5 Useful Tips on Buying Your First Film Camera

Ready to start your film photography journey? With these useful tips, buying your very first film camera won’t be as complicated as it can seem.

So, you’re a digital photographer who decided to try your hand at shooting film. Congratulations! You’re in for a ride, beginning with your very first film camera purchase. If that sounds exciting yet daunting, it really is both. But what it doesn’t have to be is stressful or complicated. With these quick tips, you should be able to find the best film camera to begin your film photography journey.

With film photography comes countless camera choices; SLRs, TLRs, rangefinders, medium format, large format, instant cameras, point-and-shoot — and the list goes on. This is why photographer and cinematographer Casey Cavanaugh came up with a checklist to help you narrow down your options and eventually make your pick.

Ready? Here it goes:

In summary, it’s more advisable to buy from a seller who will allow you to inspect the camera before you buy it. This way, you’ll get acquainted with the camera’s functions and see for yourself if it has any issues before you shell out any money. Depending on the condition of the camera, you may have to get the unit repaired or do some cleaning or minor repair work yourself.

To recap, here are some tips to help you buy your first film camera:

  1. Check the shutter speeds. The shutter is among the first to “die” in old film cameras; they get stuck because of the lubricants (a common issue in leaf shutters). Check the slower speeds for accuracy (the 1-second speed will do) because they are often the first to get affected if the camera hasn’t been cleaned and re-lubricated in a long time.
  2. Check the light seals. To make sure that your camera is free from light leaks, check the light seals on the edges of the film door or cover to see if they are still intact. The light seals in old cameras (if they haven’t been replaced yet) can flake off and get inside your camera. If they need replacing and you don’t mind doing it yourself, you can still get them off some ebay sellers or use some foam sheets with adhesive back.
  3. Check the lens for fungus or haze. To check the lens quality, a flashlight comes in handy for shining light through the lens so you can see properly if it has any fungus or haze. As a beginner, you don’t really want to spend a lot of time and/or money having to clean that off yourself (or paying someone else to), so spare yourself the trouble and do a quick lens check.
  4. Check the focus accuracy. This is especially crucial for rangefinder cameras. Make sure that the rangefinder patches are moving and matching (horizontally and vertically) correctly, and focusing at right distances.
  5. Bring batteries for the camera you’re buying. Some sellers will provide some batteries for testing but, just to be sure, bring your own. Research the batteries that your camera uses beforehand so you can make a full test of all the camera’s functions. This is especially the case for cameras with built-in light meters, which of course need batteries to run.

There you have it; some basic stuff to know before you buy your very first film camera. Happy buying, and have fun shooting!