maybe the biggest bar a mammoth Nikon F2, yet the camera is tiny. Properly tuned, it’s slick as the Devil’s fiddle. John Hermanson is the guy to do the CLA. The service may cost more than the camera, but only because the camera is so undervalued. I have a Hermanson-overhauled OM-2. I also own an OM-2N.

Pentax K1000 – cheaper than an LX or MX, and consequently more popular, this SLR has a cult following. Personally, I would describe this big heavy lump as “agricultural” and leave it to its fans, who will no doubt pillory me for disrespecting it.

Pentax MX – a great little camera with meter needle and DOF preview. OK, I’ll admit I’m reaching; these are common features. At least it’s small, simple and does the job. As such, it’s my #2 choice in PK mount.

Conclusions

If you force me at gunpoint to give up all but one, I’d pick the Nikon FM3A. It is compatible with an extensive range of AI, AIS and AI’d Nikon lenses, including some of the very best manual focus SLR lenses, of which I have several. It is very similar similar to the camera I learned on as a kid and everything about it just feels right. Sure, you could add multi-segment matrix metering, give it a bigger viewfinder image and swappable finders and such, but it fills me with joy and confidence like no other camera, not even a rangefinder, one of my many premium compact film cameras, or a digital camera.

As for the rest, I own or have tried out pretty much all of these cameras, so the preceding lists are worth more (to me) that a typical internet survey. Of course, I haven’t tried every camera in and world and user preferences vary, so I have no doubt left several great SLRs off the list. Be sure to share your favourites and rationale in the comments.

You can follow Dan on his social networks. He always has something interesting to say about photography and cameras.

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text © Dan K. All rights reserved.

Looking for an SLR? Then be sure to drop me a line and I will see what we can find for you.
Thanks
JCH

72 Responses to Dan K’s Top 10 Manual Film SLRs

keh June 27, 2013 at 12:31 am

I would’ve assumed the Nikon F and Nikon F2 to be considered seminal cameras in SLR history. Bigger but better than the Nikons mentioned in your top 10 ten IMHO.

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    ZDP-189 June 27, 2013 at 3:26 pm

    Yes, many people consider the F2 to be the ultimate SLR. I can see why: I don’t think any camera has better finders available, has as good build quality, or is anymore quintessentially professional. I would be remiss not to mention it. Neverless, I don’t get on with it and it’s not one of my top 10. I nicknamed the F2AS the FLBP (future lower back problems). Its use requires more presence of mind than I possess, a bit like shooting an M3 with accessory meter. I would encourage anyone who has different preferences to mine to consider it.

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    Khoi Nguyen December 15, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    oh man, i thought this list was going to be some extravagant thing full of Leica love. it’s nice to see the nikon appreciation and not so common choices. i honestly have not even heard of some of the cameras on this list, but that’s probably just the inexperience in me. also, i’m really glad that the Nikon FM3A got so much personal praise from you as it did. it’s the only fully manual film SLR that i own and i fell in love with it the day i got it two years ago. there was just something special about it from the very moment i picked it up and looked through the viewfinder. i’m not by any means a wealthy person and all i can say is i’m glad the FM3A is the most reliable thing in my life next to family and friends. cheers, Dan!

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Robert Boyer June 27, 2013 at 12:52 am

Dan,

Great list – I agree with most of your thoughts… I do have to go ape-shit on the F2 not being the camera to end all cameras though – I am one of those F2 nut jobs you spoke of ;-)

Also – never would have pegged you as an AE-1 type of guy… I guess everyone has their quirks. Considering I share most of the same opinions on your list the AE-1 is kind of an odd man out here… from my pov it’s one of the least well built, horribly finished, ugly, mostly plastic lumps during that time period – gives me almost no joy or pleasure to use etc. Then again I really like my G-500 Ricoh too so we all have our irrational emotional hang-ups.

RB

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    ZDP-189 June 27, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    The reason why few people can ever agree on the best ever camera is there is no simple formula for ranking. Not only do photographers’ preferences vary, but I believe the emotional element is actually more important to an individual’s choice than all the technical specifications.

