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Whether you’re looking for your first film camera or your fifth, there are an overwhelming amount of choices available.
To narrow down your search, it helps to figure out what type of camera you’re interested in.
Each type of film camera has its pros and cons – these will be different for each photographer.
If you’re new to film photography, or just looking to try out some new gear, we’ve gathered a quick overview of each type of camera.
Point and Shoot Film Cameras
As film photography has increased in popularity over the last decade, there’s been a particular interest in point and shoot film cameras.
In the days before digital cameras were available, point and shoots were marketed as an easier, cheaper way to take photos.
They were simple enough that non-photographers often had a 35mm point and shoot camera for everyday snapshots – even your Grandpa or kid sibling were capable of getting a decent shot.
A lot of younger photographers are seeking out 35mm point and shoot cameras for the same reason – they’re attracted to the look of film but want something that doesn’t require an in-depth background in photography.
Of course there are exceptions, but in general, point and shoot film cameras are lightweight, compact, and extremely easy to use. Hence the name – all you need to do is point the camera at your subject and shoot.
Compact P&S film cameras come with a fixed lens and most commonly employ a wide angle or standard focal length. This ensures that the cameras are especially versatile.
The vast majority of point and shoots feature autofocus and even the older models use a simpler manual focus system than other types of cameras.
Pros of Point and Shoots
- Compact, lightweight, and portable. Most models weigh well under one pound and some can even fit in a pocket.
- Easy to use with limited settings. The name says it all – if you don’t want to worry about anything other than what you’re taking a photo of, a point and shoot will suit you well.
- Plenty of models available. Popular models have become more difficult to track down, but if you don’t really care about anything other than its ability to take photos, there are plenty of options, some quite cheap.
- No need to buy additional gear like lenses. Aside from a few models that don’t come with a built-in flash, it’s nice that you don’t need to buy anything other than the camera itself.
Cons of Point and Shoots
- Mostly plastic construction. This is, of course, what makes the cameras small and lightweight, but the tradeoff is usually less durability. Some models are made of metal and plastic, but they tend to cost more.
- Usually unable to be repaired. It’s unfortunate, but most point and shoot film cameras cannot be repaired anymore. Electronic components and cheap, plastic construction do not usually age well, especially when the cameras were originally marketed towards amateurs who wanted budget-friendly models.
- Lack of control over settings. This may be a positive for beginners looking for ease over everything else, but even novice photographers may be frustrated at the inability to change settings manually.
- Huge price increases for popular models. While everything about film photography has gotten extremely expensive, nowhere is this more true than the 35mm point and shoot market. The most popular compact cameras are beloved for good reason, but it’s hard to justify buying a point and shoot that costs more than most people’s rent.
Who Should Buy a Point and Shoot Film Camera?
As we said in our review of the best point and shoot camera under $200, we think that every analog photographer should keep a point and shoot (or two) in their collection.
At the end of the day, the best camera is always going to be whichever you’re most likely to use, and for a lot of people, a compact film camera fits that bill nicely.
Not only will you be more likely to keep a small, lightweight camera in your bag, but there’s something attractive about the ease of a point and shoot, even for advanced photographers.
There are plenty of times where manually focusing, metering, or even just carrying around a “better” film camera aren’t worth the effort. Removing these obstacles can sometimes allow you to be more present in your surroundings and see photos that you would’ve otherwise missed.
A lot of people these days think that a point and shoot is the best film camera for beginners. Really, it depends on what you want to get out of shooting film.
If you want to learn (or master) the fundamentals of photography and level up your skills, you’re going to be better off with a different type of camera. The longstanding recommendation for beginners has been a manual, 35mm SLR like the Pentax K1000 or the Canon AE-1.
Just to take a single photo on one of these cameras, you’ll need a good understanding of photographic basics (like shutter speed, aperture, etc.). That’s exactly why they are so often suggested for beginners – the camera forces you to learn to walk before you can run.
That said, if all you’re looking for is an easy way to snap some photos on film, a compact point and shoot might be perfect for you. There’s nothing wrong with choosing the easier option, especially if it means that you’ll take more photos.
SLR Film Cameras
For many, many years, a 35mm SLR was the go-to camera for just about everyone. And as technology advanced, SLRs continued to become smaller, lighter, and cheaper, with features increasing the ease of use.
A lot of photographers are already familiar with SLR cameras, though maybe the digital counterparts.
For the most part, digital and film versions operate the same, just recording the images to a different format (a memory card vs 35mm film).
SLR stands for “Single Lens Reflex” – a basic description of how this type of camera functions. Light comes through the lens and reflects off an angled mirror inside the camera body which causes the image to project into the viewfinder.
When a photo is taken, the mirror shifts up and out of the way for the camera to record the image. This also causes the viewfinder to go dark while the photo is being taken, because of the position of the mirror.
Even when narrowing your search down to SLRs that shoot 35mm film, there are significant differences between models.
Some of the oldest SLR film cameras are entirely mechanical machines that don’t even require a battery to function. None of the settings are able to be set automatically, and they might not even have a built-in light meter.
