The truth is, I’m part of the generation that grew up with film cameras in the family but never really used one personally; I didn’t even know how to load film into a camera until this year. For a long time in my teenage years, I recorded memories on digital and cellphone cameras. I had fun. You can even say I was into photography but I didn’t fall in love with it. It wasn’t until I developed my first roll of film that I truly felt what taking pictures mean to me.
What I’m trying to say is, these are funny times when people (including myself) are taking up analog photography like it’s the newest thing invented. I think there is a reason why film, at some point, was believed to becoming obsolete but has made such a grand comeback instead. I think there is a reason why we are drawn to the older way pictures are made.
If you find yourself toying with the idea of shooting film and not sure which camera to start with, I hope this guide helps. This is by no means a professional guide. I am an analog enthusiast, I do it for fun. However, the facts and opinions you will read below have been very much researched and based on actual user-experience.
Like the title implies, this is a guide to building a film camera collection because, trust me, once you’re hooked, you’re not going to stop at one (or two or three or seven… you get the idea). I have a few of my own rules when it comes to buying film cameras:
1. Do not spend more than USD100 on one camera (including shipping, batteries, the works).
This is, obviously, the most important point when you’re trying to keep your collection affordable. I live in a country where there are hardly any thrift stores or yard sales but if you do, go to those and you’ll probably be able to get your hands on a working camera for 5 dollars. I do my searching online and it’s a jungle out there – the key is to look long and hard enough. Eventually you will find something that’s not going to burn a hole in your pocket. The money you save on this camera purchase will easily justify the next.
2. If it is a vintage camera, it must be older than me.
This rule is a pretty personal one, I just tend to be more attracted to the aesthetics of things that were made before I was born. However, the fact is that most cameras made before the 90s were built like tanks and will last very, very long in proper care.
3. Do not buy two cameras with the same lens specification, no matter how cute they are.
I’m always on the brink of breaking this rule because I turn into a shopaholic when I spot cheap film cameras. Very affordable, yes, but if you already own one with the same lens specification, chances are you’ll only use one of them most of the time because the pictures are going to look pretty much the same. To justify owning several cameras, I make sure that each camera does its own unique thing and that’s the basis I work on while building the collection: no duplicates!
My cameras, in chronological order of purchase:
Name: Superheadz Ultra Wide & Slim
Type: 35mm plastic toy camera
Lens specifications: Fixed focus 22mm plastic lens with fixed aperture of f/11
How much I paid: USD5.00 including shipping (local online auction I stumbled upon – lucky!)
How much you might pay: USD25.00 to 35.00
Technically, the first film camera I owned was a TakeOne Ultra Wide & Slim which, like the Superheadz UWS, is a clone of the Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim. Unfortunately, I think the shutter release broke at some point and I retired it after my last roll of film in it turned out super fogged. I immediately set out to replace it because I have so much fun with this simple and straightforward camera.
- No batteries required.
- It is the lightest camera I own and at 75g, it hardly adds any weight to your bag so it’s definitely a camera to carry with you all the time.
- The f/11 aperture ensures that pretty much everything from 2 feet to infinity will be in clear focus.
- The wide angle lens is awesome for landscape photography in a fun way.
- I think it has the most beautiful lens flare among plastic cameras.
- With a fixed shutter speed of 1/125 and no bulb features, the UWS is at its best only when there’s lots and lots of (natural) light.
- The shutter release button is very shallow and more often than not, you don’t even feel like you’ve pressed the shutter.
- The plastic construction of the camera can be vulnerable when not handled properly, especially the film winder.
Tip: Don’t use film that is slower than ISO400, pictures will turn out underexposed very easily.
Alternative cameras to consider: Vivitar Ultra Wide & Slim, TakeOne Ultra Wide & Slim, Eximus Wide & Slim, Rainbow V
Name: Golden Half
Type: 35mm plastic half-frame toy camera
Lens Specifications: Fixed focus 22mm plastic lens with apertures f/8.5 and f/11
How much I paid: USD40.00 including shipping (local website)
How much you might pay: USD40.00 to 60.00
To be honest, I never even knew a half-frame camera existed until I saw the Golden Half on Tracey’s blog. Although I wasn’t particularly into lomography at that point of time, I was immensely intrigued by the idea of having two photographs on one frame – the possibilities of pairing pictures together was so exciting! I have to admit, though, that my Golden Half pictures haven’t exactly lived up to my own expectations but I’ve learned new things about the camera every time I finish up a roll of film.
- No batteries required.
- For a plastic camera, the Golden Half is amazingly sturdy and feels great in your hands.
