Re-evaluating the Cost of Film Cameras (And Offering Some Alternatives)

Re-evaluating the Cost of Film Cameras (And Offering Some Alternatives)

2200 1238 Jeb Inge

It only takes a visit to your local record store to understand the economics of a reemerging market. In the last decade (or closer to 12-13 years) an audio format on life support has gained popularity to the point where it now outsells CDs and nearly every new release is available on vinyl (a fact unthinkable twenty years ago). Fortunately for the music industry, and vinyl in particular, there will always be new music being created and a demand for it to be pressed on vinyl. It’s a different situation for the film photography community.

We’ve seen two stories in the last months that highlight the fragility of the analog photography ecosystem: the discontinuation of Fujifilm Pro 400H and the discontinuation of production of the Nikon F6, the last “newly” produced film SLR on the market. The discontinuing of films is nothing new, but to see a 400-speed pro film go down is a particular type of gut punch, made all the more painful when considering that the only “new” films being announced are more exercises in creative rebranding than actual new film emulsions.

The silver lining for all the celluloid lovers out there is that despite an almost complete lack of new film cameras available, there are decades of used gear available and begging for some love. As recently as five years ago, the majority of these could be purchased for pennies on the dollar. But as more people have returned to film photography, they’ve brought with them a higher demand for equipment that will never increase in supply. The inevitable result of this supply and demand arithmetic, as any Economics 101 student will tell you, is higher prices.

We’re now far from the fire sales of yesteryear, and sellers have caught on to the used film camera economy and (often aided by the trends and hype of social media) are charging more than ever.

It’s worth asking in 2021; are film cameras still the best deal in photography? Or has a marketplace doomed by digital and abandoned by vendors caused prices to rise beyond the cameras’ true value?

I wanted to examine the most popular film cameras’ pricing and determine which models are overpriced (over-hyped), which ones are priced right, and which are still a bargain.

To answer these questions, I’ve investigated the current going rate for twelve cameras in different formats and levels of popularity. To create an average current price I have used the largest amount of current prices each camera currently sells for online, along with a “normal” lens for each camera (unless otherwise noted.)


Single Lens Reflex

Pentax K1000 – $130

The tried and proven narrative around the Pentax K1000 is that it’s the cheapest, most helpful learning tool for budding photographers wanting to dip their toes in the film world. It’s still a great camera to hand to a beginner before letting them run wild with the cheapest film available. Its uniquity among the uninitiated is the chief testament speaking on behalf of an otherwise vanilla wafer camera.

Manufactured for more than 30 years, there is no short supply of K1000s. This helps keep the prices low, but even in the last five years a camera that was once available for a few twenty dollar bills is now averaging about $130 online.

Is the K1000 worth that much? No way. There are too many other cameras that are equally good as learning tools and have more features than the K1000. Someone could buy any number of SLRs from the nineties brimming with technical capability, or something contemporary to the K1000 like Minolta’s SRT-101 that offer the same mechanical foundation with a much deeper selection of lenses that are all available at lower prices. A higher price tag for a more basic camera that uses the K mount instead of M42? No thanks.

Canon AE-1 – $190

The AE-1 is almost as iconic as the K1000, but benefits from additional capabilities including the Program mode available in the AE-1 Program variant. It’s the first SLR to include a microprocessor and its shutter is the tone you hear when you take a screen snapshot on Apple devices. In his review of the Program variant, Aidan called the AE-1 the ultimate beginner camera.

The AE-1 sells for only $60 more, on average, than the K1000. For not much more money you’re getting a better camera with access to better lenses. This one seems to be priced just right. Luckily Canon made so many of these that you won’t have trouble finding one.

Nikon F3 – $350

I have a bizarre and unconscionably adversarial opinion of the Nikon F3. It’s not because I think it a bad camera. In fact, I think it’s one of the best SLRs ever made, or at least chasms ahead of 90 percent of SLRs that were ever made. And maybe it’s that awareness that makes me avoid it, as I am a die-hard F4 fanboy. Roll your eyes if you must, but the fact that I think the F4 the absolute king makes me avoid the much more adored F3.

I’ve gone back and read Josh’s review of the F3 a number of times in the four years since he wrote it. Of course it’s a well written review, but there are few things I enjoy more than reading someone’s words about something they love. Everything he writes about the camera is factually true. It’s definitely an incredible camera and offers every tool you need to create stunning images. At $350 the F3 doesn’t seem overpriced, and it could even be argued that this remains an undervalued camera today. It was, after all, Nikon’s professional system camera for a very long time.

But Josh was also correct when he wrote that the F3 doesn’t offer much beyond most other SLRs of the era. So maybe it would be smart for buyers looking at the Nikon F3 to more seriously consider the Nikon F4, which offers some big improvements and costs about a hundred bucks less than the F3.

SLR Bargains

New shooters tend to start with an SLR. But most new shooters would be much better off with any number of cheaper cameras than the ones I’ve mentioned so far. The lower-end Minolta X series cameras offer far more capability in a lighter body than both the K1000 and the Canon AE1. Dozens of SLR cameras from makers like Chinon and Ricoh cost half the price, and do more. And let’s not forget that the best film cameras ever made are the dorky AF SLRs of the 1990s (which cost, what? Forty bucks?).


