Selecting Your Back-To-Film Camera by Dan K


by Bellamy /

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Selecting Your Back-To-Film Camera by Dan K
Some of our readers may be considering returning to film after many years of shooting digital. Others may know of a friend who is considering trying it out and wondering what camera to buy. There are countless film cameras available and your choice will have a significant impact of your enjoyment and early success.

My Own Experience

My own back-to-film camera was a gift from my wife, selected by my good friend Sam Cheng, a successful wedding photography professional from film’s heyday and lifelong camera collector. He picked the excellent Canon P rangefinder and the system’s best lens, the 50mm 1:1.4. Although it uses the Leica screw mount, it, not far removed from a Leica M2 in technology and feel, without costing anything like as much money.

The truth is I struggled with it. I had been proficient with my previous set up, comprising a Canon EOS 400D and Tamron 17-50mm 2.8. The choice of camera was intended to slow me down, teach me eye metering, parallax and the confidence to rely upon a single prime lens. I am a fairly technical person, but I found the transition as challenging as when a helicoptor instructor hands you all controls (cyclic, collective and rudder) in one go in a low hover. There was so much going on that I’d miss the shot trying to get everything right. Some shots were misfocussed, some were badly exposed; some were both. I eventually learned to stop down to give a little more depth of field and then I bought a Voightlander VCII meter to get an approximate exposure setting and trusted to print film latitude for the rest, but I doubt many people would have persisted as long as it took to master the skill set. Certainly, in today’s cameraphone culture, the learning gap is a chasm.

Toy Cameras

I would only recommend a low-tech camera to someone with recent film photography experience or who has a good mentor to show him the ropes. On the other hand, if your objective is simply to take photos that don’t look like they came from a flat and sterile digital camera and aren’t inclined to spend time learning about how to craft a photograph, then maybe you should try a toy camera.

The two best known brands are Lomography and Holga. Both are unreliable and not always in a good way. At least Holgas are cheap. A Diana F+ should set you back under fifty dollars. Just don’t buy a Lomography camera model that costs more than a decent camera and a couple of lenses.

A toy camera often disappoints people to the point where they give up. Successful images come with experience and no small amount of luck. My next article will cover several tips and tricks that will help you improve your ratio of keepers to trash, but maybe you’re better off buying a point and shoot and experiment with filters and vaseline in the corners of the lens. Remember the cross-processed colours you see on Lomography’s website are caused by processing, not the camera.

The Easy Way

Probably the least painful way I could have made the transition to film would have been to buy a full-featured EOS (film) SLR with auto focus and at least aperture priority metering. The drawback of having a crutch is you may never learn to walk without it. As crutches go, a camera like the EOS 1V is virtually a mobility scooter. Furthermore, my cropframe lenses would have been useless. Mirrorless camera users would have the same problem. However for a full frame 5D mk III user, a late model EOS camera makes sense.

The Evolutionary Path

Another approach is to first make the adjustment to manual focus lenses, with a view to buying a compatible film body. If you do so, research first what camera system you plan to use in the future.

Start With a Clean Slate

If you haven’t already invested in a heap of high-end lenses, or if your existing gear is incompatible with film cameras, maybe your best bet is to start from scratch. Ignore brand loyalty; it’s better to make a well researched foray into a new system than to save a little on one or two lenses that you already have, such as some f/4 zooms, which will prove too slow for low available light shooting.

Planning Your Film System

If possible decide early on what kind of photography you intend to do, how large of a system you intend to assemble over time and whether your return to experiment a little with film or are you already determined to make a serious go at it. This will affect your choice of first camera and system.

If you intend to experiment, buy a budget camera and lens and see if it’s right for you. It’s easier to pick your ultimate camera based on the shortcomings of an existing camera than to rely on other people’s opinions, because there is no universal ‘best camera’ that suits everyone. I’ve written several articles in my Unsung Heroes series, covering SLRS, SLR lenses and rangefinders.

Some suggestions:

Minolta X-700 or X-500 and a 50mm f/1.7 for aperture priority.

Nikon FM2 and any 35mm or 50mm budget lens for a quality all manual camera.

Canon Canonet 17 or 19, or a Yashica Electro 35 for the rangefinder experience.

