JCH on DigitalRev. Top 5 film cameras for under $1000


by Bellamy /

1 min read

JCH on DigitalRev. Top 5 film cameras for under $1000
JCH is on DigitalRev.

Kai and I did a video for DigitalRev. We had a great time filming it on the streets of Hong Kong. I only wish we had more time as there are so many more cameras that I think fit the bill here. We were really limited to time and what we could see in the stores. But it has got me thinking, I might have to do another top 5 article covering the best and the also-rans.

29 comments on “JCH on DigitalRev. Top 5 film cameras for under $1000”

    Paul October 17, 2014 at 10:38 am / Reply

    I feel so awful about selling my G2 last year…Sold it for a ridiculously low price:-/ Never buy a something you can’t afford to keep, I guess:P

    Great job, Bellamy!

    ZDP-189 October 17, 2014 at 1:04 pm / Reply

    I would love to hear what our community of commenters consider their favourite film cameras under $1000!

    Classic Rangefinder – Canon P + Canon 50/1.4 This was my return to film camera when I got fed up of automated digital. Fantastic 1:1 finder, all speeds on one dial and Canon’s best RF lens by far. It made me slow down, learn manual process and light level estimation and changed my life.

    Manual SLR – Nikon F2AS + 55/1.2 SSC. For me, the SLR is all about creative control and none exemplifies this better than the F2AS. It’s far better than the F3HP, but without aperture priority auto exposure. That finder is the finest. There are none better for focusing fast lenses. The lens is not quite a Noct-Nikkor, but you’d be hard pressed to tell photos apart and it’s a fraction of the price.

    AF SLR – Nikon F100 + 50/1.8. Smaller and lighter than a F5, it’s a killer camera for photojournalism, events and model shoots. Don’t knock the bargain prime lens. Gorgeous.

    Medium Format – GA645. I got mine for $200 but you’d have to spend lots to do better. The most manageable, economic and practical medium format camera ever. The compact camera of the medium format world.

    Compact – GR1V. I have 5 Contax T2s and a T3, but the Ricoh gets the shot every time. Snap focus is ideal for street shooting and the 28 is more intimate. LCDS are finnicky, but on the whole, more reliable than the T2 and certainly the T3.

    Come on everyone! What’s your choice and why

      JP October 18, 2014 at 5:10 pm /

      Interested why you prefer the F2 over F3? Never owned a 3 but used an F2 Photomic all through university days and beyond.

      Aris October 22, 2014 at 3:00 pm /

      The F2 has a cleaner and better finder and it’s more intuitive to use. The F3 is a bit 90s / losing some straight forward quality for added gizmos. I shoot the F2 both with the AS finder but also the DE-1 which makes it more compact and lighter but loses the lightmeter – which I rarely use anyway

      Aris October 22, 2014 at 3:15 pm /

      For black and white photography only (colour rendering requires completely different characteristics and I don’t care for it) :)

      – Canon QL17 $50 (cheap, light, great lens – very good looking)
      – Leica IIIf with Elmar 50/2.8 (The cheapest way to get the best Leica 50mm lens for sunny days (IMO) – There is NOTHING like this lens for b&w sunny photography in the entire photographic universe at any price-range – try it) – Just about $1000 for both.
      – Nikon F2 w/ ALL OF THE FOLLOWING LENSES: Nikkor-H 50/2, Nikkor-H 35/2.8, NIkkor-H 85/1.8, Nikkor Q 135/3.5, Nikon 20mm f4 (About $1000 for all the above!!!)
      Trade any of the above lenses to replace the 50/2 with the 50/1.4 Nikkor-H if you must have fast glass.

      The 55/1.2 is a specialist lens – beautiful yes, but the 50/1.4 is more practical and will allow you to focus on photography rather than chasing bokeh and build a full system for under $1000. incredible.

