Film diaries: Picking a camera

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If my recent forays into the whys and hows of film have gotten you curious enough to try it (or revisit it) yourself, the next question you’ll probably be asking is also the one that’s natural for all photographers: which camera should I buy? Fear not: it’s a pretty simple question to answer, and the best thing is that there are two enormous advantages that film has over digital in this regard: image quality, and price.

What? Image quality? Specifically, consistency: cameras that shoot the same format are capable of producing comparable results, assuming there aren’t huge deviations in the lenses. Grain, color etc (note that I didn’t mention sharpness or resolution here, because that is lens-dependant) of course depend more on your film type than your camera; an enormous Nikon F5 will give you the same noise level as a compact Olympus Mju II if loaded with the same film. (Of course, you may get different results under the same shooting conditions, given that you can get an f1.4 lens for the Nikon, but you’re stuck with the fixed 35/2.8 on the Olympus.)

I mentioned two advantages: the second has to do with price. These days, outside of Holga (and similar Russian equivalents) and Leica, there are almost no 35mm film cameras still in production and available new. This means that you’re going to be buying on the secondary market; it also means that there’s relatively little financial risk involved in buying a camera, trying it, and then reselling it if it’s not to your liking – not something that can also be said for anything digital. Couple that with the fact that prices appear to be at an all-time historical low* and it’s very much a buyers’ market. I don’t know how much longer this is going to continue, though.

*The aforementioned Nikon F5s are going for a song these days – remember, the F5 was Nikon’s flagship back in the late 90s: the D4 equivalent of today, and priced in the same ballpark, too.

Whilst it’s almost a given that we’ll never again see a similar proliferation of high end film cameras as we did in the late 90s or early 00s, the good news it that most of these were made in sufficient numbers that there still both relatively easy to find and affordable – limited editions aside, of course. That period in photography represented what I like to think of as the height of the Goldilocks camera: compact, full-frame 35mm cameras that were pocketable but uncompromising on optical quality or control; something which is only now being approached with the likes of the Sony RX1, and even that still doesn’t quite get the formula right: it’s more electronic gadget than proper camera. In some ways, we appear to have regressed.

Before I examine some of the more interesting options available, there are a few things to bear in mind when hunting for a film camera:

  • Format: realistically, 35mm or 120?
  • Age: the older the camera, the more likely it is to a) break and b) be difficult to repair. There are of course exceptions to this rule. Although modern electronic cameras (under 10 years old) are more likely to be in perfect working condition, older mechanical cameras are more likely to last – simply because a spring or lever can be re-fabricated fairly easily, a chip or circuit board can’t. It’s probably also safe to say they were better made back in the day…
  • Usability and ergonomics: I was lent a Rolleiflex by a friend: I still haven’t used it because I’m not sure how to load it, and neither is he. Awkward controls, difficult loading, beware. I’d add any model-specific quirks to this category, too.
  • A slightly marked, well-looked after and regularly-exercised user is probably a better buy than a 40 year old safe queen or photojournalist’s beater; especially with mechanical cameras, you want something that’s been regularly exercised; lack of use is just as bad for mechanical cameras as abuse. Such cameras are also likely to be more reasonably priced than perfectly mint examples. Think of it as a vintage car that’s never been driven: I don’t know about you, but I’d probably send it for a complete overhaul before taking it out on the road.
  • The lenses matter, much more so than digital: you can’t realistically sharpen or add contrast or correct color; otherwise you might as well be shooting digital, it’s just easier.
  • Somewhat tangential, but almost all mechanical cameras should be stored with the shutters uncocked to avoid weakening the springs; the one notable exception are the Hasselblad V series, which should be cocked – otherwise you won’t be able to remove the lens without breaking the leaf shutter drive shaft, plus you’ll lose a frame if you cock it after mounting a back.

Let’s break things down into a few categories to make it a bit easier. Note that I’m going to ignore Lomos and the like for the most part to focus on serious photographic tools; they’re both unmetered and have almost zero manual control, so I don’t consider them serious photographic tools. (In any case, I’m guessing you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog if that’s what you were looking for…)

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35mm compact
There are a lot of great choices here: interestingly, none of them seem to have come down much in price from when they were new; or if they did, I missed the slump and subsequent rise. I think the market is recognizing that these cameras were both the pinnacle and end of an era. In this category, the best picks as shooters are all fixed with moderately wide lenses and mostly pocketable. At 40mm, there’s the Leica CM; 35mm gives you the Nikon 35Ti, Contax T2/ T3, Yashica T4 (the T2/3/4 have Zeiss lenses; the T3 even has synthetic sapphire viewfinder windows to prevent scratches), Konica Hexar AF, the Olympus Mju II (also known as the Stylus Epic), and if you don’t mind something a bit older, the Rollei 35S, Minox 35GT and Olympus XA/ XA2. The Mju II is even splashproof. Going wider, at 28mm we have the Ricoh GR1/GR1s/GR1v; Nikon 28Ti and Minolta TC1. Even wider still, there’s the Ricoh GR21 at 21mm. If you’ve got friends in Japan, Fuji made a limited run of Natura cameras with a fixed 24/1.9 lens – the fastest and widest available in a compact.

Note that all of these cameras were high-end products, and are built accordingly. They’re pleasant to handle, have (often very nice) built in viewfinders, fast, high-quality lenses, and some degree of manual override; usually aperture priority, exposure compensation and sometimes also zone focus. They all meter accurately enough to shoot slide film with, though I suspect none have spot meters, sadly. Almost all of them have little gremlins and foibles, too – the GR1 is notorious for LCD problems, for instance; the CM had electronic issues, and the T3 has idiotic settings that revert to defaults every time the power is cycled. Some Minox 35s use mercury batteries that are no longer available. Oh, and the Rollei 35s are upside down: the wind lever is on the bottom of the camera.

You’ll notice I haven’t suggested anything with a zoom: this is for good reason, because zoom lenses on compact cameras have horribly slow apertures – I think the worst I’ve seen was something like f8-f13. That means you’re stuck using flash all the time, and you can be almost certain the optics are a very poor compromise.

Expect to pay anywhere up to $800 for a nice black Contax T3 or Leica CM at the high end, down to a few bucks for a beaten up Mju II at a garage sale. My favorite of the bunch, the Ricoh GR1v, runs between $400-600 depending on condition.

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35mm rangefinder
If anything, this is an even broader field than the compacts: you’ve got the Leica Ms and Barnack cameras, Voigtlander Bessas, Konica Hexars, Yashica Electros, Canon Cannonets, Nikon S’ and Zeiss Ikons – and that’s just some of the manual focus options available – not to mention of course the Contax G series, which had autofocus. Most of these also have the benefit of interchangeable lenses; a lot of them are also Leica M or screwmount, which means they can be used even on modern digital versions like the M9 and M Type 240. This also means that used lenses aren’t always cheap – and they almost certainly aren’t up to the quality of modern glass.

