We Pick Your First Film Camera For Under $50

We Pick Your First Film Camera For Under $50

1280 720 James Tocchio

Recent articles by the likes of TIME magazine, BBC news, and others have announced to the masses what many of us have known for years – film photography is back. And you can bet that this coming wave of mainstream recognition will bring a whole new batch of confused shooters itching to get their hands on their first film camera without knowing where to start.

I wrote an article a while back suggesting a number of the best first film cameras for every type of shooter, but some of those machines are pricey and complicated and I understand some folk will be looking for a simple answer. So I reached out to the CP contributors, Dustin and Josh, for some help. I asked them to think long and hard and choose just one inexpensive film camera that would be perfect for a new shooter. I wanted them to choose a camera that costs around fifty bucks and allows its owner the ability to learn and grow.

Here’s what they came up with, and I’ve thrown in my own recommendation as well. If you’re a brand new shooter looking to spend around fifty dollars on your first film camera, any one of these three cameras will be just right.

Josh’s Pick – Pentax Spotmatic

The Pentax Spotmatic is hands down the best beginner camera you can buy for fifty dollars, lens included. It may look like a homely, average, under-specced machine, but this camera is simply the best choice for newcomers looking to learn the art of photography.

On paper, the Pentax Spotmatic seems like an extremely uninteresting camera. Its spec sheet reads just like many others of its era; a 1-1/1000th of a second mechanical shutter, depth-of-field preview, a self-timer, a PC sync port, and a light meter. Big whoop. But though it may appear ho-hum, there are a few things that push the Spotmatic into true greatness.

First, its metering system can only be activated by flipping the metering switch, and this switch is directly tied to the depth-of-field preview lever. This may sound inferior to the full-aperture TTL metering we know and love today, but there’s a happy byproduct for new shooters. This design forces the shooter to really consider which aperture they want to use for a given scene, which is excellent for teaching new shooters the concept of depth-of-field (a concept among the most important in all of photography). Second, the Spotmatic’s M42 mount offers one of the deepest selections of lenses available for any rage of film cameras. Incredible lenses from Pentax, Mamiya, Yashica, Pentacon, and even Carl Zeiss Jena are available for the Spotmatic, which gives new shooters ample room to build a truly pro-spec system.

And most important of all, Spotmatics are dirt cheap. Because they were produced in huge quantities, we can easily find a working condition Spotmatic complete with a 50mm lens for about fifty bucks. If that isn’t enough to sell you on this camera, I don’t know what will.

Buy it on eBayBuy it from our own F Stop Cameras

Dustin’s Pick – Minolta SRT 101

Durable, mechanical, beautiful – the SRT is all these things. And it’s also the perfect camera for new shooters. Why? Let’s get to it.

A remarkably user-friendly machine, the SRT was Minolta’s first camera with true TTL metering (coupled to film and shutter speed), and it was also the world’s first camera with a matrix metering system (which for you newbs means it’s super accurate in all lighting situations). Minolta’s ‘Contrast Light Compensator’ system, means the camera does a wonderful job of preventing underexposed shadows or overblown highlights. This means that the camera will help you expose your photos more accurately. And it works.

It’s fully mechanical and the batteries only power the meter, which means if the batteries die, your camera still fires at all speeds. Batteries are common and cheap, so you shouldn’t run out of juice. It handles film speeds from 6 ISO to 6400 ISO (which is ridiculous for a camera of this vintage as most supported a max ISO of 1600). It’s capable of speeds from 1 second to 1/1000 of a second, plus Bulb for long exposures, and it has a mirror lock up (useful if you want to try macro or astrophotography). The viewfinder is not only large, but extremely sharp, displaying both the shutter speed and the exposure reading in plain sight. The film advance is smooth and the shutter release is crisp, and the camera feels like quality in the hand.

But what I consider the most valuable asset of the SRT are Minolta’s lenses.  More affordable than their Nikon and Canon counterparts, Minolta’s Rokkor glass is criminally underrated and can hold its own against the great Japanese powerhouses.

Good copies of the SRT 101 (in silver – black copies run a bit more) with a 58mm F/1.4 or 50mm F/1.7 lens can be found for under fifty dollars on eBay, and anyone who chooses an SRT as their first film camera will be welcoming a lifelong friend to the family.

