The Best First Film Camera for Any Shooter

The Best First Film Camera for Any Shooter

5269 2964 James Tocchio

It’s one of the questions we’re asked most often here at CP, across our social media accounts, and through our online shop. Every day, new shooters and experienced digital photographers ask us to help them choose their first film camera.

It’s not an easy task. Often we don’t know the shooter’s goals, experience level, or budget. What we do know, is that there’s a film camera out there for everyone. They just need to find it!

With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of recommended cameras for people looking to buy their first film camera. From totally inexperienced shooters to those seeking the ultimate film camera, we’ve taken the time to curate a list that’ll help any first-time film shooter find the film camera that’s right for them. We’ve even included links to our full reviews where applicable!

We should add that there are many more cameras out there that could’ve made this list. We tried to focus on cameras we’ve reviewed.

Check out the list, and if you’re a veteran film shooter let us know in the comments which camera was your first!

Nikon Pikaichi L35AF ReviewNew Photographer, Shooting Just for Fun

You love the look of film, but you’ve never shot a serious camera before. Furthermore, you’re not too interested in manual controls, or learning how shutter speed, aperture, and ISO affect the process of image-making. You just want to have fun with your friends, hit the beach, run around town, and shoot some film at the same time. Sounds like a damn fine time!

If this sounds like you, then you’re looking for a point-and-shoot film camera with as many automatic features as you can get. Auto-focus and auto-exposure are a must, and automatic film advance and rewind would be good, too. And if the camera can make slick images with a beautiful lens, that’s a big bonus.

il_fullxfull.825162408_eirc (1)Our recommendations for this type of free-spirited shooter run the gamut, but whichever you choose you’re bound to have fun. If you want your shots to look as unpredictable and spontaneous as the adventures they’re made on, try the Lomo LC-A. It makes saturated, imprecise photos that are dripping with vintage appeal.

For those looking for better image quality, you’ll want the Nikon L35AF. This camera has one of the best lenses ever built into an inexpensive point-and-shoot. It’s totally automated and totally fun.

And for those who just can’t wait to get their film developed, get shooting with a classic Polaroid 600-series instant camera or Fujifilm’s Instax machines. With instant film, you’ll be carrying an instant memory maker.

Because these cameras allow you to point and shoot without too much thought, you’ll be able to concentrate on what really matters to you; having fun.

Canon AE-1 in the WildNew Photographer, Wants to Learn the Craft

Many of the visitors to this site will identify as this type of shooter. You haven’t been shooting very long, maybe even just using your phone and Instagram, but you’ve been bitten by the photography bug. You’ve seen the kinds of images experienced shooters can make with a real camera, and you want to get better. You’re looking for a film camera that will be easy to pick up, difficult to master, but totally rewarding for those who put in the effort.

We’ve written about a good number of cameras that fit this bill. You’re going to want something with a selection of shooting modes, rather than a fully automatic point and shoot. You’ll want a camera that allows Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority shooting. Manual mode would be fun, here and there, but you’re not likely to use it much at this point. Interchangeable lenses are a must, since you’ll want to experiment with different focal lengths. If this sounds like you, you need a classic, Japanese SLR.

SONY DSCWe recommend the Canon AE-1, the Olympus OM-10, or Minolta’s XE-7. Each one of these cameras offer exceptional interchangeable lenses, solid construction, and are common enough that buying one won’t kill the budget. They also provide at least one auto-exposure shooting mode. That means that the camera’s going to help you make a proper exposure. Set one variable (like aperture or shutter speed) and the camera will read the light and set the other variable to the correct value, resulting in a perfectly exposed image.

Because these cameras lend a helping hand without completely taking over, you’ll be able to concentrate on framing, composition, learning the craft, and getting better.

Minolta Autocord Review 5Enthusiast Photographer, Shooting Just For Fun

You’ve been shooting digital for a couple of years now, and you’re in love with your DSLR. You go out once in a while for the sole purpose of making pictures. You post your shots on Instagram and Facebook and love getting feedback from your friends and family. You know the basics of photography and you’re interested in trying out film as a way of keeping things fun and fresh.