With the exception of the Leica MP, M7 and Voigtlander Bessas, the rest are out of production – even the Ikon was discontinued recently. The electronic models suffer from potential battery availability issues, as well as limited replacement parts should something go wrong; the earlier mechanical models have become very collectible and commensurately priced. I doubt you’ll find anybody buying a mint condition original Nikon SP to shoot with.

The obvious choice here is a Leica M of some description – M6es are a good place to start; they’re reasonably priced in the US$1,000 range, relatively modern, still serviceable, and have a meter. They do have a known rangefinder flare issue that made the RF patch difficult to see under some lighting conditions; modifications to later versions solved this. The M7 adds aperture priority but requires batteries to operate; personally, the MP would be my pick – fully manual, wonderfully tactile, all speeds work without batteries, but you do have the benefit of a meter if you’re not sure. Avoid the Bessas unless you shoot wide – the rangefinder base length is too short to accurately focus very fast or telephoto lenses; but they are the only cameras with built in 21mm frame lines (Bessa R4M). The Yashica Electros are interesting budget options, but note that they have fixed lenses and non-TTL meters; this is probably only important if you’re shooting slide film.

If you’re particularly masochistic, you can try a screwmount Barnack Leica (I, II, III and variants) – it’s not for everybody. Slow shutter speeds are on a separate dial; the rewind crank is a stiff knob, and you have separate (and tiny) viewfinders for focusing and framing; also, the only built in frame line is 50mm – everything else requires an external finder. They’re very nice cameras as engineering objects and vintage objects, but a total pain to shoot with.

The final interesting option is the Contax G series; they were offered with a set of excellent Carl Zeiss AF lenses, have unique zoom finders (rather than variable frame lines, as with the Leica Ms) and seem to be pretty much the final evolution of the rangefinder; in many ways, they remind me of an interchangeable lens version of the high end T series compacts.

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35mm SLR
If anything, we’ve got even more choices here. The confusing part is that some of the newer, cheap entry-level AF SLRs are very competent indeed, and are probably more camera than one needs. I’m talking about things like the Nikon F55 (N55 in the USA) – not particularly nice as an object, but will get the job done, and coupled with say a cheap AF 50/1.8 D, capable of providing some excellent output – afterall, it’s the optics that make all the difference. I realize that there’s no way I can provide a rundown of even the major cameras in this category, so instead I’ll single out interesting options. The F55-class would not be my choice at all: though cheap, frankly, they’re nasty to handle, and a load of cheap-feeling plastic isn’t the kind of thing that inspires one to get out and shoot.

Since these are system cameras, the primary consideration will be lenses: what’s available, and at what cost? Systems with longevity – Nikon F and perhaps to a lesser extent, Pentax K – are the best choices here. Not only is excellent glass still available, chances are you’ll probably already have some. The reverse is also true – AI/ AIS lenses are still relatively easy to find and not too expensive on the secondary market, and will work just fine on most of the midrange and higher DSLRs. I can use the same excellent Carl Zeiss ZF.2 lenses on my D800E and F2 Titan – despite a 40 year age gap between the cameras. Note that the modern Nikon electronic-only G series lenses will not work fully on anything earlier than the F5.

In the Nikon stable, the F series and FM series are the ones to go for – not only were they constructed as befits the flagships of the day, they’re also reasonably cheap, easy to fix, and easy to find – for the most part. The original F is probably not the best shooter because of its removable back and (most cameras) lack of metering; it’s also not very ergonomic and has an oddly-placed shutter release. I like the F2 a lot, both because I’m biased towards it as my first serious foray into film, and because apart from the FM series, it’s the only F that is fully functional without a battery. The F2 is available in metered and unmetered versions; fortunately the latter is a lot easier to find than the former, and oddly, cheaper, too. The K screen is ideal for focusing – it has a microprism ring and split prism, as well as wonderful focusing ‘snap’. A user in nice condition user will set you back no more than $300-400 or so, but prices range into the thousands if you want a mint condition Titan. Just check the foams (mirror, back) and shutter speeds, because remember: these are entirely mechanical cameras. The timing system – especially for the faster 1/2000 speeds – functions much like a mechanical watch. Watch out for any slack in the rewind crank or hesitation at slower shutter speeds.

Personally, I’d avoid the F3 and F4 because they feel too much like transition cameras; you get some of the odd ergonomic holdovers from the mechanical era without the full integration of electronics. The F100 is very much a mini-F5, and much lighter and less battery-hungry too, though it won’t do 8fps. I personally like the F5 anniversary because of its titanium prism, and the F6, because in many ways it is and was the ultimate film camera ever made – and almost certainly the final incarnation in the line. Interestingly, all of the Fs – even the electronic, motorized ones – have a mechanical rewind crank so you can get the film out in case you run out of power. Of course, with the F2 and and it siblings, power is never an issue – I suppose that’s one of the joys of shooting with one of these cameras; I know it’s almost certainly going to outlast me.

The FM3A gives you the benefit of both mechanical shutter speeds up to 1/4000s (without batteries even), as well as aperture-priority and match-needle metering if you do put a battery in. It even has backlight compensation and AE-lock, in a smaller and lighter body than the unmetered F2 – though admittedly, it simply doesn’t feel as nice in the hand. These are not cheap on the secondary market, and sell for pretty much their original retail price – around US$700-800 or so for one in excellent condition, or ~$450 for a beater.

There are a few other interesting systems worth mentioning: notably, Canon FD. Canon abandoned all of its legacy users with the shift to EOS in the 80s; as expected, resale value for these cameras and lenses fell through the floor. A friend recently picked up an excellent+ condition AE-1 Program and two lenses for about $50 – granted, the cameras have some operation quirks, but if you can get used to them, are of course capable of delivering great results. And L glass from the FD era is both good and cheap.

I’ve always been intrigued by the Contax RTS system with it’s Zeiss lenses (this particular C/Y mount series of optics are very popular for conversion amongst filmmakers due to their look) and of course the Leica Rs; but the relative expense and difficulty in obtaining spares and accessories is somewhat off-putting. Better to buy into a familiar, cheaper system and spend the rest on film…

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120 (medium format) SLR
Though there are quite a few options in this category, the main contenders are of course the Hasselblad V and Pentax 645/ 67 systems; the former represents the higher end of the market, and the latter the lower – but we’re talking relative pricing here, as a nice Hasselblad 501C kit with waist level finder, A12 magazine and 80/2.8 will probably go for around the US$1k mark. Pentax 645 or 67 beaters can be found below $200. There are also the Mamiya RB/ RZ systems, Rollei SLX etc. but these are comparatively rarer, with the latter being quite pricy. It’s worth noting that there are Russian (Kiev) or Chinese clones for most of these; some of the parts are even interchangeable with the originals (Hasselblad prisms, notably). I make no secret of the fact that personally, I love my Hasselblad 501C – look for a future article on an introduction to the Hasselblad V system. It’s the only one of these options that can accept digital backs (though there’s a digital version of the Pentax 645 – imaginatively, the 645D.)

It’s worth noting that almost none of these cameras can be shot handheld unless you’ve got astronomically high shutter speeds or hands of stone, because the mirror slap is enormous – if you really want to make the most of the large negative, you’ll need a sturdy tripod and low-ISO film; then prepare to be surprised by the tonality and detail of the negatives, even if you’re a DSLR shooter.

