What's a good film SLR for a beginner?
June 29, 2009 12:11 PM   Subscribe

I'd like recommendations of a good ~$200 film SLR for a beginner. I'll be using the kit lens for now. I can't afford a digital SLR. I know the cost of film/development adds up, but for now I just need something to get off my feet. I've been doing photography for years, but I never learned beyond point-and-shoot cameras. Something that's compact and fairly new would be great, but not required. I like to take nature and portrait shots.
posted by biochemist to Technology (31 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Get a used Pentax K1000 off of ebay. It's completely manual, so you won't have any automatic anything to fall back on. It's a perfect learner's camera. And you should get a fair amount of change back from $200.
posted by adamrice at 12:16 PM on June 29, 2009

Exactly what adamrice said. I got a used Pentax K1000 off of ebay almost ten years ago and it was a perfect learner's camera, and took some lovely pictures to boot. I'm glad to see this is still the standard beginner advice.
posted by telegraph at 12:19 PM on June 29, 2009

Nth-ing Pentax K1000. I still have mine that I learned with in high school. I started with a K1000 and a 50mm lens.
posted by dnash at 12:28 PM on June 29, 2009

I bought my Minolta Maxxum 5 several years ago with my graduation money. It's since been discontinued, but I've been very happy with it.

You also can't go wrong with an old Canon. My parents have had their's for thirty-five years (and still won't give it to me even though they never use it any more ;)).
posted by litterateur at 12:30 PM on June 29, 2009

This might not be kosher (feel free to delete admins), but I'm selling a film SLR on eBay that would be great for someone in your position. The last bid is only $15, and they often go for 50 or 60. I suspect my tiny eBay history is keeping people from bidding. I do have a long history on Metafilter though.

Here's the link: http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&ssPageName=STRK:MESELX:IT&item=230351560550

Sorry if this is uncool admins. I really think it could be a good deal for the OP. I'm not a serial eBayer or anything.
posted by diogenes at 12:35 PM on June 29, 2009

I like the canon AE1. when you want to still point and shoot somewhat you can put it in AE mode and it will find the best exposure automagically.... will still be equally as cheap. (its also nice to have the canon bayonet lens mount, good for about 50 kajillion new/used lenses these days, and then if you do go DSLR the bayonet ring to use the lenses is very cheap and you can maintain your investment...) looks like ebay has tons for way under $50...

happy shooting

posted by chasles at 12:48 PM on June 29, 2009

Best answer: Any of the major name SLRs will do fine. Whatever you choose, here's something to keep in mind that will save you some money on prints: Take your film in and have the lab develop and scan the negs to a CD. Then you can edit and retouch the photos, and only get prints of the ones you want. Costco charges about $5 per roll for this service, for a 5 MP file. I did this before I could get my DSLR, and it was great. (More info.)
posted by The Deej at 12:50 PM on June 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

Buying a second hand camera from eBay, you may find that some of the foam (light proofing, and the padding above the mirror) has deteriorated. It's a hassle but not too big a problem as foam replacement kits can be bought from eBay too.

Also, stick to primes. You'd be wasting your money on a zoom lens. Prime lenses outperform zooms by a long stretch -- and a classic prime from the 70s/80s would probably outperform any midrange lens from nowadays.

Pentax made great SLRs. So did Canon. Unfortunately, the AE1 has an electronic shutter that requires batteries... expensive batteries that die quickly when shooting long exposures. The AE1 can also suffer from faulty solenoids == dead camera.

You'd also be well served with a hand held spot meter and a copy of Ansel Adams' "The Negative".
posted by run"monty at 12:56 PM on June 29, 2009

The K1000 is spectacular. It's built like a tank, you'll really have to work hard to break it.

Alternatively, if you want to shoot in medium format, you can get a TLR (Twin Lens Reflex) like a Ricohmatic. Note that these usually don't have interchangeable lenses, but they're very interesting to use.

Have you considered learning how to do your own developing? It could save you some money in the long run, but color processing is significantly more involved than black and white. You can develop film in the kitchen sink, no darkroom required, and then sent out the film to get digitized (or scan it yourself if you have the equipment).
posted by backseatpilot at 12:57 PM on June 29, 2009

did you do the math to figure out how much a film SLR costs vs. digital when you factor in film and print costs? figuring that film costs ~$0.10 per exposure (based on 4 pack of 200speed film costing $10 on amazon), plus about $0.10 for a print + $2 (via snapfish), which makes a 4 pack of 24 exposure film cost ~$22 to see (~100 photos). keep in mind, you'll lose some if you load the film wrong, or if you just take a bad photo. that's about 1300 photos you can take with a $200 SLR, before you've spent enough to just get a WONDERFUL Nikon D40 in the first place. why not just save up for a little longer and get all the benefits of having your images digital in the first place?