You care about the craft of making good pictures, but you’re not obsessed with specs or having the best machine in the world. You want a camera that’s going to help you feel connected to the process of making an analog image. You want a machine that has a little more soul than your digital camera.

Minolta SRT 202 11Our recommendations for this type of shooter are pretty varied. For those looking for a purely mechanical experience, we recommend the Minolta SRT series. These cameras are unbreakable, have an amazing metering system, and feel like serious, vintage machines. Shooting an SRT will get you right to the heart of photography; manual exposure, manual film advance, manual everything (though they do have a light meter). You’ll learn a thing or two, and you’ll enjoy every minute of it.

If you want to try something totally different, try a medium format, 120 film TLR camera. Choose a TLR as your break from digital and you’ll find a totally new experience from any camera you’ve shot before. Another fully manual machine, the Minolta Autocord is the perfect blend of performance and affordability. They’re beautiful, classic, timeless, and they make amazing images.

For shooters who want more automation but don’t want to lose image quality, we recommend the Leica Minilux. This camera is relatively affordable, has a legendary lens, and allows for adjustment of aperture and manual focus for when you want more control. In the same breath, it can be used as a fully automatic point-and-shoot.

Leica Minilux 35mm Point and Shoot Camera Review 2

Canon A-1 Camera Review 6Serious Photo Geek, On a Budget

You’re a true photo geek. You love sharp lenses. You also love bokeh. You can’t even remember a time before you were obsessed with cameras, and you can’t imagine living without photography. You shoot everything and everyone, and you post your shots on Flickr, Instagram, Facebook, and forums.

But something’s missing. All the cool kids are shooting film and you’re still stumbling around with a crummy Sony A7RII. You need a serious film camera to earn back your street cred. Unfortunately, you blew all your money on that Sony.

Fear not. We’ve got you covered. Here are some serious machines for the serious shooter that won’t break the bank.

Best SLR 3First, try Nikon’s F3. This is just about the pinnacle of Nikon’s film SLRs. It’s perfectly proportioned, indestructible, and offers everything any serious shooter could ever ask for. Endowed with Nikon’s ever-lasting F mount, you’ll have an embarrassing wealth of lens options to choose from. It’s one of the most respected film SLRs of all time, and it’s actually really affordable.

We can also recommend Canon’s A-1. While less awe-inspiring than the pre-mentioned Nikon F3, the A-1 costs about one-third the price, and offers more shooting modes. It’s not as pretty, or reliable as the Nikon, but find a model that’s been lovingly kept and you’ll have a full-suite camera system for under $100.

And for serious shooters who want an alternative to 35mm, try the Rolleicord. This TLR is a lower-spec version of the world-famous Rolleiflex, a camera used by numerous professional photographers for over half a century. The ‘Cords have a slower maximum lens aperture, but they’re still amazing cameras for those on a budget.

Five best student cameras (2 of 5)Serious Photo Geek, No Budget, Wants the Ultimate Film Camera

You’re just like the photo geek described above, but you’re throwing caution to the wind. You want the very best film camera available. You feel that if you’re going to bother shooting film, you might as well do so with the ultimate film camera.

Our recommendation will be obvious, because you’re obviously a huge photo nerd. You need a Leica M. You’ve heard the legends, and you won’t be happy until you’ve got an M in your sweaty little mitts, so just get one already.

Leica M2 Vulcanite Replacement 5But which one? M2, M3, M4, M6? Just pick one; they’re all pretty amazing. Our personal favorite, the M2, eschews the fancy light-meters and cluttered viewfinders of some later M cameras. It’s also the most aesthetically concise of the M rangefinders. But, you can’t really go wrong with any M.

For would-be film shooters looking for the ultimate in prestige brands and the most timeless film camera ever, this is it. It’ll cost you, but it’s a camera that will last for generations.

Or maybe you should try a Hasselblad… or maybe you need a Linhof… on second thought… just buy them all.