Buy it on eBayBuy it from our own F Stop Cameras

James’ Pick – Canon EOS Rebel XS

Not as sexy or vintage as Dustin and Josh’s picks, the Canon EOS Rebel XS has got it where it counts. This camera is from one of the best names in photography, and is absolutely packed full of technical capability. Why’s it perfect for new shooters?

For one, it’s modern enough to not feel completely foreign to anyone who’s used a DSLR in the past twenty years. Shooting modes include full automatic, full manual, aperture-priority auto-exposure, shutter-priority auto-exposure, and more. This massive variety of shooting modes makes it the perfect camera for shooters who just want to point and shoot, and also ideal for those who want to really dig deep into the foundations of creative photography.

It boasts an impressive and exceptionally responsive autofocus system to help new photo geeks nail focus, has an LCD panel with extensive information display so we know what we’re doing with every shot, exposure compensation for tricky lighting situations, a camera shake warning to let us know when things are just too dark, automatic film loading and rewind, a self-timer, a multiple exposure function, and a built in flash. All this capability equals a camera that can do everything any photographer could ask of it.

It uses Canon’s EF mount lenses, so it’s a body that can grow with your skill set, and some of these world-class lenses are a ridiculous value. Grab and mount a nifty fifty (Canon’s 50mm F/1.8 prime) and you’ll be holding a humble package capable of taking gallery-class photos (once you get a bit of practice under your belt).

It’s not as durable as Josh or Dustin’s picks, and being from the era of bubbly, plastic design it’s certainly not as handsome. But that shouldn’t dissuade anyone who wants to simply take excellent photos from buying the XS. It’s a great camera.

Buy it on eBayBuy it from our own F Stop Cameras

Well, those are the picks. And here’s some parting advice – try to find a camera that’s guaranteed to work, either by the eBay seller or from a reputable shop, like mine. Don’t risk your money on an “as-is” camera, because often this is code for “doesn’t work”. Sure, the price might be a bit higher than what we’ve promised here, but you’ll have peace of mind if you buy a guaranteed machine.

Now listen, I know there are hundreds of cameras that could easily be the best sub-fifty dollar machine for any new shooter. These are just some simple picks to guide those who are floundering in their new hobby. If you think we’ve missed the mark don’t call us names. Instead, shout out your picks in the comments below. Let’s hear ‘em. And while you’re here, share this post with all your newb friends!

Want a different film camera?

Find one at our own F Stop Cameras

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Find one at B&H Photo

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[Some of the links in this article will direct users to our affiliates at B&H Photo, Amazon, and eBay. By purchasing anything using these links, Casual Photophile may receive a small commission at no additional charge to you. This helps Casual Photophile produce the content we produce. Many thanks for your support.]

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 Fstopcameras.com.

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • Guys, I like your picks but personally, I don’t recommend anyone besides tinkerers buy sub $50 35mm SLR’s.

    Why? Because any business that actually tests and services their cameras, such as KEH seldom can afford to let a 100% functional 35mm camera body go for this cheap. I mean, most shops charge $30 just to replace light seals, which we know that the vast majority of old cameras out there need at this point.

    Buying sub $50 cameras usually means you’re getting it from an unreliable source such as eBay as you linked to, and therefore, you are likely to be getting an unreliable, neglected camera. You’re also giving your money to someone who neglected a classic camera instead of supporting our community’s retail and repair industry.

    Personally, I’ve never seen a Spotmatic and lens with a working meter sell for less than about $125. Any random Spotmatic with lens that you find on eBay for less than $100 usually has a bad meter or is not tested and certainly will have bad light seals, which are easy enough to replace but, bad seals usually also means debris on the optics and inside the camera.

    Nearly every SRT 101 I’ve picked up in my life has had a jammed shutter. Great optics but factually, these just aren’t as reliable as K1000’s or FM’s, which only cost around $100, or more in your $50 budget if the dice are rolled on eBay.

    Now, the EOS Rebel, you’ve got a point there. Mostly electronic and much newer than the other choices so it is probably going to work fine. The thing is, the only reason you can get them for $50, even from retailers is because most film shooters don’t want plastic electronic cameras as you mention. But I think this is the strongest choice in terms of budget and likelihood that it will be working and continue working many rolls of film later.

