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Buying Guide: Twelve 35mm Film Cameras That Survived the Digital Apocalypse

Had enough of digital photography? Here's a dozen 35mm film cameras that you can buy right now!

By Mason Resnick

You know that the jig is up for film photography when the category "Film Cameras" has been placed by a major photographic retail web site under the subcategory "Specialty Cameras". And yet, there are many enthusiastic film shooters out there. And it is interesting which, of all cameras, are still in the pipeline. 

And yes, the best film camera deal might be sitting in your closet, waiting for you to pick it up again. But aging gear, jammed shutters, a paucity of reasonably-priced repair places and film formats that are long gone may have rendered many a classic film camera useless. Fear not: There are still brand spankin' new film cameras for sale. 

Many of these cameras were manufactured years ago, and have been sitting on retailer shelves, waiting for the occasional film freak to buy them. Demand has not exactly been high. Leica is a major exception and continues to make new film cameras all the time. So here you go: Here's what's still available if you're ready to crack and load. Click on the underlined links or the photos if you're interested in buying.

SLRs

If you want an interchangeble-lens SLR, you have two choices, and they're both Nikons. 

Lomography Spinner 360: Wind this camera up, press the shutter release and get out of the way as it spins all the way around, capturing a 360-degree panorama on a strip of 35mm film. You can capture up to 8 images on a 36-exposure roll.  Exposure is set manually, but is limited, and the handle has a tripod mount. The manufacturer recommends ISO 400 film

Yes, there are still large- and medium-format film cameras, and we'll get to them another time.

Lomography Fisheye N.2 Voyager 35mm camera: It has a built-in 170-degree fisheye lens that, they claims, offers "stunning fisheye distortion." It has a built-in flash, a fisheye viewfinder for composition, that slides into a hot shoe but no other exposure control.

Voigtlander Bessa R2A: Mid-range rangefinder with parallax brightline framelines for 35, 50, 75 and 90mm lenses. TTL center-weighted metering, durable body.

Voigtlander Bessa R2M: Nearly identical to the R2A, but has a mechanical shutter release and so can be used without a battery.

Voigtlander Bessa R3M: Mid-range rangefinder with parallax brightline framelines for 40, 50, 75, and 90mm lenses. Autoexposure, Aperture Priority Mode, 2-stop exposure compensation. 

Toy Cameras

Now the bad news. All other 35mm cameras currently being made are—let's face it—toys. Made by Lomography, they have fixed-focus plastic lenses, built-in light leaks, and are generally not meant for high-fidelity image-making. But they have an artsy cult following that adheres to a "crappy camera aesthetic" where imperfect is considered beautiful.

The good news? They all cost under $100. I've picked out a couple that are unusual and possibly worth playing with, perhaps as adjuncts to existing cameras, although you can probably tell I'm not exactly sold on it:

Can't afford Leica's nearly $5,000 pricetag? How does $800 sound? That's what each of Voigtlander's Bessa rangefinder cameras costs. All take Leica M-mount lenses (Voigtlander, which is owned by the Japanese specialty camera and lens maker Cosina, makes affordable alternatives in that department, as well). The R4A, R4M, R2A, R2M and AA121 are all 35mm rangefinders with subtle differences. Here's a quick rundown:

Voigtlander Bessa R4A: Wide-angle rangefinder with parallax projected framelines for 21, 25, 28, 35 and 50mm lenses. manual focus, electronic shutter, LED metering display in finder.

Voigtlander Bessa R4M: Wide-angle rangefinder with parallax projected framelines for 21, 25, 28, 35 and 50mm lenses. Manual focus, mechanical shutter. 

 

The Leica M-A, which costs about $250 less than its pricier siblings, is an almost exact replica of the M-3, with a layout that will be instantly familiar to M-3 users. Purely mechanical, the camera has no exposure meter. It doesn't even have a battery. If your M-3 has finally given up the ghost, here's your replacement.

The Leica MP bears a striking resemblance to the classic M3, with the same manual rewind knob instead of the M7's rapid version. Although it is priced the same as the M7, it has an all-mechanical shutter, so you can operate the camera without a battery. Little known fact: Leica offers a 30-year guarantee on servicing and replacement parts.

 

The Leica M7, at approximately $5,000 body only (be prepared to spend another $1,500 or more for a lens), is hand-made (as are all Leica M cameras) and offers several new conveniences, including an electronically-controlled super-quiet cloth focal plane shutter, a choice of one of three viewfinder magnifications (0.58, 0.72 and 0.85x), stepless autoexposure, a new LED integrated into the viewfinder, flash sync up to 1/1000 sec, and of course manual shutter, aperture and focus.

 

The all-manual Nikon FM10 is a traditional manual SLR that's great for students. Everything, from winding and rewinding to focusing, selecting shutter speed and aperture is done by hand, a great way to learn photography. Center-weighted metering is fine for general use. It is typically available with a 35-70mm zoom lens.

Rangefinders

One film category that is still going strong is rangefinder 35mm cameras. Leica (for well heeled shooters) and Voigtlander (for the rest of us) are keeping the flame burning brightly.

Leica offers 3 M cameras, the M-A, MP, and M7. 

The Nikon F6 is the last in the vaunted line of Nikon Fs, the go-to camera of serious pro shooters from the 60s until the digital era. With 11-area autofocus, 41 custom settings, a shutter rated for more than 150,000 cycles,  and a weather-resistant rubberized body, the F6 is super-rugged to meet the demands of high-velocity shooting. Its top shutter speedof 1/8000 sec, 5.5fps high-speed shooting, 1005-pixel RGB sensor, and full compatibility with Nikon's impressive i-TTL flash system, and 7 interchangeable focusing screens make it a great choice for serious photographers who can afford its mid-$2,000 pricetag.

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