Digital or Film camera for high school photo class?
November 29, 2006 3:47 PM   Subscribe

Camera as a gift for a 13-year old girl; it's going to be used in a photo class. Which is the more likely camera for a high school photo class: digital or film? Charity gift with no chance for more information from recipient. (more inside)

I have looked at the Polaroid iZone 300 ($80) and the Olympus A50 ($30) for the low-end choices. Other suggestions welcome.
posted by JDC8 to Shopping (26 answers total)
For a photo class, you're going to need to buy something that offers shutter and aperature priority modes at the least, with a completely manual mode being helpful.

Low-end point and shoots (film or digital) will not be useful beyond the very first part of any photography course.

That being said, I would suggest digital. There's a wonderful physical aspect to printing film and using the developer chemicals, but if you aren't sure whether or not they have the chemical and physical setup to do the film printing, digital will allow the most flexibility.
posted by yellowbkpk at 3:59 PM on November 29, 2006

If you are thinking about a digital camera flexible enough for a serious amateur, the Canon Powershot A series is very good.

I wrote more about it on my blog recently: Recommendation for moderately priced digicams.
posted by sindark at 4:18 PM on November 29, 2006

Film. I doubt many photography instructors will be happy with students bringing digital cameras in to class. besides, it'll be much better in the long run - i think - to start with a mostly-manual, cheap, sturdy SLR - like a Pentax K1000 or Honeywell, which you can get anywhere for $30 or so, or a Canon AE1 even.
posted by luriete at 4:29 PM on November 29, 2006


I started with an old Pentax MX super, before realizing that light metering in such cameras is rubbish. A more sensible starting point, if one is taking the film route, is just to get a cheap Nikon or Canon body and a 50mm f/1.8 lens that can serve as the beginning of a 35mm photo system.

I am sure you could get something like an old Canon Rebel G for very little, and the benefits in autofocus and modern metering far outweigh the purported educational value of old manual gear.
posted by sindark at 4:32 PM on November 29, 2006

You could try calling a couple of local high school art departments to find out what they typically recommend for their students. I don't know how many high schools are near you, but within a given district the requirements are likely to be pretty similar, I'd think.
posted by katemonster at 4:33 PM on November 29, 2006

I graduated not too long ago and the photography classes were in film. The class had a darkroom and no computers. I have no idea what it's like at her school, of course, but that's how it was at mine.
posted by Juliet Banana at 4:33 PM on November 29, 2006

Film for a beginner. A digital camera useful for a class will set you back hundreds of dollars even without lenses. I'd grab a film SLR with full manual controls. Ideally pick one compatible with current DSLR bodies (Canon XT, etc). Even if she can only move the one lens forward, it's still one more lens she won't need to buy in the future.
posted by chairface at 4:35 PM on November 29, 2006

The photo classes at my college are still taught with film cameras, higher levels eventually teach digital & photoshop.

That being said, I'm assuming that since you said this is a "charity gift" that the teen you're shopping for is an unknown underprivileged child. You might want to think if she will have access to a computer in order to download & work with her pictures.
posted by aristan at 4:47 PM on November 29, 2006

To state the obvious here, why don't you contact the photo class teacher and ask what the requirements are?
posted by MrZero at 5:49 PM on November 29, 2006

Oh, sorry. I didn't realize that "charity" actually meant "Charity." Go with a film SLR, like a low-end Canon Rebel or something.
posted by MrZero at 5:51 PM on November 29, 2006

i have an old Ricoh KR-5 i rescued from a thrift outlet, pentax lens mount. If the charity needs more cameras, drop me an email.
posted by th3ph17 at 6:53 PM on November 29, 2006

If your price range is under $100, I think the recommendations to find a cheap film SLR are on target. You want something with manual controls, and typically digital cameras in this price range won't have them at all. If you're willing to spend a couple hundred, you can find a digital with manual controls.
posted by knave at 7:26 PM on November 29, 2006

get an old pentax k1000 (the standard) or canon as mentioned before. fully manual. many cheap older lenses available. the foundation of photography.
posted by sophist at 7:28 PM on November 29, 2006

I'll Nth the Pentax K1000, if you can dig one up.
posted by adamrice at 8:11 PM on November 29, 2006

The Pentax K1000 was my first camera. It's definitely a good choice for a beginner manual.
posted by sunshinesky at 8:42 PM on November 29, 2006

a good used camera store will always have several full manual "student" cameras like the pentax k1000, or the pre-EOS Canons. If you are in SJ as your profile says, between used camera stores and craigslist/ebay it shouldn't be a problem. First choice would be a store, since most likely the camera will be clean, dust/mold free and with a working light meter [if it has one.].

my favorite camera [out of about 7 that work] is a 1976 Konica 35mm with a nikor compatible lens mount. I've used it off and on for 20 years. The compact SLR's from that pre-auto everything are awesome, durable, beautiful, a refined technology.
posted by th3ph17 at 8:59 PM on November 29, 2006

I took great photos with a Canon AE-1P, and they're dirt cheap on the used market these days. It'll do both shutter and aperture on auto, if you want it to, as well as full manual control. I used it for years and thousands of frames of classwork.

If the area you're in isn't very wealthy, I suspect the public schools are probably doing their photo classes with film, since a digital-photo lab requires a significant investment of capital (at least I hope so, since eliminating film for a shoddily-done digital photo class would be a travesty).