    At the end of the day, I just don’t think it’s sound advice to tell someone to buy a dicey camera off eBay or other non-dedicated/reputable camera retailers. Doing this is fine for people who collect cameras or who do or are learning repair, but it’s not good advice for someone’s first camera. They need to concentrate on shooting, not replacing light seals or shooting whole rolls of film only to find out that the light meter wasn’t really working. It may sound silly but this is the stuff that can discourage a new film photographer from continuing.

    If you’re going to be a film shooter, you’re going to burn money. So you may as well spend $50 or $100 more than your proposed budget and buy something that has almost no chance of ruining your first rolls of film (or it can be refunded) discouraging you and ultimately, perhaps costing more money in repair or replacement when all’s said and done.

    I mean, so what if you get, what appears to be a cherry SRT 101 off eBay but it’s sold “as is” as old items often are, and it takes you till your 5th roll before the camera locks up? Which they sometimes do after sitting for years, working fine for a few rolls and then jamming. Then you’re out your $50 because the seller’s not going to take the camera back and your choices are to have the camera repaired which will be a minimum of $60 but could be up to $150, OR buy another $50 SRT and hope that that one works. I mean, it really makes little sense to recommend this method to a new shooter.

    Buy from someplace like KEH.com, get a 6 month warranty. Have any issues? They will replace the camera if you’d like, not just give you your money back and wish you luck.

    Not to say there aren’t occasions when eBaying a cheap camera actually pans out but as someone who’s been using classic cameras for over 15 years and keeps about 40 working cameras at any given time, after probably a several hundred have passed through my hands, I just don’t think this is the norm. And let’s face it, these cameras are only getting older so the problems will only get worse, not better.

    So enough disagreement though! My choice? The Nikkormat FTn with a 50mm f2 lens. The meter will likely be jumpy and the light seals will need to be replaced but the mechanics on these are rock solid and they’re fun cameras to use. I think they are as cheap as they are because people are too lazy to do the Nikon Shuffle!

    Of course there are plenty of simple 35mm view cameras such as an Agfa Solina that often don’t need service for many decades due to their simplicity. They have no light seals or meter and their apertures and shutters are pretty simple. The Argus C3 is great too. Easy to rebuild the whole camera oneself and they usually sell for less than $15 on eBay, plus you’ve then got a rangefinder!

    • James – Founder/Editor February 16, 2017 at 10:08 am

      Johnny, that’s a lot of info pal. I agree with some of what you say for sure, although I would guess that many of us started with eBay cameras, right? I know I did. But you’re totally right that anyone looking to buy their first camera should hunt down one that’s guaranteed, like the ones I sell at Fstopcameras.com, right? *wink

      As for Minolta SRT reliability, while I believe your experience with jammed shutters and low reliability I can’t say I’ve experienced the same. Running the camera shop has me handling lots of old cameras every day and I’ve found SRTs to be among the most reliable machines available. Certainly your comparison to the K1000 is warranted. I class SRTs as equally reliable. Again, understand this isn’t disagreeing with your personal observations, only explaining that mine haven’t been the same.

      I appreciate you coming by and reading the site. I like your site as well. Thanks again pal.

      • Thanks for your response James!

        I think we all have the same intention here, to get good cameras in the hands of people who want to learn.

        I also am sure that peoples’ experience with various camera models differ from region to region based on environmental and cultural factors.

        I live in Maryland where humidity can rise and fall rapidly and we have the major cities of Baltimore and Washington which are full of classic camera users and a decent number of repair facilities and camera shops have been around over the years. Then there’s just luck being a factor I suppose!

        I have handled probably 10 or 15 SRT’s over the years, non of which appeared from the outside to be in bad shape but the only one that works is one that I kept which was serviced prior to it coming into my possession. On the other hand, I’ve bought and handled probably something like 30 K1000’s and the only ones that didn’t work 100% minus light seals being deteriorated were ones that I’d bought specifically for parts. Even ones that looked as though they’d been hit by a truck worked enough that calibration was the only question. So these experiences are where my thoughts are coming from.

        I will check out your site! I think you should plug that here for sure! Having sources of reliable equipment is critical to keeping film alive! But hey, if a camera works and it’s cheap, by all means, USE IT, right?!

