Five Amazing Film Cameras for Travel – Part 2

Five Amazing Film Cameras for Travel – Part 2

2000 1125 James Tocchio

Got a trip coming up? That’s fantastic. And of course you’re bringing a film camera, right? If you’re undecided, check out this post from last year in which I list the many reasons you should shoot film when traveling. The crib notes version is that you’ll be more engaged in your surroundings if you bring a film camera as opposed to if you’re shooting digital. You’re also less likely to be clubbed about the head and robbed if you leave your massive DSLR at home. That’s a bonus.

We posted a top five list of travel film cameras years ago, and many of those on the list are still great choices. But in the time since that post was published, the CP staffers have shot countless cameras in all manner of places, and we’ve slowly compiled a new list of winners. Sure, the cameras included on this new list may differ greatly from one another (some are automatic point-and-shoots while others might be fully specced SLRs or rangefinders), but all of these cameras are exceptional tools that are small enough to carry for days, are capable of making amazing images, and are ready for any adventure you’ve got on your itinerary. Let’s get going.

Contax T

I shot the Contax T earlier this year during a week away with the family, and it quickly proved to be among the best travel cameras I’ve ever used. It’s one of the smallest 35mm film cameras ever made, but where other similarly sized cameras forego certain functionality in order to fit their diminutive design brief, the Contax T does not. It’s an honest rangefinder, with a delightfully contrasty rangefinder patch and a deliciously damped manual focus action. This, along with its manually-selectable aperture control and available exposure compensation, make it a pocketable camera that actually allows creative control in times when we want to slow down and plan our shots. With these available controls we’re able to focus methodically and shoot for our preferred depth-of-field.

I wouldn’t blame you if you’ve read that last paragraph and decided it’s a slow camera in use. But it’s not, for two reasons. First, its semi-automatic exposure operates in aperture-priority mode, which means that the camera automatically calculates shutter speed to achieve a properly exposed shot every time. And second, the camera’s designers have implemented an ingenious scale focusing methodology that makes the Contax T essentially faster than any autofocus camera I’ve ever used. The way it works – if we set the aperture ring to the green f/8 symbol and set the focusing ring to its corresponding green dot, everything from approximately five feet away from the camera to infinity will be sharply in-focus. When shooting this way, the Contax T is a snapshot master perfect for capturing the adventures of an on-the-move traveler.

It’s also got one of the best lenses ever put into a camera this small, is made of titanium, and features a synthetic ruby for a shutter release button. Enough said?

If you need an incredibly tiny camera that will make amazing images with very little effort, the original T is certainly worth consideration.

Get it on eBay, or from our own F Stop Cameras

Contax G2

The G2 is admittedly not the smallest camera in the world, but it is fairly compact when compared to a DSLR. Its quick auto-focus, available aperture-priority auto-exposure, automatic film advance, and incredibly quiet shutter make it one of the best cameras for run-and-gun street shooting. It also allows full manual shooting for moments when we want to shoot a more contemplative style.

And though all of this is excellent, where the G2 really distinguishes itself is in the images it makes. The concise suite of G mount Zeiss lenses are, to put it bluntly, the best bang-for-your-buck in all of legacy lenses. The 45mm Planar, which we reviewed earlier this year, is unequivocally among the top three sharpest lenses I’ve ever used. This incredible resolving power is replicated fairly accurately throughout the entire range of G Zeiss primes, and the Vario zoom lenses aren’t too shabby either. When paired with the ultra compact 28mm Biogon, the G2 is pretty close to being the best camera for rapid-paced city shooting.

If your globetrotting calls for a compact autofocus rangefinder with the best glass in the world, the G2 should be in your carry-on.

Get it on eBay, or from our own F Stop Cameras

Nikon FM2n

For those who grew up shooting SLRs or DSLRs, no other style of camera feels as natural. And the things these shooters value, precision, versatility, reliability, are the foundation of what makes this next camera so great.

Nikon’s FM2n comes from the incredible semi-professional range of F mount SLRs that the brand produced for roughly thirty years. These machines were made contemporaneously with Nikon’s professional F series (F3, F4, etc.), and were ostensibly lower-spec machines. That fact noted, many shooters consider them better than the big boys. They’re smaller, lighter, arguably no less durable, and sacrifice very little functionality compared to their pro-spec brothers.

The FM2n might be the best of the bunch, especially for travelers. It’s an all-mechanical camera that uses battery power for nothing more than its light meter. That means that if you run out of juice, or you’re in a remote area with limited access to batteries, you won’t be out of luck. Its incredible shutter (which operates up to speeds as fast as 1/4000th of a second) will keep firing even without electrical power. It uses all of Nikon’s incredible F mount lenses, is built like clockwork, and simply won’t let you down (the camera was famously used by many world-class shooters in extreme locations throughout the 1980s, including in Afghanistan by Steve McCurry on assignment for National Geographic).

To keep things small, fit it with Nikon’s Series E 50mm f/1.8 lens. Though not as technically perfect as its Nikkor equivalents, this lens is tiny and makes gorgeous images. Or, if you’ve got money to burn and want the best compact Nikon lens, try the ultra small 45mm f/2.8 P Nikkor.

