Recommended First Film Cameras

Looking to get into 35mm film photography and wondering what camera to choose, from the dizzying array of possibilities?  You’ve come to the right place!  The following four first film camera suggestions are guaranteed to get you addicted to film and help you become a solid, knowledgable shooter (with lots of practice and reading of course)!

Pentax K1000 – Tried and True

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The Pentax K1000 is often called the Ultimate Student Camera.  It was the first adjustable camera that generations of photographers started with, including yours truly.  What’s great about this camera is that it has absolutely no features that you don’t need.  No self timer, no depth of field preview, no battery check, not even a switch to turn the meter on and off!  The K1000 concentrates all your efforts to loading the film correctly, taking the photos correctly and unloading the film correctly.  No distractions.  Zen.  K1000’s are cheap, widely available and very dependable.  One downfall is that they can sometimes command more money than they’re maybe really worth due to their popularity.  You could potentially get a camera with a few more features and bigger lens selection for the same or less $$.  Also, the K1000 is not a camera that most people are likely to continue to use for serious/professional work as their photography skills progress.  Lens selection is relatively small (though compatible with Pentax DSLR’s), there are nicer viewfinders and more accurate meters out there.

Here are some photos that I’ve taken with my K1000’s:

 

Nikon FM – Gateway into the Nikon Empire

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The Nikon FM was what the wealthier kids got as their first 35mm SLR.  It is much like the K1000 but nicer.  Tighter construction, clearer viewfinder optics, just a few tastefully selected additional features, ultra smooth operation, excellent reliability and, most importantly, access to the truly massive and nuanced Nikkor lens and accessory portfolio.  While FM users will be very likely to trade up into an FM2n or FM3a as well as professional Nikon bodies, they will probably always keep their lenses and maybe use the FM as a back-up body, which is what I do.  The FM2n and F2sb are my main Nikon bodies 10 or so years after buying my first Nikon FM but I keep that FM as a reliable back-up.  If you don’t mind the expense, it’s well worth skipping the FM and going straight to an FM2n or FM3a.  And if you are leery about buying used or very old cameras, the FM10 is still available new, however, it is plastic and made by Cosina, not Nikon.

And here are some photos from my Nikon FM:

 

Olympus OM-1 – Off the Beaten Path

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The Oly OM-1 really challenged 35mm SLR design conventions.  It’s the camera for rebels, people just looking for something other than a vanilla K1000 or Leica shooters looking for a cheap, dependable SLR.  The OM-1 is positively tiny for a full frame SLR.  My black paint OM-1n seems to disappear in my hands and it’s cloth shutter is whisper quiet, making it a good candid shooter.  I mention Leica because OM lenses have the aperture closer to the front element and focus ring behind that just like a Leica rangefinder lens.  The big bright viewfinder, small form factor and front top plate mounted film rewind button are also characteristics a Leica shooter will recognize and enjoy.  Speaking of the viewfinder, the OM-1’s finder is just gorgeous with higher magnification and frame coverage than most SLR’s or DSLR’s, it’s deadly accurate and pleasing to look through.  Interchangeable screens will allow you to customize your focusing experience.  Then there’s the Nikkormat-esque shutter speed control which comes in the form of a ring around the lens mount.  This is just a fun and ergonomic way to change speeds.  Mirror lock-up makes macro lens or astro-photography a cinch.  For me, the OM-1 spends more time on my shelf than I’d like because of it’s limiting ISO range, only reaching up to 1600.  I prefer an LED meter display, or at least a larger, more visible swing needle though.  And there are plenty of terrific OM Zuiko lenses out there but their prices can often soar above Nikkor due to their relative scarcity.  You can use these lenses with DSLR’s but only with an adapter.  So the OM-1 is a great camera but choosing it can also paint you into a bit of a corner down the road.