If you are committed to building a system, pick a system and find almost any body that’s easy to use and is compatible with the lenses you want. Most rational people spend more money on lenses than the body, because the lenses affect the image quality and rendition, whereas the camera is simply a machine. The camera choice does matter a bit because it is the user’s primary interface, but essentially it’s just a box with a finder to look through, a shutter, a way to advance the film and perhaps a meter. It’s not as important as it is in digital photography, because the film is your sensor. The glass comes first.

Some suggestions:

Nikon AF or Canon EOS if you intend to photograph quick things at a distance, such as sports or wildlife. The F100 and EOS 3 are good prosumer cameras.

Minolta if you need cheap but stellar quality manual focus lenses, especially zoom lenses.

Nikon AI if you want high quality manual primes. E (economy) lenses are great to start out with. I like the FM/FE series, or F2AS/F3HP.

Voigtlander (Cosina) for modern multicoated Leica mount lenses. Note screw mount lenses can be used with an adaptor on M-mount bodies, but not vice-versa. The Bessa 2/3/4 are good choices at a reasonable price, or a Minolta CLE for compactness. Be sure you check the framelines correspond to your lens focal length preferences, it’s the most important specification to check.
Canon screw mount for classic single coated lenses that work great with black and white film and won’t break the bank. You might use a Canon body, or a modern Bessa. Of the Bessas, pick the M-mount modies unless shooting exclusively 25mm and wider screw mount lenses with an accessory finder, in which case you might consider the light weight and cheap Bessa L.

Think carefully before buying a Leica, Contax or Nikon rangefinder. They are lovely, but are something to work up to, partly because the technology is 1950s-70s, and partly because it is something to work up to. It took me years before I bought a Leica M. I’m not saying you don’t deserve them yet, but the differences between models are subtle but seem hugely important to users and there’s no way to know ahead of time whether you should buy an M3 or M4, etc. When you know, you’ll know. Probably.

Regardless of your choice, don’t stress out too much over whether you’ve made the right decision and don’t get too hung up over getting a perfect exposure. Enjoy the process and learn from your mistakes. Focus on the meaning behind the image and the way you use what you have to express it. A badly exposed, inaccurately focused photo has value if it touches the viewer’s heart and is a worthless technical exercise if it does not.

Opinions Vary, So Let’s Hear Them

I am sure many readers will have differing opinions to mine, which I hope they will share. Just remember the framework for selection when you weigh their suggestions against mine and you won’t go far wrong. If you have already made the transition back to film, please share your experience, the gear you picked, your successes and regrets.

Dan K is a life-long enthusiast photographer. He celebrated his return to film by collecting just about every quality camera and lens that he could lay his hands upon. Along the way he has developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of film cameras and film processing. Follow him on twitter for a humorous look at photography techniques and technology from all eras. Follow him on Tumblr for his images, journey of photographic discovery and a generous helping of gear-porn.

Past articles that he’s written on similar topics:

Text © Dan K. All rights reserved.

He was also on ‘In your bag’
You can read all of Dan’s other articles here


17 comments on “Selecting Your Back-To-Film Camera by Dan K”

    Ralph Hightower November 20, 2015 at 9:15 am / Reply

    I would suggest the Canon A-1. It offers automatic exposure with aperture-priority, shutter-priority, and program mode where it picks the exposure. But then, I’m biased since I still use my A-1 that I bought in 1980. It also offers stopped-down metering for those lenses that don’t have signaling pins to the camera, such as the Spiratone 400mm f6.3 lens. I’ve put it in manual mode for creating panoramas.
    The A-1 is a versatile camera for anyone getting into photography, like I did in 1980. I added the motor drive to shoot at six frames per second.

    Hilde Heyvaert November 20, 2015 at 5:26 pm / Reply

    First things first: great article, I really enjoyed reading it! :)

    I still use digital, but ever since my husband bought me a negatives scanner and I discovered that HEMA will develop pretty much everything for a very reasonable price, my DSLR and digital compact cameras have mostly been benched.

