New To Film Cameras? A Few Thoughts Before Buying

When buying a film camera, there are numerous considerations. This article makes suggestions to help choose cameras that offer the best value for money. The report is based on fifty years of using film cameras. Readers should be aware that camera makes and models are used as reference points and not recommendations. The article should help those who are considering becoming an analogue photographer.

Please note the writer deals in cameras. In fact, I buy and sell just about anything. I can see a bargain, and I can reject a poor deal. In certainty, I have buy and sell at the best price. You know, we are all dealers, you work and sell your life hours, and the employers seek to get the best deal! That is the way of life.

The preference is to buy cameras and lenses which are in excellent to mint condition. Every function has to work, and the camera must be expected to give its new owner years of excellent service. And the best does not come at bargain prices. I choose to sell cameras in excellent to mint condition and fully functional. My many returning customers pay a premium price because of this ethos.

This does not mean I do not buy certain items without faults. I am happy to purchase a good brand and have it fully serviced. Of course, this will increase the camera price sometimes beyond the so-called market value. Many people desire an average camera and do not wish to pay very much for the instrument: and in this instance, I have to stock cheaper cameras to fulfil the need.

The dynamic of film cameras is changing. Prices are indeed climbing: for example, I traded Leica M6’s seven years ago for £400~500 ~ the same cameras today exchange hands for £1500 or more. Regardless of the make, sensible people will question if cameras in this price range offer the best value for money. There is a maximum price to most items, and of course, supply and demand also play a part, but it is fair to say there is an equation between quality, usability and value for money. Let us consider this issue.

Leica continues to produce film and digital cameras costing over £4500, there is a perceived premium in the brand. Secondly, the Leitz lenses have a reputation for being the best available. Again this increases the value of the brand. Rolex watches have a similar policy of selling a premium product at an exclusive price. If you can easily afford a few grand on a camera, then spend it! But do not think you will buy a passport to photographic excellence: believing high prices make a brilliant photographer is incorrect. Keep in mind one central thought, do not run yourself into debt. Buy what you can easily afford, and magic happens! But be sensible, do not buy three junk cameras in the hope you’ll find an absolute bargain. By the time you have spent 3 times 50 on wrecks, you may as well have spent 150 on a serviced and fully working example. It is the same with lenses. It makes far better sense to buy a good clean example first than three examples with fungus and scratches!

Another aspect of using old nail wrecks is they are just that! There is no certainty the shutter speeds or meters are accurate or that the camera requires a complete clean, lubrication and adjustment. Vendors only see the top online auction prices and cannot accept their granddad’s old camera is next to useless. I’m often turned down on offers for Leica’s, Nikons and Canons which are in rough condition.

Consider the Lessons of History!

Make no mistake, if the Nikon – Canons – Pentax brands were significantly inferior, the Leica would have held onto the reputation of being the best. Factually, Nikon decimated the Leica rangefinder product in the early 1960s. And thousands of seasoned professionals went from Germany to the Rising Sun and never looked back.

A good camera and lens and excellent technique is key to photographic success. Do not think that a Leica £1000 Summicron will outperform a £90 50mm Super-Takumur by any significant amount. If an 8X10 inch print, correctly developed and printed, is made from negatives from a Pentax or Leica lens: uncle Joe or a ‘know all internet’ expert could not tell the difference between an image taken with either one. And it matters not a jot how good the lens or camera is if the photographer uses poor technique or does not understand the composition.

Scoot around the internet and look at the experts listing the10 best cameras. There is no such thing as the ‘best camera’. The best camera is the best one is in the photographer’s hands. An intelligent photographer understanding one camera and a couple of lenses can produce the most amazing photographic art; is sure to be a winner. 

During my years using film from professional photography, without a doubt, I can state every professional photographer I knew used one or two camera bodies and a selection of three to four lenses. They would use either 35mm or medium format. Those specialising in building photography often used 4X5 or 8×10 inch large format cameras. 

The point being made is that people who made their money through photography did not have massive camera collections. And many did not care about brands. I knew one photographer who used Pentax screw mount cameras for school portraiture and freehand press work, and he made an excellent living. Another used a Yashica autofocus with a kit zoom lens to photograph hundreds of family portraits, he made an absolute fortune, and his images were superb. Another point is they used their cameras to the limit. For many years, the Pentax cameras used by the photographer mentioned above were over fifteen years old, and this was in the 1980s.

