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Do you want to understand your camera and take great photos today?

Yes Please

When we think about classic film cameras we wish we owned, many of us will stare off into the distance, with eye glazed over, imaging another world where our everyday shooter was a Leica M6 rangefinder.

Unfortunately, reality is harsh. The body alone costs upwards of $1,000.

Although it may remain a pipe dream for years to come, I’m here with some good news. You can own a huge range of classic film cameras for less than $100!

Sure, brands such as Leica are famous for their quality and prestige, but so are many of the cameras on this list. Some of the sharpest images I’ve ever captured have been on a film camera that cost me less than $100.

In no particular order, lets have a look at some of them now…

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Olympus Pen

I love my Olympus Pen. The thing that makes this camera so unique is that it’s a half frame camera. That means that each photo only fills half a frame, so you can fit 72 photos onto a single roll of film!

It also means that when you hold the camera in landscape orientation, you’re actually taking a portrait photo.

Screen-shot-2012-03-26-at-14.22.58

It’s a 35mm camera that was produced from 1959 to the beginning of the 1980s, and it’s named Pen because of it’s size, as Olympus thought it would be as portable as a pen… which it almost is!

There’s tons of different models of Pen available, even an SLR version, and digital versions too. 

1024px-Olympus_Pen_4397

Canon AE-1

The Canon AE-1 was produced by Canon for nearly 10 years, which sounds a bit absurd when you consider our throwaway culture these days, but that’s just down to how good, and how popular this camera was.

This is Canon’s first affordable TTL (Through The Lens metering) cameras, which added autoexposure modes as well as shutter-speed priority, which we’re all familiar with today.

Because of the low cost, huge advertising campaign, and added features, it became one of the most popular cameras of the time, selling over 1 million units!

Rollei 35

When the Rollei 35 was released in 1966, it was the smallest existing 35mm camera on the market, and still today it remains the second smallest.

Like many film cameras, they were produced for a very long time so there’s a wide variety of models on the market, but something you’ll want to look out for is light leaks, as they can be quite common in older cameras.

Here’s a photo I took on mine recently:

Rollei B35 - Canon EOS 10 - Feb-July 14-99

Something interesting about this camera is that it’s so compact, the lens ‘folds’ into the camera, and the hotshoe is on the bottom as there’s no space on top. Check out this video I made of my one:

Olympus OM-1

When it was released in 1972, the Olympus OM-1 was a change of pace in the SLR world—a smaller, lighter, and quieter 35mm camera among big and bulky peers. 

This mechanical camera was Olympus’s conscious step towards making pro-level cameras which were more compact and usable. Some of the features included were mirror lock-up, a self-timer, a through-the-lens exposure meter, and depth of field preview (via a button on the lens).

The slimmed-down design was a hit and the camera is considered a classic today. These were very popular cameras with students because they were a great camera to learn on, having just enough features to provide flexibility and control without too many confusing extras, plus they were sturdy cameras that lasted for ages.

It continued to be manufactured for 15 years with some variations such as the OM-1MD and OM-1n being produced over the course of its production run.

My_Olympus_OM-1_MD_(4336326712)

Pentax K1000

If you were impressed by the sales of the Canon AE-1, then get a load of this! The K1000’s extraordinary longevity makes it a historically significant camera.

The K1000’s inexpensive simplicity was a great virtue and earned it an unrivalled popularity as a basic but sturdy workhorse and eventually sold over three million units. Super easy to get your hands one still, and very well made too.

Nikon F3

Okay, so this one may be stretching the $100 budget ever so slightly, but there’s always bargains to be had on eBay. The Nikon F3 succeeded the F and the F2, two models which were already famous for extreme ruggedness and durability.

It was a very popular camera, and you’ll still find people shooting with them today as, just like Canon EOS film cameras, the lenses of newer Nikon’s will still fit on these old models. 

800px-Nikon_F3_with_HP_viewfinder

Minolta SRT-101

Fun fact for you, Minolta is an acronym for “Mechanism, Instruments, Optics, and Lenses by Tashima”, and they’re one of my favourite film camera brands. 