    Artistic and amateur photography is a more human phenomenon, than technical one and I consistently deliver better results from humble cameras that I am comfortable with than I can with a camera that is technically more advanced but seems to get in the way of my flow.

    What gives a photographer such a connection with a camera? First and foremost, it is the way that the camera’s design, ergonomics and mix of features suits the individual photographer and his way of working. However don’t discount the emotional element. Sometimes it’s a brand phenomenon, or the cachet of the camera’s having been used by famous photographers. Sometimes it’s incredibly subtle self-hypnosis. How else do you explain how some people consider that a camera in black paint is better than one in chrome? Perhaps the strongest personality factor is familiarity and past personal success with a camera. Therefore, we develop a deep personal connection with a camera that we have shot with for years, usually our first serious camera.

    This is why I have included in the honourable mentions so many cameras that are typically used by photography students. Many mass market cameras of the era were as advanced as any camera needs to be, but smaller than a pro body. Photographers that learned on a camera like the AE-1, X-700, or K-1000 may have had this camera imprinted on their preferences. I originally learned photography and darkroom with an FM or FE as a kid, so the camera types that I am drawn to are biased by how close they come to an FM or FE. The FM3A is quite simply like them but better.

    Is the AE-1 Program one of the 10 best manual SLRs ever? No, but it was one of the most popular ever. It remains one of the best loved ever. I would speculate that the lowly AE-1P not only means more to more people, but has produced more great images than the exalted OM-3T. For these reasons, it has earned an honourable mention.

    Reply
      RW Boyer June 28, 2013 at 6:15 am

      Dan,

      Trust me – I DO NOT discount the emotional factor in any way – at the end of the day how a particular camera feels to me and how it makes ME feel is far far more important than a lot of other factors. I have mentioned this a lot in various ways on my own corner of the web.

      I don’t disagree with your assessment on the AE-1… I also share your early experience with the FM/FE – I lusted after those devices when they were first introduced in the late 70′s. I used to WALK to the nearest camera store to visit them. I ended up buying a used F2A for LESS than what I could get a new FM for in 1980. Not a lot of sources for used cameras at that time in the suburbs… I got an FM a little later – a black one as my F2a was chrome. I got that second camera so I could have both color and BW film loaded at the same time.

      Understanding that – and understanding that you come from the same cameras during your formative years – my AE-1 comment was more aimed not at your “rationale” for including it in YOUR list as you mentioned several times but more an elaboration on how you personally could “feel” this lump-o-crap given your early exposure with the FM/FE – in other words. I was curious as to your choice personally as my impressions of an AE-1 (probably a decade after my F2 and FM purchases – I saw them, just never used one until 10 years on.) was so so so different than the FM/FE I could help myself but feel they were… ummmmm…. weak.

      RB

      Ps. I like the FM/FE better than the FM2/FE2 due to the flip up aperture feeler as well as the lack of label on the front. As for the FM3a, well the new style Nikon font/logo is just ALL WRONG on that body – plain WRONG. Sort of like a Zeiss “touit” – wtf? Touit – really? From the company that has Planars, Sonars, Biogons, Distogons, Tessars we get “TOUIT” – just wrong.

      Reply
        Dave Lam June 28, 2013 at 7:33 am

        Guys, you’re killing me. I started with a Promaster SLR and thought it was the best thing ever. I heard Cosina made it, that means it’s really got Zeiss blood in it!!

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    Vladimir July 1, 2013 at 1:24 am

    Oooh, the amount of vitriol heaped on the poor AE-1P is quite astonishing :-)
    For what its worth, I don’t find it horribly finished, as for ugly… a Beriette, or maybe an Exakta, now those are seriously fugly cameras! I don’t think the AE-1 feels flimsy either, except maybe the film advance lever, which feels a tad iffy and nowhere near as nice as that of an OM-2n. I come from Pentax, so initially I wasn’t very fond of the AE-1: I was really frustrated with the manual metering for example, or shall I say the lack of info in the viewfinder when in manual mode. But eventually it started to grow on me, and now its one of my firm favorites. Its pretty hard to get a bad exposure with it, and the FD lenses are sweet!