  • My pick for getting back to film is a camera you can carry with you all the time. Before I retired, I used to travel the world a lot on business trips and the camera I took with me, sitting in a shirt pocket, was the Minox 35GT. These little cameras are tiny, reliable and very usable. After being a rangefinder user for years, it is always surprising how well zone focusing works. The Colour-Minotar 35mm/f2.8 is a super sharp Zeiss Tessar clone. The metering is first class. The alternative would be a Rollei 35 but these are heavier, slightly larger, have pointy corners and are generally not as reliable or quick as the Minox, with its flip down front, which also keeps the lens clean. I replaced a Rollei 35S with the Minox and never regretted it. The original battery is a PX27 mercury. I am not sure if these cameras have an internal voltage regulator, so you can use 4 x 357 silver oxide button cells taped together. If you are wary about metering errors with this set up, various folks, like the Small Battery Company, sell a PX27 replacer, with a built in voltage regulator (I use one in my Minox C 8 x 11mm camera). Another advantage of the Minox is that is does not use the obsolete DX film speed setting mechanism, so you set the film speed on a small dial on the bottom of the camera and can use any modern 35mm film.


    • Wilson, I believe, based on the 35mm SLR with ability to shoot all manual, nature of the recommended cameras that this articles’ intention was to present cameras for new photographers wishing to LEARN photography, like Photo 101 type cameras, not simply shoot on film when convenient.

      The Minox and Rollei are, of course, are neat little cameras though!

  • I’ve had great luck buying SLRs for under $50. I’ve gotten a couple duds but mostly decently working gear.

    I like your choices. I do think the Spotmatic has periods in time when one can’t be had for under $50; its prices seem to fluctuate. And as for the EOS Rebels: Canon used their wimpiest shutters in them. They are prone to failure. I’ve owned a couple Rebels with failed or failing shutters. Here’s how to check: open the back and look at the shutter curtain. If it has black goo on it, or if you see marks in an arc shape, it’s failed or failing. I actually recommend moving up to the Elan series as they used more robust shutters. Or maybe you’ll get lucky as I did and stumble upon an EOS A2e (semi-pro body) on UsedPhotoPro for $27. Such bargains can be had on the major used-gear sites!

    • Good point about Spotmatics Jim! And good information about the electronic Canons. I have never bought from UsedPhotoPro but will check them out! I just think we should support people servicing cameras they sell us rather than supporting people who are just trying to hock them for whatever $$ they can get without giving an F about what happens after that!

  • I’d personally keep my eyes open for a Minolta x-700 or a Canon AE-1 Program. Lovely cameras that you can use for years, and so common in their day that you can pick them up for next to nothing. Plus both use lenses from a dead system, so prices are fair – unlike Nikon which kept their lens system alive and kicking. The x-700’s suffer from a dodgy capacitor issue, and the AE-1 shutter gets sticky (not to mention making a laser gun noise) but if you look for an honest seller with good feedback and ask directly whether the cameras are fully functional, I’ve found that 9 times out of 10 you’ll be fine. Plus, just have it CLA’d down the line and you’re good for another 50 years 🙂

    Wouldn’t buy anything more expensive on fleabay, but I’m going to respectfully disagree with Johnny above and say that I think eBay is perfect for a cheap first foray into film – even if things go wrong, you’re not badly out of pocket, and PayPal gives the buyer a fair bit of protection.

    Happy shooting all!

    • If you’ve had better luck with eBay than I, that’s one thing but I think calling it perfect is absolutely crazy to me! It’s a diceroll!

      And so what if Paypal will give you your money back? Then you don’t have a camera! Buy from a reputable camera seller and you are more likely to have a working camera from the start AND, if there is a problem, they probably have another one they will replace yours with instead of just giving you money back.

      To me, it’s not about the money, it’s about the experience and the photos. And you risk a good experience and taking good photos by trying to save money buying cameras from people who just found them laying under a bed and thought they could make a few bucks. I think it’s important to support sellers who are checking and servicing our cameras. How much longer are we really going to be able to keep buying cheap, working cameras that have never been serviced?

      And nobody here seems to be touching my comments about light seals.

      I just think that we’re operating under false pricing models. Look how often film shooters complain about the cost of new film cameras. I think it’s because we are so used to getting cheap deals that we have lost sight of the real value of our cameras!

      Btw, I hope I don’t sounds disrespectful of your viewpoints. As noted elsewhere, the thing we all can agree on is that we want to get good cameras in the hands of other film shooters.

