I see these “Best Cameras for Beginners” posts all the time, but the more I read them, the less they seem grounded in reality. I really think it boils down to two things. First, the folks writing these articles are banking on their readership having bank to begin with, so cheap to them is as long “as it’s not Leica” cheap… and second, these writers suffer from tunnel vision. Are there some fantastically affordable high-end cameras ? Yeah. Nikon F3, Canon AE-1, Canon 7, Nikon S2, Bessa R series, and even some Soviet Medium Format cameras are out there for a few hundred each. But I want to bring everyone back down to reality, because well, I have a blog and that makes me an expert.
Sorry, we were talking about reality. The reality is, film isn’t dead but it’s not exactly the bleeding edge technology of new CMOS sensors, and if somebody is going to consider going back to film even for just a fun weekend or two it has to be affordable. Pocket cash affordable. So I’m going to go over these cameras I personally have used and can still be found for under $100 with a lens on them.
Sears KSX Super
Sears had a store-brand camera that was a re-branded Ricoh KR-10 Super. It’s light (mostly plastic), but it has some decent glass. It also has auto-exposure, so you can “set it and forget it” both on the Aperture and Shutter Speed if you so desire. It’s manual focus, but if give it a bit of practice, you’ll do just fine. They’re all over eBay right now for as low as $30 with multiple lenses. I have this camera with the 28mm f/2.8 (fantastic lens) and the 50mm f/1.7. Both take great photos.
Canon Rebel EOS Ti
Next on the list is the Rebel. This particular one can be had on eBay for under $40, usually coupled with the kit 28-80mm lens. I’ve written about it before, and I have nothing but good things to say. It’s auto-everything including auto-focus so you can spend the weekend blowing through a pack of film and know your shots are in focus and exposed decently. I really enjoyed using to take photos at the Renaissance Festival.
SLRs are nice, but if you want to get the hands-on feel of both a Leica-clone rangefinder and a bit of Soviet-era manufacturing, go for the Zorki 4. They’re available on eBay for about $40. They are quiet, mostly-reliable, and a fascinating piece of history. There are a few things I must say about them before you run off to eBay with your PayPal account ready to snatch one up. First, they mostly come from the Ukraine. Expect to pay about as much for shipping as you do for the camera. Second, they have a very sensitive shutter speed dial. Only set the shutter speed after you advance the shutter. Lastly, buy one with a lens. The Industar 50 is a good bet.
Let’s say you’ve got a few extra dollars and you want to play with a professional camera. If you’re really savvy on eBay — or you know someone that has one laying around they’re willing to part with — you can get one of these for under a hundred bucks, with a lens. But be ready to spend $85-$100 for a “user” camera. This is going to be one that has been rode hard and hung out wet. If you can live without a working meter or a battery door, this is a tight kit. It usually comes with the lens you see in this photo, the Zuiko 50mm f/1.8.
Olympus Stylus Infinity
I have a secret to tell you. This camera has two names. In the U.S. it was called the Stylus Infinity. Everywhere else it was called the Olympus µ (mju). If you want to get one for $25, look for the Stylus Infinity. If you want to throw stupid money at the greedy sellers, get the mju. They’re the same camera. The Stylus is a tight little piece of tech. It’s the next edition of the Olympus XA. It fits in the pocket, has auto-focus, has red-eye reduction, fill flash and auto-advance. I found mine in at thrift store for $1.98. Deals are out there. This one has a nice lens, and paired with Tri-X 400 or Fuji Superia 400, it is a no-brainer.
The cheap camera is a matter of opinion. Some would find a $500 Leica M cheap, or a $250 Hasselblad cheap. They would be right, but they wouldn’t be sincere asking you to buy into old tech at that price, not if you’re going to have money for film. Just think, if you get frugal with your first film camera buy, you’ll have money left over to develop your own film.