Think you know of a more suitable first film camera? Let us know which camera and for whom it’s best in the comments below.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • Nice advice James. I have been using film since I was 9 years (47 now) but my first decent camera was a Konica Big mini compact launched in 1990. Some years later I bought my first SLR, the Minolta Dynax 600si, mainly because of its great ergonomics. The thinking was to bring it on my first long trip to Cuba. In the end I decided it was too big and heavy and brought a small Canonet QL17 III instead. Couldn’t have been happier with the results. Since then I never have left film, just added digital quite late in 2007 with a compact Fujifilm F30. Over the years I have kept adding: several Minolta XD7, a sweet Rolleiflex with a Tessar lens manufactured during WWII, Konica Hexar AF, Minolta Dynax 7, more film compacts, a Canon F-1 New, a Hasselblad 500 CM and finally a Leica M4 from 1969. I bought the M4 based on the recommendation of an experienced repair man for the reason that it was the latest manufactured classic styling model that still was completely mechanical, no batteries needed for anything. It is beautiful. As is the almost mint Pentax Spotmatic that I inherited from my grandfather. Finally a digital Ricoh GRDIII, and a Pentax K-01. Despite (or maybe because of…) all these cameras I have never been anything else than a happy amateur and enthusiast and I still prefer film with one exception. If I were to recommend some favourites from all these lovely cameras it would be the semi-compact Hexar, the Dynax 7 SLR, a well kept classic XD7 and the superb Ricoh GRD/GR. BUT! There is nothing like the reassuring and heavy “thud” of releasing the shutter of that Hasselblad. One last comment: while any classic and well cared for Leica M may be a good choice, you maybe should have pointed out that not all Ms can take the same focal lengths. So if you have a favourite lens focal length make sure that it matches the frame lines inside. For example my M4 can take 50mm lenses which I prefer, but not 28mm which is a growing favourite after having used the compact Ricoh GRD for many years now. All the best/Mattias

    • Hi there my friend,

      Thanks for adding your voice, and that is one amazing collection of cameras. Sounds like there are some real treasures in there, and I can only imagine that you’ve made some incredible images with them. Let us know if we can look at your work anywhere online.

      Thanks bud!

      • I hope I din’t come across as boasting which was not my intention. It was/is a personal journey where each camera offers something of interest. I think the most important thing I learned is how vital it is to enjoy your particular camera of choice. Which is why ergonomics is the most important feature for me now when picking any analog camera. Most cameras can be used for taking good pictures. But the best camera is the one you enjoy using the most. Which have lead me to the recommendations above. /Mattias

  • My first analog camera was the Nikon FM with the Nikon E-series 50mm f/1.8 lens, which I’ve replaced with the 50mm f/1.4 pre-ai (and eight other old Nikkors). Perfect for learning the craft. Then i got a Zenit and a Polaroid SX-70 and 1000 (OneStep for the Americans). Later i got my YashicaFlex and the newest addition to the collection is the Leica M2 (bought because of the brilliant opinions article on this site, thanks!) and the Voigtländer 50mm f/1.1.
    All great cameras with great memories tied to them!

    • You’re right, the FM is a perfect camera to learn photography. Good call! And thanks for the kind words regarding the site.

      How are you liking the 50/1.1?

      • I like it a lot! It has great sharpness and very nice bokeh with the ten-blade diaphragm and a smooth moving focus ring, which makes it easy to obtain the right focus. You should take a look at one if you get a chance and maybe write a review 🙂 I would love to read one from you!
        ps. I really love this site. I check it all the time for new articles and use it as a frame of reference every time I recommend cameras to my friends!