  • Pentax Spotmatic all the way. I got mine in mint shape for $30. The 55mm 1.8 lens is amazing, the stop down metering works beautifully, and the build quality itself is amazing.
    I would avoid the Canon AE1 due to its plastic construction and dependence on an expensive battery, no backup mechanical shutter on a electronic camera is a deal breaker. Add the hipster element and they’ve become over priced anyways. If you want more automation the Nikon FE2 is amazing and dead reliable and though likely more expensive then $50, they’re incredible value for money.

  • I would add the Yashica FX-3 to this list. I just got the Super 2000 version with a 50mm lens for just over $50. Yashica lenses are a really good value. I subsequently bought a Yashica 28mm f/2.8 ML lens for $70 and I’m very pleased with the results.

  • All good choices. Good article. Good comments.

  • Guys–remember this story?:


    Nikon N90s: $35 on ebay. Take your pick from thousands of used Nikon lenses on ebay and elsewhere.

    • How could I forget? I paid $900 for mine in 1999! I guess people who use autofocus lenses are mostly shooting digital now. I dug mine out recently and it still works great. The Nikkor 35-70mm f/2.8 AF lens I bought with it has retained more of its monetary value.

    • Funny you mention that camera! I did seriously consider the N90s for this list, but the Spotmatic’s potential education value for newer photo geeks edges it out for me. That said, i’d take an N90s in a heart beat!

  • @ Johnny: good points, you’re actually right. Thinking back I haven’t had an actual dud from eBay over the past few years, but I have had light leaks, disintegrating mirror bumpers and a sticky bit here and there. I’ve always been able to fix everything myself but not everyone is going to be comfortable replacing light seals – so probably way better off supporting a reputable store or site and paying a few extra dollars upfront.

    • Thanks Brent! That’s exactly what I’m pointing out. I can’t speak for everyone’s experiences with eBay, but just being an honest 100% good feedback seller is not going to enable one to be an expert at assessing vintage film cameras. Bad foam has become normal at this stage. Incorrect batteries. Meters and shutters that are inaccurate. Dirty viewfinders on rangefinders that people who don’t have them serviced think they’re just supposed to look cloudy. Hardened lubricants making dials and levers slightly difficult to work will go unnoticed by someone who’s never handled one of these cameras. Shutter banding can’t really be noticed until you use an actual shutter tester or a roll of film.

      And look, if you’re going to shoot film at any capacity at all, $50 or $100 extra dollars to get a 100% good camera with a half year warranty shouldn’t be a problem. I blow $50 to $100 every couple weeks or month at least on film. If literally, all someone has is $50 or less to spend on a camera, they are unlikely to be able to afford to put much film through it and learn to use it effectively to begin with, much less get a camera that has been gone over and tested and serviced well.

      • Let’s be realistic, the people who buy sub $50 cameras are camera collectors who want a deal. And recommending that new shooters do the same is not good advice. New shooters do not need deals. They may only have this one camera for years. What they need is a fully functional, reliable camera.

        • James – Founder/Editor February 16, 2017 at 3:42 pm

          Or maybe we should be inclusive of people on a harsh budget and help them find a camera that, while possibly not living up to your standards of perfection, will work just fine for years?

          I’m seeing this same comment from you over and over again. I’m not saying your comments aren’t welcome, I’m just questioning why they’ve been dropped seven times now. Clicking through your name lands me on your photography website where I see that just a couple of hours ago you’ve followed our lead and published a “Recommended First Film Cameras” blog post. The cynic in me says you’re trying to get some clicks onto your site, but who knows…

          In any case, do me a favor and stop saying that we’re giving people bad advice. I’ve been running this site and my camera shop for a long time and take a lot of pride in helping to grow this community.

          The advice here is solid, we’ve helped hundreds of thousands of people enjoy this hobby, and our writing is better than anyone else in this game.

          • I love how you really shut that guy down. He was totally trolling your article. Did he really have to respond to essentially every other comment above to repeat exactly the same thing he said in his first, top level, comment? Not sure what business of his or why he cared so much about how much people spend on their first camera to get into analog photography? I’m glad he vacated this comment section after your polite but firm rebuke. Thank you.

        • kalimbasbydrew May 29, 2017 at 5:21 pm

          New shooter here. I have been very happily snapping away on my $9 Canon FT QL (45 year old camera) with a $30 Canon FL 50mm f1.8 for a couple months with zero issues. It has been such a fun experience with very minimal investment, and I would recommend it to absolutely anybody. 🙂 So much so that I bought a second $20 FT QL body and a 55mm 1.4 lens (passed down from my Dad) so that I can shoot two rolls of film at once while I’m out. Zero issues with that one as well. I think it’s a fantastic idea for beginner’s to get “cheapies” and go learn how to use them. If we decide that we really like this as passion/hobby, we definitely won’t mind throwing down money on nicer gear.

