Why The Film Camera You Choose Doesn't Matter

There is a weird contradiction as someone who runs a 35mm film camera shop and also believes that the gear you use doesn't really matter. 

Of course your gear matters to some extent, but a lot of beginners to film get caught up in all the different models of 35mm film camera. The reality is there are only a few simple questions you need to ask yourself. 

Why your camera gear doesn

My goal from the beginning of Cameras By Max has always been to guide people into film photography and buying a 35mm film camera without feeling overwhelmed or alienated. A lot of the time you hear people say that they haven't started film photography because they don't know where to start or what to buy. Searching for film photography advice as a beginner brings up so many different viewpoints and tonnes of information pointing you in a thousand directions. 

I remember those exact feelings when I started 35mm film photography. I felt like everyone already doing it knew so much more than me and that information was so hard to get; people either expected you to already know things or they wanted to gate-keep the information from you for whatever reason.

Max holding a wood-covered Olympus Trip 35mm point and shoot film camera

Here’s a secret: no one really knows exactly what they’re doing when they pick up their first film camera. 

Everyone learns in different ways and the way that I learned was by doing. In all honesty, my first roll of film came out blank because I didn’t understand the concept of not exposing the film to light after you’d taken the image. 

I think that gate-keeping information is pointless. Unless someone is asking you for your secret recipe to make your own colour film at home, what good does keeping information from other people do?

Whilst I think that learning some things by yourself is so much fun when it comes to photography, having guidance and a clear, accessible source of information when you are first starting out makes things a lot easier and more enjoyable. 

I’ve also always aimed to make choosing and buying a 35mm film camera an easier experience (as well as more eco-friendly, but that’s another blog post). 

There are thousands of models of 35mm film camera out there on the market and making a decision on which one is best for you feels sometimes impossible! It is not as simple as searching “the best 35mm film camera” and getting a result that perfectly matches what you need. One of my most successful Instagram posts was a flow chart quiz that aimed to help people decide which category of 35mm film camera they were looking for, which then developed into our film camera quiz

Questions to ask yourself when you are choosing your first 35mm film camera

Finding your perfect first 35mm film camera, or your next 35mm film camera isn’t as hard and laborious as you think it may be, as long as you trust the person you’re asking. It’s easy to ask other photographers what they like to use, but the likelihood is that they have only used two or three different cameras. The bonus with asking someone like myself what they recommend is that I have used hundreds and hundreds of different film cameras.  

I get a lot of different customers on my store; some that have used film for years and others that have never touched a 35mm film camera before. My opening question is always the same: what do you want to create photographs of? 

It sounds like a big question, but when you think about it, there is always a vision you have in mind for using your camera and the way you want to create photographs. 

For example, you are going travelling and you want something to capture every memory with, or you live in the city and want to do some street photography, or you just want something to take with you everywhere and photograph everything. 

Thinking about what you want to use the camera for already answers a lot of questions. What I mean is, someone who is going travelling isn’t going to want to take a bulky SLR camera that needs multiple lenses, and someone who is going hiking every weekend and climbing trees isn’t going to want a plastic camera that is going to break easily if they drop it.

The next question is, do you want something that is quick and easy or something to help you learn the skills of photography? Quick and easy cameras are those that are automatic; they do all the settings for you and you only have to think about your composition, and maybe your focus as well.

Top view of the Pentax ME Super - how to choose your first 35mm film camera
Top view of the Pentax ME Super SLR ​​35mm film camera

Most point and shoot cameras are automatic, but some have manual features, or setting modes for controlling your shutter or aperture a little.  Automatic SLR cameras are also a popular choice for beginners as they give you the experience of using a SLR without all the hassle of working out settings and what every dial means. 

One piece of advice I will always give, if someone is interested in both learning the settings and it being quick and easy, is to get a SLR that has both manual and automatic settings. They are out there and some are not as expensive as you may think. Some great models are the Canon AE-1 Program, Minolta X-300, and the Olympus OM20

In the next breath, I am going to tell you that the camera you choose does not really matter when it comes to your image quality. Film cameras are not the same as digital where you have to pick a certain number of pixels to get a good quality image. You will get a similar image quality across most cameras if your focus is good and your exposure is correct.

Getting a good quality image comes from the lens that the camera has. High quality point and shoot 35mm film cameras will have built-in high quality lenses that produce really sharp images, such as the Contax T2 and the Nikon 35Ti. SLR cameras have interchangeable lenses, so one you find a body you like, you can add more and more high quality lenses to your collection.

The main thing, really, is that you enjoy using the camera. 

Whether it is your favourite colour, it fits in your pocket, or you like the sound of the shutter, nothing inspires us to go out and take photos more than just really enjoying using the camera. Each 35mm film camera has little quirks and looks a little bit different from the last one (or a lot, have you seen the Yashica Samurai?) This is one of the main things that makes film photography so fun for me, and it’s not one that people talk about that often. 

So my advice to anyone who is starting film photography or looking for their next film camera is: pick something that will do what you want it to do and then pick the one that makes you the most excited to use it. 

The key to finding your perfect film camera is finding one that you love

Too long; didn't read: choose a 35mm film camera that you like the look and feel of. Everything else will come naturally.

Read more of our blog posts here.

If you like what we do, but can't buy a camera from us, please consider buying us a cup of coffee! It helps us to keep these resources free, consistent, and accessible. 

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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