120 (medium format) TLR
Your only two real options here are either a Rolleiflex of some description, or a Segaull; I wouldn’t personally go for either. There are a lot of disadvantages with TLRs – parallax, size, non-interchangeable lenses, potential alignment/ calibration issues – and only one advantage: almost no shutter vibration thanks to leaf shutters and no mirrors/ focal plane shutters, which means that the cameras are hand-holdable to very low shutter speeds. Expect to pay $1-2k for a clean Rollexiflex, or a few hundred for a new Seagull.

120 (medium format) rangefinder and compact
Here’s an interesting segment: you can still buy a lot of these cameras new. Fuji still makes both medium format rangefinders – notably the GF670 normal bellows rangefinder (which also has a Voigtlander counterpart) and the wide GF670W – as well as fixed lens, autofocus ‘point and shoots’ (GA645 and variants). They’re not small, but they’re not as bulky as the SLRs or TLRs, either. And they’re fun to use. The rangefinders have fixed lenses, and run in the $2k range; the GA series are more like $600-1k depending on condition. There’s also the older GSW series – available in 670 (6×7 negative), 680 (6×8 negative) and 690 (yep, you guessed it, 6×9 negative) flavors. They all have fixed lenses, though their predecessors – the G series – had interchangeable lenses. Expect to pay something in the $500 region for one of these.**

**Trivia: these cameras came to be known as the ‘Texas Leicas’ due to their similarity in appearance, but considerably larger size and cruder finishing.

The other major option are of course the Mamiya 6 and 7 series rangefinders. The Mamiyas are electronic, leaf-shutter (read: low vibration) cameras with some slight differences. The 6 shoots a 6×6 square negative, and allows collapsing of the lens into the body to save space; the 7 drops this feature, but produces 6×7 negatives and allows the use of a 43mm ultrawide lens. These are reputedly amongst the best lenses available for medium format, thanks to their conservative apertures and short back focus distance. Unfortunately, they’re also costly: the bodies run in the $1200-1600 range, and lenses are easily another $1000 or more apiece. 43 (for the 7), 50, 80, 150 and 210mm lenses were available. One interesting design feature is the use of a polarized viewfinder to enhance contrast, and thus improve ease of focusing.

On a closing note, the Plaubel Makina might also be worth a look – a collapsible-bellows rangefinder producing 6×7 negatives, equipped with Nikkor lenses – legend has it that after developing the camera, there was no money left over for the optics. Not a bad thing in this case, if you ask me. The downside is that these cameras have become quite collectible, and aren’t cheap – $1800 for a beater, to $3k and upwards for a mint one.

Large formats: 4×5″ and upwards
I’m not even going to go there.

Well, there you have it – film cameras in a nutshell. Personally, I’m shooting with a Hasselblad 501C, Nikon F2 Titan and Ricoh GR1V – what I consider to be a representative spread of the genre, cameras that are beautifully engineered objects, and (perhaps with exception of the GR1V) something which I hope to be enjoying for some forseeable time in the future. Unlike the current crop of DSLRs and compact digitals, there’s a very tangible tactile pleasure to using these cameras – I just don’t the same sort of emotional connection with my digital tools as I do with the fully mechanical vintage film cameras; I can only hope that some of the current manufacturers eventually understand how important this is. In the meantime – there’s no reason not to enjoy the secondary market. MT


Enter the January 2012 black and white challenge – win a multispectral Sony NEX-5 B&W machine modified by yours truly!

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  1. Excellent arcticle about film cameras, thanks! The only thing is that you’ve forgotten to mention the 65mm f/4 in the list of Mamiya 7 lenses.

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  3. I have a Konica AF and can confirm that it does indeed have a spot meter when it is in manual mode – so there IS at least one film compact with a spot meter.

    I also have a Fuji GW690 III and was confused by you talking about the “Fuji GSW series” (the rarer ones with the 65mm wide-angle lens) and excluding the more usual “Fuji GS series” (which are the more normal and common Fujis with a 90mm lens). If you can find one for $500 it is an absolute beater – one in good condition (bearing in mind these were used extensively in Japan to photograph bus tours and have had a HARD life), will cost much more.

    I was not aware that people called the Fujis a “Texas Leica” because they thought it LOOKED like a large Leica (seriously ???! – In what world is that statement even remotely correct ?), I thought it was an attribution made due to functionality (both are rangefinders) in conjunction with the larger (film and camera size). I guess I must stand corrected on all counts.

    • Sorry – I mean the normal Fuji “GW series” – the GW series had the “normal” 90mm lens. The “GSW series” had the “wide-angle” 65mm lens.

    • Good to know re. Konica and spot meter!

      Sorry, I should have been clearer – I meant the GW/GS/GSW, it somehow all got combobulated into one three-letter abbreviation. They do have a reputation for being tour bus shooters – can’t imagine why, though. And yes, they are known as Texas Leicas, I’ve had at least three people mentionn it…

      • They are certainly known as Texas Leicas – I did not dispute this. What I stated is that it may not be a cut and dried case of this being “due to their similarity in appearance, but considerably larger size and cruder finishing” which seem to be an attribution no-one (other than the first person to coin the phrase perhaps) will be able to corroborate. I proposed an alternate (and potentially equally valid) “origin story” for that term, which is that the Leica and the Fuji are not as similar in “appearance” as they are similar in “functionality” – both being rangefinders – as well as being larger in size. My point is that nobody knows; why say “a is the case because of b” when “a might also be the case because of c or d”. It is giving the appearance of knowing something as a fact, where no knowledge exists. Why not just say what is true and may not be disputed; “Trivia: these cameras came to be known as the ‘Texas Leicas’; possibly due to their similarity in appearance or functionality, but considerably larger size”. I also left out the “cruder finishing” part because I don’t see that it need necessarily be the case that a Leica made in Texas would have cruder finishing – it might, but I don’t take the “cruder finishing” to in any way be evidence that the term “Texas Leica” is justified (it just seems insulting to Texas in the way that something being BIG, is not).

  4. interesting: the amazingly disconcerting Hassy X-Pan has been mentioned by strictly nobody (as far as I can see)
    still, for the little time I used it as a loaner back in 2006, it brought me into the alien and fascinating world of seriously-panorama framing at 24*60mm
    including the weird reverse spooling of the film (first frame at #36), and painful PS stitching of two halves of each frame from my 35-film scanner…
    battery dependent, alas

    the more I read these posts, the happier I am I never sold my 1978 Nikon FM….

    • Damn! How could I have forgotten that camera? It was produced in two versions – the latter adding usability improvements – and also as a Fuji, who engineered the camera in the first place. I shot a friend’s one very briefly and certainly think it has potential for making some very interesting cinematic images especially with the 90mm…

  5. Canon FD L Glass has increased in value for the Micro 4/3 Market. They are awesome on a Pansonic GH3 or GH2 and there is plenty of examples on Flickr.