  • Might be a stretch but if you look hard enough you can find an Olympus OM2N with a 50mm 1.8 for $100 or so. Found my body for $56 because the self timer lever had broken off and the lens even came with the box! Love mine!

    Also worth mentioning if one desires to fix said self-timer lever that is a bit different. Recently, I located the apparently rare OM2N self timer lever on ebay and have been having a time trying to get it to work after digging through parts diagrams. But this is a 100% cosmetic issue and I have no desire to actually use it. Again can’t recommend an OM2N enough! I’ve seen kits for $100-200 including multiple lenses and original boxes. Love it!

    • Hey Dustin,

      Great call on the OM2N. Such a fantastic camera. I scored mine from an old pro with a 35mm 2.8 zuiko for $65 a couple years ago. The seller tossed in the original case, a camera bag, a hood, and flash as well. It was in wonderful condition at the time, but I felt such a draw to this camera that I had it CLA’d just to make sure all the little bits were shiny and clean inside.

      I wouldn’t hesitiate to recommend the OM1N or OM2N to anyone looking to spend $100 – $200 on a film SLR.

      Thanks for the comment, and happy shooting!


  • I enjoyed this write up–the choices of cameras and the informative comments and opinions. I reconnected with film a couple of years ago. I agree with both points–getting cameras into hands, shooting and learning, but also that it’s important to have working/reliable gear. I got my Spotmatic XP off Amazon. Paid about $90 (came with a lens). When got it, I had no way of testing the light meter–the battery compartment was stripped. I followed the sunny 16 rule, and spent a few rolls practicing. It was super encouraging to see my photos improving–in terms of reading the light.

    I eventually had it CLAd by a gentleman that is highly regarded in many Spotmatic forums for about $70. Had I known about sites like Fstop and KEH, etc. I know for a fact that I would have gone through them to begin with.

    All about supporting the independent businesses who specialize in this wonderful format.

  • Thanks for the write up. After buying a kit from a friend here at work for my college age daughter, I got bit by the bug also. (she got a great Minolta SRT202 and Pentax K1000) Both cameras work great, we have run some film through the K1000, waiting to get the prints back.

    As far as myself, I found this site and was reading the reviews on those two cameras when I came across the review of the Pentax ME. In the last two weeks I have acquired through eBay and Craigslist about 5 of them, I am proud of the two black ones I found, one was from an estate sale, the other from KEH. A couple of the cameras I bought have been duds, but so far for 8 bodies in all, not counting the two my daughter bought, I am at about $120. I have been having a blast learning about taking pictures, let alone film.

    Using cameras that are as old as I am, one of them I bought from Craigslist has the original receipt from March of 78, a year before I was born. It’s a great piece of history.

    I have shot a lot of digital the last 20 years, point and shoots and my phones. Never have I thought I could learn the way of a SLR for such a low cost of entry.

    I get what Johnny is saying about eBay being a crap shoot, but as the person this article is targeted at, and not a professional, or even a good amateur, I think a couple of bodies and lenses of eBay or CL are a great choice. No need to spend $100’s of dollars to try out something. Might as well stay digital at that point. I do agree with what he is saying, I just think it misses the point of the article.

    Film will continue to be a niche, digital is here to stay, but I do like that the act of using a film SLR forces me to slow down and really look at what I am about to take a picture of, not just spray and pray and not messing with any of the settings. I am finally learning what aperture, shutter speed and depth of field are. Even when my ME takes over setting the shutter speed, I still need to work the other two legs of the puzzle. And that, is the fun part.

    Plus it gives my daughter and I something to do together in the few months we have at home before she leaves for college. And shouldn’t that be what a hobby is all about, something you enjoy and can share with others?