Rangefinders

Leica M3 – $2,000 (without lens)

Every single Leica is overvalued. Period. Cameras like the Minilux, Sofort and Mini Zoom are the most egregious offenders, but every Leica camera is evidence of the company’s historic success in marketing and branding. When you take a detached look at what you’re getting when you purchase a camera, it makes no sense to choose a Leica over something else.

The intensity of your response to this opinion will get stronger in either direction when applying it to Leica’s M series. Yes, these are legendary rangefinders, made with absolute precision and quality. They are also spartan, and when anyone says that camera bodies are simply light proof boxes with which to take pictures, then my mind drifts to the M series. A well-built box for sure, but a more austere one is difficult to find.

As a balm to heal the wounded ego of Leicaheads out there, I will say that while their lenses are at least as expensive as the bodies, at least here the buyer is getting their money’s worth. There’s no doubt that Leica makes some of the best lenses in the world. But paying at least $2,000 for a body to put them on reeks of vanity and prestige.

Josh accurately called Leica a brand that photographers aspire to in his article on the M2. But when I think of what’s behind that aspiration, I’m left with a bad taste in my mouth. And if I walk down that aspiration’s road, I’ll leave with an empty wallet, and maybe a second mortgage.

Fed-5 – $50

Now we take a 180-degree turn from Wetlzar and end up at Karkhov in the Ukraine. It was here that the Soviet Union produced the FED series of rangefinders, a line of cameras born out of the USSR’s plagiarism of the Leica II, which was about as accurate a rendition as me attempting to draw “The Birth of Venus” from observation.

Cameras made east of the Iron Curtain come with stereotypes belittling their quality and reliability. In some cases, one of which is soon to follow, these are undeserved. But the FED is why the stereotypes exist in the first place. To save myself from going on a tangent, assume that everything wonderful about a Leica rangefinder is what’s wrong with a FED. You can still have a good experience taking bad pictures with a Leica, but outstanding pictures with the FED are a miracle. Okay maybe that’s going too far. But only slightly. These are cheap for a reason, and I’ve learned the hard way that you only need to go to that well once.

Minolta CLE – $1,200

We’re known for being fans of Minolta here and I’m as guilty of that as anyone else on the team. Maybe more than most. So I’ll let someone else talk about why Minolta’s CLE is better than the M series. Ironically, the CLE was born on the tail end of a partnership between Leica and Minolta that saw the two companies exchange technologies and cooperate on cameras and lenses for two decades or so. Cameras like the Minolta XD and Leica R series SLRs came from this alliance as well, and most of these cameras are undervalued today.

It doesn’t take much to fall in love with the techno-marvel CLE. It’s the showpiece that illustrates a brand operating at the absolute height of its talent (it’s the smallest M mount rangefinder ever made, and offered aperture-priority auto-exposure twenty years before Leica themselves would ever do so). Don’t confuse the CLE with the earlier Leitz/Minolta CL, which sells for about the same price as the CLE. It’s just not as capable a camera and discerning Photophiles would be better off buying the later CLE (don’t worry about electronics). James even went full scorched earth when he wrote that he would take the CLE over any Leica M camera.

The CLE holds a unique place in the Minolta canon – a camera that isn’t cheaper than its quality would otherwise demand. I’m not saying it’s overvalued, only that nearly every other Minolta is still a bargain. The CLE is worth every penny you’ll pay for it, and the proof will be in your celluloid pudding.

Rangefinder Bargains

We’ve actually written three articles which spotlight less expensive and less-hyped rangefinder cameras, and many of the cameras on those lists are still relevant today. The first article was from way back in 2017, the second was more recent, and in the third article we showcased high quality rangefinders that most people have never heard of. See those articles for some great alternatives to the well-known (expensive) models.


Point and Shoot

Olympus Mju II – $270

When we talk about the current film camera market, this hype beast is a perennial favorite of those lamenting a supposed film camera bubble. It’s a long-running punchline that the Olympus Mju II takes the cake regarding overpriced cameras. It says a lot about this camera that the benefits of the camera are secondary and often attempt to justify the outrageous cost of a plastic, automatic point-and-shoot. But the benefits are worth mentioning anyway. Anyone who holds one appreciates just how small and compact it is. It’s one of the few cameras that actually would fit in the pockets of some Levis. And the lens really is as good as advertised.

But is $270 dollars a reasonable price for a plastic camera that feels vulnerable in spite of its “weather resistant” label? Will you think of how much you paid when you have to manually turn off the eager flash every time the camera turns on?

Even though it’s not quite the “it girl” it used to be, the Mju II still sells for offensive prices, often up to $500. Also worth mentioning is the “trickle down” effect that the popularity of the Mju II has brought to its siblings. That means prices for the different zoom versions, as well as the first Mju, are also unreasonable compared to their abilities and reliability.

I recently bought this camera for 200 euros ($225) because it seems to be the only camera that meets my requirements for being a “daily carry.” The pictures are great, but I’ll never know for sure if it was really worth the coin I paid.

Nikon L35AF – $175

The Nikon L35AF came out in 1984 and was Nikon’s big coming out at the Point and Shoot Gala. While it’s not as compact as most point and shoots would eventually become, it’s a testament to the best parts of Nikon’s brand language in the 1980s, and boasts an awesome and tack-sharp 35mm f/2.8 lens. We’ve written about this camera multiple times, including James’ by-the-book review from 2014, and the time when I was forced to say goodbye to mine.

