Need a 35mm or medium format camera, have a few choices in mind, please sound off


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Jan 10, 2012
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As much has I love the ease of digital photography I’m a bit frustrated by the lack of dynamic range and I miss the "feel" of film grain. I've developed a look for my digital files which isn't a direct film tribute but helps me find them more palatable. I have a Nex-5N and do love it, especially since I can put legacy lenses on it but I’d like to buy a 35mm or medium format camera to use for more “artsy” stuff. Most likely will be doing landscape and some "documentary" shots. I've researched cameras a bit and decided I'd like one with an exposure meter but preferred little other electronics. I have a little experience with film. Ten or so years ago when I took basic photography at university we shot with 4"x5" press cameras, b&w slides, and color slides. We developed and enlarged the press camera negatives. I don't plan on using the film camera too often, the ease of digital is enough to keep me using it for most shots.

In the 35mm arena I’ve been looking at:
Minolta XD11
Olympus OM series (maybe OM-4 or OM-3)
Canon A1
Maybe an old M42 mount russian camera like the Kiev or Zenit-E

I have lenses for all these (50mm 1.4 Canon FD, Oly 35-70 3.5, Minolta 35-70 3.5, M42 Helios 44m-7)

In medium format I’ve been looking at the Mamiya range, Bronica, Kiev 88.

I’d like to get something that has few electronics to go wrong, something that is pretty rugged, and probably something with some level of exposure indicator. Do you guys have any suggestions?

I am not a professional photographer but do enjoy the science as much as the art of photographing. Here are a few samples of recent work, taken with Sony Nex5n and the fantastic russian Helios 44m-7:




The Canon A1 is a good choice. Nikon F2 or Pentax MX are a good choice as well for 35mm. Both are very rugged. I'm not a Minolta or Olympus fan myself, but that's a personal choice.
I just bought a Mamiya medium format a week ago....nice camera. The photographer I got it from used it just about everyday for 25 years and it still works perfect.
Oh, I should have mentioned my brother is willing to lend me his Nikon FM2, just need to find a lens. I would jump on it but Nikon lenses are 3x similar Canon FD or 4x similar Hexanon. Probably because FD is no longer used mount type and Hexanon doesn't exist anymore.

What would be the differences between a Canon A1 and a Canon AE1? I see people recommending both. Thanks.
Thanks! After a lot of research I think I've decided to go the 35mm route for now. I've narrowed it down to OM-2n, Minolta XD11, or Canon A1. I might buy both the XD11 and OM-2n and sell whichever I don't like.
I'm putting in a vote for the Minolta. I shoot my old XE-7 just as much as my DSLR
The Canon museum is a fun resource, Webestang, I've found some good info. there.

I use mechanical cameras, I have an F1 which was considered pro in its day, and I have a similar lens to yours (the 1.8). Probably a variety of FD mount bodies could be a good choice, as would something M42 - I have a couple of screwmounts - Ricoh and Praktica, and have heard people like the Pentax Spotmatics (earlier version of the K mounts). I'm not familiar with the Olys and Minoltas but know people like those as well.

At the prices of older film cameras you could probably find more than one body to go with different lenses you have.
Do not pay too much money for any older 35mm camera; a Canon or Minolta 35mm, like an XD-11 or AE-1 Program and a camera-maker 50mm f/1.7 or 1.8 normal lens is bringing about $24 at Goodwill these days. Seriously...any more than that, and a body + 50mm standard lens is overpriced. at yard sales, these things "stay" for more than $20. Most pawn shops will not even buy an older orphaned-mount like a Canon or Minolta or Konica.
I have a Minolta XD11 and found it extremely user-friendly when I was shooting film. All adjustments could be done by touch, while looking through the viewfinder. With a motor winder, I took some great sports photos.
For landscape, I would have gone medium-format, but 35mm certainly is cheaper to shoot and might be more manageable if you're not used to film or planning on using it very often.

I don't know anything about the Minolta. I've got an Olympus 35 RC that does have a built-in light meter but you don't have to use it. Just don't put it in Auto mode (which puts it in shutter-priorty shooting). Olympus 35 RC Rangefinder Camera In fact, the meter was a bit wonky on mine and so I shot with it just fine without using the meter for quite a while before I finally had it adjusted.