    I also want to give the venerable Pentax ME Super a nod – small and portable, with an awesome selection of lenses and cheaper than an MX too. Admittedly it was my first “proper” SLR and I guess I’ll always have a soft spot for it…

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Jim June 27, 2013 at 2:54 am

This is a great list and you really did your homework. I like the fact that you went with what lenses were available and the quality of them. I have a F3HP and a FM3A. I use the F3 for B&W and I use the FM3A for color and flash (TTL Matrix with Multiple Flash). I also will use a FM2N but I’ve grown to like the ability to shoot quickly with the Aperture Priority available on the other two. Thank you and I agree with you and your research.

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Marco Castelvecchio June 27, 2013 at 3:32 am

Dan, my wife has an AE-1 Program like that. Unfortunately, that was my first gift to introduce her to the marvelous world of film, so I doubt she’ll part with it :)

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Petr Vorel June 27, 2013 at 4:14 am

Hey Dan, thank you very much for this contribution. Now I want to buy them all. I have one Canon A-1 and it is a nifty camera with lots of controls. However I don’t like one thing about it. When set to the manual mode you can see in the viewfinder the selected shutter speed and the aperture the camera suggests. I would love it to be the other way round. It could show the suggested shutter speed instead. Or better yet, show my shutter speed and the suggested one by the camera.

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silas June 27, 2013 at 5:14 am

I believe the Pentax MX has little coloured lights, not a needle…. Sorry, I’m being pedantic, but it is a fantastically good meter and nicer to use than the needle ones in my opinion

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    ZDP-189 June 27, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    You’re probably right. It’s been a long time. Pentax cameras are great; the company has a different philosophy; their own way of doing things. Nevertheless, my experience with Pentax is very limited.

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Matt E June 27, 2013 at 5:16 am

“Personally, I would describe this big heavy lump as ‘agricultural’ and leave it to its fans…”

This made me laugh out loud. As a Pentax shooter, I also prefer the likes of the MX or LX to the K1000. My personal preference is for the MX, but I do find the LX tempting.

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tx June 27, 2013 at 5:58 am

HEXANON!

The Konica autoreflex T series bodies are sledgehammer heavy, but the glass is cheap and scary good.

Thanks for the article, Dan.

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    ZDP-189 June 27, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    I’ve neglected the Konica/Hexanons, Fujica, etc. as I don’t have experience with them. Thanks for sharing. I should check them out.

    Reply
      Dave Lam June 28, 2013 at 7:32 am

      The Konica’s have some great optics and are prime candidates for mounting on dSLR’s.. The Konica AR 40mm f1.8 specifically commanding some high prices ;) The Hexanons were also, don’t forget, legendary in the sense when Konica came out with the Konica RF, a “Leica M-Mount Rangefinder” (alleged at the time) that had the same mount but was advertised as not focusing exactly the same. I say this because the Konica UC-Hexanon is probably one of the best 35mm lenses out there, so yes, Konica is no slouch, their SLR bodies though .. some are hit and miss.

      Reply
Bernard Reznicek June 27, 2013 at 10:39 am

I like this list, and would add the Fujica ST801. Great little LED lights for street shooting meter and wonderful EBC lens collections. Perhaps the list could have more with Historical Impact Cameras, Durability & Performance, Metering versus Full Manual. But that’s why we have the comment fields!

Great work.

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    ZDP-189 June 27, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    I like your suggestion about historical impact. Maybe you should write an article on it. The shortlist would be very different. This article, which focuses on the cameras that I prefer to use, doesn’t really address historical impact, use by famous photographers and rarity/collectibility.

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Michael Ward June 27, 2013 at 11:50 am

Having worn out Canon F1′s and AE1′s I can honestly say that the Canon of that era that is still in (er light) use is the Canon FTb. Its basic but tough and I really mean tough. However, that said I have seldom had bad exposure readings from the AE1 and it is a lovely camera to use it is functionally perfect, sadly the electronics die with time. If anyone buys a mint FTb or AE1 treasure them they are wonderful cameras.