On the flip side, some 35mm SLRs were first released in the early 2000’s and are so advanced that you may forget you’re shooting film.
With such a significant time spent as the most popular type of camera, it makes sense that there is a big range of features available on SLR cameras.
Regardless of your skill level, you can probably find a 35mm SLR that fits most of your needs.
Pros of SLR Film Cameras
- Cheaper than other types of cameras. SLR film cameras can offer a lot of bang for your buck these days. Sure, prices are much higher than they were 10 years ago, but the large supply of 35mm SLRs produced over time makes them easier to find.
- Lens selection and compatibility. There are endless choices of lenses for most SLR film cameras, many of them quite cheap. Many lenses are compatible with both film or digital SLRs, potentially saving you even more money.
- Durable, sturdy construction. This may be dependent on exactly which model you’re looking at, but most 35mm SLRs are pretty durable. This is especially true for older, metal-constructed cameras.
- Ability to see the final image through the viewfinder. While other types of cameras show you exactly what’s in front of you, SLRs only show you what will be visible in the final image.
Cons of SLR Film Cameras
- Can be heavy and/or bulky. The internal mechanisms of an SLR prevent this type of camera from being as compact as some other options. There are definitely smaller, lighter models (like the Olympus OM-1), but generally, 35mm SLRs can be quite bulky.
- Missing modern amenities. Older SLR models usually lack anything “auto”, which some people prefer, but might be too steep a learning curve for some beginners.
- Might need repairs. There are common issues for SLRs – mirrors not acting properly, light leaks, film not advancing, etc. Fortunately, unlike point and shoot film cameras, most of these issues can still be fixed.
Who Should Buy a Film SLR?
Just about everyone interested in analog photography should try shooting an SLR film camera at some point. There’s a reason that this type of camera was the most popular, all across the globe, for many years.
If you’re a beginner in film photography and want to develop your skills, a 35mm SLR is a great place to start.
You should be able to find a film camera for under $100, and a standard, 50mm lens usually costs even less.
If you’re brand new to photography in general, there will be a bit of a learning curve with a lot of SLRs. You’ll need to achieve an understanding of photographic fundamentals before you can even take any photos.
That said, the foundation you build will be transferable to any other type of camera. So if you really want to get good at taking photos, starting with a manual, 35mm SLR will definitely have advantages.
The nice thing about SLR film cameras is that there is a huge range of features available depending on which model you choose.
Want a camera that’s easier to use? There are plenty of SLRs that feature autofocus and set the exposure without you needing to do a thing.
Or, if you want a slower, more intentional process, you can find a manual SLR film camera that doesn’t even have a light meter.
It could be argued that SLRs are the most versatile type of film camera.
Rangefinder Film Cameras
These days, rangefinders are probably the least common type of 35mm film cameras. But that wasn’t always the case…
Before SLR cameras gained mainstream popularity, rangefinders were considered the standard type of camera. They were manufactured to be rock solid and extremely durable, in order to hold up to the demands of professional photographers.
The distinguishing factor for rangefinder cameras is the focusing system, from which the cameras get their name.
A rangefinder focus system measures the distance from the camera and the subject to achieve proper focus.
In most models, the viewfinder shows a double image of what’s in front of the camera – as you turn the focus, one of the images moves, lining up with the other once you’ve achieved proper focus.
Unlike SLR cameras, the viewfinder of a rangefinder is nothing more than a window through the camera. This means that when you look through the viewfinder, you’ll see a larger area than what will be captured in the final image.
Most rangefinders have “frame lines” in the viewfinder, showing you what will be captured in frame according to what focal length of lens you’re using.
If you’ve never used one of these cameras, it can be hard to properly frame your photos at first, but most people get used to it pretty quickly.
Without an internal mirror like an SLR, rangefinders are generally more compact in size. This also makes it quicker to take photos and easier to use a slow shutter speed.
While people may think that rangefinder film cameras are exclusively for advanced photographers, there are models available at all price points.
Pros of Rangefinders
- Compact, ergonomic form. It may not look like much of a difference from an SLR, but we can guarantee that most rangefinders are easier to carry for a long period of time. They also tend to feel more comfortable and ergonomic in the hands.
- Fast, accurate focusing. Other types of film cameras can take a bit of time to focus, but with a rangefinder, the process becomes extremely quick. It’s also a lot easier to confirm that you’ve achieved proper focus.
- Durability/longevity. Rangefinder film cameras were built to last. Most models are especially durable because of their metal construction. And unlike other types of film cameras, many models can still be repaired today.
Cons of Rangefinder Cameras
- Most expensive type of camera. All of these positives are unfortunately reflected in the price for most film rangefinders. As attractive as photographers find this type of camera, the price is a deterrent for many.
- Not everyone likes the rangefinder experience. Some people just don’t enjoy the experience of focussing and shooting a rangefinder. That’s fine – different strokes for different folks.
- Can be difficult to find. Very few rangefinders saw the production numbers of popular SLRs. Combined with their popularity among advanced photographers, it can be much more difficult to track down the model you’re looking for.
