Choosing A Camera - The 35mm SLR

Film cameras have been around for a hundred and fifty years or so.They are still made today - though not in as great a quantity as in the past. With the many hundreds of models out there, how does the amateur interested in film photography choose the right camera? If a 35mm SLR is in view there are basically three choices:

  • Fully Manual
  • Manual Focus
  • Fully Automatic

The fully manual camera requires the user to make all the decisions prior to taking the shot. Exposure must be determined - using either an estimate or a light meter, the aperture or f-stop and film speed must be set and the lens focused. This is the best way to learn photography. Many photography schools require their students to use fully manual cameras.

If on the other hand, you'd like the option of having the camera determine the film speed or both the film speed and the aperture, a manual focus camera may be the best choice. This is my personal preference. Two of my cameras will determine the film speed for me using aperture priority. I also have a Minolta X-700 which will determine both the film speed and aperture automatically. The great thing about these cameras is that you can operate them in a 100% manual mode as well - giving you the best of both worlds. As you would expect from the name, these cameras still require you to manually focus the lens.

The final category, the fully automatic, does everything for you - including focus the lens. I personally like a bit more hands on approach but this is an option if you just want to take pictures and not be bothered with any of the technical aspects.

Once you've decided which kind of camera you want to use, the choices are virtually endless. The first choice, however, is probably between new and used. There are not as many new 35mm SLR cameras made anymore. The only 35mm cameras still made by Nikon are the F6 and the FM10. The F6 will set you back about $2,500 for the body only (no lenses). However, the FM10 can be had for around $320, including a 35-70mm zoom lens. On the lower end of the scale, Vivitar makes a 35mm SLR (the V3800N) that can be purchased for less than $200, including a 50mm lens.

My Minolta XE-5. This picture was chosen by to illustrate their article on the XE-5.
My Minolta XE-5. This picture was chosen by to illustrate their article on the XE-5.

Choosing A Used Camera

Personally, I like used cameras - or better said vintage ones. My 35mm cameras currently are all Minoltas - an XE-5, an XE-7 and an X-700. All of these were state of the art in their day and all make excellent pictures. All can also be purchased very reasonably - for well under $100 in good condition in many cases. The XE models have metal bodies, something you don't find today that gives the camera a great feel and durability in my opinion.

Many camera supply stores on the web still offer high quality used cameras and eBay is a good source for them as well. I purchased a Minolta SRT-101 off of eBay a year or so back that was an excellent camera. I later re-sold just the body on eBay for as much as I paid for the camera and a 28mm lens - giving me a free lens!

Here are some models to look for if you want a quality made vintage camera:

  • Minolta XE-5
  • Minolta XE-7
  • Minolta XK
  • Minolta X-700
  • Nikon F
  • Nikon F2
  • Canon A1
  • Canon Ae1

One thing to consider when purchasing a used camera is the availability and type of lenses. All of the models listed above should have lenses still readily available on the secondary market. Just remember not all lenses fit all cameras - even all cameras made by the same manufacturer. The reason I have all Minoltas is that they all use the same type lens, the Minolta MD-Mount, so all of my lenses work with all three cameras.

Keep these few things in mind as you search for your 35mm SLR and you can acquire a high quality set up that will make great pictures without having to invest a fortune. Remember, if the image is unforgettable, no one will ask how old your camera is or what it cost!


No comments yet.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article