In accordance with some of the previous posts, here I aim to continue my examination of tips for getting into film through the deliberation of cameras I have experience with. This article will delve into the pros and cons of each camera, the differences between them, and my entirely biased opinion. Needless to say, this serves as an archive of information on my personal collection with some added insight for the reader's benefit.
Like its name, 35mm format references 35mm film. It is the most common format that film photography is shot on.
rating - 8/10
This was my first film camera. I was lucky for this to be my first camera as it has all the features necessary to help one learn film photography (I talk about this in my 10 Tips to Start in Film Photography). It has shutter priority for shooting on automatic, an internal light meter, built to take a beating, and quite affordable. One downside is that it does need a battery to operate and doesn’t have a strictly mechanical option. Nevertheless, it is a great option to shoot, no matter if you are a beginner or not.
Canon AE-1 Program
rating - 10/10
The AE-1’s successor, the Canon AE-1 Program added aperture priority and a few minor cosmetic changes. It has everything you need to capture incredible images. Both the AE-1 and the AE-1 Program are still my most used 35mm cameras despite having the professional versions. The Program is also considered the budget option for the following camera.
rating - 9/10
The only reason I don’t give this camera a 10 is that it is a professional camera and it thus has an overload of features. While all the features are good, they can take away from the shooting experience at times. However, if you’re a professional photographer and need a camera that can go the extra mile, this is your camera. I have though also read that this camera isn’t as much of a brick like the AE-1s are. It‘s a bit more delicate due to having some advanced capabilities. The A-1 is still up there as one of my favorite cameras to shoot with.
Canon New F-1
rating - 8/10
Talk about build quality. This is a tank of a 35mm camera. It’s full metal and ergonomically incredible. This would be my top choice but it is rather heavy and if you’re hiking or traveling as I do with my camera, it definitely becomes an inconvenience. BUT, it is just a beauty... Even the film winder is magnificently built. It has the feeling of opening a really nice car door. I know. Weird, but it’s true. Other bells and whistles include an over/underexposure dial, a backlit light meter, and the viewfinder comes off to reveal a waist-level viewfinder. There are a few different viewfinders options too. The New F-1, sometimes referenced as the F1n, is a premium camera to have and a hell of a one to shoot on, as long as you don’t mind lugging it around.
Canonet QL17 GIII
rating - 8/10
”The poor man’s Leica.” This gem of a rangefinder has a sharp, wide lens. Its compact and minimal design provides a straightforward camera that allows you to focus on the shot. No way about it, it is just a fun camera. I will say that I prefer the canon SLR focusing system to the traditional rangefinder system. Also, the shutter priority auto function will only fire the shutter if the shutter speed you have selected has an available aperture to correctly expose. This has resulted in missing a shot before. But that was early on and now I just shoot manual on all my cameras. The GIII is perfect for day trips or street photography. It is such a great change of pace from shooting SLRs. This is another camera I highly recommend.
rating - 9/10
There are 5 different versions of it. The XA is a traditional rangefinder. The others (including the XA2) use zone focusing. This is my casual camera. I use it at parties, restaurants, skiing, etc. It's small, easy-to-use, and gets great results. It also has some metal components making it withstand the beating that it's taken from falling snowboarding, dropping it a couple of times, etc. There isn’t much art to capturing a photo with this camera, it’s meant to take snapshots and not ruin the moment. It's quick but the images it obtains are forever.
rating - 6/10
This is a recent addition. I’ve only taken a few shots with it. It's the Russian version of the Leica m3. It’s a bit strange of a camera. Loading the film is different for sure. It has a take-up spoil for the film. The camera’s back and bottom come off completely in order to load the film. The viewfinder isn’t quite perfect. Not a surprise since the camera was made in 1959. If I can find a way to improve the viewfinder, then my rating would definitely increase.
Kodak Retina Ia
rating - 5/10
Only the second film camera I’ve ever bought, and yet I just put my first roll in it. I always admired the aesthetic over its functionality so it sat as decor for a long while. It is the most primitive camera I own and is tough to use. We’ll see how the film turns out. This camera must have been a 10/10 back in its heyday, however, there are just too many better options to have it be of real consequence.
References 120mm film. Cameras that accept this format have several different negative sizes - 6x4.5, 6x6, 6x7, 6x8, 6x9, 6x12, 6x17.
Mamiya 645 Super
rating - 10/10
This is my go-to medium format camera. The 645 format allows for 15 shots on 120 film. And the negative is 2.6 times larger than 35mm. However, the ratio is very close to 35mm (4x6 ratio vs. 6x4.5). This allows me to compose similarly to when I shoot 35mm but with the advantages of the larger negative. The second reason this camera is a must is its modularity. Every part of this camera can be customized. Beyond the lens interchangeability, there are several different viewfinders (picture here is the waist-level viewfinder and the AE prism finder viewfinder), film backs (you can swap out different film backs to allow swapping what film you are shooting on without having to finish a roll), film cranks (currently on the camera is the manual crank, but there are a few other automatic winder options). The versatility of this camera is unmatched.
rating - 8/10
This is another camera from the Mamiya 645 line. This camera is much cheaper than the Mamiya Super. The reason is that this camera does not feature the interchangeability that the Super does. Of all the items, not being able to change the film backs is a con. Don’t let that taper your expectations though. This camera is phenomenal and is a great option for getting into medium format. It's a newer film camera compared to most and you can feel it when you shoot with it (even though the body is made of plastic).
Mamiya C330 Professional
rating - 7/10
A TLR (Twin-Lens Reflex) camera is a classic film camera that is truly an experience to shoot with. I recommend every film photographer venture to try (or buy) a TLR camera. The Mamiya C330 has the ability to switch out lenses which is what sets it apart from other TLRs. I own the 55mm and the 80mm for this camera. Just using this camera is unconventional from what you might expect. Focusing is done by turning the wheel(s) that is at the bottom of the camera. This camera exuberates character. It does have its quirks due to the fact that these cameras were made over 50 years ago. They are fragile and valuable. Do yourself a favor and get a TLR. They’re a must.
rating - 7/10
The Pentacon Six is incredibly pretty and a big beauty. It truly is a relic. However, reports of them breaking have made them undervalued. If you can get one that is reliable, it’s a no-brainer. One thing to note is that when you load film, you need to advance the film with small increments using the film winder. If you don’t do this, the film counter will not engage. Maybe that’s just mine, I don’t know. On the other end, this camera is a joy to use. The viewfinder transforms how you compose. Simply put, this camera is mesmerizing.
Collecting film cameras is indeed a hobby of its own. They are all magnificent pieces of engineering. Pieces of art really. I shoot on all my cameras, but some act as holiday cameras. Cameras I use for a change of pace and for a celebration of the experience. However, you don't need a dozen cameras to be a great photographer. Sometimes having a small collection allows you to hone in on your craft and knowledge of those few cameras. I also surmise that these will be relics that I pass on to my kids as one passes on a watch or a ring. My final note is - when deciding to buy a camera, do your research beforehand. Then take care of your cameras as best you can. Don't leave film in them for too long, store them with the shutter uncocked, make sure the battery is fine, etc. And if you can't be with the camera you love? Then love the camera you're with.