    I fully agree that Lomography is unreliable (having used and disapproved of several Lomography cameras myself, I still own an Actionsampler and a Sprocket Rocket, although the last one is about to be rehomed) so I was wondering: why not get the camera the Holga is based on instead? The Agfa Isola.
    It’s an awesome vintage camera that is still easy enough to come by. Sure, you can’t change the lenses, and it’s not quite as easy to load, but in my experience it’s a great camera to use. I definitely love my Isola, whilst I know I wouldn’t enjoy shooting with a Holga much at all. Another great vintage toy camera is the Agfa Click (regardless of number). It’s easy to load, and it’s pretty much point and click (aptly named that one) but it produces pretty good images whilst at it (just make sure you are at least 3 meters away from your subject), better than what I’ve seen come out of many Lomography cameras on their site.
    So if people are looking for a really easy to use and fun medium format camera, looking into old Agfa models may be a good idea. Over here in Europe they are also very cheap, I paid € 15 for both my cameras combined. Which is also much cheaper than any Lomography 120mm camera.

    Aside from my two Agfa cameras (I own three, but using the Billy 1, which was my dad’s first camera, doesn’t appeal to me), I also use two auto loaders from the 1990s: a Samsung Slim Zoom115A Panorama and a Pentax ESPIO 120 (which also has panorama). I really enjoy shooting with these, especially for the panorama setting. I’ve had the Slim Zoom since 1996, so I’m quite attached to that one. The ESPIO was a recent thrift store find.
    I do own and shoot with a vintage camera as well: my dad’s old Petri 7s. I’m still learning how to properly shoot with it, it’s a film by film learning process. But that’s totally ok. I doubt I would ever get another vintage camera, because this one was my dad’s and I’m very attached to it.

    stuart November 20, 2015 at 7:18 pm / Reply

    Hey Dan, thanks once again for a “good gear read”. Here are my two cents (as a nikon user in europe):
    -The Nikon F100 is a great camera, but the f80 is small, light and dirt cheap (about 30EUR). Sure, it doesn’t have all the features and the pro build quality, but it also offers some features that the f100 doesn’t.
    -FM2’s are also awesome, but differences to an FM are negligible in most cases, especially for beginners and especially considering the price (’bout 50EUR for an FE here).
    -The same applies for the FE2 as opposed to the FE, albeit FE2’s are usually much cheaper than FM2’s. FE’s can be had for about 50EUR too, and I also think that having A-mode is a nice “crutch” for film rookies.
    -A cheaper TLR (like a Yashica MAT 124): although the experience is quite different from a 35mm SLR, I don’t think that the adaptation is too hard. Furthermore, I think that the fact that the experience of a TLR is so different, as well as the fact that it’s a lot more fun/easier to look at 6×6 negs/slides, will make it even more addicting for a beginner!

    Brett Rogers November 20, 2015 at 9:01 pm / Reply

    Dan, thank you, thank you, for not mentioning the bloody K1000. Probably the most overrated and boring SLR Pentax ever made. No self timer, not even a depth of field preview for goodness sake. You’re better off with a Spotmatic. I enjoyed this article. Well written, informative, good work. Having said that, a few opinions/obervations.

    There’s a shot of an EOS650 next to the comment about a late model EOS, from the context I assume it means a late model 35mm EOS. But of course, the 650 was Canon’s first ever EOS. And for a totally new line of cameras it was a good effort. I have a 650, as well as 620, 630 & RT models. These last three were all genuine advances on the 650 in various ways (shutter speed, sync speed, multiple exposure, IIRC, in the case of the 620, autofocus speed, frame rate and flash interface in the case of the 630). But the RT really is something special, only comparable to the EOS-1NRS, and only made in minute quantities compared to most other EOS types. These early models can have a tendency to develop sticking shutters. There is a tedious if effective work around for that but it’s worth looking out for in any potential purchase.

    With the Minoltas, I prefer the older, mostly mechanical, models (bar their meter circuitry), particularly the 101. Most of them have a mirror lock up lever, and a lockable depth of field preview plunger, both features that, personally, I like for tripod landscape imaging. The Rokkor lenses are excellent.

