The Phoblographer’s Guide to the 6 Best Film Cameras for a Beginner

If you truly want your images to look like film, why not shoot with the genuine article? These cameras are perfect options to help you get started!

It should come as no surprise to long time readers of The Phoblographer that we’re quite fond of shooting with film. Astronomical megapickle counts are all the rage these days. Improvements in computational photography are helping smartphone cameras punch well above their weight as well. Despite these technological advancements, however, there’s a certain je ne sais quoi about loading a roll of your favorite emulsion into a film camera and actually going out to shoot. There’s nothing quite like the magical quality of the clicking of an analog camera’s shutter or the cranking of the film advance lever. Maybe it’s the mechanical nature of it all, or perhaps we’re just nostalgic.

What we do know for sure is that shooting with film cameras cuts through the bs. Instead of spraying and praying like some are prone to do with a digital camera, shooting on a film camera forces you to be more deliberate, more mindful, and more present. Shooting analog distills the act of photography down to its baseline form and forces you to focus on the act of image-making itself. If you’ve always wanted to give film try (and we wholeheartedly think all photographers should), here are six of the best film cameras to get you started. You’re welcome.

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Canon A1

Canon introduced the Canon A1 back in 1978 as a follow up to the very well regarded Canon AE-1. The A1 utilizes Canon’s manual focus FD lens mount which preceded the company’s widely popular EF lens mount. The Canon A1 is one of the most historically significant cameras in Canon’s 80+ years history. This is thanks to it being the first SLR (Single-Lens Reflex) camera to include an auto exposure mode that’s electronically controlled and programmed. This made the Canon A1 the gold standard in terms of camera technology at the time.

You can find plenty of excellent copies of the Canon A1 on eBay.

Nikon F3

Introduced in 1980, the Nikon F3 is considered by many as the finest manual focus camera the company has ever made. It uses Nikon’s storied F-mount and can accept most F-mount lenses. In fact, the Nikon F3 was so well regarded that even NASA used specially modified versions of them in their Space Shuttle Program at one point. That’s a hell of a seal of approval.

Pick one up from eBay before they’re gone for good.

Minolta a7

The Minolta a7 was the OG a7 camera long before Sony released their revolutionary Full Frame Mirrorless camera of the same name. The a7 (short for Alpha 7) also went by the Dynax 7 or the Maxxum 7 names depending on the region you’re in. It is widely considered to be the most advanced film body that Konica Minolta ever produced. The Minolta a7 uses Minolta A-mount lenses. Sony would go on to adopt the Alpha product name after acquiring the camera business from Konica Minolta in 2006. As part of the transition, the Minolta A-mount would go on to be renamed the Sony A-mount. This makes the Minolta a7 an ideal film camera for photographers shooting with Sony’s SLT or Mirrorless digital cameras. Minolta A-mount lenses can be used natively on Sony’s SLT bodies and can be mounted onto Sony E-mount via adapters while retaining AF capabilities.

You’ll see them pop up on eBay every now and again.

Leica R5

While Leica’s are perhaps best known for their rangefinder cameras, the Leica R5 is part of the company’s less prominent line of SLR cameras produced in cooperation with Minolta. Released in 1986, the R5 combined affordability with the same legendary Leica build quality. The Leica R5 uses the R bayonet lens mount instead of the M-mount utilized by Leica’s rangefinder bodies. It’s the perfect film camera for photographers who want to get in on the Leica action without breaking the bank.

Plenty of Leica R5’s can be found on eBay for quite a bit less than you may think. R-mount lenses though are another story 😂.

Pentax Spotmatic

Pro Tip: When traveling, consider putting your film in a bag that will be hand checked. Don’t run it through the XRay; the strength tends to vary from machine to machine and airport to airport.

Compact, well built, and super affordable (especially today), the Pentax Spotmatic was the film camera many photographers first began shooting with. Introduced in 1964, the Pentax Spotmatic is still used as a starter camera by photography classes the world over today. The Spotmatic uses the M42 screw mount, making it compatible with an vast array of manual lenses including some excellent options from Zeiss.

Tons of Pentax Spotmatic can be hand for a song from eBay.

Bronica ETRSi

The Bronica ETRSi is the only Medium Format SLR on this list thanks to the combination of its reliability, beautiful lens selection, and modest price point. Released in 1988, the Bronica ETRSi was the pinnacle of the company’s ETR camera series. Lens manufacturer Tamron would go on to acquire Bronica in 1998 and operate the company until camera production ceased in 2005. The Bronica ETRSi was the go-to choice for many professional photographers back in the analog days, especially amongst the wedding photography crowd.

There are lots of Bronica ETRSi’s in excellent condition available on eBay.

Pauleth Ip

Paul is a New York City based photographer, creative, and writer. His body of work includes headshots and commercial editorials for professionals, in-demand actors/performers, high net worth individuals, and corporate clients, as well as intimate lifestyle/boudoir photography with an emphasis on body positivity and empowerment. Paul also has a background in technology and higher education, and regularly teaches private photography seminars. When not working on reviews and features for The Phoblographer or shooting client work, Paul can be seen photographing personal projects around NYC, or traveling the world with his cameras in tow. You can find Paul’s latest work on his Instagram over at @thepicreative.