The JCH favourite 35mm film cameras
I get a lot of mails asking me what my favourite cameras are, and I do mean a lot of mails. So in order to try and answer that most pressing of questions I decided to do a little list of my (current) favourite 35mm film cameras.
Now this is in no way meant to start any kind of ‘my camera is better than yours’ discussion. These cameras are the ones that I have used and loved. Some of them might surprise you as to why I consider them a favourite and some of you may disagree with my decisions, as is your right. These cameras are simply cameras that I have considered to be fantastic bits of kit.
The Nikon F3 is a classic. And the reason I love it is because it was my first true professional camera. Call it rheumy-eyed sentimentality, but for me this was and is a great camera. It is not as capable as some of the later offerings from Nikon, but it was plenty capable in the day and is still great now. The good thing about this camera is how tough it is. It seems like they are built for war (in the case of the Press version, it basically was). They are sturdy, can use the Ais lenses, easy to repair and service and they are inexpensive. Which makes them a definite favourite for me.
Well, we all know how I like the M6. I don’t actually think it is the best Leica camera because of the build, some people have me mistaken on that. The reason I like the M6 is that it is a workhorse metered Leica that will not cost you the earth, and will keep on going as long as you care for it. There is nothing that sets the world on fire with this camera, it gets the job done and that is what you need. I think this camera is the ideal introduction to the world of M-mount Leica. The good thing about the M6 is that there are loads of them, getting them repaired is a non issue and you can pretty much get what you paid for it if you decide to move on.
An icon. Millions of them were built. Nothing amazing about the lens or the functions on this cmaera. There are plenty of very similar cameras out there (Konica etc) and Dan K has written extensively on this, but the Canonet is accessible and cheap. Sometimes really really cheap. And for that it gets high marks from me. Yes, the black ones look sexy, but they are expensive and becoming more so. If you are wanting to learn about rangefinders, grab one of these little buggers and play with it until it dies, then buy another one and keep on going!
Olympus XA (any of them)
I love the XA cameras because of the cheap simplicity and absolutely wonderful lenses. How can a tiddly little compact rangefinder camera have such a fantastic lens? I guess this was before the Olympus execs where cooking the books. My favourites are the XA and the XA2. Though the XA4 is a wonderful little camera, it can get pretty pricey because of the rarity. These can be found easily and cheaply online and you will have a whole bunch of fun shooting them. I would consider the XA cameras to be a ‘hot’ item at the moment as everyone seems to want one, so prices are rising.
Why the Contax T2 and not the T3 you ask? Well, I love the T3, but the prices for them nowadays just make them unreasonable for most people. But not just that. I have had T3’s and they are stunning cameras, but you have to hold on tight because if you drop them you can kill them. But I have had T2’s which are totally beaten and battered and they have kept on ticking. That is the appeal for me. This is a solid camera that seems like it will keep on going forever.
There is one thing about the T2 though. It is by far my most requested camera, and there are simply not enough of these cameras to go around any more. They are becoming harder to find and the prices are rising. If you have one, keep it. If you don’t have one, get one.
A bit left field here, but I love this camera for the lenses. That and I was reminded about his camera recently when I saw my mate Vishal (of Camera Film Photo fame)pull one out of his bag in Hong Kong and start merrily shooting away. Simple mechanical cameras with wonderful glass that don’t cost the earth. True vintage class for not a lot of money. I had one of these and foolishly sold it. Another great advantage to this camera is that you can still have them serviced, and if the body is really gone then you can have the lens converted into an RF coupled M mount lens.
Although everyone calls this a rangefinder camera, it is not. It is a larger automatic compact camera, with interchangeable lenses. And the lenses I would consider to be some of the best lenses on any film camera. They really are that good that I still consider this camera a viable option. But it is not just that. It is the way this camera was put together, it is a joy to use. And it looks pretty damned nice too. The main issue with this camera is it cannot be repaired any longer, which makes the G2 are rather risky investment, unless you consider the lenses. They are still brilliant and you can have them converted to M-mount when the camera finally dies.
What is not to love about this camera? This beast was made when Fuji actually cared about film photography and had some of the most skilled engineers in the world working on their products. How they came up with this is anyones guess, but they did. A ‘true’ panoramic 35mm camera. This camera is one of my runaway favourites of all time and the only reason I don’t own one any more is because every time I find a really nice one, someone asks me for it and I sell it to them, and then I realise I wanted to keep it. The only downside about this camera? Total lack of repairs now. If it dies you better know a really skilled electrical engineer/camera guru as otherwise you are pretty much up the creek. But if you have a good working one, slap some slide film in it and go somewhere beautiful, you will not regret it for one second.
Another one that is slightly left field, but was spurred on by a conversation I had recently about Contax cameras. Simply put there was nothing like them on the market. It was almost as if they were just too good and people didn’t understand. The S2 was simple, small, lightweight, fully mechanical and extremely capable. And it came paired with all that lovely, wonderful Zeiss glass. Oh my. This was a misunderstood camera and was often overlooked. Now people are starting to cotton on to these and the prices are going up.
Konica Big Mini
There are not many ultra budget compact cameras that I like. But I love this one. A really great lens, and an easy to use camera that can be bought for peanuts, what is not to like? Well, the fact that you cannot find them anywhere any longer. That is the only real problem with them. Everyone loves them and I cannot find them any more. And the prices, well, they have basically tripled in the last few years. If you do find one of these on the cheap grab it immediately and tell no-one.
There are obviously loads more cameras that I love and have loved (ooer, I sound like a cameraslut), but I cannot possibly list them all. These are the ones I have used recently and would continue to use.
What about you? What are your favourite cameras and why? Share with us below. Or tell me what you think of my selection, I can take it, haha.
If you are looking for any of these cameras I can help you to find them. Apart from the T2/Big Mini, you are going to have to join the queue on that one (I have now stopped sourcing compact cameras).