- It takes 2 individual standard vertical format photos on one frame, thus doubling the number of pictures your roll will take and maximizing creative possibilities.
- The wide lens captures a lot for such a small camera.
- Although the shutter speed is just a tad slower than the UWS at 1/100, you can definitely use film as slow as ISO100 in bright daylight or adequate light source and still get well-exposed pictures.
- Equipped with a hot shoe that allows for nighttime photography with a separate flash.
- If you don’t own a flash or don’t like working with one, it is very easy to underexpose your pictures once it gets cloudy, even with ISO400 film.
- 72 snaps on a 36-exposure roll is very, very difficult to finish up.
- Although the frame counter goes all the way to 72 (in multiples of 6), it’s easy to lose track of the number of pictures you’ve taken and any pairing up of pictures is a guessing game unless you’ve kept count right from the start.
Tip: The Golden Half winds film from the right to the left, this essentially means that it takes the right-hand image before the left-hand one (or the bottom image before the top one in landscape).
Alternative cameras to consider: Olympus Pen series, Canon Demi series, Diana Mini, Yashica Samurai Z, Agfa Optima-Parat
Name: Yashica Electro 35 GSN
Type: 35mm aperture-priority rangefinder camera
Lens Specifications: Yashinon DX 45mm f/1.7
How much I paid: USD90.00 including shipping (local website)
How much you might pay: USD65.00 to 200.00
The Yashica Electro was my first “real” camera and it was a decision made after doing lots of online reading. I definitely paid more than I am willing to now but since it was my first time purchasing a vintage camera, I wanted to make sure that it was a working camera shipping locally, already cleaned and came with batteries. I was ready to venture outside my comfort zone for a more serious camera (but at the same time intimidated by the idea of shooting with an SLR – it just seemed really advanced at that point of time) and the rangefinder is definitely easy enough for any enthusiast to pick up. Rangefinders focus using a dual-image rangefinding device and as you turn the focusing ring, two superimposed images line up to form perfect focus.
- The Yashinon lens that the camera comes with is widely acclaimed for being super sharp.
- It is very, very well-made and just so beautiful to look at.
- The metering is excellent, I’ve never had a picture inaccurately exposed.
- Yashica sold millions of this camera in various versions over 15 years and that makes them very easy to find in thrift stores, garage sales or online auctions.
- The minimum focus distance is a sad 80cm so before I had my SLR it was always disappointing not to be able to do more close-up shots.
- Being aperture-priority, you set the aperture manually and the Yashica Electro will decide the appropriate shutter speed. This means that in low-light conditions it’s very common for the Yashica to go 1/30 or slower and often results in blurred pictures if you, like me, don’t use a tripod.
- I’m fine with the weight (750g) but it is a large camera and I took a while to find the best way to be able to hold it steadily.
- The idea of how a rangefinder focuses is very easy to understand but personally, I’ve found it to be quite time-consuming. The center focusing area is super tiny and quite often, yellow with age. This makes focusing in low-light conditions very tedious.
- The camera needs batteries to be able to fire at all available shutter speeds (only 1/500 without batteries). It was designed to take the now-obsolete mercury batteries but there are modern alkaline replacements, just a tad troublesome.
Tip: Always wind the film just before you’re going to take a picture. Leaving the shutter uncocked will deactivate the meter and prolong battery life.
Alternative cameras to consider: Canon Canonet QL 19, Minolta Hi-Matic, Konica Auto S2
Name: Konica C35MF
Type: 35mm auto-focus and auto-exposure compact camera
Lens Specifications: Hexanon 38mm f/2.8
How much I paid: USD16.00 including shipping (local website)
How much you might pay: USD20.00 to 45.00
I wasn’t planning to buy a camera at all when I stumbled on this little gem. The low price (again, I must point out that it’s almost next to impossible to buy a vintage camera at thrift store prices in this country as the market is dominated by dealers) is reflective of one flaw which the seller pointed out right from the start: the film speed dial is stuck at ISO100. Interestingly, this is actually one of the things that I love most about this camera. I like the fact that I’m “forced” to shoot slow speed films exclusively and am really enjoying the outcomes so far.
- It might be a point-and-shoot, but the lens this camera comes with is super awesome. I adore how shallow the depth of field can get.
- The large aperture also allows for well-exposed pictures in low-light conditions with slow speed films and you don’t have to adjust a single thing to achieve that.
- It runs on AA batteries that are available everywhere.
- This being the 1982 version of the C35 automatic series, the film rewind is also automatic. Earlier versions like the C35AF still come with the manual lever-wind, a feature I really love about vintage cameras.