  • Well, my choice when i started with film 8 years ago was the minolta x-700. I believe that this camera integrate a lot of the articles’ characteristics such as full auto, semi auto and full manual exposure. It gives the user the choice of a wide selection of lenses (affordable, with excellent image quality and color rendition) and though it lacks autofocus, the viewfinder is one of the brightest and more informative. Since then i have used lots of film cameras such as nikon fe, nikon f100, olympus om-1, rangefinders like yashica 35 gt and fed 3 and point & shoot like olympus mju ii. Everyone of them had something special but the minolta was the one i was going back to and the one i eventually kept. The CF had lately done an excellent review on this camera….be carefull reading it……cause excessive GAS syndrome 😉

  • About the A-1 “It’s not as pretty, or reliable as the Nikon”… I don’t know about being reliable, but the design (or looks) itself is far prettier than the nikon. The very lever, the prism size-to-body ratio, the lens mount position, the shape looking from the front and the top… the A-1 is by far a much prettier camera than the work-oriented Nikon F3, or any other Nikon, or most probably any other SLR (that can be discussed, but it’s close).
    Sorry, had to say this. Otherwise, beautiful guide. I’ll share it on my facebook page! 🙂

  • Great article! Will be directing new film shooters to this in the future.

    My first camera was a Nikon FG with a 50mm f/1.8 Series E lens and I would recommend it to anybody who wants to casually shoot. Although its reliability is a bit questionable, but it’s about the cheapest way to get programmed autoexposure + aperture priority + manual exposure on a Nikon SLR, and the interface is absolutely fantastic IMO. Bodies go for about $25 on the internet regularly, and you can usually find the exact kit I got for $50-70 if you’re patient.

    I eventually upgraded to a Nikkormat FTn (built like a damn tank), and then to an F3HP, which is now my main camera. And let me say, I completely agree with what you said about the Nikon F3. I have a beater with a few flaws, but it has accompanied me everywhere and I wouldn’t trade it for the world (plus, it’s about the best looking product the 80’s ever produced, bar maybe the DeLorean). Any chance we’ll be seeing a review of it? Would love to hear your thoughts on it in depth.

    • Hey pal! Thanks so much for the kind words and would appreciate any visitors you send our way!

      We’re certainly looking to review the F3. Hopefully we can work it into the pipeline before the end of the year.

      Thanks again and happy shooting!

  • My first camera was an Olympus XA. I love that little thing to pieces. I still use it to this day. I got it in 1977 or so. So easy to take around anywhere and images it produced were outstanding. I did get tired of a little viewfinder and replaced it as my serious camera with OM2. Still can hold its own against its big brother though.

  • Scott Hutchison June 11, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    I’ve been shoot vintage glass on my Sony alphas for years and took a leap and bought a couple rolls of film to try in these old camera bodies I’d inevitably get with the classic glass. Old Russians and Pentax m42 mount mostly. Then I branched into old Russian rangefinders. Then I got a chinon CE-4. This simple plasticy camera totally changed my view. It was fun! It didn’t get in the way. It just worked. With that… My collection of finding the most reliable and unobtrusive but fun system started to grow. Olympus, Minolta, Yashica, canon, Konica and finally…. Nikon. I had resisted Nikon for years and years. I just thought that there where systems that were as good… With out actually trying one. Then I stumbled on an FE with a 35mm f2.8 lens. It was awesome!!!

    …and then I sold it.

    …and I was sad and longed for it.

    Everything else in my collection just didn’t seem to measure up. It’s hard to explain.

    So I rolled the dice and picked up a Nikon f2 with a 24mm, 50mm and a 135mm all in a kit. It turned out to be pure joy! So… I figured I would try a classic F body and see if I liked them as much. Turns out… I’m in love with the F. It’s massive and the meter doesn’t work and it is brasses up. (Black body) But these old Fs really feel like they can go to war and keep shooting for another 40 plus years. Google search Nikon F bullet hit.

    Anyhow… The now multiple F and F2s are my go to cameras.

    Scott in Calgary

    • Hey Scott. I’m happy to hear the film bug has bitten. And it sounds like you’ve experienced some really fantastic cameras throughout the journey. Happy shooting, my friend!

  • here’s a tip, don’t waste your time looking at camera bodies look for lenses! I remember my history being cluttered with lists of camera bodies that were way out a students price range and just decided to buy my beloved minolta. I played with that thing day and night and when I finally got an nikon f3 (a camera that I was drooling over at the time) I found that I actually found that the photos from my minolta weren’t actually that different from the ones that I took from the f3. Right now my f3 is sitting in a book shelf while my srt 101 is getting some time out of the shade. I guess all I wanted to say is spend more money on things OTHER than a camera because its actually the photographer who makes good photos not the camera 🙂

  • I like prosumer cameras a lot. Also high-end consumer cameras, which is same or similar to prosumer. I also like the smaller lighter pro cameras, if affordable (think Olympus OM-1, OM2, OM2n, OM4).

