For instance, one day I may be into abstract still life’s from walking down an alley with a Hasselblad loaded with TRiX at my ISO of 160. The blad is on a tripod with monopod and a cable release.
This, on the other hand, is Kodak 400 TMAX (aka TMY2). This is the best B&W film there is.
If the Pentax 67 takes the crown for big cameras, the Rollei 35 occupies the opposite end of the spectrum. You may wonder how it’s possible to fit a roll of 35mm film into its compact body, and the 40mm lens collapses into the body when not in use.
With no autofocus, you’ll have to do a bit of guesswork and manually focus using a distance scale on the lens. There is a meter—it flashes green when the exposure is correct, red when it’s not—and a big optical viewfinder.
The camera can sell for as little as $150, and its design is sure to start a conversation or two. (Photo Credit: Dwilliams851)
Ricoh’s GR1 series has its devotees. The pocket camera and its sequels—the GR1s and GR1v—supports autofocus and boasts a fixed 28mm f/2.8 lens. A fixed optical viewfinder is squeezed into the body, and its lens has received nothing but praise in terms of its optical qualities.
Ricoh continued the series into the digital realm with the GR-Digital, but that camera and its successors feature a comparatively small 1/1.7-inch image sensor. The Sigma DP1 Merrill and Nikon Coolpix A are closer in heritage, as they feature 28mm-equivalent lenses and big APS-C image sensors.
(Photo Credit: Zokyo Labs)
One of the best parts about film is that things look so great right out of the camera. Fuji and Kodak have spent years and millions of dollars perfecting their films for beautiful levels of contrast, grain and color so all you have to do is focus and expose. Sure, you can edit your scans in Photoshop like everything else, but you really just don’t need to (save for some exposure stuff here and there). Compare this to shooting in digital RAW — where the whole point is that images look like shit out of the camera and absolutely need post processing — and you can see why it’s so relieving not to spend hours in Photoshop adjusting color balances and tone curves.
Studio and wedding photographers should look no further than the Mamiya RZ67. While it’s not very portable (with the 110mm lens it weighs over five pounds), it offers convenience and excellent quality. Its changeable film backs can be preloaded with color or black-and-white film. And the backs also rotate to allow you to switch between landscape and portrait orientation without moving the camera or tripod.
It was hard to not be stoked when I got to use two iconic cameras that both cost less than a quality Canon DSLR lens. As far as quality per dollar, you can’t beat a lot of old film cameras. Hell, a good-condition Leica M6 body can be had for $1,500 and that’s one of the most legendary cameras you’ll ever find.
The Contax G1 is a titanium-clad, Japanese-made marvel that was introduced in 1994 as a high-end electronic rangefinder to compete with Voigtlander and Leica, and became host to some of the best camera lenses ever made. The Zeiss lenses made for the G1 (and its 1996 G2 revision) are all as good, if not better than their Leica equivalents with the 45mm f/2 and 90mm f/2.8 deserving the most praise. The G2 revision offers a bigger body, redesigned button layout, a better viewfinder (the G1’s is about as bad as they get) and improved autofocus. The G2 has driven most of the resurgence, and as a result, its body will cost something like $600 instead of the G1’s $100.
So why did it find its way into the hands of enthusiasts, families and more? Besides being so simple your grandma could use it, Canon (and third-party companies) supported it with loads of accessories and lenses. Today, you’ll find photographers behind its iconic body for professional work because of the excellent FD mount lenses available, such as the 50mm f1.2. They’re also very well built and quite obviously withstand the test of time.
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Despite digital’s dominance, and Kodak’s well-publicized financial woes, film is still alive and well in 2013. Lomography churns out a number of film cameras, ranging from inexpensive toy cameras like the Diana F+ to more refined bodies like the Horizon Kompakt. Voigtlander and Leica are actively producing 35mm rangefinders, and you can buy brand new medium format cameras from Fujifilm and Rolleiflex.
A friend and mentor once told me, “If there’s one camera you need to shoot with before you die, it’s the Hasselblad Superwide C.” After renting one to use on a vacation, I’ll pass that advice on to other photographers without hesitation.
The SWC is a 6×6 medium format camera with a fixed Zeiss Biogon 38.5mm f/4.5 lens. There’s no focusing screen as there is on other Hasselblad V cameras, instead a fixed optical viewfinder slides into an accessory shoe on the top of the camera.
The wide-angle lens is akin to shooting with a 21mm on a 35mm camera, only in a square format. There’s virtually no distortion, an impressive feat for any ultra-wide lens, and it can focus on objects as close as 12 inches from the film plane.
(Photo Credit: Chia Ying Yang)
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Which as shown above is in 120 format, so wouldn’t fit in either of the otherwise fine cameras above.
