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I started analog photography a decade ago, with a Yashica Electro 35 GSN. A few years later I upgraded to a Bronica SQ which I've been very happy with, except for the fact that it's extremely big and heavy.

I want to buy a film SLR, but I have no idea where to start. In the digital world I use a Nikon D7100, so I've looked into Nikon film bodies. These aren't very expensive nowadays, but the lens are. Probably due to the fact that Nikon lenses are very usable even in modern digital bodies. None of my AF-S DX lenses would work with a 35mm body, so I would have to buy lenses for it as well.

Another system I've seen is Pentax K1000 which seems to be quite popular.

What SLR camera system would be a good choice in 2020, considering:

  • Light meter: must be working. No "aged" meter technology that will not work anymore.
  • Batteries: should be available and standard. No Silver 5.6V requirement that will meter wrong with 6V alkaline or require a special adapter.
  • Auto Focus: desired, but not required if focusing will be easy to my eyes with mild astigmatism.
  • Price range: Looking to spend $150 to $200 in a camera and at least one lens.
  • What "standard" batteries are you willing to use? Some are more expensive than others. – xiota Jan 16 at 21:27
  • @xiota well, maybe not batteries that would cost more to ship than the actual battery. things that can be bought at a well assorted electronics store. my Yashica requires a no longer made PX32 battery, and its alkaline replacements are difficult to find. – hjf Jan 16 at 21:33
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If you need autofocus, you'd be looking at Canon EOS, Minolta Maxxum, Nikon, and Pentax. (There are others, but they're usually outside of my price range.)

  • I'd probably go with a Canon Rebel, despite the annoying CR123A batteries, because every EOS camera I've encountered so far has been functional. People get rid of working cameras because they can't be tested without expensive batteries.

    If you're patient, you can get them with kit lens for cheap at estate sales, thrift stores, etc. (< $20) Carry a pair of CR123A batteries with you to test. If the rubberized grips have degraded into a sticky mess, negotiate the price down even further. They clean up fine with nail-polish remover.

  • I haven't tried any Pentax or Nikon cameras with AF because they usually don't have lenses I'm interested in. Also, people tend to ask too much for newer bodies, even when the attached lenses are junk.

If you're willing to focus manually, options include Canon, Minolta, Nikon, Olympus, and Pentax. It's reasonably easy to focus with split prism, even with mild uncorrected astigmatism.

  • Canon FD, Minolta MD, and Pentax SMC lenses are all very good. Consider finding a set of lenses you'd like to use first, then pick a body to match. I like the Minolta Rokkor lenses slightly better than the Canon FD equivalents.

  • If you want to use third-party lenses, it doesn't matter which camera you pick because lenses were usually made to fit all commonly used mounts.

  • I haven't used any Olympus OM bodies, but I don't like the lenses as much as the equivalent Canon FD and Minolta MD lenses.


Here's a list of camera bodies I've encountered while searching for old lenses. It is not exhaustive. The order is based on the battery type that's required. Cameras in bold are more likely to be functional, based on my personal experience. (I have a stack of broken cameras and a stack of working cameras that I haven't decided what to do with yet.)

  • Canon T50/T70/T90 – Use AA batteries. T50 is full-auto only. T70 doesn't have aperture priority. T90 tend to be heavily used, so may not have much life left in them. Canon FD lenses are very good.

  • Minolta Maxxum – Use AAA batteries. Lenses are compatible with Sony A-mount. However, majority of bodies that I've encountered are not fully functional. Minolta AF lenses are very good.

  • Minolta XG Series (also XD, et al) – Use CR1/3 Lithium cells (equivalent to 2x LR44/SR44/357).  Cannot operate without power. Minolta Rokkor lenses are very good.

  • Nikon FG (et al) – Use CR1/3 Lithium cells. Can function without batteries in when shutter is set to "M90" (1/90s). Old Nikkor lenses are an acquired taste (mild halos and veiling glare). Haven't encountered enough Nikon bodies to have a good sense of whether or not they're likely to be functional.

