If you think that traditional camera film is dead, you haven’t been paying attention. Film cameras have been making a resurgence in the past few years for the same reason that vinyl has gotten more attention for audophiles: the ability to produce tangible physical results and a level of authenticity that can’t be scrubbed away with an hour in Photoshop.
Many photographers already choose to work with traditional film rather than digital cameras, but you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for a quality camera even if you aren’t a professional. This list of the best film cameras covers a wide range of different needs, but the one thing they have in common is the amount of bang they offer for their buck.
- The Best Film Cameras
- 1. Canon AE-1 35mm Film Camera
- 2. Leica M6 Camera Body
- 3. Pentax K1000 Film Camera
- 4. Minolta X-700 Film Camera
- 5. Nikon F6 AF 35mm Film SLR Camera
- 6. Olympus OM-1 35mm Film Camera
- 7. Nikon FM2 SLR manual focus film camera
- 8. Canon Canonet QL17 GIII
- 9. Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 Instant Camera
- 10. Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic
- 11. Leica Sofort Instant Film
- Best Film Cameras Buyer’s Guide
The Best Film Cameras
1. Canon AE-1 35mm Film Camera
Canon film cameras have been in production for over 80 years, and while the Japanese company has put more effort into their digital camera department in recent years, they still leverage their impressive experience to offer some top-of-the-line cameras that use traditional film. This 35mm film camera is one of the better film cameras for beginners, but it can also serve as a versatile everyday camera for professionals. That's because it supports FD, FL, R, and Breech-Lock mount lenses. The Automatic Exposure shutter is electronically controlled for ease of use, while the minimalist viewfinder offers both the aperture scale and the battery charge level. In addition to a Full Manual mode, the AE-1 offers three different auto exposure modes so you can get the results you want. As a classic model, it's missing some of the flair of newer film cameras, but it's a reliable workhorse with a legacy reputation and supports a variety of Canon lenses.
2. Leica M6 Camera Body
Speaking of classics, the Leica has been out of production for over 20 years, but that it continues to be a brisk seller is a demonstration of what a quality product it is. For those in the know, Leica offered some of the best rangefinder cameras around - and they did so at a remarkably reasonable price. That said, the scarcity of the these used film cameras makes them a hot commodity that you can expect to pay a pretty penny for. Purchasing a body is recommended only for collectors, and collectors with a propensity for mechanical work at that. But if you have the change to spare and a desire for a new renovation project, this is one of the prime 35mm film cameras you'll find. It offers a rapid film advance lever and rewinding knob as well as a mechanically controlled shutter.
3. Pentax K1000 Film Camera
Pentax K1000 is a classic that's destined to never go out of style. While other manufacturers have rushed to create film cameras that can keep pace with the new innovations of modern design, Pentax has managed to make a name for itself by continuing to churn out a quality design built off a tried and true formula. This completely mechanical camera doesn't require a battery to run, and that makes it one of the best cheap film cameras on the market. The simplicity of its design has made it a favorite among photography professors since it requires students to learn the fundamentals of framing rather than leaning on assistive technology. Three basic shooting controls control shutter speed, focus, and aperture, and that makes it a great choice for both beginners and experienced photographers looking to get back to their roots.
4. Minolta X-700 Film Camera
In contrast to the tried and true standard of Pentax film cameras, Minolta's X-700 is a model that's proud to have developed with the times. Pre-programmed auto-exposure controls means that you won't have to worry about adjusting the aperture or shutter speed of the camera regardless of the lighting conditions for your scene, but the LED viewfinder readings ensures that you always know what the current parameters are. It also provides you with alerts when you're at risk of a blurred picture. As a result, users who are just looking for good film cameras without having to worry about their manual technique will find a lot to love with this model. And despite the technological advantages of the X-700, there's little to no learning curve. That makes it a great camera if you're looking for a model that bridges the gap between traditional film cameras and the convenience of digital models.