The Canon AE-1 is arguably one of the first film cameras to make photography simple and more accessible to the masses. Your parents probably used one to photograph all those embarrassing shots of younger you in your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles get-up (way before Michael Bay tried to ruin your childhood). By giving users a full-program auto mode, shooting quite literally turned into a point, focus and shoot process.
In a seemingly all-digital world, there are some analog cameras worth holding on to—these are a few of our favorites.
The Rollei 35 S is, to this day, one of the smallest 35mm cameras on the market. Kitted with a Zeiss Sonnar 40mm 2.8, the tiny viewfinder camera packs a serious punch. It is small enough to easily fit in a pocket, making it easy to transport and great for capturing candid snapshots.
Also known as the “Hasselbladski,” the Kiev 88 is essentially a knock-off Hasselblad 1600 F. The camera was produced in the Arsenal Factory in Kiev, Ukraine, and is an excellent alternative to the more expensive Hasselblads (though some models are believed to have been poorly produced during certain years). The Kiev 88 is also compatible with one of the best fisheye lenses available, the Arsat 30mm f/3.5, which can be found for around $200, making for a rig that’s worth its quirks.
The Pentacon Six is a German-produced SLR-style camera built to shoot 120 film. It’s modeled after the convenience of 35mm cameras, with a similar layout and function. The TL in its name designates a metered prism viewfinder, though non-metered versions are also available. While the Pentacon Six is quite a bit larger than a standard 35mm camera, it’s still comfortable to wear around your neck.
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The Hexar AF can arguably be called a fixed-lens, autofocus rangefinder. However, many may refer to it as a point-and-shoot. So how did a point-and-shoot become a cult classic?
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I researched my first camera for months before landing on the right one. When I equipped myself with accessories to compliment it, there was one item that paralyzed my decision-making: the strap.
What’s your reference? Is it a cool or coveted camera or does your question arise from seeing a specific photograph?
This Hassy uses 120 film, which trumps 35mm in size and therefore gives you more bokeh, that beautiful blur that you see in so many photos these days. Coupled with some of the new Kodak Portra film, which the company designed for scanning, you’ll eventually create an online portfolio to be truly proud of. The combo will yield you prints well worth hanging up in your living room after being printed on white glossy aluminum.
The Nikon F3 was the company’s top-of-the-line 35mm SLR from 1982 through 1988. Aside from reinforcing the fact that film SLRs had a much longer product life cycle than digital cameras, the F3 stuck around for as long as it did simply because it’s a fantastic camera.
Its control layout is intuitive, but gives you full reign over the camera; aperture priority shooting is supported by setting the shutter speed dial to “A,” and you can swap out the focusing screen and viewfinder if desired.
The only thing it’s missing is autofocus, which Nikon brought to the mainstream with the F4. (Photo Credit: Jim Fisher)
The film media itself is B&W or color. The camera itself is immaterial.
Jim Fisher 10 Cool Classic Film Cameras In a seemingly all-digital world, there are some analog cameras worth holding on to—these are a few of our favorites.
Additional reporting by Chris Gampat, AJ Powell, Henry Phillips and Tucker Bowe.
If the Mamiya 7 II is too far out of your price range, get this. The Fuji GW690II is a rangefinder-style camera, just like the Mamiya, but offers slightly lower-grade optics and a greatly reduced price. It is known as the “Texas Leica” because of its hefty build quality and size. The other thing that the Fuji has going for it over the Mamiya is its massive 6 x 9 negatives. This giant negative size translates to higher-quality images and the ability to print them larger if that’s your jam.
Leica cameras list amongst those coveted by many and owned by few. When the Leica M6 appeared, many people thought it was one of the most perfect M cameras ever made. It became one of the first full M cameras to include a working built-in light meter while keeping the size down (the Leica CL could also attest to this claim, but it lacked the feature set; the Leica M5 included a meter built in, but physically towered over every other M camera made). Not only that, but reading the meter became simplistic, as the LED arrows in the viewfinder conveyed the over- or underexposure.
If you want to shoot medium format digitally, get ready for some sticker shock. A mid-range digital medium-format camera will run somewhere in the neighborhood of $15,000; an excellent one will be closer to $30,000. That’s the cost equivalent of a film-based Hasselblad 500C/M and 2,800 rolls of film. In fairness, you’ll need to buy a good scanner to get the best of your film shots, but even including that it’s still a significant savings unless you’re shooting a lot and getting compensated well for it. So concrete reason number one why I’m in love with film? I can get the amazing results of medium-format photography without auctioning off naming rights to my first-born.
