Five Great Film SLR Cameras to Grab for Under $150

35mm Film SLR
Start your film photography journey with these noteworthy film SLR cameras that won’t break the bank.

If you’ve been looking for some great cameras to begin your film photography journey with or add to your vintage camera collection, we can see how it can be overwhelming given all the choices out there. Today, allow us to narrow down the list with a handful of film SLR recommendations. These models are some of the best and most interesting cameras film photographers have been picking up since the so-called analog resurgence. While prices for many cult cameras have gone up, you can still grab these particular models today without breaking the bank.

Before we get to the list, it’s worth noting that the models we picked came from an interesting period in camera manufacturing history. According to Wikipedia, the 1970s and 1980s were marked by intense competition between the major camera companies in the business of SLR cameras: Nikon, Canon, Minolta, Pentax, and Olympus. Between 1975 to 1985, the industry was also shifting from weighty all-metal mechanical bodies to more compact designs that featured electronic automation. It was also a decade that saw the companies expand to the low-end amateur market. While outstanding electronic models were the landmarks of this era, some enduring full-manual cameras were also able to successfully cater to both advanced amateur and low-end amateur markets alike.

Canon AE-1 / AE-1 Program

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Two cameras that have been consistently topping the list of many film photographers are Canon AE-1, which came out in 1976, and its automatic version that followed in 1981, the AE-1 Program. Wikipedia notes that the FD mount AE-1 is a historically significant camera not only because it enjoyed unprecedented success in terms of sales, but also because it was the first SLR equipped with a microprocessor. While the two models were eventually overshadowed by the newer EF mount Canon EOS a few years later, they remain some of the most popular, affordable, and accessible FD mount Canon cameras out there today.

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Nikon FM

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Nikon has been a powerhouse of iconic cameras, not only with its professional F-series cameras but also reasonably priced alternatives like the Nikon FM. Wikipedia tells us that when it came out in 1977, it succeeded the Nikkormat FT3 and featured a compact yet durable copper-aluminum alloy chassis which eventually became the basis for Nikon’s highly successful compact semi-professional SLR cameras. The fully mechanical FM needs no batteries to operate, save for two LR44 batteries for the light meter, making it a great and reliable camera for shooting film in manual mode.

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Minolta XD11

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The Minolta XD7, also known as XD11 in North America and XD in Japan, is hailed by many as Minolta’s best manual focus body for a number of good reasons. The Rokkor Files tells us that it was the world’s first SLR camera to have both shutter priority and aperture priority auto exposure modes, as well as fully metered manual mode. The Rokkor Files also noted that this model was co-developed with Leica and became the basis for the Leica R4 body, as well as the Leica R5, R6, and R7 later. The black model is particularly interesting since it used a special anodizing process licensed from Leitz to gave it a more durable finish than black paint.

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Pentax K1000

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Introduced in 1976, the Pentax K1000 was the simplest in Asahi Optical’s K-series of 35mm SLRs, yet it enjoyed extraordinary longevity that lasted until 1997. Wikipedia tells us that this is most likely because of its inexpensive simplicity as well as its reputation as a basic but sturdy workhorse camera. A nearly all-metal, mechanically controlled (it only needs one LR4 battery for the light meter), and manual focus camera, it continues to be a highly recommended model for photography students and film photography newbies.

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Olympus OM-1

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Finally, we get to the Olympus OM-1, the first in the acclaimed OM Series of compact 35mm film SLR cameras designed by the renowned Maitani Yoshihisa. Introduced in 1972, it was highly lauded as the world’s smallest and lightest 35mm SLR camera. According to the Olympus website, a wide range of innovative design ideas were implemented to give this model a compact size and reduce noise and shock by the shutter operation. This model also boasts an improved and durable shutter that can withstand 100,000 operations.

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