    The next observation might be a little controversial but it’s borne out by my experience with a number of cameras. You could do a lot worse than a Praktica SLR if you are seeking a basic, reliable, 35mm SLR. I’ve bought a number of Pentaxes (SV, S3, Spotmatic etc.) and Prakticas from various cheap sources. As far as finding a unit in good working condition, or able to made so readily, goes: the Prakticas have outscored the Pentaxes three to one. Early cloth shutter types such as the FX, FX2/3 or IV may need a little cleaning and lubrication of their mechanisms but, this done, they tend to work well, with very little, if any adjustment to their spring tensions. Later, metal shutter models might have the occasional lock up, due to stuck mirror mechanisms and the like, but most of them still run, and, as long as a dead cell has not been left in the battery compartment, it is not at all unusual to check the meters and see them still working and accurate. On the other hand, the tendency of old Pentaxes to develop faulty spindle springs (they like to rust, which throws the acceleration rates and linearity of the curtains right out of adjustable range) will mean that only the most committed repairer willing to totally strip a mechanism down, and replace parts, will ever get a defective one back to 100%. Of course, there are also some Pentaxes found to be in good working repair, too and I would not suggest otherwise. But the Prakticas have proven to be a far better bet in terms of being straightforward to rehabilitate in my experience. Older Zenits aren’t perfect either, but can be good to go surprisingly often too. (For the record I do rate the Pentaxes highly, as attractive and pleasant to use cameras, but they just don’t seem to age as well as some ostensibly inferior Eastern Bloc alternatives.)

    Fujica SLRs are another overlooked range of M42 cameras. The ST605/N, 705 and 801 are, in increasing order of desirability, my favourites. Some of the brightest viewfinders in M42, accurate silicon meters and excellent Fujinon lenses. Still available very affordably, too.

    There are so many quality Japanese fixed lens rangefinders available and for the most part the lenses, by the mid-1960s, were really good. Regardless of shutter or aperture priority automation, I avoid cameras without some sort of effective manual exposure control, something certain otherwise desirable models may lack. The Konica Auto S2 is my pick of the Japanese fixed lens offerings. Its Hexanon lens is sharp as a scalpel, the finder and focus patch is super bright and contrasty, the build quality is good, finish excellent and it looks like something that ought to cost a lot more. Shutters may need cleaning, and if unskilled owners have meddled with them, meter wiring (which is ultra-thin) may lack continuity. The basic package is very good.

    I personally favour the classic German marques above all others. Zeiss Ikon, Rollei and Voigtlander are my top three (I would love a Linhof eventually, though). To be fair many of their offerings are probably outside the scope of an article of this type, because although the German build from the golden age of the 1950s was superlative, their products generally will appreciate a CLA today before they can expect to be pressed into regular service again. Whilst this is something I enjoy doing myself, most owners needing to farm repairs out may be discouraged by it, of course, I’d still encourage anyone who comes across one to consider a Vito, Vitessa or a Rolleicord if they find one. The Rolleiflexes are in a class of their own but, Rolleicords are simpler, lighter and with less to go wrong are probably a better buy for shoppers on a budget. As far as TLRs go, I’ve worked on Rolleis and Yashicas. The Rolleis are a labour of love. The Yashicas? The Yashinon lenses are terrific. But the metalwork just isn’t up to Rollei grade (not even close). Mamiya TLRs on the other hand, are a much better proposition (assuming the bellows are OK, which, usually, they are).

    Nick Thompson November 21, 2015 at 7:01 am / Reply

    Two words:- Olympus Trip

    James November 21, 2015 at 9:52 pm / Reply

    Enjoyed your article and its timing for me. I haven’t shot film since the 90’s and that was with a metered body and sometimes af lenses. Well, just this week I picked up a Hasselblad 500 C/M. I’m still assembling bits and pieces of my kit from eBay and craigslist, but I’m already having fun.

    The process slows you down and I feel gives me more time to think about the image I’m about to capture. Today I’ll snap the last frame on my first roll of film and head to the lab fingers crossed. Still waiting on a Polaroid back to arrive. Is that cheating?

    Paul Park November 23, 2015 at 1:38 am / Reply

    I really disagree with the choice of suggesting an A-1. It’s ease of use is also what disappoints me the most. My example has been well maintained since my father bought it new some 30+ years ago. However, I don’t trust its meter. I always carry my Minolta Autometer VF because I just don’t trust the Program mode of the A1. When compared to shooting the same scene with my old Nikon F5 and the same scene with the A1, there is a noticeable difference in exposure.

    Naturally I switch to its manual mode and use the metering of my Autometer. But switching to manual focus on the A1 defeats the purpose of the A1s forte: ease of use. In theory the Program mode should make for a basically compose and shoot camera. But due to my dislike of how it meters and its clunky manual mode, I never use it. I will never part with it, but I despise using it.

