Should I Get A Manual or Automatic 35mm Film Camera?

There are so many cameras to choose from, and it's hard to figure out which one is best for you. Deciding whether you want to have manual or automatic settings (or both!) can help you narrow down what you're looking for.

Camera dials

What are manual settings?

Manual settings are settings that you set yourself, using the dials on the camera. You can set your shutter speed manually on the camera, and your aperture manually on the lens. 

Most cameras have light meters that you can read the settings the camera needs, and then set the camera to these settings.

Sometimes, you can set your aperture on the camera body as well, such as on the Canon A-1

Most cameras with manual settings will also have manual ISO settings, which you set according to the box speed of your film. For example, Kodak Gold 200 requires the camera to be set to ISO 200.

Auto setting illustration

What are automatic settings?

Automatic settings are settings that the camera decides for you. It will decide the shutter speed and aperture of the camera for you, based on the internal light meter.

You can get cameras that can do some manual and some automatic settings. For example, you could have automatic shutter speed, and manual aperture, or vice versa.

Why would I want manual settings?

Simple: for the control over your images. Having manual settings means you can override the internal light meter if, for example, your photo is backlit and the camera will be metering for the highlights and not the shadows.

Manual settings are also super helpful to help you learn the skills of photography. They allow you to take more notice of the settings your camera needs to perfectly expose your images. And gradually you'll learn the settings and be able to understand how exposure works like a professional. 

Should I get a 35mm film camera with manual or automatic settings?

It depends on how you want to take images! 

If you want the quick and easy option of automatic settings, and you're not bothered about learning the skills, choose a camera that has just automatic settings. Most point and shoot cameras are fully automatic, as well as some SLR cameras. Here are some examples:

If you want to take time to learn the skills of photography and understand how exposure works, then a manual camera could be right for you. Don't worry, you're not left completely on your own as most manual cameras do have a built-in light meter to read the settings from. Here are some examples:

Or, maybe you're looking for the best of both worlds? Yes, it is possible to get cameras that are both manual and automatic. You can switch between the two with ease, so that you can be learning the skills one minute, and letting the camera do the heavy lifting the next. Here are some examples: 

The bonus of buying a camera with automatic AND manual settings is that you can start with automatic settings, and gradually move to manual when you feel more confident.


If you want to learn the skills of photography and slow down your practice, choose a manual camera.

If you want quick and easy shots without having to think about your settings, choose an automatic camera.

If you want a bit of both, choose a camera with manual and automatic settings.

Still stuck on which film camera to buy?

Try our film camera quiz. All you have to do is answer a few questions, and then you will get a list of personalised camera recommendations. 

Or send us a message on Instagram, send us an email, chat to us on our live website chat, or read some more of our blog posts!

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Max, owner of Cameras By Max

Article written by: Max

Max is the owner of Cameras By Max. They work full-time repairing and refurbishing all the 35mm film cameras you see on the website. Their favourite camera (at the moment) is the Olympus XA, and their favourite city in the world is Edinburgh.


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