Use Common Sense!

If you are new to film photography, it makes no sense to seek the best cameras. You are on a learning curve, and there is more to film photography than camera and lens. And there is a possibility that you’ll not enjoy analogue photography. At that point, you’ll either sell your camera at a loss or keep it in storage where it will deteriorate. So why spend a fortune in the first instance? So it pays to make wise choices based on the knowledge of an experienced photographer. Not an internet know-all.

All used cameras are decades old. Some will be from the 1950’s meaning they are 70+ years old. Most film cameras are over twenty years old unless you buy a Nikon F6 (only just out of production) or a new Leica. Many require servicing or repairs, and there are not too many technicians left who really know how to service the cameras. Few have the calibration equipment to set shutter speeds etc. 

So, when buying a camera, think about the condition and age. If you know what to look for, there are many bargains: The Nikon F801s is a good example. These are found online for £80 or in mint condition from a dealer for £140+. You may well search and find them cheaper! A good example could be the only camera you ever need to buy. And be clear, it will not be long before good photographers realise how good these cameras are compared to a fifty-year-old Nikon F, which make incredible prices. Allow me to explain:

Nikon F manual cameras were made in the early 1960s for around two decades. They were costly and outstanding. The Nikkor lenses which accompanied the new cameras were brilliant. As already mentioned, the Nikon felled Leica within two years of introduction. SLR of Single Lens Reflex camera makes more sense than rangefinders in every way. Although, there are people who have spent 1000’s on rangefinders who need to dispute the fact! 

Although the F is an undisputed workhorse of a camera. Most will have had a hard life. And the one’s in private ownership and mint condition will hold their value. It is the same story with the Nikkor lenses. The possibility is they will have been heavily used. Although it needs to be written, a heavily used Nikon or Nikkor will still produce exceptional images. 

But what we have considered is Nikon moved on! Producing a fantastic new range of autofocus camera bodies with exceptional light metering capacity. The F4 and 801s were built as professional cameras and are tough. I used F2 cameras and eventually moved onto 801s for the autofocus facility. This writer believes Nikon’s F4 – F801 – 801s will become classics and precious cameras. Although many disagree, the new cameras were better in every way than the original F and F2 cameras. These internet ‘experts’ still attempt to convince the novice the reverse is true.

People are beginning to realise that second-generation professional and semi-professional cameras are brilliant options. In the same way, Canon’s EOS 1 – 1n are climbing in value. An EOS 1n was £80 in 2019 – today (2022), the price is £225 and rising. 

One should not neglect the Canon or Nikon consumer cameras. Canon EOS 600 – 650 will rise in price and Nikon F601 cameras. Mark my words. It will not be long before photographers catch on to these superb image-makers. I have a particular favourite Nikon camera, the F50, it is not expensive and with a 50mm Nikkor attached it is an excellent camera. The photographer owns a superb combination of around £110 for an F50 and 50mm Nikkor. I have access to everything from Leica to Hasselblad, and my ‘go to’ choice is the F50 and 50mm f1.8.

Another viable alternative is Pentax screw thread cameras. Mainly one’s without meters. The S1a – SV and SL are of incredible value (at the moment), but photographers are beginning to realise how well built and reliable the cameras are. Pentax SV’s once purchased for £25, are now seeing £100+. And the Takumar – Super Takumar – Super Multi Coated Takumar lenses are excellent. Remember, one can quickly put together a very useable kit (of any make!) for under £300.

The list of available cameras is endless. This inevitably makes the novice’s choice difficult. Therefore it is worth buying cameras in excellent condition and fully working or serviced. Yes, this means paying over the so-called market price. And yet, after buying two or three old nails which eventually fail, we soon realise that the accumulative price is greater than the serviced camera. People like to take chances, and when the gamble fails, it seems to be accepted as a regular aspect of life! But, why take chances? Why not make the commitment to buying a good quality camera the first time?

The point being made here is quality counts. A superb Pentax from the 1970s (50 years old) is as good (or better) as a 1930s (90 years old) Leica costing three times as much. Buy well the first time and use the camera for a year. I wouldn’t be surprised if you become happy with your single purchase.

See You Soon                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

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