    Having used a lot of cameras, I find that I love the Nikon F5s meter the most. I wish that the Autofocus points were illuminated like modern digital Nikon SLRs. I wish it were the size of the F100.

    I like the F100, but once you go from the spectrum of shooting with a Leica M3 and carrying a light meter, to shooting with the F5, you start to love the additional shutter and aperture options and greater accuracy in exposure.

    If I were buying a manual focus 35mm SLR again, it would be hard for me to pick between the Nikon FE2 and FM3a. I think the FM3a is basically one of the best cameras made, but you can get a good condition FE2 for 1/3 of the price of the FM3a. And the FE2 fulfills my needs just as well as the FM3a.

    For cheap fun, I would pick up an Olympus OM2n. Awesome viewfinder, wonderful lenses and OTF metering is wonderful. Some of my favorite pictures were taken with an OM2n. I prefer Nikom FM/FE ergonomics and controls at this point.

    Medium Format Film: Pentax 645n for me. The handling is my favorite of the medium format cameras have owned (Mamiya RZ, Pentax 67, Bronica RF645). The viewfinder is easily the best I have ever experienced. Someone coming from digital would get comfortable with a 645n very quickly. I sold mine as I no longer needed anything of its capability. One of my favorite cameras. I highly recommend this camera.

    My film photography obsession has waned considerably in the last 5 years. I still own my late father’s A1. I never use it. I picked up an N90s and 24-120 lens. (I don’t like its meter nearly as much as the F5. But the F5 was too big for me). I wouls like to get ride of the N90s. Even for the $20 I bought it for, its not as endearing as my previous cameras were.

    My perfect camera seems like its the F6, but that cameras a bit too expensive and too heavy.

    I wish that everyone could have owned all the cameras I have owned. Film cameras are fun. Eventually you realize that not one camera is perfect. But you do realize which things you can’t live without the most, and accept the faults that only you can live with.

    Ric Capucho November 24, 2015 at 5:21 am / Reply

    Ok, I went a slightly different route. Got myself a Leica M6 “classic”, which is 90% manual, but does have the built in light meter which docks me the 10%. I usually use a 50mm prime lens, and being Leica is likewise manual in every way.

    Operationally, bar the shutter speed dial going round the wrong bloody way, this combination’s a gem. The focus tab is where god intended it to go, likewise the aperture ring. The shutter speed is at least in the right place, and once yer used to turning it *against* the metering direction doesn’t require me to move the camera away from my eye.

    It took me 2-3 rolls of film for most of my howling exposure and focusing mistakes to pretty much dry up.

    However, in hindsight I’d recommend one or two alternatives to anyone starting out:

    1. If it *must* be metered, then by all means go with an M6. I don’t regret it. But if budget’s an issue, or if you want to dabble before jumping into the Leica lake feet first, then a Nikon FM2 is operationally the same bloody camera, even if it’s an SLR *and* the shutter speed dial isn’t insanely reversed. The whole rangefinder experience is sometimes a bit overblown, IMHO. A classic SLR gives much the same focusing and meter-chasing experience, and the Nikon for one is like a close cousin to the M6. Tried one a couple a months ago, and was stunned at the operational similarity. I think my mate paid $2-300 for his FM2 which came with a weapons grade 1.2 50mm prime. Bleeding edge pro stuff in its day.

    2. If yer brave enough to start without a meter, then I’d point anyone at a ratty M2 or M3, some of which can be had with a similarly ratty Leica lens for $500 or so. Suddenly, Capucho is all range finder biased after all. Seems to me that many a Leica is chosen for museum quality preservation purposes, whilst yer first film camera should be treated like cr@p in order to get it out of the display cabinet and out on the streets, into the rain and snows, and generally used to shoot a stream of film rolls.

    What I don’t recommend is a fully automated 1990s film camera which’ll teach yer nowt. Slowing down required a camera that, erm, slows yer down. I have a Contax T2, admittedly, but I never use the autofocus, and the aperture priority drives me nuts unless I’m in a hurry , in which case I hypocritically love it to death.

    So it’s the FM2 then. Or a scratched, bent, but otherwise functioning M2 or M3. Or M4-2.


    rt November 24, 2015 at 1:18 pm / Reply

    My first foray back to film was with a Cosina Bessa R3M, which managed to break (first the curtain got stuck every other frame, and then the film advance lever snapped) before I got through a single roll of film, which really, really set me back, both psychologically and monetarily., but more psychologically.