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The Plaubel Makina W67 is regarded as one of the best medium format rangefinders ever made. It shoots photos in a 6 x 7 format (hence the “67”) and is equipped with a fixed 55mm Nikkor lens, which is considered one of the best lenses in all of analog photography. It offers a wide field of view that’s roughly equivalent to a 23mm lens on 35mm format. This is the ultimate grail of vintage cameras.
Rolleiflex twin lens reflex cameras have been around since the 1920s, but didn’t take on their iconic black-and-chrome look until the late 1930s. Like a Hasselblad, the Rolleiflex shoots a 6 by 6cm negative, but they are typically much smaller and lighter.
The twin lens design—the top lens directs light to a focusing screen, the bottom actually captures a photo—eliminates the need for a flipping mirror, and makes it possible for a comparatively tiny optic to cover a big negative.
You frame images on a big focusing screen that opens at the top of the camera, and the fact that there’s only a simple mirror reflecting light will force you to learn to focus and frame when your image is reversed left-to-right.
The best Rollei models feature Carl Zeiss lenses, with the 3.5F and 2.8F representing the pinnacle of design. The camera shown here is an older Automat model from 1950, but its Zeiss-Opton lens is still capable of capturing beautiful photos.
(Photo Credit: Jim Fisher)
Fast-aperture Zeiss glass? Check. 120 film in the 645 format? Check. Autofocus? Check. The ability to one day go medium-format digital? Checkmate.
The M6 included frame lines for lenses as wide as 28mm — which many rangefinder aficionados clamor for. The cameras themselves are designed for documentary and photojournalistic work, and most people don’t reach for lengths beyond 50mm. So when you’re pondering lens options, remember to tell your friends to fix their hair, because you’ll be getting quite close.
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Table of Contents Point and Shoot Yashica T4 Konica Hexar AF
Another afternoon I have to shoot sailboat racing & they want high contrast, black & white action stills of a racing sloop under sail.
What did you just learn? Because the subject was still life abstracts, I have no worry about speed & can expose at will knowing the camera will have no movement at all, minimizing any motion blur from using a slow shutter & high aperature.
Last Updated October, 2017: We’ve added additional info on film photography as well as two new cameras. Links and formatting have also been updated.
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Yashica Mat 124G Mamiya RZ67 Zenza plronica ETRS Kiev 88 Pentacon Six TL Pentax 67 Hasselblad 500C/M Contax 645
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Before color film, this question was as complicated and difficult to answer as asking “What is the best camera?” The addition of color film did not simplify this question one bit. Without a ton of detailed information about the needs of a photographer, it is almost impossible to answer either question.
Even with a ton of information, the answer is elusive anyway. The only thing you can do is strike out and find out what camera suits you best. You can start with formats, then focusing methods, then actual style and feel.
You could keep optical performance or ease to set up in there too. It could start anywhere. It could end anywhere. It would be a long road to an answer, and I am sorry to say that it seems no two of us travel the exact same road.
A friend and I have spent about twenty years burning black and white film in all manner of cameras, trying to find this exact answer. He ran small format Nikon for a decade or so, mainly sticking to his favorite lens, a 60mm micro.
He eventually tired of small format image quality. He tried large format, and it was too slow. Then smaller field cameras, and slowly morphed into 120 cameras. He tried them all. Rare TLRs, Rolleis, Mamiyas of all eras.
Medalists, Bakelite Brownies, Moscow folders, six twenties… No stone unturned. Each had something to offer. None was perfect. A Minolta auto TLR seemed close. It was small and fun. Pentax 645 was fast and sharp.
He tried panoramics, X pan and swing lens too. At one point I figured that his love for old 35mm rangefinders might hold the answer. So he bought a Texas Leica. A Texas Leica.We were certain that was the winner.
The massive film area and incredible lens, easy portability and fast use were perfect. He absolutely… hated it. Mamiya 6, 7… No. It was not meant to be. AF Fujicas? Close, but no cigar. Eventually, he figured out that he absolutely loved vintage Bronicas.
They fit his shooting style, and looked cool. The Nikkor lenses are so neat, and the focusing helical is really not like other cameras. He also loves that they look like old automobiles. It took a very long time to find the best camera.
I did not fare so well. Leica has that awesome feel and great lenses, but although I still run some Olympus XAs today, I was never into the rangefinder shooting style and the rising curve of hard Rodinal or the wonderful Leica enlarger.
Other people had subject matter that was so much more suitable. It was better to be sure I was not keeping one of these cameras away from their true operators. I loved the operation and Zeiss glass of Contax.
The heavy rubber grips and snappy dials… But small format was not producing the textures, the look. Sure, I wanted sharpness, but needed that and smoothness together, and upon first printing from a 4×5 negative, my 35mm black and white universe collapsed.