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Michael Ward June 27, 2013 at 12:19 pm

Hmm, this is questionable with a rider “There are many great FD lenses and as they don’t adapt easily onto most onto DSLRs,” I am currently using FD lenses on Micro 4/3′s and Leica M240. They also work brilliantly on Sony Nex, Fuji X mount, Samsung NX, Nikon 1 and specialist use on Canon EOS DSLR’s
Some FD lenses are also worth converting to Leica M because they are that good and like Dan says cheap.
I never had the opportunity to buy into the OM system, but I really appreciate some of the Olympus OM lenses and what they are capable of. Without doubt they are as good or better than many of the best ever made, Leica and Zeiss included!

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    ZDP-189 June 27, 2013 at 3:13 pm

    The reason Nikon, Leica R, and other lens systems have risen so much in value in recent years is because Nikon and Canon full frame DSLR users have been buying them for digital photography.

    Canon FD lenses require an adapter with optical elements to work on a DSLR body. As you say, they nevertheless can be used on any crop frame mirrorless camera. However, by cropping away so much of the image circle, you fundamentally change the focal length, depth of field, look and advantages of having top quality lenses that are sharp corner-to corner. The use of SLR lenses on CSCs often makes for a bulky and front heavy camera too.

    FD lenses have therefore lagged behind in price appreciation. This is a good thing in my book, as it means better value for money for the film SLR user. As soon as full frame CSCs become available/affordable, you can expect the better FD lenses (L’s for example) to appreciate.

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Chris Blizzard June 27, 2013 at 4:52 pm

I couldn’t help but laugh at your comments on the K1000. And your response to someone else’s comment about ranking cameras and the emotional stuff…

I was never a photo student so never developed an attachment there, but the K1000 is my fave and I have no idea why. It feels like you could use it as a weapon, and that’s a good thing right?

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Nick June 27, 2013 at 8:13 pm

Well, I currently own three Canon EOS SLRs, they are automatic but I thought I would share that I love them all for different reasons:

- EOS 620: love it for its simplicity. Sort of a step above the manual film SLRs but not that way ahead. Also, the viewfinder is very big and bright, unmatched by all other EOS cameras available up to today.

- EOS Elan 7NE (aka 30V): my choice for lightweight camera; this is probably the last film SLR Canon ever produced. This surely will be my choice if I go hiking with my SLR.

- EOS 3: one of the most advanced SLR, I love the consistency of its AF (with its 45-points AF). Among all of my other cameras, this is the one I own the longest. It’s a present from my brother (when I first started shooting digital and want a film complement), and I don’t think I’ll ever want to part with this one. It’s quite bulky, but when it’s paired with the right lens (my 40mm pancake), it’s reasonable to carry around all day.

I love mechanical cameras, and have been wanting to have one of those cameras above for such a long time. I might get one someday. But at the moment, the reasons I love my EOS is because the lens will be compatible with EOS DSLRs (if I need them). I currently have 40mm lens only, and don’t have any DSLR, but there’s always a possibility of buying more lens and buying a DSLR when there’s a call for commercial or commissioned work.

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    ZDP-189 June 27, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    Nick, thanks for commenting. The first film SLR that I bought was the EOS1V. I bought it for much the same reasons as you; I already had some L-lenses and Speedlites and immediately had a working system. I reasoned that it was the most advanced body that shot film on EF lenses.

    I quickly regretted the weight and bought an EOS3. That camera worked well, but I couldn’t get the eye sensor to work reliably with my eye and ended up giving it to Bernard. I realised that the weight and bulk was partly down to the large lenses.

    About that time, I got heavily into rangefinders and compact cameras, and enjoyed using small wide lenses. Eventually I had need again for normal to long lenses and wanted to pre-visualise depth of field, and do close-ups, so took the plunge and got into manual SLRs, which were much like the rangefinders that I had now become comfortable using.

    I did lots of research. The list above reads a lot like my shopping research list. I settled on the FM3A for the AI/AIS lens system and familiar form factor. I naïvely thought it would be my only camera along with a 28/2, 35/1.5, 45P and a 55/1.2SC. Then I discovered that the ideal 130mm was the DC. Slowly accumulating great deals on AF-D lenses, came full circle and bought a Fuji S3Pro and later an F100.