Get it on eBay, or from our own F Stop Cameras

Nikonos III, IV-a, or V

If you’re looking for the toughest, most durable film camera available, you can’t do much better than a Nikonos. Whether you choose a Nikonos III, a Nikonos IV-a, or the final manual focus Nikonos V, you’ll be traveling with a camera that’s incredibly dense, completely waterproof, and able to handle the most extreme travel conditions.

For those who might not know, the Nikonos are a series of dive cameras specifically designed for use underwater and in incredibly harsh (and wet) above-sea conditions. They’re made of massive chunks of cast metal, are waterproof to depths of 50 meters, and use a special range of impressive Nikkor lenses. Which one should you choose? It’s a good question.

The Nikonos III is an all-mechanical camera that doesn’t rely on battery power. You’ll need to have a decent understanding of aperture, shutter speed, and how these settings impact your images. The IV-a offers aperture-priority auto-exposure, which makes it a better choice for those who want a more automated experience. The Nikonos V takes things further by pairing aperture-priority auto-exposure with the ability to shoot in manual mode, with an LED display in the viewfinder in all shooting modes to indicate exposure. The V is the most advanced Nikonos, but they’re all simply gorgeous cameras with incredibly high functionality.

If you plan to shoot both above and under the waves, get the 35mm f/2.5 lens. Others are specifically for use only underwater, and will be marked “UW”.

If you’re a surfer, an extreme hiker, or (naturally) a diver, a Nikonos should be in your bag.

Get it on eBay, or from our own F Stop Cameras

Any Olympus Point-and-Shoot

If the four options above all seem a bit pricey, well, they are. But that’s because they’re some of the best cameras ever made, and this is especially true when we consider how well they work in the context for which they were designed. The Nikonos is the best waterproof camera. The FM2n is (possibly) the best mechanical SLR (shoosh, FM3a fans – that camera is too expensive). For the best, we expect to pay a price. But there are plenty (and I mean plenty) of inexpensive cameras that are perfect for travel.

The 1990s saw an absolute flood of really advanced and exceptional point-and-shoot cameras. These machines were made during a time in which camera technology had advanced to incredible heights. Extra low dispersion glass and aspherical lens elements were packed into the tiniest of cameras. Minuscule machines were packing lenses that could zoom from 38mm to a ridiculous 150mm. These cameras had automatic everything, and looked damn fine at the same time. They were the perfect gift for every soccer mom (and dad).

Today, they cost nothing. And this might be their biggest strength, especially for travelers who might not want to jeopardize their dream camera climbing Machu Picchu. The best of these totally capable yet inexpensive point-and-shoots must surely be Olympus’ Stylus series. We sell these in the shop for forty bucks, tested and guaranteed. For an incredible film camera that will fit in your pocket, that’s a pretty stellar deal.

The most popular Olympus (right now) is the Mju II. Whether or not that camera deserves its popularity is debatable. Either way, it’s super expensive, and since we’re looking for a cheap-yet-capabe point-and-shoot for our travels, the Mju II is out of the question. Instead, try for any of the Infinity Stylus cameras (the ones that don’t have “Epic” in the name). These come with zoom lenses, feature all of the functionality of the pricier versions, and take the exact same photos (even if Mju fans will tell you otherwise). The Stylus 80 is a good place to start, but honestly, all of these cameras are pretty much the same.

Get one on eBay, or find one at our own F Stop Cameras

Which film?

You got your film camera, now which film? If you’ve any personal aesthetic preferences you should defer to those, of course. But generally speaking, for places with particularly vibrant and colorful atmospheres (think, Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico) the obvious answer is to bring color film. In a case such as this, what could be better than Kodak’s Ektar or a really punchy slide film from Fuji? Tropical vacations naturally pair with the warm and pleasing tones of Portra, especially beach shots where the proficient handling of skin tones is a must. City vacations could benefit from a more timeless aesthetic. Try something black-and-white from Ilford, or get exotic with Ferrania’s P30. And if you’ve not yet tried it, give home developing a shot.

But it should also be said that choosing a film that defies the obvious can also be impactful. A friend of the site shot black-and-white film when he visited Ireland, a destination of rolling, green hills that would automatically seem best suited to color film, but the resulting colorless images proved to be his favorites of the trip. And it should also be noted that any film recommendation is so dependent on personal taste that objectivity is nearly impossible beyond the description of a film’s most basic characteristics. For more in-depth examinations of various films, check out our Film Profiles feature.

Oh, and one final tip – don’t worry about x-rays. That Florida trip I mentioned? Four rolls of ISO 1600 Fuji Natura went through the gauntlet, and every shot turned out perfectly. The x-ray trouble is very overblown.

Get film on eBay, or from our own F Stop Cameras

Honorable mentions? Try the compact and reliable Kiev 60… Okay, that was a joke.

If you know a travel camera that we didn’t mention here, but that you think people should check out, let us hear about it in the comments.