It was time to find a new camera. My needs were very different than my friend. He wanted handheld. I wanted tripods. He needed speed. I needed resolving power. I randomly started with a Mamiya 645 1000 with 105mm 1.
9 lens. It was fast, but the lens was terrible, and I was terrible too. I hated the sounds and feel of the 645 1000. It was probably a great camera. I tried many other cameras, including old Bessas, Hassys, Pentacons, the thrilling, but challenging Pentax 6×7.
This could be your perfect camera. That other one could be too.I wound up falling in love with the function and form of the RB67 and various 4×5 and 8×10 cameras. I eventually settled on 8×10 and 4×5 fields with ordinary Symmar lenses.
A wonderful old Rolleiflex moved into action as well, for some unknown reason. I still use a few 5×7 hobo and box type cameras on top of that. One has a mustache, and it is the “best black and white film camera” for it’s purpose.
No, really.Each camera may be the best, but only for a certain person. For yours, I truly believe it can only be decided by you.
The Mamiya 7 II utilizes a leaf shutter (which means that the shutter is actually in the lens) that can sync flash speeds to 1/500th of a second. But what also made the camera so famous is its ability to use wide angle lenses. It mainly shoots in the 6×7 format, though other sizes can be used to capture vast structures and scenes. The rangefinder looks bright and beautiful with very highly visible frame lines.
This list wouldn’t be complete without a Leica rangefinder. There are a number of models that could make it, but the M6 wins out. It’s fairly modern and is common enough that it can be had for anywhere from $800 to $1,800, depending on the specific model and condition.
It’s got a built-in meter and a bright optical viewfinder with a big rangefinder focusing patch. If you opt for a later TTL model—these are generally on the higher end of the price scale, you can opt for a version with a wide-angle 0.
58x viewfinder or a high-magnification 0.85x finder as an alternative to the standard 0.72x design. (Photo Credit: Thomas Claveirole)
Leica M6 cameras still sell for a lot of money, and the lenses can rack up an even more costly price tag in the long run. Owning one means you’ll have your hands on a piece of history, but history that will last (the handmade German engineering that defines Leica includes precious care and various quality control checks). Voigtlander manufactures some very good and affordable alternatives, though, and they can introduce you into the Leica world.
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We’d be remiss if a Nikon 35mm SLR didn’t show up on this list, and the FE is one of our favorites for its combination of reliability, low cost and compact size (especially compared to its F2 and F3 brothers). Nikon is famous for over-engineering its film SLRs, and the FE is no exception; the alloy body and precision manufacturing mean that even though you’ll be spending less than $100 on the body, you won’t be getting something disposable. The FE was intentionally designed as an advanced enthusiast camera that eschewed electronic gimmicks, so you’ll want to brush up on your aperture and shutter speed knowledge before loading a roll in order to get the most out of it. Combine its rugged simplicity and low cost with nearly universal Nikon F-mount lens compatibility, and you’ve got the perfect camera for diving back into film.
Everything about the Pentax 67 is big. It looks like an SLR after a major growth spurt, it shoots 6 by 7 centimeter negatives—compare that to the 2.4 by 3.6cm frames that a 35mm SLR captures. You’ll need to work on your upper body strength to tote it around for a day of shooting, but the results you get and the familiarity it brings to those raised on smaller SLRs will keep you coming back and shooting with it.
Prices on 67 outfits vary, but if you hunt around you can get one for a few hundred dollars—which is a bargain compared with many other medium format systems. (Photo Credit: JelleS)
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The Pentax K1000 exuded simplicity and reliability, and was widely used for a very long time. Many people shot the K1000 for both professional work and for hobby; but even until recently many students sought it because of its affordable price, sturdy body, excellent light meter and small size. Sling one around your torso with a single prime lens and you can shoot all day and night.
Most importantly though, this camera launched as one of the most quiet-firing on the market (and we’d even say it continues to hold the title today). Sometimes you can take a picture and not even know that the shutter fired. The Mamiya 7 II will steal the hearts of landscape and wedding photographers. Eventually, it may become the only camera you’ll ever need. Want one for brand new? Unfortunately, you can’t expect it to be cheap.
Fuji GW690III Rollei 35 S Plaubel Makina W67 Contax G1/G2 Leica M6 Mamiya 7 II
When discussing the Yashica T4, you’ll find it’s really all about the lens. Its fantastic 35mm f/3.5 Zeiss Tessar lens is far and away better than the lenses found on many of today’s top-end digital compact cameras. Aside from the lens, however, the T4 is a fun, simple and relatively cheap compact camera, great for taking to house parties and day adventures. If you want example photos, Google “Terry Richardson” — he’s made it famous.