as a warning, my math could be way off, but it's still a valid consideration. people also love the look of film too, but to me its just a hindrance to not have your photos immediately available for review. i own a nikon d40 and i love it, and it was $650 with the kit lens AND a 55-200 VR DX from B&H.
posted by Mach5 at 1:04 PM on June 29, 2009

Another one that hasn't been mentioned is the Nikon FE, solid as a brick. And you can get excellent Nikon lenses for cheap on eBay. But again, any big name should work.
posted by pcward at 1:06 PM on June 29, 2009

I think if you are going to shoot film in 2009 that 35mm is kind of pointless. Why not get a 120 camera and shoot medium format? The Yashica Mat-124 TLR's are around $125ish and have excellent lenses and decent meters. Rolleiflex's and Seagull's are other good, relatively cheap 120 cameras.

If you are set on 35mm I would go with Canon (AE-1) or Nikon simply because of the huge amount of lenses available for cheap.
posted by bradbane at 1:08 PM on June 29, 2009

I was raised with a Canon AE1 myself


If you think you may switch at any time to digital, know that old Canon AE mount lenses won't attach to their DSLR and newer SLR cameras.

Pentax would be good, Konika Minolta is not in the photo business anymore, but their lenses work with Sony DSLRs. both have seen lovers and haters.

go with something you like! if it feels right in your hands, then it probably is!
posted by photomusic86 at 1:12 PM on June 29, 2009

Film is awesome and all, but I really think you should consider a used DSLR instead. With so many DSLRs coming on the market, used ones tend to sell pretty cheap in comparison. The main advantage is the ability to shoot a ton of images without even thinking about film and processing costs. As a beginner, that freedom to experiment is vital. There is, of course, something great to be said for taking the time to produce a single well-crafted image, but the best way to get to that point is to have the experience that comes from trying many different alternatives and figuring out why certain things work while others do not. Digital makes this possible, especially if you're going to be mentally adding up your expenses every time you press the shutter button.

A used Nikon D40 with kit lens can be had for around $300. I'm sure you can find similar deals for Canon if that's the way you prefer to go.
posted by zachlipton at 1:15 PM on June 29, 2009

second the recommendation you consider a used dslr instead of buying film—as a beginner, the freedom to experiment without cost + the ability to see immediately what different settings actually do to your photos make this a no brainer. nothing really teaches you how to use a camera more than going out and shooting with it A LOT and the expense of film + developing makes this really hard to do if you're on a budget; if you go with film over digital you've already handicapped your learning curve.
posted by lia at 1:23 PM on June 29, 2009

I second the comments about a DSLR. You can get an older pro-sumer dslr with a basic lens for not much more than what you have a budget for. The learning curve with a dslr is far better than with film. Instant feedback on your work. In the long run you would end up spending more on film and processing anyway. Especially if you get into working with chromes and large prints. Also, as a lens recommendation no matter which brand you choose, pick up the 50 f1.8. They are cheap, fast, and just awesome.

For searches look for Canon 10D or 20D(probably cost more) and the Rebel. Don't know Nikons.
posted by WickedPissah at 1:25 PM on June 29, 2009

You can probably get an older Nikon DSLR (D70 or D50) and a lens in your price range. I'd avoid the D40, since it can only auto-focus with the newer autofocus-motor-in-the-lens motors, and that cuts off a lot of older lenses if you rely at all on AF.

That said, I started shooting on a used Olympus OM-1. I loved it, but the downside is that the lens system is incompatible with newer bodies. :( You could probably find a camera of this vintage relatively affordably, though (although the processing fees will add up).
posted by Alterscape at 1:37 PM on June 29, 2009

Get on Craigslist and pick up a jewel like this. Its raining high quality film cameras. I picked up a Nikon Fa for $75. Digital is awesome, but so are slides shot with a quality film camera.
posted by JohnR at 1:39 PM on June 29, 2009

Best answer: I would either get a Nikon AI or a Canon EOS film camera. Why? So that you can take your lenses with you if you go digital. You can find bodies like this for less than $100 on eBay, and it's a really solidly build pro-level camera. Pick up a 50mm f/1.8 (or 1.4 if your budget stretches) and you're away!
posted by Magnakai at 3:03 PM on June 29, 2009

nthing the K1000 and seconding the Nikon FA (especially with an excellent nikkor lens) BUT
digital really is the way to go . . . save your money, and avoid the added step of having to convert your silver to pixels. Plus, photoshop is fun!
posted by nnk at 3:14 PM on June 29, 2009

Best answer: Lots of good basic film SLR's out there to look at, including the K1000. Besides ebay, these shops are reputable places to buy used equipment online: keh.com, bhphotovideo.com, and adorama.com. I've purchased from all three and have no complaints.