    I just about gave up then and there, but I found an amazing deal on a Fujica GW690 with a lower shutter count (~150 USD) whose previous owner had worked for a tourism business in my town that went under a decade or so ago. I decided I should give it one more chance. A $5 light seal fix and the camera was good as new.

    It was harder than I thought at first, working with especially when you’re trying to get any depth of field in lower light and trying to nail the focus with the tiny depth of field at f/3.5., but the rangefinder is extremely accurate. Most of my focus problems occur when I shift too much because of course I don’t want everything dead center. The camera is also built like a tank – I know that it’ll last me.

    The hardest thing so far is actually scanning. The place I develop my film at charges outrageous prices for very small 6×9 scans, and while I get much better results than them on my flatbed scanner, the film holders easily get statically charged and attract so much dust I have to act fast and have a little luck to get a good scan. Sometimes when I think I completely missed the focus, it’s just because the film’s not sitting flat enough in the holder. I also had my A/C spit some water across the room and almost ruin some negatives too. Which makes me question some arguments I’ve heard about film being more “permanent” than digital…

    After seeing the results I was getting I thought about testing fate with another 35mm rangefinder, but I figured if I really I wanted more portability and convenience I was better off using digital (I shoot a Fuji X-Pro-1). I ended up getting a GSW690 as well, but I’ve found I prefer the 90mm lens of the GW much better. (The GSW’s 65mm doesn’t really like it when you shoot between f/5.6-f/8 – f/11-f/16 is best)

    I’ve actually heard that the GW690’s 90mm is not a very sharp lens compared to other medium format lenses, but it’s sharp enough (when the focus is spot on) to see detailed lines in a subject’s irises from about 2-3 meters away, and that’s certainly sharp enough for me.

    Carlos November 29, 2015 at 1:44 am / Reply

    digital, analog, lenses
    Nikon D700, F100, FX AF-S D/E/G
    Sony A99, Minolta Dynax 600si, Minolta AF
    Leica M, M6/2/3/4/7/P, LTM
    iPhone5/6, TLR, n/a
    Instagram, Impossible SX70, n/a
    Epson850, anyAnalog, whatever

    Humm December 2, 2015 at 2:23 am / Reply

    Yeah… The M6? Definitely outside the scope of the article, as suggested. The CL is actually quite hard to find in ‘budget’ prices lately, as are the Voigtlander R# cameras. If you’re looking to go Leica-mount for your return to film…

    The best option is the M2 or M3. You can get one used for under £400 with some searching. Plus, because it’s a ‘lifetime’ camera; there’s no need to upgrade later. Anything newer will be rather more expensive… a couple of hundred more for an M4-series, and a couple hundred more for an M6.

    There is one ‘cheap leica’ option… look for a broken M5. The meters, like most integrated meters; tend to not be worth repairing – except for emotional value. A mechanically sound, but electrically dead M5 can be had for around £250. With a badly-worn collapsible 50 ‘Cron for £100, you can get some impressive results.

    But don’t actually do this; since you can get an Olympus Trip for £5 that’ll make perfectly lovely images.

    P.S. Britain’s expensive. If you live in the US, pretend the £’s are $’s and you’ll be about right.

    Steve December 2, 2015 at 3:25 am / Reply

    My Leica M3 is my camera of choice, and I learned how to shoot film on it. More costly than other options? Yes, but for what you would pay for a high-end DSLR, you can get an M3, two or more lenses, and a light meter.

    I have a few other rangefinder cameras—Leica M7, Minolta CLE, and an Olympus RC-35 which is just excellent and can be picked up for less than $100. I love shooting with all of them, but the M3 gives me the most satisfaction.

    I made a lot of mistakes shooting film at first, and I still make mistakes. I don’t care. Every chance to shoot is a chance to learn, and I am constantly improving. When you begin shooting film, I recommending shooting a lot and experimenting.

    I shoot a lot of street photography in Tokyo, and in other cities when I travel. If I had to chose one camera, one lens and one film, it would be an M3, a Summicron 50 f/2 (you can get the old DR models for a lot less than the newer ones, and they are excellent), and TMAX100.