This is a camera close to my heart, and one that I’ve owned two of. The first one was dropped and damaged the light meter, so I replaced it while waiting for it to be repaired. It was first brought into production in 1966, and was produced for 10 years, with only very minor changes.

The easy-to-use light meter in the viewfinder makes exposure very easy, and the pin sharp lenses make for some spectacular images. I recommend the 35mm f/1.7. I honestly can’t recommend this camera enough.

800px-Minolta_srt_101_IMGP3035_wp

Fujica ST801

This camera was the first to have a viewfinder LED digital data display, instead of the traditional but delicate galvanometer needle pointer, which made for much easier and more accurate exposures.

It’s a 35mm SLR with TTL metering, and as you set aperture or shutter speed, LEDs would glow in one or two of seven positions, indicating whether the exposure was correct or not. 

Fujica-ST801

Diana

The Diana is a classic cheap toy camera of 1960’s that were made in China, but very popular in the UK and US. They’re made entirely from plastic, which meant that most were given away as prizes, or sold for nominal sums.

It’s had a revival in recent years and Lomography has made a resurgence, and film photography has become more popular.

The Diana’s you’ll see on the market today are likely reproductions, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It houses 120 film, which can be a bit hard to get developed, and with the newer models you can get 35mm backs, or simply buy a Diana mini instead.

It just goes to show how much fun you can have with a bit of cheap plastic!

diana

Polaroid SX-70

Thanks to The Impossible Project film for Polaroid cameras are once again being manufactured. You hardly need me to explain what makes Polaroid so special, as we all know them for producing hand-shake inducing instant pictures.

What makes the SX-70 so special though is the fact that it folds flat, which is no easy feat for an instant SLR film camera. And well, just look at that design!

Polaroid SX-70
10 Classic Film Cameras for Less Than $100

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Hey I'm Josh, I'm Photographer in Chief here at ExpertPhotography, and I'm in charge of making sure that we provide you with the best content from the most knowledgeable photographers in the world. Enjoy the site :)

  • Phil M

    Nikon F801s is way cheaper than the F3 and better in many ways: 250th flash synch, motor drive, high-eye-point finder, spot metering, etc. Check it out!

  • i have two SRT 101 and a few lenses …what do I do with them?? I don’t use them anyone want to make an offer?

  • Mike Peters

    The great old days. The true way to learn photography is to use slr cameras using film. It’s either learn to compose and focus or waste time and film to get 1 good photo out a hundred frames.

  • I am more inclined towards the older larger format devices say between that were made from 1890 – 1950 The centry view came in 8 by 10 down to 4 by 5,
    Also the kodak #3’s And #4’s, With the combenation back, that alowes the user to use the camera as a view finder rool film camera or, a view camera that shoots plate/film device . Are ajustable with most front standard studio movements. While the Centry view cameras have all the studio movements of the front and rear standards. And If you are interested in manipulating light, Well The best way to learn is on a device that has no auto funcion. That and I enjoy doing wet-plate images and the Ag, or Au nitrate, and geliten. Since the point is to learn how to do all the things that the cameras do themselves. So that the photographer is the person and not the other way ’round.
    David 3

  • Josh,
    Glad to see that the Canon AE-1 was on your list. My friends gave mine to me back in 2003 and it helped rekindle my love of photography. I still have it and will try to make it a goal of mine to start using it again in the new year. I am both a graphic designer and photographer living and working in New York City.
    Thank you for your posting,
    Daniel S. Hagy aka k a i t o o

  • Frank C.

    Re: Olympus OM-1
    It does have DOF. You just press the lens button (the one opposite the lens lock) and you’re in business.

  • wonderful write-up, i m using sony snapy… looking to upgrade…

  • ChrisLL

    Hi there,
    The comments about the olympus Om1 are rather inaccurate. I’m not even sure they are about this canera.
    It DOES have a mirror lock-up.
    It DOES have a self-timer and
    Depth of field preview in OM cameras was provided by a button ON THE LENS so of course there isn’t one on the body.
    A fantastic camera.