- There’s probably nothing you can actually learn about photography while using a fully-automated camera.
- The automatic film winder is very noisy.
Tip: Try to avoid rechargeable batteries for these cameras, they tend to spoil the flash.
Alternative cameras to consider: Canon Sure Shot, Ricoh AF, Minolta Hi-Matic AF2
Name: Korean waterproof toy camera
Type: 35mm plastic toy camera
Lens Specifications: Fixed focus 28mm plastic lens with fixed aperture of f/9
How much I paid: USD5.00 including shipping (local website)
How much you might pay: USD10.00 to 15.00
I got this toy camera for my birthday this year and was really excited to have a camera to bring to the beach that I didn’t have to protect with my life. I broke the damn thing with my impatience but these four pictures that did turn out from the roll convinced me to have it replaced as soon as I got home.
- Obviously, the fact that it’s waterproof.
- It’s super cheap and takes decent pictures.
- No batteries required.
- The thing that keeps the otherwise random camera waterproof is a plastic case that has extra outer mechanisms to push the shutter button and wind the film. It is not a fun thing to maneuver.
- The shutter release button is very shallow.
- As with most plastic cameras, it needs lots of natural light and higher speed films. I’ve seen very good pictures taken with ISO800 and ISO1600 films.
Tip: It might be waterproof but definitely not shockproof, the plastic case cracks pretty easily.
Alternative cameras to consider: Minolta Weathermatic, Canon Sure Shot WP-1, Super Sport Suprema
Name: Canon FTb QL
Type: 35mm SLR
Lens Specifications: Canon FD 50mm f/1.8
How much I paid: USD75.00 including shipping (Etsy)
How much you might pay: USD50.00 to 150.00
I have been planning to purchase a vintage SLR for a few months now but never actually saw one that has been proven to work still within my budget. I came across this camera on Etsy while doing my routine surfing (look long and look hard!). While the seller couldn’t vouch that it would definitely work, I took faith in the fact that it belonged to her family (reasonable care) and well, I do consider myself quite lucky when it comes to cameras.
- I’m no expert but from what I’ve read online, the standard 50mm f/1.8 lens is pretty much everything a casual photographer needs. I love the fact that I can take close-ups (about 40cm).
- The Canon FTb is completely mechanical, which means that you can shoot at all apertures and all shutter speeds without batteries. I’ve been taking the opportunity to work without metering and learn more about the relationships between apertures and shutter speeds. After a while, you’ll realize it’s not as difficult as you imagined. I highly recommend it!
- Contrary to what I used to assume about SLRs, the Canon FTb has been a breeze to use. There’s really nothing complicated about it.
- This thing is built like a tank and lugging it around might be too much for some people. Personally, most times I’m grateful for the weight because it makes the camera feel sturdy in your hands.
- The shutter is pretty loud, as with many vintage cameras.
Tip: When buying a vintage SLR, it’s quite important to note which lens they come with. You might find a camera for less than usual but then realize it’s because they don’t come with their original lens.
Alternative cameras to consider: Canon AE-1, Nikon EM, Olympus OM-1
Name: Recesky TLR
Type: 35mm DIY plastic toy camera
Lens Specifications: Plastic meniscus lens with fixed aperture of f/11
How much I paid: USD8.00 including shipping (local website)
How much you might pay: USD10.00 to 20.00
The Recesky TLR is basically a cheap clone of the Gakkenflex TLR, a plastic kit camera that was included in issue #25 of Otona no kagaku magazine. I bought it on a whim after seeing them sell so cheaply on local websites. I’ve seen beautiful pictures taken with these toy cameras and thought it would be pretty cool to make one myself.
- Many online reviews rave about how much fun it is to build a camera from scratch but honestly, I don’t think DIY is everyone’s cup of tea. However, the sense of satisfaction when it’s completed is pretty awesome.
- The effect that comes from the lens is unique to say the least. It’s super sharp in the middle (when focused accurately) and a dreamy blur around it.
- This is the only camera I own that does double exposures on the go. I love that option and I might even use this camera exclusively for double exposures – fun!
- I’m not going to lie, this camera is a pain to focus. The focus rings are rough around the edges and my fingers become sore from turning them. I’ve heard that it’s the same with the Gakkenflex. I ended up fixing the focus at about 1m and just snapped away.
- The camera is so light that I feel it jerk every time I pull the trigger. It doesn’t really show in the pictures but feels really unsteady in your hands.
Tip: We referred to this guide most of the time while putting the camera together, great pictures and directions.
