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The Best 35mm Cameras to Use in 2021

These still-great bits of kit are a great way to get (or stay) into film.

best 35mm cameras
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So you want to do film photography. Welcome! It may be old-fashioned but there are still plenty of reasons to do it here in 2021. Whether you're looking for your first camera, your second, or your twelfth, these 35mm champions are a terrific way to get great shots while using film that's relatively cheap and easy to get developed. Sure, there are more exotic options available, but 35mm is never a bad choice.

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Yashica T4

The main feature that makes the Yashica T4 so great (and in high demand at a high price) is its fantastic 35mm f/3.5 Zeiss Tessar lens. Sharper than the lenses found in modern digital compact cameras, the T4’s lens turns its otherwise simple point-and-shoot body into a device that’s capable of some really stunning photography. That’s made it popular though, and expensive as a result. They’re not making any more of these, after all.

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Konica Hexar AF

The Hexar AF’s secret sauce is also its lens. Rumor has it that the autofocus rangefinder’s 35mm f/2 is an exact copy of the Leica 35mm Summicron, but without the sky-high price.

Complete with great autofocus, and a compact body, quiet shutter and film advance, the Hexar AF is a great pocket rocket that is perfect for the street photography audience.

Its manual controls can be a little cumbersome, but they also give experienced shooters complete control. These cameras can run a bit of a high price due to their popularity, but they will be cheaper than the comparative Leica.

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Nikon L35AF

With a solid 35mm f/2.8 lens plus fully-automatic exposure and an-integrated flash, this Nikon point-and-shoot is a natural first-film camera for anyone who’s primarily familiar with taking iPhone photos. It’s a much more affordable alternative to trendier and often more overpriced options like the Yashica T4 or Contax T2. And it runs on AA batteries.

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Olympus XA2

As an alternative to autofocus, the dead-simple Olympus XA2 has “zone focus.” Guess the distance to your subject, and flip the focus switch to one of three settings from “1 meter” to “infinity.” It takes some getting used to, but its simple operation and extremely compact clamshell design make it ultra portable and quick to fire off a snap, insuring you’ll get shots you’d never have otherwise, even if you run the risk of missing the focus.

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Nikon FE

Nikon’s FE is a great choice for a mix of low cost, high reliability, and compact size. Its precision manufacturing and alloy body mean it’s far from disposable no matter how cheap you manage to find one for. Designed for advanced enthusiasts, the FE’s design assumes you know how to use its manual settings. You won’t find electronic gimmicks here. But its rugged simplicity, plus its compatibility with Nikon’s enormous suite of F-mount lenses makes it worth learning to use.

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Pentax K1000

An absolute tank of an SLR, the Pentax K1000 exudes simplicity and reliability. Used by hobbyists and professionals during its heyday, its affordable price, rugged body, and easily readable lightmeter all make for a great option to this day, so long as you’re prepared to deal with its fully manual controls. Pentax still manufactures a number of interesting focal length lenses such as 31mm, 43mm and 71mm — and any Pentax fan will speak volumes on their quality.

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Canon AE-1

The Canon AE-1 was one of the first film SLRs to make photography better accessible to a broad range of shooters. With full-program auto mode, all you have to think about is focus and, of course, what to capture.

In addition to being simple, the AE-1 has a wide range of accessories and lenses, many of which you can still find today if you look hard enough. Excellent FD mount lenses, such as the 50mm f1.2, make the AE-1 a great choice for the modern day.

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Leica M6

Leicas are coveted by many and owned by few. When the Leica M6 appeared, it was hailed as the most perfect M camera ever made. It became one of the first full M cameras to include a working built-in light meter while keeping the size down.

The M6 includes frame lines for lenses as wide as 28mm — which many rangefinder aficionados clamor for. The cameras themselves are designed for documentary and photojournalistic work, and most people don’t reach for lengths beyond 50mm.

A Leica M6 will still cost you a lot of money in 2021, and the lenses are far from affordable either. But the M6 is an extremely capable rangefinder that will only appreciate in value while it takes stellar photos.

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Rollei 35 S

One of the smallest 35mm cameras ever made, the Rollei 35 S comes with a Zeiss Sonnar 40mm 2.8, that lets it pack a serious punch. It is small enough to easily fit in most pockets, great for capturing candid snapshots. It's not technically a rangefinder: you'll have to settle for scale focus. But that's the price you pay for being able to have it in your pocket literally all the time.

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Contax G1/G2

Introduced in 1994, this high-end electronic rangefinder is a titanium-clad, Japanese-made marvel built to do battle with the likes of Voigtlander and Leica. And it’s host to some of the best lenses ever made. The G1’s Zeiss lenses are just as good if not better than their Leica equivalents, particularly the 45mm f/2 and 90mm f/2.8. The G2 revision in 1996 sports a bigger body, redesigned button layout and a big improvement over the G1’s lackluster viewfinder. But all of those improvements mean you’ll pay a pretty penny for one, whereas the G1 can be had a bit cheaper.

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Yashica T3D

An amazing point-and-shoot that doesn’t break the bank, the Yashica T3D comes with a Zeiss 35mm f2.8 which is surprisingly sharp. If you’re looking for a way to avoid the bank on a Contax T2 or Leica Minilux, it’s a no-brainer.

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