Like vinyl records, fisherman sweaters, and fashion mullets, film is experiencing an unprecedented increase in mainstream popularity. The surge of interest in 35mm film photography—first pioneered by Kodak in the early 1900s—may be a nostalgic nod to a simpler time, a pull away from our obsession with high-speed, high-tech everything, or it might have something to do with Kendall Jenner, Zendaya, and other celebs toting their film cameras around town, too.
Either way, if you have an interest in film photography—new or long standing—then you're in the right place. Field Mag is a leading resource for film photography—check out our guides to the 10 Best Point and Shoot Cameras and the 10 Best Film Cameras of All Time for additional insight. In this article though, we're going all in on 35mm film cameras.
Where to start? There are many, many different kinds of film cameras, from those disposable cameras you (used to) find reliably at drug stores up to fully manual vintage Leica rangefinders that are rare and grail-worthy. There also are newer, reloadable disposables (like this one from Lomography) and very specific models like half frame cameras (which let you take double the amount of photos on a single roll of film). And of course, there are a number of classic brands worthy of your consideration: Canon, Fuji, Nikon, Pentax, Olympus, Minolta, Konica (now owned by Minolta), and so on.
To set yourself up for success, consider what you’d like from your ideal film camera: what functions does it serve? Are you looking for an easy-to-use point-and-shoot for daily use around town and at parties? Or maybe something more serious for making fine art? What about a workhorse to elevate your pro photo portfolio? Read on below for all of the above.
But first, here are some things you'll want to consider when looking for a new-to-you 35mm film camera:
Field Mag's Top Picks:
- Pentax K1000
- Olympus Stylus Epic/DLX/Mju
- Canon AE-1
- Yashica T4
- Nikon FM2
- Contax G2
- Nikonos V
- Canon EOS3
- Leica M6
- Nikon 35Ti
- Hasselblad XPan
Automatic vs Manual
Do you want a fully automatic camera, or do you trust your exposure judgment and want more manual control? The trade-off here is typically that automatic cameras need batteries and thus have the potential to electronically fail/die. Manual film cameras that function with or without a battery are extremely reliable and often built like tanks, but you’ll either need an external light meter or feel comfortable taking the reins on your shutter speed and aperture to get properly exposed photos.
Lenses and Size
Some film cameras have interchangeable lenses (sometimes even with digital bodies) so that you can swap from zoom to wide-angle whenever you need, while others are fixed focal lengths, like point-and-shoots. Some are as big as modern day mirrorless cameras, and some are small enough to slip into your back pocket. Consider what kind of scenarios you’ll be shooting in and what your subject will be when deciding what film camera to buy.
Price, Availability & Where to Buy
As with all vintage goods, the price of film cameras varies wildly depending on where you're buying from and when you're buying. Some of them come with obscenely inflated price tags and some don’t. Even the most expensive ones can be found at bargain prices at thrift stores, estate sales, and garage sales. More reliably, all of them can be found on eBay, Facebook Marketplace and Craigslist. There are also a few trusted camera-specific resellers like KEH and Film Supply Club that curate their film camera offerings. Always test a camera before purchasing when you can!
10 Best 35mm Film Cameras for Beginners, Intermediates & Pros
Skill Level: Beginner to intermediate Release Date: 1976
You don’t need a fancy camera to get into photography. The Pentax K1000 is an all-mechanical (read: no battery required) SLR (single-lens reflex, meaning the viewfinder mirrors exactly what the lens is seeing), that sports everything you need to get you going on the film photographer's journey. It has a beautifully simple needle light meter and dial controls for ISO and shutter speed. Aperture control is built into the accompanying lenses along with the manual focusing ring. It is a solid, reliable chunk of metal that is simple to use, cheap to purchase and easy to come by, and therefore a great choice for a beginner 35mm film camera.