I made a lot of my favorite images with this camera, and never forgot when looking at them that it only cost me $50 at my local camera store. But the days of the $50 L35AF are long gone. Today they regularly sell for three times that amount and often even more for a pristine copy.

Despite my feelings for the L35AF, I have to call it overpriced at nearly $200. Because for every single “fantastic” image that came through its lens, the skittish electronics completely ruined as many whole rolls of film. Elements of randomness and luck are often the pinch of spice that makes film photography so worthwhile. But in the case of my L35AF, dropping in a roll of film felt more like playing Russian Roulette. It’s completely possible that you’ll buy a version that isn’t cursed (or won’t be cursed soon,) but $170 is a big ante just to roll those dice.

Point and Shoot Bargains

Buyers looking for a cheaper point and shoot that doesn’t sacrifice quality should look to the Pentax IQ Zoom range. With seemingly hundreds of models to choose from (with prime lenses, zooms up to 200mm, wide angle variants, and waterproof models) there’s an IQ Zoom for every need – and most of them cost under $70. They have great lenses, too.

Additionally, seek out the later model Canon Sure Shots. Like the Pentaxes listed above, these were made in the 1990s and early 2000s, and they’re some of the best point and shoot cameras that were ever made (measured by feature-set, compactness, reliability, and lens performance).


Medium format

This is not a 7II. Sorry.

Mamiya 7II – $4,200

Moving up in negative size, we start medium format with the camera which many (most?) phot geeks consider to be the best camera in the category. There are even plenty of people who consider this beast to be the best film camera that money can buy.

The Mamiya 7II is a portable rangefinder shooting in the 6×7 format. It has a few of the standard exposure modes, but otherwise apes the “less is more” approach so familiar to Leica shooters. What makes the Mamiya such a renowned (and expensive) camera is its series of leaf-shutter lenses. I know, the value of a lens is a relative concept. Crappy lenses can still make good images, and awesome lenses can produce rubbish. But I would dare anyone to find better lenses than those made for the Mamiya 7II. They are unrivaled in terms of quality (both in build and output), color rendition, micro contrast. You name the metric, and they are leaders in the rankings.

The fact that the Mamiya 7ii camera body is so revered is that it’s lightweight and compact form makes its beastly lenses portable in ways that Mamiya’s RB/RZ cameras do not. As a result, this is one of the most expensive film systems on the market. Is this camera worth the cost of slightly more than a ticket into the S&P 500?

Absolutely.

I know: “But you said the opposite about the Leica!” That’s true. They’re about the same price. But I would say the much larger negative, and the unbeatable quality of the lens system makes the Mamiya 7II an appropriately-priced camera, especially when compared to its digital equivalents.

Rolleiflex 2.8 D – $1,350

Is there anything that shines that #filmaesthetic more than the Rolleiflex? It’s an absolute icon of photography, and a masterpiece of product design. Were there a way to constantly see the world as it looks through a Rolleiflex viewscreen (minus the mirrored motion) few people could resist that

Nearly every TLR camera has aped the Rolleflex since its release in 1929. But none have matched its level of build quality and material sophistication. As a confirmation of its performance, the camera changed very little throughout the many decades in which it was made. It’s a finely-tuned instrument that is equally an artwork of design.

As our review attests, the Rollei is a unique machine that gives the shooting experience a special atmosphere. So I would say it’s appropriately priced. Well taken care of, this is a generational camera that anyone would be lucky to have passed down to them.

But to add a caveat, I would recommend potential buyers unfamiliar with TLRs to start cheaper, with the budget-oriented Rolleicord, or the (early, non-124G) Yashica Mat. There’s a chance you’ll find the vertigo associated with TLR compositions too disorienting, and in that case you’ll be glad you spent a fraction of the cost of the Rolleiflex.

Pentacon Six – $350

It’s already been established that cameras from Warsaw Pact nations have a reputation for poor quality and reliability. In the case of the aforementioned FED those claims prove to be true. But it would be disingenuous to apply them to all cameras from the Socialist bloc. In fact they made a lot of cameras that remain reliable, albeit without the flare, panache and technological pedigree of their democratic competitors.

Made for more than 20 years, the Pentacon Six is without a doubt the best of these cameras. It’s a 6×6 shooting SLR. Operation is fully mechanical and analog (the exception being the optional metering prism) and its most attractive quality is the assortment of stunning Carl Zeiss Jena lenses. Despite there only being about five, they are outrageously good lenses with the 180mm f/2.8 “Olympia” having a reputation as one of the finest portrait lenses available.

The complaints that people have leveled against this camera – that its frame spacing is horrible, and that the original grease can gum up shutter speeds – are the gripes of people who expect to treat their cameras like sledgehammers.

Among cameras that can mount lenses of this caliber, the Pentacon remains the best value in medium format photography. Even though shipping costs will kill you, the Pentacon Six is still a fantastic option for someone looking for incredible lenses at a huge value. Considering that it’s a third of the cost of something like the Pentax 67, you’ll have plenty left over for buying film.

Medium Format Bargains

There are quite a few. We made a list of some of our favorites here.


The One You Knew I’d Mention

Hassleblad X-Pan – $4,500

We’ve saved the best for last. The monster. The behemoth. The final boss of overpriced cameras. Once you’ve bought this, every company in the world knows you’ll buy anything.