Alternative cameras to consider: Gakkenflex TLR, Blackbird Fly TLR
Name: Zenit TTL
Type: 35mm SLR
Lens Specifications: Helios 44-M 58mm f/2
How much I paid: USD60.00 including shipping (Ebay)
How much you might pay: USD60.00 to 150.00
The Zenit TTL was an upgraded version of the very popular Zenit EM with an addition of stop-down TTL metering, hence the name. I was looking particularly for a black body SLR on Ebay when I chanced upon this Russian camera – did a little research, got blown away by the Helios lens, placed my bid and crossed my fingers that no one was going to bid against me.
What I like:
- The Zenit TTL is completely mechanical, which means that you can shoot at all apertures and all shutter speeds without batteries. This is the main thing I look for in vintage SLRs as I don’t enjoy using metering and I do not like to have to meddle with battery issues. The TTL, however, comes with a meter that is not voltage sensitive and is said to perform fine with modern non-mercury batteries.
- The standard 58mm Helios lens that comes with the camera has the craziest swirly bokeh EVER and it’s a dream come true for lovers of close-up shots and shallow depth of field like myself.
- For some reason, fully functional Zenit cameras cost very little to acquire – mine came with a beautiful worn-out original leather case for USD30.00 (shipping costs exactly the same). This is definitely a very affordable addition to any analog camera collection.
What I don’t like:
- One crazy thing about this camera is that instead of a film rewind button to press before you turn the rewind crank, you “unlock” the film to be rewound by pressing the shutter and turning the Rewind Release Ring on the shutter button fully anti-clockwise. I did not find out about it soon enough and tore my very first test roll while trying to rewind. And even though I never forget about it now, it’s still something you have to be pretty careful about.
- This thing is built like a tank and lugging it around might be too much for some people. However, unlike the Canon FTb, it does not feel as steady and I end up with a few blurred shots in every roll.
Tip: If you do use metering on the TTL, make sure your eye is very close to the eyepiece as the Zenit TTL meters are very sensitive to light and have been known to underexpose pictures due to extra light entering from the eyepiece.
Alternative cameras to consider: Zenit-E, Zenit-EM, Zenit-ET
Name: Konica Auto S
Type: 35mm shutter-priority, auto or manual exposure rangefinder camera
Lens Specifications: Hexanon 47mm f/1.9
How much I paid: USD14.00 including shipping (local website)
How much you might pay: USD25.00 to 50.00
Around the time that we were preparing for the opening of the hostel and café, I bidded on a bulk listing of 5 vintage cameras on a local auction website with the idea of using them as display items. I didn’t really mind if they worked or not but it was still quite exciting to find a couple of them in working condition. I shot two rolls on this camera and as far as rangefinders go, it produces excellent image quality when you get the focusing right. However, like I mentioned earlier, as with the Yashica Electro 35 GSN rangefinders are too much work for me to carry around.
What I like:
- The optical quality of Hexanon lens is very much celebrated and I’ve had awesome experience with it even on my auto-focus Konica C35MF. Even if it’s not going to be used much I’m just really happy to have this camera + lens in my collection.
- The adorable built-in pull-out lens hood, although I’m never really sure when I need it.
- The large viewfinder is a luxury to look into (still doesn’t take time off focusing for me, though).
What I don’t like:
- The minimum focus distance is 90cm, which is not the most ideal for my passion for food and plant photography.
- The winding lever is the thinnest I’ve encountered and always feels like it’s going to break in two every time I advance the film.
Tip: The plastic battery cover could be welded shut if your batteries leak so either make a habit of emptying the camera of batteries when not in use or use it in manual mode, since the camera is fully functional without batteries.
Alternative cameras to consider: Canon Canonet QL 19, Minolta Hi-Matic, Yashica Electro 35 GSN
Name: Lomo LC-A+
Type: 35mm Lomography camera
Lens Specifications: Minitar 1 32mm f/2.8
How much I paid: USD60.00 including shipping (Lomography website with piggies discount)
How much you might pay: USD80.00 to 270.00
I began my relationship with film photography with a couple of toy cameras and while they are a lot of fun, they never really gave me satisfaction as a photographer (in the same way digital photography fails to really excite me). I did, however, always wanted a Lomo LC-A+ for the high-quality lomo images it produces.
What I like:
- The weight! Unlike most toy/lomo cameras in the market, the Lomo LC-A+ has a great presence in your hands.
- Obviously, the thing that makes this camera stand out is the outstanding lens it comes with. The depth of field has the potential of being amazing.
- Under the right light, the Lomo LC-A+ produces beautiful swirly bokeh in good, old Russian fashion.
- The multiple-exposure function is probably what makes this camera so much fun!