Average Price on eBay (2023): $200
Skill Level: Beginner Release Date: 1997
This little golden '90s point and shoot film camera has two aliases—the Olympus Mju ii and the Olympus Stylus Epic DLX (the only difference being different market names for North America vs Europe). It's a compact camera, and it's autofocus only. Point and shoots are so named for doing just that—pointing and shooting. You can take photos with the built-in flash on or off (plus a few other modes), but for the most part this little weapon is perfect for capturing candids on the fly. With limited controls, you can worry less about the settings and focus on the scene in front of you, which is a great way to strengthen your composition skills. Think of like a disposable camera but reusable, with an automatic film advance and much better quality. (After the success of this camera, Olympus used the Stylus line to create a range of point-and-shoot cameras with zoom lenses of varying focal lengths that are typically easy to find.)
Average Price at KEH Camera (2023): $200
Skill Level: Beginner to intermediate Release Date: 1976
There are two Canon AE-1’s that tend to sprout up when researching beginner analog cameras—the Canon AE-1 and the Canon AE-1 Program. Both are mechanical SLRs, both are manual focus only, and both are great cameras. The Program version also has a Program setting, which allows the photographer to shoot in full-automatic mode, or by setting either the aperture or shutter speed and letting the camera handle the rest. If budding photographers do nothing more than read the manual and apply basic technique, there’s no reason the AE-1 Program will ever underperform. The OG Canon AE-1 limits the user to full manual control or shutter priority, but is still a fantastic beginner camera. These SLRs are excellent for developing your understanding of the exposure triangle as well as the tricks of loading and unloading film.
Average Price on eBay (2023): $250
Skill Level: Beginner to intermediate Release Date: 1990
Despite being marketed and priced as a low-end consumer camera at launch, the Yashica T4 punches above its weight in quality, value and performance. Whilst it’s not as pretty as many of the others in this list, it does have decidedly retro ergonomics and boasts an impressive lens from the German optical heavy-hitter, Zeiss. Like the Olympus Stylus, the Yashica T4 has just three different buttons for flash, timer, and shutter, giving you the gift of time to fuss less over your settings and more about the scene in front of you. The simplistic features of the T4 make it a great camera for both the beginner and expert alike who enjoy the point-and-shoot style and want a reliable, pocketable camera with a tried and true lens that they can run a bunch of rolls of film through.
Average Price at KEH Camera (2023): $575
Skill Level: Intermediate Release Date: 1982
The Nikon FM2 is the logical—and perfect—next step from the previously mentioned AE-1 or K1000. With a mechanical construction, the Nikon FM2 is readily available, easy to maintain, and simple to operate. It has a hefty build that screams quality without feeling cumbersome. This camera allows you to experiment with double exposures, utilize a self timer mode, enjoy depth of field preview, and boasts a max shutter speed of 1/4000—which is remarkably fast compared to other cameras in the category. All this makes it a desert island film camera for a lot of photographers. The FM2 also uses Nikon's F-mount lens mount, making it compatible with a huge range of lenses.
Average Price on eBay (2023): $400
Skill Level: Intermediate to professional Release Date: 1996
Contax is to film photography what Gucci is to fashion. That being said, the Contax G2 is one of the world's most advanced rangefinder cameras. Rangefinders differ from both SLRs and point and shoot cameras, and have almost a cult-like following due to the skill required to effectively use them. While SLR cameras focus through the lens of the camera, rangefinders use distance measurements to focus, foregoing the use of a mirror. This leads to a quieter shooting experience, no mirror shake, and arguably better image quality. You can also shoot slower shutter speeds handheld. If you’re serious about photography, using a rangefinder is a skill worth mastering as it can significantly improve your skills as a photographer. The G2 is a compact, lightweight rangefinder that is designed to be extremely easy to use and is notably accurate in auto mode. It is a superbly refined electronic, autofocus 35mm camera with fantastic optics, and still retains the option of full manual control. Also, it looks and feels fantastic in one’s hand.
