Five Cheap (but Very Good) Film Cameras You Can Buy Today

Five Cheap (but Very Good) Film Cameras You Can Buy Today

2200 1240 James Tocchio

People complain to me every day that film cameras (especially those suited for beginners) have become too expensive. I’ve been writing about cameras for ten years, shooting a different model every week, and have sold tens of thousands of film cameras through my shop during this same period. I have a lot of experience buying, using, and selling cameras, and I say the following with whatever authority such experience gives me; If you’re looking for a cheap and very good film camera, there are still plenty of them out there.

I think the perception that film cameras are expensive is fundamentally flawed. I don’t think $220 is too much to pay for a fully functional, refurbished, cleaned, tested, and guaranteed Pentax K1000 with a fast prime 50mm lens. I also know that you could buy a much better camera (for half that price) in my shop right now. That’s a pretty definitive rebuttal to the “too expensive” argument.

But you’re not here for my commentary. You’re here because of Search Engine Optimization, and you want a list of excellent film cameras that are super affordable. So…

Let the list begin! Here are five cheap and very good film cameras you can buy right now.

Canon EOS Rebel SLRs

A few years ago, I responded to the constant din of commentators who proselytize the Leica M3 and Contax T2 and Pentax K1000 with an article which posited that we should all be shooting dorky, auto-focus SLR cameras. And I was right. 35mm film SLR cameras from the 1990s and 2000s offer lightning fast autofocus, ergonomic controls, advanced metering systems for any light situation, every shooting mode imaginable, automatic everything when we want it and manual modes when we don’t. They are the best film cameras ever made.

While some of the EOS models can be quite expensive, the Rebel series cameras were designed and built for beginners and enthusiasts. As the models progressed through the years, they just got better and better. Keep an eye out for the Rebel 2000, Rebel XS, Rebel G and Rebel GII. The later Rebel K and Rebel Ti cameras are also excellent, though these have a slightly unusual form factor.

Importantly, these cameras use Canon’s ubiquitous EF lens mount, which their DSLRs also used for decades. So for photographers who may be using Canon EOS digital SLRs as well, buying an EOS film camera is a no-brainer. Not all lenses are compatible, so do your research. But a great Canon EOS film camera with a lens will cost just $50 – 150, depending on model and lens.

Nikon N65

Similar in almost every way to the Canon EOS models discussed moments ago, the Nikon N series provided amateur and enthusiast photographers of the 1990s and 2000s with amazing technology in an SLR camera. There are a number of N series cameras, and it can be a bit daunting when trying to decide which one to buy. In my experience, the N65 offers a perfect balance of performance and price. But you could also look at the amazing Nikon N75 and Nikon N80.

This camera uses Nikon F mount lenses, which again, means that there’s a simply stunning selection of available lenses at all budgets. Pair a standard 50mm F/1.8 Nikkor with a Nikon N65 and you’ve got a kit that will handle all of your film photography needs for the next twenty years.

Buy one here.

Kodak Ektar H35N

Unlike the rest of the cameras on this list, the Kodak Ektar H35N is a brand new film camera. I reviewed the H35 here, and it proved to be a fun, cheap, easy-to-use, and beautiful camera, perfect for beginners or for those who want to try shooting film without spending a lot of money. At just $45, it’s among the most economical ways to get into film photography. It further stretches our dollar by being a half frame camera, which means we spend half the money on film and development costs, since it makes two pictures for every one standard frame of film. It makes nice pictures with a lo-fi aesthetic, it has a charming, overtly retro design, and it comes in a variety of stylish colors.

The Kodak Ektar H35 is easy. It has one button. It looks nice. It costs nothing. Importantly, I can walk into a Target and buy one. This ease of adoption is valuable and should not be overlooked. People like things that are easy, and the Ektar H35 is just about the easiest way to get into film photography today.

This camera will make pictures that aren’t as nice as any of the other cameras on the list. But that same lo-fi image quality will be welcomed by many new shooters as a charming quirk of shooting film. The retro aesthetic will be interesting and unique. For people like these, the H35 is a great camera and an important stepping stone within their photographic journey.

Buy one here!

Canon Sure Shot Series Point and Shoots

Point and shoot film cameras are great. They’re extremely easy to use and compact enough to take anywhere. During the 1990s and into the 2000s, Canon’s Sure Shot series made up some of the most advanced small cameras in the world, packing more features and technology into their tiny bodies than pro-spec SLRs did a decade earlier.

When my daughters were three years old, I gave them Canon Sure Shots of their own and they astonished me with the quality of their photos. These literal babies were making better photos than me! If you can’t do the same with a Canon Sure Shot, it’s not the camera’s fault.

In my years of selling point and shoot film cameras, I’ve found that the Canon Sure Shots are among the more reliable examples of the type. Within this series there are plenty of models to choose from. Some have zoom lenses, some have primes. Some are sleek and futuristic looking, and others are just cute.

You can find them on eBay priced between $30 and $75.

Pentax P3 / P3N / P3T (AKA P30 / P30N / P30T)

The Pentax P3, P3N, and P3T (also known in some parts of the world as the P30, P30N, and P30T) are amazing, and among the best under-valued cameras on the market today. There are subtle differences in each of the three models, but fundamentally these cameras offer the same core properties; they are all manual focus 35mm film SLR cameras which use the Pentax K mount lenses. Hey, that’s just like the K1000! They’ve got big, bright viewfinders, accurate and informative light meters, and simple intuitive controls.

For those who care about details, the differences in the models are as follows:

The Pentax P3 or P30 offers three exposure modes; Manual, a full automatic Program mode, and automatic flash mode. The P3N or P30N offers four exposure modes; Manual, full automatic Program mode, automatic flash mode, and Aperture Priority semi-auto mode. The P3T or P30T is the same as the P3N or P30N, except that it has a faux titanium paint finish, it has a diagonally-split focusing patch, and its film door is made of plastic (as opposed to the earlier camera’s metal door).

For those who just want a dead simple, extremely effective, easily legible, and classically styled film camera, get on eBay and buy a Pentax P3 of any type today. They cost about $50 and usually come with a beautiful Pentax SMC lens attached.

If history is any indicator, the prices of the cameras that I’ve spotlighted in today’s article will jump in price once the YouTubers mine this article and adopt my experience and opinions as their own. If you’re interested in buying a cheap and very good film camera, I’d do it now.

Or maybe you know of a cheap but excellent film camera not mentioned in this article. Tell me 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
  • I would add the Nikon N8008s. I just bought one in nearly mint condition with a Nikkor AF-D 28-85mm f3.5-4.5 lens for $95. It is a super capable camera that many pros used as back-ups to their Nikon F4 bodies.

    • Agreed! I love that whole era of cameras from Nikon, Minolta, and Canon. I wish I could include Olympus on the list of great 35mm AF SLRs, but they only made one, and then jumped ship to focus on consumer-level point and shoots.

  • I like the Minolta Maxxum 5. Cheap as chips, light, easy to use, and very capable.

    • Great camera, great article!

    • I would warn possible buyers, the Maxxum (or Dynax in my end of the woods) 5 is a great way to catch Minoltaism, an affliction that is hard to get rid of and that among other things leads to “too few shelves at home” syndrome and possibly spously reactions like “another one??”.

  • Merlin Marquardt June 4, 2024 at 11:07 pm

    What about the Nikon N75?

  • Merlin Marquardt June 4, 2024 at 11:08 pm

    Good advice from an expert.

  • I have EOS 650 and 7. Since both are autofocus, I find myself using these more to take pictures of my kids. I do like my manual cameras but I also like my auto cameras, as well.

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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