    How could you possibly omit the following legendarily excellent, yet affordable, (now) SLR cameras?

    I put 2 stars by favorites that I’ve used and collected so far, and 1 star by my favorites that I plan to collect/buy in future.

    Pentax K1000**, MX, ME, ME Super**, LX

    Olympus OM-1, OM-2, OM-2n**, OM-4*, OM-10 (aka OM-F), OM20** (aka OM-G**)

    Nikon FE* (and similar models)

    Minolta’s various models that are equally functional and better looking XE-7?

  • Please add one asterix after Pentax LX because I defineately plan to buy, collect, and shoot one of those in future.

    The Pentax LX is arguably the best small pro SLR film camera ever made. Though one could also argue the Olympus OM2n or OM4 is the best small pro camera ever made. The Nikon FE is right in there too (though I’m not sure if it’s pro or prosumer).

    • I reviewed the LX here a little while ago. It might be my favorite SLR.

      To answer your question though, we could have included so many more cameras. It’s hard to narrow the list down, but we tried.

      • IMO you narrowed the list to much. It doesn’t take much space to list worthwhile cameras, and a longer list gives more options when shopping on Ebay, Craigslist, garage sales, pawn shops, antique shops, etc.

  • Oh yea, I think the Minolta XD-11 and X-700 should also be recommended for small, light, quality prosumer and pro camera. The X-700 was Europe’s “camera of the year 1981”, which is a pretty high recommendation.

    • Well, those Europeans were sure as hell easily fooled! Those late Minolta X cameras (not the XD models) were crap. They were designed when all the Japanese manufacturers were falling all over themselves trying to make the cheapest possible products with as many ‘features’ as possible. Nikon made some real garbage too (the EM and successor models). See this article:

  • The Nikon F3 is a superb camera. Made from 1980-2000 and very reliable, durable and still a nice shooter. The Leica Minilux, avoid at all cost. Nice camera, 40mm f2.4 lens but it has a fatal flaw. A sod to get repaired and ££££££s.

  • I would advise avoiding 1970s the cheap mass-market electronic cameras, such as the Minolta XG series, Olympus OM-10, or Canon A series. I visit a used camera shop often, and most of these are dead or dying. The Minolta XE-7 and Canon FTb are far more desirable. Pentax Spotmatics are good, but changing screw-mount lenses is slow. There are many Leicaflex SL cameras out there, and most of them are still going strong!

  • My first camera was a Pentacon FM. I knew next to nothing, but my dad, a part time wedding photographer, was a patient man, and coached my 6 yr old self to mediocrity. I’ve shot many others over the years, and now lean to Contax. Of course, I also have Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Minolta, Rollei…….. Thanks for the good work. I learn something new with every article

  • One of the best value and cheapest film cameras available for any newcomer to 35mm in my opinion, is the chinon CE4. It’s not built like a tank but it doesn’t feel cheap and it’s incredible value for money. Features include, double exposure lever, exposure lock button, stop down lever, two speed self timer, Automatic and manual exposure modes and all in a small, light body. The shutter, when operated makes a lovely reassuring SNAP” sound and is a joy to use. You can buy one from Ebay or a charity shop these days with a nice 50mm lens for about £15 to £20 plus ever ready case. Easily as good as a Pentax ME super, or Canon AE1 for about a third of the price. The Chinon CE4 is a little gem for any beginner and I can highly recommend it.

  • An evergreen story! I just went through this exercise for my nephew who expressed an interest in film photography. My criteria was 1) A built-in meter that can use a modern battery 2) some auto is fine but full manual is better even if it slows him way down. This negates many models immediately.

    I settled on the Canon AT-1 (a real match-needle remains intuitive for either Av to Tv priority usage) and got him set up with all the fixins’

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio