Congratulations! You have decided to buy a film camera! There may be different reasons for this. You want to explore a new medium in your artistic endeavors, take a photography course, spice up your photographic practice, or just have a good looking conversation piece to put on a shelf.
I am not going to discuss every nuance of the reasons above and the best match for each of them, these are topics for future posts. I will just explain what types of cameras are out there and their pros and cons. In this post I will go over 35mm cameras, we will discuss other formats later.
SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex. It’s one of the most known types of cameras. When you look into the viewfinder you see through the lens, which means your photo will come out exactly as you see it. This is a great option to have total control over the end result, as SLRs usually have a ton of manual settings. Most SLR cameras also have a huge variety of interchangeable lenses for any type of photography. SLRs are usually recommended for students taking photography courses. SLR cameras have two disadvantages: they are bigger than other types of cameras and tend to be somewhat expensive.
Rangefinder cameras typically have the same amount of controls and settings as SLRs which is a good option for a seasoned photographer. Some, usually more expensive, rangefinder cameras have interchangeable lenses. However, there are not as many lenses available for such cameras and they are significantly less convenient to use. When you’re looking through a viewfinder of a rangefinder camera you are not seeing the image you’re going to get, as the viewfinder is located above the lens. So if you are looking to catch that particular reflection or frame your shot perfectly, it is significantly harder with a rangefinder. On a good side, rangefinders are usually smaller and more affordable than SLRs. Rangefinders are commonly used for street or travel photography when size and weight matters.
There has been a surge in popularity of compact film cameras lately. Some of them are selling for hundreds of dollars and there is a reason for it. A good quality compact camera offers amazing image quality and unprecedented ease of use. Higher end compact cameras have high quality glass lenses, great autofocus and auto exposure systems, with all this packed into a case the size of your smartphone. More and more photographers use compact cameras for every day photography. They do have flaws though: very limited control over settings, limited flexibility (best compact cameras have fixed focal length lenses) and pretty low reliability. Good compact cameras are also very hard to find. I’ll talk more in detail about this in future posts.
Viewfinder cameras are possibly the most common type available. The options are limitless, from early Leicas to modern Lomo. You can find a viewfinder camera of any size, design and time period. They are also cheaper than any other type of cameras and often offer great control options such as manual shutter speed and aperture settings. The biggest disadvantage of a viewfinder camera is that you have to estimate your focus. There is no confirmation in the camera whether your subject is in focus and this may lead to many disappointments and ruined photos. However the viewfinder camera is the easiest way yo get into film photography on a budget.
If you are taking a photography course or want to have as much control and as many options as possible – buy an SLR
If you already know a thing or two about photography and want a smaller camera with enough manual settings – buy a rangefinder
If you just want good photos and don’t want to think about settings and focusing – buy a compact
If you are on a budget, want a nice looking camera and don’t mind learning how to focus – buy a viewfinder camera
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