The K1000 has a very vintage appeal about it because of its chrome- and leather-covered body. Focusing the camera requires lining up two images in the split-prism viewfinder. Pentax still manufactures a number of interesting focal length lenses such as 31mm, 43mm and 71mm — and any Pentax fan will speak volumes on their quality. Fortunately, the K1000 also hangs on the budget-friendly side of the spectrum. If you’re making the initial journey into film photography, this is the vintage shooter for you.
I could go on & on about preferred cameras & formats but it really won’t answer such a broad question.
This, like describing why you should do a kale juice cleanse, is the one that gets the most eye rolls when I try and describe why film’s great. And maybe I just have to concede and sound pretentious for a second. It’s really fun to shoot a roll of film, and that’s half because you have no idea what you’re going to come out with (if anything). The black box magic of photography is back. It isn’t a staid combination of ones and zeros that can be checked and adjusted ad infinitum, but rather light coming in and freezing little chunks of silver halide forever like Arnold Schwarzenegger. You won’t get to see the results until the moment has long passed — and that’s pretty scary if it’s something important. It’s a little bit random and a little bit terrifying, but so rewarding when you get it right. And that’s the thing about film: you can talk about it endlessly and rationalize it with however many hundreds of words, but until you load a roll and give in to the haphazardness of this 200-year-old chemical process, you’ll never quite know what everybody else is on about.
It makes no difference whether it’s loaded with black and white, or colour film, but the camera you are thinking of is a Leica M3.If you prefer medium format, then I’d say it’s a Rolleiflex, or (controversially), I think it might be the Fujifilm GF670, also available as a Bessa III.
eBay: No-brainer. It’s the biggest, it’s the best, but it can also be a bit daunting. Start your search here. KEH: Buy, sell, trade, repair — when it comes to vintage cameras, KEH does it all.
You don’t need any of those to achieve great black & white images today. In fact millions of phone toting camera buffs can achieve black & white images that they could not make because of the skill level required to do it right in film.
When you think about the classic Pentax SLR, the common K1000 is likely the first one to come up in conversation. They aren’t a dime a dozen, but that classic student camera is easy to find anywhere. The LX, which represents the pinnacle of the company’s manual focus 35mm SLR line, is harder to find, and a bit more expensive.
It has an advanced metering system that can get you an accurate exposure in even the dimmest light, and you can change the focus screen and viewfinder just as you can with the Nikon F3. There’s still a high demand for the LX, used bodies in good condition can sell for anywhere from $300 to $600, and limited edition models can go for thousands.
(Photo Credit: Alf Sigaro)
The Hasselblad 500C/M makes for some very happy photographers with its stunning good looks and gorgeously vintage aesthetics. With a look-down-style viewing screen and a lovely hand crank on the side to advance your film, you’ll have a lot of fun using this baby. Despite how much fun and experience you’ll accrue, the original design targeted professional work, and Hasselblad’s prices clearly communicate that. The company has often been deemed the Rolls Royce of cameras.
Two situations, 2 different but best cameras for each of those shoots.
I know this first one sounds like a joke but bear with me. Medium-format film has a bunch of really interesting advantages over puny 35mm roll film (and digital DSLRs). The depth of field is better because of the larger film area, images are sharper because they’re usually scaled up less than 35mm (they can subsequently be enlarged way more), and thanks to some optical trickery they more closely emulate what the world looks like to the human eye. A roll of medium-format film has 12 frames and costs about $10 to buy and develop. Shelling out nearly a dollar per picture might seem unbelievably expensive until you consider the digital alternative.
Kodak’s color negative films, especially Ektar 100 and Portra 400, are of better quality than any digital product that the company ever turned out, and its Tri-X black-and-white film is still the favorite of many a film aficionado. Fujifilm specializes in color slide films like Velvia and Provia, and Ilford’s black-and-white film stocks are extensive, ranging in ISO speeds from 50 all the way up to 3200.
Sporting leather exteriors trimmed with metal, the camera folds down for compact storage and unfolds easily enough to snap a cat before it can escape (the sneaky bugger). Using the bright viewfinder, the user can manually focus the lens, and as long as the light meter next to it isn’t blocked, a beautiful piece of vintage analog love is always printed out right on the spot. Today, you can still get film for the camera from the Impossible Project — who have come a far way in developing and improving their formula. Be sure that you can snag one in good condition with no holes in the bellows.
The lens, a 35mm f2, rumor has it, was an exact copy of the Leica 35mm f2 Summicron for M mount cameras without the nosebleed price. Sprinkle some magical autofocus capabilities onto said lens and attach it to a compact camera body — you’ve got yourself a camera that can live in the inside pocket of your 1968 Vintage Bomber jacket. In English, this means it is perfectly aimed at the street photography audience.