    Recently, I have been filling in some other mounts. Most lately, I have bought the OM-2, OM-2n and OM-4Ti. It’s an addiction. I’d attend a help group, but that would probably just fuel my GAS.

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paul June 28, 2013 at 7:37 am

Sir………..you forgot the Leica M s (M3 is the work horse) and many of the Pentax screw mounts camera ( Spotmatics) . I know of about 10 Press Newspaper( Toronto Telegram. The Toronto Star. and the Globe and Mail ) photographers, to whom used Screwmount ( built news paper strong…….or they can be used as a hammers), and they have made a living using them. You did nt say anything about Topcon, or Exacta. If you want to learn a lot about the Japanese camera company ( Where did the name Nikon or Canon or Rollei, come from) and many others…….e me.

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    ZDP-189 October 8, 2013 at 8:34 pm

    I have quite a lot of M-mount and LTM gear, but decided to narrow the field for the purpose of this article. I don’t own any Pentax screwmount gear. You can’t own every system in the world! However, I’d agree that a lot of the screw mount SLR lenses offer great value for money.

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Dgy Geezer June 29, 2013 at 6:33 pm

I no longer use SLRs for shooting, but I have some in my cupboard.
Your selection criteria for an SLR system are admirable, as to the models you select, I think that you have neglected the excellent quality of Konica glass somewhat.

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Scott Mason June 29, 2013 at 10:38 pm

Dan,
I noticed you ran a photo of a Minolta XD but didn’t mention it. This was a fine camera with silky smooth operation and the basis for many Leica Rs. The x700s and x570s were fine cameras but, they didn’t have the sophistication of the XDs and XEs.

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    ZDP-189 October 8, 2013 at 8:14 pm

    The picture was Bellamy’s. I have an XE-7 and the build quality is excellent, but being heavy and less sophisticated than the X-500 and X-700 sees less use. The XD is also a handsome camera!

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peter kirkham July 1, 2013 at 6:13 am

I am an analogue kind of guy. I am also very, very clumsy so I tend to be hard on my equipment, and I need brutally simple kit. I was in Manchuria in the snow and the temperature was minus 35 degrees celsius, I am trying to take pictures with my Mamiya C330. The shutter trips but the blades are frozen together! My back up was a MD4 motor driven Nikon F3, and the little beauty kept on firing away for the whole week. I wouldn’t say anything against your other choices, but for toughness and build quality, they don’t make them like that anymore.

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Andie July 2, 2013 at 1:03 am

For me is just Yashica FX-3 Super 2000, cheap, easy to use, TTL Lightmeter, 2000 speed, light and small, and the plus plus point is you can use great Zeiss lens

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Glen Converse July 14, 2013 at 6:26 am

I was surprised by the absence of the Nikon F2AS. I realize that you could not have included all the cameras in your survey, but I and many others would agree that the F2AS belongs here in you top 10 list. I just bought a Nikon F2AS brand new and never used. When the sales rep came out with it, I almost passed out. What a beauty. So I’ll be using that everyday along with my Leica M 10.
Best to you and thank you,
Glen Converse
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

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Maciej July 18, 2013 at 6:23 am

Thank You for a great article. It’s always very interesting to see other photographer’s choice…

But I’m quite suprised Minolta XE series cameras or SRT series, both series at it’s own rights… That would be my 1st and 2nd place…
Olympus bodies are excellent… Just prefer Minolta and it’s controls…
Not a fan of Canon bodies… Nikon is great, some models are probably the best SLR cameras ever made… But focusing direction is not for me… also some knobs feels cheap even in top models…
Konica… Love the lenses and mechanical bodies but seems that I have no luck with Autoreflex bodies… Great to shoot with but every camera had some issues..
Anyway, thank You Bellamy for a Very Interesting article!
All the Best!
Maciej Stankiewicz

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Jan August 3, 2013 at 9:27 am

If you like small SLRs with huge viewfinders, give the Pentax ME a try.
It lacks most of the features of the MX but the finder is only slightly smaller (which is still huge) and it can be had for next to no money.
With a Pentax-m 28/2.8, 40/2.8 or 50/1.7, it’s a great choice if you’re looking for a small streat camera on a tight budget.

