I have never had a proper camera and I have never taken pictures seriously but now I'm starting to feel interested in photography. I would like to start to learn the basics of this art. I don't have that much money to spend and moreover I'm kind of a nostalgic, therefore I was thinking about buying a used film cameras.

I know that maybe a digital one would be better to start, since I could take thousands of pictures without worrying about the film running out, but on the other hand with a film camera I would be forced to think a lot before shooting. I still don't know what kind of pictures I want to take. I just would like a solid camera, not too big, so I can bring it with me during a trip.

Can I find anything good for less than 50€? I don't know if it matters, but I live in Italy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ You'll save enough money using an entry level digital to pay for a legacy film system in no time, plus, you'll have a much better idea what your needs and interests are as a photographer to make informed choices about your desired film camera. Without enough experience to make these kinds of choices, you'll be spending a lot of time in a darkroom lamenting your lack of experience. If the allure of film is to strong, that's fine, but practicality is firmly on the side of digital. \$\endgroup\$
    – wedstrom
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 20:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @wedstrom Please post that as an answer as comments are not the place for answers. \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Commented Apr 28, 2016 at 23:43
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @wedstrom You said much of what I would have said in an answer. But it needs to be in an answer, not a comment. Please see meta.photo.stackexchange.com/questions/4655/… \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 1:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Possible duplicate of (How) should I start with film photography? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 12:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you are thinking of going with film so you have to think more about your shots because you have a small finite number of shots, you can always purchase a 64 MB SD-card (yes, MEGA-bytes... you still can purchase them at amazon or ebay) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 31, 2016 at 11:34

8 Answers 8


If your budget is extremely limited you have other options besides a new DSLR or a used film camera. You can also find used digital cameras that are 2-3 generations older than the current models for very modest prices. You don't need an SLR or DSLR to start learning, either. A good used bridge camera or compact that has the ability to manually control shutter speed, aperture, and sensitivity (ISO) will allow you to get started learning the basics of exposure, composition, and post-processing (much of which can carry over to the darkroom - almost everything we do in digital post-processing has a corresponding antecedent in the chemical darkroom).

Even if you decide you want to ultimately shoot with film, shooting with a slightly older used digital camera is a faster and more economical way to learn many of the fundamentals of photography, including exposure, composition, technique, and how using different focal lengths, apertures, shutter times, etc. will affect the resulting image than starting out with a film camera would be. This is particularly the case when you're not sure if any problems you might see in your earliest images are the result of user error or of camera malfunction.

Many of us grizzled old-timers like to boast about how we started with film in the era before autofocus existed and how it forced us to learn how to be real photographers.¹ But the reason we did so was because it was the only way to start back then.

Now that you have a choice, though, starting with film is probably not the best way to get where you want to go.

  • The overwhelming advantage of digital is that it allows one to experiment and learn without the per-shot expense of film. Your initial cost to start is less with film, but by the time you've shot your first 1,000 frames the cost of film and developing will have overtaken the cost of an entry level DSLR. By the time you've shot your first 10,000 frames² just the film and processing could have bought a nice lower end pro-level digital system.
  • There's also much to be said about the instant feedback of viewing a histogram on the back of the camera immediately following the shot. In the film era some of the best photographers in the world would use a polaroid back to test their lighting setup before loading the film and shooting.
  • Digital allows you to set the ISO and white balance of each shot individually, just as a century ago with the use of sheet negatives. Roll film, on the other hand, locks you into a specific sensitivity and color balance for an entire roll of film.
  • While there is much to be said about the lessons learned from processing your own B&W film in the darkroom there are just as many lessons that can be learned from developing your raw digital files on the desktop. You can also learn a lot about exposure, contrast, white balance and color, composition, etc. by processing your photos critically with the digital equivalent of a darkroom - your computer.
  • Digital cameras record information with each frame that tells you what aperture, shutter speed, ISO, metering pattern, AF point, etc. you used. This is extremely helpful when reviewing your images to see what did and, perhaps more importantly, what did not work. In the film days a student would need to stop and write all of those things down for each shot.

¹ The ranks of those who learned in the era before auto exposure are much thinner than they were just a decade or so ago. There are very few, if any, shooters left who started before most cameras had built-in light meters!
² Henri Cartier-Bresson is oft-quoted as having said, "Your first 10,000 frames are always your worst." He was perhaps the greatest street photographer of the 20th Century and is certainly one of if not the most well-known. In photographic circles, the initials HCB are enough to positively identify him.

