Written by Kathleen Frank
If you’re just starting out with film photography, finding the right film camera can be super overwhelming. With so many options, it’s difficult to know where to start. So we thought we’d make it a little bit easier by rounding up a list of our top five 35mm film cameras for beginners. Ranging from fully manual vintage cameras to point-and-shoots, here are some 35mm film cameras that are easy on the budget, reliable, and full of beginner-friendly features.
1. Canon AE-1 or AE-1 Program
The Canon AE-1 is a classic 35mm film camera. Manufactured throughout the late 70’s and early 80’s, it was the most popular camera of its time. And with great reason! It’s compact, easy to use, and reliable.
This camera will definitely give you a retro, hands-on film shooting experience. It has manual focusing, manual film rewind, and the shutter speed, ISO, and aperture are all set with mechanical dials. No digital displays of any kind!
A few tech details: The AE-1 has an internal light meter, and exposure is set through either manual or shutter priority mode. It has a shutter speed of up to 1/1000, ISO setting up to 3200, and compatible with FD or FDn lenses.
If you’re looking for a few more automatic features, the Canon AE-1 Program is also awesome for beginners. An updated version of the AE-1, the AE-1 Program has a fully automatic exposure setting. It still has manual lens focusing, but the program mode will make it easy to start shooting film without worrying too much about metering and manual exposure.
2. Pentax K1000
If you want even more of an analog experience and love cameras with a vintage feel and retro design, the Pentax K1000 is a great option.
The Pentax K1000 was manufactured for over 20 years from the late 70’s to the late 90’s and designed with limited features to bring down its price tag. It’s a bare bones camera but still a favorite for many shooters due to it’s simplicity, durable build, and analog experience.
It’s a fully mechanical film camera. Except for the light meter, it is completely functional without a battery. This makes for an awesome analog experience, but it is better suited for those comfortable with manual focus and manual exposure. There are no auto or shutter priority features.
Tech details: The Pentax K1000 has an internal light meter, exposure is set manually, a shutter speed up to 1/1000, and compatible with Pentax K bayonet lenses. It is also compatible with K-AF and K-AF2 lenses, but only supports manual focus.
3. Nikon F100
The Nikon F100 brings us into the world of more modern film cameras. It was manufactured from 1999 to 2006 and has up-to-date features like exposure bracketing, multiple auto-focus modes, and even TTL metering. The F100 is going to feel more like your modern DSLRs.
The biggest bonus to the Nikon F100 is it’s lens compatibility. It is compatible with your current Nikkor lenses! It has the Nikon F mount and is compatible with Nikkor AF lenses and most AI and AI-S lenses.
Tech details: The F100 has auto and manual focus capabilities and automatic and manual exposure modes, including shutter/aperture priority. It also has a shutter speed up to 1/8000 and supports double exposures. With the Nikon F lens mount, it is compatible with all Nikkor AF lenses.
4. Canon EOS 3
The Canon EOS 3 is the most expensive film camera on this list but has many of the same awesome benefits as the Nikon F100 if you are a Canon shooter. Manufactured from 1998 through 2007, the Canon EOS 3 has a very similar style and ergonomics to Canon’s current line of DSLRs.
Filled with your standard modern features, this camera will be an easy jump to film if you are already familiar with Canon cameras. It is also compatible with all EF lenses, so you can use all of your current Canon lenses with it!
Tech details: The Canon EOS 3 has advanced auto-focus features, including Eye Controlled Focus, and all your modern focus modes. It has in-camera metering, and manual, auto, and shutter/aperture priority exposure settings. It also has a shutter speed up to 1/8000 along with TTL flash settings and is compatible with all EF lenses.
5. Olympus Stylus Epic
The Olympus Stylus Epic is our favorite point-and-shoot option for film photographers. If you’re looking for a ultra simple way to break into film, then this might be a great fit for you.
The Olympus Stylus Epic, also called the Olympus MJU-II, was manufactured in the late 90s during the height of point-and-shoot cameras. So why did this one make our list? Not only is it sleek with a great design, it has a killer 2.8 aperture lens with a price point at around $100.
The sharp, low aperture lens gives you amazing quality with all of the ease of a point-and-shoot. You don’t need to worry about light meters or manual focus, you can just slip this thing into your pocket and enjoy shooting some film.
Tech details: The Olympus Stylus Epic has a 35mm f2.8 lens and fully auto exposure and focus with built-in flash.
In mint condition, the Olympus Stylus Epic can run about $200, but many can be found for around $100 or less. Be sure to also search for Olympus MJU-II as it goes by both names. Pick one up at KEH Camera or on eBay.
Any one of these five cameras will give you a great start to your film photography journey! And if you have a favorite starter film camera that we didn’t go over here, please leave it below in the comments!
Leave any questions below in the comments, and if you have other awesome 35mm camera suggestions for beginners, leave those in the comments, too!
Want to learn more about shooting film? Read all of our film photography tutorials here!