Nikon’s not ready to spill all the beans, but thankfully the internet is full of nerds.
For a 35mm camera, it doesn’t get much better than the Nikon F2. It features interchangeable viewfinders, so if it breaks, it’s a simple fix. This F2 also works with almost any Nikon lens (we recommend checking compatibility here first) because Nikon has never changed its lens mount. Pair the F2 with a Nikkor 50mm 1.4 lens, and you have a street-photography setup ready to take on cities around the globe.
Couple this with the quiet shutter and film advance, and you’ve got a load of reasons why the Hexar AF was (and still is) a cult classic. The camera comes with its caveats though; manual controls are a bit cumbersome. Thankfully, there is a built-in light meter, so judging exposures is a cinch. These cameras can be very pricey but usually stay under $1,000, which is much more affordable compared to an M-Mount Leica 35mm f2 lens.
Compared to other twin-lens cameras like the Rolleiflex, the Yashica Mat 124G is a steal. It’s a great beginner medium format camera that’s available in two lens formats, a 75mm and an 80mm. The 75mm 3.5 Lumaxar taking lens is said to have been made in West Germany, and is of the Tessar type, making the optics and quality nearly identical to that of the Rollei.
Ask any medium-format photographer and they’ll tell how they feel about the Contax 645. Before digital became mainstream, this medium-format beast was in the hands of the crème-de-la-crème of wedding photographers and portrait-shooters. In the hands of an experienced snapper, it came across as simple to use, had autofocus with lenses as fast as f2 (which is extremely shallow in medium format due to the larger negative size), and could probably knock a thief out cold if one tried stealing it from you.
How you expose & process it affects the character of the film.
Still, the optics and image quality rank among the top of the hill; many photographers rely on the 500C/M even today for their paid contracts. So if you’re dead set on a Hasselblad, we’d recommend ensuring that your photography skills rank above an amateur level.
However, would fit dandily in a cheap, sub-$300, Mamiya RB-67 that this fine young photographer is shown to be using.
There are a few different versions of the XA, but the original is the one to go for. It’s a manual focus pocket camera with a rangefinder focus system and a fixed 35mm f/2.8 lens. You can slide the XA into your pocket, and the fixed optical viewfinder is a nice change of pace from the rear LCD of current digital compacts.
Its f/2.8 lens is a stop slower than the $2,800 Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX1, but the Olympus sells for a meager $150 on the used market. You can shoot a lot of film before making up that price differential.
(Photo Credit: Olympus)
If you’re young enough, you may have only ever owned a digital camera. The idea of loading film and shooting without instant feedback of each shot is an alien one. For the older folks, there may be some nostalgia for cameras of old, whether it be a pocket point-and-shoot or a fully manual 35mm SLR.
Film: recording moments. Moments that have passed, even as the shutter clicks. It’s no wonder photography is bound so deeply to nostalgia, sending us down memory lane to simpler times. But the hobby — the art — is deeper still; the equipment you use says just as much about your craft as your subjects or the developed, framed end product. For many, that sense of history is best captured and enjoyed through a vintage camera context, and believe us, there’s no shortage of those on the market. So here’s our help: a list of 24 cult vintage shooters that’ll help you find your creative eye, set you apart from the shutterbug crowd and still produce photos that’ll make your (less talented) friends and family envious.
Every DSLR has a manual mode and manual focus, but — be honest — how many times have you used it while shooting day to day? Picking up a fully manual camera got me back to high school photo classes and reminded me of rules of thumb like “Sunny 16” and guide number flash distance. Stuff that I had completely forgotten came back quickly as I tried not to throw away money on muffed exposures. These days when I pick up a DSLR I still use autofocus and auto exposure, but I feel more aware of what the camera is doing and why — plus I’m able to change it if it’s wrong.
Atlas is the latest brand to target adventurous photographers who carry their gear over long distances for the sake of a single photo. It’s smallest camera backpack, the Athlete, walks the fine line between hiking pack and camera carrier.
The Pentax 67 is a monster of a camera. Its beefed-up SLR body weighs more than five pounds and a special-accessory wooden hand grip is pretty much required for hand holding. The sound of the mirror coming before an exposure is enough to start an avalanche. Though it’s a beast, the upsides of the SLR design are easy to spot. Pentax has made a huge variety of lenses to match any scenario (and the 105 f/2.4 standard lens is a gem), since the body style is relatively simple they can be had for cheap on eBay (look for the 6×7 MLU, 67 and the updated 67ii; avoid the oldest ones marked just “6×7”) and they’re no more complicated to use than any 35mm SLR. Because of their ubiquity and panzer-esque reliability, they’re still widely used for fashion and studio work while also providing a cheap gateway into oversized film.