    Brian October 17, 2014 at 2:22 pm / Reply

    Not much experience with compacts, but here are my picks for SLR and medium format:

    SLR: After much playing around with cheap SLRs, I finally got the camera of my dreams: the Canon new F1. And it was very disappointing with very bad exposure consistency and oil seeping onto the diaphragm of the lens. It is also too heavy, especially noticeable after borrowing my friend’s Pentax LX. That one is light, has all the features, and is solid as a rock with a very friendly, light and fast advance lever. Since then I have had a variety of Pentaxes (MX, MV) and I loved every one of them. So that’s my recommendation for an SLR.

    Medium format 645: For 645 I would go with the Pentax 645NI or NII. Robust, can be fully operated with one hand and has an incredibly intuitive and sensible way to go to aperture priority, shutter priority, full auto or full manual.

    Medium format 67: A toss-up between the Mamiya RB67 and the Pentax 67. The Mamiya is possibly even heavier than the Pentax, but offers improved subtlety and can be used sneakily. Not so for the Pentax 67. Big but reliable, with fewer “why doesn’t the shutter fire, what did I forget”-moments, but lacks the interchangeable backs or rotating back option.

    Yokosuka Mike October 17, 2014 at 2:41 pm / Reply

    I have a Contax G2 with the 28mm, 45mm and 90mm lenses. This camera is so easy to use and it gets such good results that it almost feels like cheating when I use it. I like to shoot Fuji Acros with the G2, with those Zeiss lenses and the excellent autofocus I get really sharp images.

    For traditional rangefinders I’m very fond of my Bessa R2A (grey color). It’s no better or worse than any of my other Bessa rangefinders but with the grey paint it sure looks cool.

    My only film SLR is a Bessaflex TM (silver) with a voigtlander 40mm f2 and Zeiss 50 f1.4 (M42 mount). The picture taking process is slow – if you need to get a shot off in a hurry best to just-forget-about-it! However, it is a great camera that I enjoy using when I’m shooting non-moving objects or scenery.

    Paul Schofield October 17, 2014 at 3:38 pm / Reply

    Nikon F3 and 28/2.8 AI Nikkor – Simple, solid and reliable. Pretty much my dream camera – if it ever packed or got lost I’d buy another in a shot. At the moment you could get at least three of these for $1000. I got the lenses in a swap – its made of metal and its sharp.

    Pentax 6×7 and 105/2.4 – Maybe there’s an easier way of getting such an enormous negative but despite its tank like build I find this camera a joy to use and the ultimate in relax-and-take-your-time picture taking. There are some great and really affordable lenses for this camera.

    Contax 139Q and Zeiss 50/1.7 Plannar T – This is a lovely little SLR – beautifully laid out with everything just where you need it. The leatherette covering usually needs replacing if it hasn’t been already.

    Carlos October 17, 2014 at 10:16 pm / Reply

    5 Film under 1000$?
    1) Leica M6
    2) Leica M4
    3) Leica M5
    4) Leica M2
    5) Leica IIIf/g
    Oh, with Lens? Sorry, then…
    1) Leica M4+VL
    2) Leica M5+VL
    3) Leica M2+VL
    4) Leica M6+Jupiter
    5) Leica IIIf/g+Jupiter
    What? Australian Dollars? Ugh! that’s a different thing. Let me see…
    1) Rollei 35 SE
    2) Leica R8+Leitz R
    3) Mamya 330 TLR
    4) Rolleiflex TLR
    5) Polaroid SX-70 Crocodile Edition with 2 Film Packs
    Really serious, only what’s needed, bang for badabumm?
    1) Minolta XE+Rokkor
    2) Olympus 35 RC
    3) Rolleicord TLR
    4) Polaroid SX-70
    5) disposable with flash, for darkroom reload

    have fun.