  • \$\begingroup\$ A few more bullet points: * Traditional darkroom film work is a lovely craft, but it isn't necessary to photography. * If you want to share your work, you'll need to digitize it anyway. * If you do decide to use film as part of a learning process, I'd recommend slide film -- that way you see what you did, not the lab's interpretation of what you did. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 12:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DavidRouse Re: point 1. Covered in the 4th point of the answer. I've edited to try and make that clearer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 20:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DavidRouse Re: point 2. Most likely, but not necessarily. If I want my grandmother to see my work I need to put a print in her hand (or on her wall). The same ways to share images that existed before digital are still there - they're just not as convenient as digital. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 20:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DavidRouse Re: point 3. On the other hand the exposure latitude of slide film is much less forgiving, which could lead to early frustration and quitting altogether. At least with negative film you can sometimes salvage a slightly improperly exposed shot - and in the process discover by how much you missed. That information can then be applied the next time you shoot. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented May 6, 2016 at 20:08

The Canon A-E1 is a great 35mm starter camera. All of the manual controls are straight forward and new digital SLR cameras share similar functions. Lenses and accessories are easy to find online and at pawn/thrift stores.


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    \$\begingroup\$ But you can probably get a film Eos for a similar price and have compatible lenses with digital. This might push up the price of the lenses though. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chris H
    Commented Apr 29, 2016 at 7:00

Buy the oldest good camera you can find. That's not the only way to learn, but it is the best IMO.

Digital cameras are so easy to use as point & shoot that most people starting with them don't learn the basics. Plus they cost a small fortune for a quick obsolescence.

Also, due to a greatly diminished demands, film cameras are cheaper than ever, you can find a good Canon EOS 5/A2 for 50$ now (about 10X less than it was new). You can even find top of the line pro cameras for peanuts.

You need to cut all the crap till you can take a good photo without help, especially from the light meter. Yes, you heard me no meter; you learn to rely on rules of thumbs like sunny 16 and the judgment of your eyes.

Ideally, I would say a pre WW2 camera. Even better maybe would be a large format camera, but I admit I have no experience with them.

I have a 1950s Leica iiif and a 1930s Voigtlander folding medium format. I find that the Leica, with the incomparable Leitz lenses, is the best way to learn, it produces incredible haunting, delicate, warm, soft, glowing pictures that are not really re-producible with modern tools.

These collectibles too are much cheaper than before, there are also lots of Russian Leica copies which are of tolerable make.

Else, I agree with the posters that post-war "learners" cameras are quite great. They have meters but they do require you to learn your craft. I have a Cannon AE1, it is quite good and the optics are sharp.

There is also a very good range of rangefinders and other types of cameras like TLR, or medium format which can be found relatively cheaply. One of the cheapest options for basic medium format is to buy a Holga, a basic plastic box with a hole.

You can also find point & shoot rangefinders for next to nothing; some of them are quite good. You won't learn to control exposition, aperture...but you can take great pictures and work on composition, subject... I once had a Ricoh 1 P&S and the quality was quite good; it got me hooked to photos as a teen.

For more modern film cameras, I would recommend main brands. I am partial to Canon EOS; they are work horses and have good cheap lenses, though Nikon is similar and maybe a tiny bit better in some areas.

Though there is less to learn from them as they share many features with DSLR. The main thing is their cheapness; however for the big brands their lenses are compatible with the DSLR range, so the lenses are still pricey. On the other hand, if you later switch to a DSLR you get to re-use the lenses, so that can be economically efficient.

If you want a cheaper film system find brands, or older systems, that are not digitally compatible, then like the camera, they will be a lot cheaper than they where. Oh, and of course 1 fixed objective, you can throw away most zooms that you stumble upon. Your basic 50m or 80m is likely to outperform everything you find that is not of professional grade and priced in the thousands.

After you have mastered the basics then you can decide whether to go digital or not.

Though I prefer the look, and feel, of film, I have to say, there is one point where digital is great, that is "dark room" editing. You can manipulate your pictures as you wish and really make them your own.


I am a Nikon man now, but at University we used Pentax ME-Supers (they were the 35mm camera of choice) and I love them.

I had a girlfriend at the time who owned one, and I later bought one myself.

I was later given a Pentax P30, which is nice but although it has some neat features, it actually lacks something that the older ME Super has.

I've also heard alot of people say that the K1000 is a good starter camera.

I would have thought you may have to outlay a bit more than $50, but ebay might be worth a look. I haven't checked the prices in some time.

