The best film cameras for beginners
The first step towards starting film photography is getting hold of a camera. To help you narrow down the huge number of camera options available, we've put together a summary of some of the more popular options that frequently appear on best camera lists. These models all come highly recommended for beginners, and are a great place to start your film journey.
Olympus MJU - II
- Also known as the Stylus epic, this is a bit of a cult favourite - an easy to use point and shoot that takes great quality, sharp photos
- Fixed and zoom lens versions available
- Fully automatic exposure and built in flash. This does have a spot metering mode that allows you to lock in an exposure reading
- For a plastic camera the MJU- II is pretty durable - light, compact and sleek, its easy to carry around
- Sharp lens with an aperture that can open surprisingly wide for a point and shoot
- Bear in mind that because of the popularity of these cameras they can be quite expensive to get hold of
Photos on the Olympus MJU-II taken by Fist Full of Bolts
- A weatherproof point and shoot, this is small, light and quick firing
- The Yashica is ultra simple, with almost no controls - this makes it an incredibly speedy camera to shoot on, one reason why it is favoured in street photography
- Auto exposure and flash that you can switch on or off. Also the option to lock the focus by half pressing the shutter
- Quality lens and a strong, direct flash that has been utilised by fashion photographers to capture a punky aesthetic
- Like the Olympus MJU, the Yashica has also recently gained in popularity, so is a bit more expensive than other point and shoots
Canon AE -1
- This is one of the best regarded SLR film cameras, especially for newcomers to film
- A sturdy, durable model that has interchangeable lenses
- Simple, straightforward and easy to use controls that allow you to focus your photography and learn about all the features and workings of a film camera - this is often the go-to camera in film photography classes
- Has built in light meter and the camera is brilliant at understanding whether the loaded film stock can handle what you are shooting at the desired shutter speed. This is perfect for learning which settings work together and how to adapt to different shooting and light situations
- You can choose to shoot manually or with automatic features
- This does need batteries to work, but these are easy to get hold of - keep some in your bag on the off chance the battery does run down whilst you are out shooting!
Minolta X 700
- This is an ideal option if you are after a more sleek, lightweight model
- The other main attraction of this camera is its simplicity. Perfect for beginners, it has easy to use, no nonsense features
- There's a full manual mode but also an incredible program mode, so you have the flexibility to move between the two
- Through the lens metering allows for accurate light meter readings whilst the exposure compensation dial can help you out in more difficult light situations such as when your photo is backlit
- The camera also has a depth of field preview button that you can use as a guide before you take the shot
Photos on the Minolta X 700 taken by Fogdog
Olympus OM series
- Olympus made multiple different versions of the OM - all are compact and super lightweight, which is one of the main reasons they were so popular back in the day
- The earlier models (OM-1 - OM-4) were considered the more professional series so offer the most manual functions
- These earlier models are also more durable and heavy weight
- Later models such as the OM-10 have more automatic features - you are in charge of focusing and selecting aperture and the camera will work out the shutter speed required
- Across the series these are highly recommended cameras for beginners, it just depends what kind of features and shooting experience you are after
Photos on the Olympus OM- 4 taken by Bill Smith
Pentax K 1000
- Often referred to as a 'beast', this is a durable camera built to last
- Still a favourite amongst many photographers for its simplicity
- With no automatic features, this camera strips photography back to its purest form. There are only 3 settings for ISO, aperture and shutter speed
- Fully mechanical so you can shoot without a battery - the light meter takes a small battery but if this runs down whilst you are out you can still use an external light meter and keep shooting
Photos on the Pentax K 1000 taken by Mark Mackoviak
A note on buying cameras -
Finding a film camera will probably require hunting around for the best quality model at the best price. Ebay, etsy and depop all feature camera sellers and if you spend some time digging, there are bargains hidden amongst the listings. Choose a seller with good reviews and message them to check the camera is in working order and has been tested.
If you have a specialist camera shop nearby, check what they have in stock. It can be nice to see the camera and evaluate how it feels in your hand before buying.
Charity shops and markets are another alternative, and whilst you might be able to find an absolute bargain, bear in mind these cameras usually haven't been tested so might be faulty or broken - shoot one roll of film to check before wasting more time and pictures on a faulty model. Finally, ask your family - there might an old camera up in the loft that you can dust off and have a play with.
If you don't want to invest in buying a camera, renting is an ideal way to try out film. I've used Fat Llama, a renting site, to borrow a camera that was too expensive for me to buy, and it's an alternative I would highly recommend.
Cover image from @pimlico_cameras
Author : Becca Knight