      Carlos October 17, 2014 at 10:38 pm /

      learned on:
      – Rollei 35 SE/TE (I used Dad’s Rollei 35 B, cool camera, crap mechanics, take the SE or TE made in Germany instead, much better built)
      – Rolleiflex TLR (I used Dad’s Halina VI TLR, Rolleicord would be preferable, better a Rolleiflex TLR)
      – Minolta X700 MD-Rokkor 50 1.8 (my first SLR and best)
      – Minolta XE (=XE1) MD/MC-Rokkor 50 f1.8, 135 f2.8, … (my 2nd SLR and even better)
      – Leica M6 (RF, re-learned what I forgot post the Minolta XE)


    Chase October 17, 2014 at 11:24 pm / Reply

    Maybe a “bang for your buck” article every month or so? Maybe address how to get the best for the cheapest. Really cheap body with a great affordable lenses… stuff like that?

      ZDP-189 October 18, 2014 at 1:15 pm /

      I have written several bang for your buck articles on this website. Search for Dan K or Unsung Heroes in the JCH search tool at top right.

    Spyros Papaspyropoulos October 18, 2014 at 12:53 am / Reply

    Awesome! I have been shooting film for a year now and I have to say the experience is simply amazing! My Sony NEX-6 is a great camera, but it is only being used for paid gigs. All my Street Photography work, well 99% of it is done with either my Yashica CC, my Yashica GTN, my Canon QL17 or the smashing Oly mju II!
    Stay Sharp & Keep Shooting!

    Amro October 18, 2014 at 2:49 am / Reply

    Well I had you completely wrong. Thought you went around in a three piece tweed suit with a monocle.

    Jasper October 18, 2014 at 3:13 am / Reply

    Great video. Now watch the value of all of these shoot through the roof on ebay! Glad I already have my dream film lineup:

    Contax T2
    Nikon FM2
    Mamiya 7
    Bronica SQA

    Or I’d have another dent appearing in my wallet!

    Iamamro October 18, 2014 at 6:24 am / Reply

    I agree with the Nikon F3 – brilliant camera and can be had for much less than $1000.
    Good lenses are easy to come by too.

    Don’t forget the Konica Hexar AF. Great lens and such a well built camera.

    AG October 18, 2014 at 8:01 am / Reply

    Great vid, and love the shirt! Will those be for sale on your site soon?

    Edouard October 18, 2014 at 9:40 am / Reply

    I picked up a Mamiya 645 Pro TL a year or two ago, for around US$500-600, with 80mm and 150mm lenses and a metered prism finder. I’ve been extremely happy with it, plus I’ve found most of the other lenses are preposterously cheap even in near mint condition.

    The original owner got it as an insurance replacement in 2003 for his original model when it was stolen; I’d guess my one was manufactured not too long before that. I’ve got digital cameras that are older!

    JP October 18, 2014 at 5:05 pm / Reply

    Only cameras that I own (and two of them from JCH):

    35mm: Leica M3, built in the same year I was born. One day I’ll let JCH pimp it up perhaps. Such a special camera.
    Olympus 35RC ,SP or Trip35 for value. I use my RC without the battery as a wonderful little sunny 16 shooter, the SP for its amazing f1.7 lens and the Trip35 to amaze myself that something so simple can work so well (for $25!)
    Contax T for the feel of it and “WTF is that?” looks from bystanders as the little trapdoor is opened.
    Nikon 35Ti for the unique dials on the top and stupendous lens. My sole travel camera for many a trip in the 90s. I must give it a good workout soon. Worth pretty much what I paid for it in 1995
    Ricoh GR21. Ultra wide angle in shirt-pocket size, amazing. GR1v of course too
    SLR? Canon EOS 5. Change the focus point just by looking!
    Medium format: Rolleicord Vb as it can switch to prism finder unlike earlier Cords.
    3 for a grand! Becoming my most used camera these days.
    Fujifilm GW690, the Texas Leica; it’s a heck of a big negative for a $200 outlay!

    What might I buy with my $1k? Nikon F2 as I used it from teens to 30s, but then I actually lusted after the F3 for the looks (non HP prism please). Olympus OM1 in black with 50mm f1.4 because when they put that on the cover of the brochure in the early 70s I thought it the most beautiful camera I’d seen. Perhaps a Pentax LX as it’s probably the most underrated of the last generation of film SLRs, if I could find one without sticky mirror.

