Beginner Film Cameras & Film Stocks

Author: Ray Goodwin

In this digital age, physical media has had a resurgence. Despite the odds, film photography has stood the test of time and somehow lives alongside our digital equipment. Our strange hauntological times are a mix of brand new 50 megapixel mirrorless cameras and ageing analogue folders from yesteryear. Yet now is a fantastic time to give it a go, and to see if film photography is for you. We now have a generation of young people who were born into the digital age and didn’t get to experience analogue equipment first hand. With this, many people are now rejecting digital image production and moving over to an analogue workflow: But how does one start with film photography?

There are numerous options when it comes to film photography, and there are so many flavours of film to use. Film can be rather daunting with all of the expensive equipment and sometimes opinionated and polarising views, but it doesn’t have to be complicated, expensive or prejudiced. There are a number of cameras, lenses and film stocks which are a fantastic starting point for someone who is new to this way of image making. This post serves as - hopefully - information for someone who wants to start out with film, but doesn’t really know where to go, including cameras, lenses and film stocks.

 

Manual SLRs

In my opinion, manual SLRs are one of the best ways to learn film photography. Film is very unforgiving and it takes no prisoners, and one way to learn is by failure. The strips of developed film can act as a reminder of a potentially failed shoot, urging you to try again. With a manual SLR, you have to be the smart arse and make the decisions with the exposure, which includes selecting your aperture, shutter speed and film speed. The majority of these cameras feature a basic needle meter which will give the user a meter reading depending on the settings and the exposure value. These cameras are as basic as you can get and offer a no frills gateway into 35mm photography. Some of the more advanced Manual SLRs offer a programme mode with aperture priority or fully automatic modes.

 

Canon AE1/AE1 Program

One of Canon’s pride and joys, and placed Canon on the map of consumer photographic equipment. The AE1 and Program options offer a basic, well made and robust option for those wanting a gateway into 35mm SLR photography. The FD mount offers a wide range of sharp lenses from Canon and third party manufacturers. The AE1 is a fully manual SLR, and the AE1 Program adds an automatic mode (with the correct lenses) which means the user just had to focus! There are millions of AE1 Programs around and you can get them for a decent price for around £100 with a 50mm F1.8

Pentax Spotmatic/K1000

Pentax is a synonymous name within photography. They have offered some incredible cameras and lenses which are accessible to many. Within these cameras and lenses are two heavily populated mounts: M42 and K Mount. M42 is a screw lens mount (often called Pentax Screw Mount) which runs throughout their Spotmatic series. The Pentax Spotmatic is a fully manual SLR with an accurate spot meter built in. There are multiple flavours of Spotmatic that Pentax released, With the ES featuring the first aperture priority exposure in a camera and the Spotmatic F being the last model created before the K1000: speaking of which.
The K1000 is quite possibly the student camera. The K1000 is built upon the Spotmatic’s chassis, but includes the newly released K Mount bayonet lens system. It has all of the same features as the Spotmatic F but with a revamped mount. Both the SPF and the K1000 are solidly built, reliable and don’t need a battery to operate like the AE1, as the battery only powers the meter. Both the SPF and the K1000 feature a basic needle meter which is intuitive and easy to read. The SPF can be found very cheaply with a Super Takumar 55mm F2 for around £60, and a K1000 with a 50mm F2 for £120. Both are great options, with the SPF being my personal favourite manual SLR. For me, that would be my pick. You can read more about my Spotmatic F on 35mmc.

Autofocus SLRs

Manual focus not doing it for you? Already have some autofocus lenses from a DSLR? Good news, you can get autofocus film bodies that can use your lovely new glass. AF SLRs offer up a more modern approach to film photography, with manual modes and a full set of automatic modes such as aperture, shutter priority and programme. The autofocus boom in the 1980’s killed off manual SLR production (mostly), with manufacturers shifting over to AF bodies which only got better with time. AF bodies made in the 1990’s are often plasticky and odd looking, but they’re cheap and plentiful.

Canon EOS 500N

Another offering from Canon, with their revamped EOS system. The EF Mount has been in production since 1987 and features a wide range of incredible glass and cameras that can be used. For the most part, the lenses are interchangeable with each other apart from a few third party lenses not working on DSLRs. The 500N is a budget focused SLR with a lot of the features that can be seen in modern day cameras. It is also compatible with all of Canon’s EOS lenses from its inception. The 500N can be yours for as little as £10 for just the body!

Nikon F60

The F60 is Nikon’s alternative to the 500N, offering up a budget option for Nikon AF users. Just like the 500N, it features manual shooting modes with the addition of automatic exposure modes for the user to choose from. This gives the user multiple options for fully automatic shooting, or manual exposure. The F60 is able to use all of the AF lenses within the Nikon F lens mount system. It can also use Nikon’s AI and AIs lenses, but it won’t offer any meter values. Just like the 500N, an F60 can be yours for around £10 if you look in the right places.

Compact Cameras

You want something small to carry around. SLRs are too bulky and you want to travel light, what should you do? Thankfully there are such things as compact cameras, also known as point and shoots. These are cameras that need little to no interaction apart from aiming and shooting. They’re great travel companions for people travelling light, or just to have in your bag for those times when you need a camera, but don’t fancy acting as a photographic Sherpa. There are so many totally automatic compacts which can cost absolute peanuts, but there are also some that somehow warrant an extreme price tag due to its branding or celebrity interaction*.