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lobian August 18, 2013 at 12:33 am

I certainly agree with you on the choice of FM3A. Great combination of modern tech such as ttl flash metering, but also has mechanical shutter speeds and mlu with the self timer. Personally I love the Original canon F1, all mechanical with a true mlu and selective metering a great viewfinder and match needle metering that does not intrude into the viewing area. Similarly the Nikon F2 is a beautifully machined precision instrument with all the essential mechanical features.

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Oliver Matich August 29, 2013 at 1:11 am

+1 on the FM3a front. I have one and it is now my go-to camera. Perfection in my opinion. I like my Leicaflex SL2 too, also mentioned, but I have been plagued by problems with it whereas the Nikon keeps on soldiering on. I cannot stand my dad’s R6 though, the shutter lag is terrible.

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Jos L.Knaepen August 29, 2013 at 1:33 am

IMHO is the F2AS most probably the best 35mm film camera ever build I used my camera quite regularly, however my favorite film camera is not the SLR but the Leica MP which I use daily.
Cheers.

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anthony August 29, 2013 at 10:32 am

odd the Pentax line of SLRs are not mentioned, must be a new ager trying out old film SLRs. Pentax maybe a joke in the current world of digital photography, but Nikon and Canons SLR 35mm cameras were a joke compared to the Pentax SLRs of the past, the LX blew any SLR away at the time and if Pentax rumors are true and they plan on releasing a new FF mount based on the design of the LX (with interchangeable view finders) it’s gonna blow the rest out of the water during our present time. And lets not start on the ME Super or the MX, two TINY BEASTS of cameras. What Pentax (even olympus) fit in those small cameras were insane, it made Nikon and Canons design teams look like they were ran by Jane Goodalls chimpanzees during that era.

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    ZDP-189 October 8, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    My current Pentax kit consists of:

    > SMC Pentax-M 1:2.8 40mm pancake
    > SMC Pentax-M 1:2.8 28mm
    > SMC Pentax-M 1:1.4 50mm
    > SMC Pentax 1:1.4 50mm
    > Pentax ME Super (gone, unreliable winding)
    > Pentax MX

    They’re OK, but I wouldn’t rate them above the Fujicas, which I also neglected to mention. I just don’t rate them as highly as the others. Maybe the LX warrants an honourable mention. The LX, like the lenses seems a lot to pay for what you get. Opinions on this vary greatly, and mine are certain to change from time to time.

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John August 30, 2013 at 10:46 am

On this page, you have several photos of the different cameras. I am wanting know what camera is shown above..it’s the 3rd picture down from the start of this page. It has a nikkor lens on it

Thanks!!

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    ZDP-189 October 8, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    The picture was provided by Bellamy, but I believe it’s a very tidy example of a Nikon F2 Titanium. I myself have this camera, but not as pristine. Mine sports a DP-12 finder, making it a F2T/AS franken-camera. As a user, it’s better, because it mounts and meters my AI/AIS lenses, which the stock F2T does not. My equivalent lens is a Nikkor 55mm 1:1.2 SSC AI’d, although I am in the process of aquiring a Noct-Nikkor. My body and finder cost a third or less of the price I’d expect to pay Bellamy for a camera like the one pictured and the lens cost around a tenth of the price of the mint Noct-Nikkor. Little tweaks in the spec make a big difference. A stock (non titanium) Nikon F2 with DE-1 finder identical to the picture in all other respects would probably set you back only $300 or so.

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Glen October 8, 2013 at 9:33 pm

I just bought a Nikon F2as in NEW condition. There is NOT a mark on it. I would think the F2as would have to be the top pick of all time fav film cameras.

Glen

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Richard October 24, 2013 at 9:54 pm

I could not agree more. The FM3A is a solid built camera. An excellent work horse, and is one of the lightest film SLRs I have owned too.

