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 the five best 35mm film cameras for beginners.
Ranging from fully manual vintage cameras to point-and-shoots, here are some of the best 35mm film cameras that are easy on the budget, reliable, and full of beginner-friendly features.
(Looking for more awesome camera lists? You can check out our favorite medium format cameras for beginners here and the best point and shoot film cameras here.)
1. Canon AE-1 or AE-1 Program
The Canon AE-1 is a classic 35mm film camera and great for anyone just starting out. 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.
You can pick up either of these cameras with a lens for around $100, with the AE-1 Program usually costing a little more. Find the Canon AE-1/AE-1 Program at KEH Camera or on eBay.
Related: 5 Best Point and Shoot Film Cameras!
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.
You can find the Pentax K1000 and lens for around $100 at KEH Camera or on eBay.
3. Nikon F100
Next on our list of best 35mm film cameras for beginners is the Nikon F100. This camera 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.
The Nikon F100 is currently selling for around $200-$300 without a lens, but keep an eye out because there are often ones in good condition for less than that. Pick one up at KEH Camera or on eBay.
Related: Nikon F100 Film Camera Review
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.
You can pick up the Canon EOS 3 without a lens for $300-$400 at KEH Camera or on eBay.
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 35mm 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.
You can also read a full review of the Olympus Stylus Epic here.
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 35mm film cameras are perfect for beginners and 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!
Kathleen is the founder here at Shoot It With Film, and you can read more of her articles here, like how to shoot film on a budget and a guide to medium format film photography. You can also check out more of her work on her website and Instagram.
Leave any questions below in the comments, and if you have other awesome 35mm film cameras for beginners, leave those in the comments, too!
Want to learn more about shooting film? Read all of our film photography tutorials here!
June 14, 2019 at 10:46 pm
Yashica Electro 35 range of rangefinders.
These cameras have an amazingly accurate and simple form of automated metering, a fast and effective manual range focus (with parallax correction) and are aperture priority. You can play around with the ISO if you’re clever enough to tweak shutter speeds. The simplicity of these is perfect for beginners – and with around 10 million made they’re still pretty cheap.
If you can’t find one in your parents/grandparents cupboard that is.
And they’re built to last several lifetimes.
June 17, 2019 at 4:16 pm
The Yashica Electro 35 is a great camera! Thank you so much for sharing!
June 18, 2019 at 7:06 pm
June 20, 2019 at 9:46 pm
Such an awesome camera! It’s pretty similar to the Canon AE-1 (along with the Nikon FM series and Olympus OM series), that we didn’t put it on the list, but it’s a favorite for sure.
July 9, 2020 at 8:44 pm
Canon’s Canonet G-III QL17
I bought one new in 1977. Easy to use and very quiet for street photography. 40mm f/1.8 lens somewhat limited by its 1/500 shutter speed. I also recommend Canon’s A-1, I’ve bought two of them each with lenses for $45 from Craigslist.
July 10, 2020 at 2:19 pm
Thank you so much for commenting! The QL17 and the A-1 are both fantastic 35mms. The QL17 is such a nice combo of quality and compatibility for a decent price. Thanks for sharing!
April 5, 2021 at 2:43 am
M-42 Version of the K-1000: Pentax Spotmatic any model any Takumar M-42 lens of the period.
For Pentax-K MF: Pentax a3/ a3000 with KA-mount with SMC-A lenses you have program mode with 2xAA-batteries. Prefer primes or 35-70 zooms for MF or get early AF lenses which will manually focus when used with MF body.
For Pentax-K AF: Pentax SFX/SFXn/SF7 well built with MF also possible and many exposure modes and measuring options and have pioup flash plus hot shoe. AA-battery option with the aa-battery grip. For Large hands. Pentax KAF mount means screw-mount AF lenses only. Can be had for a song.
The SFxxx have zoom kit lenses usually which will do the job and later can still serve as lens caps. Try to get for AF the shorter 35-xx zoom lenses or a 50mm prime.
April 5, 2021 at 3:01 pm
Thank you for sharing!
December 4, 2021 at 4:01 am
I would have to say that the Olympus double digit film cameras would make a good starting point for a beginner. Admittedly the OM 10 required an additional accessory to operate with manual shutter speed but apart from that the camera shares it’s genes with the OM-1. Later models such as the OM-40 had all the features built in. The only difference between single and two digit om cameras was the mechanical strength – single digit cameras were built to withstand professional use and consequently more robust. The Location of some of the controls (namely the shutter speed control ring) can take a bit of getting used to initially but it naturally falls to hand when holding the camera making it a pleasure to use
December 4, 2021 at 4:02 am
And of course it opens up the world of Zuiko lenses!
December 4, 2021 at 8:04 pm
Yes! The OM-10 and 40 are great options for beginners. Wonderful suggestion!