    • I can’t imagine it decreasing in value since its already pretty much at rock bottom. They did have some spectacular lenses back in the day, though to be honest there was a bit too much plastic in the feel for my liking.

  6. Hexar RF, FE2 and F2AS are part of my gear bag even today. The Mamiya 645ProTL and the RB67 still get light time as often as I can. Only wish I could find better new scanners and I’d never stop using film. With Nikon abandoning all scanners and the useless $50 ones that nowadays proloferate all over the place, there is not much to survive on. And Pacific keeps announcing new scanners and never delivering…

  7. Ming, just a little correction – the Mju has spot metering 🙂

    I just received my contax t3, i’m really curious to see how it compares to the Mju!!

    Cheers mate

  8. This has turned into very interesting thread. So: Why Shoot Film?

    Not if one is looking for speed and quick turn-around. One would turn to it because of expressive or artistic possibilities. Or, in my case, because I wanted to be forced to think through the things that my digital camera did for me automatically.

    Now it seems to me – and I’ll be very interested to hear what others, and especially Ming – have to say, that almost all digital photography looks kind of alike, with a much narrower range of expressive options than does classical analogue photography. Especially in the DSLR sector where there are a very limited range of sensor technologies available. Medium format (Hasselblad, Leaf) and Leica look different, but the price barriers are very high.

    There are significant barriers to sensor innovation caused by the monopoly power of the software vendors – principally PhotoShop. Look at the problems being faced by Sigma and Fuji with their Foveon and X sensor innovations – both of which seem superior to CMOS to me.

    So analogue opens up more expressive possibilities – although the individual results are less open to software manipulation than a supported raw file (not necessarily a bad thing – there’s no HDR image blending in analogue – or I hope not).

    In addition, analogue opens up multiple formats, especially medium format and range-finder. So you get 645, 6×6, 6×7 and so on up to 8×10 and beyond. It’s not just an issue of resolution. The different combinations of lens lengths and film sizes produce different optical geometries. You also get a range of wonderful lenses from Hasselblad and Leica to Mamiya, Contax and Pentax. Some still very expensive, some absurdly cheap.

    I’m in Boulder, Colorado. We have a local lab that does a decent job. A roll of 120 C41 or B&W costs about $7 to develop and can be done on the same day. E6 is $11 a roll. 135 C41 can be done at Target (develop only) for $2. Down the road in Denver there are at least three local labs. There are lots mail-in places. B&H still sells Fuji mailers for 135 E6 for $8.49. They go to Nebraska I think and it takes exactly one week to turn around. Range finder 35mm slides are sensational.

    I can get pretty much any film I want from Amazon.

    An Epson V500 scanner is just fine by me and they’re currently $150 on Amazon, which includes PhotoShop Elements which has a fantastic tool for removing dust spots and little hairs and such.

    • Martin:

      Good insight. BTW, I have a Fuji x100 and gives me a nice ability of control, nice hybrid OVF to switch from a electronic VF and pure optical for a nice ability to frame and last, the OOC JPEGS re very nice and have a soul of their own. Which is made me to try analog and consider a Leica-maybe a M6…. question- do you get a cd for post process digitally with the negs? I assume not for the price. I also have a Contax Tvs, which I do a few rolls a month, roll of 36 developed and a cd of negs run me about $20. from local lab who does just OK work…. I am sitting on a fence to make the investment for a Leica (its really 1the cost of glass that is the issue.)..

      • No, I have to scan myself, for which I use the Epson. I’m quite interested in the Fuji X-series, but would probably go with one of the interchangeable lens ones. That way I could use my Contax G series lenses via $30 adapters. But I too am tempted by Leica. I’d get an M3 and a Leicameter and the dual-range 50 f2, but boy is that stuff expensive! For now, I have no digital camera at all. I am trying to kick the gear-buying habit.

      • I wouldn’t know about the CD since I develop and digitize myself. 🙂 In any case, unless you’re paying a nontrivial amount for the scans, chances are they’ll be of such low resolution and quality that you won’t really have much latitude to work on them.

    • I don’t quite agree with digital all looking alike – for the majority of people yes, because they don’t master the ‘developing’ portion of the process – with film, a lot of the look is imposed by the processor afterwards. I personally feel that I have a lot more flexibility with digital – no problem making a good file look like color negative, or high contrast B&W, or Ansel-style zoned B&W, or Velvia – irrespective of the subject. You don’t see much Ansel-style film street photography because the medium required for that isn’t really practical.

      Personally, the reasons for shooting film are both to slow things down and to get that one tonal look I can’t seem to achieve digitally.

      • Well, you’re probably right. The range of manipulation available in “post production” is very substantial, and, as far as I can tell, greater with raw than with jpeg. Obviously, you can fuss with jpegs from scans just as much as with digitally created jpegs. Perhaps at 66 I’m so old that analogue source material seems like real photography in a way that digital may never, just as analogue recording sounds realer to me.

        However, you do contradict yourself when you say that you shoot film to “get that one tonal look I can’t seem to achieve digitally.”

        We could slow things down with digital by just putting duct tape over the lcd! Otoh, when I was shooting digital (Nikon D7000), I found I got the best results by putting the thing on a tripod and using live view as though it were a view camera. I’d focus and set exposure manually. In fact, I preferred manual focus lenses. (Viewfinder manual focus with fast lenses was poor on that camera.)

        I found you because I was looking for reviews of the Leica M and you’re pretty need the top of Google searches. I can’t remember if you’ve used film Leicas. If so, how does the M compare from the point of view of handling? I mean, if I could find a digital camera that was like a Nikon FM or Leica M3 with just TTL metering and with real range-finder focus, I’d be interested.

        • Well, if I had an unlimited amount of time, then I could probably replicate the tonality of film digitally, but I don’t – it’s still faster to shoot on film and digitize with a relatively linear capture device.

          I did a preview on the M but the camera’s card was glued in. Handling is very similar to the M9 but more responsive. The shutter still isn’t like the film Ms though, but it’s better than the M9. The increased thickness of the digital Ms over the film Ms is noticeable – and the missing wind lever means nowhere to rest your thumb without using a third party grip. The M240 is better but still not perfect. I did have an M6TTL back in the day.

  9. I have no desire to give up my digital M’s for film but I have very fond memories of my F3’s, the best non AF Nikons I ever used. I do lust for a slightly beat up F2, one that could tell some good stories. That was what the old pro’s used when I was starting out, a long time ago. Mind you, just to have on the mantle and to be able to fondle every once in a while.

    • The digital Ms are probably the closest thing you’re going to get to a ‘pure’ digital camera these days – the rest have far too many electronic options, software quirks and too little tactile mechanics. That said, you might enjoy a film MP…

      If only somebody would make a digital F2 with the bare minimum of electronics…I’d buy two immediately and dump the rest. I’ve yet to shoot with a digital camera that I feel fully in control of in the same way as the F2 and Hasselblad – perhaps it’s possible to have too much automation…

      • I remember reading an old article by the late great landscape photographer Galen Rowell where he compared using the auto modes in modern cameras (he was talking about F4s and F5s) with flying an airplane on instruments. Older cameras with “manual” controls make you feel more in control because *you* make the settings rather than just observing what the computer is doing for you. But, this does not necessarily mean that *you* do a better job. In a companion article he talks about how the now relatively primitive matrix meter in his F4 usually did a better job exposing slide film than he did by hand.

