Best 35mm Film Cameras – Amateur Photographer

July 13, 2021

Whatever type of film camera you prefer, there is a 35mm version out there. John Wade explains the main options


Has there ever been a film more versatile than 35mm? Available in black and white negative, color negative, or reverse color (slides and transparencies), just about every shape, style, and type of camera has at one time been designed for 35mm. They range from single-lens reflexes (SLRs) to dual-lens reflexes (TLRs), from half-frame to panoramic, and much more. And the movie is still readily available.

Which makes all of these types of cameras still very useful for today’s moviegoers.

Minolta 7000, the first in-body autofocus SLRs and still a well-specified camera today for an economical price

Autofocus SLR
The first in-body autofocus cameras like the Minolta 7000 and 5000, or the Canon EOS 650 of the 1980s can be bought today for very little money. They’re still usable, but you might find the now-old technology a bit creaky. For the full 35mm autofocus SLR experience, head to the late 90s and early 2000s, a time when film camera technology reached its peak, before the start of the decade. the digital revolution.

Here you’ll find cameras like the Nikon F100 with all the usual exposure modes, 22 custom settings, ten-segment 3D matrix metering, autofocus that tracks shooting at 4.5 frames per second, and a maximum shutter speed of 1 / 8000sec. Or how about the Canon EOS 3 with eye-controlled focus? 21-area evaluative metering, center-weighted, partial, spot, and multiple-spot average; plus a flash sync speed of 1/200 s?

The Minolta Dynax 7 and Pentax MZ-5N are also worth seeing from this era.

High-end 35mm autofocus SLR: Nikon F100 (left) and Canon EOS 3

Manual focus SLR
The first 35mm manual focus SLR was the Kine Exakta in 1936. It’s a nice collector’s item, but for convenience the 1970s were the golden age. Here you’ll find the iconic Olympus OM-1, the first truly compact 35mm SLR, with needle measurement and fully mechanical operation.

Three stars from the 1970s: from left to right: Olympus OM-1, Pentax ME Super and Canon AE-1

Or maybe the speed-priority Canon AE-1 with its central processing unit (CPU) to handle metering, exposure, memory, warning signals, and safety mechanisms. Also consider the Pentax ME Super with its unusual electronic push-button controls in place of traditional knobs and dials.

Proceed to 1983 and you will find the Nikon FA, the world’s first camera with automatic multi-pattern measurement (AMP). Or, if you want to combine user-friendliness with a truly classic design, what could be better than a Nikon F with its photomic measuring head?

Some Nikon F’s may be from 1959, but they were built to last and are apparently indestructible.

Nikon classics from two eras: the Nikon F with photomic measuring head (left) and the much newer Nikon FA

Coupled rangefinder cameras
Before 35mm SLRs dominated the world of photography, coupled 35mm rangefinder cameras were all the rage. Most of those still in existence today date from before 1960. The top of the tree is pretty much everything Leica makes. Consider the IIIf, one of the last screw-type cameras more reasonably priced than the later IIIg; or the M3, the first of Leica’s bayonet-lens cameras, still superb optically and mechanically.

The same goes for the post-war Zeiss Ikon Contax IIa and IIIa cameras. (The Contax II and III of the same name are pre-war and don’t have the same build quality.) On the other end of the price spectrum, it’s worth checking out the Braun Paxette cameras and Super Paxette.

Budget-friendly Super Paxette IIL with standard 50mm f / 2.8 Katagon lens, plus 35mm f / 3.5 Westron, 90mm f / 3.8 Telenar and 135mm f / 5.6 Telenar lenses

There are many variations with similar names, some with interchangeable lenses that include standard, wide angle, and telephoto. And don’t forget the Russian FED and Zorki scams of Leica cameras, or the Kiev Contax copies.

High-end coupled rangefinder cameras: Leica M3 (left) and Contax IIIa

Two lens reflexes
While most TLRs were designed for 120 roll film, a few were designed for 35mm. The best was without a doubt the Contaflex, manufactured by Zeiss Ikon in 1935. Yet it is a serious collector’s item and a bit expensive. Going down the price scale and moving up the years, stopping briefly at cameras like the Toyocaflex and Samocaflex, you’ll end up with the much more reasonably priced Agfa Flexilette, Bolsey C2, and C22 from the 1950s and 1960s.

Each takes the form of a simple 35mm compact type camera with the addition of an additional lens above the shooting lens to mirror its image to a hooded focus screen. on top of the camera.