    Roberto October 18, 2014 at 5:59 pm / Reply

    I would bet 1000$ there will be th T2 on the list, Hunt ;)
    My list?
    M2 + nokton 40/1,4 SC
    FM2 + 35/2
    Yashica MAT 124 (non G version)
    Contax G1 + 45/2
    Cotax T2
    (I don’t own all of them)

    Tom October 18, 2014 at 6:09 pm / Reply

    Olympus 35 SP
    Mamiya 645 Pro (or Pro TL)- with standard 80mm lens
    Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta III
    Graflex Crown Graphic – with standard press lens.

    On a lucky day you’d get all that combined for a $1000, on a normal day, not much more than that. You wouldn’t ever need much more and the quality of images produced by all those cameras is outstanding.

    Nuno Cruz October 18, 2014 at 9:26 pm / Reply

    I’ve never user so much film cameras as everyone above (I believe), but the Contax T2 has been one on them., and it is the most fun, particle and simple one to use and since it is so durable, it’s a pearl, a crown jewel with no doubt. I carry it in my jacket pocket almost all the time.

    Some people mentioned some versions of the Rollei 35, I own the S, they are also great, but 100% manual and the light meter is awful, so they demand quite some knowledge and experience to work with, put that aside and they are like spy cameras, very silent with a leaf shutter, so small that people don’t event notice you raising them, if you have one and know how to use it, then do!

    As to the SLR realm, I think there are to many, most of us used the one our grandpa had most probably, I don’t think any of them in particular are more praised then others, still, the Nikon F3 is a recurring name when I hear about film SLR’s. I have an Olympus OM-1 and it was great using it. Film SLR’s don’t differ so much between each other as to what controls they provide, so it’s really hard to make a pick.

    Luis October 19, 2014 at 1:24 am / Reply

    Hey Bellamy,

    Great video! I was wondering what strap you are wearing on your M. It looks great with the combination of black and red.


    Edgar October 19, 2014 at 2:05 am / Reply

    I use and love my canonet ql17. It’s small got a great lens and easy to use.
    just got my pentax lx cla’d and that is a super nice sir to shoot with.
    Medium format I use a Yashica Mat EM. Beautiful to look at and great to use. Oh and the light meter still works!
    Looking to pick up a fuji rangefinder medium format camera next, still undecided on which one. Maybe that’s a topic for you to write about.

    Martin Šnajdr October 19, 2014 at 6:04 am / Reply

    I never really liked the Nikon or Canon SLR, because they are very big compared to the OM cameras I use.

    For under $1000 you can get the OM-4Ti and the 24mm f2.8, 50mm f1.8 and the 100mm f2.8 (MC versions). Or maybe if you get lucky on eBay – you can get the OM-3 instead of the OM-4Ti for almost same price.

    Pentax 6×7 is my choice for MF, too. The lenses are very sharp and the price is so good compared to Hasselblad, Mamiya 7 etc. Well, I’d like to get Fuji GX680 someday – for architecture and landscape, but it is expensive for me.

    fabien October 19, 2014 at 6:42 pm / Reply

    I bought a Mamiya 645 super with Both 80mm and 150mm and an additional dos for less than 350€ then after a 45mm 2.8 for 250€… you can’t beat this
    Oh…yes And a Mint Xpan + 45mm for 1000€ BEST PURCHASE OF MY LIFE

    Ralph Hightower October 20, 2014 at 5:01 am / Reply

    I bought a used Canon F-1N with AE Finder FN and AE Motor Drive FN used, in great condition for $400. I chose the F-1N since I can share my FD lenses from the A-1.

    Jrome April 26, 2015 at 11:47 am / Reply

    I guess I can understand that more Medium Format cameras weren’t mentioned. Not as many people shoot with them I suppose (can’t understand why though).

    Anyway, the best bang for the buck in the world is the Fuji GL690. You can have one for $300 with a lens. Other lenses are expensive I suppose (moreso than the Pentax 67 but not as much as Hasselblad of course).

    I love the 690. Such a wonderful camera.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.