What do you say about the X-Pan that isn’t overshadowed by the running gag of its price tag? It’s the best quality panoramic camera ever made. It has a few really terrific lenses. Would I love to have it? More than any other camera I can think of. But it’s a niche product, and that uniqueness makes it a limited-use camera. What’s interesting is how severely the price for an X-Pan has spiked in the last few years. It’s as though suddenly everyone realized that very few copies of this very unique camera are available.

But that’s capitalism for you. Find a niche, dominate it, charge as much as anyone is willing to pay. On the “bright side,” if too many more beloved film stocks are cancelled, you’ll start to see that market re-adjust and you’ll be able to afford what would then be a gorgeous piece of home decor.

[Editor’s Note – Skip the X-Pan and buy the Fuji G617. Or at least pick the TX-1 over the imposter X-Pan. Fujifilm made them both, after all. And the TX-1 is much, much prettier.]


Do you have thoughts on the current film camera market? Let us know about it in the comments.

If you want to find your own analog camera, we sell those in our shop F Stop Cameras

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Jeb Inge

Jeb Inge is a Berlin-based photographer and writer. He has previously worked in journalism, public history and public relations.

All stories by:Jeb Inge
59 comments
  • The thing you miss about the difference between the pro-grade Nikon F3 (and F2) – as well as the Canon F-1 (new and old versions) – and consumer-grade cameras such as the Canon AE-1, is durability. The F’s are built like tanks and can take a licking and keep on ticking – and probably have in their 35-45 years on earth. Not so for the AE-1s of the world, which were mass produced much more cheaply out of lower grade materials. The AE-1s were made for people to take vacation pics or pics of tennis matches, not truck around the world in harsh conditions, absorb abuse, and keep reliably snapping photos like the F’s.

    So, although feature-wise a camera like the F3 does the “same thing” as the AE-1 (but in aperture priority, rather than shutter priority), the F3’s durability makes it a much better camera and worth the $, IMHO – especially in light of the fact that there’s a shortage of people out there who know how to fix these old film cameras anymore…

    • Hi Chris, those are all good points regarding the F3 and the AE-1. But just to be clear, I’d never say the two have similar users. I would say the AE-1 is closer to the K1000 than anything else. I only compared the F3 to the F4. Thanks for reading!

      • Ah, I misread. It’s early in my neck of the woods…

        I have quite a collection of old SLRs and lenses of every major make and model. I also love the F4… I replaced the standard focusing screen with the split image one so I can properly use and focus my old Nikkor AI glass.

  • Nikkormat.

    • Agreed.

    • My personal best under $100:

      Nikkormat FT2
      Tank-like build, excellent metering and runs on a regular LR44/357 battery. Still can be had under $100.

      Konica Autoreflex TC
      Yes – it has a plastic shell, but it has shutter priority autoexposure and a half press of the shutter button activates the trap needle AE lock. If the meter dies and you lose AE, the camera is still functional in manual. Add in the excellent Konica glass and you have a criminally undervalued camera. Two 375 hearing aid batteries with #6 or #7 O-rings will power it nicely.

      Olympus OM-G (OM20)
      Aperture Priority autoexposure and manual without having to buy a silly adapter.

      Pentax Spotmatic
      Excellent Takumar glass, all manual, metal build. I use mine with a 312 hearing aid battery with a #5 O-Ring. I do prefer my Spotmatic F, but the lenses that work with it are more limited in availability.

      Fujica ST Series
      Some of the most compact M42 cameras built and great lenses. The later ST705/801/901 models have open aperture metering although its getting harder to find the Fuji M42 lenses that haven’t had their aperture tabs filed off. My only caveat is that Fuji used a terrible lens lubricant that often fouls the iris blades on the lenses.

      Minolta SRT/XD/XG series
      While the XD-11 needs no introduction, a XG-9 or the later XG-M are ridiculously cheap and can use all that beautiful Minolta glass. Let’s be real – if Leica thought Minolta glass was good enough to put their name on, who are we to turn our noses up at it?

      • Hi Robert – I hope you see this message. Did you email me about potentially writing for the site here? I tried to respond via email but the message was returned undeliverable and I could not find you on Instagram. Feel free (if this is indeed the Robert Blue who messaged me) to write to me once again at contact@fstopcameras.com

  • Hello Jeb, nice article overall, cannot say I agree with all the points. While I completely agree that the K1000 is overpriced and should be avoided (in favour of other K mounts KX, KM, MX etc); do you really think that the K mount lenses are worse than the canon FD and Minolta MC/MD? The whole Leica debate is polarizing, but I agree I am not sure of the value; one should consider the bessa range as good alternatives as well.

    Have a good weekend

    • Hi Marius. I agree there are some great K mount lenses. And if the K1000 had an M42 bayonet, I think there’s a better argument for its value. For my own taste I would take the Minolta lenses over either of the other two, with the bodies being cheaper on average to boot. Especially if we’re just considering a nifty fifty coming attached to the camera.

      • Yeah, I’m gonna call foul on K-Mount Pentax lenses being the “lesser” choice, especially as compared to the Canon lenses. I don’t know if there is a better value for money than the SMC M-series for K-Mount. Seriously sharp, great colour rendition, small, well built…what more could you want for the prices they go for?

  • Small note, the 400h film is dead, but Fuji will probably come back with an alternative color negative film within one year but for a higher price. The reason for discontinuation is threatening Kodak as well. As resources for color negative film have become scarce and manufactories have to redesign there complete production processes in reaction to this.