What I don’t like:
- I have shot 4 rolls on the Lomo LC-A+ so far and I must admit that I’m still finding the zone focusing difficult and unpredictable.
- The auto-shutter speed also has a tendency to go way slower than I would have set myself.
- The price. It’s not a toy camera per se but it is not really a serious camera either – which I love! – so it is hard to justify paying full price for it. I definitely suggest that you buy them second-hand or write articles for the Lomography website to save up piggies for a discount off the camera.
Tip: From what I’ve seen, the Lomo LC-A+ works best with slide film; I’ve never tried slide film before but it’s tempting to see what I can get out of the camera with slide film.
Alternative cameras to consider: LOMO LC-A, Cosina CX-2
Name: Pentax K1000
Type: 35mm SLR
Lens Specifications: SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7
How much I paid: USD80.00 including shipping (eBay)
How much you might pay: USD30.00 to 100.00
After about 18 months with my well-used Canon FTb, I had reached a point where I needed a change of perspective – to look through a different lens, so much so that I didn’t really care which camera I was going to buy next. It could be a Pentax, a Minolta, an Olympus or a Nikon, I just really needed a new camera to work with. The Pentax K1000 I found on eBay came with a slightly different lens specifications than my Canon but it has made all the difference.
What I like:
- Basically, this camera works identically to the Canon FTb (as with most SLRs produced in the 70s) so here it is again: I love that it is completely mechanical, which means that you can shoot at all apertures and all shutter speeds without batteries. Great beginner/amateur camera!
- Most K1000s come with a 50mm f/2 lens but I managed to find an f/1.7, which actually allows me to go a little closer to subjects than my FTb allowed.
- Like I mentioned earlier, shooting with a different camera/lens has made all the difference and the Pentax-M prime lens captures such deep, muted tones (with a staggering amount of contrast) that I’ve always wanted.
- A very important point: the camera sits so firmly in my hands that I can let the shutter speed go as slow as 1/15 and still get a perfectly focused shot – I cannot say the same for my other SLRs.
What I don’t like:
- I didn’t think anything could be noisier than my Canon FTb but obviously this camera had different ideas. The shutter is so loud it’s hard to avoid heads turning.
Tip: Since the Pentax lens produces deeper, more muted tones (less likely to overexpose), I highly suggest that you pair it more often with slower speed films for smooth, grainless images.
Alternative cameras to consider: Pentax Spotmatic, Pentax ME
Name: Vivitar 220/SL
Type: 35mm SLR
Lens Specifications: Mamiya/Sekor SX 28mm f/2.8
How much I paid: USD80.00 including shipping (Etsy)
How much you might pay: USD80.00 onwards (for this particular camera + lens combination)
It has always been on my mind to add a wide lens to my collection of SLR cameras. After a while of being “restricted” by 50-something prime lenses and being unsatisfied with the quality of wide-lens toy cameras, the next sound move is to put the wide lens on an SLR. I actually chanced upon this camera while looking for vintage camera straps and was delighted to find that it comes with the widely acclaimed Mamiya/Sekor SX 28mm.
What I like:
- Once again, I made sure to purchase a camera that is completely mechanical, which means that you can shoot at all apertures and all shutter speeds without batteries. Great beginner/amateur camera!
- The latch to open the rear cover is at the bottom of the camera (usually you fold out the rewind crank and pull it sharply until the rear cover snaps open), which means you will never accidentally open the camera up and expose unprocessed film.
- This only applies if you managed to find a similar camera/lens combination as I did but wide lens is perfect not only for landscape photography but surprisingly also food photography. It is a dream not to have to pull your chair far away to have a good focus on whatever’s on the table!
What I don’t like:
- The Vivitar 220/SL has large squarish sides, making this part-plastic, part-metal camera rather big in size – not the easiest to hold in your hands. The wide lens also adds length to the front which means that the camera takes up a lot of space in my bag.
- The camera is clunky but empty inside, causing the shutter to develop a long, loud echo. It is definitely the noisiest of all my cameras.
- One downside of the wide lens is that it needs a lot of light to work well and f/2.8 is hardly fast enough in certain circumstances. I find myself going as slow as 1/8 on the shutter speed but the emptiness of the body does not hold slow speed well when you’re without a tripod.
Tip: The Vivitar SL series are very cheap camera bodies so do note that you should not be paying more than USD25 if it comes with a standard 50mm lens.
Alternative cameras to consider: Vivitar 250 SL, Vivitar 420 SL, Vivitar 450 SL
I hope this guide helped! It will continue to be updated as I add more cameras to my little collection. Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment or email me if I’ve made any factual mistake or if you have any further questions. Shoot film!