With the possible exception of one Nikon, everything you'll be considering will be used, perhaps 25-30 years old.

When people say the K1000 and similar cameras are completely manual, here is what they mean: The camera has a light meter. You set the shutter speed and the aperture (size of the lens opening). An indicator is visible inside the viewfinder -- usually a needle and two notches or some LEDS -- that show you when you've selected an aperture that will provided an acceptable exposure with the shutter speed you've chosen.

The tutorial advantage of all this is that you have to pay attention to lighting and composition, which is what photography is all about.

If you're really serious, take notes as you shoot recording the shutter speed and f-stop for each shot. That way, you can match those with the results.

Before you rush off and buy, search around for sites about film photography, especially ones offering basic tutorials for beginners. Also try to get a feel for the ranger of cameras that might meet your needs.

For learning purposes, don't get a zoom lens. Frankly, few, if any, zooms were or will be available for the cameras you'll be considering.

A good lens for learning is a 50mm.

Used digitals are obviously available at relative low cost, but then you will spend too much time worrying about things like saturation and white balance and noise to learn much about photography.

On cost: Film and processing costs real money, but you can typically sell a good used camera for close to what you paid for it. You can't recover the costs of a digital because they become obsolete so quickly.

Color print film from the drugstore is probably cheapest, but remember that what you see in the print or the scan has at least as much to do with the processing as you do. If you shoot slide film (E6) the relationship between you and the image will be very much closer. First, though, be sure you have access to a shop that can processs slide film. In my experience, many drugstores don't.

If you really want to go into it, use b&w film and learn to process it yourself.

Oh... if you really want to go all-the-way manual, spring the seveal hundred bucks needed to buy a Leica M3, and an equal amount for a lens. No meter unless you add one. And you recover your costs, or more, when you sell it.

Check local colleges and camera clubs to see if they have an appropriate course.
posted by justcorbly at 3:39 PM on June 29, 2009

I'd suggest a Pentax Super ME as a counterpoint to the suggestions for a K1000. Similar camera in terms of functionality (as I understand... I've never owned a K1000), but it's more compact, significantly so to the best of my knowledge. Might be a little cheaper too.

Make sure you get a Super ME though. The Super is key, if you want a manual mode.
posted by vernondalhart at 3:40 PM on June 29, 2009

Pentax K1000 isn't bad, although they tend to be popular with student photographers and might sell at a premium versus other manual cameras. That's not totally deserved, IMO; there are lots of other MF cameras that are just as good.

The Canon AE-1 and AE-1P (one of which I own) are also quite good, and there are lots of lenses available for the mount. Just make sure that both the meter and shutter work properly if you are evaluating one in a store. Don't buy one with a dead battery — offer to go and buy a new battery and put it in, if you must, before buying. (This goes for any electro-mechanical camera.)

Nikon has a wide variety of manual bodies, and the lenses you get will be usable (to a certain extent) on a modern Nikon body. I've never been a Nikon man myself, but there are lots of people who are very loyal to the brand. The FN series is especially well-regarded, although it may still be out of your price range. However, prices on film equipment are plummeting, so there's no telling what you might be able to pick up.

Personally I have a Canon AE-1P, which I think is nice and I've taken a lot of great photos with, a couple of MF Minoltas, which are good but have a limited lens selection today, and a Minolta Maxxum 7, which was the last film camera I bought before the digital transition. All are good cameras, although the Maxxum is not what I'd suggest you learn photography basics on.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:57 PM on June 29, 2009

Best answer: Nthing the digital recommendations. I would've called this heresy a few years ago, and I'm surprised that I, of all people, am advocating this. I've still got a lot of love for my trusty F3 and it'll long outlive my 5d, but... Unless you're tied to film, why not pick up a used canon 20d or similar (though I'd stay away from the rebel or any nikon digital cameras (unless you're willing to fork over thousands for some of the newer models; all the older models are laughably bad; you might be tempted by a cheap d2h, but if I were you, I'd pay whatever price they're asking for a d2h for the seller to keep it away from me)). The 20d will probably be around $300+ now, but you'll make that up in not having to buy film and develop it. You'll get the freedom of taking as many pictures as you want without being tied to a bag of film and you'll get the instant polaroid-like quality of the LCD on the back, which is great for learning about what different exposures will do for an identical subject. Be sure, though, to only use it in M (manual) mode, and you might as well just tape down the built-in flash if it has one.