Half frame
While the majority of 35mm cameras use the traditional 24x36mm format to shoot a maximum of 36 exposures on a roll, some cut them in half to produce 72 frames, each measuring 18x24mm. Although picked up for some time by people like the Yashica Samurai or the Canon Demi, the most notable are the Olympus Pen cameras, simple viewfinder models with various forms of metering.

For the half-frame: the unusual Yashica Samurai (left), with the original Olympus Pen half-frame camera

The two best models are the Olympus Pen F and Pen FT, from 1963 and 1966 respectively, the first without a meter and the second with the addition of a CdS meter. Both are true SLRs that use unconventional side-shift reflex mirrors that allow for sleek contours without any sign of the pentaprism bumps found in most 35mm SLRs.

Each camera sits at the center of a range of interchangeable lenses ranging from 20mm wide-angle to 800mm catadioptric telephoto, and the kind of accessories normally associated with full-frame 35mm SLRs.

The versatile Pen F half-frame camera with its built-in measuring accessory, plus bellows, 20mm, 60mm and 150mm lenses

Compact cameras
The last three decades of the 20th century saw the rise of the compact 35mm, and today there are hundreds, if not thousands, to choose from. From simple compact cameras, compacts have gradually integrated automatic exposure, autofocus and zoom lenses. Two atypical styles of Olympus are worth looking for.

Three stylish compacts from Olympus: Superzoom 700BF (above), the original XA (above right), silver edition mju-III Zoom 80

The Olympus XA is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but incorporates a Coincident Image Rangefinder and still takes 35mm full frame photos. It features aperture priority and a Zuiko 35mm f / 2.8 lens hidden behind a sliding panel on the front.

The XA line of cameras continued with the XA 1, XA 2, XA 3 and XA 4, made in various colors with fixed focus or focus area. The Olympus mju, the natural successor to the XA, arrived in 1997 with a new, sleeker design, adding autofocus as standard and an integrated motor.

The range includes the mju II with a waterproof finish, panoramic models and a very elegant limited edition silver version of the mju-III Zoom 80.

Two bridge cameras: Olympus AZ-300 (left) and IS-1000 SLR type

Bridge cameras
Enjoying some popularity in the late 1980s and early 1990s, these were the result of camera makers exhibiting SLR versatility coupled with the ease of use of compact cameras. Illustrated by cameras like the Olympus AZ-300, bridge cameras are well specified when it comes to metering, built-in flash, and zoom lenses.

Exposure, however, is likely to be program mode only and the lenses are not interchangeable. Olympus also made the unusual IS-1000 SLR with a built-in zoom lens, as well as a series of tracking models.

Two reasonably priced Russian panoramic cameras: the classic Horizont (rear) and the more contemporary Horizon 202

Panoramic cameras
Here’s a 35mm format for the real enthusiast: a bunch of more specialized cameras that use a rotating lens mechanism to create an extra-wide image on standard 35mm film. Models range from the expensive 1992 Noblex 135, which produces 24x66mm images, to the more affordable 1967 vintage Horizont and the still-available Horizon 202, both of which produce 24x58mm images.

The Noblex 135, high-end panoramic camera for 35mm


What to pay

Guide prices for cameras with standard lenses, based on actual eBay results, recent auctions and price lists from specialist retailers:

Agfa Flexilette £ 40-75
Bolsey C22 £ 60-90
Paxette Braun £ 20-30
Canon AE-1; £ 100-150
Canon Demi £ 30-80
Canon EOS 3 £ 250-300
Contaflex 800 – £ 1,200
Contax IIa £ 200-275
Contax IIIa £ 250-300
Horizon 202 £ 80-100
Horizon £ 120-150
Leica IIIf £ 200-350
Leica M3 £ 1,500 to £ 2,000
Minolta £ 7,000 15-30
Nikon F 150-250 £
Nikon F100 £ 150-250
Nikon FA 200-250 £
Noblex 135 £ 200-300
Olympe AZ-300 £ 10-15
Olympus IS-1000 £ 15-25
Olympus Mju £ 60-100
Olympus OM-1 £ 100-120
Olympus pen £ 30-50
Olympus F Pen £ 100-150
Olympus XA £ 100-200
Pentax EOS 650 £ 20-50
Pentax ME Super £ 75-100
Yashica Samurai £ 40-90


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About Debra D. Johnson

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