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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
  • Randle P. McMurphy December 4, 2017 at 9:41 am

    A lot of people never remember the Contax SLR like the long forgotten RTS series or less expensive Contax 137 QD.
    Compared to the Nikon FM it is almost the same size but with better grip and faster to handle.
    Timeautomatik, inbuild winder and together with a Carl Zeiss Distangon 2,8/35 this combo is a winner for any reportage
    or travel photography !

    • You’re right about those Contax. I love the 139 with the pancake 45mm. I think the only reason I lean a bit toward the FM2 (for an article like this) is that it’s all-mechanical and we wanted to include a camera that you could use at its full capacity even without batteries.

  • What about a Bessa R4m with the Color-Skopar 21 and Nokton 35? Smaller in set than the FM2n with a 50 Nikkor..

    • You’re right, for sure, the Bessa is a great camera. Thanks for adding it to the list in the comments. We wanted to try to include an SLR so that’s why we went with the Nikon. The rangefinders were already pretty well-represented, autofocus and manual, by the pair of Contaxes.

      Maybe we should make a list of best cameras for street shooting. I think the Bessa might find its way onto that one…

  • I echo the recommendation of the Olympus compact line. They are, on the balance, quite good. Do some research before you buy one, though, as some of them have quirks and challenges (like the Olympus Stylus Epic Zoom 80’s dreaded ring-shaped light leak thanks to deteriorating seals around the lens).

    And I feel chuffed to be call a friend of the site today! Thanks for the link to my blog.

  • Stop the madness! Just stop it! Oh, don’t worry… I’m talking to myself… out loud… I shoot Sony A7R2 bodies and various lens but in the past two weeks… a) an AE-1 was gifted to me… I went to a camera store to get batteries, which I did, and yet, 2) there, when I walked into the store, staring at me with its familiar Nikon body was an F100 in excellent condition for $150. Okay, so I haven’t even processed my first roll (though I did finish it last night) but I’ve been tearing up the internet looking at lens, though I was also gifted the Canon FD 50 1.8 (an ok lens) and have several Nikon lens already for the F100 including a Nikkor 50 1.4D and a 28 2.8… and now you want to tempt me with the best travel cameras?! Moohoowaahaaa!!! 😉

  • Great list. Can’t agree more about the Olympus P&S range. I love my Stylus/Mju, bought a back up in case as well. Apparently X rays have more of a pronounced effect on expired film from what I’ve read, although I’ve never had any issues what so ever travelling with both in date and expired film. Just keep it in your hand luggage!

  • I went looking on eBay for a Contax T, and discovered the cheaper ones are APS format, not 135. Buyer beware.

  • On my trip to the UK last summer (almost 3 weeks), for film I took my Voigtlander Vito II and my Nikon N75. Both served very well, and I enjoyed the light weight.

  • I have the Olympus Infinity Stylus cameras (120 & 140-no Epics). Both are great street cameras I’m planning to take on holiday in the near future.

  • Aaahhh, Olympus, okay you gave them a quick nod, but surely the original XA should be up there with it’s name in lights! A million years ago I was commissioned to do some filming in Morocco, only to discover at Tangiers airport there was a ban on bringing any professional film equipment into the country (something their embassy didn’t tell us because I checked first!). They even took the Spotmatic off us. But the XA was in my pocket and stayed there. That little darling did enough for us to rescue the situation, get some prints good enough to put under an animation camera AND get paid afterwards. Picked a replacement up at a junk market 2 years ago for pennies and, yes they are still as outstanding as they ever were. But then my standard holiday camera for years has been a Trip 35; no batteries, can you imagine haha.

  • I was given two Olympus cameras from my Granddad when I started college, an Olympus OM-2 and and OM-20, I’m planning a trip across the world (from the UK) to Australia, visiting south east Asia, India, Japan etc. whilst out there, with the cameras he also gave me plenty of lenses for every need possible. Out of the two cameras just in general is there one you would recommend over the other for use as a travel camera ? I know that the one-2 is the more “professional” and have used both just around where I live but don’t have any real experience with either.

    • Seb, the OM-2 is excellent. Just go practice with it a little before you leave to level up the excitement of the anticipation. Actually, practice with both of them and see which you like best.

      I, then, would like to add the Pentax M-series to this list. Either both ME’s for more automated assistance, or, my personal favorite, the MX. Smallest slr ever, excellent gamma of abundantly available lenses and a lot cheaper than the Nikon. This little gem gives you all the viewfinder info you could wish for, including excellent brightness and magnification, and the ‘clang’ of the mirror is so sweet it could be part of a John Adams orchestra composition. The MX is simply such a joy to use that I still have no clue why Pentax doesn’t make a digital version of it, like, yesterday. If it’d be full frame, more or less the same size and would warmly embrace my somewhat excessive collection of K-mount manual lenses, I’d buy it instantly – but still most probably take my MX across the globe instead of the digital one. Because there isn’t anything like grabbing an album of old fashioned pictures, taken with care in far away places, to show them to your new lover or long lost friend – without interference of any digital device. But that, of course, any of these old machines can deliver.

  • Contax T: the best Contax!

  • While recently travelling with both a digital and a Contax G2 kit I did regret not simply taking my Olympus XA instead. It should definitely be on this list. A 35 mm aperture priority range finder that fits into your pocket – can you ask for more?

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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