In addition I have had lots of weird and wonderful cheap 35mm cameras, some rangefinders like Zorki and Fed, and TTL cameras: Zenit, Praktica, Yashica, Olympus, Petri (which had no light meter), but I would always come back to the ME Super and recommend it.

Have a look here for an enthusiasts collection: http://mattsclassiccameras.com/slr.html (he reviews the different cameras and shows examples of images taken with them).

(I realise this answer is quite subjective).

Also kudos for shooting film, you do have to think about approaching it slightly differently and you will have a tangible object at the end of the process.


Alternatives to the AE-1:

Minolta X-700 (read up on common faults, though. Similar: XD-7/XD-11). Easy to use, and has aperture priority automation (the base AE-1 does not!) and DoF preview. Uses available batteries. Minolta MD lenses, which are common and inexpensive in the used market.

Canon A-1 (more complete, more computerized alternative to AE-1. Has aperture priority (speeds are not stepless though!), DoF preview, available batteries)

Minolta 9000. Bare bones but extremely complete autofocus camera, takes A mount lenses (same as Sony SLT. Will only autofocus on screw drive lenses.). aperture priority, DoF preview, available and cheap batteries, user maintainable viewfinder screens, spot metering, great viewfinder info

Minolta SRT-202/SRT-303b/SRT Super (finding a working model could be difficult though): Manual camera with a great user interface optimized for very quick manual operation. DoF preview. Batteries will need to be hackdapted. Camera can be used without batteries if metering is not required. MD lenses.

In case you really happen onto a lucky deal: Don't pass up on a Pentax LX (unlikely :( ) or Leica R3 (You might find one for €50 body only.Has all the features of the Minolta XD-11, plus spot metering; Lenses are on the expensive side for this system, though. Does NOT take MD lenses!)


To start on digital, you'll need an initial budget on the order of €500, not €50. With €50 you can get a decent film camera, on the other hand, and the remaining costs (film, developing, additional lenses etc.) you can then spread out over a longer time period. While it is in some sense true that eventually film and developing costs will overtake the cost of buying a digital camera (see Michael C's answer), it is also true that digital cameras age faster – today's digital technology will be considered old (if not downright obsolete) in 5–10 years time, the batteries will die out, and the build quality of most modern digital cameras doesn't begin to approximate the build quality of old mechanical film cameras. The 120 and 135 film formats, on the other hand, have been around for ~100 years and will continue to be available as long as there's demand. (Or so we hope!)

One crucial aspect not covered by the previous answers (though broached in some of the comments) has to do with the type of film and the type of processing. Medium format (or larger) will be too expensive (both in terms of equipment and the cost of the film), so you'd want to stick to 35mm. But are you willing to do / interested in doing your own development? That way you could save a lot of money compared to taking your films to a commercial lab – but this is a viable solution really only if you are mainly going to shoot B&W, especially initially, as colour processing is more difficult (and will be more expensive than B&W, even if you do it yourself). Also see the caveat about printing at the end.

Some bullet-point recommendations for doing film on a budget (I recognize that €50 is not quite enough, but you can get close):

  • Start with an old SLR with a prime normal (50mm) lens. The usual suspects – Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Olympus, Minolta, Yashica, etc. etc. – made several excellent cameras that can be had for next to nothing these days. Depending on your specific requirements (do you need a meter? do you need shutter/aperture automation?) you can go either with a fully mechanical body (mostly built like tanks, and with some CLA and proper care will keep functioning for a long time) or a hybrid mechanical–electronic one. In the latter case, try to look for a model that takes a battery that's still manufactured. Expect to pay between €40–€80 on the online auction site for a body+lens combo depending on condition and collectibility. A bit more in a shop, and significantly less in thrift stores. Since you said you'd like to learn the basics, I'd recommend steering clear of cameras that don't have a fully manual mode/override.
  • If you're more into rangefinders, consider the Soviet Leica and Contax copies (Zorki, Fed and Kiev). Again, these are reliable performers if properly maintained, and the lenses (derived from German formulations) are generally speaking quite good. Some of the later models have built-in selenium meters, the early ones don't. Prices in the range €20–€60.
  • If you don't need exchangeable lenses, consider one of the Japanese 1960–70s fixed-lens rangefinders (Canonets, Yashica Electros, Minolta Hi-Matics, Olympus Trips... the list is almost endless). They can be had for very cheap and most of the time the lenses are outstanding.
  • Buy one of the cheaper film brands (Foma, Kentmere), learn how to get the best out of it, and buy it in bulk (many online shops at least give you a discount when you buy several rolls at once).
  • If developing yourself, buy one of the cheaper developers with a good shelf life (something like Rodinal, perhaps), as well as the cheapest stop bath, fixer and wetting agent (subject to shelf life and frequency of use, of course).
  • Darkroom equipment (tank, spirals, measuring jugs, thermometer, timer, etc.) can be surprisingly expensive, so consider buying it second-hand.