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dizd November 7, 2013 at 9:35 am

Good to know we’d pick the same camera at gunpoint! I love my FM3A. For the record, I wasn’t at gunpoint when I purchased it. Now just building up a good lens set for it.

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Stuart November 15, 2013 at 11:12 am

funny thing I was thinking about buying a DSLR and then I thought wait a minute I think I have a Camera my Uncle left me when he passed. I went down to the basement and I found the camera bag brought it up to couch opened it up and Found a Mint and I mean Mint Minolta X-700 with 6 or 7 Different lenses, I am buy no means a Photographer and I dont pretend to know anything about cameras but i figured if he owned all this it must have been a good unit. So I set out to The Source store for a couple batteries and a roll of film put it in the camera and to my suprise it still snaps them off like a champ.. I have read many things concerning DSLR and 35mm SLR camera and most say that in order to replicate the resolution of this old 35mm SLR one would need a DSLR of approximately 24.5MP can anyone here atest to this. Im also thinking I should give this old girl a shot before dropping a bunch of cash on a new DSLR and thoughts ?

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    Alan January 5, 2014 at 12:12 pm

    No digital camera ( DSLR ) can replicate or surpass the resolution of film cameras . . . not even 24.5 MP or 36 MP or higher. Digital cameras are limited in representing the captured image in terms of a “PIXEL” element. However, film cameras represents it in “POINTS” ( reaction of the the fine grain of the film/emulsion as it is exposed to light ) . . . . . try to imagine how many POINTS could be in one MEGAPIXEL . . . maybe a hundreds or even thousands

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Roger Carondelet November 30, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Dan, I loved your article on the best film cameras. I agreed with you most of the time. Life isn’t serious enough to “pillory” you over your opinion of the Pentax K1000!
I am a big fan of that camera and a serious, regular user of my K1000SE with the broken meter and an SMC Pentax-A 35-105mm f3.5 lens on it. I love the thing. Your description of “agricultural” was hilarious. I often joke about this camera earth-shaking mirror slap and loud BANG! when you trip the shutter. It simply amuses me. It is one quirky camera but, man, is it ever reliable and ergonomically perfect (for my hands, which might be “agricultural”, too!).
Great reviews. Keep up the good work.

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Marc December 9, 2013 at 4:39 am

I bought my Pentax K1000 in 1986. I changed the battery for the first time in 2007. I then sold it and bought my first DLSR because, as with vinyl, I was drawn in by digital perfection and the fact that I no longer needed a darkroom. Fast forward to 2013. I hate my Canon EOS. Actually no, I don’t hate it… but I can’t believe I spent that amount of cash on it. I miss the aperture on the lens. I miss manual metering. I miss metal bodies and reliability. I recently resurrected my dads old Bencini Koroll II and just loved the manual simplicity of it. I can get the negs developed and hi-rez scanned for under £10. I’m currently bidding on a K1000 on ebay. I never tried all the cameras on your list and never will. The K1000 was, for me, perfect being both Intuitive and reliable. My next project is to find out how to make plates for my Grandads R&J Beck bellows camera circa 1910… and in February my misses and I are headed for Venice for our belated honeymoon. We’re taking coats and scarves and a fistful of oldschool analogue cameras… what an utter joy.

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Mark Brown January 10, 2014 at 12:44 am

Just had to comment to post a big thanks for this list! I love playing around with old manual cameras and learning all the old makes and models.

I’m certainly a child of the digital age – my first camera back in 2001 was digital and it wasn’t until 2012 that I first tried a film SLR. Now I’m hooked – like you, I feel much more passionate about using film for my personal photography. Actually, it almost seemed like I was reading my own writing in this article, as I generally seem to value the same things – small, subtle, efficient, high-quality.

So far I’ve had about 15 manual SLRs in the past couple years, all Pentax, Minolta, or Konica to date. Just bought my wife’s aunt’s old camera bag with an excellent Minolta X-700 and three lenses. I really do enjoy that camera, with the 1/1000 top speed being my only complaint.