5. Nikon F6 AF 35mm Film SLR Camera
If the K1000 represents the film camera at its most stripped down and the X-700 offers beginners access to the sorts of technology an SLR camera can offer, the Nikon F6 goes all in on the fusion of classical film and modern convenience. Features include the ability to log your EXIF data, reducing the need for exhaustively recording your exposures. And the fact that it's compatible with every Nikon lens dating back to 1977 means that it can serve as an all-purpose and long-lasting solution. All of these design features are especially impressive when you consider how comfortable these Nikon film cameras feel in your hand. Weighing in at over three pounds, it's not the lightest camera on the market, but it has a heft that's satisfying and easy. Just keep in mind that the F6 doesn't come cheap, and you'll have to spend some time modifying the body yourself.
6. Olympus OM-1 35mm Film Camera
Olympus' OM-1 has been a go-to film camera for beginners since the 1970s, and like many of the other vintage cameras on the list, you don't need to pay an excessive premium for the privilege of getting your hands on one. Olympus may not have the popular brand awareness, but it's held in high esteem by film aficionados for its compatibility with the truly impressive Zuiko lenses. The OM-1 allows you to get a workhorse camera for a song and improve it over time with some of the best lenses in the business. The camera settings also run independently of the battery, so you can get accurate results even when your power's running low. Just don't expect to find the assistance settings that more advanced cameras offer. There's no auto exposure mode, and the necessity of manually adjusting the settings comes with a distinct learning curve.
7. Nikon FM2 SLR manual focus film camera
In the days where traditional film was still the standard for journalists, the Nikon FM2 had a formidable reputation. Due to the lack of complex features like autofocus or auto-winding, it was rarely used as the primary camera, but its practical, mechanical design ensured that photographers always had a backup to use in a pinch. Instead, this is a camera that strips down everything but the fundamentals and executes those fundamentals well. Its blinding speed of 1/4000th of a second and flash synch of 1/250th of a second are the kinds of astounding performance normally only available in exceedingly more expensive pro cameras. The battery is only needed for the meter, and there's a tactile sense to its every action that's incredibly rewarding. The FM2 was built for war zones, and that makes it a durable choice for anyone seeking out an inexpensive but reliable camera.
8. Canon Canonet QL17 GIII
The strength of a rangefinder is its ability to gauge the distance of the subject in your photo and keep them in crisp and crystal clear focus. The Canonet QL17 fills that role admirably, but its real strength comes from the fact that it's one of the fastest rangefinders out there. Despite its age, this is a very good film camera, offering exceedingly impressive contrast and breathtaking color rendering. Acolytes of the QL17 have remarked on how its focusing system actually works faster than a digital camera's autofocus. Just twist the lever around the lens until the superimposed image of your composition is aligned. The other major advantage of the QL17 is how quick and easy it is to load film. It's a great choice if you're looking for a less automated approach to photography that allows you to take a lot of shots in a short amount of time.
9. Fujifilm Instax Mini 9 Instant Camera
While camera phones can provide you with digital snapshots in instants, there's something eminently satisfying about printing out a physical copy of a picture and sharing it with your friends. The Fuji Instamax Mini 9 is one of the most portable and convenient instant film cameras on the market, and it can be used by anyone regardless of their experience level. All you have to do is turn the power on, adjust the dial to the right position for your light setting, and then shoot your photo. A mirror is mounted above the lens for taking selfies, and there's also a close-up lens that allows you to shoot photos from as far 35 cm away. While you won't find the sort of exhaustive settings available in more serious cameras, there are five different modes that allow you to adjust your lighting appropriately.
10. Fujifilm Instax Mini 90 Neo Classic
The Instax Mini 90 builds on the Instax Mini 9 in some important ways, and it packs all of the features into a cute frame that has a distinctly retro look. If you're looking for an instant camera that gives you agency over your shots without having to develop the results yourself, the Instax Mini 90 could be a good fit. It offers a lot for the modest price increase over the Mini 9. Automatic brightness detection settings create the ideal flash and shutter speed for the current lighting, while the macro mode optimizes your photos for distances as short as 30 cm. An additional party mode finds a nice balance between the subject and the background, while kids mode makes appropriate adjustments to minimize blur for subjects like pets and children prone to quick movements.