  • Great stuff guys! I buy and sell on eBay and Etsy all the time. Let me repeat, all the time. While each of your picks are outstanding and they all are good at what they do, for my money and as best advice as I can give a newbie… Canon T70 or T50. Your entry into the world of Canon FD lenses! The T70 uses (2) AA batteries that power everything AND a winder. I’ve bought and sold at least 20 of them over the years and not once have I had to replace light seals or the mirror bumper pad. And no DOAs either. Why? The T70/T50s were the bridge cameras from Canon A series bodies to the EOS line. Pro’s didn’t buy them, regular people did. The people that shot maybe 5 rolls a year. The body is dent proof (and rust proof) and with the FD 50mm f1.8 lens you’re ready to shoot day one! Think of it as a simpler A-1 but with all the sophistication of a A-1. And did I mention how many are available at any given time? Lots! And FD lens – all over the place. I’ve purchased T70s for well less than $50 with lens (and bag, filters, expired film) – you get the point. Mr. “Digital Only” son or daughter finds one in dad’s closet and BAM! Listed on eBay to get rid of it.
    Final point. I just sold a beautiful, fully working T70 with mint FD 50mm f1.8 lens and working Command Back 70 to Australia! People who know love them! Once you shoot with a T70 (and it looks funky awesome too) you’ll find yourself searching for all kinds of FD lenses to go with it.
    Disclaimer: I do not have any T70s for sale! But I’m looking for another!

  • Just one more thing to always ask the seller – did their dad remember to take out the AA batteries at some point in the camera’s lifetime. Obviously that’s their one downfall. Cheap batteries + time = disaster! Ask to SEE the battery compartment!

  • I’m a Nikon girl so I suggest the N90s. Got mine from goodwill for $20 and got the grip (mb-10) new from B&H for like twenty dollars more. It works well with the 50mm 1.8 AF-D lens.

    I’m also enjoying the first generation Ricoh Singlex right now. I think I paid about $40 for it. No meter, no electronics. It’s completely mechanical and I love it.

  • I enjoyed reading this a lot, and also the replies. There is always a lot of food for thought here. What I appreciate about this blog is the fact that there is a lot of info on equipment that actual working people can afford. Having been down this road over the last few years, I would add only that folks should also think about the lenses and possible repairs down the road. As James knows, I invested quite a bit in Olympus OM cameras and lenses, and have had a lot of issues with lenses, some of which are apparently unfixable by anyone. It turns out that Minolta MC and most M-42 lenses are easily repairable, and cleanable. Also, I concur with EOS recommendation, I have one I got like new for five bucks, and it takes great pictures, I just don’t like using it. Thanks again for everyone’s contributions.

  • Very helpful article. I have a Spotmatic and K-1000 and just wanted to point out that you can still get these cameras professionally serviced. Eric Hendrickson, a former service manager for Pentax, does a great job putting your camera back in perfect working order. His prices are fair, he returns your camera quickly and he’s absolutely trustworthy. For some folks, this could be a factor in deciding to buy the Spotmatic. Goggle his name and you’ll easily find his contact info as well as forum discussions and interviews with him.

  • Funny, I own all three recommended cameras! Depending upon the buyers background with cameras or photography in general, I would probably say the Canon is as good a place to start as any. They generally work well, you can go full manual or any variant of auto exposure, and the auto-focus gives the shooter one more crutch to ease the transition (you can even turn AF off if you like).

    Mr Martyr makes some good points. Buying used anything on line is always a crap shoot. But I would remind everyone that the title of the article is, “We Pick Your First Film Camera For Under $50”. It’s not your forever film camera. These are all solid jumping off points and your journey will certainly take you elsewhere.

    I would also add that the Minolta Hi-Matic 7s is a solid rangefinder that doesn’t need a battery to shoot. You’ll have to use sunny-16 or a light meter (or app), but the results are fantastic. Folks can tend to get caught up in SLR’s and forget about rangefinders – and that’s a mistake.

    • James – Founder/Editor February 20, 2017 at 1:34 pm

      Thanks Matt, for the extra insight. I think it’s really funny that you own all three. Haha!

    • It’s funny, I’m 49 so I grew up with film cameras but I knew nothing about rangefinders until relatively recently. I went right from a Kodak Instamatic to a Pentax K1000 in high school and used almost nothing but SLR’s for years. I discovered rangefinders only about 4 years ago during my rediscovery of analogue photography. 60’s and 70’s fixed lens rangefinders are relatively inexpensive so I bought tons of them. Unfortunately none of them have a metered manual mode, the exception being the Olympus 35 SP. I have a Minolta Hi-Matic 9 with a busted meter and I really should try shooting a roll with it using the Sunny 16 rule. Some of those cameras are great, my favorite is the Yashica Electro 35 CC.