        It is undoubtedly the case that even the best of modern cameras have crappy software and worse electronic interfaces (well, except for the iPhone. That one is not bad). But I am not too nostalgic for turning those stupid little top dials and aperture and focus rings by myself. I’d rather have to robot do it and then just check its work afterwards.

        • Personal preference. The live view cameras – mirror less and compacts – tend to do a much better job with auto metering, helped by the fact that you can see what’s going on live. I do like turning the knobs and know that what I want artistically out of a scene often isn’t the same way the camera’s meter sees it…

  10. Ming: As always, well done and timely piece. Question: Is it realistic in 2013 to do film if your not developing & printing the film? I would enjoy grabbing a newer range finder (with meter/AE) BUT if the film is going to a lab and I am getting a contact sheet/negs on CD and I am PP digitally? Yes I would be enjoying the usage and interaction with a M6 or whatever camera/model but the quality of the image- is it still analog?… Thanks!

    • The tonal qualities and color (assuming you’re not restricting yourself to B&W) are definitely different, even if scanned. That said, the digitisation process definitely affects the look of the output. Whether it ‘makes sense’ for you or not depends heavily on whether you have access to a good lab or not, and I the economics make sense. One of the reasons why I only picked it up again recently is because I wasn’t happy with the commercial developing results, or the prices – it’s 100% DIY for me now.

  11. Willi Kampmann says:

    I have been experimenting with analog photography for a couple of months now. For me it’s part history lesson, part curiosity (I also use this opportunity to try out the various types of camera, i.e. range finder and SLR), and part image quality: I have had most of the lenses already anyway because I originally bought them for their unique optical qualities and have adapted them to my digital CSCs. 35mm analog cameras now allow me to utilize the full image circle of those lenses and to achieve a shallower DOF (in contrast to the equivalent focal lengths of crop-sensor cameras). And still they are so much smaller than 35mm DSLRs it’s amazing!

    The camera I’ve grown most fond of is my Bessa R3A: It feels great in hand (really solid like a tank) and the huge view finder (1:1 magnification, you can keep both eyes open – Leica doesn’t offer anything like this) is a real luxury. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but as far as I know the 1:1 magnification compensates for the shorter base length to some degree!? I think it’s a really awesome camera and a great alternative to the Leica cameras! If I had the money, I’d also seriously consider the Bessa III which I think is not only extremely beautiful and relatively small, it also has a terrific image quality! I’ve read somewhere the shutter is so discreet that you can take sharp images at up to 1/4s, which is about the same time limit my OM-D has, but with an extremely sophisticated IBIS, so that’s impressive!

    So far I haven’t really gotten used to manual focusing on an SLR, though. I’ve got a Minolta XD-7 and focusing through the view finder is really hard for me, much *much* harder than with the rangefinder of the Bessa. Seing what’s in focus with that stupid split circle or that honeycomb pattern around it is really a challenge. It just feels like a really poor substitute for the rangefinder double image.

    I’m all for a hybrid workflow though: I scan all my negatives and post-process them digitally. For me analog photography is about the handling, distinct image quality and the benefits of a larger imaging area – I don’t care about any analog philosophies or analog prints.

    • The other nice thing is hat the cost of experimentation is relatively low – both for entry costs and any potential disposal losses, since most of these things are about as cheap as they’re ever going to get anyway.

      I’ve always found that legacy lenses somehow don’t do as well on CSCs because of strange interactions between the optical design and microlens array on the sensor; the superlative Leica 35/1.4 FLE is an incredible lens on the digital Ms but completely horrible on my OM-D. With this in mind, I don’t know how much of the original character of the lens is really preserved.

      Can’t argue about the size thing though – we simply don’t have full frame compacts or DSLRs that are anywhere near as small. As for your Bessa – yes, mor magnification helps offset the shorter base length providing the calibration is perfect to begin with. A longer base length allows slightly looser tolerances with the same accuracy. Ideally, we’d have the best of both worlds, of course. I suppose the closest we can get here is the recently discontinued Zeiss Ikon.

      Give the Nikon F2 a try, or the Olympus OMs if you need smaller. I’m a huge fan of the former though. Alternatively there’s also the F3HP, which has an enormous viewfinder when paired with the modern DK17M eyecup. I don’t think it’s so much the finder that’s at fault as the focusing screen – I’ve used F2s that have been impossible to focus, and others – including my F2T – that have incredible ‘snap’ across the entire frame.

  12. Benoit Guichard says:

    A 6×9 roll film holder on the back of any 4 x 5 view camera and you can shoot without fear… If you can afford it, the 6×9 arca swiss f metric C is just addictive…well…it’s just a camera, but a view camera so easy to use you can’t believe it.
    And I would also say: welcome back to the dark real black and white side of photography!

  13. Benoit Guichard says:

    A 6×9 roll film holder on the back of any 4 x 5 view camera and you can shoot without fear… If you can afford it, the 6×9 arca swiss f metric C is just addictive…well…it’s just a camera, but a view camera so easy to use you can’t believe it.
    And I would also say: welcome back to the dark real black and white side of photography!

    • Thank you! I’ve heard of those roll film holders before, but the problem or me would be getting the film…here we’re pretty much limited to 135 and 120, and not only is the latter tough to obtain, but there aren’t a whole load of choices. I’ll be doing a small landscape workshop in Japan this fall – can’t wait to load up on film there…

      • You load the same120 films in roll film holders, you just have less shoot per film if you compare with hasselblad. You can also buy an adapter to mount your hasselblad v back, it’s like a flexbody but with a lot of good and cheap lens.

  14. Have you ever tried a leica R9 or 8? I have an R9 in the post, and an excellent APO macro elmarit-r 100/2,8 to throw on it. My other camera is an MP with a 35 lux

    • Yes, I shot a couple of rolls with one a few years back. Interesting cameras but I didn’t find the ergonomics to be that great – shutter release in the middle of that enormous shutter speed dial and all that. Curiously, I thought it handled better with the DMR attached…

  15. Carlo Santin says:

    My Yashica 24 is a wonderful TLR, very light for carrying around with a shoulder strap, very sharp lens, and the camera is utterly silent. People are not threatened at all when I shoot in the street with it, and I often get people smiling at me or approaching me to see the camera. It’s just a joy to use and the image quality is stunning. Square format rocks, 120 really is wonderful stuff. It does take a bit of time to get used to the reversed image in the viewing screen but with some practice it’s not an issue at all really.

  16. Mark Olwick says:

    You completely forgot about the Mamiya 645 AF series, which is still being sold brand new as Phase One. It can handle both film and digital and has outstanding lenses.

    Forgive my boldness, but it’s also a bit strange that a guy who’s been shooting film for 2 or 3 weeks is now posing himself as an “expert”.

