Looking for the best film camera to help you rediscover the joys of analogue photography? Whether you're searching for a vintage SLR, a classic instant camera or a new, affordable film-hungry sidekick, we've drawn on our decades of experience with film cameras to bring you this round-up of the best choices around – whether you're buying second-hand or new.
Film cameras might seem like a slight anachronism in this age of mirrorless tech and smartphone snapping. After all, why bother with the hassle and imperfections of real film when you can slap a sepia-tinged VSCO filter on your digital photos in an instant? Well, just like classic cars, there's an unmistakable charm and satisfaction to shooting with film – and they can help teach you more about photography than today's point-and-shoot simpletons, too.
In this guide we’ve rounded up the best film cameras for beginners, advanced and professional-level photographers. When you're buying a film camera, there are quite a few things to consider. The first step that most budding analogue lovers overlook is the format you want to shoot in.
As you might expect, 35mm is probably the most commonly used film format and is the one on which modern full-frame digital camera image sensors are based on. These cameras are typically smaller, more portable and less expensive than their medium format counterparts. However, medium format film cameras can provide much larger negatives and yield more detailed and sharper results (depending on the lens), albeit for a higher price tag.
Another thing to bear in mind when choosing a film camera is the types of lenses you're looking to use. If the camera had a short production run, or was manufactured by a suitably obscure company, then you likely won’t find a great lens selection. Head to one of the larger camera brands, though and you’re more likely to find what you’re looking for, as well as being able to add accessories and even mount adapters to swap lenses between systems.
Our number one pick for the title of best film camera on the second-hand market is the Nikon F2. A timeless classic, this 35mm fully-mechanical SLR dominated the scene for years. Known for its reliability and host of features it should be more than enough camera for most photographers who want to get into film photography and it comes in at a reasonable price, too.
The Nikon F2 is just the tip of the analogue iceberg, though – so let's dive into our guide to the best film cameras you can buy (new and used) in 2021.
Best used film cameras
Epic build quality, loads of features, timeless styling and superb reliability make the Nikon F2 our favorite film camera in our roundup. After the legendary Nikon F hit the scene it was two decades until Nikon superseded it with its next camera, and boy did it deliver. All-mechanical with a shutter made from titanium, the F2 is as modular as they came in the 1970s with interchangeable viewfinders, motor drives and meter prisms. It even featured an extremely useful 250-exposure back that fed into a 10-meter film roll (though they’re now as rare as hen's teeth).
The F2 is also compatible with every Nikon SLR lens, so owners are spoilt for choice thanks to the incredible range of high quality glass that Nikon has produced. The only downside is that the camera body itself (without a lens) comes in at nearly a kilogram (840g), so trekking around with it up to your eye all day long can leave a slight strain on the arms. While there may be technically better-equipped SLR cameras out there, we’re willing to bet you won’t find a better one for the second-hand price nowadays.
The beauty of the Nikon F100 is that it’s accessible for a range of different photographers and experience levels. If you're a beginner or an intermediate snapper, it's pretty easy to get your hands dirty thanks to the comprehensive PASM (Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Manual) modes.
The magnesium body gives the camera a strength and durability without weighing it down – despite its size, it comes in at just 785g. That may in part come down to the fact that the back of the camera is formed from plastic.
Autofocus is expertly controlled through the use of the Multi-CAM1300 AF system, which gives a wide AF coverage with five separate points (top, bottom, centre, left and right). Such a powerful AF system (at least, powerful for the time) means shooting fast and maintaining sharpness is certainly possible. Thankfully, the F100 captures photos at 4.5 frames per second, or up to 5 AF FPS, with the MB-15 battery grip, too.
There’s a reason why Canon sold an unprecedented one million units of these cameras back in the day. It was the first microprocessor-equipped SLR the world had ever seen in a production camera and was designed to be lightweight thanks to advancements in electronics technology.
Capitalizing on this advance, the AE-1 has a tightly packed aluminum body held together by strong plastics. This camera marked Canon’s departure from full-mechanical, heavy-metal cameras, into a more portable and lightweight future. It’s also because of this introduction of a plastic structure and cloth shutter that Canon was able to keep the price down, making it viable for beginner photographers.