  • WAIT WAIT WAIT. How did the olympus xa not make this list?????!!!!

    Actually, this is really very useful, thank you.

  • Crazy how some of these cameras have gone up so much in price since about 2015 when film photography began to surge. But you’re right: there are still good-priced, well-built, well-featured cameras to be had!

  • I can’t help but be more vested in seeing the rising costs of these over-hyped, plastic, time bombs rise to astronomical prices than I am in my own 401k. Every week I login to the market that is ebay, take a sip of coffee and and say “lets see what these are going for today” never to be disappointed in disgust, lol.

  • It is somewhat amusing (as well as annoying) that so many assume a photographer purchases a Leica M because of mystique, marketing and consequently overpays. You are correct on cameras to learn on, but once you are freed of a light meter, want to expand your shooting opportunities to low light (1/15 sec handheld) or any other situation where being quite and inconspicuous is important, not beats an M3. Add to that a camera that can always be serviced and needs it very seldom. In addition, my M3 is in perfect shape and no way would it be priced at 2k for the body. Leica loathing/bashing among SLR folks is pervasive but in an article aspiring to give advice, it is a bit over the top.

    • I have learned how to love my M3. This is a fantastic camera, Leica has never done better.

    • The repair issue is a big concern to me. I have a Leica IIIg. Built in 1952. It is in great shape but after these years the shutter had become unreliable. Fired it off to NJ (who sent it to Germany) and 4 months later was returned in perfect working order with a new shutter curtains and low speed gear train. I dare you to expect that from any other camera.
      As well it is a fact…I can get from my IIIg more money than I paid when I bought it 15 years ago…and I dare say that in 10 years I will likely be able to get even more.

      • Just for information, how many did you pay for such a fix? I’m interested by this because in many discussion about the comparison between Leica’s and russian rangefinders or other misevalued alternatives, most stakeholders and Leica-zealotes (sorry for the offendeds) neglect to mention maintenance costs when they talk about their wear-resistant and «unbreakable» adored cameras.

        • $375.00
          Don’t think the sarcasm is necessary in (Leica zealots)….$350 for a shutter rebuild in a 70 year old camera that has taken thousands of photos…well, call me a zealot then.

          • If you like the camera and enjoy using it, $375 to repair the shutter is money well spent.

          • Thank you for this information, and all my apologies for these words that were only used to be a little teasing, absolutely not mean. Indeed, the cost of this repair is fully justified, the work of this craftsman is not without value. But it gives another perspective on the price comparison. This fix is 4x the price of my working Zorki-1. Perhaps if all these proletarian Soviet cameras received the same treatment, their bad reputation would be seen in a different light.

  • “…discerning Photophiles would be better off buying the later CLE (don’t worry about electronics).”

    Gotta disagree. I had two perfect condition CLEs that worked brilliantly until out of nowhere they bricked. Electronics died.
    I’d never touch another one.

    While many cameras do the exact same thing as cheaper ones, often it is in the details where the differences lie. With the F3, it is so nice to handle, and the 100% vf is great. The camera fits wonderfully in hand. I have many cheaper cameras, and they don’t have those details. It also has an 80/20 meter balance which is unique.
    But… I do agree that the F4 is superior in pretty much every way. I like it the most out of all my Nikons – F6 included. And for the price it is a ridiculous deal. Let others pay a premium for the F3, so you can get an F4 for cheap. I do recommend the version with the small battery pack. Who in this day and age shoots film at 6fps?!!

    As for Leicas… one reason why they cost so much is pretty much because they are a party of one. There is nothing like an M. Never has been. And yeah, I’ve shot with Nikon RFs, and while they are very nice, not the same. So that lack of market competition controls the price.

    Of course, I also have a Leica AF-C1. Which is a $20 (now) Minolta P&S that now fetches over $300. It’s a very nice camera, but….
    (Anyone want my AF-C1? lol)

    • I’d like to borrow it!

      • You do know it is the Minolta Freedom Tele, right? I think the Minolta looks nicer.. The Minolta version says 38-80, while the Leica says 40-80 for the lens specs. But if anyone believes there is any difference outside marketing…
        It actually is a very nice camera to use (Minolta or Leica) because it has the minimal amount of stuff – just what you need. Including a simple flash override with no need to menu dive, but just push a button on the front. And another button on the front for infinity focus. I only really use it on the 38mm, I mean 40mm end. It isn’t a zoom, it gets to 80 via a 2x tele converter.
        Major upside is focus is super quick, with a nice click to show it has locked on. Makes it feel very responsive.
        Shot on Fuji C200:

        https://www.flickr.com/gp/39133227@N08/583ms0

        https://www.flickr.com/gp/39133227@N08/sAY5mA

  • You have to agree to the fact the Leica M’s remain one of the most serviceable 35mm cameras out there. I do believe it is worth a small premium for it’s longevity, but nowhere near what the asking prices for them are right now. Especially since you can get some really good MF cameras in that price range.

  • Personally, I’ve never really understood why the Mamiya 7 is so hyped. Sure, it’s pretty good, but very limited given the rather large minimum focus distance inherent to all rangefinders. One of the best things about working in the 6×7 format (at least for many) is the quality of portraits that can be made, and rangefinders present a real hurdle in this genre. The lenses are great but Avedon, Penn, et al, never used Mamiya 7s and their pictures certainly don’t lack micro-contrast. It’s a great performer, but the fact that an old RB67 or Pentax 67 kit can be had for less than 1/4 of the price and present more versatility for, what, 1kg of extra weight, presents way better value in my eyes. And … plastic.