    • Ming shot film a few years ago, gave it up for digital, and is now doing a little film again

    • Yes, I did, good point. They’re my available in Malaysia which is probably why it slipped off the radar.

      And I haven’t been shooting film for ‘only 2-3 weeks’ – I picked it up again. I shot film from 2005-6, and again in 2009. It isn’t a new experience for me, just some portions of it like developing as in the intervening time we’ve lost a lot of local services. Camera research on the other hand was something I already did a while back in the quest for my own cameras – not a lot has changed in product offering in the last few years.

      Finally, I never claimed to be an expert on anything film – it’s just a post which details out some of the options and pros and cons of each. I think you’ll also probably find that if I just started three weeks ago, it’s extremely unlikely that I’d be able to produce the results with film that I am now.

  17. David Babsky says:

    You mentioned the (great) Rollei 35S (as well as the terrific Minox 35 and Oly XA), but you also said “..almost all mechanical cameras should be stored with the shutters uncocked to avoid weakening the springs; the one notable exception are the Hasselblad V series, which should be cocked..”

    Another exception: the little Rollei’s shutter MUST be cocked after use in order to collapse its teeny lens back into the tiny body. The lens can’t be retracted unless the shutter’s cocked first.

    And Steve Jones, above, mentions the Minolta CLE: Minolta say [said] that the camera MUST NOT be put away with the shutter cocked (“overnight” – woo-ooo! ..when witches and vampires come calling!) – apparently because that might run down the metering battery.

    • Add the Rollei to the list, then. The Hasselblad has to be cocked, apparently according to Leica it doesn’t matter because the springs are 50-60% tensioned anyway when uncocked, but I still wouldn’t want to leave an unfired MP cocked for a few months.

  18. Given all the stuff you’ve been sampling in such a relatively brief period, I would expect it’s only a matter of time before your curiosity gets the better of you and you finally experiment with large format! 😉

    In a way, I think if I were to once again subject myself to all the inconveniences associated with chemical emulsion, it would only make sense to do so with large format. If I’m going to go to all the trouble, why not go ahead and start at a place where most digital systems still can’t even begin to go? (… at least in terms of resolution and focus depth)

    I dabbled with 4×5 way back in the day, but I’ve always wanted to try 8×10. With 8×10 I could do away with the enlarger and get some decent sized contact prints! Would be fun to try anyway and give one a whole new sense of appreciation, next time out with the Micro-4/3 rig! 🙂

  19. 4×5 – if you would “go there” some day I for one would appreciate it.

    Mamiya 7 – if I didn’t have all of the digital stuff that’s what I would own. And a Widelux for fun.

  20. To make my medium format cameras compatible with my tripod’s Arca-Swiss style dovetail clamp, I attached a Markins Universal 1.4″ x 1.5″ flat bidirectional Arca Swiss Plate P26U to the bottom of the Rolleifix for the Rolleiflex TLR, and attached an Arca-Swiss Camera Plate 802221 to the bottom of the Hasselblad V body. Also had the older dark focus screen of the Rolleiflex upgraded to a new bright Maxwell Precision Optics focussing screen #1 with a grid, split image and a micro prism ring, and upgraded the Hasselblad V screen to a bright Acute-Matte D focussing screen with microprism and split-image 42215. Hope that providing these details will save others a lot of time searching for the information.

  21. I have a Mamiya 6 with the 50 and 75 mm lenses. Easy to use hand held. Easy to load. Easy to focus. The metering is fine, although not quite good enough for E6. Lenses are a bit slow – common for medium format and maximum shutter speed is only 500. Results are wonderful. I found the 150 mm to be too hard to focus and compose and sold it. So no close head shots.

    The 6’s are less expensive than the 7’s, at leaset in the US. They also feel better built. Plus, there’s nothing like square format. The 43 mm for the 7 seems its big selling point,

    I also have a Contax G1 with the 45 and 90 mm lenses. Autofocus is fine if you know how to use it, I’ve had no problems with the 90 on this body. Alas, you can’t focus manually. The results can be very satisfying.

    I also have a Mamiya 645 with the 140 mm macro lens for macro work. Fantastic lens.

    I had a Hasselblad but found it to be too awkward and became convinced that I’d end up breaking it.

    I also had an Nikon F4 that I shot with for a number of years, plus some very good Nikon lenses. All sold now. I prefer the rangerfinder platforms.

    The Kodak Portra films and their Ektar are excellent and more flexible than E6. In the states they are commonly available from Amazon along with the Ilfords and Fujis.

    I scan with an Epson V500 that I got from the US Epson outlet store for $100 (which included Photoshop Elements!).

    • The MF rangefinders are growing on me; if only somebody would make a digital one with live view for critical framing work, I think I’d switch over completely. That said, I don’t consider the slow lenses to be so much of a limitation because if the leaf shutter and low vibration of the whole system – no big mirror to kick and recoil. Depth of field control is another issue, I suppose.

      • Yes, DOF gets harder with MF format, as I’m sure you’ve seen with your Hasselblad (excellent results, btw). The problem with slow lenses is low light, I think, especially with a rangefinder like the Mamiya 6 and 7 where you’re not tied to a tripod like with the ‘blad. The 6 & 7 don’t have interchangeable backs like all the mirrored MF cameras, so you get your 12 pictures and then have to spend at least five minutes re-loading. OTOH, there’s something elegant about a 12 picture set – just go out, pick a subject or environment, take your pictures and stop.

        Incidentally, has anybody had experience with the Contax 645? An expensive solution, but I’ve heard it’s the most advanced with the best shooting ergonomics.

        • The funny thing is that I sometimes struggle to finish a roll with the blad, but I’ve now been out for a morning in Yangon shooting digital and I’m at frame 600 or thereabouts…there really is something slower and more meditative about shooting film, especially medium format squares. I’m trying very hard to bring this mindset to my digital work, but so far no luck.

  22. P.S. One additional Rolleiflex trick: 5) The camera’s tripod mount is very delicate because it is attached to soft aluminum sheet metal which can easily bend, so it is much safer to use a “Rolleifix” to attach the camera to the tripod (sold separately or can be extracted from the quick release grip), but when attaching the Rolleifix make sure that your aim is careful or the two attachment points will scratch the body.

  23. Surprised you did not mentioned Olympus OM 4T (Not the 4Ti) the OM Zuiko Lenses.

    • Probably because its not that well known compared to the other OMs, and I don’t have that much experience with the system…

      • As a OM-D user yourself, do you have any interest in picking up a cheap, older OM system and playing with it? As an earlier commenter mentioned, they can be had for very cheap nowadays. I am interested in these as well, esp due to the lower price range, and am curious to hear your opinion on them!

        • Not really – too tough to get hold of and service locally…plus the 2x crop factor makes it unattractive except for telephoto work, which I don’t do very much of to begin with.

  24. Just got a Nikon FM2n yesterday night as I want to start experimenting with film. I wanted something all manual/mechanical, back to basics, and a camera with which I can use all my Nikkor glass. I currently have a Nikon D800 with AI and AF-D lenses, so all of these work perfectly with the FM2n. Nikon really did well with regards to compatibility. Can’t wait to try my first roll! Thanks Ming!

