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5 Top SLR Film Cameras for Beginners

Updated: Aug 13

So, you've decided to give film photography a try and now you can't wait to get your hands on a film camera to get started. Good news - there are plenty of great cameras out there available for you, so you don't have to worry about not finding one that fits you. Bad news is, there are plenty of great cameras out there available for you, so you might have to sift through a few of them and do proper research before you can finally make your decision.

As a beginner, it may sound a bit overwhelming to choose the one, with so many to choose from. If you've read my top tips for film photography newbies, you'll know that 35mm is a good place to start. Here's another tip: if you want to really learn about the mechanics of film photography, it's a good idea to go for an SLR (Single-Lens Reflex) camera. What's an SLR, you ask? An SLR camera, with its design, basically allows you to view an object in the viewfinder the same way that your camera lens is. This translates to higher precision in your composition and depth of field analysis, allowing you to be a better judge of your shots.

Compare this to a rangefinder camera, which is built with different mechanics so that you only see an approximation of what your lens sees, giving you less accuracy in the depth of field perception.

If you think an SLR camera is the way to go, continue below as we reveal our picks of the 5 best SLR film cameras for beginners just like you:

1. Canon AE-1

The Canon AE-1 film camera is one of the best out there for beginners

Canon is no stranger to the camera business. The company has been making cameras since the 30s, and the AE-1, in specific, has been the staple of film photography since its release in the 80s. With limited settings, the Canon AE-1 is a basic yet great film camera for beginners to start with. It is highly durable and dependable, and it also comes with an affordable price tag.

You might also see the Canon AE-1 Program around. If you're wondering if they're the same, the answer is, well, not quite. The AE-1 Program is a revised version of the original AE-1. Apart from small changes, the AE-1 Program adds a fully automatic mode called, you've guessed it, "Program". This makes the camera extremely beginner-friendly. And whenever you're ready to challenge yourself more, you can always switch to a manual mode.

2. Pentax K1000

The Pentax K1000 film camera is one of the best out there for beginners

The Pentax K1000 is often compared to the Canon AE-1. Perhaps not only because they were both released the same year, but they are both also great options for film photography newbies. The difference is, the Pentax K1000 is fully manual, which forces you to learn the basics of film photography. Although, you shouldn't get discouraged by the manual function! Even so, the camera only requires you to control three settings to shoot: the aperture, shutter speed, and focus. So you won't have a million settings to tinker with before you capture a moment.

The camera is also quite affordable, as it retails for around $200, making it a great option for any beginner.

3. Minolta SRT-101

The Minolta SRT101 film camera is one of the best out there for beginners

Although arguably less advanced than some of its counterparts, like the Minolta SRT-303, the SRT-101 has seemingly undying popularity and has been selling in the millions. The SRT-101 has gone through several changes throughout its time, so depending on which version you land your hands on, you might notice a few different tweaks here and there. Regardless, the Minolta SRT-101 is a highly reliable 35mm film camera fitting for beginners everywhere.

Aside from its light meter, the camera runs perfectly fine with no battery. The company does not actively produce the camera anymore, so you will have to buy yours pre-owned. You should have no trouble finding it online. It retails even cheaper than the Canon AE-1 and Pentax K1000 at around $100. The camera is known to be more on the bulky side, though, so don't be surprised when you feel its weight, all 690g of it.

4. Nikon FE2

The Nikon FE2 film camera is one of the best out there for beginners

On quite the opposite side of the Minolta SRT-101, we have the Nikon FE2, which is known to be one of the lightest and most compact SLR cameras, making it great for travellers. The Nikon FE2 has a few settings and adjustments to try out, but don't let this put you off! Think of it as an opportunity to explore different settings as you set out on your film photography adventures.

Aside from being a great film camera for beginners, the Nikon FE2 also looks the part. With its titanium shutter (which was a huge thing back then), black and chrome body, and uniquely circular viewfinder, any film photography newbie should be proud to own this beauty.

5. Olympus OM1

The Olympus OM1 film camera is one of the best out there for beginners

Another fully manual film camera on the list. You see the trend now - manual settings for enhanced learning opportunities! For a fully manual camera, the Olympus OM1 is quite small and compact, making it the perfect go-to camera for your outings.

Bonus fun fact - the camera was originally called the Olympus M1, which was similar to Leica M1, and it made quite the impact as Leica then asked the company to change the name. Hence, the O in OM1. History... am I right?

Final thoughts

There you have it. Durable, dependable, and reliable 35mm SLR film cameras - all great for beginners. Each one has its own strengths and weaknesses, so think of what you want in a camera and go with that. Whatever you decide, let's hope it's merely a start of a long and fun adventure with film.

Make sure to share your thoughts in the comment section below.


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