The curiosity of the new generations for analog photography and the return to their roots of some professionals have managed to revive a market segment that had disappeared.
Is analog photography back to stay or is it just a fad? What model should be the first analog camera?
The Analog Feel
From the camera and optics, to the subject, scene or person we photograph, photography is – and must always be – an inexhaustible source of feel. Good feels.
Positive feelings. Sensations that honestly we have had very rarely with digital cameras. Plastic abuse in cameras and lenses. Dense and cumbersome menus.
Designs opposed to the rational handling of a camera. And especially, absolutely unnecessary models, they have made me much more critical and demanding with the new digital models.
This is an article for those who feel that photography should be much more than point and shoot. For those who want to regain the feeling of creating an image.
Which Film Camera To Buy?
In the second-hand market you can find very interesting 35mm SLR cameras for less than U$ 200. Portals such as eBay make it easy to access auctions, where it is possible to get real bargains. The price of used cameras and lenses in the store can double or triple the price of the aforementioned websites.
We recommend always starting with an exposure camera and manual focus. We will only fully enjoy photography if we learn what we achieve by using one aperture or another. Because sometimes we must use higher shutter speeds and slower at others.
By learning to photograph in manual exposure mode we will substitute technology for technique. Photographic technique. Knowledge. To know. Understand. Discover the satisfaction that comes from being the one who takes a photo.
Action that has nothing to do with who shoots a digital camera with exposure and autofocus. It is the difference between shooting and TAKING a photo. Create it. Manufacture it in the most artisan way. Be the owners of our successes and mistakes.
Choosing Your First Analog Camera
35mm cameras used to incorporate manual mode, center-weighted metering, and speeds between 1 second and 1 / 1,000sec. Unlike today’s digital cameras, which raise ISO values beyond 100.00, the most common sensitivity range for the 35mm and 120-format models was between ISO 6 and 1600.
Photographic films (with some exceptions, such as the Kodak T-Max 3200) tend to have low or medium sensitivity. The cameras were dark boxes and the decision to buy a model was decided by the prestige of the brand, the optical quality and variety of the lenses and the price.
The 80s of the last century were the scene in which electronic cameras gave a blow to 100% mechanical models. Sprockets, washers, and gears gave way to printed circuits and reliance on a battery.
The precision of the shutter speeds was close to perfection and this made it easy to incorporate automatic exposure modes. The Program mode took its first steps with the Minolta X-700 and the Canon A-1 and AE-1 Program models.
The Good Vintage 50mm
A wise man of photography says that “there is no bad 50mm”. The 50mm focal length is the simplest in optical design and photography, the simpler the better. From a modest Yashinon 50mm ƒ / 2 to the superb Minolta Rokkor FD 50mm ƒ / 1.2 quality 50mm lenses have much higher optical quality than kit zooms on digital cameras.
The brightness of the standard lenses mounted on 35mm cameras is usually between ƒ / 1.7 and ƒ / 2. The ƒ / 1.4 aperture, a much more expensive and “exotic” version, was reserved for the wealthiest pockets.
The 50mm lens should be our first prime focal point. It not only gives luminosity and optical quality. It is also a focal all terrain, capable of taking a portrait or photographing a unique building on vacation. On the other hand, the 50mm focal length forces us to learn to see the world from a fixed focal length.
Below is a list of SLR cameras that I consider the most suitable for getting started in 35mm film photography. Of each camera I highlight its personality and not its technical data, which are usually very similar among the rest of the models.
They are not professional cameras, but some were used by excellent professionals. It is not the camera, but the eye behind the camera.
Canon AE-1 / AE-1 Program
The prestige of a photography giant is not an overnight flower. Models like the Canon AE-1 and the AE-1 Program version helped popularize the Canon name, more associated with the professional, among amateurs.
Both models became a bestseller, offering very good value for money. Access to the shutter speed dial on the Canon AE-1 offers – for me – more convenience and speed than the Program model, although it has small technical advances, such as shutter release.
Both models offer manual exposure control and automatic shutter mode, thanks to the “A” position on the rim of Canon FD lenses.
Furthermore, the model Canon AE-1 Program Allows programmable exposure and aperture priority. The Canon AE-1 Program is a more advanced model, as it offers a better grip than the AE-1.
For those users of Canon EOS models I want to indicate that they will not be able to use their Canon EF optics in the bodies of these cameras. In addition to changing the mount, the EF / EF-S lenses lack an aperture ring.
Contax 139 Quartz
After many doubts about whether to include a Contax camera in this list, I have decided to open the door to Contax 139 Quartz. It is the most affordable model of the German myth.
We can find professional Contax RTS / RTS II bodies at an affordable price, but Carl Zeiss lenses for the Contax / Yashica mount are prohibitively priced for most hobbyists. So why include a Contax in this list?
The possibility of using Yashica lenses makes the Contax 139 Quartz one of the models with the best value for money, with superior performance than most of the cameras that make up this list. Yashinon lenses offer excellent value for money.
From the different versions of the standard 50mm to the 135mm telephoto or 28mm wide-angle, they all offer very affordable prices.