  25. No reason to regard the Rolleflex film loading as mysterious when you can download a copy of the instruction manual and look at the diagram! Some Rollei tricks: 1) Learn how to correctly load the film: Remember to thread the film through (under) the first roller, or you will waste the roll [this error leaves the film counter disengaged and is probably the cause of mistakenly thinking that “the winding crank has no hard stops”]; 2) Always release the shutter before loading film as otherwise the first image on the roll may require a double exposure (can do a dummy shot with lens cap attached with maximum shutter speed and stopped down so first image is saved) before advancing film due to interlock on some models that prevents forward winding with already cocked shutter; 3) Do not change shutter speed to 1/500 after shutter is cocked as this action will break the 1/500 speed; and, 4) Always travel with the camera with the focus compressed in so the front plate is all the way back against the body and cannot get knocked out of alignment, i.e., transport with focus at infinity. Hope that this helps.

  26. Larry Gebhardt says:

    If you really want to get away from digital and have a different look and experience you should consider a large format camera. There are very light weight 4×5 systems such as the Chamonix that are fantastic cameras. Add in small 135mm lens and maybe a 300 and you have a nice system that isn’t any heavier than a D800 and 24-70. Sure you need a tripod, but there are also older Crown and Speed Graphics that have rangefinder focusing. Put a six shot Grafmatic on there and you have a 4×5 point and shoot (only half joking here). As others have mentioned the YashicaMats are nice TLRs. The 124G is the best of these models. You can mount a digital back on the Mamiya RZ. The Mamiya 645 line is also worth looking into. The latest manual focus 645 Pro and Pro TL feel like a modern SLR with metering and autowinder options. The 645 AF can also autofocus and can take a digital back. And the Mamiya lenses are for the most part excellent. I think the Mamiya 7 lenses produce results that rival 4×5 film. But my favorite of the medium format cameras is the Hasselblad V system. I have a 501CM and a few lenses. For some reason I see differently (in a good way) through the square viewfinder. Thanks for getting more people interested in film. The more we shoot it, the longer they will keep making it.

    • Large format scares me. It’s not the movements and technical aspects, but more that I don’t think I’m good enough at distilling the everything down to the one or two (or maybe three!) images that you can practically make in one session with such a camera; even with the 501C I still shoot too much. I suppose it will go that way eventually. Wouldn’t mind a medium format camera with movements though – hmm, that sounds a lot like an Arcbody…

      Out of curiosity, I wonder how many people have bought or picked up their film cameras again after reading this series of articles…

      • David Babsky says:

        My M3 is just beside me as I write…

      • Larry Gebhardt says:

        With practice you get faster at shooting large format. I’t takes me about twice as long to take a landscape shot on 4×5 as it does on the D800. Both require me to focus on the back screen and I try to scrutinize the edges. But lens changes take longer, and the need to apply movements to get things in focus without diffraction issues adds to the time. But overall with either system I am not quick.

        • That’s not too bad, then. I don’t find the movements to be the challenging bit – I’m using TS lenses in the D800E most of the time to manage DOF without diffraction anyway – but I suppose the whole setup is just a little daunting…plus I’m guessing an 8×10 isn’t exactly something you can exactly develop in a daylight tank.

  27. George Swann says:

    Never mind the blog, the images of the cameras remind me of the chocolates I bought when in Belgium, scrumptious, delicious and very moreish, sorry to go off topic Ming, but the images are so beautiful.

  28. Adam Maas says:

    Cosina continues to make new 35mm and MF cameras, including their Bessa Rangefinders in M mount, their simple CS-1 SLR (also available under a multitude of other brands including as the Nikon FM10) and the GF670 medium format folding rangefinder (also sold by Fuji, who co-developed the camera). The CS-1 SLR is a personal favourite, it’s cheap, plastic and surprisingly nice in the later variations. Common rebrands include the Yashica FX-3 and FX-7, Ricoh KR-5 Super (all variations), Canon T60, Olympus OM2000, Vivitar V3000, Voigtlander Bessaflex TM and V4000 and the Nikon FM10. There also used to be an aperture priority version which was branded as the Nikon FE10 among others. Mounts are usually Pentax K for the brands without their own mount. A few notes on 35mm SLR options: Leica R, Contax: These tend to be either extremely expensive (R8/R9, RTSIII) or unreliable, these lines include superb lenses but bodies are a serious issue, especially for the Contax/Yashica line where depot service is unavailable anymore. Note the R3/R4/R5 are based on Minolta bodies of a similar era (and generally less reliable than the Minolta versions). Olympus OM: A superb and inexpensive system. Noted for tiny size, a ton of unique features (especially on the OM3/3T and OM4/4T) and excellent viewfinders. Lenses are relatively easy to find and generally inexpensive. Minolta SR mount: Often known as MD mount, this is a very extensive system comparable to Canon FD in availability. A little light in the exotic lenses, only the 50 and 58 f1.2’s really qualify but as a system which remained in production until Minolta’s exit from the camera market a few years ago there is a ton of good & cheap stuff available. Pentax K mount: Widely available, cheap and poor lens selection. K mount is incredibly common and a good choice overall, but it is extremely light in lens selection outside of the very common lenses. Expect anything that isn’t a 28, 50, or 135 to be somewhat difficult to find. The bonus is that the new Samyang lenses are available, offering a 14/2.8, 24/1.4, 35/1.4 and 85/1.4, the 24 and 35 being the fastest options ever made in K mount. Minolta A mount: If you are willing to use an AF camera, this is a hidden gem as this is the same mount as Sony Alpha’s use. Wide availability of cameras and lenses. The only caveat is that you need one of the last few bodies available (4,5,7, 60/70 or 9 with SSM upgrade) to support the modern SSM, SAM and HSM lenses for autofocus and the Sony flashes. Nikon: Don’t forget the FE line, an FE2 is identical to the FM3a aside from the ability to operate without batteries and the position of the AE lock (the FM3a is more correctly the FE3m, it’s an FE with an emergency mode rather than an FM design, lacking FM features like LED metering and ISO on the shutter dial, even the FM10 has these). Also good options are the Nikkormat FT’s, especially the FT3, these were the predecessors of the FM line and are a little bigger and better built but lack a few of the features of the newer bodies. Another often ignored gem is the F801/N8008. While an AF body, these make excellent manual focus bodies with their large & bright viewfinder, offer spot metering in the ‘s’ version and have an integrated 3.5fps winder and run off 4 easily found AA’s, oh and they’re the cheapest high-end Nikon body out there, often available for similar cost to an F55. They also have limited support for G lenses, which work in P and S modes, but they don’t support AF-S or VR. The F90/N90 series follow-ons add AF-S support and support for the 10-pin remote but are otherwise similar (albeit typically a lot more expensive).