  • Pentax (various models with K mount) – Use CR1/3 Lithium cells. Cannot operate without power. Most of the bodies I've encountered have some film advance/shutter issue. Pentax SMC lenses are very good.

  • Canon EOS (Rebel G et al) – Uses CR123A batteries (expensive). Uses modern EF lenses that may also work on modern digital bodies.

  • Pentax (various models with M42 mount) – Weird mercury battery, but only needed for the light meter. Takumar SMC lenses are very good.

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  • Nice writeup! I have noticed, thought, that lenses that are still functional in newer cameras are too expensive. In auction sites online they ask ridiculous prices for A and F mount lenses, since they work in Sony Alphas and Nikon full frames. "Old" lenses, such as Minolta manual focus ones, go for much cheaper. I hadn't considered minolta but I found plenty of X-700 online and they seem like very good cameras. – hjf Jan 17 at 0:44
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    @hjf FYI the Minolta X700 is susceptible to a rather common problem where one or two of the capacitors die; the only solution is replacing them (doable if you're comfortable with a soldering iron, but not a nice task given how difficult the components are to access). I'd consider the Minolta XD series; it was considered higher-end than the XG series aimed at the beginner/amateur market. AFAIK, the XG-M is the only model of XG that meters also in manual mode. Rokkor files has plenty of info. I totally agree with xiota btw, Rokkor lenses are wonderful! – Kahovius Jan 17 at 9:08
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    CR123A batteries are expensive but have a long life. Before going Digital I had an Olympus bridge camera (with electric zoom) that used them, and battery level wasn't that much of a bother. According to Wikipedia there are now rechargeable equivalents. And in any case with film you aren't as shutter happy as with digital... – xenoid Jan 17 at 11:02
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    While there are some Maxxums that run on AA or AAA batteries, many models DO NOT, and guzzle expensive as heck non rechargeable lithium packs. – rackandboneman Jan 17 at 12:38
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    @hjf Seems you came in under budget with $100-150 to spend on a rainy day for more lenses and other gear... or film. – xiota Jan 17 at 19:05
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Xiota gives a good summary. As you note, it's the lens system that makes it budget - old film cameras are all cheap unless a collector's item.

'Budget' preferably means low cost but good optical quality. As good autofocus lenses can be used on modern cameras, cheap ones tend to be low grade. So that leads you to manual focus lenses.

The new mirrorless cameras have made classic manual focus lenses usable, as these new cameras are easy to manually focus, compared to modern DSLRs. That means rising prices for the better manual focus lenses from well-known brands that are readily adaptable to these mirrorless cameras.

So that leads you to the dead-end manual focus systems, as being the cheapest good quality glass. Yashica comes to mind as a quality make (Carl Zeiss Contax in the same mount are still popular and expensive). Praktica is another, but older and bodies are lower quality - Pentacon and Zeiss Jena lenses in M42 screw or Praktica B bayonet can be very good. There was a lot of minor or house brands using that screw mount - Petri, Cosina, Chinon, Fujica. Miranda and Topcon/Exacta are older bayonet systems.

In well known brands, Canon FD, Minolta MD and Olympus OM are dead-end manual focus systems but still popular with mirrorless adapters. The bottom line is that if you want the relatively modern conveniences and good optical quality, you will find yourself competing with digital photographers.

Still, kits can be for sale cheaply, especially if you avoid the global marketplaces and hunt locally. Kits these days are sold as lens collections, with a film body thrown in because people assume a buyer will be using a digital body.

There were always cheap underperforming lenses, so avoid buying junk lenses, look for haze, oil and fungus, tight focus etc, and in cameras, battery terminal corrosion.

I'd lean towards Nikon because any good Nikkors can be used on your D7100 for fun, and likewise, if you buy a long lens or macro for it, chances are it will be FX and usable on your film body (except AF-p lenses, I guess). Same goes for accessories like extension tubes, converters and maybe flashes.

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