January 22, 2023 at 7:20 pm
Personally if you are just starting out, I would suggest the Canon AT1. This is an all manual camera with a built in exposure meter. It’s called match needle metering. When you look through the viewfinder, on the right side of the frame, you will see two needles. One needle moves up and down according to the light. A second stationary needle with an open circle and point on the end is moved over top the moving needle by adjusting the apature ring on the lens, or the shutter speed dial on the top right hand side of the camera. You can take a gray card reading (if you know what that is) set the camera and you don’t have to keep setting the camera for every shot. Of course when the light changes, then you must reset the camera. You can decide if you want a wide or small lens opening, then adjust the shutter. Or if the shutter speed is important, then select the shutter speed first, then adjust the lens opening. But if you want both a fast shutter speed and a small lens opening F/stop, then you’ll need to use a faster speed film.
Let’s say you want to photograph an old broken down run down house. You may decide on the lens opening first, Then adjust for the proper shutter speed. If the shutter speed is too slow, use a tripod. You may want to use a slow film because you don’t want any or very little grain.
January 23, 2023 at 8:14 pm
Great recommendation! The Canon AT1 is a wonderful camera. Thanks, Barry!
Michael S. Golfarb
February 14, 2023 at 9:44 am
I’m seconding the Olympus OM series. The OM10 and OM20 (aka OM-G) are great first SLRs, and the Zuiko lenses are wonderful. The OM-1 and OM-2 bodies are even better – you can aspire to eventually get one of those after you acq
May 20, 2023 at 1:58 am
As I’ve gotten older, I appreciate the benefits of AF. I have Nikon F100, Nikon F5 and F6 cameras. (Superb, reliable and effective). I also have a Canon EOS 1n and the EOS7. Canons tend to be more stylish and have more features. I don’t think they have quite the same robust construction as Nikon but their performance is excellent. You cannot go wrong with a good example of an EOS1n (Or EOS 7) – they’re really, really good. From time to time, I take out my old Nikons (FE, FM, FA, F2) and the Canons (AE, A1) and even my Canon rangefinder camera. There’s something so appealing about Nikons and Canons from the 1960s -1980s. The best picture I ever took was on my Leica M3 rangefinder. The second best picture was on a Nikon FE. Nikon and Canon lenses are as good as anything ever made and if you can’t take a fine picture with Nikon or Canon, they are either faulty or you’re doing something wrong.
Good EOS1n cameras are steadily going up in price, as are F100 and F5 cameras. (2023) Generally a good dealer from Japan is the best way to get a good example. I recommend looking for an expensive one, rather than a cheap examples. The cost of the camera is swallowed up after a few years by film, printing paper (and processing. Don’t scan your negatives and print on a digital printer…. You’ll lose the appearance that defines analog, otherwise you might as well stick to full digital.
Digital offers finger “grain”, better dynamic range, speed, convenience and the ability to manipulate the image in Lightroom etc. My view is – so what? A Toyota Corolla does *everything* better than a 1924 Bentley 4.5 liter or 1930s Bugatti type 35, but which will put a bigger smile on your face?
When you watch the image appear in the developing dish, you will learn to love analog. Digital is wonderful and if I were doing a wedding or some technical photos – as a professional – I’d probably use digital but you absolutely cannot reproduce the look of film with digital. – Film is to digital as an oil painting is to a photograph – they both create an image but the effect, skill and passions involved are all different.
Michael S. Goldfarb
February 14, 2023 at 10:18 am
(I HAVE NO IDEA HOW I ACCIDENTALLY POSTED BEFORE I WAS DONE!)
…after you acquire and love one or two Zuiko lenses.
And here’s another recommendation: Nikon Nikkormats and their (pre-1977) non-AI lenses.
Prices on these workhorse cameras/lenses are surprisingly low just now, and their build quality is on a whole other plane from most plasticky later gear. Not as expensive as a Nikon F or F2, a Nikkormat FTN is just as serious and beautiful a machine.
Yeah, most of their light meters are wonky by this time, but that Copal Square shutter is unkillable. The heft and solidity of these bodies and those all-metal non-AI Nikkor lenses must be felt in hand to believe… and boy, can they still produce unique images!
I’ve recently been seeing (and buying!) great non-AI Nikkor prime lenses – 28/3.5, 50/2, 50/1.4, 55/3.5 Micro (i.e., macro), the uber-famous 105/2.5, 135/2.8, 200/4 – in “Good” condition for under $100. This is a steal for such wonderful lenses in today’s marketplace!
Yes, a Nikkormat is large and heavy compared to later cameras like an OM10, but they’re less expensive and more refined than the similar but overrated Pentax K-1000.
Anyway, Nikkormats and non-AI lenses are outstanding bargains in the today’s overpriced used photo gear marketplace. Check ’em out.
February 14, 2023 at 7:03 pm
This is wonderful info, Michael! Thank you so much for sharing!