Learn to Shoot on Film (or Get Back Into it) With the 8 Best 35mm Cameras

nikon 35mm film camera sitting on
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In an age when digital photography reigns supreme, and everyone and their mother has a fantastic camera built into their smartphones, it’s easy to forget that capturing photos once took a lot of effort, money and know-how. But, there are some people who will never forget, not least because photography is more than just a “point and shoot” activity. Proper film photography is a release, an expression of artistic flair and a great way to spend recreational time.

While many hobby photographers are happy with the digital format, some enthusiasts are turning to the “old way” to improve their finished product. This may be because film cameras are generally a lot cheaper to source than top digital models and the photo creation process is a lot more hands on, with the option to develop your own film and the ability to create more artistic, in-camera or post-processing images. In reality, some users just like the aesthetic of film cameras over digital versions, and just like with classic cars and records, people are always going to appreciate retro.

When it comes to trying out photography for yourself, you have a few options. For those familiar with digital cameras and manual photography settings already, switching over to a more advanced 35mm option won’t be too challenging. However, if this is your first step into photography, it’s a good idea to learn slowly about photography principles and then graduate up the complexity ladder as you go. Luckily, our film camera list has options for every level of knowledge. Note that while all of the cameras listed are available on Amazon for purchase, a handful are gently used and refurbished as some of the highest quality film cameras aren’t in mass production any longer. Whenever buying a refurbished product, be sure to inspect it thoroughly and read through reviews before purchasing.

1. Pentax P30T 35mm Film Camera

BEST OVERALL

The Pentax P30T 35mm Film Camera looks ready to go. Whether it’s a family vacation, a day out at the beach or hitting the streets of New York for some hard hitting street shots, this is a camera that can keep up and won’t let you down. It’s compatible with all Pentax PK-mount lenses and the P30T body comes with a fixed 50mm lens, which is great for portraits and other day-to-day shots. This refurbished camera was originally manufactured between 1990 and 1997 and offers users three separate shooting modes to choose from: aperture priority, automatica exposure and metered manual.

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2. Halina Tegra AF290 Film Camera

BEST VALUE

If all you want is a cheap way to express yourself on a film, then the Halina Tegra AF290 Film Camera is the choice for you. The camera runs on AA batteries and comes supplied with a neck strap and manual on how to best use it. The built-in 28mm wide angle lens lets you capture everything around, making this camera a great option for almost every occasion, whether you’re at a party, out with friends or touring a new city for the day. The Halina Tegra Film Camera is the film version of a point and shoot digital device.

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3. Holga Panoramic Pinhole Camera

BEST FOR CREATING ARTWORK MASTERPIECES

One of the major reasons many people still love working with film cameras is the window for expressing yourself. This is absolutely the case with the Holga Panoramic Pinhole Camera. The pinhole exposure means the camera requires no lens to deliver a panoramic view reaching as wide as 120 degrees. The camera also boasts an F133 aperture, which can accommodate all 120 format films. The artistic device comes with two different frame size masks, one for 6×9 cm and one for 6×12 cm. It’s also a great option for photographers looking to play with multiple-exposure photography, as the film requires manual advancement, making repeated exposures especially easy. 

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4. Canon AV-1 35mm SLR Camera

BEST FOR BEGINNERS

If this is your first venture into film photography, the Canon AV-1 35mm SLR Camera is a great option. Not only does it look the part, it’s also easy to work and comes supplied with a fixed 50mm f/1.8 lens, allowing for plenty of personal expression in your work. The camera runs on normal, 35mm film and can accommodate any Canon FD-mount lenses to give you a massive range of photography styles at your fingertips. This slightly used camera is available from a range of different sellers and starts at $80.00.

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5. Minolta SRT-102 Camera Body and Lens

MOST TECHNOLOGICALLY ADVANCED

Last produced in 1975, the Minolta SRT-102 Camera Body and Lens remains one of the best film cameras available. The single lens reflex camera includes a through-the-lens CLC (Contrast Light Compensator) meter, which is coupled to both the shutter and film speed. What’s more, it comes with a 50mm lens, giving you a versatile camera right out of the box. Plus, the Mat-Fresnel-field screen sports a split-image spot for clear and simple focusing. This refurbished camera also boasts a mirror lock-up function and flash synchronization to minimize vibration and ensure clean and crisp image production. The Minolta SRT-102 is available from several different sellers, many of whom provide Prime shipping.

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6. Olympus OM-2 35mm Film Camera

PROFESSIONAL PICK

Even though it may be over 40 years old, the Olympus OM-2 35mm Film Camera remains one of the most popular film cameras ever produced. It’s supplied with a 35mm lens and includes a whole range of useful elements for creating masterpieces. From the 10-second self timer to the off-the-film-plane TTL metering, there’s no good excuse for not producing something worthwhile from this timeless classic. Other notable positives from this slightly used model include the large-size viewfinder, removable hot shoe adapter and available +/- 2 stops exposure compensation.

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7. Nikon FE2 Camera

MOST COMPACT

Another popular option that’s supplied with a versatile 50mm lens is the Nikon FE2 Camera. This refurbished and semi-professional level camera was produced in the mid 80s and remains iconic among many Nikon fans. It works on 35mm film and sports a copper-aluminium alloy body to give it a solid build and an attractive appearance. You’ll also find a built-in light meter and a full manual mode, which allows you to shoot even if your internal batteries die. Though gently used, this Nikon also has a number of impressive adjustable features, including  exposure compensation, ISO, shutter speed and camera mode. 

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8. Leica Sofort LimoLand by Jean Pigozzi

BEST INSTANT

We couldn’t compile a film camera list without including at least one instant photo option. Instant photos (like Polaroids) remain as popular as ever and the growing retro element only increases their appeal. In this Leica Sofort LimoLand by Jean Pigozzi, you’ll find everything you need, including a three-step manual focus, eight different photo modes and a dual self timer. If you’re all about catching unforgettable moments with friends and family and sticking them on the fridge, this is the camera for you.

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