It features two control modes, both shutter priority and manual, and shoots up to 1/1000 sec. It also includes a built-in center-weighted light meter for judging exposures. Unfortunately, it’s only compatible with FD mount lenses but can also be used with older FL-mount lenses with the use of stop-down metering, or EF-mount lenses with additional third-party mount adapters. One additional fun fact: the shutter release sound for this camera is the exact sound one hears when taking photos on the iPhone.
Coming in at the lower end of the price scale, the Pentax K1000 is renowned as a starter film camera for budding photographers, especially students. But even though it’s one of the cheaper 35mm SLRs in this list, that certainly doesn’t detract from its usability.
Stripped back and keeping things simple, the K1000 has just three shooting controls: focus, aperture and shutter speed. This helps to encourage photography newcomers to pick this camera up, because the no-frills approach is so accessible.
There’s no electronics to go wrong in this SLR, with a battery only operating the light meter should you wish to use it. Otherwise, the fully mechanical metal body shoots without issue. On the top just behind the pentaprism is a hot shoe for mounting flashes, plus shutter speed and ISO (ASA) alteration on the top dial. The viewfinder also has an 0.88x magnification, which gives a nice unrestricted view into the scene to help aid your composition.
The Fuji GW690III is a portable medium format rangefinder camera that produces sharp results thanks to its fixed lens. Its fixed Fujinon 90mm f/3.5 lens is pin-sharp down to the minimum focusing distance of one meter. And thanks to the lens' hardy, metallic built-in hood, it also counteracts flare nicely.
Despite being a medium format camera, and larger than the typical 35mm SLRs of the time, the all-plastic casing keeps weight down to 1,460g with dimensions of 201 x 119 x 129mm. To keep track of photos there’s a shutter actuation counter on the underside of the body, and to ensure things are level throughout a spirit level features on the top plate.
The aperture ring is situated on the lens barrel, as you'd expect, but so too is the shutter speed selector, hidden beneath a pull-out mechanism on the lens – something that might catch SLR shooters off-guard while transitioning to this camera. There are two shutter releases, one on the top and one at the front of the camera body, which may make portrait shooting slightly easier.
One of the biggest draws of the GW690III is the huge 6x9 negatives it produces, which seemingly approaches large format dimensions. Fortunately, for those 35mm shooters, the aspect ratio is almost identical to 35mm, so composition remains largely familiar.
The Canon A2 (known as the EOS 5 outside the US) is a solid, well-equipped SLR from the early 1990s that packs a punch in a lightweight body that weighs just 675g. It has a five focusing points which are selectable by dial operation or via the camera, but it also has a magical feature: Eye Control.
Simply look at one of the five focusing points and the A2 will select that point for you. It’s a truly inspirational feature and one that you’d be lucky to find in a future digital camera. If you want to preview the depth of field, there’s also a sixth point to look at with your eye to see how the photo will look with the chosen aperture setting, in advance of shooting.
Alongside this, the A2 can shoot any shutter speed from 30 seconds right down to 1/8000s, meaning you can freeze the action or keep things moving with long exposure. If the light conditions change, the camera's 16-zone evaluative metering, 3.5% spot metering and center-weighted average metering, plus the built-in flash, mean you won't get caught out either.
The crowning feature of the Olympus OM-1 is its magnificently big and bright optical viewfinder. With a magnification of 0.92x, you can practically wear the camera like a monocle, with great views of your scene. This helps you engage with your subject and spot potential compositions that would otherwise be missed on other cameras.
If portability is important, then the OM-1 is certainly a fine choice. At just 510g, it’s one of the lightest SLRs in our list and stands tall (read: short) at 136 x 83 x 50mm in stature. This is tiny compared to its 35mm rivals from the 1970s, and is largely thanks to the team that designed Olympus' Pen and Pen F cameras, which are also known for their compact size.
The OM-1 is great for photographers of all skill levels, but beginners will need to sharpen up their exposure theory, because its fully manual operation means balancing aperture, shutter speed and ISO is a must. It has no automatic or semi-automatic features, but if you're okay with that, it's a fantastic second-hand option.
Aimed at professionals and serious amateurs, the Mamiya C330 sought to offer a lower price point to other high-end medium format cameras in the 1970s.
Unlike many other twin-lens reflex cameras though, the C330 (in fact, the whole C-series line-up by Mamiya) featured the ability to change lenses, which offered up focal lengths of between 55mm and 250mm. This made it useful as both a camera for outdoor shooting (if you had strong enough arms to carry the hulking 1.7kg frame) and indoor studio use, with the longer focal lengths being perfect for portraits and headshots.
