Okay, so the world has moved on: digital cameras are the only option for almost any serious photographer, and the thought of bringing good ol’ film to a professional shoot is often times laughable. But that doesn’t mean we can’t still have some fun, right? There’s nothing quite like the nostalgia that comes from holding a beautifully designed piece of kit, and the suspense and excitement of finally reviewing your images days, weeks, or even months after you’ve made them is something every photographer should learn to love. But film can also be used for more than just a side project for shits and giggles, it can also help you regain some creative discipline as well.
When you can take five shots in one second and see them all the next, you really don’t need to imagine the photo before you hit the shutter release. But when you take photos using film, even just for fun, you’re forced to consider all possibilities before permanently exposing your precious roll of 36 to the harsh light of the world. Personally, I think this practice can really help those who find themselves wasting time and energy taking and editing thousands of photos they will never need, plus it’s a great way to bring the excitement back to a discipline that has slowly lost some of its charm over the years. In this article, I’ll be going through six very different film cameras that are loads of fun for the 21st century photographer, don’t require any serious financial investment, and are easy to find online.
1. Olympus XA2 (About $50)
[From Tom Hart]
The Olympus XA2 is one of my favorite cameras ever. Introduced in 1980, it was a simplified version of the already very simple Olympus XA. This is one of the smallest 35mm film cameras ever made, thanks to the genius design, and one of the toughest little point and shoots out there thanks to the clamshell lens cover. All you have to do is slide the cover open, select from three focusing options, and tap the feather-light shutter release. The exposure is fully automatic and surprisingly accurate. But don’t let the simplicity fool you, the XA2 takes sharply focused images that rival some of the best 35mm film cameras out there, and the XA’s photos are even sharper, but you have to focus them yourself. I never leave my house without this compact beauty so that I’m always ready to snap some film if the mood strikes me, and the results are always something to look forward to.
2. Olympus Pen (About $25-100 depending on the model)
[From Matt P.]
The Olympus Pen is a classic not for its image quality, but for its unique format. This is a half-frame 35mm camera, which means that the film runs through as expected but the exposures are portrait, not landscape, and are only half of the width of a regular 35mm exposure. The downside is that the images are half the resolution, but you also get twice as many per roll, making this an even better choice if you’re particularly frugal (like me). The Pen wasn’t the first half-frame camera, but Olympus made the genre popular by marketing it as the perfect travel companion and as easy to cary with you as an actual pen. There are many different iterations of this camera ranging from manual to fully automatic exposure and with a variety of built in lenses. All of them are great, but I particularly like the Pen D3 for its super fast f/1.7 lens.
3. Yashica Electro 35 (About $50)
[From Antti-Jussi Kovalainen]
Ah, the classic rangefinder. The Yashica Electro 35 is one of the most popular cameras ever sold, so they are widely available and fairly cheap. It’s an aperture priority camera with manual focus, so you essentially have all the basic creative control you may need. In all honesty, this camera did not make the list for its quality and versatility, but more for it’s style and historical importance. When this camera was first available in 1966, it was an impressive specimen. The mere fact that it had electronic auto-exposure impressed consumers, and this feature was highlighted by the name “Electro” and the space-age atomic symbol on front. This was essentially the iPhone 6s of its day and the thought of owning a cheap piece of history is always fun.
4. Poloroid OneStep 600 ($25)
[From Peter Pawlowski]
So what’s with all the Japanese cameras so far? Well it turns out that Japan has produced some amazing film cameras, and lots of them, that for a long time were thought of as second rate to their German and European counterparts, and thus are a lot cheaper today. It’s hard to find a cheap, non-Japanese film camera that’s worth shooting, but I think the Polaroid OneStep 600 is the exception to this rule. For those who are interested in analog photography but don’t want to wait around to get their film developed, Polaroids are perfect. The film does cost a lot more (about $24 for eight exposures at the-impossible-project.com), but you’re sure to be a hit at any party or family gathering this holiday season if you offer up the instant keep sake and nostalgia of a Polaroid photograph.
5. Yashica A (About $75)
[From Andrew Bartram]
Now we’re getting into some serious photography. The Yeshica A is a 6×6 medium format, twin lens reflex beauty. It shoots 120 film, which really ups the overall quality of the images it produces, so you can actually make some high quality, large prints with this thing. Like all of it’s competitors, it’s essentially a direct knock-off of the Rolleiflex TLRs that invented the genre. Basically, all of these early TLRs are great, be it a Yashica, Mamiya, Rolleicord, or almost any other brand (just avoid the Russian cameras). The biggest strength of the Yashica A is its price, as generally speaking it is the cheapest classic TLR you can get that will still produce nice images. If you have more money to spend, then I’d go for the original Rolleiflex that started this category, but if not then the Yashica A is a great substitute.
6. Canon AE-1 Program ($75)
[From Felix Montino]
Here’s a lovely film camera that will feel fairly familiar in the hand of the modern DSLR user. This is a quality SLR workhorse that has been the choice of first time film users for years, and with good reason. It has a simple layout, solid construction, and very precise exposure mechanism. Best of all, if you own some Canon lenses, there’s a good chance they’ll be fully functional on this camera. It’s possible to get some truly great results from the Canon AE-1, even with somewhat limiting 35mm film. This is the first film camera I ever used and I still haven’t found a better all around piece of equipment than the AE-1.
While this is by no means an exhaustive list, any of the cameras featured here will offer a new challenge to digital photographers who are looking to sharpen their fundamental skills.
[Featured image from Savara (deprecated)]