  • Nikon FA is also a great camera 😉

  • grab an autocord over the TLR while you still can 🤭

  • I got the Pentax K1000 in 1978. I replaced it after a couple of years with the MX, that was much smaller and more handy, but not more advanced as far as I remember..

  • Interesting article, many thanks. Perhaps I was the only one expecting to see a mention of Contax or Yasica products, or perhaps not.

  • Peter Bidel Schwambach January 24, 2021 at 1:42 pm

    There’s lots of good gear for cheap prices out there, if one’s willing to look past the sacred cows of film photography. Proof of that, just a couple weeks ago I bought a used, but well taken care of, Nikon F60 for a friend of mine who’s really interested in film, but can’t afford a sexy, stylish, 70s vintage SLR. I paid the equivalent of 20 dollars, plus free shipping, for a camera that had barely even been used, having come out during the P&S dominance and at the dawn of the digital era. According to the seller, he probably didn’t get to the 5th roll before putting the camera away, manual and strap included, and offering it up for sale.

    What we got, for almost nothing, was a fully functional AF SLR, recently cleaned and lubed, in the original box, with the original strap and manual. It didn’t have a lens, but I had an extra Zoom Nikkor that I could part with. Add a couple rolls of Kodak’s finest 400 ISO grain, and a new photo geek is born. It hardly matters he’ll be using a dorky AF late 90’s SLR, his pictures will be just as good as any other geek’s with an F3, FM2 or FM3a, for example.

    • Truth be told, the pictures from the more modern AF SLR will probably better (more consistently, and easier).

      • Peter Bidel Schwambach January 25, 2021 at 7:45 am

        Agreed, though I’ve been shooting with one of the aforementioned FM2s since I was about 8 or 9, and the lens I gave my friend is an 80’s vintage, non-CPU AI-s Nikkor, which pretty much disables every electronic help the F60 might offer. I figured that’s still better than a body with no lens, and also good for manually learning, though he’s probably already saving for a modern, CPU Nikkor.

        Anyways, that’s something else to be said about 90s AF SLRs, if you’ve got a Nikon, all it takes is the “wrong” lens to get you back to the fully manual basics for much less money than a vintage body

    • Absolutely. These cameras aren’t the sexiest, but they’re absolute performers especially for developing budding photographers.

      • Peter Bidel Schwambach January 25, 2021 at 8:18 am

        Exactly, and they have the ability to hold your hand when need them to, or let go when you don’t. I recommended my friend save up for a single zoom lens, a decent one that can give him the most common focal lengths for street shooting, and he’ll be set for a long time

        • If he’s in the Nikon ecosystem, have him get the 35-70mm f/2.8. It’s most of all he would need for a long time, a stellar lens (I reviewed it here) and a great value.

          • Peter Bidel Schwambach January 26, 2021 at 9:41 am

            Thanks for the heads up, I just checked them out, and they’re going for pretty reasonable prices around here as well. Not cheap, but cheaper than getting a full suite of CPU enabled primes.

            The lens I bundled with the F60 was the Cosina sourced 35-70 3.5, not a bad lens, just nothing to write home about, but at least it’ll feel familiar if he gets this Nikkor.

  • After 50 years of shooting, publishing books, etc My favorite, most reliable cameras, yielding the best image quality and most trusted companions are: My Linhof 617s Technorama(the Xpan is an overpriced electronic little toy), My Fujica GW690 (Leica quality glass with 5 times the resolution..and a hell of a lot more portable than the hipster loving Mamiya RB 67), my Canon F1n(Second version out of three…most beautiful camera ever made), and finally my favorite, my Black body Nikomat FTn. Mechanical brilliance and the legendary Copal Square shutter. I’ve used everything from a Minox to a Deardorff 8×10, but these are my very favorite. No fucking electronics by the way. I’ve been burned way to many times(I’m looking at YOU Pentax 6×7 and Nikon F5 and Mamiya 6!)

  • Jeb, I disagree fundamentally with some of your points.

    1. Do not recommend the Minolta CLE. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great camera. I own one, I have owned it for almost 10 years now. I love it and even if it’s just for the fact that it has THE best viewfinder magnification for 28mm for someone who needs glasses. In fact, I loved it to DEATH. Yes, it’s dead. And it’s nearly impossible to get it resurrected from the dead today because almost nobody knows how to repair them anymore and more importantly there are basically no more parts to repair it. It’s an electronic camera. If the electronics fail, it’s game over for that little camera. I would not recommend anyone to sink their money on what will inevitably turn into a VERY expensive paper weight.

    2. The price of Leica M bodies. I just saw a Leica M3 double stroke offered for $995 in a store just outside Seattle. It was recently CLA-ed. The condition is fair, it’s got some very small dents and the “leatther” is damaged at various points. The viewfinder is clean and the camera is fully functioning. The point being: it is not impossible to pick up an M3 or M2 within that price range. And they’ll hold value and even increase in value. The CLE won’t. Any Leica M body is a GREAT investment. You get to use it for as long as you want and you can easily sell it at cost or with a profit. They can be serviced easily. There’s part. It’s a no-brainer to buy a Leica M. Remember, Leica M cameras are forever. Everything else is just a blip in time.