Caveat: Note that the above only covers recording the image and developing the negatives, not printing them. Darkroom printing will add to the costs significantly (you'll need an enlarger, paper, more chemistry, trays and a truly light-tight room). One option is to scan the negatives, but even the cheapest scanners capable of dealing with 35mm film at some sort of acceptable resolution start at around €150. If you want to get your photography out there on the web or share it with friends, then this is easily one area where digital is more convenient, and cheaper, than analogue.


If your budget is 50 Euro, don't buy anything. Perhaps you can get a camera for 50 Euro, but how do you get the images on paper or to the computer? You will need budget for processing, storage, etc. depending on whether you want to do b&w, color, digital, at home processing or lab processing.

You don't need the most expensive stuff, but 50 Euro seems quite low.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I doubt that €50 is the budget for the rest of his photographic life. It is the budget that he has for a Camera! €50 can buy a great old film camera. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alaska Man
    Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 5:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Well, it does not make sense to buy camera now and make the prints next year. Been there, done that when I was young. It was pretty frustrating. \$\endgroup\$
    – MirekE
    Commented Oct 27, 2016 at 5:14

I don't need to repeat the point that for learning photography, the price to pay for a wasted photograph on a digital camera is significantly different from that on film. Also if you do stuff utterly wrong, you see it right away on digital or within the hour (if the screens/viewers of your digital camera are not up to delivering immediate feedback for the fine points, more likely with older gear).

Now what hasn't been mentioned in that context is "sensor size". 35mm photography is all about managing "depth of field" technically and artistically. Selecting an affordable digital camera that is a good teaching instrument in that respect is actually non-trivial. The cheap compacts usually have small sensors and correspondingly small focal lengths that don't give the kind of blur you'd see for the same "effective" focal length on larger sensors or film.

Here are two different "dinosaurs" that can help at non-trivial but tolerable cost: the Panasonic DMC-FZ200 from 2012 is a "superzoom" with small sensor and "35mm equivalent" zoom range of 25mm-600mm (in reality 4.5mm to 108mm) with a constant maximum aperture of F2.8. At the wide end, this is not remarkable, but at the long end, it means an entrance pupil of 38.5mm which gives noticeably reduced depth of field. Almost all other cameras in that category close down the aperture significantly at longer zoom ranges, limiting the photographic effect of depth of field.

A completely different kind of dinosaur (from 2004!) is the Sony DSC-R1. This camera is remarkable for being a "compact" camera (non-interchangeable lens) with an APS-C size sensor (unprecedented and actually without much of a followup) and a "35mm equivalent" zoom range of 24mm-120mm (in reality 14.3mm-71.5mm) at aperture F2.4 on the wide end to F4.8 on the long end. While this makes for a definitely smaller maximum entrance pupil than on the FZ200, it does so at a significantly more relevant distance/range for general photography. Depth of field considerations will intrude on most photographs, not just on the long zoom ones.

Of course, the relative affordability (compared to good current-day digital cameras) comes at a price: either camera does not make sense taxing significantly beyond ISO400 (but then neither does film), and they lack considerable features (and video options) that newer cameras readily offer. If you want to go into the direction of film and art photography eventually, that may not be much of a problem, but if you are planning to end up with digital, you'll eventually want to catch up with the developments of the last decade or so.

Of course there are lots of other preowned compacts around that you can learn quite a bit with. I mentioned those two because in terms of depth-of-field constraints (which are quite important for film and art photography) they stick out among their peers. If you try getting a similar learning experience using a DSLR rather than a compact, you'll probably have to invest a whole lot more, particularly with regard to add-on lenses, to get comparable or better results, and investing in older DSLR gear makes even less sense given the price point of comparable preowned lenses.

Particularly since the "I know, I'll just continue using my good expensive lenses on newer bodies eventually" rationale does not work any more, considering the speed with which camera manufacturers come up with new mount and stabilisation systems rendering older lenses obsolete or useless.


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