 

Olympus Trip 35

The Trip 35 is an automatic exposure, zone focused compact camera from Olympus which was favoured by the famous adverts featuring none other than David Bailey*. It features a totally battery-less operation, tack sharp Zuiko 40mm F2.8 lens and the ability to be portable. There is a selectable aperture, but it locks the shutter speed at 1/40s as it is meant to be used with a flash. The Trip has four selectable focus lengths on the lens (which can be seen from within the viewfinder thanks to a little parson’s window) with a single person, couple, group and mountain logos. This makes the camera totally foolproof and accessible to all users with any experience level. Don’t be fooled by expensive listings, If you shop around, you can find a good condition Trip 35 for around £50 which might even include the strap and the original bag-like case.

 

Olympus XA2

 

Another Olympus? Rightly so. Olympus are undoubtedly the king of compacts, with a vast array of models to choose from which does certainly include the highly coveted MJU-ii. But, what if you wanted something smaller? The XA series of cameras are an amazingly small collection of 35mm compacts, with the XA being one of the smallest rangefinders ever made alongside the Contax T. The XA2 is a distilled version of the XA, with a slightly slower lens and zone focusing. This includes a Zuiko 35mm F3.5 lens, which is only ⅔ of a stop slower than the F2.8 variant found on the XA. It also features a similar focusing system to the Trip 35, but the distances can’t be seen within the viewfinder. However, it is a robust little camera which is always in my bag and ready to go at any time. They are often paired with the A11 flash unit which makes it less pocketable, but more versatile. Expect to pay around £60-70 for a decent condition XA2 with the A11 flash and a display box.

 

Film

Now that you have a camera, you’ll need some film to shoot with! Thankfully, there are many options to choose from with whatever you are wanting to shoot, with more and more film stocks being produced and introduced. It is also still plentiful, with many photographic retailers still selling film (despite people thinking it's a dead medium). The cost of film can vary in price depending on how many exposures, brand and type of film one has chosen. Along with the above camera recommendations, here are some film recommendations that should get you started.

 

Kodak Colour Plus/Gold

Colour Plus and Gold are Kodak’s cheaper offerings with 35mm film. But, just because they’re cheaper doesn’t mean they are not any good compared to the more expensive Ektar and Portra offerings that your favourite Instagram photographer always uses. Colour Plus and Gold are still amazingly fantastic films to use on a budget, and still give the user those nice gold and red tones that Kodak is famous for. Colour Plus and Gold comes in 200 iso, With Ultramax being a stop faster at 400 iso if you are in some darker areas. These films are affordable for most photographers, with Colour Plus being around £6 for a 36 exposure roll, or £19.99 for five rolls on Amazon.

 

Fujifilm C200/Superia 400

The other big player with colour film is Fujifilm, and they're annoyingly notorious for discontinuing beloved film stock such as Superia Premium 400. C200 is the Fujifilm counterpart to Colour Plus, which is aimed towards the everyday film user as a budget friendly film. Fujifilm has more pronounced green and blue tones, which does juxtapose Kodak's general aesthetic. Yet C200 is a good budget focused film (which is also rumoured to be what lies beneath Agfa Vista 200 which was available in Poundland a number of years ago). Superia 400 is a stop faster than C200, but still a decently budget friendly film option. Sadly, Fujifilm has discounted 400 Premium, but 400 X-TRA is still being produced alongside C200, as well as the professional stock, Pro 400H. C200 is more expensive at £29.99 for five rolls of 36 exposures on Amazon, and £31.99 for three rolls of Superia X-TRA 400.

 

Ilford HP5+/XP2

Does everything have to be in colour? Ilford are quite possibly the kings of black and white film. Ilford offers up a wide range of film stocks which are all black and white, with Pan 50 being a slow speed and fine grained film, and Delta 3200 acting as a fast and grainy option. HP5+ is the most versatile of Ilford’s films, with the ability to be pushed and pulled rather well. Unlike color film, HP5+ can’t be developed in any normal photo lab as it isn’t a C41 process. This means that one will have to send it off to Ilford, a professional lab or you can try to develop the film yourself. If you can’t be bothered to do any of those, you can use Ilford XP2. This is still a black and white film, but it can be processed in a normal photo lab as it can be developed with the C41 process. This is a good option for those who want to shoot black and white, but don’t want to develop their own film. Both HP5+ and XP2 can be found for around £6 per roll, with the added benefit of both of these stocks being available in medium format too.

 

Honourable Mentions

There are some cameras on here that I didn’t include, purely because this post is long enough. But there are some cameras out there that are cheaper and accessible compared to some of the cameras featured above. But here is a small list of other avenues to explore.
  • Zenit E, EM, 11, 12XP, 122, 3M - Literally any Zenit
  • Chinon CE4, CE4s
  • Praktica MTL, Super TL 1000
  • Olympus OM10
  • NIkkormat FTn
  • Nikon EM

A Coda

Well, those are my picks for those wanting to begin their analogue photographic journey. Saying that, there are plenty of very very cheap options out that I mentioned within the honourable mentions. By all means, you can pick these up and make a start on photography, the cameras on the list will last you a long time and are a lot more forgiving than a Zenit E for instance. Colour negative film is also on this list as it is forgiving, despite film not being very forgiving. The exposure latitude of negative film is a lot better than positive film, so even if you mess up quite badly and over expose your images by a few stops, you’ll be fine. Whilst these cameras aren’t necessarily the cheapest options, they are certainly solid options from respected brands that are plentiful and repairable if all goes wrong. These are also cameras that are appreciating in value, and once you’re a film master, you can sell it to fund your next dream camera purchase. Of course, this is what I consider to be good starter cameras, but there are so many more options that I could have chosen, but this is already quite a long post. There are cameras out there to suit everyone’s requirements and shooting styles at all price points. The only way to start is to get stuck in and enjoy film!

 

Thank you for reading this blog post. If you would like to see my photographic work, you can find me on Instagram, and my writing can be found via my Linktree.

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