I leave the Hasselblad at the studio. I pull 2 Nikons with motor drives & an array of lenses. Using one long lens & 1 wide angle on the two bodies. I shoot TRiX at 400 ISO & bring a monopod for the 200, 300-400 long lenses.
Kind of Obsessed: My Favorite Camera Strap is Tiny but Can Hold 200 Pounds
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This classic 4×5 film camera dates back to the 1940s. Unlike the above Horseman 4×5, which was a whole process to set up and carry, this was actually a portable large format camera. In fact, back in the day, it was the camera of choice for many traveling photographers and paparazzi. If you’re looking to get into large-format film, these cameras are great, are available with a host of different lenses and can be found for a relative steal.
The wonderful thing about an older camera is that it can use film that is superior in quality to what was available when it was new. If you’re interested in giving film a try, whether it be for nostalgic reasons or simply to ignite a creative spark, we have a few favorites that are worth hunting down. They range in price, design, and function—but each is a classic in its own way.
Rounding out this list is the Canon EOS A2, which was the first camera to have what some photographers still yearn for: eye-controlled autofocus. The film predecessor to the 5D series of cameras earns a place in the revolutionary cameras database for including this feature. The user could use their pupil movements for focus and other features like depth of field preview by simply looking at the top left corner of the viewfinder. But those wearing glasses couldn’t use it, which inevitably brought back horrible memories of “four-eyes” taunts. The feature also only worked if you held the camera landscape style — which meant it was perfect for your Grandpa photographing you terrorizing your sister in the backyard. Still, the pure technology behind the feature is something that should be rekindled in today’s world.
Now, Get Some Film For Your New Camera Color Negative Kodak Portra Portra is everywhere. Kodak’s most popular roll film is available in 160, 400 and 800 ISO but the 400 is the most versatile of the bunch, easily coping with being under- and over-exposed without getting too grainy.
Portra of all speeds renders skin tones beautifully, scans better than most films and has an incredibly pleasant grain structure. Available in everything from 35mm rolls to medium format to sheet film, the 400 is our go-to when we need a color film on any shoot.
$6+ (per roll) Kokak Ektar 100 Ektar is another gem from Rochester. It boasts more saturation and contrast than Portra and an amazingly fine grain structure. As a result, pictures tend to not look all that “film-y”, which can be a good or bad thing depending on what you want.
It’s only available in 100 ISO, so you’ll need quite a bit of light, but the sharpness you’ll end up with is amazing. $6+ (per roll) Fujicolor Pro 400 Fuji negative films have always had a distinctive look that’s attracted loyalists.
Compared to Kodak, Fuji usually has a slightly greener, slightly colder tone (compare the example links for Fujicolor and Portra to see what we’re talking about) that usually injects a bit more emotion into a given picture.
Fujicolor Pro is a great film to keep in your bag if you’re looking for more contrast and moodier colors compared to Portra. Just be prepared to pay nearly twice as much for the privilege. $10 (per roll) Color Reversal (Slide Film) Fujichrome Provia 100F Ever since Kodachrome was retired at the end of 2010, Fuji has been the only game in town when it comes to true slide film (though Ektar does a pretty good job mimicking it).
Luckily, they’re doing a damn good job. Slide film is characterized by strong, saturated colors, sharp contrast, fine grain, a more fickle exposure range (slide film can usually only be recoverable when under- or over-exposed by one stop compared to negative film’s three or four) and, of course, a color-positive film.
Provia is Fuji’s more neutral option with natural colors and less contrast than their vibrant Velvia. You’ll need a lot of light and a good exposure, but the results are some of the best you’ll find for general-purpose shooting.
$10 (per roll) Fujichrome Velvia 50 When people talk about slide film these days they’re almost always talking about Velvia. The strong contrast, strong color film has taken over Kodachrome’s place as the low-ISO choice for those wanting amazing results right out of the camera.
It’s great for landscapes and still life but isn’t the best at reproducing skin tones because Fuji’s typical greenish-purplish cast is even more pronounced in Velvia. $12 (per roll) Black and White Kodak Tri-X 400 Think of any iconic black and white photo you’ve seen; odds are it was shot on Tri-X.
Kodak’s hallmark black-and-white film has been around forever and its easy development, good-looking grain structure, perfectly balanced contrast and killer shadow detail mean it won’t likely leave the throne soon.
If you’re going to start developing your own film or just want a great medium-speed black-and-white film, Tri-X is the easy choice. $5 (per roll) Ilford Delta 3200 Boasting three extra stops of light sensitivity over 400 speed film (that’s going from 1/15 shutter speed to 1/120 at a given aperture), Delta 3200 is the only choice when you need a super-sensitive low-light film.
