Second-hand film cameras are not only inexpensive, they're also feature-rich and surprisingly capable. John Wad guides you to the best
If you already own a collection of modern autofocus lenses that you wish to continue using, there are 1990s AF classics like the Canon EOS 3 or Nikon F100 to choose from. If you feel more adventurous, though, go back a few years more.
The film world has seen a vast range of camera styles, from panoramic to stereo, from subminiature to large format. However, for a good usable camera today, restrict yourself to one of six types. For 35mm, look at single lens reflexes (SLRs), rangefinder cameras or simple viewfinder models. For 120 roll film, consider medium format SLRs, twin lens reflexes (TLRs) and perhaps older folding models.
Among all these you’ll find quality cameras that still demand top prices, high-spec cameras available for a fraction of their original cost and inexpensive cameras still capable of delivering excellent results. We consider them all here. To avoid quoting pre-decimal currency, the original prices we give are approximate and rounded up to the nearest pound. Guide prices are based on averages of recent eBay sales. With interchangeable lens cameras, original and current prices may vary according to the lenses supplied with them.
Good quality, decent price
- Type 35mm SLR
- Launched 1978
- Original price £220
- Guide price now £100-140
The flagship model in Canon’s A-series that began with the AE-1 was the first SLR to offer programmed automation, along with four further exposure modes: manual, shutter priority, aperture priority and stopped down AE.
Made only in black, the A-1 accepts Canon’s vast range of bayonet and breech-lock FD lenses, plus the FL lenses that preceded them, albeit with restricted automation. Accessories include the Motordrive A for five frames per second, Databack A and Speedlight 155A. A single PX-28 battery runs all the functions. Meanwhile, shutter speeds and apertures are controlled by a thumbwheel, in conjunction with a mode selection lever. With the lever set to ‘Tv’ shutter speeds are displayed in a window to the side. As it is turned to ‘Av’, the window display changes to apertures. Shutter speeds run from 1/1,000sec down to a full 30 seconds.
WE SAY The A-1 was ahead of its time at its launch. For users today, it is still a well- specified and reliable camera.
- Type Medium format TLR
- Launched 1958
- Original price £85
- Guide price now £200-400
Rolleiflex cameras were always known for quality at a high price but the T was introduced at a lower cost to sit between the budget priced Rolleicords and top-of-the-range Rolleiflex 3.5f and 2.8f. Despite its lower price, it sports a well-respected f/3.5 Tessar lens coupled, for focusing, to an f/2.8 Heidosmat that displays its image on a large ground-glass screen on the top of the body. Image size is 6x6cm. Apertures of f/3.5-f/22 are coupled to shutter speeds of 1-1/500sec, set by a single lever to the side of the taking lens.
WE SAY The Rolleiflex T makes a great introduction to medium format TLR photography.
Voigtländer Vitomatic IIa
- Type 35mm rangefinder camera (Ultron version)
- Launched 1960
- Original price £68
- Guide price now £150-200
The Vitomatic IIa is heavy, solid and beautifully made. The bright viewfinder supports a coincident image rangefinder linked to the focusing. A built-in selenium cell meter is coupled to shutter speeds and apertures to confirm correct exposure as you adjust each to match a needle to a circular icon in the viewfinder.
The shutter won’t fire until the film has been advanced, and there must be a film in the camera to activate the mechanism. The point is, an empty camera will appear to have a jammed shutter.
WE SAY The Vitomatic IIa is inexpensive with an f/3.5 Color Skopar lens; more expensive with the better f/2 Ultron (prices quoted above are for the Ultron version).
Super Ikonta A
- Type Roll film folding camera
- Launched 1934
- Original price £16
- Guide price now £250-£300
If you’re looking for a different way inot medium format photography, don’t overlook folding cameras of the past. Some are very cheap. This more expensive example, made by Zeiss Ikon, is one of the best. It uses a twin red window system for reading film numbers to shoot 16 6×4.5cm images.
The camera folds to a flat, pocket- size shape, uses an f/3.5 Tessar lens and shutter speeds are 1-1/500sec. Its superior rangefinder is based on technology used by Zeiss in its Contax cameras.
WE SAY Be aware of unbloomed lenses that are prone to flare when shooting against the light, and the possibility of sticky, slow shutter speeds.
High quality, high price
- Type 35mm rangefinder camera
- Launched 1954
- Original price £185
- Guide price now £700-900
Sometimes regarded as the best 35mm camera ever made, the M3 was the start of a new body style for Leica, a change from screw-fit to bayonet mount lenses and a longer based, more accurate, rangefinder.
The camera accepts Leica’s vast range of M lenses, with guides in the viewfinder for 50mm, 90mm and 135mm focal lengths, which appear automatically as each lens is fitted. The camera is completely manual but a Leicameter can be added that links to the shutter speed dial, with settings of 1-1/1,000sec. Film wind is by a lever, which takes two strokes on early cameras and a single stroke on later models.
WE SAY The prices are high even today, but pick up an M3 and you might find that you never want to put it down.