Photos taken with my OM-1’s:

Canon FTb – Smart Buy

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Speaking of painting oneself into a corner, buying into the Canon FD mount system is exactly that.  But it may be worth it.  I’ve never personally owned an FTb but I always like to include it for the Canon fans.  I have worked on/handled a few and think they’re worthy cameras.  I don’t recommend the AE-1 because, while like the K1000, it has been a monumentally popular student camera, it is not fully manual and it’s auto exposure system feels dated and backwards to me.  The FTb is fully manual/mechanical but takes the same FD and similar early breech mount Canon lenses as the more popular AE-1.  What I like about the FTb is it’s tank-like construction and it’s fun film loading system called Quick Load.  It makes loading film a little bit easier and faster than other cameras yet Canon were the only manufacturer to employ anything like it and they only did so on a handful of models.  So back to FD mount lenses.  The issue with them is that they are not compatible with newer EOS film Canons or Canon DSLR’s.  Unlike Pentax and Nikon, who didn’t change their mount significantly for decades, Canon FD lenses are extremely limited in what they can fit.  This is often viewed as a negative and as a result prices on these cameras and lenses are quite low.  So this is good if you like Canon cameras.  You can easily buy an FTb and a good set of fast prime Canon FD lenses for the same cost as a smaller Nikon, Pentax or Olympus kit.  Provided you’re fine with not building a larger system, this is a really economical way to go.

*I don’t have any photos I’ve taken with an FTb but if you do and would like me to post them here, please reach out!

Below, please check out a spec comparison of these 4 cameras and see what appeals to you.

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If you’re interested in purchasing one of these fine 35mm SLR’s, I always recommend using them with a standard 50mm lens in your price range, not a zoom lens.  Also, I recommend buying from places like KEH.com, CollectibleCameras.com or a local camera or repair shop that sells and warranties older film cameras.  It’s important not to purchase off eBay when you are just starting out.  These are all pretty old cameras and, when neglected or abused, will have serious problems that may not ruin your first roll of film, but could ruin one of your rolls down the line, leaving you out a lot of money and time.  It’s important to me that those interested in film photography have amazing first experiences so that you keep coming back for more.  It’s an easy hobby/field to get discouraged by.  Don’t let it happen to you by trying to save a few bucks!

Thanks for reading and please don’t hesitate to leave questions/comments below!

 

 

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4 thoughts on “Recommended First Film Cameras

  1. I like seeing the OM-1 on this list. I own two, a very nice one and a rough one, and they’re both great. The shutter speed being on the lens barrel is odd but one can adapt.

    I used to own a Canon FT, the FL-mount predecessor to the FTb. It found it to be clunky and ultimately fatiguing to use. But it’s built like a tank. And even though the one I had was neglected, everything about it functioned, including the meter.

      1. My first wife was a pro photographer and her personal camera was a K1000. It was the first SLR I ever shot and so it has a special spot in my heart. My first SLR was a Minolta X-700, which I enjoyed right until it failed, the dreaded locked winder problem. My OM-1s were the next into my hands and I still have and love them.

  2. Quite a lineage there! So many people started with a K1000 and I think with good reason regardless of we knew it at the time or not! I was gifted an ME for my first film photography class in 2000 but after the first assignment it was clear that I’d need something with a manual shutter. My father bought me a $100 K1000 with 50/1.7 at a flea market and I was quickly obsessed. I went on a cheap camera buying spree for a period before I found a Nikon FM with 50/1.8 at my local camera repair shop for which I paid $150 which was a lot of money to me at the time. I’m not sure if it was the quality difference in the camera or what but that was when I really started taking better photos. I used the FM for my first solo gallery exhibit, to photograph Bill Clinton and just have a lot of fun with! OM-1’s don’t fit into my early camera history either but since getting my first one, I’ve always enjoyed them. And I’ve just never had much luck with Minolta’s; they always seem to be DOA or fail with a little regular use. I have a working SRT 101 and some lenses I don’t use currently and I used to have a dead XK that was deemed unrepairable but I’d like to get another if I have the chance so that I can use my lenses enjoyably again.

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