    3. If it has be something cheaper for rangefinders, I’d recommend any of the better fully mechanical, fixed lens rangefinders out there. My favorite is the Minolta HiMatic 7SII. It’s fully mechanical but also features a shutter priority, fully metered mode. The lens is as good as the 40mm Rokkor that you’d use on the CLE (I know, I shot both, compared them), the HiMatic even has a lens that is half a stop faster. Another recommendation would be the Olympus XA, another camera I own.

    4. In general, I would STRONGLY recommend against buying cameras that are not fully mechanical and depend on electronics. That’s just begging for your investment to become a worthless paper weight. I’ve done that one too many times myself.

    Just my four cents.

    Tobias

    • Hi Tobias,

      Thanks for your response. A few of them I certainly agree with: There are plenty of really great rangefinders out there. The HiMatic and the Canonet series being the best “bang for your buck” in my opinion. And of course the argument in favor of mechanical cameras is a strong one, though I do think the fear of old electronics is more overstated than it should be. I’ve never had a camera “brick” on me though I know others have. It’s more of a gamble though for sure.

      • Peter Bidel Schwambach January 25, 2021 at 8:51 am

        I too was wondering why the Canonet didn’t explicitly make it into the Rangefinders’ bargain bin, though I just assumed it was because the section linked directly to 3 articles where it appears twice. Wonderful little camera, I’m not at all a Canon guy, and I own two of them, a 1965 New Canonet QL17 and a 1970’s Canonet GIIIQL17, got both for dirty cheap, and both keep on delivering great photos.

        The larger one is great for a primary carry when you don’t want to worry about carrying a bag with you, and the smaller GIII is a great companion to my FM2

        • I had a pristine GIII for a few years, and it created some awesome images. You can’t say enough nice things about that camera.

      • I have a CLE that’s “bricked”. I cannot find anyone who can service it and/or has parts. Don’t buy the CLE. It’s too risky.

        I have a Contax G2 with a faulty shutter button. This can probably still be repaired but repair costs start at USD290 (excluding shipping etc.). The perceived price advantage of “cheaper” Leica M alternatives evaporates the moment these alternatives need maintenance.

        And your price range for M bodies is way off. I’ve found another single stroke Leica M3 at another store in Seattle for less than USD1000 in good condition. You can pick up a fully mechanical Leica M cheaper than most alternatives. Cheaper, because the entry is comparable and more importantly, a mechanical Leica M is reliable and has no hidden costs.

        Buy mechanical and don’t shy away from Leica M bodies. That’s the clear message. You’ll save money.

        • Agreed, $1K rather than $2K is more typical of a price for any of the classic meter-less M bodies (M3, M2, M4) in good, working condition.

          • I think it applies for M2 and M3 bodies. For some reason, M4 bodies go for more, probably because there are fewer to go around and because they are more flexible with offering the most frame lines across all three options. I am still looking for an M4 as a second body in case I need to send in my other M body that has 35mm frame lines.

        • Dann in Melbourne, Australia February 16, 2021 at 6:07 am

          Tobias, ditch your (grossly overpriced) faulty G2 and buy a G1. Heaps cheaper, 95% as good as. With the G line, the cameras are already ancient, dating to the 1990s so already ‘officially’ vintage, but with a little care (and a degree of good luck) those fantastic bodies will just go on shooting. If a G1 breaks down, spend $200 or less for another. The lenses really make this series what it is, a truly iconic shooter.

          Most G1 owners I know are one or two lens users anyway. I have four G1 bodies and the full range from 21 to 90, (the 16 Hologon costs a kidney and five toes and the somewhat iffy 35-70 zoom works only on the G2, so I’ve passed on those), and I find I mostly use either the 28 when I travel or the 35 for on-the-street shooting. The 90 is a good lens in the right hands but a bad rep for erratic focusing make this rather a no-no as a standalone lens – oddly, I meet no end of amateurs who’ve put serious money into a G2 body and then bought only a 90 for everyday use because it’s the cheapest G seres. True, it’s a (Japanese) Zeiss – but most won’t like the results they’ll get from it and should best pony up the extra cash for a 28 or 45, both of which excel for general photography.

          I do agree with your comment about going with a ‘mech’ M if you can afford it. In this new Covid age, many of us no longer can. I for one intend to go on shooting B&W with what I know best, the G1, until my fourth/last camera body expires – or I go first. I fondly hope, the former…

          • I got the black G2 with a set of black lenses: the 28, the 45 and the 90. I use the 90 quite often and wide open, so I benefit from the superior focusing from the G2 and the higher shutter speeds. But I get your point. I might add a G1 as a backup and go “panda” with it.

            I actually sent my G2 to the Nippon Camera Clinic to NYC. They are repairing the camera (including an overdue CLA) for USD390. Given how much the black Contax G2 has appreciated in value, especially as a complete set, I think the repair cost is still worth it. With the CLA and repair, I can add my set of black lenses, a working black Contax flash unit, plus leather case and sell the whole set at much more than what I spent on the set including the repair. However, I am quite fond of using this set… The results from this set are just amazing. The only other 35mm setup that gives me that amount of sharpness and contrast is my Leica M setup – with more difficulty as the auto-focus of the G2 does a lot of work for me. Also, the Leica Ms do not go beyond 1/1000, have shitty flash sync.