I must admit I’m seriously lusting after a Contax S2b now, but since I’ve yet to pay more than $50 for a camera, at this rate it might be a while before I can scrounge up $1,000+ for one! Dad was a Yashica-and-later-Contax man when I was growing up, and I think he still has some lenses laying around along with his RTS and 159 bodies, which I really must try some time…

Anyways, I’m rambling now. Thanks for the post! Loved it!

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MJ March 17, 2014 at 7:10 am

.I’m about to get into the 35mm game after looking at old pix from the 70′s and 80′s (feels like it triggered something inside of me lol) .do you guys recommend a books that easy to understand on how to shoot(mostly kids,,parks,zoo,beach,,,,

I bought 2 cams few days ago from ebay .The AE-1 and the X-700 .not a bad price for both for starter.

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Faisal March 25, 2014 at 12:39 pm

I agree with most of them :)
And especially the OM2n as i own one as well. :)
They are joy to hold and use. The results from the famous Zuiko lenses are amazing.

Great that you are sharing this with us. :)

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JE April 1, 2014 at 7:01 pm

How about the Nikon FG. More features than FM or FE and just as small and light. Will work with AI, AIS, and AF lens. I can also get it to work in Program mode for AFS and non-AI lens with a little wiring. It is a little cheap but I keep comng back to it for its compactness and versitility. I definately like it better than the AE1p which doesn’t have aperature priority…

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Chas May 22, 2014 at 12:50 am

I had a Nikon FM, bought in Japan 1978, which I used for over 20 years till I had to sell it, hard times between jobs (like losing an old friend). Beautiful piece of kit, and I got hundreds of superb photos, using Nikkor standard and telephoto lenses with Fujicolour film.. I think when it was launched it was only for the Japanese market. After Canon, Minolta, Pentax and Olympus SLRs prior to that, I found it suited me more than any others.

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Planet Pocket Tool June 1, 2014 at 11:04 pm

Great list Dan and thanks for the terrific writeups. Thanks to you, I own many on this list as well now and have pretty much concluded that for me the FM3a is probably my ultimate dream manual SLR. I like them so much I bought a couple of them!……… Also, you have good taste in steel. ;) Cheers, Peter

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Robert July 24, 2014 at 12:18 am

All the dissing of Canon…there must be a reason all the millions were sold…or us Canon folks are delusional??

And look who all are adapting FD lenses to non Canon cameras…

Just because somethings are outrageously priced does not make them better…..

And ohhhhh the silky smoothness of my A-1…..yummmmmm

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Andrew August 21, 2014 at 7:59 am

Great list. Minolta X-570 is a definite winner, and I have fond memories of the one I bought new around 1984 or thereabouts. I’ll get another.

All of your choices are excellent, but I’m surprised at a few omissions on the “runner up” section. Minolta’s XD series were amazing. Small, light, first with the acute matte focusing screen and more importantly, first with shutter priority AND aperture priority. It was also all-metal and exceptionally smooth in operation. So good in fact that Leica based their R4-R7 models on the same chassis.

Then there was the Minolta XE-7, which was the foundation for the Leica R3. Even smoother than the XD, though far less capable and getting very hard to find parts and service for.

I have an excellent example of each, fully serviced and like-new in operation that I enjoy greatly. On a completely different vein I also have and enjoy a pair of Pentax MX bodies (on your runner-up list) that I also enjoy. If I had to pick only one though, it would probably be the Minolta XE-7.

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matthew victor September 16, 2014 at 12:23 pm

What not a single mention for Topcon Super D????
Still my absolute favorite neck jewelry, and image maker every day (well almost).
Yes, I do have and even under stress use my Nikon F3Hp’s.

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Will November 3, 2014 at 5:13 am

Interesting list.
I’d have put the Nikon F2AS and the Pentax MX at the top. They have always somehow just worked perfectly in my hands like no other. I’d add the odd Pentax P3n, and Pentax Super A. I want to love the F3 but that tiny little LCD readout just kills me. FE/FM types always broke down on me like they were made brittle. Now I think about it, very little of my Nikon gear from 20-30 years ago still works, the Pentax have stood up better. Anyway, I always liked Nikon and Pentax.

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