    I shoot the TMAX100 at ISO500, and develop it myself with a Rodinal recipe (1:25, stand one hour, no agitation). I scan with an EPSON GT-X 980 (same as the v800/850). The results are brilliant.

    jay Neely December 2, 2015 at 1:39 pm / Reply

    Ha! I have to totally disagree on the K1000 (proper japanese K1000s). It’s perfectly boring! It’s a bare bones slr that takes good reasonable glass with a good meter and a large viewfinder that’s easy to focus… Perfect first SLR

    As for the article, this was an extremely good read. I’ve gone back and forth between film and digital a few times and it’s definitely caused me to formulate some opinions on the subject.

    I think the biggest feature a camera must have when you’re going back to film is a meter… not a hand meter, not a hotshoe meter… a meter that is visible through the viewfinder of the camera. It’s how you truly understand and learn the relationship between film speed, shutter speed and aperture. Also, you’ll get a lot better negatives as a beginner, which will give you the motivation to keep shooting.

    In terms of the Lomo / Holga cameras, they were my first and what got me into photography. They’re terrible cameras and the whole lomo thing is a total racket. You end up spending so much money on film, processing, and scanning to get very few usable negatives. In this category, I would skip the toy camera thing and go for classic 35mm compacts like the mjuii, or the konica big minis… Contax tvs zooms can be had for fairly cheap these days and those will give you far better images than toy cameras. If you’ve got the cash, skip the t4 and get a contax t2, that’s one of the best compacts ever made (the aperture dial takes it to the next level).

    Other than that, I think all of your other recommendations were pretty spot on! If folks are interested in pursuing medium format, Yashica TLRs are probably the best bang for your buck, or the fuji 645 series… or the Bronica SLRs.

    Probably my favorite film setup ever was my graflex 4×5 with a fuji instant back. Not really worth the investment now, but damn were those fp3000 frames good.

    One last thing to consider. If you’re going back to film (35mm especially), I think it’s important to think about a scanner (if you’re planning to scan your own) that won’t make you want to throw all of your film stuff across the room. Scanning negatives sucks… Buy a Pakon.


    Kemal December 13, 2015 at 6:15 pm / Reply

    Dear Dan,

    thank you for another great article!

    It was your “Dan K’s Top 10 Manual Film SLRs” Article where I first ley my eyes on the oh so sweet Minolta XDs. I upgraded from an X700 to a very fine XD7 example just a couple of weeks later and I’m progressing with it since 3 years now. I firstly used the infamous Rokkor-PG 50mm f 1.4 but “downgraded” to the Minolta 45mm f2 for its almoast pancake size, lightweight and good image quality.

    Just recently I wanted to switch to Nikon FM2n but wasn’t happy with it and just sold it off again. The ergonomics of the XD7 are just so much nicer – and you cant beat that beautiful shutter sound. The XD7’s viewfinder might not be as bright as the Nikon’s, but the informations are much better readable.

    So again – thank you for coupeling me with the XD7! ;)

    Best Regards from Berlin


    Hayden Himburg May 20, 2016 at 9:29 am / Reply

    I have an ME-Super, and have just aquired an Olympus Pen F with 40mm f1.4 for my 35mm cameras, my other film cameras include a Bronica S2a kit, a Minolta 110 SLR Zoom Mk II and Pentax Auto 110 kits. I very rarely use the ME super these days, but the Bronny and 110’s get a bit of use.

    Johan May 21, 2016 at 12:32 am / Reply

    Hi Dan, very interesting article! It’s so much working with film. I Love it, though it takes a lot of effort and Time. For me the Konica Hexar AF is the best. What a lovely and perfect camera!

    Greetings from Holland. Johan

    Matt November 5, 2016 at 5:50 pm / Reply

    My first foray into film (aside from some high school classes using my grandfather’s Praktica MTL3), was the Canon FD system – first an F1n and later the feature-packed T90. The FD glass was great and affordable, and both cameras very functional and dependable. Then, a few years down the track, I had a chance encounter with an Olympus OM-1MD and I’ve never looked back.

    The single-digit OM system is diminutive, intuitive (at least for me) and exceptionally well thought-out. In the OM-4Ti I have a camera with a more advanced multi-spot meter than the T90, without the clutter of buttons, menus and options that I find entirely undermines the ‘film experience’. Instead I have a small, clean camera with everything I need (bright viewfinder, good manual mode, aperture priority, excellent metering) so that I can square my attention solely on the photographic process.

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