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How to Choose Your First Film Camera

There's something about a film camera that is nostalgic. It's a combination of the antique looks, the lenses, the leather camera straps and the optical viewfinders which draws people into the hobby or profession. Film photography isn't about capturing memories instantly. Instead, it's about the creative process and film equipment.

Retro film SLRs are popular cameras

With so many film cameras in the world, it can be a hard choice for a beginner to decide which one to use. So which is the right camera for you?

Who Are Film Cameras For?

Film cameras are designed for children, teens and adults. There's a model to suit each age bracket. So if you are looking for a gift for a child, then an automatic point and shoot film camera might be a better option than a medium format camera. Some of the most popular film cameras are SLR cameras as the design allows photographers to change lenses. The retro styling and leather camera straps are popular with many teens and young adults who may be looking for something a bit different.

How Much Are Film Cameras?

Well, for starters, you don't need to spend a fortune. Back in the 90's you could buy a Pentax MZ-50 or MZ-60 QD twin kit from around $1000, however, nowadays $160 seems to be the going rate. While these later models are inexpensive, you can also pay hundreds more to get a more popular Olympus, Minolta or Nikon models. Many of these earlier models are made in Japan, which is known for their exceptional build quality and image sharpness. Plus many of the older models are also compatible with modern, quick-release camera straps making them an ideal fit as a first-time film camera.

What Types of Film Cameras Are There?

The features of a film camera are relatively the same. However, it's the type of film that mainly differs. There are four main styles of film cameras, a compact automatic, SLR, Medium Format and Polaroid. Each has its benefits, and each varies in size and weight. 

If you are looking for an ideal first film camera, then we would recommend an SLR camera.

SLR film camera

SLR film cameras take a 35mm film which is readily available. Depending on the film you can process the images at home or take them to a mini-lab for developing. The beauty of the SLR film cameras is also the versatility and range of lenses available. So, if you want to capture photos of people, then a portrait lens is an ideal option. Look for a 50mm prime lens for the best results. Alternatively, you can opt for a shorter focal length (28-80mm) which can act as an all-rounder for landscapes and portraiture.

Some of the more popular models of SLR film cameras include:

  • Olympus Pen FT SLR Analog Camera with F.Zuiko Auto-S 38mm f/1.8 
  • Nikon F2 Film Analog SLR Camera with Nikkor 50mm Lens
  • Olympus 35 ED Rangefinder Film Camera with D.Zuiko 38mm f/2.8 lens
  • Minolta X-700 with Minolta MD 50mm f/1.7 EXC lens

What You Should Look At Before Buying Your First Film Camera

When you have found the film camera of your dreams, there are some things you need to check before handing over your money. Here's a list:


Look Through The Viewfinder

The viewfinder should be clear and free of any mould. If you notice any dust, hair or other items when looking through the viewfinder, try blowing out the matte focusing screen with a blower tool. 

Looking through the film camera viewfinder


Check The Film Door

There should be a strip of foam on the outer edge of the film door to stop any stray light from exposing the film. If no foam is present or the old one is falling away, you can buy adhesive kits and breathe new life into the film camera.


Inspect The Battery Compartment

Check the battery compartment for any battery acid which may have leaked over the year. If you find a white powder substance present, you can use a cotton bud dipped in hot water to clean off the terminals.


Test The Camera Strap

All film cameras should have a strap with them. If the strap is looking worn out or full of dirt, then we would recommend a replacement. If you are looking for the best leather camera straps, then Lucky Straps is an ideal place to start. With a range of quick release camera straps available, you are bound to find one that suits your style. To assist you further, we have written an article which outlines which strap to use depending on your camera.


Where To Buy Your Film Camera

Once you have your film camera in your sights hunting for the best condition at an excellent price is the next task. Many larger cities have dedicated monthly camera markets you go to. Here you can chat with like-minded people to understand how cameras work and how to load the film in them. Plus in the process, you may even make some lifelong friends. Alternatively, the internet is the next best thing if you find you can't go out.

Search second hand markets to buy a film camera

Visit sites like eBay, Facebook Marketplace, Gumtree or Collctiblend for a more detailed guide on market prices for film cameras. Each site may show hundreds of lists so ensure you have done your research before buying a film camera.


Final Thoughts on Choosing Your First Film Camera

Photography is about having fun and when you look for your first camera, remember to keep this in mind. Talk to friends and family members about what camera they would pick. After which you can load your colour or black and white film in the camera and begin capturing some memories. Film photography is a learning experience; it's all about understanding the shutter speed and aperture settings to get the best result. If you are learning, don't be disappointed if not all your photos turn out.

Consider it a learning experience and look back at your images and understand what settings you could change to get the perfect exposure. It's little lessons like this which can excel your photography knowledge and turn you into a pro in no time.

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