            I do think the mechanical Leica Ms may be more expensive up front, but going forward, I think they are much more cost efficient than cameras with electronic dependencies. There is a saying to this: poor people end up spending more money on the same thing. Ken Rockwell has some good advice on these kind of things:

            https://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/how-to-afford-anything.htm

            Take with a grain of salt. But there’s a lot of good stuff in there.

  • Seeing what you said about the nikon f3.. you get the same thing and an extra stop of speed in the nikon fe-2. and the fe-2 is cheep! if you are ok with loosing aperture priority mode I would strongly suggest a nikon f2a or f2. they are bullet proof all mechanical cameras. Additionally I think the f2 is a good contender for best/most reliable camera ever made. I have owned many leica Ms,(m2,m3,m4,m6,m6ttl,m4-2) and High end Canon film cameras, (canon f1n, eos 1n, eos 1, eos 1v.) hasselblads (500cm, 2000fcm) and I would say the f2 to me feels like the best made out of that bunch. Bonus they are pretty cheep usually for what you get.

    additionally Reliability for me is important because I do not baby my equipment. the f2 also does not let me down in reliability. I once dropped it off a mountain taking a photo. I ended up finding it and it works fine still! These things were made in the 1970s they are 50+ years old and work great still!

    My other nikon recommendation would be a fm2 but they seem to be hovering a little high in price these days.

  • Maybe it’s just my bad luck but every other AE-1 I’ve looked at has that dreaded “squeal” and for that reason alone I tend to hesitate in recommending it to friends who ask me about potential starter cameras. For 30 or 40 dollars less I can find an OM2 online that checks all the boxes of a good starter camera for me.

  • On Leicas – I actually disagree that the purchasing price is too high, if you stay away from the Lenny Kravitz / David Beckham camera necklaces (M6..)
    The problem with them is the constant need for calibration, servicing and after market stuff like finders, hoods which all go for big bucks. Fact is if you travel and shoot a fairly high volume then the real Leica money pit is the CLA’ing you’ll be doing.

    I had 2 M4’s and shot about 3-4 rolls a day for the best part of 5 years before giving up on leicas. They’re great if you baby them and shoot on the weekends.

    • Great points. In my time I’ve owned 5 Leicas. I’ve had the M3, 2 X M4 and 2 X M6. I shot a lot and often with them and the issues you mentioned were ultimately what killed my interest in Leica. Calibration was constantly required and the more you shoot them, the more servicing/CLA they require. Things get even more expensive with this in mind.

      With all 5 of the Leicas I’ve owned, I sunk money into CLAs over their time with me that meant the already high price at point of purchase had inflated even more. Problem there is, you don’t get that money back. You’ll get back the cost, maybe more for what ££££ it cost you when you picked it up, but any money for CLA and so on? Nope, gone.

      I do love the feel of them but I soon realised that they didn’t do anything my Pentax MX, Nikon FM2n, FA and FE bodies couldn’t do and the lenses, while great, weren’t convincingly better when compared to others.

      To summarise, lovely cameras, but having owned a few, I can’t justify their cost.

  • Hi Jeb,

    Very interessant article.

    Here is my little 2 cents contrib.

    For someone who is ready to pay a «high» price for a rangefinder, Nikon has put back in production a version of its SP rangefinder from 1957 in 2005. These cameras intended for collectors can from time to time be found on ebay, almost brand new, for half the price of a Leica. I’m not sure that any Leica-owner could distinguisch the pictures produced by these from the ones produced by its adored camera, but ok, you cannot pretend be a member of the brotherhood with it…

    Then, when you talk about russian alternatives, it is unfortunate that you choose one of the worst and uggliest piece, aka the Fed-4. Other all-mechanical versions of russian rangefinders are a lot more elegant and reliable. The Zorki-1 as a Leica-II style, The Fed-2, simple and easier to handle, the underevaluated FED-3. Ironically, a lot of lenses produced for these cameras continue their career on Leica LTM bodies.

  • Nice article , never a dull moment !

    There are cult cameras out there, and just as good non cultist cameras out there.
    In my 46 years of film photography, I have used many cameras, the only ones I have kept since new are my Nikon EM, F4S, F90X, and F80.
    The rest have been liquidated throughout the years. A good friend of mine owns a local used film camera shop with a large inventory, I occasionally drop by to purchase rolls of 35mm, it blows my socks off how much some of his cameras are now going for, Nikon FM 3, F3, Leicas, certain minoltas, Contaxes, Canon AE-1 and F1 original or F1 New, and let not forget Pentax LX. The answer I got was market dictates, people are willing to pay extra for those models.
    Wow, yes they are good cameras, I mentioned you also have other just as good models lining your shelves and showcases Pentax MX, Canon EF, Nikon FE, Nikkormats, Minolta x370, 500, SRT, Pentax ME and Super, Even the Yashica FR1… And then some…
    I would never cough up 3k for a used and not so un abused Leica M6 body only, nor would I pay big dinero for a Nikon FM 3, its going for nearly the price of a used F5 where I’m at…. I admit I have not bought a camera body in ages since I have my all time faves since new, including my F4S I was using earning a living at the time, but this is getting out of hand.
    Whats also driving up price according to my used camera source, is collectors hoarding cameras in large quantities, I was told the selection they have available to put in inventory has dropped due to the hoarders….so specimens drop in availability, up goes the price…..

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Jeb Inge

Jeb Inge is a Berlin-based photographer and writer. He has previously worked in journalism, public history and public relations.

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