It's really a fantastic little camera - sharp lens, compact so very portable, and reliable. I'm not sure how the OM-2n compares, but if the RC 35 (and its automatic cousin, the Trip, which also gets rave reviews from its users) is any indication of quality, I'd go with the OM-2n.
Older isn't always better, especially now with 35mm film camera prices at rock bottom. I'd look at late model Nikon AF bodies like the 8008s/801s, N90s/F90x and F100. All work extremely well with MF lenses, have highly accurate meters(matrix, CW, spot), have electronic rangefinders/focus confirmation, big+bright VFs. The electronic MF Minoltas are getting really old and mechanical Oly service can be pricey and hard to source. These days, getting the newest film gear you can afford doesn't seem wrong.
If what you like is film grain and the look of film, stick with the 35mm.

The point of larger formats is that there's less grain, after all.
Very helpful responses guys, I have a little update. I snagged a OM-2n with two lenses a flash and tele converter on ebay last night. Total was $70 with shipping. I probably could have done better if I found it at a Goodwill or yardsale but I wanted that camera specifically and they are a bit more rare it seems than Canon or Minolta. It's supposedly in near mint condition, we'll see. What I'll probably end up doing is buying a Minolta XD11 and possibly the Canon A1. My brother has a Nikon FM2 so if I find a AI lens for cheap I might borrow that and try it out. I'll end up doing something similar to my legacy lens habits, buy a few and spend time with them, then sell off most of them.

Re: 35mm or medium format - I guess the more I thought about this I realized I would use both. The photos I posted are all from a wedding so they are "street" photo style. Lots of in the moment shots. I do love nature landscape photography and urban landscape photography. A medium format would be best for that I think. My heart lies with the Mamiya 645. Even before posting here I was lusting after one, seems $200 is the average price. I love the design, especially with the waist level viewfinder. Any advice on what to look out for when buying off ebay? KEH has the 645 body for $80 or so. What is the difference between a 645 and a 645 Super? Another option is Kiev 88 but I'm hesitant to pay $300 for something that might break quickly.

My current plan is to work with 35mm (there's a local place photo store that will develop and scan, any recommendations for mail in developing and scanning?). I would like to setup my own developing studio at some point but it's too early in the game for that. I would have to know I'm fully committed to staying with film before doing that.
Congrats on the OM-2, it's a very nice camera. As for making a full commitment to film, I don't want to sound discouraging early on here for you, but commitments go both ways. Are you sure film is going to commit to you? Just something to consider before you spend too much money:

The Last Days of Film Photography: Robert Burley Captures Industry?s End (Photos) - The Daily Beast

I can remember when a lot of people committed to this:


And one last caution: In your original post you mentioned you were frustrated by digital's lack of dynamic range. If you consider the latest digital camera technology (a camera like the D800 for example) you're going to find that moving to film is now a step down in dynamic range. I'm still an old film shooter from way back and I'd encourage you to use that OM-2 and enjoy working with film, but be cautious investing too much in a shrinking technology.
The Last Days of Film. I've seen it up close as I leave near an old Eastman Kodak plant (also parents are from Rochester NY) and have watched all but one film camera store in town dwindle away. That last bastion is more a work of stubbornness than economic viability. The owner is a nice guy and I've offered to help him sell his gear online but he is not interested. I realize the latest full frame cameras are beyond good. I'm a tech head as much as an artist. However I don't want a huge camera and more importantly I can't and won't spend near $3k. I do have some experience working with film, learning how to develop 4"x5" negatives and 35mm. I was born in 1981 and used film growing up. I have only just now become interested in photography again thanks in part to excellent legacy lenses for dirt cheap, letting me see how much a difference a good lens makes.

I don't plan on sinking a lot of money into this. I'm holding off even spending $300 on a medium format until I feel 35mm just isn't good enough for the landscape photos I want to do. I definitely won't be buying fancy flashes or anything like that. Currently I just shoot with provided light though if I get into model shooting I'd want at least a reflector/diffuser.

ps - what recommendations for film to use? A friend recommended Portra 400. I'll be doing mostly street shooting and informal portraits maybe some landscape.
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