Help a beginner get into manually-controlled photography.
January 3, 2004 11:57 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about getting into photography - something I have always wanted to do, but never seemed to have the time to fit it in. I would like to go "manual" - anyone have any suggestions on what camera I should try and find? I would like to have a big clunky metal manual monster that I can learn the basics on..... There are lots of sites out there claiming that this camera is the best, or this camera is the best, or this camera.... you know. What do you suggest?
posted by bradth27 to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The Pentax K1000 is a great learner's camera. No automatic anything, but solid construction. It is no longer in production, but I see a bunch of listings for it on ebay. Get that, a fast 50-mm lens, and maybe a zoom lens, and you're set.

If you get one (or any used camera) you should probably take it to a good camera store to have them check it over, make sure everything is working properly and calibrated properly.
posted by adamrice at 12:11 PM on January 3, 2004

Pentax K1000. Good camera, easy to learn on. It's what many beginning photo classes use.
posted by emmling at 12:20 PM on January 3, 2004

I think there are two classic big clunky cameras, the Pentax K1000 and the Canon AE1. I had a Canon AE1 Program which allowed me to set the exposure and the aperture on auto, or do it all manually. I got a regular lens and a zoom lens [which was huge but not super expensive] and was pretty much all set. When you are outfitting yourself, I'd also recommend a camera bag, camera strap, flash, lens cover dongley thing to keep you from losing it, camera bag to keep it all together in, and a reasonably sturdy tripod.
posted by jessamyn at 12:26 PM on January 3, 2004

Bradth27, I'll second adamrice's recommendation if you really want full-manual control only. However, you might want to consider something a bit newer that you can "default" back to auto settings when you're really in doubt.

You also want to consider what brand of camera you want to use - if you go Pentax (which I have), none of your lenses will carry over if you decide to go Nikon or Canon. The latter brands have a lot more doodads designed for them. If you foresee being able to drop some pretty serious coin somewhere in the future, you may want to go with Nikon or Canon from the start, so you don't feel "locked in" to a "lesser brand". For example, Canon has one of the best entry-level digital SLR's on the market right now (the Digital Rebel), but I'm loath to buy one (besides being broke) because I've got so much invested in Pentax-mount lenses.

As for learning the ropes, you may want to check out Ansel Adams's book on exposure. It's very readable. Don't get discouraged trying to remember everything at first - f-stops, shutter speed, film speed; it takes time to get used to what means what.
posted by notsnot at 12:29 PM on January 3, 2004

I started with a Nikon FM2. With its lens compatibility, I highly recommend the brand. They've since come up with a hybrid, the FM3a which got good reviews as well. If you need a bag, get one that doesn't scream "camera inside!". I use one of those Crumplers. Like notsnot said, it takes a while to get used to the numbers/settings but once you know them it becomes second nature. And mistakes sometime results in spontaneous works of art.
One little tip: If possible always carry your camera bag with the lid side to your body. Good luck!
posted by azul at 12:48 PM on January 3, 2004

Pentax K1000
posted by matteo at 12:50 PM on January 3, 2004

the (way more expensive) FM2 is obviously a much better camera than the K1000 but the Pentax is cheap (if you choose the FM2, great camera, you have the huge choice of Nikon lenses)
but if your heart is not completely into this manual body thing, you'll have spent a lot of money (about 350-400 bucks for a used body I think, plus lenses) and you'll have to resell the Nikon oneBay or something, but nowadays people go digital and the market is much more narrow when you're selling

if you're rich -- and a snob -- get a Leica screwmount camera from the Forties. Great stuff, difficult but fun to use
And it impresses people, even those who go "hey, is that a digital?"
posted by matteo at 1:15 PM on January 3, 2004

I know this deviates from your desire for a big, manual-only, metal monster, but bear in mind that if you get a film-based Canon EOS camera now, you'll be able to use its lenses should you decide to get a digital EOS sometime down the line. EOS'es come in a variety of price ranges, and used film-based ones should be available used for a good price, now that people are abandoning them for the D-Rebel.
posted by stonerose at 1:24 PM on January 3, 2004

make sure whatever you get has aperture (depth of field) preview.
posted by andrew cooke at 2:03 PM on January 3, 2004

I'd go to a good camera store (you know, the kind staffed by photogeeks, with used equipment stacked up in boxes all over the place) and ask to see if they have any old 1960s-era Nikons in good shape lying around. With any luck, the staff will start arguing over what camera will be best for you, and you can soak it all up.
posted by Vidiot at 2:22 PM on January 3, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. The K-1000 seems to be THE camera for beginners... but I'm beginning to lean towards the AE-1. I was not familiar with this particular model until Jessamyn mentioned it. Thanks, Jessamyn - I'm off this weekend to see if I can track one down.
posted by bradth27 at 3:04 PM on January 3, 2004

I'm a big fan of Nikon for 35mm stuff, so I'm biased to the FM2 suggestion, or, if you're feeling richer and want something to last a long time, a new FM3A is a gem (don't bother looking for a used one, though). A good used FE2 is well worth a look, as well.

With most folks wanting digital stuff, the market is currently flooded with lots of excellent manual Nikkor lenses, optically as good as the newer autofocus ones, at a fraction of the price.

The cameraquest site has some good pages on used choices:
Which 35 SLRs to use?
Building Your First SLR Outfit
Not So Objective User Nikon Film SLR Buying Guide
posted by normy at 3:08 PM on January 3, 2004

I started on an A-1, the big brother of the AE-1. A great camera. Either the Pentax or the Cannon is a good film starter, in my opinion. The Pentax has the additional advantage of Nuclear First-strike survivability. The Cannons are somewhat more delicate (but not much).

The big choice anyway is Cannon or Nikor (Nikon) lenses. The body doesn't matter very much, it's the lenses that cost money.
posted by bonehead at 3:56 PM on January 3, 2004

I would recommend a manual Pentax (K1000, KXM, etc.), or, if you think you want some really whizzy lenses down the line, the cheapest manual Nikon you can get.
posted by bshort at 6:36 PM on January 3, 2004


From a post on


I met a guy while travelling in Croatia...Name was Henri...a nice guy. Pulls out this small little camera out of a plastic grocery bag stuffed in his pocket; tiny, looked like it was from the 60s or 70s. It also looked like it was picked up from a junk yard! One thing was sure...that camera had been put to good use. Turn's out that he had run it over with a motorcycle by accident (crazy story!), and it luckily still runs. He recommended that I buy myself a camera like his own Rollei 35, and ditch all the gear that I was carrying. From his experience, my camera (Nikon F3) and his camera (Rollei 35) took about the same quality photographs...he told me. Difference is that mine weighs a ton and his fits in his pocket. I thought to myself,

"He's got to be joking! That little camera!"

I did some research and found out that Henri was telling me the truth. Also turns out that Henri takes photographs for UNESCO and often displays his work at the Museum in Paris...all pictures taken with his cute and tiny camera. Quite a humbling experience. I took Henri's advice and I bought myself that Rollei 35 he suggested. Thanks for the tip Henri. This camera is great. It takes wonderful pictures.
posted by stbalbach at 11:22 PM on January 4, 2004

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