You might want to think about bundling the camera with a book on photography, so that she can start doing something with it right away instead of just having it sit around and wait for photo class. Which book could be a whole question in itself, and probably has been, but you can use your discretion and try to pick something that will pique her interest. I think it's important to give her something besides the camera, which she may or may not know how to use immediately, that will let her 'figure it out.'

(My starter book was "The Craft of Photography" by David Vestal, but it's out of print.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:51 PM on November 29, 2006

Lots of great comments above me here.

I work at a camera store in a town with two high schools. One just switched to all digital and abandoned their darkroom. Another is still only doing black and white chemistry. Indiana University, where I attend, has digital courses but all intro classes are still black and white film with chemistry.

So...odds are 50/50 I'm guessing between film and digital right now.

If you go digital the Canon A series is your best bet. Right now the A540 is $199 and the cheapest (of the new Canon line) to have manual, aperture priority, and shutter priority settings, which are a must.

If you go film I would suggest a Nikon or Canon body with a 50mm f/1.8 lens (as far as lenses go, Nikon's is $110, Canon's is $160 new). A Nikon refurbished N80 (a great, great camera) is $200. $310 tops for a great camera with one of Nikon's sharpest lenses is a great investment, but perhaps not suitable in this situation.

Your cheapest bets are a used Canon A70 or A75 for digital, or a used Nikon N55 or N65 for film, I'm guessing.

Good luck! Learning photography has been one of my greatest joys in life.
posted by ztdavis at 11:23 PM on November 29, 2006

Giving a film camera as a gift is somewhere on the scale between "pregnant cat" and "white elephant". It's a money sink.

I put film purists in the same category as vacuum tube amplifier whack-jobs. Yes, your technology's quirks were endearing once. But now that we no longer need to cope with them, the artistry of working around the limitations gets less and less relevant. For those of us who want to focus on the outcome rather than the process, digital just makes sense.

I'm honestly not trying to start a flamewar here, I just think it's unconscionable to stick someone who can't necessarily afford her own camera with an expensive system that punishes prolificness. If you can make the initial digital investment for her, she'll never have to worry about consumables cost, and the liberation will affect her work.
posted by Myself at 12:22 AM on November 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This has been a helpful thread. I knew that getting a camera for a film class that met the requirements I set was difficult. I did'nt mention that the price limit set by the card was $20-30. I plan to ignore that limit, but I can't submit a camera that is ten times the limit. I also wouldn't feel comfortable submitting a used camera for a gift to someone I don't know.

I think the Pentax suggestion has put me on the right track; they have a few decent-sounding film cameras that are around $50, and it's a brand that I wouldn't have thought of. I still haven't made a decision on film versus digital, and I plan to call the local high school art department.

Thanks for the guidance so far!
posted by JDC8 at 1:22 AM on November 30, 2006

What most everyone else has said: go with film. I know that's what my highschool requires in photography courses, since a large part of the course is developing the film.
posted by Glitter Ninja at 4:28 AM on November 30, 2006

The killer thing is that the very top-end professional-level film bodies have completely crashed in price. For the same cost as a cheap digital camera, you can buy a professional-level film body and 50mm lens. The lenses will be interchangable with digital bodies, if she decides to stick with it.

Try searching eBay for EOS 1 EOS 1n or EOS 3 bodies, all of which are good.
posted by bonaldi at 5:57 AM on November 30, 2006

Get a Pentax K1000. It's the defacto student film SLR. Search for it on the web. Most everyone I know started with one.
posted by chunking express at 7:37 AM on November 30, 2006


One last thing to consider that might be important:

If possible, find out if the school has lenses available to borrow. My high school had a bunch of Pentax lenses, so it was very useful to have bought a body that could use them.
posted by sindark at 10:22 AM on November 30, 2006

I think the Pentax suggestion has put me on the right track;

JDC8 If you can, avoid the the K1000's that don't have asahi stamped on the camera, those were made in China and used a number of sub par plastic bits inside making them less tank like than the other K1000's. Also keep your eyes peeled for the Pentax Spotmatic II, the predecessor to the K1000. It has a few more features than the k1000's; self timer, depth of field preview and uses screw mount lenses which are cheap and plentiful. I wouldn't worry about future uses for the lenses, Tameron's Adaptall system will fix that.

I was thinking about this yesterday and if i was doing this I'd get her a funky classic rangefinder. A number of them fall in the price range your thinking about and will have many of the features a photography class would require. Voigtlander Vito CLR's, a few in the Canon Canonet series, Zeiss Ikon Contina, Braun Paxette Super. When I was 16 I got one of these for Christmas and I thought it was the coolest thing evar. I don't how feasible the rangefinder idea is but thought I'd toss it out.

I just think it's unconscionable to stick someone who can't necessarily afford her own camera with an expensive system

Digital can be just as much of a sink hole as film can be, most manufacturers shove tiny memory cards into their cameras requiring an immediate upgrade, and digital cameras consume alkaline batteries like they grow on trees ... again requiring money the user may not have to spend to get a recharger and batteries.

ps: Depending on the camera you do get I'd download the manual and print out a copy to go with the gift - a large number of used cameras don't come with one. I'd also shove a roll or two of film inside - nothing worse than having a new toy and not being able to play with it ...
posted by squeak at 10:46 AM on November 30, 2006

Squeak is right in saying the Asahi Pentax camera's are better built, but I've had my Chinese made Pentax (which I bought used mind you) for a decade now, and it still works great and is a beast of a camera. So if you can only find the "newer" Pentax K1000 you aren't screwed by any stretch.
posted by chunking express at 11:45 AM on November 30, 2006

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