11. Leica Sofort Instant Film
Leica's Sofort is the Mercedes of instant film cameras. While it carries a heftier price tag than the featured Instax cameras, it's positively packed with features. And while the Sofort does an admirable job of adjusting shutter speed and flash itself, those who like to take a lot more control will be far more satisfied with this than they will with less fully featured instant cameras. Default modes include selfie, party and people, sport and action, and double exposure, and you can also assume manual control of the exposure, flash, and focusing distance. A self timer is a useful choice for when you're trying to get a group photo. While the full range of buttons can take some time to get used to, anyone who regularly uses this camera will quickly find navigating the button pad to be second nature.
Best Film Cameras Buyer’s Guide
Types of Film Cameras
Narrowing down the list of the best film cameras is tricky because there are so many varieties available. The camera that’s right for you is largely an issue of personal preference, but there are generally three options available when shopping for a traditional camera (and we’ve tried to offer representation for all three on our list).
- SLR Cameras: Short for single-lens reflex, these cameras are what comes to mind when most users think of traditional cameras. The amount of manual setting options they offer can vary significantly between brand, but they generally offer you more options for developing your unique photographic eye. But since many of the best SLR cameras are vintage, figuring out how the manual functions work can bring with it a learning curve. One of the big advantages here is that the lenses can be swapped out, offering limitless potential with a single camera for budding photographers willing to invest in a collection. Less advantageous is the need to develop the photographs you take.
- Instant/Compact: Compact cameras have seen a peak in popularity in recent years because of their ease of use. While some offer limited manual controls, they’re rarely complicated on the level of SLR cameras, and the lenses can’t be swapped out. Compact cameras are point and click affairs, and the better models offer more sophisticated forms of automated features to compensate for the lack of adjustable settings. They’re generally small enough to fit in a pocket or purse and less weighty than SLRs. We’ve chosen to focus on instant cameras for our compact selection since they can produce photos in a matter of seconds or minutes rather than require active development in a darkroom.
- Rangefinders: These cameras can require an adjustment period for new users since they operate rather differently from traditional film or digital cameras. Instead of viewing your environment directly through the lens, the lens is coupled with a viewfinder that allows you to create more focus in your shot. Rangefinders may use fixed or attachable lenses, but all varieties are especially good at creating quality compositions that take distance into account, and they’re generally smaller in size than an SLR.
Why a Film Camera?
Digital cameras promise convenience. They offer instant results with little in the way of consequences, and any errors in photos can be adjusted easily on a desktop. While many invest in film cameras because of the aesthetic and the fact that they produce a real product, there are plenty of reasons why film cameras serve as compelling alternatives to digital alternatives.
- Analog cameras force you to be meticulous with your technique. Using a roll of film limits the amount of pictures you can take, and the final product can’t be easily edited using a software platform. That encourages photographers to carefully consider their subjects and evaluate the opportunities for each composition.
- They’re inexpensive. While our list covers a full gamut of everything from cheapie instant cameras to high-end vintage cameras, you can get a fundamentally solid camera for less than a hundred bucks. That creates an exceedingly low barrier of entry to new photographers, but you could potentially spend as much or as little as you’d like by expanding your collection with accessories and lenses.
- They’re a low-tech experience. While some analog cameras – like the Nikon F6 – draw from more advanced technologies, most of the best cameras on these lists are more mechanical than digital in nature. Many can run without even requiring a battery, and all but the most basic of instant cameras allow you to tinker with the results through the use of manual settings. That ensures that they’ll always be ready when you need them, but it also provides a tactile experience you simply won’t find with state of the art digital cameras.
There’s something magical about film cameras. They transform what you see in your mind’s eye into a direct and tangible product, and there’s a level of satisfaction that brings that you simply can’t find with more abstracted digital photos. While they aren’t a necessity for everyone, they can bring a lot of satisfaction into your life. Just keep in consideration what you want out of a camera rather than simply reading online scores in pursuit of an objectively “best” model.