It will not be surprising that the seduction of analog photography leads the future user of a Contax 139 Quartz to decide to take a step towards the optical perfection found only in Carl Zeiss lenses.
Our first professional camera was a Contax RTS and the quality of Carl Zeiss lenses is well above Canon and Nikon “black feet”. In our opinion, they outperform in detail those who mount the Leica of the legendary M series.
The Contax 139 Quartz inherits the technology of the Contax RTS and maintains access to the photometer on the front of the camera, which is very easy to access and prevents the accidental shot.
The shutter has a very short travel, so we will never lose a photo, no matter how fast the action happens. The camera liners are usually worn, being the original ones made of natural leather, but you can get spare parts online for less than U$ 20.
Exposure AE lock and an excellent aperture priority mode (from 1/1000 sec. To 11 seconds) make the Contax 139 Quartz a model to consider when evaluating the purchase of a 35mm camera. .
Minolta cameras offer one of the most beautiful and elegant designs in the 35mm segment; They are comfortable in the hands and offer quick access to the dials and buttons.
The Minolta X-700 managed to sell more than 3 million units, a figure completely unthinkable in any current camera. A reasonable price and superb photographic features made the Minolta X-700 a popular camera.
Not surprisingly, in 1981 he won the award for “Camera of the Year” in Europe.
The Minolta X-700’s technology included accurate center-weighted metering and manual exposure modes, aperture and shutter priorities, and a programmable mode that prioritized high speeds.
The Minolta X-700 is an extremely comfortable in the hands, thanks to the small grip. It’s not hard to get a Minolta X-700 with the excellent standard Rokkor MD 50mm ƒ / 1.7 lens for a price of U$ 120-150 at auction. Quite a bargain for a model of its benefits.
Minolta XG 1
Why include a simple Minolta manual exposure and aperture priority camera, when we are already talking about the X-700? The Minolta XG 1 It is a high-performance entry-level model.
It offers a very simple operation: to the left of the viewfinder we find the general control cam, which makes it easy to turn the camera on / off, check the batteries and the self-timer.
The Minolta XG 1 features a superb Minolta Rokkor FD 45mm ƒ / 2 standard lens, compact and lightweight, but brimming with optical quality. It is not difficult to find good Minolta XG 1 + 45/2 deals for less than U$ 100.
Being one of the most suggestive models for those who want to try photography in all its essence. The price of the Minolta Rokkor lenses is well below the Nikkor and Canon FD lenses, increasing Minolta’s options when it comes to evaluating the purchase of a second-hand 35mm camera.
Minolta XD 7
The Minolta XD7 it offers the highest technological performance in a manual focus Minolta camera from the 1980s. A bright viewfinder shows shutter speeds and aperture.
On the speed ring is the cam for selecting the exposure mode: manual, aperture priority and programmable mode. The beauty of its lines and maximum comfort in the hands distinguish the Minolta from the rest of the 35mm models.
It offers excellent value for money on the second hand market. It’s not hard to get an XD 7 and the excellent standard Rokkor MD 50mm ƒ / 1.7 lens for just over U$ 100.
As it is not a model used by professionals from the 80s, the aesthetic conditions are usually excellent, as are the mechanical ones.
Nikon FM / FE
Nikon was king in the 35mm format until the advent of the Canon EOS camera’s autofocus system. It was synonymous with optical quality, durability and professionalism.
The Nikon F2 was a milestone in the history of the photographic industry, being the model most used by photojournalists and sports photographers of the time.
The Nikon FM it kept part of the essences of the F2, in a much smaller and lighter body. It offers 100% mechanical operation, allowing you to shoot without a battery at any shutter speed.
The FM is a manual exposure and manual focus camera, highly overrated on the market (especially the FM2 version). The Nikon FM viewfinder shows aperture and speed, with “+ or -” LEDs indicating exposure.
The Nikon FE It is basically a Nikon FM with aperture priority and not mechanical, so it will need a battery to work. The viewfinder of the Nikon FE lacks LEDs.
It has the classic two needle system, one dedicated to the selected shutter speed and the second indicating the brightness of the image; both must match to achieve correct exposure. Less appreciated by the more purists of analog photography, the Nikon FE is excessively priced in the second-hand market.
Olympus OM-1 / OM-2
Olympus was one of the manufacturers that knew how to create greater loyalty in its users. The size and weight of the OM cameras showed that you do not need the measurements of a brick to make a professional performance camera.
Unlike other manufacturers, the shutter speed ring is not on the top cap of the camera, but rather around the lens mount. This makes it easy to control with the supporting hand the three parameters that go into taking a picture: focus, aperture and shutter speed.
In this way, maximum concentration is achieved on the index finger on the trigger, guaranteeing not to lose any snapshot, no matter how fast it may be.
The Olympus OM-1 It is a 100% mechanical model (we can shoot without a battery) and it offers maximum reliability. Its compact dimensions make it an ideal camera for smaller hands. At the top is the sensitivity ring, a hallmark that differentiates it from the rest of the 35mm models.