      I got so into rangefinders that I didn’t use an SLR for several years. In the last year or so I’ve been shooting again with my Nikon FM2n. It really is an amazingly well built machine and those Nikkor lenses, while not cheap, are totally worth it. The two I’ve been using the most are the 24mm f/2.8 AIS and the 105mm f/2.5 AI.

  • I think the cameras listed here very sensible. My suggestion for a new film shooter is to go for the one which supports the lenses he/she owns at the time. For Eg, Canon will be the best choice for a shooter who has already invested in EF lenses. If the new comer is completely new to photography, I think either of those three cameras should serve the purpose.
    I miss the Nikon not being listed here though

  • I bought my very early Canon D2000 digital for 20 dollar, and an Eos D30 for 99 cent ! Both working so bargains are still possible. My boxed Canon FT with lens in original box for 15 euro, including mail. My favorite Konica TC with five lenses for 80! The hunt for a cheap working camera is part of the fun in my opinion, and yes, sometimes you loose a bit, all part of the game

  • Back in 2015 I had a kind of similar idea, cheap cameras for my cycling trips:
    With a 25 GBP budget as starting point find a camera as least as useful as 200 quid Lomo cult camera!
    Later I also added a page on Canon cameras with FD mount as I consider them as a bargain, the lenses are dual use as I also use them on Micro 4/3 cameras, my favorite is the 50/1.4 SSC.

    I’m privileged in a way that my local camera shop has a technician who checks the cameras before they go one sale. Of course a serviced camera with light seals (8 out of 10 old manual cameras from the 80ties did require new seals) is a bit more expensive, so if I wish to keep the camera I have it serviced, if only for a one-way trip (remember cyclist travel light) I skip it.

    Yes, film strikes back!

    Kind regards,

    Dr. Ko

  • Great article and great comments all of them! Have to admit that I´ve experienced many of the situations listed above… Great looking Minoltas which have been trapped in their case for years, maybe even decades, and at the slightest touch we realize that their shutter is dead. Both, mechanical and electronic Minoltas suffer from this illness in my experience, With Nikon I have mixed experiences, maybe reliable shutters but no luck with their meters,,, Old Canons seem to work fine, though for some reason they have always seemed dull to me… Pentax has always been my best choice, from K1000s to MXs and MEs; all of them in working conditions for years. I know that many consider Yashicas as not good enough or way cheaper than the pack, but they have been a nice surprise over and over! I know that Vivitar never manufactured its own cameras/lenses, but maybe the B series from the nineties and even after are a good choice just because their mechanisms are not that old!

  • Even if it sounds a bit of a ‘show off’, and as a response to Johnny Martyr (and his reasonable and understandable doubts regarding old cameras), a few years ago I came across a really nice fellow in Clermont Ferrand (France) at a flea market who sold me a completely functional (it has worked flawlessly up to this date) Spotmatic F plus case and a Helios 44M for the princely sum of 15 euros. Go figure. Last year I found at Wallapop (some sort of Craiglist here in Spain) a 50/1.4 SMC Takumar for another twenty euros… so I guess it’s still possible. No light leaks, no issues, no nothing. Thanks everyone and keep shooting film. Cheers!!

  • Hi,

    Firstly, great site – I’ve been circling the same few film photography sites for the last couple of years now, and this one is excellent.

    I’d put a word of warning in on the Canon choice – they have a known issue where foam degrades and jams the shutter. The next version along is also dirt cheap (EOS Rebel G or EOS 500n in Europe), and doesn’t have this problem. I would say that even though prices are slowly rising, the final consumer grade cameras 300X / Rebel T2 and 3000v / Rebel K2 are the pick of the affordable Canon SLRs. Also, even though they are all “old” cameras now, plumping for newer models gives them less time to fail. The last consumer models are still within what could be considered their working life!



  • I think all the advice in this article is spot on. Those are all some very competent, readily available SLRs that would serve a new analog shooter well to learn on. To add to this list, I would also recommend something like the Nikkormat FT2 for the old-school mechanical reliability, ability to use LR44 batteries for the meter, and compatibility with Pre-AI, AI, AIS, Series D (stop-down metering), and Series E (stop-down metering) lenses. For a more modern, AF-capable, cheap SLR that is very close to the digital cameras many people are used to, I humbly recommend the Nikon F80/N80. It’s 75% of an F100 for 33% of the price.

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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 Fstopcameras.com.

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