As big and heavy as this camera is, there are also plenty of accessories to extend its capabilities, including backplates for sheet film, two types of grip-holders, different finders and interchangeable focusing screens. Focusing comes in the flavor of bellows and there’s even a parallax minder for compensation of converging verticals, should you need it. Its 120 film gives 12 exposures, whereas 220 film bumps this up to 24 exposures for more shooting.
Small, lightweight, and simple to use, the Rollei 35 S is ideal for street photographers who need to move around without a weight lump strapped to their neck.
Zone focusing is a must with this camera, but again that makes it good for street photographers who are used to stopping down the aperture and adjusting the shutter speed for correct exposure. On the other hand, it might make things a little trickier for photographers who aren’t used to this style. Still, this does mean that photographers can shoot without bringing this camera up to their eye, for even more inconspicuous use.
In an effort to keep the form factor small, the 35 S has some peculiar design choices that might at first seem counterintuitive. For instance, there’s a hot shoe mounted on the bottom of the camera. The frame advance knob is also on the left when shooting and winds the film in the opposite direction to standard 35mm cameras, while the aperture and shutter speed selection dials flank the lens on the front of the body. While all of this can be initially confusing, it does also make the 35 S one of the smallest 35mm cameras ever made.
Featuring a beautiful chrome body, the SX-70 is still available in photographic circles today via Polaroid and other third-party companies, who refurbish these cameras. Not bad considering it became the first instant SLR camera ever made nearly 50 years ago.
Using SX-70 instant film you can get immediate feedback due to the chemical reactions that get to work after making your exposure. It’s perfect for shooting outdoors in plenty of bright sunlight because of the ISO 100 film and the fixed f/8 aperture. Focusing is simple using the autofocus, or alternatively you can switch to manual focusing and use the focusing wheel above the shutter release to get as close as 30cm. If indoor shooting is what you need, there are also optional flashbars that can be fitted to the top of the camera for fill light. A superior glass lens (an improvement on the plastic lenses seen on today's Polaroid Original cameras) produces sharp photos, too.
The almost cult-like following of the SX-70 has introduced many useful modern accessories for the contemporary shooter, including holders and reusable flash and lens filters, which keeps this camera feeling fresh and usable.
The Trip 35 arrived in 1967 and came at a time where tourism was booming, so it was destined to become a popular, classic travel camera. A compact camera that was easy to slip into your pocket, it captured great, sharp photos thanks to its fixed 40mm f/2.8 lens.
Combined with some suitably fast film, that maximum aperture makes this camera ideal for any kind of travel snapping, whether you're outside, indoors or in low light conditions. To help, the ISO (or ASA as it was then known) was designed to be kept below 400 using the ISO selector on the lens.
For true photophiles, it may lack a little in features, with aperture and shutter speed being automatic. It is possible to manually adjust aperture should you require it, but it is restricted to just four different distance focus options from close portrait shots to distant mountain tops. Still, for those new to film photography or looking for a fun travel camera, this camera's simplicity and minimal settings are ideal.
Best current film cameras
Looking for something a bit shinier than a second-hand model? These film cameras are all still in production today.
Following the tradition of Leica’s M camera line-up, the M-A has certainly been designed with one foot in the past and the other in the present. A one-piece, full-metal body is finished in either black or silver chrome and provides photographers with a solid feel in the hand. Though durable by design, it’s also lightweight at just 578g.
This is a film camera for either intermediate or advanced users, or beginners who like to swim uphill, because it’s fully manual without even providing so much as a light meter for those who want to crack their exposure.
Leica’s film of choice for the M-A is the classic Kodak Tri-X 400 black-and-white film, a familiar favorite among artists and reportage photographers alike – so much so that Leica actually packs a roll with every camera. The rangefinder functions can take a bit of getting used to, with focusing and camera settings taking a while to get right, but the smooth, well-machined aesthetics mean it’s a pleasure to hold and shoot with.
Based on the Russian camera of the same name, the Lomo Lubitel 166+ takes its design style from twin-lens reflex (TLR) cameras from the 1940s and 50s. Lubitel, which in Russian means 'amateur', is aimed at exactly that – those who want to get into medium format via a TLR camera without the extravagant expense that often puts newbies off.
