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Growing up in the digital age, I have never used a film camera. I have recently started considering adding a film SLR.

$5k Leicas aside, are there any new film SLRs out now that are worth over an decent older model?

I have all nikon equipment, but I would be receptive to considering a different platform. What were some of the film 35mm SLRs that competed with Nikon?

Other considerations would be auto focusing; do the auto-focusing of film cameras compare? Or should I just assume to be manual focusing?

Were in-camera metering systems comparable to todays? Or should I assume to require a light meter?

Are modern day external flashes (SB-700, et al) compatible?

My motivation for this is a curiosity in how rewarding the process would be, going from capturing my images to developing them myself in a darkroom.

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    Questions like this makes me very happy. – SailorCire Mar 12 '15 at 13:19
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Disclaimer: I can't answer for Nikon, or any system other than Canon. But I can attempt to answer some of your questions in general, as relates to Canon film cameras. This will also serve to answer the same question someone else may have, but from a Canon point of view.

Canon hasn't released a new film SLR since the EOS 30V and EOS 300X in 2004. The last professional model was the EOS 1V in 2000.

  • The clue is in the name EOS - all EOS cameras support autofocus with all Canon EF lenses.
  • The later cameras support Canon's ETTL flash system, and in the case of the 300X at least, it supports the latest ETTL-II flash system (which improves on the original ETTL system by incorporating focus distance information).
  • The metering and autofocus systems have naturally evolved over time. But considering the EOS 1V has 45 autofocus points and can use f/8 lenses, I think it's quite good for the time. There are also other features that didn't make it into digital cameras, like eye-control focus on the EOS 3. Even the lowly 300X has 7 autofocus points.

As I mentioned, Canon hasn't released a new film SLR in a decade. You could still pick one up from ebay or similar. If you want to start small, light, and cheap, you can pick up for example a 3000V for a week's worth of Starbucks. A 1V is considerably more expensive; it's also built like a tank as it was the professional workhorse of its time.

In my personal experience, I have a 300X I bought new in 2005, and which I've successfully used for years. It works with all the latest Canon lenses that I own, it even works with the off-camera flash system I bought. The autofocus is sufficiently accurate, if not blisteringly quick. I use Ilford XP2 film that can be developed using the same chemical process as colour film, but there are several options for the home darkroom. I wouldn't use it for action photography, but it works well for studio and street photography.

As relates to Nikon, I believe you can still get an F6 - arguably Nikon's best film SLR - quite easily.

Other big competitors in the latter years of film SLRs were Pentax and Minolta. You can easily pick up a system for not much cash. Each has lenses that work on modern digital cameras (in the case of Minolta, the Sony SLT range).

  • The edited title makes my answer quite poor, but I do address the individual questions in the body. – crunch Mar 12 '15 at 10:22
  • I use a Rebel 2000. I think just the body is around $15 on ebay, that plus a battery grip (which allows you to use AA batteries) and a kit lens should be less than $75. I don't know what a weeks worth of Starbucks costs, so that's why I'm adding in those numbers. – SailorCire Mar 12 '15 at 13:23
  • By the way, what is the advantage of the 300X over the Rebel 2000? I've seen several late 90's\early 00's film SLRs and they all look very similar. Is it just a faster processor for auto-focusing? – SailorCire Mar 12 '15 at 13:25
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    The Rebel 2000 you mention is the same as the EOS 300 in European nomenclature. The 300 was followed by 300V then 300X. Each had minor improvements such as frame rate and x-sync speed. The 3000V aka Rebel K2 can be found on ebay for less than £10 (I wrote this from the point of view of getting a body only). Compare canon-europe.com/for_home/product_finder/cameras/slr/eos_300, canon-europe.com/for_home/product_finder/cameras/slr/eos_300v, and canon-europe.com/for_home/product_finder/cameras/slr/eos_300x – crunch Mar 12 '15 at 14:43
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    The F6 is still in production. That is more than "quite easily". And while poking the Nikon imaging site, it appears that the FM10 is still hanging around (its not made by Nikon, but it is branded by Nikon). – user13451 Mar 13 '15 at 15:47
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If you want to experiment with a film SLR, my suggestion would definitely be to buy a used body compatible with your current lenses. You do not need to buy a new body. If you have Nikon lenses, look for a Nikon body. I don't know the Nikon range in detail, but current lenses should work fine on 1990s/2000s-era Nikon autofocus SLRs. One caveat is that film cameras are "full-frame", so DX lenses won't project a large-enough image circle to cover the film frame. I would suggest something like a Nikon F65 or F80, or if you have more to spend, a Nikon F100. These would be capable, enthusiast models, and are recent enough that it shouldn't be too hard to find a nice one in perfect working order for not too much money. (These models may have different names in different regions.)

Late film-era metering and autofocus systems were(are) quite advanced, and my prediction is that you will be pleasantly surprised. 10-15 years ago is not such a long time! You do not need to assume you will have to use manual focusing or a separate light meter. Modern Nikon flashes should also be compatible, but better to confirm this on a model-by-model basis.

Of course, used equipment can be picked up pretty cheaply with a bit of patience and research, so you could of course choose to buy into a manual-focus system or a brand other than Nikon, in which case there would be many more options, but don't forget you'd also then have to budget for lenses.

Film photography is a lot of fun, with fantastic results that many people seem to have forgotten, but it can also be expensive. No more "machine-gun-style" shooting!

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