Who Should Buy a Rangefinder Film Camera?
We’d probably recommend that you have some level of film photography experience before looking into rangefinders. This isn’t absolutely necessary, though.
You’ll need a good handle on photographic basics just to shoot photos with a film rangefinder. If manually focussing or adjusting the exposure sounds like too much for you to take on, we’d definitely look into other types of cameras.
On the other hand, if you’re already used to doing things manually, you may enjoy shooting on a rangefinder. It’s no coincidence that a lot of professionals primarily use this type of camera.
Any type of photography that values speed (such as street photography) will greatly benefit from the rangefinder experience.
And as we’ve already touched on, the single most important aspect of any camera is how often you’ll actually use it. The compact, ergonomic form makes a rangefinder a great everyday carry.
The more places you take your camera, the more photos you’ll have the opportunity to take – a 35mm rangefinder with a prime lens quickly becomes like an extra limb. You’ll barely even notice it after a while.
TLR Film Cameras
While not anywhere near as common as the other types of film cameras, TLRs have been around longer than any of the others.
Remember how SLR stands for “Single Lens Reflex”? That name is derived from TLR, which stands for “Twin Lens Reflex”, indicating a similar internal mechanism, but with two lenses instead of one.
One of the lenses projects your image into the viewfinder while the second is just for recording the image onto the film.
Just like an SLR, there is an angled mirror inside the body of the camera which reflects the image into the viewfinder.
But since the viewfinder lens and shooting lens are separate, the mirror stays in place when you take a picture, unlike an SLR.
For the most part, TLR cameras use 120 medium format film. Models that accept other film formats exist, but they’re pretty uncommon these days. TLRs usually produce photos in the 6×6 square format.
A unique feature for other types of cameras, but common on TLR film cameras is what’s called a “waist-level viewfinder”. The top of these models slides open and the photographer looks down, over the top of the camera, to see what’s in frame.
Especially with a waist level finder, the shooting experience on a TLR is much different than any other type of camera.
It’s pretty unlikely that a TLR is going to be your everyday camera, but they are worth exploring if you like the slow, intricate process of shooting old film cameras.
Pros of TLRs
- Interesting shooting experience. Most photographers these days haven’t ever shot photos on a TLR. The process is interesting, unique, and can be a lot of fun.
- Cheapest way to shoot medium format. If you’ve been interested in upgrading from 35mm to medium format, you’ve probably realized that it ain’t cheap. TLR cameras are some of the least expensive cameras that accept 120 film.
- No need to buy lenses. The design of most TLR film cameras is that the lenses are built into the body. No need to make any decisions or additional purchases.
Cons of TLR Cameras
- Can be difficult to frame photos. Waist-level viewfinders make it tricky to frame the camera from anywhere other than, well…your waist. We find that most of our photos on a TLR end up lacking much variety in the angle/position of the camera.
- Limited focal lengths. It’s nice that you don’t need to buy any additional lenses, but it can also be limiting to have just one focal length. And even between models, most have similar focal lengths – there aren’t any with zoom lenses.
- Big and heavy. All TLR cameras are pretty awkward to carry around. Especially when a lot of photographers prefer to use a tripod with their TLR, it can feel like a big production just to go out and take some photos.
Who Should Buy a TLR Film Camera?
Of all the types of film cameras, TLRs are least suited for beginners. Especially with how expensive it’s gotten to shoot medium format film, it just wouldn’t make much sense for most people.
If you’re an experienced analog photographer, a TLR might be a good way to shake things up and get a fresh perspective.
If you’ve been shooting photos long enough, you may have periods where you feel uninspired whenever you grab one of your cameras. TLR film cameras have such a unique shooting experience that it may push you to think in new ways.
Very few people are going to adopt a TLR as their all-the-time, everyday camera. That said, photographers who love tinkering with vintage cameras will probably enjoy a TLR enough to justify the low cost of most models.
Disposable Cameras / Reusable Film Cameras
Most people have shot a disposable camera at some point in their life – unfortunately they have gotten very expensive lately.
Disposables are great when you just want the simplest way to shoot film photos possible. Plenty of people also love the look of disposable cameras, imperfections and all.
Nowadays, a few companies make “reusable” film cameras. These cheap 35mm film cameras work about the same as a disposable, but after you finish the roll, you can just reload new film.
You can find models with a few different focal lengths and most of them come with a built-in flash.
Reusable film cameras tend to pay for themselves after you shoot around 5-10 rolls. If you really just want to shoot one or two rolls, it might be easiest to stick with disposables, even if they do cost a lot more than buying 35mm film.
Both types of cameras function the same way – the lens doesn’t actually change focus at all. Instead, the aperture is wide enough with the right focal length that most subjects will be in focus.
This is why disposable cameras sometimes have such unexpected results. They’re really just the simplest cameras possible, made to work well in the most common shooting situations.
If you like to shoot disposable or reusable film cameras, it helps to avoid placing your subjects too close or far away. Somewhere around 4-10 feet is where things should be relatively in focus.