And the secret to learning photography (everyone always talks about "learning photography" as if it's some great mystery) is to take more pictures than you ever thought was reasonable. I'm a long way past learning about exposure and all that, but I still consider it a light day of shooting if I only take a few hundred pictures. Don't be afraid to take 50 pictures of the same scene if that's what it takes to learn what you want from shooting that scene. I do that with digital cameras, but I did it with film, too. I could burn through 10 rolls of film in 20 minutes, if the scene I was photographing was moving fast enough.

If you want cheap film, learn about bulk rolling black and white film. Get yourself a 100 foot roll of tri-x (or, even cheaper, a few hundred foot roll of movie film ends) and go by your local 1-hour place and ask if they have any used canisters you can take off their hands. You'll probably get a few hundred canisters if you go to the right place, and they'll be free. Inspect the canisters for dust on the felt, and toss them and any that are dented or which don't have the film end sticking out of the canister. You should be able to get it down to about a dollar per roll of film. Almost nowhere will process self-rolled film, though, so you're going to have to develop it yourself.
posted by msbrauer at 7:11 PM on June 29, 2009

Film is a pain in the arse. You'll learn more with a digital - the feedback is immediate, so you can see what you did wrong, or right. Once you know what you're doing, then you can mess around with film. Film is for fetishists these days, really. (But god it can look good in talented hands.)
posted by The Monkey at 7:40 PM on June 29, 2009

Get a Pentax K1000. They are wicked cheap. The lenses are nice. Also cheap. And it's all manual.
posted by chunking express at 7:53 AM on June 30, 2009

I've had my K1000 since 1999. And I bought it used back then, so who knows how old it actually is. They are great cameras.

Film is slower, for sure. I don't think it's for fetishists. Digital makes for lazy photographers. I find shooting film to be a much more contemplative experience. I think shooting film will teach you more about photography than shooting digital.
posted by chunking express at 7:57 AM on June 30, 2009

+n K1000, it's what I learned on & I still love it.

But since it's not in production, the Nikon FM10 is a good alternative. Completely manual, so you learn the ropes & when you move on to more automatic stuff, you know exactly what you're doing & what the camera is doing for you.

I wish they made a digital camera with manual controls. The closest they make is the expensive Panasonic DMC-L1 - it's a digital camera with all the automatic bits you expect, but can be controlled like a manual camera.

Given the cost of film, you may be better off in the long run with something like the DMC-L1.
posted by MesoFilter at 9:05 AM on June 30, 2009

If you're really set on 35mm film, I've seen the EOS Elan IIe go for $50 - it was my final film camera, and is notable for an awesome eye-focus feature that's yet to appear on any digital camera. Capable of full manual, also supports user-assignable custom functions.

That said - I have to echo what others have suggested - don't bother with film unless it's medium format. You can probably find a used or refurbished Pentax *ist DSLR for close to $200. By the time you've shot (and developed and printed) a dozen rolls of film, a digital camera will have ended up being less expensive.

Alternately, I'd suggest getting whatever canon pocket cam strikes your fancy, and installing the CHDK firmware, which enables full manual control. When you eventually get a DSLR, you'll still use the compact camera; film cameras (and their now-telephoto lenses) will just collect dust.
posted by unmake at 12:53 AM on July 1, 2009

I also nth the K1000. HOWEVER, I think the K1000 as a bargain film SLR is kinda pre-digital thinking. Yes, it was everyone's high school photography class camera, but I bet if you scour Craigslist or garage sales or even the used counter at a Mom & Pop camera shop (if you can still find one!) you could find a really great SLR, like a Canon EOS or a Nikon autofocus body like the 8008 or N90 or N80. If you get a Canon EOS film SLR or a Nikon autofocus SLR, you can get used to shooting with a modern camera with things all the different program modes, autofocus, motorized film advance, etc., and the lenses you buy will be ready to go on that nice new digital SLR you get in a year or two (do your research before you buy lenses!)

For example:, Nikon N80 for $115 ---- Canon Elan 7n for $150 ---- Canon Rebel Ti with lens or $90 --- Nikon N90s for $95!!!

I 3> the K1000, but for a couple hundy, you could clearly do better. Budget how much you're going to spend on film developing though, first. You may come out ahead if you just spring for a Nikon D40 w/ kit lens right now. $20 rolls developed with prints times $10 a roll = D40 digital.
posted by Lukenlogs at 7:00 PM on July 1, 2009

FYI: In Toronto you can get prints developed and scanned at Shoppers Drug Mart for $3. I'm pretty sure in the states you can get film developed for less at Walmart. You can also buy film for cheap online (Free Style, Photo Biz, etc).
posted by chunking express at 7:01 AM on July 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

« Older Feed my iPhone   |   help me find a doctor for my asthma in oklahoma Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.