The Olympus OM-1 is a model listed on the second-hand market, as the optical quality of the Zuiko lenses and the reliability of the Olympus mechanics have made this model a sought-after piece by the most connoisseurs.
The Olympus OM-2 It is a more advanced model, incorporating TTL metering in the film plane and using the flash for the first time. Silicon photodiodes provided speed and reliability far superior to previous measurement systems.
In addition to the traditional manual exposure mode, the Olympus OM-2 incorporates aperture priority, which requires mounting an electronic shutter, capable of offering the widest range of shutter speeds.
The Olympus OM-2 inherits the OM-1’s compact design and high market price, but it’s worth betting on at open auctions.
And we come to one of our favorite models to get started in chemical support photography. The Olympus OM-10 It is a grateful camera, with smooth lines and very comfortable in the hands.
The use of simpler construction materials and larger electronic components lowered the price of the OM-10, compared to the OM-1 and OM-2 professional performance models, but on the positive side we found a more comfortable design in the hands, with ergonomics crossing the doors of Olympus factories for the first time.
The OM-10 is basically an electronic automatic exposure camera. An adapter makes it easy to shoot in manual exposure mode. I recommend buying only Olympus OM-10 models that have this adapter, as the analog experience will be incomplete if we cannot shoot in manual exposure mode.
In just a couple of decades, Pentax went from mounting ø42mm threaded bayonet lenses and large cameras to extremely compact models. The generation transition from the Pentax K1000 to the M series represented an effort in design and technology for Pentax.
The quality of Asahi-Pentax lenses is legendary and kept alive today, thanks to the digital medium format and full frame.
The Pentax MX It is one of the most compact 35mm SLR cameras on the market. Manual exposure and 100% mechanical, it is a model that will never prevent us from losing a snapshot due to lack of battery.
Despite its size and its “limited” technological features, the Pentax MX was a professional range model and the wide range of exclusive accessories confirms this: up to 9 focusing screens, two different automatic film advance motors, date backing and support for 250 exhibitions.
The Pentax MX offers an excellent value for money in the second-hand market and the Pentax K lens mount, the largest offer on the market, as it was used by other brands such as Cosina, Chinon or Ricoh.
Pentax ME Super
Years after the appearance of the Pentax MX, the Japanese multinational decided to update its version with opening priority with the Pentax ME Super, an electronic model that was ahead of its time. Unlike most models that include a shutter speed ring, on the Pentax ME Super these are set by two buttons.
The exposure mode control dial makes it easy to select between manual modes, aperture priority, shutter lock, pose (“B”), and the mechanical speed of 1 / 125sec, with which flash firing is synchronized. The Pentax ME Super incorporates the SMC Pentax 50mm ƒ / 1.7 standard lens with high optical performance and high brightness.
Yashica FX-D Quartz
The commercial and technological agreement between the prestigious German firm Contax and Yashica achieved that a model like the Yashica FX-D Quartz it could compete on equal terms with the Contax 139 Quartz, which shares the same technology.
Both models have identical genetics, but radically different prices. Quartz technology ensures maximum aperture priority precision, offering an infinite range of intermediate shutter speeds, just like digital cameras do today.
The shutter speed ring incorporates a scale from 1 second to 1 / 1,000sec, in addition to the “X” positions for the flash, “B” for long exposures and “AE” for aperture priority. It offers very good value for money on the second hand market and the quality of Yashinon optics is well above its current price.
Yashica FX-3 Super 2000
And we come to the ideal camera par excellence to get started in analog photography in a very affordable way. The Yashica FX-3 Super 2000 it is a mechanical camera that only uses the battery to measure light. Its maximum shutter speed of 1 / 2,000sec.
Was only reserved for professional range models, such as the Nikon F2 or the Canon F-1. The Yashica FX-3 Super 2000 is one of the best cameras to take the first steps in analog photography.
Since its 100% manual operation and the possibility of mounting the best optics in the 35mm reflex segment (the lenses Carl Zeiss) make the small Yashica model one of the most important options to consider when purchasing a universal pass-through SLR.
We have left aside in the guide of our favorite models to brands like Praktica, Zenith, Ricoh, Cosina, Chinon or Konica. The reason is simple: the electronics of the aforementioned Japanese models deserve less confidence than those shown in this list.
For their part, the Praktica and Zenit “iron curtain” models show lower optical quality and mechanical reliability than the manual models included in this article. Another aspect that has made me opt for the cameras on display here is the brand’s prestige, achieved over decades.
Choosing The Best Camera For You
So what should be the first analog camera to get started in 35mm film photography? Without a doubt, the one we have at home, inherited from our parents or grandparents.
Just take it to a mechanic to check the foam seals in the film compartment and check the drag and photometer to buy the first 35mm film and start taking photos in a very different way than we do with cameras. digital.
It doesn’t matter if we start with a humble Kodak Retina or one of the wonderful compacts Yashica Electro 35: changing the methodology of shooting digitally to photographing with chemical support film will teach us to love photography and to value the importance of each image.