  29. Roar Arne Velle, Norway says:

    I still use film. My ever best cameras is the Nikon FE2 which can do all what a FM can do and more easy, robust. My best MF is the Bronica S2A, noisy, but good with slow shutter speed, had to replace pads for viewing screen and leather. Realy good IQ -wonderful 150mm Zenzanon for portrait, but little dark screen. My Rolleicord TLR best if you want to be unnoticed, but not good lens, -4 element Xenar with little high contrast and soft in the corner. My D801 is the one to use with moving children, but little fragile. But the work and price with film keeps use down. My LX5 will give me almost same result as 35mm film in a more convinient way. One must go to MF for better IQ even if you scan with a Noritsu. Thank you for a very interesting forum.-One of the best for photographty.

  30. Steve Jones says:

    Wide spread of choices there, all good ones. Short rangefinder base or not, I’d add the Leica CL and Minolta CLE. Lovely feel to those and they were quality products. Yes, I’m still using mine and no problems with either. For me, the current crop of digital retros like the Fuji’s just do not re-create the essence and feel of these cameras, although they’ve had a good stab at it.

  31. Rolleiflex are excellent camera system and it has some advantages over Hasselblad system. I used both systems and both are equally excellent. The rolleiflex is the best out of TLR system and it is even more discrete and has much quieter shutter compared to the loud “clunk” sound hasselblad shutter.
    It is ashame that you don’t know how to load film on the Rollei as I found them to be easier loading than Hasselblad.
    In conclusion, both Rolleiflex and Hasselblad are excellent, each had its own appeals to different users and everyone who is willing to try out Medium format film cameras should give each a go.

  32. Hi, nice article. Zenza Bronica for 6×4.5 (ETRS etc.) system should be mentioned as well as their line of SQ (6×6) and even GS (6×7). Very much affordable and with full benefits of a box/system camera with interchangeable backs and different lines of measuring prism finders and aperture-priority automatic, latest AEIII even with spot capability. The glass with built-in leaf-shutters (!) is comparably cheap (though not faster than f=2.8) and delivers excellent results. Think poor man’s Hasselblad. Latest model ETRSi has even TTL-flash (in fact a sensor to measure light reflected off the film, needs an adapter for either Metz CT-4 or Sunpack flashes) which matches the leaf shutter’s ability to sync at all speeds.
    Equally important though REALLY quite pricey are the Contex 645AF with their costly Zeiss glass.
    The larger SLR-system, like 6×7, cameras offer nice polaroid capability!

    • Thanks for weighing in with the info! I remember the Contax feeling a lot like the modern H series Hasselblads, but perhaps a bit more solid; the Bronicas somehow slipped off the radar.

  33. Linden Wilkie says:

    Wow! Not only well thought out and written, but timely! I am going through this process right now.

    “These days, outside of Holga (and similar Russian equivalents) and Leica, there are almost no 35mm film cameras still in production and available new.” I’m not sure about KL, but Nikon HK are still listing the F6 new (about US$2000). Second hand around US$1200. I’m thinking about that, or… stepping all the way back, like you, to the last and best all-mechanical F – the F2AS (the Titan is too much of a premium for me). The Leica M6 follows the same logic.

    I think if we are going to go through the hassle of analogue these days, it should be a rewarding tactile experience too. $ for $ (and optics aside). I’d rather have a mechanically sorted beater than a completely clean piece of plastic.

    • Regularly shooting with an Nikon F2 Photomic (non Ai) it just works. Non-Ai-glass is still very nice, really full metal feeling (don’t hit your fellow photographer with it) and – well most of the time – a bit cheaper.

    • Apparently the F6 is still available new in Japan too, but definitely not in KL. I shot with one for an extended period some time back and found the experience to be very similar to any of the modern pro digital Nikons…

  34. Nice article! By the way, there are lots of very, very inexpensive Olympus OM series SLR cameras and lenses. Have You tried any? Even today I see some ads where You can buy OM1, OM2 or even OM10 with 50/1.8 for less than $80. Worth the look?

    • Thanks. The OM lenses have a good reputation in general – some are supposedly outstanding optics even by modern standards – can’t say I’ve had much experience personally, but at that price, how can you go wrong?

  35. GREGORIO Donikian says:

    Grey a good Rolleiflex You will Fall in love !! Its Also a great Shoping experience that will slow You down and make You think Belforte Shoping. You can always get mamiyas c330 for less than 300 u$ them are heavy but You can change lenses.


  36. GREGORIO Donikian says:

    Tlr are the best. a good Rolleiflex 3,5 will sur prisa You all the time !! Them are not cheap in Argentina but You can find a los of them in mint confitions.


  37. Lovely article, but I do disagree with your dismissal of the TLR systems. I find them to be an excellent entry cameras for people who are looking to experiment with the medium format. They are small, light, simple and you can have them for next to nothing unless you are going for a Rollei. I got my very capable Yashica-mat for about 150 bucks. I find them most portable of the bunch besides the folders. Also Mamiya made a very capable TLR system that had interchangeable lenses and viewfinders, which can be had for about 300-500 dollars.
    Parallax is definitely a problem at closer distances, alignment and old age of most of these cameras is also a problem, but I find them ideal for carrying around the town. Their unusual shape is also a great conversation starter which can be a plus as well 🙂

    So give them a chance I say!

    • Hey all.

      The TLRs Maciej mentioned are the C220 and C330 models and their variants. For sure these are worth a look, but none of them offeres any kind of metering. Apart from that, the built-in bellow allows close-up work, the lens choice is good and pretty reasonably priced. Way better than Seagull, and more versatile even than the Rollei – for a lot less money.

      Best regards

      • Good to know – thanks for the info! That built in bellows sounds like the Rollei SLX…

      • I was able to use my Canon G12 as a light meter when taking photos with my Mamiya C220 . . . set it to the film speed using aperture priority, then figure out the correct shutter speed for the higher f stops.

      • Wouter De Smedt says:

        Reading up on your latest post, I might just try and build me a negative rig in the near future. I’ll be buying a D800E next week, and I have a C220 and C330 that belonged to my dad and uncle, just sitting there. Together they put together quite a setup, I have a 65/3.5, an 80/2.8 and a 180/4.5, not to mention a boatload of filters! Now if only I could find a cheap way to power my dad’s old Lunasix 3 lightmeter….

    • I’ll certainly look into it. The advantage of a nice, silent, low-vibration leaf shutter is also considerable over a SLR for street work…

      • I believe that there is prism attachement for the Mamiyas that does some sort of basic metering, but from what I hear it is bulky, heavy and very dim. Not a good investment.

  38. and very light weight when compared with other MF systems

  39. you’ll need an empty film spool to load the rolleiflex

    its a great 120 system i love setting my f-stop shutter speed with EV values. it have the flexibility of a Program Mode and the full control of a Manual Mode.

    other values of the flex. quite shutter, waist level shooting, 12 or 16 frames option, beautiful lens, gorgeous camera.

  40. Nice Article Ming. Fun to remember all of these cameras.

  41. you’ll need a spare empty roll of film spool to load the rolleiflex

    i love setting exposure by ev values on the flex its so much more simple than today’s programs modes

    • The Hasselblad V series lenses also have EV settings on the lens, and the ability to lock aperture and shutter combinations to the same EV.


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