Average Price on eBay (2023): $2,300
Skill Level: Intermediate to advanced Release Date: 1984 (21 years after the first Nikonos)
So, you’ve fallen in love with rangefinder photography, and now you’re looking to take it to the next level. Enter: the Nikonos V, one of the toughest cameras to master that is also one of the most rewarding. Any notable underwater photo from the 1960s, ’70s, or ’80s was likely shot with a Nikonos. This is a camera built for a specific purpose: to be used where other cameras will drown and die. Fully waterproof up to 50 meters below the surface, this camera has no mirror or rangefinder system for focusing. Instead, the user has to estimate focus distances and align the lens with twisting knobs, with the added challenge of warped depth perception underwater. Fun, right? Jokes aside, this camera is legendary for its rugged durability and (once learned) ease of use, offering shutter priority, auto, and fully manual modes. Those who commit to learning its ways will be rewarded with its remarkable underwater film capabilities.
Average Price on eBay (2023): $400
Skill Level: Intermediate to advanced Release Date: 1998
The Canon EOS 3 was the last bastion of professional film photography before digital cameras and DSLRs took over. The most notable selling point that set it apart was eye controlled focusing, or automatic mind-reading; the EOS 3 was renowned for its extraordinary autofocus system. If you’re comfortable with modern day mirrorless or SLR cameras, you’ll likely find the EOS 3 a welcome companion. Comparable to today’s technology, the EOS3 has shutter speeds from 1/8000 to 30 seconds, a wide range of autofocus modes, and customizable settings. Plus, it's built like a tank. But one of the coolest things about the EOS3 is that it uses Canon's EF lens mount, meaning if you already have a full Canon digital camera system, your lenses will work here too. This camera delivers impressive features, performance, and durability for a respectable price point.
Average Price at KEH Camera (2023): $500
Skill Level: Advanced Release Date: 1984
Leica M cameras, specifically the Leica M6, have become some of the most sought after film cameras on the market due to their classical aesthetic and legendary build quality. The Leica M6 is a fully mechanical rangefinder with a built-in light meter that is incredibly accurate and shockingly simple to use. Like others before it on this list, the Leica offers the perfect amount of functionality and not much else. It’s a sleek, perfectly designed, manual film camera with through-the-lens (TTL) metering and controls that are smooth, quiet, and satisfying to the touch. The Leica M6 is considered by many to be the best 35mm film camera ever made.
Average Price at KEH Camera (2023): $3,000 - $4,000 (body only)
Skill Level: Intermediate to advanced Release Date: 1993
In contemporary culture, the Contax T2 comes up as the most hyped film camera in existence, so we're focusing on its more interesting and often overlooked competitor: the Nikon 35Ti. The model name is a portmanteau of 35mm and titanium—an ode to its unique metal casing. The Nikon 35TI is known for its legendary lens, titanium body, and funky-yet-functional Nikon Matrix meter. It is renowned for being one of the best non-SLR 35mm film cameras with one of the best lenses ever made. It was also something of a luxury point-and-shoot: even back in '93 this gem cost $1000. All that being said, this remains a fantastic choice for advanced photographers who want nothing but the best from their point-and-shoot.
Average Price on eBay (2023): $750
Skill Level: Advanced Release Date: 1998
Last but not least, we have the Xpan, a weird and wonderful panoramic 35mm film camera that's impressive and highly specific. In the 1990s, Fujifilm and Hasselblad—two giants—decided that, together, they should try their hand at making a 35mm panoramic camera. It almost seems like they built it just to prove that they could; attractive to landscape and street photographers, the Hasselblad XPan can shoot standard 35mm ratio images but specializes in producing long, thin 1:2.7 aspect ratio panoramic photographs—making it incredible, wonderful, unique, and just about the world's worst camera for Instagram. For many, it remains a dream camera due to its limited use and out-of-reach price point. But in the hands of an experienced photographer, this machine can produce some incredible results that are as unique as the machine itself.
Average Price on eBay (2023): $4,650 ($3,000 body only)