That said, if you prefer to switch to a roll of 35mm film, you can also do that too with the Lubikin 35mm kit that the 166+ is shipped with. A simple frame advance knob also allows for easy multiple exposure shots that produce wonderful, creative effects.
Focusing is simple thanks to the ground-glass focusing screen, which helps you dial in a sharp image on the top viewfinder, while the 75mm lens focuses relatively close with a minimum focusing distance of 0.8m up to infinity, which should cover almost all types of photos aside from macro work.
If you’re on a budget and want that lo-fi retro effect, then the Diana F+ is probably the ideal film camera for you. It lets you capture images on 120 film (or 35mm film, thanks to a Diana+ 35mm back) in either 12 full-frame square shots (5.2 x 5.2cm) or, alternatively, 16 smaller square images (4.2 x 4.2cm). Handily, the Diana F+ also allows for an endless panorama in 46 x 46mm formats.
Its body is made from a lightweight plastic, which does feel cheap to the hand, but this also helps the Diana+ achieve that super-low price. This camera is great for novices or those who come from instant film camera backgrounds with limited technical control. It comes with three available apertures, listed as cloudy (f/8), half-shade (f/11) and sunny (f/16). But take the lens off and you also have the ability to shoot pinhole images for more creative fun.
To make up for the limited aperture options and two shutter speeds (1/60 sec and Bulb) the Diana F+ comes with a Diana Flash Plug, which slots into the top of the camera to provide extra light in dark situations or when you need a splash of fill light. There’s also a set of handy colored gel flash filters to experiment with, which rounds one of the most fun, versatile film camera around.
The Konstruktor F+’s big selling-point is the ability to literally build your own camera. The DIY element brings with it an extra layer of satisfaction when capturing images, knowing that you’ve both made the camera and managed to balance exposure and composition to produce your photographs.
Incredibly affordable, this makes a good gift for those who are into photography at any level, whether rank amateur or seasoned pro. There’s also room for expansion with the ability to add the Konstruktor Flash Accessory Kit which slides straight into the existing camera thanks to the PC socket.
The TLR viewfinder at the top of the camera also allows waist-level shooting for inconspicuous shooting which makes it ideal for street or reportage, or indeed anywhere that you don’t want to draw attention in an age where a smartphone in the face can get people’s backs up. Overall, a lot of fun and photos in a small, inexpensive package.
Perfect for creative shooters who want to step away from standard rectangular framing, the Spinner 360 lets you shoot extreme panoramic images using every inch of the scene around you.
The textured handle grip and lightweight design makes it easy to take the Spinner 360 with you on adventures, and it doesn't even need battery power. Alternatively, if you’re not vegan, you can get the leather edition where the device is wrapped in fancy Italian Toledo leather.
Thanks to a simple pull cord, the camera is incredibly simple to operate. And the great news is you don’t need any complicated, bespoke kit to capture shots, as it uses standard 35mm film. However, between the cost of purchasing the film and the developing costs, things could get pricey for you (depending on the type of film you’re using) as you’ll only capture up to eight, 360 degree photos per standard 36 exposure roll. Still, it couldn’t work any other way as the 360-degree angle needs space on the film to expose a full rotation of the scene.
There’s also the Spinner 360 Motorizer which allows photographers to take 360 shots from afar and even inside thanks to the wireless remote link, but bear in mind this device costs just as much as the camera does.
The Ilford Obscura Pinhole camera is a gloriously simple, yet unique, 4x5in film camera built in the UK. It’s structurally strong and impact resistant, being constructed from ABS plastic with stainless steel fixings for added longevity.
Pinhole cameras produce a naturally soft image because there’s no glass element to focus the light. This means a smaller, sharper hole is required for the maximum possible clarity in pinhole photography. That’s why the Ilford Obscura has a chemically-etched 0.35mm pinhole, which gives an effective aperture of f/248 for maximum sharpness with a focal length of 87mm.
For those needing a little extra help getting set up, the camera also comes with a tripod mount adapter and an exposure calculator for nailing the perfect shot when you're out in the field. Due to the long exposures needed with pinhole photography, capturing moving subjects is tricky, but landscapes and scenes with moving water, clouds, or traffic, with other parts of the scenes holding steady, work wonderfully.