The grain is definitely pronounced, but if it’s exposed right the grain is minimized into a really pleasing pattern that’ll leave no doubt what film you shot on. $13 (per roll) Ilford PanF 50 Just the opposite of Delta 3200, PanF 50 is the perfect black-and-white film when you have light to spare and want sharp images with minimal grain and excellent dynamic range — showing detail in the darkest and lightest portions of an image.
Simply put, if you want the highest-resolution black-and-white film, this is the one you want. $12 (per roll)
Medium Format Our Favorite Medium Format Camera: Mamiya RZ67
Regardless of whether you buy the G1 or G2, you can be sure that you’re getting one of the absolute best optics systems ever made and a reliable, workhorse 35mm rangefinder.
Think of the ETRS as the little brother to the RZ67. They boast many of the same features, but the ETRS is considerably smaller and lighter. It works great as a studio camera, but can easily make the transition to on-the-go street-style photography. It comes in a variety of lens configurations, all of which feature leaf shutters. Be careful when buying lenses, as the leaves are prone to jamming up from oils or fungus.
The Nikon F6 rank among the very best, small film format camera.
I can go on with needing to take my Sinar 4×5 for a dramatic black & white architectural shoot with a Schneider 65 super angelon lens. Big, heavy camera & equally heavy tripod. A real beast to drag around a large building. Again, the best camera & lens for that subject.
Because the action & boat is constantly moving, a fast lens & shutter speed is a must. So I sacrifice format for speed. Because it’s kinetic & I want to capture the feel of mist crossing the boat, I try to shoot with my subjects either side ways from the light to back lit to capture some spectral highlights from the waterdrops hitting the sunlight.
It’s also Sony’s first compact camera in its RX100 line that comes with a touchscreen display.
Editor’s Choice: If the Mamiya 7 II is too far out of your price range, get this. The Fuji GW690III is a rangefinder-style camera, just like the Mamiya, but offers slightly lower-grade optics and a greatly reduced price. It is known as the “Texas Leica” because of its hefty build quality and size. The other thing that the Fuji has going for it over the Mamiya is its massive 6 x 9 negatives. This giant negative size translates to higher-quality images and the ability to print them larger if that’s your jam.
If you’re going to buy a classic 35mm Canon SLR, the AE-1 is the one to get. Manufactured from 1976 through 1984, it’s a manual focus camera with a built-in meter. It offers all the manual controls that you’d expect from an SLR, as well as a big viewfinder with a split-image and microprism focus aids.
It is compatible with Canon FD lenses—these are different than the EOS lenses used on current Canon D-SLRs. Because Canon no longer uses FD lenses, prices on the used market are quite reasonable. You can pick up an AE-1 in good condition with a 50mm f/1.
8 lens for around $150. (Photo Credit: Canon)
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1. Do your research. Read this post, where our camera boffin has done the legwork for you. Read other sites. Read forums. Make sure you find some common prices before taking the plunge. 2. Skip the pawn shops. And Craigslist, unless you’re a pro. 3. Film, duh. You’re going to need some film. Check out our buyer’s guide at the end of this post for some suggestions. 4. What to look for: Typical problems areas that you’ll want to make sure are working: light meter, shutter, film advance, viewfinder, light seals (though imperfect ones might make for interesting shots), controls, lens.
They are still highly sought-after but very rare; finding one is quite honestly like snagging a unicorn. And if you can find one in perfect working condition with an 80mm f2, 120 back and an AE prism, pony up the Benjamins.
If you’re looking to get into large format studio photography, a Horseman 4×5 is an excellent choice. There’s a host of lenses available (some of the best examples are made by Schneider) that mount onto lens boards sized specifically for your camera. The Horseman 4×5 also allows for the lens to be moved independently of the film back; this means that you can get some really funky planes of focus, which some might know as “tilt shift.” (Yep, before it was a tool on Instagram it was a physical process used to obtain an interesting field of view.)
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This is impossible to answer, because so much of it is subjective. For me, it has to be either my Deardorff 8×10 with a 300mm Super Symmar S lens, or my Zone VI 4×5…unless I’m in the studio, at which point the Sinar P in 4×5 wins out. That is unless I’m doing street photography. Then it’s either my Leica M3 or my M6. Unless I’m doing wet plate photography, which is what I use my Seneca full plate camera with petzval lens for. When it comes to black and white, the photographer is the important part, then the film, then the lens, then the camera.
Action, still life, figure nudes, sports all have preferred formats & film combos that each require a different aesthetic & mentality that is a product of the subject being shot.
If there is one Instant Film camera that will stand out in the minds of many people, it is the Polaroid SX-70. There’s a very good reason why this cult classic is in the hands of every hipster you know.